July 1, 2376—2047 hours
Jordan eagerly awaited moments like these like a teenage boy in the throes of his first crush. He knew there was a chance they would be sweeter if he could just let go of his fear and tell Enek how he felt about him. He was nearly 38 years old, after all—by all conventions of manhood, he should be well beyond such juvenile behavior as keeping his feelings bottled up inside. As a grown man, he should be strong enough to withstand even the possibility of being rejected, as there would always be other men. He was considered very attractive by all manner of men and women from numerous species; he had bright green eyes, a strong, square jaw, and a chiseled body—he’d even caught Roijiana eyeing him appreciatively more than once, not to mention the fact that Ensign Bowman had developed a crush on him (which she thankfully seemed to be getting over, as she didn’t stammer or blush as much when he spoke to her these days).
Jordan Kelley, all pretentions aside, knew that he could have any man or woman that he wanted.
So why couldn’t he tell the one he wanted that he wanted him?
Again, it came down to his ridiculous fear. Fear that Rogan would reject him. Fear that even if he said he shared his feelings, that something would come between them and all chances of a happy future together would be destroyed, as would their friendship. After all, it’s what had happened with Patel. Even after nineteen years, the memories of that heartbreak still haunted him, had made him so afraid of being burned like that again that he had for half his life been unable to settle into another committed relationship. The first time he’d given his heart away had been the last time he’d given it away, because it had been handed back to him shattered into thousands of shards.
He’d been so utterly destroyed by Patel’s rejection that he had sworn off relationships. He threw himself with a vigor and focus unlike any he had ever had before into his studies at Starfleet Academy, exhausting his mind and his body with academic and physical training so that he wouldn’t even think about that person anymore. He impressed his professors with his intellect and engendered fear in his sparring opponents—no one wanted to go up against him because they knew they’d get their asses handed to them fairly quickly.
This method of pushing Patel into so dark a corner of his mind that he rarely even thought of him had worked wonders. Jordan had focused on his career, building a reputation for himself as a brilliant tactician. It was what had led Admiral William Ross to personally request his services on Starbase 375, and he had on more than one occasion proven to the older man that he had not made a mistake in that choice.
Of course, his unerring focus didn’t preclude him from desiring companionship over the years. Though he’d turned 25 before he’d taken another lover after Patel, he’d discovered that he could handle physical intimacy as long as he set the terms—and those terms were simply that “this is just for tonight.” During his two starship tours he’d broken a few hearts of his own when he’d told his partners in no uncertain terms that he wasn’t interested in a relationship. When he’d transferred to Starbase 375, Jordan had made a point of only spending the night with men who were just passing through, as the chances of their becoming attached to him were almost nonexistent.
Two-and-a-half months ago, one man had changed all that.
He hadn’t been able to admit it at the time, but he’d been attracted to Rogan the moment he’d laid eyes on him. Seeing him stand up to Kirek, making a flippant remark about how yeomen were supposed to be young and pretty had made him smile, and those pale gray eyes of his had sent blood rushing to a certain part of his body that he’d not given attention to since before the end of the war. That he had become fast friends with the Bajoran had surprised and delighted him, and the fact that Enek was eight years younger hadn’t mattered in the slightest. All that had mattered was that he was smart, he had as dry a wit as his own, he knew his weapons, and they got along great.
Oh, and the fact that he was a good-looking man whose body made his own sing with desire sure hadn’t hurt.
Throughout the month of May, while the younger lieutenant commander had been waiting for the Trident to arrive, Jordan had spent every minute he reasonably could with Enek. He’d relished getting to know him, hearing his laugh or seeing his smile. And the closer to his departure they got, the more he had dreaded it, because it had forced him to admit to himself what he hadn’t thought possible—Rogan Enek had somehow broken through the wall he had constructed around his heart, and he was falling for him.
Falling hard and falling fast.
He kept telling himself that they were just friends, nothing more. That spilling his guts to Rogan wasn’t worth the risk of possibly destroying their friendship—Enek was already one of the closest friends he had, and he didn’t want to do anything that would frack that up. That desire to maintain the status quo didn’t stop the nervous anticipation for reports from the Trident. Each time the Excelsior-class starship docked—which was not nearly often enough to satisfy him—Rogan had thankfully made time to see him, and though he’d only seen the guy in person three times in the last two months, he’d enjoyed every minute. Whenever possible, one or the other would make a call on subspace so they could talk in real-time, though those conversations were also few and far between. Most of the time, it was a message here or a message there.
And that was enough, he tried to convince himself, because that’s something friends do.
It was hard, though, to keep the thrill of excitement in check when he was looking at Rogan’s face, like he would be in another few minutes. They’d scheduled this call via messages over the last few days, as neither one had had the time in the last few weeks to just sit down and talk. Anticipating this call had probably caused him to smile more than usual all day and afternoon, as he remembered getting more than a few raised eyebrows directed his way. Grafydd had even asked him what he was “so damn chipper about.” Jordan had been hard-pressed to tell him he was just looking forward to having the chance to talk with Rogan face-to-face, as it had been a while, without sounding like a lovesick idiot.
The call time of 2100 hours had been agreed upon by both of them as a time when neither was likely to be called to handle some crisis or other, when they’d be able to spend an hour or two detailing their overloaded work schedules or just shooting the breeze. Jordan had sat at his desk for the first time at twenty minutes to nine, jumping up after a minute feeling like a fool. He’d paced around his quarters and sat on the couch, made a trip to the bathroom to make sure his face and clothes were clean, only to sit back down at his desk, surprised to see that only seven minutes had passed. He was about to get up again when his desktop monitor lit up, and the UFP symbol appeared on the screen with the words Incoming transmission… flashing underneath.
Jordan reached a hand up to tap in his code so the signal would come through, his eyebrows winging up to see that it was Rogan on the other end.
“Hey,” he said, his voice full of surprise. “This is unexpected.”
“I know, I’m calling early—I hope that’s okay?” Rogan replied, suddenly appearing self-conscious.
The Human smiled, hoping to set his friend at ease. “Of course it is. Always nice to get an unexpected surprise.”
Rogan had flashed a brief smile in response to his own. “So, um, how’s it been? Been a while since we got to talk like this.”
Jordan nodded. “It has, hasn’t it? Sanctuary’s been busy as usual. Still fixing up some of the minor systems, mostly mechanical ones. Oh, and the first of the shop owners came in today to start fixing up their stores so they can open for business. Can you believe we’re gonna have a hair salon owned by a Ferengi? He calls it ‘Trims by Brim.’”
“Actually I can. I had my hair cut at one of his shops on Halvin IV, and he was there that day. I gathered he doesn’t do any actual hair cutting himself, he just runs the business end of things.”
Jordan chuckled. “Sounds like a Ferengi. I read the Intel jacket on him—every one of the business owners has been investigated by SI and the FSB to ferret out any problems. I’m guessing they didn’t want Sanctuary to end up with their own Quark.”
“His jacket say he’s clean?” Enek asked.
He nodded. “He looks like one of the cleanest Ferengis I’ve ever known. He owns sixteen other salons, and there’s no sign of criminal activity anywhere in his past.”
“Well, even if Brim’s not into crooked business deals like Quark, you know you’re bound to get a few of those types. No doubt there are plenty of criminals out there waiting to take advantage of the Cardassians.”
“No doubt,” Jordan agreed, “but it’s my job as well as Zram and Alok’s to try and cut problems off before they start. I’m not naïve enough to think we’ll catch everyone, but we’re gonna try.”
“I know you’ll do your best.”
Silence fell for a moment, before Jordan went on, saying, “Someone rented the bar where Quark’s is on DS9, too. Ever heard of Nadia Lawton?”
Rogan frowned. “Can’t say that I have.”
“Dude, you don’t know what you’re missing!” the Human said with excitement. “She’s kinda like Brim, except her business is food, and she’s got to be one of the most brilliant chefs ever. The woman is a goddess in the kitchen. Grows her own vegetables and even has a license to slaughter animals for meat—almost nothing is replicated, except for the drinks, and sometimes not even then. I’ve been to her place in Miami and they have the most incredible food there.
“Anyway, she bought the bar and is turning it into another of her posh restaurants. They’re going to run the holosuites, too, and there’ll be the bar itself of course. But there won’t be any gambling like at Quark’s. Just the food, the drinks, and the people.”
“And the holosuites,” Enek added.
Jordan laughed. “Those too,” he said. “So what’s up with you? How’s life as Executive Officer going for you?”
“Not too bad. I think I’m getting more comfortable with it as time goes on,” the Bajoran said, and spent the next several minutes detailing how his last few workdays had gone. Jordan laughed and commented in all the right places, but for a moment he was stunned speechless when Rogan added, “Oh, and I got another year older today,” almost like it was an afterthought.
Holy frack! How could he not have known it was Enek’s birthday? “Enek, I’m sorry man. I didn’t know it was your birthday.”
Rogan waved off his words. “Not your fault you didn’t know. I said I’d be thirty this year, I never said when.”
“I could have looked it up—could have sent you some silly vid or something to let you know I was thinking about you.”
Jordan realized then that he was treading on dangerous ground, a little too close to the “I really like you” line he’d promised himself he wouldn’t cross. “You know, because I’m such a swell pal and all that,” he added quickly.
A look he couldn’t quite decipher passed through Rogan’s eyes, his expression shifting a few times before he finally he settled on a light smile. “Thanks, Jordan. My birthday’s really not a big deal to me, but I appreciate the thought nonetheless.”
“You’re welcome. Man I can’t believe it,” Jordan said with a shake of his head.
“Can’t believe what?”
“That we were born in the same month and I didn’t even know it.”
Rogan frowned. “Your birthday is in July too? I didn’t know that.”
The corner of Jordan’s mouth quirked up in a wry grin. “I think I did the same thing you did—said how old I’d be but not when I’d get there.”
“So when is it? I need to start looking up funny vids so I know which one to send you—you know, because I’m such a swell pal and all that.”
He had to laugh at hearing his words thrown back at him, and he felt his spirits lift when Rogan laughed with him. “I’ll actually be thirty-eight in two weeks,” he said, “on the fifteenth.”
“You watch me, okay? I’m gonna make a note of it,” Rogan told him, reaching for something off-screen. He held up a PADD, then thumbed it on and typed something into it. When he was done, he turned it around and held the device close to the screen, and Jordan saw the words Jordan’s birthday – July 15th. He’ll be 38 years OLD!
Chuckling he said, “Is it really necessary to emphasize the fact that I’m getting old?”
Rogan was grinning as he set the PADD aside, but when he looked back at him his expression was serious as he said, “You’re not getting old, just a little older. Maybe you’re like a fine wine, and you’re getting better with age. Er… I mean, isn’t it a Human expression that wisdom comes with age?”
Curiosity bloomed as Rogan suddenly bushed, fumbling his words. For the briefest of moments Jordan wondered if perhaps Rogan shared his feelings after all, then quickly dismissed that thought as ludicrous—especially as he’d quickly recovered—so he chided himself for his wishful thinking, marked it as just a little embarrassment form misspeaking, and pushed the thought to the back of his mind. “So do gray hair and memory loss,” he said at last.
“Too bad that restaurant you’re looking forward to probably won’t be open by the fifteenth. Your friends could throw you a party, if that’s your thing,” Rogan said then.
Jordan shrugged. “I’m not that close with anybody here, really, so I kinda doubt they would. I have dinner with the captain and Grafydd now and then and share lunch with some of the security guys once in a while, but all we talk about is work. I don’t even think anyone here knows when my birthday is. Wouldn’t matter if they did know.”
“Why would you say something like that?”
Jordan shook his head. “I mean it doesn’t matter because I’m not going to be here for most of that day,” he said. “Captain Natale is sending me to a tactical operations seminar on Starbase 375—it’s almost a full day’s travel both ways and the conference is three days long. I won’t get back until about this time on the fifteenth. At the seminar there will be some discussion on the current state of tactical readiness among the fleet, and I’m to give a report on Sanctuary’s.”
“I hope none of our repairs have failed on you. We both must’ve shed fifteen pounds taking all that crap apart and putting it back together again,” Rogan observed.
He nodded. “No kidding. And no, nothing’s failed recently—all my latest systems diagnostics have told me everything is in working order. In fact, we haven’t had any breakdowns since Skrail Pavet was discovered to be our saboteur.”
Rogan inclined his head. “I’m glad to hear it. Looks like he was working alone after all.”
“Indeed. At least I won’t be making the trip by myself,” Jordan commented lightly.
“Oh?” Rogan queried. “Is Zram going with you?”
“No, but one of his recruits is. Zram and Natale think it’ll be good for one of the security greenhorns to pick up some extra training, as they’re holding some hand-to-hand classes for security officers during the conference. Ensign Kyla will be my ride along.”
“And any extra hand-to-hand training is a valuable tool,” his friend said with a nod.
At that moment, a voice came over the Trident’s intercom. Jordan recognized it as that of Lt. Nhylas, their tactical officer.
“Lt. Commander Rogan, please report to the Mess Hall.”
Rogan frowned, then sighed and tapped his commbadge. “I’m on my way, Lieutenant.”
Jordan worked to hide his disappointment that their conversation was being cut short. And if he wasn’t mistaken, for a second there Rogan had looked just as disappointed as he felt. “I’m sorry, I have to go,” he said.
“It’s okay, I understand,” Jordan told him. “I’ll try to send you a message over the next few days.”
“Same here. I’m… well, I’m glad we got a chance to talk,” said Rogan, to which Jordan nodded.
“Me too, Enek. Be safe.”
Rogan nodded. “Be safe, Jordan,” he said, echoing their standard sign-off before he reached out and switched off his monitor.
Jordan sat for a moment staring at the UFP symbol on the screen, feeling disappointment and resignation steal over him. He missed Rogan already.
Man, I have got to get a grip on myself, he thought, reaching over to turn his computer off.
Rogan fought to control the surge of annoyance and disappointment that coursed through him. Though he considered himself a master of his emotions, he had to admit that he’d really been looking forward to tonight’s call with Jordan—they didn’t get to talk often. He missed seeing the Human every day; he missed looking into his eyes, hearing his voice, hearing his laugh.
And Prophets, did he miss that body… Jordan Kelley might be turning 38 in two weeks, but he sure as hell didn’t look it. He’d seen him without a shirt on more than once, and if the lower half looked as good as the top half, he—
Alright, Enek—better stop right there, he told himself firmly as the turbolift took him on a short ride. Thinking about Jordan like that is dangerous ground. Next thing you know you’ll be opening your big mouth to him and ruining everything.
No, he couldn’t let that happen, he mused as the lift stopped and he disembarked on the appropriate deck. He hadn’t been close—really close—with another person since the death of his parents. He hadn’t allowed himself that luxury for reasons he had never cared to examine. And he’d been quite alright with that, because he had his career to focus on. Yet in a mere five weeks’ time (his tenure aboard Sanctuary), he’d found himself beginning to care about Jordan. A lot. But Jordan had shown no indication that, while he also preferred men for companionship, he had any inclination to share that companionship with him. So no matter how much he liked him, no matter how much he looked forward to a message, a call, or one of their too-short visits, Rogan wasn’t about to potentially ruin his closest friendship for the sake of a chance at there being something between them.
Shaking off the rare bout of self-analyzing, he pushed the last of his annoyance and disappointment at being interrupted away, squared his shoulders, and prepared to face whatever crisis had arisen among the crew this time.
When he stepped inside the mess hall and found it dark, Rogan stopped short. Perturbed by this, he tried to keep another kind of annoyance out of his voice as he called out, “Lieutenant Nhylas?”
Instantly the lights came up, and the Bajoran found himself face to face with the entire senior staff of Trident, as well as a few of the junior security officers with whom he’d become acquainted over the last several weeks. They stood in a circle around one of the dining tables, their eyes upon him as they waited expectantly for him to say something.
Completely at a loss to understand what was going on, Rogan frowned further, and looked to his commanding officer for explanation. “Captain, what is this about?”
Jia Yraxis, Trident’s Chief Engineer, apparently unable to contain herself any longer cried cheerily, “Happy birthday!” as she stepped aside to reveal a cake sitting in the middle of the table.
It had thirty candles on it.
Stunned, his expression changed from a frown to confusion. “How did you know it was my birthday?” he asked.
Captain Motoko Kimura stepped forward. “You look a bit shell-shocked, Commander,” she observed with a smile.
“I am,” he replied honestly, taking in the smiling faces before him. “I haven’t celebrated my birthday in almost twenty years—how did you know?”
The always peppy Bolian stepped forward—or rather, she bounced excitedly toward him. “It’s in your service record, silly!” Jia said in her usual chipper tone. “Er, it’s in your service record, sir.”
She then ignored all conventional wisdom and a regulation or two by grabbing his hand and pulling him toward the table. “Come on, you have to blow your candles out and make a wish!”
“Please do so before they set off the fire suppression system,” Lt. Nhylas deadpanned.
“Yeah, we don’t want to ruin the cake!” chirped Kelda Teero, one of the enlisted security officers.
Bewildered and admittedly touched, Rogan stepped up to the table to see that the cake was simply decorated with the words Happy Birthday, Commander Rogan. The icing looked like it was made of buttercream, and if they’d done their homework, the cake itself would be chocolate. As he glanced once more at the faces around him, he couldn’t help thinking that the only thing that would have made this even more memorable was if Jordan could have been there.
With that thought on his mind, he leaned down and blew out the candles.
Several minutes later, after the cake had been cut and everyone had been served, after he’d been told the story of how their “resident party planner” Lieutenant Yraxis had made a note of the birthdate of everyone on the crew for just such an event as this (which garnered a few wary looks from those gathered, especially Ty-Kaan), Rogan was drawn to the side by Capt. Kimura.
“Was it a good surprise, Commander?” she asked.
“It was a very pleasant surprise, ma’am,” he said with a nod. “I would not have expected anything like this.”
Kimrua smiled lightly. “I am aware that you had a subspace communication scheduled for this evening with Commander Kelley at Sanctuary—I understand the two of you are friends.”
Rogan fought very hard to contain the flush he felt creeping up his neck. “Yes, ma’am. I did become acquainted with Commander Kelley during my abbreviated tour on Sanctuary, that’s correct,” he replied rather formally.
She smiled again, a look he couldn’t quite decipher crossing through her eyes. “I also know that our timing was rather poor, and wanted to offer my apologies for interrupting your conversation.”
He swallowed. “I am sure Kelley will understand, ma’am.”
“Yes, well… be that as it may, I’d like to make it up to the both of you,” Kimura said. “I received a brief this morning from Starfleet Command about the Tactical Readiness Conference being held on Starbase 375 and I’ve spent the day considering who to send to represent us. You are the most logical choice.”
He could not—would not—let himself get excited by the prospect of spending three whole days on the same station as Jordan. He had to be fair and reasonable about this.
“Begging your pardon, Captain, but Lieutenant Nhylas is equally as capable of representing the Trident,” he said diplomatically. “He’s an exceptional tactical officer, ma’am.”
Kimura inclined her head. “Indeed he is, Commander—and I did consider sending the lieutenant in your stead. But the truth is you have more experience than he does, and as such you are better equipped to understand the complex tactical scenarios that are sure to be discussed at the seminar. They will, after all, be discussing the defense of the entire Federation.”
“Yes, ma’am,” was all Rogan found himself able to say.
“When you return, I’d certainly like you to continue working with Lt. Nhylas so as to improve his tactical acumen,” the captain added.
Rogan nodded calmly even as he struggled to contain his excitement. “Of course, Captain. I’m more than willing to assist him or anyone else wishing to improve their tactical skills.”
“Glad to hear it, Commander,” Kimura replied, and the two of them returned to their shipmates.
Rogan was grateful to Yraxis for arranging this get-together and that everyone here had attended (though in the back of his mind, he noted Ty-Kaan’s discomfort and suspected he had all but been ordered to attend), giving up some of their free time on his behalf. But in being completely honest with himself, he was looking forward to the end, so that he could send Jordan a message, letting him know that he would be attending the conference as well.
Sanctuary—July 2, 2376
Life couldn’t get any better for Fidelma Kyla…
…or any worse.
The young Starfleet ensign had been hand-picked by Chief Zram to attend the tactical conference on Starbase 375, because he wanted her to get some more training in close-quarters combat. She was perfectly fine with that—she wanted all the training she could get so she’d be an even better security officer. Even spending nearly two days alone with Commander Kelley in a runabout was nothing to her. He was a nice guy who was easy to get along with, and over the last few months had proven to be a fair commanding officer. Fi fully believed he would make a damn good captain someday.
The thing was, she had just learned that she and Kelley would not be alone on the runabout. Oh, she didn’t mind who their companion would be—far from it. She’d gotten to know Rogan Enek somewhat during the month he’d been on Sanctuary waiting for the Trident to arrive, and the Bajoran had proven he was also a likable guy—when you could get him to talk, that is. But then, being a Betazoid-Deltan hybrid, she didn’t always need a person to talk to her to tell what kind of person they were. Or how they felt.
Though she plastered on a smile and said a perfunctory, “That’s great, at least we won’t be alone on this trip” to Commander. Kelley when he’d told her Rogan would be joining them, she’d been struck almost physically with the force of his joy that Rogan was coming along. She’d known from the beginning—practically before either Kelley or Rogan—that the two men had deep feelings for one another. The problem was that neither man had the nerve to tell the other one how they felt. Rogan simply wasn’t a man who analyzed, let alone shared, his feelings and Kelley had been burned pretty badly by the one serious relationship he’d been in—and they were both reluctant to potentially mess up what was proving to be a strong friendship.
On the one hand, she could understand that. On the other, she was so not looking forward to spending nearly a day to SB 375 and nearly a day back in a runabout with two men whose unspoken and unrequited feelings for one another were bound to test the limits of her mental shields. Fi was still young—only 22—and though trained in mental shielding, she wasn’t as strong at blocking out non-‘paths as a lot of others who were psionically gifted. Though her parents had always assured her she would learn in time, Fi sometimes wondered if being a hybrid hadn’t somehow limited her shielding abilities. After all, just because her mother was a full Deltan and her father a full Betazoid didn’t mean that she would be even stronger a telepath than the two of them combined—it could have meant she had no psi gifts at all, because that did happen sometimes. Same would have been true if one of her parents had married a non-telepath: the children would be limited in their abilities, if they even had any.
So being that she wasn’t the greatest shielder and never really had been, the trip that Fi had been looking forward to eagerly was now overshadowed by the fact that the two men she would be traveling with would be mooning over each other in virtual silence the entire time.
Virtual because no matter how well she shielded herself from their thoughts, she’d still be forced to endure their emotions…
Runabout Shagarin, en route to Sanctuary—July 15, 2376
The Tactical Readiness Conference had gone well, Jordan thought. He’d learned a lot about the status of the fleet (which he knew he’d be debriefed on by Captain Natale), and he’d been concise and clear about Sanctuary’s current status. He thought he’d fared well under the intense questions asked of him by several of the captains and admirals in attendance, describing the sabotage episode as well as how the combined crews were getting along. He’d been honest in that the sailing hadn’t been smooth at first, but he believed strongly that tensions were beginning to work themselves out and he emphasized that during his presentation. After his own question and answer session, representatives from each ship in the 11th Fleet had also made brief speeches on their respective ships’ status. He’d been blown away with how well Rogan had handled himself—his friend had been poised and confident, and not once had he shown any kind of nerves.
He had to admit that he’d been a little nervous giving a speech with Rogan in the audience, but as he spoke, he got into the rhythm of reading from his notes (notes he’d spent the first ten days of July preparing, and which he had pored over for most of the trip to SB 375) and firing back answers to questions. It had helped that he told himself to treat his presentation at the conference like any other mission briefing. The more he spoke, the more confident he’d become, and Jordan could tell with the nods and murmurs among his audience that he’d done a good job representing Captain Natale and the Sanctuary crew. That Rogan and Kyla had congratulated him afterward with big smiles had been a bonus.
Especially Rogan’s smile.
The three of them had dined together that night same as they had the two nights previous. After dissecting his presentation, Rogan’s, and Kyla’s last hand-to-hand class—she declared that she had learned a great deal the past three days and that she felt stronger in both mind and body, enough that she was contemplating challenging one of the other security officers to a sparring match—he proposed leaving that night instead of waiting until morning. Rogan, however, pointed out that it would save them just a few hours, at best, and seeing the logic in that, they all agreed they’d spend the last night on 375 as planned and head out at 0800 the next day.
It was now about 1950 hours, and even though it was still fairly early in the evening, Ensign Kyla had dozed off at the tactical console behind Rogan, who sat at ops while he sat at the conn. Her gentle snoring had drawn the attention of both men, who then looked at each other and smiled. Jordan looked into Rogan’s gorgeous gray eyes perhaps a bit longer than he should have, and he turned back to his board feeling a flush crawling up his neck, the chuckle he loosed not just one of amusement—it was also nerves. Though Kyla sat in the cockpit with them, it suddenly felt like he and Rogan were alone.
“Do you think we should wake her and send her back to one of the bunks?” Rogan asked.
“I got no problem leaving her where she is, unless the snoring gets to be annoying,” Jordan replied with another nervous chuckle.
“I’ve uh, I’ve been meaning to ask…” Rogan went on, “Did you get my message this morning?”
This time Jordan laughed. Rogan had made good on his “threat” to send him a funny vid for his birthday, and despite its humorous content, he’d been more touched than amused, because not only had Enek sent him a birthday message, it was that he’d remembered at all.
“Yeah,” he replied. “Yeah I got it. It was funny, Enek, though you really didn’t have to do that. But still, thank you for remembering.”
“No problem,” his companion replied. “I know you’d have done the same if you’d known when my birthday was.”
Jordan chanced a sidelong glance. “There’s always next year,” he said carefully.
Rogan looked over, and once again their eyes met. After another long moment, Enek cleared his throat and looked purposefully at the ops board under his hands. After pressing a few controls on the touchpad, he said, “Looks like another ninety minutes to Sanctuary at present speed.”
Jordan cleared his throat as well and consulted his own board. “Good call. Latest report says your ride will be back to pick you up tomorrow as scheduled.”
Before Rogan to respond to that, both of them were startled by a sudden outburst from Ensign Kyla.
“Oh, would you two get a room already!” she all but shouted, then sat bolt-upright, her eyes blinking rapidly as her pale cheeks became alight with a flaming blush.
“Please tell me I didn’t say that out loud,” she whispered without looking at them.
“Say what?” Jordan deadpanned with a quick glance at Rogan. “Are you alright, Ensign?”
“I… I, uh…” Kyla stammered, still unable to look at them.
“If I may, perhaps you should go back to the passenger cabin and rest until we arrive at Sanctuary, Ensign,” Rogan suggested smoothly. “Maybe the hand-to-hand classes took more out of you than you realized.”
“Yeah,” she replied, standing slowly. “I think I will, sir. Thank you for the suggestion.”
“We’ll let you know when we’re about to dock, Ensign,” Jordan said, to which Kyla nodded mutely and walked into the rear section of the runabout.
After the door swished shut behind her, leaving them truly alone, Jordan glanced over at Rogan with one eyebrow raised. “What the heck do you think that was all about?” he queried.
Rogan lifted his shoulders in a nonchalant shrug as he turned back to his console. “I have no clue. Poor kid must really be exhausted after all those classes.”
“Yeah,” the Human agreed, turning back to his own board.
Fi threw herself on the lower bunk on the port side of the runabout and buried her face in the stiff pillow. Although they had been kind enough to pretend they didn’t know what she was talking about, she knew that both commanders had heard her outburst. She’d been dreaming in her light sleep (bad enough that she’d dozed off on them!), and because of their proximity, the sexual tension practically pouring off of both men had invaded her mind and affected her subconscious thoughts. In her dream, she’d been confronting them about confessing their feelings for one another when she’d shouted at them to get a room.
It wasn’t until she’d startled herself awake that she realized she’d said it out loud as well. How unbearably embarrassing.
Deities, how was she ever to face either one of them again?
Jordan and Rogan had mutually agreed to continue the charade of not having heard Kyla’s outburst when they arrived at Sanctuary—the poor girl was embarrassed enough. Tomorrow, they ascertained, she’d feel better about her faux pas, and in a few days she’d probably forget it had happened.
However, Jordan knew he’d never forget this trip. While it was true that he and Rogan had spent most of their time attending the conference, he’d very much enjoyed the opportunity to spend some time with the Trident’s XO—work or not, in the last five days they’d seen more of each other than in the two months prior. As hard as it was to spend time in Rogan’s company feeling the way he did but unable to express those feelings, he knew he wouldn’t trade them for anything. It was better to spend time with him as a friend and colleague then not get to see him at all.
They’d received their docking clearance from Ops and a hearty “Welcome back, Commander Kelley” from Andon Vehl, then Jordan expertly set the Shagarin down on Pad A and they were lowered into the bay. He and Rogan powered down the runabout as they descended, and as they got the green light telling them the bay was closed and pressurized, Kyla came out of the passenger compartment carrying her duffel on one shoulder and both of their bags, one of the latter in each hand.
“Thank you, Ensign,” Jordan said as he stood from his seat and took his bag from her.
“You’re welcome sir,” she replied, not quite looking at him directly. “Just figured I would save you and Commander Rogan the trouble.”
“It’s very considerate of you, Ensign,” Rogan said as he took his own bag and pulled the shoulder strap over his arm.
“Shall we?” Jordan asked, keying the starboard hatch open and gesturing for Kyla to precede him.
She nodded and passed with a nervous smile, stepping out of the runabout and into the airlock. Jordan followed with Rogan close behind. All three travelers stopped short as they were stepping into the corridor to find the large, imposing form of Lt. Commander Grafydd waiting.
“Hey there, Graf,” Jordan said lightly. “What brings you here? No need for a welcoming committee on our account.”
“Actually sir,” the Terellian engineer began, “Captain Natale has asked me to escort you to the Promenade.”
Jordan’s eyebrows winged up. “Oh really? She tell you why?” he wondered.
Grafydd shrugged the top two of his four arms, clasping them in front of his massive bulk while he clasped the bottom two behind his back. “No sir. I’m just the messenger. I only know that your presence and that of your companions is requested.”
“Us?” Kyla queried, glancing back at Jordan and Rogan. “Why would she want to see us too?”
“Don’t know that either, kiddo,” Grafydd replied, turning around and heading for the nearest crossing. Jordan cast a glance at Rogan, who shrugged mutely, and then he and the Bajoran followed behind Ensign Kyla and Grafydd. The four of them were silent as they walked, coming to a lift after a few minutes, which they rode to the Promenade level.
As they were stepping onto the station’s commercial thoroughfare, Jordan suddenly thought to ask, “Hey Grafydd, how’s the restaurant coming along? Has Nadia given you any indication of when she and her crew would have it ready?”
“See for yourself, sir,” Grafydd replied as they rounded a bend and the restaurant came into sight. Jordan stopped in his tracks to find that the privacy screens Nadia’s crew had erected were gone. There was a hostess stand just outside the entrance, at which was standing a dark-skinned woman with a large hat on her head. Over the door was an old-fashioned neon sign lit up in blue, proclaiming the place “Nigella’s,” and inside, under the muted lights and sitting at tables or perched on stools at the bar, were at least a third of the station’s staff.
“Wow,” Jordan said, a grin spreading across his face. “I can’t believe she’s got it done in time.”
“In time for what, sir?” Grafydd asked casually.
Jordan waved off the other man’s question. “Nothing,” he replied absently, starting forward again.
He approached the hostess stand and the woman behind it stepped forward. “Good evening, and welcome to opening night of Nigella’s. I am your hostess, Guinan—if there’s anything you need, don’t hesitate to ask.”
“I’d actually love to speak to Nadia Lawton if she’s not too busy,” Jordan said. “I’d love to know how she got this place ready so fast. This is an incredible bir—welcome home present.”
Guinan raised a bare eyebrow, her smile one that spoke volumes and said nothing at the same time. Jordan recalled now that she was an El-Aurian who could count somewhere close to seven hundred years in age.
“I’ll go to the kitchen to see if Nadia can spare a moment of her time—given that it’s opening night, I’m sure you can understand that she and the cook staff are quite busy.”
“Oh, of course, of course,” Jordan said. “I wouldn’t want to bother her, I’m just amazed this was done so fast.”
“And I’m sure she will appreciate your enthusiasm,” Guinan told him.
“We’re here to see Captain Natale, Miss Guinan,” Grafydd spoke up.
Guinan’s eyes lit up, and so did her smile. “Oh, then this must be the Mr. Kelley we’ve been expecting,” she said. “Please, come this way. Your table is ready for you.”
Jordan cast a wary look at Grafydd, who only shrugged, and then another at Rogan, mouthing the words My table? Rogan also shrugged as first Grafydd and then Kyla followed behind Guinan. Jordan fell into step with Rogan a few paces behind, and, leaning close, he said quietly, “This is all a little weird—I’m beginning to feel like I’m on Candid Camera.”
“What’s ‘Candid Camera’?” Rogan asked.
Jordan chuckled. “It’s an old, old entertainment program from Earth’s 20th century. You can find it in historical program archives—my grandfather made us watch it with him every time we visited when I was little. He was really into old stuff like that.”
“Dare I ask what it was about?”
“It was a program where people were recorded on camera doing things, sometimes funny or weird things, and then the people with the cameras would jump out and yell ‘Surprise, you’re on Candid Camera.’”
“Sounds like a blast,” Rogan deadpanned as they began were led around the bar to a table in an alcove.
Jordan noticed that all the senior staff was present and paused. Confused, and feeling somewhat suspicious for a reason he couldn’t entirely define, he raised an eyebrow slowly and regarded his captain. “Captain, Grafydd said you wished to see me?” he said formally.
The dark orange-skinned Orion stepped forward, her expression stoic. “Mr. Kelley, two very serious things have come to my attention regarding you,” she told him, her dark brown eyes boring into his green ones.
Jordan swallowed. “I am afraid I don’t know what you mean, ma’am.”
She raised one of her perfectly arched eyebrows. “Is that so? Is it or is it not your birthday, Mr. Kelley?”
Behind and to his right, Rogan snickered, covering his mouth quickly when Jordan shot a glance over his shoulder. “Sorry, man,” the Bajoran said. “But my crew pulled this stunt on me too, remember? I can’t believe you fell for it.”
As he was recalling the story Rogan had written about two weeks ago, when he’d sent the message letting him know that the Trident would be dropping him off at Sanctuary to allow him to attend the conference as well, Jordan felt an embarrassed flush creep up his neck. He turned his attention back to Natale, glancing over each of the smiling senior officers as he did so.
“So who went snooping in my jacket for my birthdate?” he asked.
“That would be me,” confessed Margherita Garcia, Sanctuary’s doctor. “But it was Chief Zram’s idea.”
“Thanks, Maggie,” the Bolian Chief of Security said with a groan, then he looked at Jordan. “So yeah, kid, it was my idea. With all the BS that’s gone on the past four and a half months, I figured we could all use a party. Your birthday was just a convenient excuse.”
Jordan laughed. “So it’s not about me, you just wanted an excuse to drink us all under the table.”
Dilik Zram smiled. “Exactly.”
At that everyone chuckled, and Maggie and Roijiana parted to reveal a cake sitting in the middle of the table. Jordan quickly counted the candles—there were 39.
“I’m hoping your math isn’t off, Doctor, because there’s an extra candle on this cake,” he said as he approached the table.
She grinned. “You know the tradition, Jordan—there’s enough for your age and one to grow on.”
He returned her grin, and following tradition, he drew a deep breath to prepare to blow the flickering candles out, pausing and releasing the breath as he turned back to Natale.
“Captain, you said two things,” he recalled warily.
Natale smiled. “Make a wish and blow out your candles, Mr. Kelley. We’ll get to that later.”
Jordan cast a glance over his right shoulder at Rogan, who smiled. Inordinately pleased that Enek was here to celebrate his birthday with him, Jordan turned back to the cake and drew a breath, blowing out the candles. His crewmates applauded, some of them cheering like children. It was so out of the ordinary that he couldn’t help but laugh.
Roijiana took his duffel from him as Maggie stepped forward and began cutting the cake—good old yellow with chocolate icing. She handed him the first piece, and as he stepped aside to make room for others, he noticed Dal Kirek had approached Natale. He leaned close to her and spoke in her ear, and while she didn’t look too pleased by whatever it was he said, she nodded, and the Cardassian left. Jordan shrugged it off as not being any of his business, and turned to find Rogan stepping up to him, a piece of cake in his hand.
“Something else we have in common, Jordan,” Rogan said, slicing off a corner of his piece and spearing it with his fork.
Jordan laughed. “You mean the birthday ambush?” he asked.
“Well, that too,” the Bajoran said after he swallowed the bite of cake he’d taken. “But I was referring to a love of chocolate.”
Jordan cut off a corner of his piece and ate it. “Mmm… Except this isn’t a replicated cake. Don’t ask me how I know, I just do.”
Rogan forked another bite. “I guess you’ve had enough of Nadia’s real food to know the difference, huh?”
Cocking his head to the side, Jordan nodded. “Yeah, I guess so. And if you think this cake is good, just wait to you taste one of her entrees. Hell, even the appetizers make your mouth water!”
The two stood and chatted a few more moments, eating their cake while Jordan also accepted words from well-wishers, some of whom came from throughout to restaurant just to wish him a happy birthday. Jordan didn’t know how it could get any better—his favorite cake made by his favorite chef and a surprise birthday party on top of spending most of the last five days with Enek had totally made his week.
Jordan turned at the sound of Captain Natale’s voice. She approached him with a small box in her hand. Swallowing his last bite of cake, he said, “Yes, ma’am?”
“Starfleet’s birthday gift to you,” she said, holding the box out.
A frown marred his handsome features as he stepped over and laid his empty plate on a nearby table, then straightened and took the box in his hand. With his other he lifted the lid—
—and found in the middle of a bed of velvet one solid gold rank pin.
He looked up at Natale. “Captain?”
She smiled and stepped closer. “Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention for a moment please?” she said, her eyes still on his. When the murmur in the immediate area quieted, Natale went on, saying, “It is my privilege to announce that on this date, Jordan Tyler Kelley is elevated in rank to full commander by order of Starfleet Command. Admiral Tattok sends his regards, Commander.”
A grin spread across his face as applause broke out again, and he looked down again at the gold pin in the box. “A promotion,” he said, looking up again. “That’s incredible. Thank you, Captain.”
Natale smiled again, and reaching over to his neck, she removed the onyx pin next to the two solid gold ones already on his shirt. She set it in the box and picked up the solid one inside, then affixed it to his collar.
“There,” she said, “looks perfect. There’s no need to thank me, Mr. Kelley, you’ve earned it. Keep up the good work you’ve been doing and you’ll get another one in no time.”
“That’s very generous of you to say, Captain,” he replied. “Especially given that we graduated the same year.”
“I mean every word. And I might still be the same rank as you, were it not for some unfortunate circumstances. Be hopeful you don’t have to earn your first command the same way I did, Jordan,” Natale said, then with a nod, she stepped away to speak to other officers.
Several more people came by to congratulate him then, and it was a couple of minutes before he got another chance to speak to Rogan.
“A birthday ambush is one thing,” he said, absently fingering the new gold pin on his collar. “Getting promoted on my birthday is just incredible. I had no idea.”
Rogan quirked an eyebrow. “I think that’s the whole point to a surprise party. Allow me to offer my own congratulations, Commander.”
“Thanks, but you don’t have to address me by my rank. This doesn’t change anything between us,” he said, hastily adding, “I mean, I hope my seniority has never been an issue in our friendship.”
His companion nodded. “It hasn’t been.”
An awkward silence fell, then Rogan said, “So this is probably a day you’ll remember for a long time, right? Getting promoted on your birthday and all that.”
“It’s definitely one of many memorable days,” Jordan replied with a smile. And it’s all the more so because you’re here to share it with me.