The awkwardness of Horatio’s entrance into the family living area was like watching a clown not being obvious at a funeral. Awkwardness at slipstream velocities. At first James didn’t say anything, except for staring at his younger brother when he and their father walked in together. James did not quite know how to greet the man who had practically been his best friend during their childhood and teenage years and who went off to betray everything that the uniform they wore stood for. Instead he opted to welcome his father home, James hugged his father tightly. It was obvious the silence was there as others gazed on, waiting for one of the McCallister boys to make the first step.
“Oh my god guys, can you both say hello to one another.” Conrad groaned at his brothers.
James looked at Horatio, “Perhaps we should go outside to talk.” He suggested.
“Sounds like a good start.” Horatio returned and followed James out to the balcony.
A somewhat light breeze hit them as they stood a few feet away from one another.
“It’s good to see you J-P.” Horatio started with, using his brother’s nickname.
“Likewise H.” James returned, surveying the harbour view in front of them. “You look well.”
“Prison makes you rethink a lot of things.” Horatio answered back with as he sat down on one of the outdoor chairs. “I take it the young woman who was with Laura is Karyn?”
“Yep.” James said with a single nod.
“And the boys out back in the swimming pool…”
“…are your nephews.” James finished as he looked at his younger brother. “Harri, Alfie and Theo.”
“Am I allowed to meet them?” Horatio wondered. “Or do they see me as the treasonous uncle that abandoned everything their father and mother stand for?
James shook his head quickly, “They know you exist but I never once told them about your time with the Maquis or in prison.”
Smirking at the fact that his older brother hadn’t spoken ill of him to his children made Horatio hopeful that there was something here they could salvage. “I appreciate that.”
“I’ve raised them the same way mom and dad did with us three.” James added. “You don’t judge a book by its cover and you value that person based on how they act with you. You have several years to catch up on.”
“I get that. What have you told them?” Horatio wondered.
“You left Starfleet to pursue other interests.” James answered quite suddenly. It was almost too quick as it was certainly a rehearsed line he had used more than once. “So how long do you plan to stay around for?”
Wincing as he considered how to share that, Horatio took in a breath and spoke. “For some time. I’ve got some time away from my current assignment.”
“Assignment?” James quizzed as he took the chair almost opposite to Horatio.
Rubbing his temple, Horatio nodded. “Look what I’m about to share with you, you need to understand there’s more to what you know.”
“Do tell.” James responded. “We never kept secrets as kids, why start now.”
“Because that’s what my life has become.” Horatio answered back with.
“Come again?” James threw back confused to what his brother meant. He didn’t feel their attempt at repairing their relationship was going anywhere right now.
Hesitating at first, Horatio looked around almost suspiciously before he spoke. “The thing is J-P, I never left Starfleet.”
“Rubbish.” James snapped back with. “You went AWOL, abandoned your post and joined the Maquis. If I hadn’t shot you in the badlands and brought you in then who knows where you’ll be right now.”
“Oh James will you just shut up for one moment!” Horatio almost screamed in frustration as he stood up straight away and pushed his right hand through his hair as he looked back out towards the harbour. “The whole thing was a cover up.”
Standing up now at hearing that revelation, James wanted to know more. “A cover up? What was? You leaving to join the Maquis?”
“Yes!” Horatio exclaimed as he placed both hands on the balcony edge. Turning to his brother, he elaborated further. “I work for Starfleet Intelligence. When I left the academy I was approached to infiltrate one of the Maquis cells, my capture was orchestrated and so was my imprisonment.”
Shaking his head in disbelief, James couldn’t get it. “You’re telling me that over twenty-five years ago that whole thing was a shambles, just to get you into the ranks of the Maquis?”
“Yes.” Horatio said. “But with the arrival of the Dominion and the subsequent war my mission was interrupted. The plan had been for you and the Audacious’ crew to capture me and then several weeks with my fellow jailbirds we would escape. I would have gained their trust and the plan was for me to work my way up towards the top echelons of the organisation. I was one of many agents sent in. Even Captain Adelaide knew about it!”
Shocked to hear that his former mentor, the woman who literally taught him everything about command and leadership, had kept something so important about his family so quiet for so many years and took it to her grave. “So what have you been doing instead?”
“Well when pardons were issued to former Maquis once it was seen that they were right about the Cardassians, I was released and returned to my duties with Intelligence.” Horatio explained. “But to keep things quiet, they falsified records and had a hologram of me created to serve my time in prison.”
“And how come you’re telling us about it now? Why not reach out to one of us sooner?” James enquired.
“My time with S.I. has come to an end and the majority of my missions have been declassified. I’m allowed to return to active service in the field.” Horatio shared. “I’ve had to keep things quiet to keep all of you safe. You almost blew my cover one time though.”
Perplexed as to why he would make such a comment, James told his brother to clarify what he meant by that. “When did I almost do that?”
“Your tenure as captain of the Avenger.” Horatio stated. “You were ordered to extract a team of operatives from Chin’toka. I was one of them. Luckily though my disguise held up but I was certain you worked out it was me.”
“Are you saying that was you dressed up as a Bajoran refugee? The blond hair guy that kept on staring at me?” James grilled his brother with. “I kept on thinking there was something familiar.”
“Well I had undergone a lot of surgical alterations but when the mission had gone wrong we needed immediate extraction and when I saw you on the Avenger’s bridge, I genuinely thought that was it.” Horatio said. “I’m sorry I couldn’t say anything.”
Crossing his arms against his chest, James took in everything that Horatio had just told him. “I take it Conrad and Laura know?”
“They do as do mom and dad.” Horatio answered. “Conrad had been the one to reach out when my team and I were debriefed at Starbase Three-Seven-Eight. He recognised me through my disguise as a Ferengi.”
“A Ferengi?” James repeated.
“Yeah, he said he recognised my smile through the teeth and lobes.” Horatio said, chuckling slightly. “He then told me what he was going through and I agreed to return with him and Laura back to Earth.”
Taking a moment to find away to compartmentalise the anger he had built up for Horatio and what he had apparently done over twenty-five years ago, James was starting to see his true brother for the first time before him.
“I am sorry.” Horatio said, almost pleading for forgiveness. “I know you’re going off to the Delta Quadrant in a few days time, but I want to be able to reconnect with you J-P. The secrets are too much and being able to contain them after a while becomes almost near impossible to do.”
“Well let’s use these next two days to reconnect and for you to get to know your nephews.” James said with a small smile.
Relief flew over Horatio’s expression. “I appreciate it J-P.” The younger brother moved forward to hug his older brother.
James relented and hugged him back. “I know the boys would love getting to know you, plus I’m certain you and Alfie will get on like a house on fire. He reminds me of you so much.”
After letting go, Horatio nodded with appreciation. “I promise, I want to be in their lives as much as yours and Karyn. Well as much as you’ll let me.”
“One bit at a time.” James said. “Plus we need to be there for Conrad right now.”
“Absolutely.” agreed Horatio. “I’m not expected to be leaving for my next assignment anytime soon. I’ve got a few weeks to spend here.”
“You got an assignment already?” James quizzed.
“Yep,” Horatio said. “I’m taking over the command of the League from Laura and following your footsteps.” When James showed he didn’t understand his brother, Horatio went on to tell him that once the League had received its upgrades while in Spacedock then he’ll be heading to Barzan too.
“The Delta Quadrant is about to have an invasion of the McCallister clan!”