"What should I call you?" Vincent asked in a timid whisper.
"Well, I suppose you'll call me Lieutenant Bowers when we're on duty, but I'm not sure about when we're alone. What would you like to call me?" Joe asked in return.
"I dunno. It feels funny to call you Joe since you're older than me... It's like I'm being disrespectful." Vincent said in thought.
"And you would NEVER do that." Joe said with a smirk.
Vincent put on his most innocent expression, but it only held for a few seconds before he broke into giggles.
With a fond smile, Joe said, "I understand what you mean. How about Uncle Joe?"
Vincent shook his head and said, "It doesn't sound right to me since you're kinda like my dad or step-dad or something."
Joe nodded his acceptance of the reasoning, then quietly said, "It's okay if you want to call me dad."
"It might be nice to pretend for a while, but you're not my dad. I don't want you to be him, I want you to be you... Um, did that make sense?" Vincent asked with a confused look as he replayed the words in his head.
"Perfect sense." Joe said quietly.
"What about Daddy Joe?" Vincent asked hopefully.
"I like that. You don't have a problem with that do you Lawrence?" Joe asked as he turned his attention to his son on his other side.
"No, we shared his dad for all these years, it's only fair if we share mine now." Lawrence said with a warm smile at his half-brother.
"When we get to the Yorktown, should I tell people that you're my dad or my step-dad or should I act like I don't know you or what?" Vincent asked in deep thought.
"I think that rather than trying to explain to everyone we meet that you're my ex-wife's son from her second marriage, it would just be easier to introduce you as my son. If there's a reason to go into more detail with someone, we can." Joe said in thought.
Vincent nodded as he considered the words.
A voice came from the front passenger seat of the Caravan they were riding in. "Vincent, if you'll look out your window, you just *might* get a surprise."
Vincent looked out the window and carefully looked around to see what Lieutenant Thompson might be talking about.
All of a sudden, he spotted it.
"There's a Federation shuttlecraft! Do we have time to stop and look at it? Do you think there's any way I can touch it?" Vincent asked with excitement.
"Oh, I think you'll be able to touch it, that's how we're getting to San Francisco." Lieutenant Thompson said seriously.
"No way! Really? I thought we were going to take a plane!" Vincent said happily, never taking his eyes off the shuttlecraft.
"Hey, I'm Starfleet security, I don't lie." Lieutenant Thompson said in a mock stern voice.
"I'm sorry Uncle Brady. I didn't mean to say that you were lying." Vincent said quickly.
"I know what you meant Vincent, I was just playing. As soon as my brother finds a parking place, we'll be able to go have a look at her." Brady said with a genuine smile.
"Actually, since I'm not going with you I'll just let you off in front of the terminal." Allen said as he approached the building that served as a transit station for all the shuttlecrafts.
Within a minute Allen had found a close spot to drop his passengers off.
"Joe and Vincent. It was good to meet you. I hope you have a good journey." Allen said as he opened the back of the Caravan so they could get their luggage.
"Thank you for giving us a ride. It's been really nice meeting you too." Joe said sincerely.
"Maybe next time you're in town you two can stop by my place. I know my boys would enjoy visiting with Vincent." Allen said as he stood aside and watched Brady, Joe and Vincent gather their luggage.
"Bye Daddy, I'm going to miss you." Lawrence said as he walked to his father and gave him a hug.
"Now that I've found you again, I promise that I'll keep in touch. Expect a lot of messages from both of us." Joe said with a smile.
"Yeah, that sounds great. I hope you two have a great time out there." Lawrence said with a smile as he took a step back.
"It's about time for us to leave, are you guys ready?" Brady asked as he picked up his flight bag.
"Just a second." Vincent said, then ran to Lawrence and gave him a hug.
"I'm gonna miss you Vince. I hope you have fun out there." Lawrence said as he hugged his brother tightly.
"I'll miss you too." Vincent said, then pulled Lawrence down slightly and gave him a firm kiss on the cheek.
Vincent shifted Lawrence down a little more so he could whisper in his ear and said, "If you're gonna be queer... I mean gay. I'm glad you found someone nice like Deacon to be your boyfriend."
"Thanks Vince." Lawrence said in a whisper as he let Vincent go.
Joe motioned with his head to 'come on' and led the way up the sidewalk.
Vincent looked in surprise at the car that had pulled in behind them.
A boy was being shifted out of the back seat of the car and into a wheelchair.... A boy with red hair.
"Rory? Is that you? What are you doing here? Are you going with us?" Vincent asked in wonder.
"Yeah. Are you going to Vulcan too?" Rory asked with surprise.
"No. We're going to Alpha Centauri." Vincent said with a grand smile.
"Wow. That's really cool." Rory said, then turned his attention to Solak, his Vulcan doctor who was now standing by his side.
"Our transport will depart shortly." Solak said seriously.
Vincent watched with a small ache in his heart as he saw Rory get hugs and kisses from both his parents.
The realization awoke in Vincent that both his parents were dead and he would never get hugs and kisses from them again.
"You okay champ?" Joe whispered from Vincent's side.
Vincent looked up at Joe with teary eyes and said, "No. But I will be."
Movement drew Vincent's attention and he looked in time to see a boy give Rory a long, slow kiss.
Vincent quickly turned away from the scene and looked at the Spaceport terminal building.
"Do you have everything?" Joe asked in a quiet voice.
Vincent hefted his carry-on bag onto his shoulder and picked up his suitcase, then? nodded that he was ready.
* * * * *
After a minute of watching Vincent shifting around and looking at everything in the shuttle, Joe quietly said, "Settle down Vincent. You need to get your seat belt on before we take off."
"Okay, I'm sorry. It's just that this is so cool." Vincent said with excitement as he adjusted his seatbelt to fit him comfortably.
Conversation stopped in the shuttle as everyone felt the engines powering up.
Vincent looked out the view port with excitement as the shuttle lifted into the air.
"So what are you going to do on Alpha Centauri?" Rory asked from two seats away.
Vincent leaned forward to see past Joe and Solak before saying, "We're just hauling some cargo and exchanging some personnel."
"We? It sounds like you're going to be a part of the crew." Rory said cautiously.
Vincent smiled and proudly said, "I am."
"Oh wow. That sounds like it's going to be great!" Rory said with a brilliant smile.
"Yeah. I think it will be. What are you going to Vulcan for?" Vincent asked curiously.
"Solak is going to try out a new treatment on me and maybe he can make me better." Rory said happily.
"You mean you'll be able to get out of the wheelchair?" Vincent asked with surprise.
"Maybe. We won't know until we've tried it." Rory said in a considering tone.
"You need to let me know how it's going. You know, send me messages and stuff." Vincent said with excitement.
"Yeah, that sounds good. The easiest way to get in touch with me is through Clan Short. But I want to know how you're doing too. How can I get a message to you?" Rory asked with a smile.
Vincent thought about it, then looked at Joe with question.
"Well, since Clan Short is collectively Vincent's guardian, I'm sure you could get a message to Vincent through them, but the most direct way would be to send your message to Starfleet directed to Crewman Vincent Winters on the USS Yorktown." Joe said with a smile.
"Crewman?" Vincent and Rory asked simultaneously.
Joe chuckled at the stereo effect and said, "I wasn't going to tell you until we were onboard because it isn't official until you've reported in with Captain Byrne. But you will be listed as a crewman on the crew roster and have all the rights and responsibilities of any other crew member."
"I didn't think I'd be listed like a real member of the crew." Vincent said in shock.
"At first your duties will be the same as any other crewman, but once you've learned the basics, you'll be receiving a module of your course studies that will include leadership training. If everything goes to plan, you'll eventually be given the responsibility to lead others and be offered a commission as? a junior grade Ensign." Joe said seriously.
"But aren't the adults going to have a problem with taking orders from a kid?" Rory asked with concern.
Joe turned his attention to Rory and said, "Probably. I'm hoping that with the proper training, Vincent will be able to deal with that situation when the time comes."
Vincent looked at Joe with wide eyes of fear and question.
"Vincent, you're not the first one to have to deal with something like this. Cory and Sean both had to overcome this when they received their commissions. When the time comes, get in touch with them and they can tell you how best to deal with it." Brady said seriously.
Vincent looked at Brady and gave a nod of relief.
"Thank you Lieutenant Thompson. That's very good advice." Joe said with a smile at Brady.
"I'm happy to do it. Let me know if you have any problems and I'll do whatever I can to help." Brady offered sincerely.
"I'll do that. I guess for some reason I thought that since I was Vincent's mentor, I'd be teaching him all by myself. It's good to know that I have someone to ask for advice when I need it." Joe said with a smile.
"I'll do anything I can to help my nephew. So far none of my other nephews has shown much interest in Starfleet. It's such a large part of my life, I'd really like to be able to share it with them. It looks like this is going to be my only chance." Brady finished with a shrug.
"I know exactly what you mean. When I first met Lawrence, it was obvious that he didn't have any interest in Starfleet. I mean, I can tell that he respects me and appreciates the rank that I've achieved, but he hasn't expressed any desire to... follow in my footsteps, I guess." Joe said, then hugged Vincent with one arm and continued, "Lawrence and I have other things in common, but I'm really glad to be able to pass on what I've learned to one of my sons."
Brady smiled at the sight and said, "I hope to be able to do the same thing one day. But until that day comes, I'll always be available to help you however I can."
"Thank you Uncle Brady. I'll be sure to call you if I have any problems." Vincent said seriously.
* * * * *
"I guess this is goodbye Brady. I hope we'll run into each other again sometime soon." Joe said as he and Vincent gathered their belongings.
"I wouldn't be surprised if we do, the Enterprise seems to cross paths with the Yorktown every few months. Besides that, Lawrence lives right across the street from my brother so we'll probably end up seeing each other here on Earth." Brady said with a smile as he picked up his flight bag.
"It was nice to meet you Solak. Peace and long life." Joe said respectfully.
"It was a pleasure for me as well. Live long and prosper." Solak said formally.
"I hope Solak can make you all better. Send me a message when you get there and tell me what Vulcan is like." Vincent said with a smile.
"Yeah. I will. Remember to call me if you need anything. Since I'm a member of Clan Short, I'm one of your guardians. It's my job to take care of you." Rory finished with a smile.
"Okay, but only if you'll call me if you need something too." Vincent said seriously.
"It's a deal. Oh, we've got to go. Our shuttle's about to leave." Rory said as he looked at the large clock at the information counter.
"Enjoy your trip to Vulcan." Joe said as he lifted one small bag in sort of a wave.
"You two enjoy your trip to Alpha Centauri." Rory said with a smile and wave as Solak began to push his wheelchair away.
"Where do we go now?" Vincent asked as he looked around at the bustling spaceport.
"We're going to go to our shuttle. But before we do that, I need to tell you something very important." Joe said firmly, gaining Vincent's full attention.
"This place can get really crazy and it's possible that we could get separated." Joe said as he looked into Vincent's eyes.
"Do you see that tall building right there?"
Vincent looked where Joe was pointing and nodded.
"If something happens and you lose track of me, I want you to go into that big building and go to the number one elevator." Joe said seriously.
"What floor should I go to?" Vincent asked quietly.
"I don't want you to get on the elevator, I want you to wait outside of it. That building is a landmark that you can see from anywhere in the spaceport complex. If something happens and I lose you, I'll go to the number one elevator and wait for you there." Joe said seriously.
"I'll remember... Thank you Daddy Joe, I would'a been scared if I'd got lost in a place this big and busy, but now that you told me what to do, I won't be scared at all." Vincent said with a smile.
"Good. Hopefully we won't need to make any trips to the number one elevator today. Our shuttle should be fairly close, this way." Joe said as he hefted the luggage and started walking.
"Daddy Joe?" Vincent asked cautiously.
"Yeah?" Joe responded and slowed his pace a little so Vincent' wouldn't have to fight to keep up.
"Do I have any grandparents... I mean... like a grandma Joe and a grandpa Joe?" Vincent asked with a smile.
Joe chuckled at the question, then said, "Yes you do. They live in a little trailer park on the Georgia side of the border with Florida. I haven't seen them in years. Maybe next time we're on Earth we could stop by and get your brother, then go visit them. "
"That sounds like fun. What are they like?" Vincent asked, then moved close to Joe's side for a second to avoid the elbow of a man walking past them.
"They're good people. I think you'll like them, and I know they'll love you." Joe finished with a smile.
"Why haven't you seen them in years?" Vincent asked curiously.
"They never had much money but... somehow that didn't matter to them. When I met your mom, I was obsessed with what I didn't have and all the things I couldn't offer her... " Joe trailed off in thought.
"Did grandma Joe and grandpa Joe like my momma?" Vincent asked curiously.
"Back then, I thought they hated her. But now that I'm older... I think they hated the person that I became when I was around her." Joe said carefully.
"Were you mean or something?" Vincent asked hesitantly.
"No. Not the way you mean anyway. I was ashamed of my parents. I wanted to impress Peggy and give her things to make her happy. I think my parents recognized what I was doing, but couldn't snap me out of it. I guess in the back of my mind I've always kind of blamed them for my marriage failing because they weren't rich and didn't support my relationship." Joe said with regret.
"So you said stuff that you really didn't mean because you were mad and couldn't stop yourself?" Vincent asked cautiously.
Joe looked at Vincent with surprise and finally said, "That's exactly what I did. I guess I need to work on that."
"Me too. We can work on it together." Vincent said with a smile.
"This is it." Joe said as they stopped beside a long-range shuttle.
"Wow, it's a lot bigger than the last one we were on." Vincent said in awe.
"Well, the only reason they'd send the Windsor down is if we have a large group going back to the ship tonight. We'd better get aboard and get our seats. It might be standing room only." Joe said as he started toward the shuttle.
Vincent took one last look at the shuttlecraft before following Joe aboard.
* * * * *
"It looks like you made a new friend while you were planet-side." A casually dressed man in his thirties said as he took the seat next to Joe, the other side from Vincent.
"I guess you could say that. Dennis, this is my son Vincent." Joe said proudly.
"Son? Back up Joey and tell me how you managed that. Last I heard you were a confirmed bachelor." Dennis said with surprise.
"Didn't you ever wonder *why* I was a confirmed bachelor?" Joe asked frankly.
"I just thought you liked being single. Y'Know, playing the field. A different woman every night. The usual stuff." Dennis finished with a shrug.
"My momma tore his heart out. She ripped it right outta there. When she was done with him, he didn't want to be married ever again." Vincent said with a serious expression as he looked Dennis in the eyes.
Dennis looked at Vincent with shock as Joe looked on with amusement.
"Joey, you shouldn't be telling your kid stuff like that about his mother."
"Daddy Joe never said anything bad about my momma. He loved her a lot, she was just... high maintenance?" Vincent finished with a questioning look at Joe.
Joe chuckled at Vincent and said, "That's exactly right."
"There's Debbie, I'm going to see if I can get a seat next to her. I'll talk to you guys later." Dennis said in a rush, then hurried toward the back of the shuttle.
"I think you shocked Dennis. He didn't know what to make of you." Joe said with a chuckle.
"Good, because I knew exactly what to make of him." Vincent said seriously.
"What's that?" Joe asked curiously.
"A used car salesman or maybe a video preacher. He called you Joey and didn't even say 'hi' to me. I think he's one of those people who acts nice to get you to do stuff for them." Vincent said in thought.
Joe laughed and said, "I think you're right. Put a leisure suit and a bad toupee on him and he'd be ready to sell some cars."
"I figured out that you gotta be super honest with people like that. When they know that you'll tell them exactly what you think of them, they get away from you quick." Vincent said seriously.
"Do you really feel that way about your mother?" Joe asked with concern.
"No, I don't feel that about my momma. I feel that about the woman you married. From the way you talk about her, they're not the same person." Vincent said in thought.
Joe nodded and said, "That's a good way of looking at it Vincent. People change over the course of their lives. Someone you meet today might be a very different person twenty years from now."
"Dennis won't be. I bet that twenty years from now he'll still be selfish and rude and wearing so much cologne that you have to wonder what terrible stink he's trying to hide." Vincent said in a speculative voice.
Joe was fighting to hold in his laughter and only nodded his agreement.
Vincent got a considering look for a moment, then said in a much quieter voice, "I'm sorry if I said bad stuff about one of your friends. I just, I don't know... I feel like I can tell you stuff like that and you won't get mad."
Joe gave Vincent a gentle smile and said, "I think your assessment of Dennis is right on the money, so don't worry about it. And you can tell me whatever you feel like telling me. If I disagree with something you say, I'll just tell you."
Vincent smiled, then knelt in his seat to look behind them in the shuttle before saying, "Thanks Daddy Joe. That makes me feel better... Well, except for one thing."
"What's that?" Joe asked with concern.
"I feel sorry for Debbie." Vincent said, then turned to look at Dennis talking enthusiastically to a woman who was leaning slightly away from him.
"I could go rescue her if you want. We seem to have one empty seat in our row." Joe said with pride for Vincent's thoughtfulness.
"Yeah, I think that'd be nice." Vincent said with a smile.
* * * * *
"Please excuse me for interrupting, but I'd like to introduce Debbie to my son before we take off." Joe said shyly.
"Thank you Joe, I would love to meet your son. It was nice talking with you Dennis, I'll see you on board." Debbie said quickly, then followed Joe back to his row of seats.
"Debbie, would you like the window or the aisle?" Vincent asked as he stood beside the row of seats.
"I think I'd like the aisle. Thank you for asking." Debbie said with a smile.
Vincent took the window seat and waited for Joe and Debbie to be seated before saying ,"I'm Vincent, Joe's son."
Debbie smiled a genuine smile and said, "It's very nice to meet you Vincent. I'm Debbie."
"What do you do on the ship Debbie?" Vincent asked curiously.
"I work in communications." Debbie said seriously.
"I bet that's fun, you must be really good at electronics. I've heard that the communications circuitry is really complicated." Vincent said with interest.
"Yes. I suppose it is. I guess it's like anything else, when you've done it for a while, you get used to it and it becomes easy." Debbie said happily.
"I bet it isn't easy when a circuit gets fried. That sounds like it would be a mess to fix." Vincent said as he turned more in his seat so he could look Debbie in the eyes.
"No, that's actually easy. All you do is change out the board that burned out. The real challenge is when something small goes wrong and you have to trace out the circuits and test all the components of almost the whole communications console to track down the problem." Debbie said with a smile.
"Wow. I didn't think of that. I guess when a circuit board fries, the smoke coming off the bad board would be a big clue to tell you where the problem is." Vincent said with a smile.
"That's right. Finding the problem is usually the bigger part of the job. Once you know what's wrong, fixing it generally takes a few minutes." Debbie said in a considering tone.
"Yeah, and people think all you do is sit all day and open hailing frequencies." Vincent said with a knowing smile.
"Tell me about it. Without the communications console, we're alone in the universe. Scanners and sensors can show you what's going on right in front of you, but communications lets you know what's happening in the system you're traveling toward, or the emergency that might have happened where you just left." Debbie said passionately.
"I guess that's why there's a whole communications staff to take care of it." Vincent said seriously.
"Yes. And that's why we have so many redundant systems. The ship can't afford to be without communications for even a minute." Debbie said frankly.
Vincent nodded seriously at the statement, then looked at Joe.
Debbie looked at Joe and said, "I'm sorry if I was ignoring you Joe. It just isn't very often when someone asks me about my work. I can't remember the last time I talked seriously about communications with someone outside my department."
"That's fine Debbie, I'm happy sitting back and being proud of my son." Joe said with a smile at Vincent.
"I can see why. He's smart, well mannered..."
"And he's the one who asked me to rescue you from Dennis." Joe admitted shyly.
"Really?" Debbie asked Joe with surprise, then looked at? Vincent curiously.
"Dennis came over here and talked to us before you came on board. I kinda got rid of him, but then he went to you. I felt bad because it was like we sent him to you or something..." Vincent trailed off shyly.
"Thanks for your concern Vincent. Don't worry about Dennis, I know how to handle him. And once we get back on the ship, the only thing he'll be able to think of is his galley." Debbie said with a smile, then got a strange look of distraction.
Vincent looked over the back of the seat to see a black haired man motioning to Debbie to sit with him.
"Connie wants me to sit with him, I'm guessing he has some news. Do you guys mind?" Debbie asked hopefully.
"No. That's fine. Just tell him that his Lieutenant will expect a full report in the morning." Joe said with a smile.
Vincent looked at Joe curiously as Debbie moved back to join her friend farther back in the shuttle.
"That means I want him to tell me all about it when he comes to work... Connie is in deflector control with me." Joe said with a smile.
"Oh. It sounded like you were his boss or something." Vincent said in thought.
"Well, officially I am. But you couldn't tell it by the way we work together." Joe said with a smile.
"All hands, ready for departure in two minutes."
"Is your seatbelt on?" Joe asked as he looked at Vincent carefully.
Vincent quickly turned in his seat and put his seatbelt back on.
"Are you saving this seat?" A female voice asked quickly.
"No. Go ahead." Joe said as he turned his attention to the woman who had joined them.
"Lieutenant Joseph Bowers took shore leave? The fabric of the universe must be tearing apart..." The woman said dramatically.
"Family emergency." Joe muttered shyly, feeling that her loud, blunt statement was drawing the attention of everyone on the shuttle.
The woman looked at Joe with a calculating expression, then said, "Since when do you have any family? A priority one subspace message from Starfleet Command and all of a sudden you're a family man?"
Joe looked at the woman with surprise at the question.
"My Daddy Joe was there when I needed him most." Vincent said defiantly, then in a voice that was more accusatory than questioning, he asked, "Does anyone need you?"
"You have a kid? How did that happen?" The woman asked with disbelief.
Joe sat in stunned silence, trapped between the brashness of his long time friend and Vincent coming to his defense.
"Well, when a mommy and daddy love each other very much..." Vincent began to say, but was interrupted.
"My ex-wife recently passed away. Vincent has been accepted into a Starfleet mentoring program so he is coming to live with me on the Yorktown so I can train him to be an officer." Joe said quickly, before Vincent could go any further.
"Ex-wife." The woman said as she shook her head in exasperation, then continued in an absent voice, "You never go out on dates, you don't even look at women... or men for that matter."
"Daddy Joe? Is this lady my grandma?" Vincent asked, trying to sound serious.
"No Vincent, this is Ensign Danietta Collins. Why would you think she's your grandmother?" Joe asked cautiously, not having any idea of what to expect.
"Cause she's asking you questions like she's your mother, that'd make her my grandmother." Vincent said with an impish grin.
Joe blushed and gave Danietta a helpless shrug as if to say 'Kids!'.
Danietta chuckled at the gesture then turned to Vincent and said, "Honey I've just known your father for a very long time and it's a shock to find out something like this about him."
"At ease Champ, Danietta is a good friend and is just worried about me." Joe said to Vincent seriously.
"Oh, okay... If you want I could tell Ensign Collins the story so she won't have to worry." Vincent said carefully.
Joe looked at Vincent with a loving expression and said, "You can tell anyone you want. It's your story too."
Vincent nodded and said, "My Daddy Joe met my momma and they fell in love. but Daddy Joe was poor and felt real bad cause he couldn't give my momma nice things. I guess him feeling bad made him say and do things that wasn't always nice..."
"...I sometimes do that too..." Vincent said as an aside, then continued, "Daddy Joe felt bad, Momma felt bad and they finally got a divorce..."
Joe couldn't resist the urge and gave Vincent a quick hug.
Vincent smiled for a moment, then in a serious voice continued, "My momma married my dad, then last week, my dad killed her then wrecked his car and killed himself."
Danietta looked at Joe with wide, disbelieving eyes.
Joe noticed and quietly said, "Vincent's older brother Lawrence had been thrown out of the house by their father and was living in the streets. He came into contact with Clan Short of Vulcan. That's what the priority one message was about. Commander Dodds arranged for me to be reunited with my son."
"And when my parents died, Daddy Joe said that I could come into space with him and learn about starships and Starfleet." Vincent said quietly.
"You're very lucky Vincent, I've known your father for almost ten years and have never seen him open his heart to anyone before. You must be very special to get through his defenses." Danietta said warmly.
Vincent shook his head and said, "I think that maybe my brother Lawrence is the special one. Lawrence cracked the shell, I just sneaked into one of the cracks when no one was looking."
Joe gave a full hearty laugh and said, "That's exactly what you did."
"Did you feel that? They just powered up the engines. We should be leaving in a few seconds." Danietta said with a smile directed at Vincent.
"KEWL!" Vincent said happily.
* * * * *
Joe and Danietta both watched as Vincent pressed his face to the view port to watch the San Francisco Spaceport become smaller and smaller in the distance.
"Joe?" Danietta whispered.
Joe turned in his seat an looked at her with question.
"How are you?" She asked in a serious voice.
"I'm really happy Dani" Joe said as the inner joy he was feeling shown clearly in his expression.
"Can you tell me what happened?" Danietta asked in amazement at the transformation of her long-time friend.
"You know I got that call. All I was told is that I was to report to Commander Dodds at the Southcrest Ranch in Orlando." Joe said as his gaze became distant.
"You must have been scared to death." Danietta said with a chuckle.
"I thought I was going to be transferred to the Enterprise." Joe said frankly.
Danietta thought about it for a second, then nodded. She could see how easy it would be to make that assumption.
"Well, when I got there, Commander Dodds introduced me to Teri Short, the Director of Federation Youth Services." Joe said seriously.
"You met Teri Short? That woman is a living legend! I've never heard of anyone who could cut through the bureaucratic mess and get things done like her." Danietta said in wonder.
Vincent turned from the view port when he heard Teri's name and began to listen to the story.
"She's just as amazing in person. Anyway, Commander Dodds and Director Short started telling me about how my son Lawrence had been physically and verbally abused for years, then thrown out of the only home he'd ever known." Joe said in concentration.
"How horrible." Danietta said distantly.
Joe nodded his agreement, then said, "From what I understand, Lawrence didn't have an easy time of it living on the streets. One night he was in a desperate situation... he was getting beaten up in an alley, when a group of children came to his rescue. They were members of Clan Short of Vulcan."
"So your son was literally rescued by Clan Short?" Danietta asked in amazement.
Joe nodded again, then said, "Some of the people who helped him, a pair of brothers, took him into their home and accepted him as part of their family."
Danietta smiled at the good news.
"Well, I guess one night Lawrence was talking to one of his neighbors who is a member of Clan Short and asked if there was any way that the Clan could help him find his biological father." Joe said as tears started welling up in his eyes.
Danietta reached over and patted his hand in comfort.
"They found me and called me." Joe finished quickly as he got his emotions under control again.
"So what happened when you met?" Danietta asked impatiently.
Joe chuckled and said, "I was at Southcrest waiting for him. There were about five other boys with him, but I knew as soon as I saw him that he was my son."
"Was he happy to see you? Was he angry? What?" Danietta asked, seeming to be seconds away from trying to shake the answers out of him.
"Dani. He's amazing. I told him what happened with his mother and he understood completely. He doesn't hold it against me at all. I've been dreaming about what my son might be doing or what kind of man he would grow into someday, but he went way beyond any of my dreams for him." Joe said, as the tears were now gliding down his cheeks.
Danietta felt tears welling up in her own eyes, then noticed Vincent watching them.
"What about this young man? He must be very special to be given an opportunity like this." Danietta said with a smile.
Joe turned in his seat and pulled Vincent into a one armed hug as he said, "He is. When he arrived at the Southcrest Ranch he was introduced around and made a very good impression on some very important people."
"I did?" Vincent asked in a small voice.
"Yes you did. I guess I should have told you this before, but one of the reasons you were offered placement in the mentoring program is because Commander Dodds recommended you. He said... I think his exact words were, 'Vincent has the proper mindset and a realistic attitude toward becoming a Starfleet officer'." Joe said with a smile.
"He really said that?" Vincent asked in wonder.
"He sure did. Then he said that not putting you in the mentoring program would be a horrible waste of your potential. On top of that, Captain Spock said that you would be an 'acceptable' candidate for the mentoring program. That's about the best compliment you could hope to get from a Vulcan." Joe said proudly.
"Wow. I didn't know any of that. Commander Dodds was really nice... And he cooks good too." Vincent finished with a smile.
Joe nodded and said, "That was the absolute best brisket I've ever tasted in my life. Dani, if you ever get the chance to go to a cook-out at Commander Dodds house... accept."
"Maybe next time you could take me as your date?" Dani asked with a smile and a flirtatious wink.
"I've, um. Kind of got someone on Earth that I'm seeing." Joe said shyly.
"You do?" Dani asked in wonder.
"Grandma Mona?" Vincent asked quietly.
Joe turned to Vincent and nodded, then hesitantly asked, "That's okay with you isn't it?"
Vincent blinked with surprise at being asked, then said, "Yeah. That's great. She's really nice. I like her a lot."
"So let me get this straight. You went from being a dateless bachelor who never takes shore leave to a man with two sons and a girlfriend in the space of five days?" Danietta asked carefully.
Joe thought about it for a second, then said, "More like four sons, but yeah. That's basically right."
"I've got two other brothers? Who?" Vincent asked quickly.
"Billy and Deacon. I told Billy that if they ever needed a dad, I'd be there for them. I don't think they're ready to fully accept another father figure into their lives yet, considering the way their parents treated them. But I'll keep checking in on them and make sure that they know I'm available when they're ready." Joe said carefully.
"I didn't know you adopted Billy and Deacon too." Vincent said in thought.
"Well, I don't think I'll ever 'officially' adopt them. But there are times in your life when you need your family... I want to be there for them at those times." Joe said carefully.
"Like at the funeral." Vincent said in a whisper.
"Yeah. Like that." Joe said as he renewed his hug with Vincent.
Joe offered Vincent silent comfort in his arms as he looked out the view port at the stars.
* * * * *
"There it is." Joe finally said.
Vincent pulled away from Joe and slowly turned to look out the view port.
After looking all around the TerraMain space station, Vincent finally said, "Where? I can't see her."
"I meant TerraMain. The Yorktown is docked inside." Joe said with a smile.
"Oh." Vincent said and looked at the elegant design of the huge structure floating in space.
"You probably won't be getting much of a look at her when we enter Terra Main. Most likely we'll just go directly for the shuttle bay." Joe said hesitantly, not wanting Vincent to be disappointed.
"That's okay. I'd rather learn her from the inside out anyway." Vincent said happily as he watched them getting closer and closer to the space station.
Joe chuckled and said, "We'll get right to work on that."
Vincent nodded happily and turned his full attention to the view port.
"Now before we go on board, I need you to remember that you're still a civilian until you've met with Captain Byrne." Joe said seriously.
"I'll remember Lieutenant Bowers." Vincent said seriously.
"At ease Vincent. Save that for when we get on board." Joe said with a smile.
"Yes sir." Vincent said playfully, then turned his attention back to the view port.
* * * * *
"NCC 1717... United Federation of Planets." Vincent read the writing on the nacell slowly as they approached the shuttle bay.
"Your new home." Joe added with a gentle smile.