Dixon walked into the medical bay in his division headquarters very cautiously with his hand over his eyes. "Is it safe to come in here, for sure?" he called out nervously. "I know Uncle Doug says the coast is clear, but I don't know if I can trust him not to pull some sort of prank on me."
"I resemble that remark," Doug answered sarcastically. "Yes, Director Squeamish, you can uncover your eyes and come in. Everything has settled down and I am just giving our counselor and his new husband a check-up to make sure that their cortical activity is back to stable, normal parameters, and that they are both uninjured after their… experience."
"The term husband would not exactly be appropriate for the situation at hand, Doctor." Dixon stepped up to Stepn's bedside as the Vulcan spoke and smiled. "Do not look at me like that, Director. I was incapacitated due to my reluctance to disappoint your children by not eating that extremely dangerous cake."
"I make no judgments other than to thank you for sacrificing your composure and risking your reputation just to placate my sons," Dixon said honestly. "They are truly sorry for their request now that they know that you are allergic to the cake."
"I'd hardly call our response to the sweetener in the cake an allergy, Director," Strark said from his bed next to Stepn's. "As for you," he added with as stern a look at Stepn as Vulcans could give, "please enlighten me as to why you would not classify me as your husband, as we have completed the necessary mental bonding for that which we have done together."
"I thought you must have another bonded somewhere out there, as you are older than I am," Stepn confessed. "My human half may have harbored inappropriate thoughts, but I would never have acted on them."
"You admit to fantasies of me in your private thoughts, but you imply that I am not worthy of actual deeds, despite what we have just gone through. I assure you Stepn, I have no other bonded than you. She who was bonded to me in my youth was lost in an attack on the planet where she was working approximately 20 Federation standard years ago. It is that loss that led me to return to the academy and pursue training in the mental health disciplines. I found the path so rewarding I continued my training so that I could teach others to help those around them. My current specialty is working with not the average patient, but with the telepaths and mind healers who help them."
"I noticed, Master Strark, that you were not serving as a counselor or a teacher on the Lafayette," Dixon pointed out.
"No, as the ship was understaffed when the attacks on this planet began, I volunteered my services with my first training as a member of the security team. I believed myself to be of more use in that moment in that position, however, I must confess that I find my skills and reaction time somewhat reduced by my age. As you humans would say, I am rusty."
"Fiddlesticks," Doug announced as he waved dismissively. "You are as fit as any other middle-aged Vulcan. I would have no reason to recommend you be relieved of security duties. However, I am acquainted with how Vulcans can be so intensely focused on efficiency that you would think yourself diminished in your abilities."
"If you are thinking of resigning from your admittedly temporary post on the Lafayette, I believe your primary and preferred skills could be of use to quite a few people in the Clan, Mr. Strark," Dixon informed him with a smile. "I would be happy to handle that transfer as well, as I am the fleet commander as well as a divisional director of the Clan."
"I should also inform you that there is an institute of higher learning, in human terms a community college, 15 land miles from this location that is in need of an instructor in their Psychology department, as the previous instructor was sadly killed while in your national capitol during the attacks. I applied for this position and have been scheduled to begin work there in January," Strark said, all while looking at Stepn.
"Why would you take a position beneath your level of training?" Stepn asked him.
"Perhaps I was aware of the reassignment of a favored former student to this location," Strark suggested with the hint of a Vulcan smile. "Perhaps that student was not the only one who has entertained illogically inappropriate thoughts of someone believed to be unattainable."
"Dixon, what say you and I give these two a bit more alone time?" Doug offered as he walked toward the door of the medical bay.
"My thoughts exactly, Uncle Doug," Dixon agreed. As he walked out of the room, he called back, "Report to me in the command center when you have actually worked out this situation, gentlemen."
"And try not to break any more of my biobeds," Doug added pointedly.
"They broke a biobed?" Dixon gasped and then giggled a bit.
"Yeah, yeah, laugh it up," Doug grumped. "Those things don't grow on trees you know. And don't get me started on the conditions of the med bay when I first got alerted it was safe to enter. Remind me to have a talk with Huey about adjusting the sensor definition of safe to enter. I'm a doctor, Dixon, not a housemaid."
"You've been hanging out with Uncle Bones again," Dixon teased. "I get it, though. I wouldn't want the boys to see any of that when they come in for their checkups this afternoon.”
"Thank you for the reminder, Dixie. I have to get some more lollipops for your twins. Oh, and I have to go to Louisiana and find that moron that was their first pediatrician and sock him right in the mouth for convincing them that a good checkup would always be rewarded with candy. It's not a healthy association. I should give them a carrot or something else nutritious.”
"Good luck with that, Uncle Doug," Dixon laughed. "I had been thinking of asking for a lollipop myself after a good checkup.”
"If you ever have a checkup that I don't have to chase you down and practically hog tie you for, I might consider that," Doug retorted as he walked into his office.
"Yeah, good luck with that one too, Uncle Doug," Dixon mumbled as he made a hasty retreat from the medical bay.
"Nelson to Director Wiggins," a voice chirped from Dixon's communicator.
"Go ahead, Uncle Roger," Dixon answered.
"Would you be able to spare some time to come to the motor pool… that is the Surface Transportation Center?" the man asked tentatively. "Your Uncle Mel and I think that perhaps you should bring along Mamie and the twins. Make sure that you walk here and have the twins ride their bicycles."
"That is awfully specific, Uncle Roger," Dixon mused. "Should I be prepared for some sort of surprise?"
"I wouldn't say that, but if our friendly neighborhood mind healer has any experience with sentient vehicles that have attitudes, it couldn't hurt to bring him."
"Well, that doesn't raise any red flags," Dixon mumbled sarcastically. He doubled back to the med bay just as Stepn and Strark were emerging. "I have been requested to inquire about your possible experience working with sentient machines, gentlemen," he said seriously.
"I have no experience with such, other than my limited interactions with Dr. Whatley and his associates in the Clan," Stepn answered honestly. "I am however intrigued by the possible reasons for such a request."
"Some years back I had a student who had the idea of creating a holographic projection of a medical officer to assist in emergency situations when biological staff is insufficiently populated and or trained," Strark replied. "Beyond that, I admit no knowledge, but also confess to professional interest in the situation at hand. Perhaps it will be of value in learning to interact better with entities such as the aforementioned androids and the divisional intelligences such as Thibodeaux."
"I thank you for your support in whatever this turns out to be," Dixon nodded. Speaking into his communicator once more, he addressed the divisional AI. "Thibbie, can you see if Mamee and my twins would like to go for a walk to the garages? Tell the boys they can ride their bicycles."
"Rat away, Oncle Dixie," came the reply.
"I believe the correct translation would be, 'With haste, Uncle Dixie'," Stepn explained to a confused-looking Strark. "I am sure you will become more acquainted with the lexicon of the Cajun speakers in our division with more prolonged interactions with them, Husband." There was a barely noticeable tinge of green to his cheeks at the last word.
"Most assuredly, Husband," was the reply, which tinted the younger Vulcan's cheeks a tiny bit more.
"I take it that things have been settled," Dixon asked with a smile.
"Yes, things… WE… are settled," Stepn answered. "I am now considered a married man, Director."
"Well congratulations to you both then," Dixon responded. "Welcome to the family, Uncle Strark."
"Uncle Strark," the older Vulcan repeated. "It is not an unpleasant title."
"DADDY!" the Popsicle twins screamed as they practically flew down the sidewalk to ride circles around Dixon and the two Vulcans. "Ooooh Oncle Stepn, you feel all better now?" Emile called out.
"We sorry we make you sick on the Red Velvet Cake," Etienne added sincerely.
"I will endeavor to help your Tante Rene create a recipe that does not have the ingredient that I am… allergic to, so that we may still be able to share your treat. I assure you I bear you no ill will for the outcome. I chose to eat the cake knowing the risk."
"Given the outcome of the situation, I feel it necessary to thank you children for the incident. I am uncertain that either Stepn or myself would have confronted what was between us in such a timely manner otherwise," Strark told the little ones.
"What he say?" Emile asked with a blink of confusion.
"Your Uncle Strark was thanking you for the chance to marry your Uncle Stepn," Dixon explained to his children.
"Did I hear correctly, that we now have a mated pair of Vulcan mind healers in our family?" Mamee asked as she caught up to the collection of younger males. Poppop was by her side joining them for the walk.
"Now, dear, we shouldn't make them sound like pets," Poppop said softly. "My heartiest congratulations to you both, though. Not many are so fortunate as I have been to have a second chance at your greatest love."
"Sweet talker," Mamee blushed. To the Vulcans she apologized. "I do hope you didn't take my words the way Daniel did. I certainly meant no offense, I merely wanted confirmation."
"Then confirmation is yours, dear lady," Stepn said with a bow. "I now have the privilege to introduce Strark as my husband."
"I would hug you if you weren't Vulcan," Mamee said excitedly.
"This is perhaps an opportune moment to remind you that I am only half Vulcan," Stepn said as he opened his arms. "I find that I am reminded most pleasantly of the embraces of my own grandmother when you hug me. It is an experience I never thought to encounter again, and is most illogically welcome."
"There is nothing illogical about your need for the comforting touch of humans, husband," Strark told him. "You were raised by your human relations and immersed in their culture until you came to the Academy. While you have taken to Vulcan culture admirably well, it does nothing good for you to deny your human ancestry or the accompanying emotions and needs. I care for you very much, Stepn, all of you, not only your Vulcan half."
"Thank you, husband," Stepn told him. "Well, while I am in a more human mood, might I hug Emile and Etienne to help confirm in their minds that I do not hold them any blame for my… illness, and I too wish to thank them for helping make it possible for Strark and I to join together?"
Both Popsicle boys jumped off their bikes to rush over and cuddle Stepn. "Oncle Stepn, where we go for our bike ride?"
"I believe that your Uncle Mel and Uncle Roger have requested our presence with the surface vehicles," he answered them. "The automobiles?" he added when they looked up at him in confusion.
"We get to go see Frankie and Ziggy?" Emile squealed excitedly. He and his brother leapt back onto their bicycles quickly.
"Antoine and Antoinette be so happy to see they Mama and Papa," Etienne announced as he and Emile took off for the garages.
"I'll run after them," Dixon sighed before taking off to catch up to his little speed demon children.
"I'm glad he ran after them, because I sure can't keep up with them," Poppop said with a laugh. "I may feel younger than I have in twenty years, but I'm still not up for chasing two cyclones on wheels." The rest of the adults agreed with him.
"I find it rather sweet that the Nelson's house has that tower since he is the divisional pilot," Mamee pointed at the house in question as they walked past it.
"I had wondered about that, since we're awfully far inland to need a lighthouse," Poppop laughed.
"The structures do not seem to match with expected Federation buildings," Strark observed, looking up and down the boulevard at the different homes. "I must endeavor to learn which dwelling houses whom."
"So, what seems to be the issue here?" Dixon asked as he entered the huge garage that housed all the motorized land-based vehicles for the clan, following his twins who were happily doing circles in the much larger space than was available in the garage they had before Divisional Headquarters had been moved.
"See, Ziggy, I told you Dixon would take good care of our babies since they belong to his babies," Frankie the Corvette announced.
"They're not my babies and I wasn't the one complaining that I hadn't seen them since we all got moved here," Ziggy returned. "But now that they are here, boys, bring those bicycles over here so I can get a good look at them and make sure they are in good shape."
"No, you weren't worried a bit," Frankie laughed. "Boss, we got to talk," he told Dixon. "Get in here and let me drive you around the compound a bit. Oh, there's two Vulcans now. Ummm… Dixie, would you mind riding in my rumble seat, so I can report to all three of you?"
"Poppop and I will see the twins back home later, Dixie," Mamee said with a smile.
"To be honest, I've been jealous of the kids getting to ride back here," Dixie grinned as he climbed up into the back seat of his sports car.
"I am familiar with the make and model of this land vehicle, but I do not recall the Corvette ever being equipped with such a seat," Strark observed.
"I'm specially built for the Boss here," Frankie bragged. "Hop in gentlemen and let me do the driving and the talking." As they pulled away, they could hear Ziggy instructing Poppop that Antoinette had a loose chain that needed to be tightened.
"I appreciate the opportunity to learn my way around the compound without an excess of movement," Strark said as they approached the bridge over the upper end of Popsicle Bayou.
"I confess to a preference for Earth ecosystems," Stepn admitted. "I find walks along the bayou to be quite relaxing and helpful for meditation at times."
"This body of water is referred to as a bayou? I thought that term was limited to the geographical area known as Louisiana," Strark questioned.
"Well, my twins and Auntie René are from there, so it is a concession to make them more comfortable with their new home," Dixon explained. "This would more truthfully be known as a lake."
"He who is my husband expressed interest in knowing which house was home to whom, Director," Stepn stated before speaking to Strark. "Now, as Mrs. Wiggins pointed out, the house on the corner with the tower that appears to be a lighthouse is the home of the Nelsons and their son, Zephraim, who prefers the name Zipper I am told."
"I understood such structures to be located at coastal areas to aid in ship navigation in the past," Strark stated with a bit of obvious confusion.
"The tower serves as an air traffic control tower for the compound as there is a small air strip nearby that serves the farming community. It isn't completely necessary, given satellite feed of air traffic patterns, but Roger's ancestors worked a lighthouse in the New England area of this country, so it serves as a reminder of his heritage as well," Dixon informed the men.
"Directly across Josiah Boulevard is the home of our Division Chief Engineer, Mr. Washington, and his partner, Dr. Whatley," Stepn contributed.
"This home is known as a log cabin, I believe. It is interesting to see that two members of the family that deal most directly with technology have chosen such a low-tech style of home for themselves," Strark observed.
"Some of the logs used in that home were first hewn to build a smaller log cabin many years ago for Uncle Doug and Uncle Josiah," Dixon pointed out. "So, there is a sentimental connection as well."
"It is most assuring that Huey honors his partner's first love in such a way," Stepn said quietly.
"She who was my wife is no threat to you or our current relationship, T'hy'la, but she and I are honored by your thoughts of her," Strark replied.
"Next door to the Nelsons is the home of the security chief, Major Miers, and his partner, Lieutenant Dolfis. I am reminded of the farmhouse of my human grandparents when I look at their home. Their twins, Xander and Xandra, are romantically linked to the Director's brother David, although they are not a fully recognized unit at this time."
"Davey says he can't make up his mind which one of them he wants to marry," Dixon said rolling his eyes.
"The Clan, like many member civilizations of the Federation, does recognize, I believe the correct term to be throuples, do they not?" Strark asked. "Has your brother not been informed of this?"
"But he's more fun to pick on when he thinks he has to choose one, plus Xander and Xandra say that they like the way he apologizes to them for spending time with the other one. Don't ask for details; I wish I hadn't," Dixon explained.
"The Gothic house on the other side of the street belongs to Mrs. Lewis, the mother of Nate and Lije. Nate lives further down the street with his partner and their children, however," Stepn pointed out.
"Mrs. Lewis is a family member, but not divisional personnel as her sons are. She is my brother Danny's secretary at Whatley-Wiggins, Inc.," Dixon added. "The house is yellow, though. How can that be gloomy, creepy, and goth?"
"You are mistaking the Gothic period of architecture with the Goth movement, Dixon," Stepn corrected. "My grandfather had been a contractor and was quite a fan of American architectural styles. I was treated to a great many lectures in my youth regarding the specific differences in each, as well as their similarities in some cases."
"I apologize for my error. My brother Davey and his boyfriend and girlfriend are the architectural and decorating style fanatics," Dixon pointed out. "Aunt Emily says this is exactly like the house she and her sons lived in before the car accident she was injured in. It had been in her family for a long time, but she had to sell it to pay debts that her husband made before he was sent to prison for the accident."
"I believe I met her at the function in Orlando, shortly before we were… called away," Strark mentioned.
"Called away?" Dixon asked with a giggle. "Is that what grownups are calling it now?" At the unimpressed look from his Vulcan friends, he shrugged and said, "Sorry, sometimes the kid in me slips out and makes an appearance."
"Do not apologize for acting your age when it is safe and appropriate to do so," Strark told him.
"Yes, only apologize for being crude, not for being a child, Director," Stepn added and then stuck his tongue out. "My own human side is also known to manifest at times."
"Tell me something I didn't know, Uncle Stepn," Dixon laughed.
"Next door to the security chief is the home of Daniel Wiggins III, and his sons Daniel and David, as well as his grandchild, Bethany."
"Well, they officially live there at least. Daniel spends more time there than Davey, but neither of them stay there full time. Daniel comes for sleepovers at Mamee and Poppop's a lot, and Davey spends almost all his time with Xander and Xandra. Not to mention, I think my mom is going to move in there soon," Dixon added with a grin.
"Stepn, please correct me if I am in error, but I believe this house to be what is known as Tuscan style," Strark said quietly. At his husband's look, he explained. "She who was my wife and I once took the chance to tour that area of Italy reviewing the art and culture. She was an archaeologist."
"You are correct, that is the style of the home, though I am not as familiar with it as it was not North American in origins, so my ancestor did not speak of it often," Stepn replied. "Across the street is the home of the elder brother of our assistant director and his husband, Philip, as well as their son who prefers to be called Lefty although I am unclear as to his reasons for this predilection," Stepn informed Strark as he continued the informative tour for his new husband.
"Lefty was injured in the attacks on Earth recently and had to have one hand and part of his arm replaced. When he thought he would lose the limb, he had asked to be called Lefty as many people who have lost their right appendage have done in the past on this planet," Dixon explained.
"Thank you for the insight, Director. I will make note of this in my private files for the personnel so that I do not cause undue embarrassment or awkwardness for the boy," Stepn replied.
"The Blankenship Peltier home seems very similar to the Lewis home," Strark observed.
"Yes, there are similarities, but the main differences are the lack of ornamentation on the Blankenship home. As we saw on Mrs. Lewis' home, there were a number of arched windows that come to a point rather than being a smooth semi-circle at the top. Also of note to the style was the wooden spire on the central gable of the home. Here, the gables are much less decorative, and the windows have no curves or points, to reduce the cost of the workmanship and materials in the first buildings of the style."
"I had no idea you knew so much about architecture, Uncle Stepn," Dixon smiled. "Davey is probably going to spend a lot more time with you in the future."
"He is most welcome to do so," Stepn replied. "I find it is a pleasant experience to recall these lessons from my grandfather."
"Now this one I can tell you about," Dixon spoke up again. "Next up on the right side of the street is the ancestral home of the Whatley family, now home to the Peltier's; Sonny, Lizzie, and Priscilla. Daniel and Priscilla are still discussing where they will make their home after they are married and their daughter is born. More to the point, all the grandmothers are fighting over who will get the babies and have to put up with Danny and Priscilla," Dixon announced with a laugh. "Is it Gothic as well, Uncle Stepn?"
"Your Mamee's childhood home is best described as Victorian, Dixon," Stepn explained. "The most noticeable differences being the wrap around porch on the Whatley Farmhouse, as well as the numerous circular windows. Also of interest are the many bay windows of the structure, and as with your brother in law's house, the lack of what my grandfather referred to as pretentious ornamentation, meaning the lack of spires."
"I am pleased to learn of your other interests outside our trained field of work, T'hy'la," Strark said as he placed a hand on his husband's arm in typical reserved Vulcan affection. "May you find my hobby equally interesting." At the questioning look from both Stepn and Dixon, Strark continued. "I play the Vulcan harp."
"Perhaps we could hear you play some time, Uncle Strark?" Dixon asked eagerly.
"I will be honored to do so, Dixon," Strark agreed.
"Your current home, Dixon, is a perfect, if somewhat larger than average, example of Southern Colonial architecture, also known as the Plantation home," Stepn spoke as they continued down the street.
"Surely this is not typical Earth architecture," Strark pointed out as he looked at the mushroom house on the right side of the boulevard.
"That would be the home of Nate Lewis Sharn and his partner, Zemal," Stepn explained. "I am told the architecture of the dwelling is due to a jest and prank regarding the fact that Zemal is Andorran."
"I do not follow this line of thought," Strark admitted.
"Well, you see there used to be this kid's tv show on Saturday mornings, an animated show called a cartoon, about small, blue skinned creatures known as Smurfs. They lived in mushrooms in a forest," Dixie enlightened the Vulcans. "Nate, Zemal, and their twins all love the house. The primary dwelling is below ground and therefore easier to maintain comfortable temperatures for Zemal."
"That is most understandable," Strark nodded. "Quite logical for a prank," he added.
"The last house on Josiah Boulevard is the home of Auntie René and Uncle Ossie," Dixie indicated. "This one I already know about. It's Acadian Plantation style architecture and Auntie René's family has lived in it for over a hundred years. It and the contents were rescued by certain specially gifted members of the clan after it burned down at its original location, almost with us in it. Good thing Jessie is experienced at getting the family out of burning infernos."
"I suspect there is an adventurous tale being alluded to," Strark teased.
"My hero," Dixie responded with a goofy smile and sigh.
"Your suspicions are confirmed, T'hy'la," Stepn observed. He had been told of the story by a couple of the people who either survived or at least knew about both fires.
"To your right, just beyond the division headquarters is the home of Danielle Wiggins and Bambi Borgia," Frankie told them all. "You might not have noticed it before, Dixie."
"Now that is Goth," Dixon blurted, looking at the house in question. "Even if it isn't all black and red like I expected."
"The architectural style shares its name with the art movement of the time and is called Art Nouveau," Stepn corrected. "This was not a style my grandfather knew anything about, but I studied it on my own at his encouragement. Note the very few straight, geometric shapes. The style is known rather for its grand, sweeping, natural lines and décor pieces. It is extensively decorated with carvings and imagery reminiscent of nature. The style was favored by the wealthy and powerful elite of the European continent."
"I don't mean this in any way negatively, but it looks like something my sister and her girlfriend would love," Dixon mumbled. "Let's go see something less… just less."
"Well, how's this for less, Boss?" Frankie asked. "To your right is the beautiful sandy beach of Popsicle Bayou and to your left, where we are parking for a moment, is the playground for all divisional personnel, but particularly the little ones."
"Spill it, Frankie; what did you need to talk to us about?" Dixon ordered as they waved to the Jewel twins and Zipper at the playground with several of the off-duty security personnel.
"Well, Ziggy and I were just wondering why we're the only cars that get to talk to you guys," Frankie confessed. "The Duchess is a little put out that no one has offered to upgrade her, and Evangeline is sort of broken up a bit thinking she should have been the prettiest and most awesome car in the place, but…."
"Please permit a brief interruption, Mr. Corvette, but as I am new to the family group, I am unacquainted with this duchess and Evangeline of whom you speak," Strark spoke up.
"Heck, I'm the boss around here and I don't even know who they are," Dixon pointed out. "Let me see if my guesses are correct though. The Duchess is the limo, and Evangeline is that brand new custom-built Malaysian car that Uncle Ossie bought for Auntie René?"
"You got it, Boss," Frankie told him.
"I have no problem with A.I. being added to the other cars," Dixon informed his ride. "I would think it would add to the safety of the family if anything. I have to say though, I'm not sure anyone else in the clan has ever thought of putting an A.I. into a 1961 Rolls Royce stretch limo. Doesn't mean it can't be done, just that I don't think anyone else ever thought of it."
"Well, there is one other thing for me to show you three that nobody else thought about yet," Frankie said as he slowly turned left onto Batts Street at the corner where Huey and Doug's house was located.
"Dixon, do you know the origins of this street name?" Stepn asked politely. "I have understood that Josiah Boulevard is named after your late uncle, Ms. Aimee's brother. Additionally, Rue de Sarah is named after her late mother, and called Rue in deference to the French ancestry of certain key members of the family."
"Batts was Grandmama Annie Mae's maiden name," Dixon explained. He then noticed where they were stopped. "Oh, that's new."
"Welcome home, Uncle Stepn and Uncle Strark," Frankie announced cheerfully.
"This is a Vulcan domestic dwelling," Strark observed.
"I was always fascinated to see the similarities to the designs of the architect from Earth known as Frank Lloyd Wright and his prairie style," Stepn pointed out as he got out of the car. Strark joined him and they walked together up the path to their new home.
"We're kind of running out of room around here for houses," Dixon mumbled as he and Frankie left the Vulcans to get settled. "It's a good thing we're probably one of the smallest divisions in the Clan."
"For now," Frankie teased.
"What's that supposed to mean? What do you know that I haven't been told? You know I am the director around here. I should know about stuff first, not last," Dixon pouted.
In his head, Dixon heard several of his fellow directors as well as Cory all saying, "Yeah, like it's ever going to work like that."