Author's Note: Delia, Karen, Glen, Joshua, Meredith, the principal, Shane's errant XO, children, pets, and any stray falling stars belong to me.
Thanks to Karen and Jillian for reading behind me. All mistakes are my own.

Gabrielle Bessey

They pushed the goat into the car, trying to stay away from the kicking hooves. They'd painted the animal with food coloring, planning to return the animal to the rival high school before anyone caught them. They didn't hear Mrs. Williams, the principal, come up behind them.

"So that's the infamous Walden High mascot?!" There was laughter in her voice.

Both boys jumped, then turned to face her with guilty expressions.

She patted them on their arms. "Just take the goat back and report to my office when you return."

The ride across town was made with little fuss, considering their passenger. When they arrived back in their school parking lot, they wondered if their parents had been called.

Mrs. Williams didn't keep them waiting. "I understand about the goat--and I didn't call your parents about it." The boys breathed a sigh of relief. "But you did leave school grounds without permission, so you're both going to get detention for a week." She just laughed at their stricken looks.

"Go on, go home. I'll see you tomorrow."

Racing past the secretary, they pulled up short in the office when they saw who was inside. Joshua stopped abruptly, Glen plowing into him before he could stop. "Joshua, watch what you're doing."

General Tyrus Cassius McQueen stood up, followed by Lt. Colonel Cooper Hawkes--the former shaking his head at his sons, the latter holding out his hand as the boys came forward.

"Cooper, man, it's great to see you. When did you get in?" Glen came forward and shook Cooper's hand, and Joshua grabbed it almost before Glen let go.

"Yeah, man, good to see you."

McQueen stared at the boys. "Didn't we teach you something about knocking?"

Both boys had the grace to look down at the floor. Cooper laughed. "C'mon, sir, give them a break."

Joshua looked up and smiled. "Yeah, Dad, give us a break. Besides, you were supposed to meet us outside. We're going to be late, and you know how Mom gets."

McQueen walked around the desk. "I doubt your mother's even left the hospital." Looking at Cooper, he tilted his head. "How about dinner?"

"Thanks, but Meredith is waiting for me at the hotel."

"Bring the family along. Delia and Karen are always making lots extra because Joshua and Glen constantly bring home their friends."

Cooper smiled. "I'll go get them and meet you at Delia's."

McQueen clapped him on the shoulder as they walked out. Cooper headed for his car, stopping to watch as McQueen walked into the parking lot flanked by his sons. McQueen waved off his driver and climbed into the cherry-red mustang driven by Glen. With a wave, Cooper headed for the hotel to pick up his wife.

Cooper closed the door behind him to their hotel apartment, dropping his briefcase next to the desk. "Meredith?"

Her voice was muffled. "In here."

Pushing open the bathroom door, Cooper smiled at the sight of his wife drying her hair. Even after their 15-year marriage, Cooper still caught his breath when he looked at her, just as he had when he first saw her in the landing bay on the Saratoga. Moving to stand behind her, he wrapped his arms around her waist and hugged her.

"We've been invited to dinner at McQueen's. Where are the kids?"

Meredith snuggled back against Cooper's chest. "They went down to the pool. Unfortunately," she stroked the hand that rested on her hip, "they'll be back shortly."

Cooper swatted her on the bottom and grinned. "I'll go round 'em up--wouldn't want to keep the general waiting."

Cooper headed for the pool, rounding up his sons and urging them towards the room. "C'mon guys, we're going to dinner at General McQueen's house." That announcement sent them scurrying to their room.

Though it had been a few years since the kids had last been to Loxley, they had heard enough stories from their father to look forward to the visit with the McQueen household.

When they arrived at the house, Cooper lined up the boys against the car and gave them their orders--mainly mind their manners and no horsing around. Delia, walking by the huge living-room window, chuckled as she watched Cooper lay down the orders to his unit.

Delia held the door open as they approached. Hugging Meredith, she patted her on the belly. "Number four?"

Meredith rubbed her belly, laughing. "Believe me, it was a big surprise. Docs tell me that this one is a girl, though. Of course, that's what they said with Jake." Meredith corralled the aforementioned child as he was about to race past. "Jake, what are you supposed to say?"

Jake held out his hand to Delia. "Thank you for having me."

Delia shook his hand then ruffled his hair. "It is my pleasure, Jake."

Delia straightened, finding herself in Cooper's hug. Hugging him back, she patted him on the back. "Welcome, Cooper. It's good to see you."

Cooper kissed her on the cheek. "It's good to see you, too. Thanks for having us."

Taking their hands and leading them into the kitchen, Delia laughed. "Nonsense, I told you, you're always welcome here."

McQueen turned from the sink when he heard the Hawkes family arrive. Jake, a 9-year old miniature of his father entered first, his eyes opening wide when he saw McQueen standing there. Adam, the gangly 13-year-old, red curls falling into his eyes, pushed Jake farther into the room, then held out his hand to McQueen. "Sir."

McQueen shook his hand, then shook Jake's as he finally remembered to offer it. Christopher, a somber 5-year-old, looked up at McQueen, then gravely offered him one of his treasured Oreo cookies. McQueen kneeled down and took the cookie from Christopher's hand. Delia, Cooper, and Meredith watched as they both twisted their cookies apart and licked the middle. Obviously deciding he was okay, Christopher held out a chocolate-crumbed hand, which McQueen soberly shook.

McQueen stood and shook Cooper's hand, then kissed Meredith's cheek. He quirked an eyebrow at Cooper as he observed Meredith's advanced stage of pregnancy. Meredith didn't think it was possible anymore, but the blush that crossed Cooper's cheeks made her laugh. She reached up and stroked his cheek, then turned to smile at McQueen.

"It's nice to know he can still do that--thanks, General."

Delia ushered everyone to the table as she finished preparing the meal. Glen and Joshua came in, sweaty from track practice, and volunteered to take the younger boys out to play in the pool. With a whoop, the adults could hear them racing through the house to see who could get to the pool first. By tacit agreement, Glen and Joshua let Christopher beat them.

McQueen watched as Cooper rubbed Meredith's back, remembering when she had come back into Cooper's life.

"O" Club
Loxley, Alabama

The mixture of people and music was almost deafening to McQueen since he'd been used to the relative peacefulness of Delia and Karen's home. Moving through the throng, he located his WildCards at a table near the stage. Sinking into the chair they had saved for him, he ordered a beer from the waitress. Once his order had been taken, he was inundated with questions by Shane and Vanessa.

"Okay, sir, let's see 'em." Vanessa looked at him levelly.

"See what?" McQueen took a swallow of the beer that was placed in front of him. Only Cooper saw the small grin playing on his lips behind the bottle.

"Pictures." Shane was exasperated. "We want to see pictures of Glen and Joshua." She held up her hand as McQueen opened his mouth. "And don't say you don't have any."

McQueen put down his beer and grinned, startling them a little, then reached into the back pocket of his jeans and pulled out his wallet. He extracted four pictures and passed them to Shane as Vanessa leaned over to look as well.

"Sir, they are so adorable. Look at those eyes. Talk about heartbreakers." Shane looked up at McQueen, smiling at the pride she saw so evident in his eyes.

"They're troublemakers, too." McQueen shook his head as he thought about them getting into everything that wasn't nailed down or shut.

The lights dimmed and the voice of the emcee drifted through the speakers. "It is my pleasure to present the lovely Ms. Meredith Henderson."

The lights went out and a spotlight hit the center of the stage where Meredith stood. Her voice lifted as she belted out a bluesy tune that was quite popular, her body moving to the rhythm of the music as the band tried to keep up with her. She walked around the stage, dazzling the servicemen and women who swayed to the music. When she got to the 58th's table, she stood for a minute, singing to them, before she winked at Cooper and moved back towards the stage. She finished her set, accepted the praise of the audience, and stepped offstage.

No one said a word--they all looked at Cooper to gauge his reaction to seeing Meredith after all this time. They didn't know that she'd been writing to him, her letters were like a secret treasure he kept hidden in his footlocker.

When she made her way from backstage, she was swarmed by well-wishers. She thanked them graciously as she walked toward the WildCards.

Reaching the table, the men stood as Meredith glanced at each of them and smiled.

When she got to Cooper, she tilted her head. "Welcome home, Cooper," and opened her arms.

Cooper took a step forward and swept her into a bear hug. Putting her back on the ground, he kissed her cheek then dragged another chair over so that she could join them.

Sitting close to Cooper, she held his hand on her lap. "I'm so glad to see that all of you are safe. I was worried when I heard the news after the prisoner release." Meredith turned to McQueen. "Colonel, how's your leg?"

They all looked a little stunned, and Meredith giggled. "Cooper wrote and told me what had happened."

Cooper shrugged when they looked at him. The conversation turned to what everyone was doing at present, filling Meredith in on their lives since she'd left the Saratoga.

After an hour, Meredith looked at her watch. "I've got to go, I'm on in 20 minutes." Looking at Cooper, "Can I buy you a drink later?"

Cooper smiled. "Sure, I'll be here."

"Good." Meredith pressed a quick kiss to his lips before she got up. "It's been great seeing you all."

When she left the table, Cooper turned to find everyone staring at him.

Vanessa smiled at him. "You wrote to her?"

He looked uncomfortable with all the attention. "Well, yeah. She wrote first and wanted to know what was going on, and it just kept going. I knew she was coming here sometime, I just didn't know when." He looked at McQueen, wondering what he thought since he'd been against their relationship while they were on the Saratoga.

McQueen just stared at him, then a slight smile crossed his face. Cooper felt much better when he turned back to the stage.

The second set passed quickly, and Cooper remained at the table as the rest of the 58th went their separate ways, giving him a smile and a wink when they left.

Meredith watched as Cooper sat at the table and stared into nothing. Stepping up behind him, she wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him on the ear before whispering, "Hey, marine, looking for a good time?"

Cooper laughed and stood up, grabbing Meredith's hand as they walked toward the door. They started towards Meredith's car when Cooper got a prickly feeling. Three grunts who were too drunk to know better stepped out of the darkness and began to harass Meredith for leaving with a tank.

Turning, she pinned them with a stare. "Why don't you get a life?!?!?!."

One of them grabbed Meredith around the waist, lifting her off the ground. She struggled with him, jabbing him in the chest with her elbow, then turning to face him when he let her go. The other two circled Cooper, thinking they'd have an advantage of two against one--the first one never saw the punch that laid him out in the parking lot. The second one managed to dodge Cooper's foot, but walked straight into Cooper's other first, sinking against another car. As Cooper turned to help Meredith, he saw her step back and kick the guy in the crotch, wincing when he saw him go down.

Grabbing her by the hand, Cooper hustled her into the car. "Remind me not to piss you off."

Meredith quickly drove to the house she had been assigned, barely following any semblance of road rules. She practically dragged Cooper from the car, pushing him through the door before he had a chance to say anything. Closing the door and locking it, she pulled him to her and ran her hands over his body as she pressed against him for a kiss. A thought ran through her head and she stepped back, leaving Cooper with a confused look.

"You do want to do this, don't you?" She looked scared, as if she were afraid he might say no.

Cooper grinned and picked her up in his arms. "Which way is the bedroom?"

Fumbling around, they almost didn't make it to the bed. It had been a long time--it was almost over before it began, but Cooper pulled Meredith close, wrapping his body around her, after they made love.

As morning light filtered through the curtains, Meredith stretched. When she brushed against Cooper, she was almost startled, then smiled as she remembered waking in the middle of the night to find him caressing her body. This morning, she cuddled up to his back, stroking his arm as she made her way up his body. She kissed his navel, feeling him stir, then kissed his neck.

"Good morning."

Cooper flipped over, staring at her face and brushing his hand across her cheek. "Will you marry me?"

Meredith blinked, then blinked again. "What?"

"Will you marry me? I don't want to lose you again."

"Cooper, you won't lose me." Meredith laid her head on his chest, wrapping her arms around him.

He sighed. "I understand."

She looked up at him. "What do you understand?"

"I know it's a hard thing to be married to a tank."

Meredith sat up, pushing her hair out of the way. "What has you being an in-vitro got to do with anything? I don't want you to make a mistake just because you haven't seen me in a while and now that you have..."

Cooper grabbed her hand and looked at her. She saw that he no longer had that lost look in his eyes that had drawn her to him on the Saratoga. "I know what I feel and what I want."

Meredith looked into his eyes, then stroked her finger down his cheek. "I think you've grown up on me." Brushing her lips against his mouth, she relaxed into him.

He held her. "So, what's your answer?"

Meredith laughed, and he felt himself relax. "Yes."

Although a bit hesitant, the chaplain on base agreed to marry them. Cooper asked Nathan to be his best man since Meredith asked McQueen to give her away. Delia and Karen insisted on having the reception at the house, now that spring was filling the yard with colors of the season.

Delia, Karen, Shane, and Vanessa sniffled as they exchanged vows, and the tears began to fall when they saw Cooper tenderly cup Meredith's face before he kissed her.

The reception was loud--laughter spilling from everywhere as they celebrated. It was a small gathering--only the WildCards and some members of the show. What they lacked in numbers, they made up for enthusiasm. In a hail of birdseed, they sent the newlyweds off in a car that had been booby-trapped in traditional fashion. The rest of the wedding party settled down to enjoy the evening.

>McQueen was startled back to the present when Karen entered the kitchen, hugging Cooper and Meredith before hugging McQueen. She wandered over to Delia, leaning over to smell the pots that were simmering. "What's for supper?"

"Stew, with homemade rolls and apple crisp for dessert."

Karen nudged Delia with her hip. "I'm so glad I married you," escaping before Delia could whack her with a spoon. She headed back to the table so that she could talk to Meredith about the baby.

Dinner was lively. After Karen set the table in the dining room, McQueen called the boys in for dinner, stepping out the way before he was run over by five pairs of feet. After dinner found them on the back patio as Christopher and Jake chased fireflies in the yard. When Meredith noticed that Christopher was sitting more than he was chasing, she nudged Cooper and said that it was time to get the boys into bed. It didn't take long to gather the children. Cooper picked up Christopher, who promptly fell asleep on his dad's shoulder. Meredith wrapped an arm around Jake as she herded him to the car. The Hawkes family said their goodbyes, giving hugs all around.

Delia and Karen made Meredith promise to call when the house on base was ready so that they could help her move in. Cooper belted the kids in, then helped Meredith into the car. McQueen noticed that Cooper stroked Meredith's cheek before he closed the door and smiled as Cooper caught him watching. Cooper winked at him, then slid into the driver's seat.

As McQueen, Karen, and Delia headed back into the house, Glen and Joshua were heading out.

"Try not to be too late." Delia called after them.

Adrienne pulled closer as Glen wrapped his hands in her hair, pressing his mouth against hers. Sliding his hands down her back, he continued to kiss her. She ran her hands up his chest, sliding them behind his head, her fingers stroking the back of his neck as if she were searching for something. Moments later, when they broke apart, he remembered her fingers searching.

"Why were you stroking the back of my neck like that?" Glen rubbed his finger along Adrienne's cheek.

"Just checking." She smiled coyly.

Glen's eyes narrowed. "What do you mean--just checking?"

"Well, I know your father's a in-vitro."

"You were going to say tank." His voice flattened, and he shifted away from her.

"Oh, come on, Glen. Everyone knows about your dad. I just wondered if he passed anything down." Adrienne's smile was suggestive as she moved her hand toward his crotch.

Pushing her aside, Glen started the car. "Why don't you just add the stereotype that black men are well hung, and we'll have the race thing covered."

Glen drove quickly through town, making sure Adrienne was safely at her door before leaving.

Slamming the driver's side door, Glen leaned against the car and studied the house. It was huge, fitting all of them into one household when he and Joshua turned 13. Their father had gotten his first star--with it came all the trappings--and they had all moved in together, after a lot of arguing. McQueen had spent most of his time at Delia's anyway, he practically lived there, so it seemed the perfect solution to move everyone into this big house. Glen and Joshua didn't care--until they saw the pool, that is.

Opening the door quietly, Glen stood in the foyer, wondering what to do. Almost without thought, he turned and headed for his father's study. He loved this room, all the books that his father owned, encouraged by his father to read them. He sat in the large leather chair and ran his hand along the mahogany desk.

When McQueen wandered downstairs after midnight, he noticed the light on in his study and stepped to the doorway to see who was in there. He stood, watching as Glen gazed out of the bay window at the stars. McQueen was startled out of his reverie by Glen's soft question.

"Do you miss it?"

McQueen walked into the room and leaned against the desk beside Glen.


McQueen also looked out on the stars that had given him sanctuary. Looking down, he saw the disappointment in his son's eyes. Putting his hand on Glen's shoulder, he asked, "What happened?"

Glen closed his eyes and lowered his head, his voice soft. "She felt for a navel on the back of my neck and wondered if I'd inherited anything else."

McQueen didn't say anything, just tightened his grip on Glen.

Glen sighed. "I told her that if she went with the stereotype that black men are well-hung, she'd have the race thing covered."

Hearing something that sounded like a cross between a snort and a chuckle, Glen looked up to find his father trying to stifle the laughter, blue eyes crinkling at the corners with the effort.

A matching set of blue eyes also began to smile, laughter finally filling the room. Pushing back from the desk, McQueen headed for the kitchen, calling over his shoulder to ask Glen if he wanted a sandwich.

McQueen had learned as his sons grew up that the messier and weirder the sandwich, the better they liked it. Many a lunch had been served to him where the boys had concocted some off-the-wall meal that they were sure would please their dad. Most times, they were right; however, the sardine/peanut butter/onion/pickle sandwich had not gone over well and was quickly relegated to the list of meals that was best forgotten.

They ate in silence--Glen and McQueen were a lot alike in that respect. Wherever Joshua was, there was bound to be excitement; but Glen tended to hold back and evaluate his surroundings more than his brother. McQueen loved his sons equally, pride swelling his heart when he looked at them--but he did notice that Glen displayed more of his tendencies than Joshua.

Cleaning up their mess, knowing Delia did not stand for them leaving dishes for her to clean when they were perfectly capable of doing it, they headed up the stairs. Before going in opposite directions, McQueen put his hand on Glen's shoulder and squeezed it. It had been a while, but Glen turned and buried himself in his father's arms for a quick hug. McQueen closed his eyes as he welcomed the hug, knowing it would be a while before another one would be forthcoming. Stepping back, Glen smiled and disappeared down the darkened hallway towards his room.

Colonel Shane Vansen popped her head around the door and grinned an evil smile. "His ass is mine."

McQueen looked up from his report and smiled as Shane slipped in and closed the door behind her.

"I see you found a solution to your problem." He leaned back in his chair and stretched.

Shane dropped into the chair in front of his desk. She was dressed in utilities, having returned from field exercises with her squadron. After attaining full-bird status, Shane had been given the command of a group of hot-shot pilots training at Loxley, rumored to be almost as good as the 58th and the 127th.

She rubbed the back of her neck. "Oh, yeah. He was awakened to the facts of life real quick, especially after we nailed his squad four times in a row. Grudgingly, he acknowledged that I just *might* know what I'm doing."

Shane's XO, Major Ken Anderson, had practically been running the 69th squadron after its CO had been killed in a flight accident. He hadn't taken the news very well that Shane was the new CO, testing her every inch of the way and doing his best to undermine her authority. When field maneuvers had started, he had spouted off again, challenging her to beat him. While Ken had the textbook memorized, he had very little field experience compared to the years Shane had put in fighting the Chigs and the various other skirmishes all over the world.

After returning from the war, spending time in Loxley with the others as everyone wound down from the frenetic pace of battle, she'd found herself restless. Going to McQueen, Shane asked for his advice and his help in being assigned to a squadron that would give her a chance to advance. With a little encouragement, Shane had been assigned to the Blue Devils, an elite squadron that specialized in strike missions that made other squadrons cringe. At first, McQueen had been a little hesitant, worried about her--as he was with all his kids. After her first mission, his fear eased as he realized that Shane was truly coming into her own.

Through the years, they had touched base often, keeping in touch throughout the little skirmishes still plaguing a planet that had survived an intergalactic war. She had never married, flirting with it between battles, but the Corps always drew her back. It was in her blood, and every time she got close to the altar, she felt unfaithful. Now, Shane had returned to the fold, so to speak, and McQueen was glad to have her back.

McQueen leaned forward. "I never had a doubt that he would see the light." Standing, he moved to the file cabinet to file the report with the rest. "Cooper's back. He, Meredith, and the boys came to dinner last night. I would have asked you if you'd been here."

Shane swivelled in the chair. "I know. Sure as hell would have beaten MREs. Maybe next time."

McQueen returned to his chair. "We're having a barbeque this weekend, so plan on it." Tapping a pencil on his desk, he stared at Shane. "Meredith's pregnant again."

Shane stopped moving and stared at McQueen. "They're a bunch of damn rabbits." She smiled. "Maybe it'll be a girl this time. Have they gotten their housing allotment yet?"

"In three days. Karen and Delia are supposed to help Meredith move."

"I guess I'll volunteer my services, then." Shane stood and stretched, then snapped to attention and saluted.

McQueen saluted back. "Dismissed."

After Shane left, McQueen leaned back in his chair and stared out in the blue sky, thinking about his WildCards.

Nathan had returned home, finding Kylen recovering from her experience as a POW. With a lot of encouragement and patience, they had finally gotten married. They both went back to school, finding themselves at a loss after the war destroyed their plans to colonize. Nathan became an architect, finding that he liked building things after destroying so much during the war. He liked the clean lines, the crisp detail of creating places of enjoyment for people. Kylen became a psychologist, specializing in post-traumatic stress syndrome, using her experience to help others. They had two girls, Belinda and Deidre, whose pictures graced the entry hall in McQueen's home.

Delia was delighted to find the huge wall when they all moved in and quickly began to fill it with memories of their lives. In addition to Glen and Joshua, Delia, Karen, and McQueen, there were pictures of all of the WildCards before they'd scattered to the four winds and after, with their families.

There were also pictures of Vanessa and Paul. McQueen smiled as he thought about those two.

When they had returned to Earth, Vanessa began working at a nuclear power plant, helping pave the way for newer, cleaner forms of fuel. Paul had returned to school, becoming a high-school literature teacher. They had touched base several times, wondering if what they felt during the war was simply proximity and the close shadow of death or if it was something more. On a trip to a Chicago facility, Vanessa had called Paul, visiting him at school and talking with his students. They had been amazed to find that their pun-spouting instructor had been a fighter pilot, a grudging respect crossing their faces. Vanessa laughed when she saw Paul's cheeks turn a little pink when she described him as a hero.

That night, after dinner, sitting in Vanessa's hotel room, they found out that it wasn't just the war.

Laughing, they'd come back to Vanessa's room. Walking in, Paul suddenly stopped, then turned to look at Vanessa. When he saw the smile on her face, the sweet look in her eyes, he simply crossed the distance between them and swept her into his arms. Their kiss was long, deep, a wealth of pent-up emotion spilling out as they worked their way toward the bed. They fell onto it, their hands rushing to touch each other. Stopping for a breath, Paul looked into Vanessa's eyes.

"What took us so long?"

Vanessa stroked his face. "I guess we're just a little bit slow these days."

Paul grinned as he pulled Vanessa to him. "I'll show you slow..."

Three weeks later, McQueen had gotten an invitation in the mail to their wedding.

Delia walked onto the porch to find McQueen sprawled out on the glider, sipping his morning coffee as he watched the morning. Moving to stand behind him, sliding her hands down his chest, she leaned close to him and whispered, "good morning" as she pressed a kiss on his jaw and licked the lobe of his ear Pressing her cheek to his head, she breathed in the clean scent of him. Drawing back up, she brushed her hand against his navel, enjoying the shiver it caused. Delia sat on the other end of the glider and stretched her feet toward McQueen. Memory took over, and he began to massage them with his hand as he continued to sip his coffee.

Karen stood at the door and stretched, watching them as they sat on the porch. She stepped outside and took a deep breath, inhaling the luxurious aroma of the roses that surrounded the house. Walking behind the glider, she squeezed Delia's hand, appreciating the squeeze in return. As she stopped behind McQueen, Karen looked down at him. Tilting his head back, he looked up into her laughing eyes.

"Good morning, Ty." Karen leaned down and captured his lips in a kiss that sent his coffee cup shaking.

McQueen shook his head as Karen moved to the other porch glider. "I wonder what the neighbors think?"

Karen leaned back against the cushions and closed her eyes as the sun warmed her face. "Who the hell cares?"

McQueen stood outside in the hallway as Meredith finished nursing. They'd all been surprised the night before when Meredith stood up from the table and announced that her water had broken. It was a mad scramble to the hospital, and McQueen was not a little surprised to see how excited Cooper was. He thought that having three children would have dimmed the wonder of birth for the younger man, but Cooper still found the whole idea of babies to be an incredible miracle.

Now, McQueen, Karen, and Delia were waiting to visit the new addition to the Hawkes family. Kate Leslie Hawkes had come into the world demanding attention, and she certainly got it. Her brothers thought she was a beautiful doll, and Cooper was so tickled McQueen thought he would bust with joy.

Cooper stepped out into the hall and motioned them in, returning Karen and Delia's hugs and accepting McQueen's handshake and slap on the back.

Everyone oohed and aahed over the baby, tufts of red curls peeking out of the blanket. They took turns holding her, and McQueen stroked the soft curls as he turned toward the window to get a better look at her. Cooper stood next to him, bending to place a kiss on the baby's forehead. When he rose, his eyes met McQueen's, and they shared a look that said more that words ever could.

McQueen watched as his sons crossed the stage and received their diplomas. He was very proud of them--and he made sure they knew it. He chuckled silently as he remembered all of the trouble they'd gotten into when they were younger.

They always backed each other up in their fights--either defending their father as an InVitro or defending their mothers for being with the same man. After the first few times of being called down to the school, McQueen started sending the Shore Patrol to pick up his sons. He hadn't realized the impact of this until he'd shown up at school and heard some students warning the new kids about the McQueen brothers. New kids were told not to start fights since it required U.S. Marines to control them. Most of the time, the warnings were heeded.

Now, his sons were graduating with honors and bound for Annapolis. The world had come a long way--he wouldn't have been allowed to pick up the trash at the academy, and now his sons would be attending. McQueen was a little worried about Joshua--the boy had a major attitude, but he figured it went along with the dreams of becoming a pilot like his father and he would need it to survive and succeed. Glen was more circumspect, like his mother, and he was taking his time on choosing his path.

McQueen focused on the speaker as the last graduate crossed the stage. When all the kids were back in their places, they were congratulated. Whoops and cheers resounded as mortarboards were tossed into the air. McQueen, Delia, and Karen waited in their seats until the boys made their way over.

Glen and Joshua hugged the women, then stood looking at their father. McQueen smiled at them, and they converged on him. Suddenly, his arms were filled with his sons, and he was glad they let him have this moment.

He stood back and looked at his family, wondering where the years went. "Are you still bringing your friends over for a pool party?"

Joshua nodded. "Yeah, we have to make sure everyone knows that it's still on. We should be there around 6:30 p.m."

Glen nudged his brother as he looked at his parents. "You guys did promise to stay in the house, right?"

Karen rolled her eyes as Delia gave her son a glare. "Just don't make us come out to deal with any problems."

Both boys gulped. "Yes, ma'am."

Glen and Joshua headed back to their friends, and McQueen, Karen, and Delia headed back to the house to prepare for the onslaught of teenagers.

The party was a big success, lasting well into the morning. When the kids had shown up, Karen and Delia gathered them all together to explain the rules. Seeing McQueen stand behind them, arms crossed over his chest and steel in his blue eyes, made more of an impression than their words--ensuring that no deliberate violations would occur.

McQueen ventured downstairs the next morning and found teenagers sprawled anywhere they could find a spot. He stepped over snoring bodies and made coffee, taking it out onto the front porch. Joshua had stumbled out thirty minutes later, rubbing his eyes as he sipped his coffee.

"Morning, Dad."

"Looks like everyone had a good time."


They were both quiet as the early morning sun warmed the day. Joshua turned to McQueen and looked at him for a minute.

"Thanks, Dad, for everything. I know I haven't always been easy to deal with." Joshua looked down at his cup.

McQueen reached over and tucked his hand under Joshua's chin, tilting his head up to see his face. "You were a handful, but you were worth every minute."

They grinned at each other and went back to staring at the sky.

June passed quickly, and they found themselves at the airport to see their sons off. Hugs were hard and tears sniffled back as they said goodbye. After watching the plane take off, McQueen maneuvered the women back to the car and home.

The boys were heading to Annapolis for plebe summer; after which, they would begin the studies that would prepare them for service as Marine officers.

No matter how many stories they heard, plebe summer was worse than Glen or Joshua could have imagined--but they survived.

When he got home from work one evening, McQueen sighed as he realized how still the house was. He never realized how much the sounds of his sons filled their home, and he missed them more than he would have thought possible. Shaking himself, he entered his study and checked his e-mail, delighted to find messages from Glen and Joshua. They both said school was hard, but they knew it was too be expected and they weren't going to disappoint their father. McQueen sent a message back to both of them and sat back in his chair. Not for the first time, he found himself puffing with pride as he thought of his sons following in his footsteps. He turned back to his desk and finished the paperwork he'd brought home.


Once again, McQueen watched his sons with pride as they graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy. They would only have a short time before the boys headed off in separate directions. Joshua was heading to Pensacola for flight training, and Glen was heading to Washington to attend school at the Office of Naval Intelligence. He'd been amused when the other graduates saw that their father was a member of the Joint Chiefs, and they were prompt with their salutes.

When Glen told his father that he was going into ONI, McQueen could only shake his head. Glen put his arm around his father's shoulder and hugged him.

"Face it, Dad. Joshua's going to need all the good intel he can get so that he doesn't fly his plane into the side of a mountain."

McQueen laughed.

Joshua, on the other hand, had made his plans clear ever since the first time he sat in a Hammerhead cockpit. Nothing had deterred him from his dream, and McQueen knew he would excel at it.

When graduation was over, Glen and Joshua approached McQueen, Delia, and Karen. Stopping in front of the group, the boys snapped precision salutes to their father. He returned the salutes with a precision snap of his own--after all, he was still a Marine.

The End

Gabrielle Bessey