By Christina Moore
Synnove Natale’s expression as she regarded the two officers in front of her was grave. One she considered a good friend, almost a brother; the other she had been slowly gaining respect for through his efforts to keep herself and her unborn child safe. They were good men, strong in body and will—and it was the will of one that had necessitated her having a conversation with them she should never have had to. They were both grown, each nearly forty years old.
“Gentlemen,” she began, “I have a station to run—a starbase the size of which warrants an admiral to command it, but the task has fallen to me, a mere captain. In my years of command, though they be admittedly few, I have come to the realization that I like to run a smooth operation. I like my people to not only know their jobs, but to be exceptionally good at them. In fact, the reason the two of you are here is because you are both remarkable at what you do. You protect your fellow crewmembers to the best of your abilities, and I know each of you would die to protect those you serve with.
“But you’re absolute shit to each other—no, Mr. Kelley, don’t speak. Not until I’m finished.”
Natale sighed and pushed to her feet, an action growing ever more difficult to do with ease the more the child inside her grew. She crossed her arms over her chest. “This cannot go on, this… this dead silence between you. It’s been a month. You’re both adults, two grown men capable of handling your personal issues so that it does not interfere with your work. It has been interfering, and I’m not the only one who has noticed. Your personal issues interfering in your work means my operation doesn't run smoothly—I told you how much l like a smooth operation.”
She paused to draw a breath, as well as to place one hand at her lower back to rub where it ached. “Here’s what’s going to happen: You’re both relieved of duty, effective immediately, for the next twenty-four hours. Whitehorse, keep your yap shut, I’m not done. The two of you are going to use the next twenty-four hours to talk, fight, or fuck—or all three. I don’t particularly care what the frell it is you do, but you are going to clear up the tension between the two of you so that my starbase runs smoothly again, or I will see to it that both of you are transferred out of here. Dismissed.”
Jordan Kelley turned in a perfectly executed about-face and departed her office without a word. Trevor Whitehorse, his expression almost one of relief that someone had finally forced Jordan’s hand, gave the briefest of nods before also departing. Natale loosed the breath she didn’t realize she’d begun to hold, then dropped back down into her chair. She prayed that the station counselor’s recommendation would bear fruit, as she dreaded losing both men and having to break in two new officers.
It was around 1015 hours when Captain Natale had ordered them into her office. Whitehorse decided to give Jordan a few hours to stew over being forced to make peace before confronting him and ending the pain for them both, one way or the other.
He had tried in the last four weeks—really tried—to apologize for his cowardice in keeping his relationship with Tiessi to himself. Several times, in fact. He’d told Jordan he’d been stupid, a fool, a coward…afraid of losing him to a memory. He was more sorry for his silence than could ever be put into words, because for the first time in many years, he had found someone who made him feel complete. Jordan silenced the storms in his mind in a way even his sister did not.
Jordan had refused to listen, so wrapped up was he in his anger and pain. He had taken to avoiding him when off duty, refused to open his door to him, and though Whitehorse knew his messages had been listened to, the Human never sent a response.
He’d taken to venting his frustration at being ignored—for what he felt was excessive punishment for the crime committed—to Anjali, the station’s senior counselor. She listened, unbiased and without condemnation. Eventually she had suggested he employ Jordan Kelley’s own tactics against him. Don’t look at him or speak to him unless absolutely necessary. Don’t try to visit, don’t send messages, don’t talk about him to anyone else.
If Jordan truly cared about him—which Anjali believed he did, or he’d not have been hurt so deeply—he would come around, because he would not like being ignored. He would begin to crave the almost excessive attention and flirtation that had attracted him to Whitehorse in the first place.
There was a chance Jordan would move on, yes. But it was a risk that had to be taken.
At around noon, Whitehorse asked the computer for Kelley’s location. A smirk crossed his face when it informed him he was in one of the gymnasiums. He knew Jordan liked to work out to relieve stress and frustration, and chances were he had been there for a while. The timing was perfect—they would fight, most likely, and Whitehorse was determined to take the licks, as many as required to wear Jordan down long enough to get all the anger out of his system.
In Gymnasium 6, he found Kelley working hard at a punching bag. He was surprised that Kelley wasn’t imagining his face at the other end of his wrapped hands; from the other man he felt only…pain. Self-loathing. Anger at himself.
Why? Whitehorse wondered. Why on Betazed are you mad at yourself, Jordan?
Striding closer, he adopted his usual smart-aleck tone and called out, “You’re pretending that’s me, aren’t you?”
Kelley paused in his assault of the punching bag for only a second. “Go away.”
“Whoa, are you actually gonna speak to me now? This is progress—you haven’t said two words to me in what, about 20 days?”
Kelley kept hitting the bag until Whitehorse stepped into his line of sight. Seeing him flushed and sweaty from the workout made it a lot harder for Whitehorse to focus on the task at hand. So did Jordan’s next words.
“You really don’t want to fuck with me right now. I am not in the mood.”
“Actually, that is exactly what I’d prefer to be doing with you right now, but since you won’t even talk to me, it’d be kinda hard to get you into bed for some boot-knocking.”
Kelley scoffed. “You just don’t get it, do you? This—” He gestured between the two of them. “—is never gonna happen. I can’t trust you.”
Acting on a hunch, Whitehorse retorted, “Can’t trust me…or can’t trust yourself, Jordan?”
Kelley scowled. “Frak you, Trevor,” he said, and turned away in disgust.
“Hey, like I said, I really wish you would. You know, it might help—you’ve clearly got a lot of pent-up frustration that some super-hot naked wrestling with yours truly could cure.”
Jordan whirled back. “Yeah? And so could kicking your ass.”
Whitehorse met his angry stare dead on. “If that’s what makes you feel better, babe.”
Another scoff. “You just don’t know when to give up do you?”
Whitehorse shrugged. “Apparently not. I’ve never given up on something I want, or a person I loved. I’m not giving up on you—my name’s not Rogan.”
The fist that connected with his left jaw came at him almost without warning. Whitehorse staggered back. Ow, he thought sourly—the only thing he had time to think, as he was suddenly facing an onslaught of punches thrown left and right. Perhaps, he managed to muse between blows landed and dodged, goading Jordan into a fight had not been such a bright idea after all. The previous workout didn’t appear to have tired him in the least.
When a strike to his left kidney nearly drove him to his knees, Whitehorse decided it was time to start defending himself—if Jordan wanted to kick his ass, then he was going to have to earn it. He surprised the other man with a hard uppercut that snapped his head back. A flash of anger widened Jordan’s jade-green eyes, and then Whitehorse knew the fight was really on.
They carried on punching, kicking, throwing each other, and grappling for nearly half an hour. The Betazoid added in sexual innuendos and smartass comments whenever he had breath enough, hoping to do as Anjali had said and remind Kelley of what had attracted him in the first place. But his advantage in being fresh over Jordan’s having already worked out before they began finally began to pay off, as Kelley’s reaction time slowed and his swings and kicks began to lose their power.
When Kelley tried putting him in a headlock, Whitehorse hooked a foot around his ankle, taking them both down. They lay on their backs, panting, and were both of them surprised when a gruff voice said, “I’d say that’s just about enough.”
Whitehorse looked to his right, where Kelley lay, and noted Dilik Zram, Starbase Echo’s Chief of Security, striding toward them. Anjali, her countenance showing deep concern, walked beside him.
“You’ve ignored each other, you’ve beat the shit out of each other,” Zram continued, flipping up a finger on his left hand for each point. “Think maybe now you’re ready to start acting like adults and actually talk this shit out?”
“After you’re checked out by the medical staff,” Anjali added.
Kelley cursed as he rolled to his side and pushed to his knees. “I hardly think that’s necessary. I’ve got a medkit in my apartment.”
“So does the entire damn staff, kid,” Zram said with a snort.
The counselor crossed her arms. “And I hardly think you have a choice in the matter. You are, if I’m not mistaken, currently relieved of duty. I am Station Counselor and I also outrank you, Mr. Kelley—I daresay that means you have to do as ordered.”
“C’mon, jarhead,” Zram said as he reached down to help Whitehorse to his feet. “Let’s go.”
Whitehorse took the Bolian’s hand and let him pull him up. He regretted it immediately as a searing pain made itself known on his right side. He reached over and applied pressure on instinct as a soft growl escaped his lips.
It should not have pleased him that—for a moment, at least—the sound made Jordan regard him with a measure of concern.
“You look like hell,” he told him as the small party started for the doors.
Kelley snorted. “As if you look any better.”
“Of course I do! I always look hot,” he quipped in reply.
There were curious stares, concerned looks, and knowing smiles from those the four encountered as they marched toward Echo Medical. There the two combatants were treated by Dr. Jiraz, who tsked and shook his head as he worked; Whitehorse lost count of how many times.
“So what’s the tally Doc?”
“Well, Master Chief, as you can see,” the Denobulan physician began, “both of our young friends are sporting split lips, multiple facial abrasions, bruising, and are both likely to be displaying pretty impressive black eyes soon.”
He looked then to Whitehorse. “And you, Colonel, have a cracked rib—specifically, R6.” Turning to the nurse that stood nearby, he asked her to retrieve both a dermal regenerator and an osteo-stimulator.
“Feeling better now, Commander Kelley? You’re broken the man’s bloody bone!” cried Anjali.
Kelley, for his part, did appear chagrined. “Wasn’t my intention.”
“Coulda fooled me, babe,” Whitehorse muttered at the same time Zram said, “No, looked to me like you were trying to beat him to death.”
Anjali turned a sharp eye on both of them. “I do not find anything about this situation by which to be amused!”
Emitting a disgusted noise, she turned and started for the door, turning back to say, “Colonel Whitehorse, Commander Kelley—when the doctor has finished repairing the results of your utter stupidity, report to my office.”
She turned around again and stomped away. Zram smiled and shook his head. “Well, that wasn’t a very professional thing to say…” he said, then cocked his head and crossed his arms as he regarded the two younger men. “Then again, she wasn’t far off the mark on this one. But what do I know? I’m only an enlisted grunt.”
Kelley sighed. “I think you can go now, Chief,” he said.
“Oh no, you’re not getting rid of me yet, pal,” the security officer replied. “I’m under orders, too—our ever-so-wise head shrink has given me explicit instructions to make sure you both make it to her office.”
Whitehorse glanced briefly at Kelley. “Seriously? Does she think we won’t show up?”
Zram smirked. “I gather that’s the reason.”
Although he wanted to go, hoped that in so doing Jordan would finally open up and maybe start accepting his apologies, to be escorted under guard was mortifying.
Kelley scowled. “Then let’s get this over with.”
They were only ten or fifteen more minutes with Dr. Jiraz before being sent on their way. The walk to the counselors’ suite was thankfully silent, as Kelley did not think he could stand anymore of Whitehorse’s smartassery or Zram’s smirking and snarky commentary.
He was in a serious state of confusion. What the hell had Trevor been thinking in the first place, picking a fight with him? Was he a glutton for punishment? The first punch he’d thrown simply because he was getting sick of everyone reminding him that Rogan had walked away from him. As if he could forget! As for the rest of the fight… He’d let his pain and anger boil over. He had wanted to pound into Trevor’s flesh the pain he’d felt in learning that yet another secret had been kept from him.
All the men in his life—the ones he’d actually allowed himself to care about, at any rate—were always lying to him or leaving him. Kelley couldn’t help but wonder what that said about him that they felt the need to do either.
Furthering his confusion was that Whitehorse’s groan of pain on standing once the fight was over had sparked concern. The sight of his face, knowing he had caused the bruises and split lip, had triggered a feeling of guilt—a feeling that only deepened on hearing that one of the Betazoid’s ribs had been cracked by his own hand.
Zram did not leave them until after they had entered Anjali’s office; he stood watching the door close with yet another irritating smirk.
“Have a seat, gentlemen,” said the counselor in a much calmer voice than the almost shrill tone with which she had chastised them earlier. When they had done so, taking the two chairs across her desk, she folded her hands on top of it and looked back and forth between them for a solid minute before speaking again.
“Commander Kelley,” she said at last. “Although we have not spoken on the subject at hand, based on your recent behavior and your psychological profile, I hazard to suggest that there is something else going on in your mind—something that reaches far deeper than Colonel Whitehorse’s mistake in not revealing his relationship to the mother of your child.”
Kelley sighed and closed his eyes, tilting his head back as Whitehorse asked, “What happened to you, Jordan? What could possibly have happened to make you so reluctant to trust, to make it so easy for you to give up on love?”
Another minute passed, maybe two, before Kelley sighed again and said, “Patel happened to me.”
“Who is Patel, Commander?” asked Anjali.
“Freshman year roommate,” he replied as he sat straight again and opened his eyes. “Vulcan. Ridiculously handsome, irritatingly intelligent. I fell in love with him almost immediately, and you may well imagine my surprise, Counselor, on discovering he felt the same, his being Vulcan and all. I didn’t think they engaged in same-gender relationships. He was my first real boyfriend, and my last.”
Her brow furrowed. “You were just eighteen, Mr. Kelley. Surely he was not the only serious relationship in your life?”
“Oh, but he was. You see, we were a couple almost that entire first year. Then Patel went home to Vulcan for the summer break, and there was met by the girl to whom he’d been ceremonially betrothed as a child. She entered her first pon farr during the visit—exceptionally early for a Vulcan, so I was told, as she was but twenty. They were mated according to tradition, and so he had to remain on Vulcan for the first year of their marriage. A marriage, he told me via subspace—along with everything else I’ve just said—he intended to remain faithful to.”
Anger that the pain of an event which had occurred more than half his life ago should still affect him had Kelley surging to his feet. “He was so…cold. So calculatingly, maddeningly logical. It was as though I had meant absolutely nothing to him, or that sleeping with me was merely an experiment and he had only pretended to love me. I felt so frelling stupid for having fallen in love with him in the first place.
“After that, I… I just buried myself in my studies. It hurt too much to think of him, of what might have been—what I had dreamed for us. I just couldn’t bear the idea of being hurt like that again, of having the man I loved walk away from me, so I decided that if I ever felt like scratching my itch again, it would be on my terms,” he went on.
His gaze fell on Trevor. “No strings, only sex. Anytime I felt like things were getting too serious, I pushed him away. I couldn’t take the risk. And that worked for me for twenty years.”
“Until you met Rogan Enek,” Anjali supplied softly. At his glance of surprise, she smiled softly and said, “You might not have been talking to me, Commander, but others have.”
Kelley’s gaze fell on Whitehorse again. The Betazoid nodded. With a sigh, Kelley moved and dropped into his chair again. “Rogan was… He is a lot like me. Security background, shitty love life. We connected through work, and though the words were never spoken aloud, I believe both of us wanted to try with each other, but wanted to take things slow. I don’t think either of us wanted to chance screwing things up. But of course, something did. Something always does. I should have known it wouldn’t work out—some of those guys I pushed away, I cut loose because I found out they’d lied to me. Or that they had cheated on me, or were just using me. So I showed them to the nearest airlock without allowing them the satisfaction of seeing the damage they had caused.”
“But Commander… If you were only using them for sex, why did it matter if they used you? How were any of the men you were involved with able to hurt you?” Anjali asked.
His answering laugh was without mirth. “Surely you can see it, Counselor? Those few that hurt me were able to do so because I was lying to myself. Oh, there were certainly several throughout the years who never came close to making me care. The ones that did? I only told myself that they meant as little as the others, when in truth they were able to hurt me because I had begun to care. And I had to pretend to be heartless and unhurt because it was the only way I could convince myself that I was, pathetic bastard that I am.”
Kelley held his hand up to stop Whitehorse’s words. Now that the floodgates had been opened, he was going to let the river of emotion flow. He turned to the other man then, and it was evident in the expression that met his eyes that Trevor could feel his pain.
“When he left—when he decided after I’d been with Tiessi that he was too hurt to try again with me—I accepted his decision. I had only the smallest hope that knowing the truth about the d’quir being the cause of my uncharacteristic actions would fix things, but unlike everyone else, I don’t blame him for walking away. After all, what right had I to expect any better? It was a mistake, yes, and one I certainly wouldn’t have made consciously, but wasn’t my entire love life a sad, frakked-up mess? One I had made all on my own because, at the root of it all, I am the one that’s fucked up?”
Trevor’s expression became anguished, and he started to reach a hand toward him. The hand stopped in mid-air and he drew it back, pressing the heel to his temple as his expression suddenly shifted to a deep frown and he looked away.
“Tiessi… What happened, Tiessi? Where are you?” he muttered. “She’s gone… She’s gone!”
“Trevor?” Kelley ventured, confusion blooming at the abrupt behavioral change.
“No. No! Not the voices! Too many—too many voices! Too many emotions—I can’t take it, can’t take it!” cried Whitehorse as he slid from the chair, his head in his hands as he fell to his knees.
Natale was not altogether surprised when word reached her that Whitehorse had confronted Kelley in one of the gyms and goaded him into a fight—Jordan certainly did have a good deal of frustration and anger to get out of his system. Still, concern that the fight could possibly get out of hand had her placing a call to Dilik Zram down in the security office, in which she instructed him to pick up Counselor Anjali on the way to putting an end to the altercation, before either man did serious harm to the other.
Having delayed her lunch break until she heard back from either the counselor or security chief, she found she could only sigh and shake her head when the former called up to say she’d left them with Zram in Medical and had ordered them to her office to talk. Natale had agreed with Anjali's earlier assessment of Kelley’s behavior: he loved Trevor, and that was why Whitehorse’s lack of complete honesty had affected him so much.
“I also suspect he’s dealt with the same before, likely multiple times,” the counselor had told her.
Given what Kelley himself had confessed, Natale was sure of it. No wonder he has trust issues, she thought as she finally hauled herself out of her chair and headed for her office door. At the same moment, she felt what was surely a kick from her baby. Laughing, she rubbed the spot and said, “All right, little man. Mama’s about to feed us.”
Outside the door, her interim escort—a tall, well built Capellan who had assumed the post before, said to her, “Headed out to lunch, Captain?”
“That I am—my little Highlander is demanding to be fed,” she replied with a grin.
They walked away from the office and headed for one of the turbolifts, where they were stopped by the station XO, Commander Hyasieth, calling out, “Captain Natale, we’re receiving a subspace communication for you from a General Stanis. Priority channel, ma’am.”
Natale exchanged a surprised look with her bodyguard. “The General Stanis?” Daal queried. “As in Commandant General of the Federation Marine Corps Stanis?”
The Orion shrugged. “One would assume—I don't know anyone else by that name.”
Patting her stomach, she said, “Looks like we’re gonna have to wait a little longer, buddy,” as she turned around and headed back to her office. A minute later she was standing before the large wall monitor and ordering the signal patched in.
“Commandant Stanis,” she greeted the top Marine Corps officer when he appeared on the screen. “May I ask to what do I owe this extraordinary honor?”
“I regret that we must dispense with the pleasantries, Captain,” said the salt-and-pepper haired Vulcan (the only one she had ever seen sporting a beard). “In point of fact, the news I am about to deliver is very grave.”
“What happened, sir, that would lead you to contact me directly?”
Stanis drew a breath. “The war memorial dedication on Gault was attacked by a local resident who is on record as protesting the inclusion of a small number of Cardassian civilians who were, in fact, in residence there before the war and who died sacrificing their lives to aid in the evacuation to the western hemisphere.”
Natale was no stranger to the circumstances Stanis mentioned. Four years ago, during the Dominion War, an experimental weapon of theirs had literally fried the eastern half of the farming planet Gault, making that side of it unlivable for a decade or more. The residents who had survived the attack by fleeing to the western half had remained after it was over, determined to rebuild and return their lives as much to normal as possible—and eventually reclaim the half of their homeworld which had been taken from them.
“I had no idea there had been any Cardassians on Gault,” she said. “Though I’m afraid I still don’t understand, sir, why you of all people would contact me to tell me about the attack.”
“I do so because it was on my personal authority that your security escort was assigned to oversee your safety on the request of Admiral Tattok,” replied Stanis, “and because this attack has the potential to create a dangerous situation on your starbase.”
“General, I’m sure you’ll pardon my saying that I think you had better get to the point,” Natale said then.
Stanis nodded. “We do not, at present, have any information on a list of potential casualties, and Tiessi Whitehorse was assigned to cover the memorial dedication by the Galactic Broadcasting Company. If her brother has not yet been made aware of the attack, if she was injured—or worse—he soon will be.”
“Oh my God,” Natale said, lifting a hand to her lips. Not only was there a chance Trevor’s sister was injured, perhaps dead, but also Jordan’s unborn daughter. In light of that devastating possibility, their personal crisis could hardly be of significance to either of them.
“Of course the possibility of injury is startling,” Stanis went on, “but the possibility of death is worse, and not simply due to the loss of a sibling. Trevor Whitehorse is linked psionically to his sister—”
The Vulcan lifted an eyebrow. “I was about to tell you, Captain. First, I assume you are aware that Betazoids typically do not come into their empathic and telepathic abilities until the onset of puberty—”
Something else to look forward to, Natale thought wryly, along with raging hormones and armpit hair.
“—don’t know is that Lt. Colonel Whitehorse is one of a few thousand Betazoids who were born with those abilities already activated. In a large number of such cases the individuals eventually devolve into madness.”
The Orion frowned. “You think Whitehorse will go nuts if something’s happened to his sister?”
“I do not think he will, Captain Natale, I know he will,” Stanis replied succinctly. “Especially if she is deceased.”
“But why, General?” Natale queried.
“In an effort to forestall their son going insane, Cassana and Camen Zoito subjected him to a procedure with many inherent risks known as anchoring, in which one individual’s mind is permanently linked to another—blood relations are considered the best candidates,” General Stanis explained. “He was first anchored to his father. When the Zoitos died, twelve-year-old Trevor had to be hospitalized and was only kept under control with both physical restraints and medical sedation, as he almost immediately became dangerously violent. His psychological record states that he acted out in an effort to, I quote, ‘silence the voices’. He hears the thoughts of everyone around him all the time, feels their emotions all the time. Anchoring him to his sister, who at the time was only eight years old, was considered the most viable option for saving the boy’s sanity.”
“What does this anchoring do to stop insanity and why is it such a risky procedure?”
“What it is meant to do is force the individual who needs it to focus on just one mind, to in essence drown all others out,” Stanis told her. “The danger in doing so is that no one can say for certain how far apart they might be able to go from one another, as well as the possibility of the procedure failing and resulting in insanity for both parties.”
“Well, clearly it worked for the colonel,” Natale observed. “Though I’m aware much of his career record is classified, I believe I can safely assume Trevor and Tiessi have been hundreds of lightyears apart over the years.”
Stanis nodded. “Indeed they have, Captain, but even with a separation of hundreds of lightyears, Lt. Colonel Whitehorse is aware of his sister—it has been proven a number of times. If she has been killed in this terrorist attack, he will in all likelihood become a danger to himself and anyone around him. I wanted to give you warning.”
“Appreciated, General, but if I may ask, why were we not told of his condition prior to this?” Natale asked. “I should think myself and my senior counselor ought to have been informed, at least.”
Stanis looked as grave as a Vulcan ever could. “As you are aware, such medical history would be kept on a need-to-know basis, and at the time of his assignment—given there was and still is no indication of its duration—it was determined you did not need to know. It is possible that decision was in error.”
Natale just managed to keep her expression from becoming a scowl. “I should say it was, General. I will do my best to secure Mr. Whitehorse so that, in the event of his sister’s death, he is not a safety risk. Please do let me know as soon as you do when there is any news.”
Stanis nodded silently, and then abruptly the channel was cut. Now she allowed herself to curse, and took a moment to settle her own worry for both of her officers’ emotional states before she called down to Anjali’s office.
“Natale to Anjali.”
“Can’t talk to you now, Captain,” came the breathless reply. “We’re having a bit of a crisis here.”
Grozit, the captain thought, noting what sounded like cries of pain in the background. If Trevor’s having a reaction, Tiessi must be dead. Dear God, what about her baby?
“I know the cause, Counselor,” she replied. “Do you need Security to respond? Has the colonel become violent?”
“No, but I fear for him,” Anjali said. “He’s suffered some kind of psychotic break, I think—it came upon him so suddenly. You said you know the cause?”
“I do. How is he? What’s happening at this moment?”
Anjali sighed over the commline. “He’s on the floor, keening about voices and feelings that he can’t shut out. He keeps asking where his sister’s gone.”
Emotion swelled within Natale’s chest. “Where’s Jordan?”
“On the floor with him, trying to calm him down.”
Why the frell did this have to happen when they might just have been on the verge of repairing their relationship? Natale wondered bitterly. She then considered their location and asked, “Do you happen to have any neural inhibitors on hand, Counselor?”
“As a matter of fact, I was just considering trying to use one when you called, ma’am,” Anjali replied.
“Do it,” Natale ordered. “If that doesn’t work, you’ll probably have to use a chemical sedative to settle him down. If he becomes even remotely violent, call Security immediately, is that understood?”
“Good. I’ll be down there as soon as I can. Natale out.”
Cutting the line, she pushed out of her chair again and headed out. Daal stepped up beside her as soon as she emerged, and the Vastran XO approached, an expression of concern on her scaly countenance. “Captain, what has happened?”
“Commander, contact Starfleet Command. Find out everything you possibly can about what happened on Gault today—apparently a local carried out some kind of attack at the memorial dedication. Trevor’s sister may be dead,” Natale told her.
“Great Mother Terra,” Hyasieth whispered. “And her child?”
“That’s just it, I don’t know anything more. I have to go and prepare them both as best I can, but it will be difficult.” Natale stopped herself at the last moment from telling her about Trevor’s mental condition, deciding that for now, she would keep it only to herself, Anjali, and Kelley. No one else needed to know unless it became necessary to share the information beyond that small circle.
Trevor, for all his faults, deserved that much assistance to the maintenance of his dignity.
By the time she reached Anjali’s office, Whitehorse was back in a chair, holding his head in his hands. He rocked back and forth, muttering almost incoherently for unseen persons to be silent. Begging them to be silent, Natale thought as she began to understand his words.
Kelley sat beside him, confusion and concern warring for dominance of his expression. He stood as she stepped across the threshold after instructing Daal to remain outside.
“Captain, please… You said you knew what happened. This,” he gestured toward Whitehorse, “it happened so out of the blue. Frankly it’s scaring the hell out of me.”
It should, she thought, then said, “First, tell me how Trevor is doing.”
“As stable as I can manage here, Captain,” Anjali supplied. “I’ve set a neural inhibitor to his occipital bone, which I do hope will give him some measure of relief soon, and I went ahead and administered a mild sedative to settle his nerves.”
“Good call, Counselor. Now—” Natale paused and drew a breath. “I think it best we all sit down. I have… I have some very distressing news.”
When they were all seated, she filled them in on everything General Stanis had told her. Kelley was naturally alarmed, concerned for both Tiessi Whitehorse and their baby. Anjali loosed a snort of disgust when she brought up the anchoring.
“Bloody fools,” she muttered. “Whilst I fully understand his parents’ desperation, I do wish they had found some other treatment! Anchoring is really more dangerous than General Stanis described. The minds of both patients can be torn apart, their grasp of reality completely destroyed! In fact, the overwhelming number of failures in that regard is why the treatment is no longer legal.”
“Was it legal when Trevor was a child?” Natale asked.
“Unfortunately, yes,” Anjali replied.
“What’s going to happen to him now?” Kelley ventured. “If Tiessi… If something’s happened to her, to the baby… Oh, God, I can’t think! I can’t… Captain, we’ve got to do something! I have to know if my daughter and her mother are alive!”
Natale felt anguished as he stood and began to pace, clasping his hands together behind his head as he walked.
“Jordan, General Stanis has assured me he will send word once they have any idea of a casualty list. I’ve also got Commander Hyasieth reaching out to Starfleet Command. We will find out something definitive soon, I am sure of it.”
She turned her attention to Anjali. “What is the next step for Colonel Whitehorse?”
Anjali glanced briefly at Kelley. “Well, Captain, given that he has been anchored twice before, I am afraid the only hope of maintaining his sanity would be to do it again. For those few success cases, you see, once a patient has been anchored, they must always be if there is to be any hope of normalcy in their lives.”
“But if his sister has died, there’s no blood relative left to anchor him to,” Natale pointed out.
“Then we must find someone with whom he is familiar, who is willing to take on the responsibility.”
Kelley scoffed. “You mean willing to take on the responsibility of not getting themselves killed just to keep him from going crazy. That’s a helluva lot to ask.”
Natale did not mention that no one had asked him, and given the current state of his feelings towards Whitehorse, it was unlikely he would be. She’d have to have someone in the Marine Corps send her a list of the colonel’s closest acquaintances.
A moment later, her commbadge chirped. “Hyasieth to Natale.”
She tapped the badge. “Go ahead, Commander.”
“Starfleet Command has transmitted the first list of casualties from the attack on Gault. I regret to inform you that Tiessi Whitehorse did not long survive her injuries.”
Trevor screamed, his hands gripping his hair so tightly that he was starting to pull it out. Anjali moved to sit next to him and took his hands in hers, doing her best to loosen his grip before he could draw blood. Natale herself stood again as Kelley asked,
“Commander, what about the baby? She was pregnant—our little girl? Did they say anything about my daughter?”
“Affirmative, Commander. The infant was extracted by emergency fetal transport and stabilized before being placed in stasis. At last report, both Miss Whitehorse and the child were to be picked up by the starship Messenger and brought here—both yourself and Colonel Whitehorse are listed as the next of kin.”
Natale thanked her XO and closed the channel, then put what she hoped was a comforting hand on Kelley’s arm as he sagged with some measure of relief. “Some good news, at least,” she said softly. “Cassana is going to be okay.”
He looked to her, worry still etched in his features. “Is she? Tiessi was only six months along—Betazoid gestation is ten months. The baby’s four months early. How can she possibly survive?”
“She’s in stasis now; it will keep her condition from deteriorating. We’ll make sure the doctors here get all the information they need in order to bring her safely out of it. Whatever she needs, Jordan, I’ll make sure she has it.”
Kelley nodded. “Thank you, Captain. I can’t tell you how much that means to me. I… Bad enough Tiessi’s gone. I don’t know what we’ll do if we lose the baby too. I don’t want to lose my little girl. She’s all we have left.”
We, he’d said. Even in the midst of his pain and worry, and perhaps not quite consciously, he was including Trevor. Just maybe, they can fix things after all and survive this tragedy together, Natale thought. God, I hope so.
The attack on the Gault memorial resulted in a total of 23 deaths and 113 injuries. They could be grateful for some small mercies, Natale thought when she got the news, that the death toll had not been higher. The local resident who had carried out the act had been arrested without incident, and claimed he had only meant to destroy the memorial itself, not actually kill anyone.
Well, that’s what happens when a racist idiot plays around with too much explosive compound, the Orion mused bitterly.
Messenger’s captain contacted Natale directly to inform her that Tiessi’s body and her daughter had been retrieved, but it would take them at least 12 hours to arrive back at Echo. Kelley was pained at hearing this, so desperate was he to know if his daughter would be okay. Dr. Nir’ahn, Messenger’s CMO, was in consultation with Echo’s medical staff as to what was the best thing to do for the infant that her chances of survival would be increased.
“Whatever it takes,” Natale told Jiraz. “That baby has to live.”
Whitehorse’s neural inhibitor had finally helped reduce the noise of his mind to, as he put it, “an uncomfortable, but tolerable, roar”. Still, he was highly anxious and fidgety, and only Kelley’s presence seemed able to keep him relatively still. Jordan was clearly both annoyed and grateful to be of some use, as he could do nothing at all for his daughter.
Two hours after the first consultation between the medical teams, Natale, Kelley, and Whitehorse were called down to the medical center. In Dr. Jiraz’ office, they found the Denobulan speaking with a lovely Andorian female in science teal on the wall screen.
Jiraz paused and welcomed them, then introduced Dr. Calista Nir’ahn. “I believe we have determined, at last, two possible courses of treatment for young Miss Whitehorse—”
“It’s Kelley,” Jordan spoke up. “Her name is Cassana Laurel Kelley.”
He looked then to Whitehorse and added, “It’s what Tiessi and I decided when she was last here.”
Whitehorse smiled, though Natale noted a tightness around his eyes that was indicative of either distraction or pain—or both. Even though he’d claimed it was tolerable, the thoughts of nearly every person on the station raging through his mind had to be giving him one hell of a headache.
He looked to her. “A splitting headache, as a matter of fact,” he said, then looked back to Kelley. “I know. Tiessi told me the two of you had decided to name her after both our mothers. I am quite pleased to hear my mother’s name again. My sister and I have always missed her very much.”
“What have you come up with, Doctors?” Natale asked then.
Dr. Jiraz glanced at his colleague. “Given Miss Kelley’s gestational age, we believe her chances of survival best lay with being returned to the womb. As we cannot, regretfully, return her to her own mother, our options are to enlist the services of a surrogate host or to build an artificial womb.”
“Are you sure about this? She can’t just be brought out of stasis?” Kelley asked.
Dr. Nir’ahn shook her head. “I am afraid not, Commander. She’s simply far too young, and her internal organs, her synaptic functions, would develop much better in an environment that would be as natural to her as her own mother’s womb.”
“Then we need a surrogate,” Kelley replied. “I don’t know who I could possibly ask, though.”
“You should know, Commander Kelley, that Dr. Nir’ahn and I agree that, should that be the option we take, it would serve the infant best if the gestational host were either Human or Betazoid—preferably both—and even better if there was some familial relation between them,” Jiraz said.
“Does it really matter if the host is related to her?” Kelley asked. “Trevor has no other sister, and mine are both a month away on Earth.”
“One of them isn’t.”
Kelley whirled in surprise; the others turned or looked up at the voice. “Rebecca?” he mused, moving toward her. The two embraced tightly, then he stood back and continued to look at her as though he could not believe she was really there. Natale herself could hardly believe it; she knew Kelley had contacted his family, but there was no way she could have gotten here so quickly unless she was already en route.
“Becca, what are you doing here? How—why? When, for goodness’ sake? It takes a month, at least, to get here, and that’s going warp nine!”
“I know people, baby brother,” Rebecca said. “I happen to be friends with a Ferengi lady who has recently taken to earning her own way. She was only too happy to accept my credits for getting me here as fast as possible. As for when…”
She glanced over his shoulder at Whitehorse. “I talked it over with Roy and made the arrangements when you first told us about your baby.”
“Go ahead, if it will make you feel any better,” Whitehorse said suddenly.
Kelley looked between them. “What? What is that supposed to mean?”
“Your sister wants to deck me—or she did—for breaking your heart,” Whitehorse said. “Now she’s not so sure if she should lay me out or hug me. Personally, I’d prefer the punch, as a hug from someone who wants to take a swing me would feel weird.”
“Why are you reading my mind without permission?” Rebecca asked.
“He can’t help it, Becca,” Kelley supplied. “Trevor has a condition where he hears and feels everyone all the time. He was connected to his sister in a way that helped control it, but with her gone...”
“He can’t control it. I see,” Rebecca replied. She drew a breath and squared her shoulders, then stepped around Kelley and over to Whitehorse. “I hate that you hurt my brother, but given what you’ve lost, I think you’ve suffered more than enough pain.”
She reached for his hands, and though he flinched at the contact he did not draw them away. “I am truly sorry for the loss of your sister,” Rebecca said then. “You may not believe me, but I was very much looking forward to getting to know her. She would have been welcomed as part of our family.”
A tear slipped from his left eye, and he smiled slightly. “Tiessi would have liked that, and been pleased to have your forgiveness in screwing up Jordan’s life.”
Dr. Jiraz cleared his throat softly. “Miss Kelley—”
“Mrs. Woodson, actually,” Rebecca said as she turned to him. “But Rebecca will do.”
“Yeah, sorry,” Kelley put in. “Everyone, this is my sister, Rebecca Woodson. Becca, this is Captain Synnove Natale, Lt. Colonel Trevor Whitehorse, Dr. Jiraz, and on the screen is the U.S.S. Messenger’s Dr. Calista Nir’ahn.”
Rebecca nodded at each, her gaze falling last on the Andorian. “Your ship is the one bringing my niece to Starbase Echo?”
Nir’ahn’s image nodded. “That is correct, Mrs. Woodson. Right now Cassana is in a stasis unit, and we were just discussing the options for bringing her out of it.”
“You were saying something about a gestational host when I walked in,” Rebecca said.
“Indeed, Mrs. Woodson,” said Jiraz. “Though not entirely necessary, of course, Dr. Nir’ahn and I do believe a host with some genetic relation will eliminate the chance of rejection.”
“That can actually happen?” Natale asked.
“It’s not very common—indeed, almost unheard of,” Jiraz explained in a reassuring tone. “But it has been known to happen. And given the situation—the trauma suffered by her mother and the sudden extraction from her natural environment—we simply wish to do absolutely everything we possibly can to ensure little Cassana’s survival.”
“Then it’s a good thing I came here to punch this one’s lights out,” Rebecca said, jerking a thumb over her shoulder at Whitehorse. “I’m related by blood to Cassana. And I’ve had children before, two strapping boys. Having been pregnant before, even if it’s been ten years since my last, should make it much easier for my body to adjust to the change.”
“But would Roy and the boys be okay with you staying here for four months, until she’s ready to be born?” Kelley asked. “For that matter, would Roy be okay with you doing this—and how in the hell did you guys keep your coming here a secret for four weeks?”
Rebecca smiled. “I’ve always called you over this last month, remember? You never had a chance to contact me, and the one or two times you tried, I was conveniently not at home. And my husband knows better than to argue with me when I've made up my mind about something, baby brother, you know that. Besides which, he loves you and so do the kids. The whole Kelley clan is looking forward to the addition of this little girl to our family circle, our mother especially, as you well know also. Therefore, they will agree with my helping do whatever it takes to keep her with us.”
She then took Trevor’s hand again, and reached the other out to her brother. When he took it, she looked between them and said, “We might not have been able to save Cassana’s mother, but we will save her.”
The wait seemed interminable to Kelley. He walked the pathways of Echo Park twice with Rebecca, at first still marveling that she was even there. She claimed she’d come to confront Trevor, but he knew the real reason: his family was worried about him. So they sent Rebecca without telling him first because he would have protested her coming in the first place.
Kelley appreciated the concern, but he would have been fine. He always was.
They were returning at last to his apartment when they were approached by Anjali and Whitehorse. It took surprisingly little effort for Kelley not to groan or roll his eyes—after all, the man had just lost his sister, could still lose his niece, and was facing possible insanity. It occurred to him that he had earned some sympathy.
“Commander,” Anjali began. “I know that you and Colonel Whitehorse have not yet resolved the issues between you, but I should like to ask if he may remain with you for the next few hours. It will give myself and Captain Natale time to find someone to be his anchor.”
“Jordan, please,” Whitehorse added. “I feel more at peace when I’m around you, and right now my head feels like someone is sawing through it with a dull spoon. I don’t know how, but you help calm the storm.”
Kelley drew a breath and glanced at Rebecca. She shrugged and said, “It’s your call, baby brother.”
He blew out the breath and nodded. “Fine. Just don’t bother me.”
Anjali nodded her thanks, advised Whitehorse to take it easy, and departed. Inside the house, the three went in different directions; Kelley and Rebecca to the dining table, and Whitehorse to one end of the sofa, where he sat with his head laid back and his eyes closed. A tense silence reigned for several minutes, until Rebecca broke it by asking, “Trevor, why didn’t you tell Jordan about your sister?”
“Becca,” Kelley admonished with a shake of his head. “Don’t. Not now.”
“Jordan, we have another eight hours before the Messenger arrives with your little girl,” she rejoined. “We should use this time as productively as possible. You guys still have issues to work out, and I think it would be good for you to try and get the air cleared between you before that baby comes. She’s going to need both of you.”
“I thought you were going to carry her the next four months, so she had a greater chance?” Kelley said.
Rebecca nodded. “And I will. But I’d rather not have to spend the next four months wading through a swamp of tension or mediating disputes between you. I’m not exactly young anymore, Jordy. Even with all the incredible medical technology at our disposal, a woman my age becoming pregnant—naturally or otherwise—faces a lot of risks. A peaceful environment is ideal in order to avoid complications.”
“It’s okay, Jordan,” Whitehorse added as he sat up straight and turned to face them. “I don’t mind. And to answer the question, I was afraid. Those who know me well would laugh to hear me described that way, but they only know the brash, arrogant, smartass façade I employ to hide the fact that I’m lightyears from being a normal Betazoid. Brian Wallace has told me to my face I’m arrogant bastard. I smiled and said ‘Thank you’ because the more I’ve played the asshole, the more I began to accept that it was my role in life. The real me was scared to death that I would lose any chance I had with your brother if I revealed that the woman he had been with that night, whose being in his bed had ruined his relationship with Rogan, was my sister. I know I should have been brave enough to tell him anyway, but I wasn’t. And the longer I didn’t fess up—the more I fell in love with him—the harder it was to even consider.
“Jordan, I meant what I said before. Something about being around you just…settles me. Even with the psionic link to Tiessi, I hear people’s thoughts. I can block it enough so it’s just background noise, like being in the middle of a large crowd that’s talking all at once and not able to make out anything anyone is saying. Frankly it’s annoying as fuck, but I never could build mental shields strong enough to shut the noise out completely.”
He sighed heavily and stood, then began to pace, clasping his hands behind his head as Kelley had done a few hours before. “I’ve had my heart broken too, more than once. I lost a man I loved to a sniper's lucky shot—one moment he was standing next to me, and the next half his head was gone. I’ve had others cheat on me. Use me. I started to do what you did—take lovers only to satisfy a base need, because I had come to believe I would never meet anyone worthy of spending the rest of my life with, someone strong enough to handle my sometimes extremely dangerous career, not to mention me and all my deficiencies of mind and character.”
Whitehorse sighed again, then turned to face Kelley and said, “I don’t know how many times I have to say it before you’ll believe me, but I am sorry, Jordan. I’m sorry that I hurt you, something I have to live with every day now. All the pain I’ve put you through, reminded you of, I wish I could take it all away, because I do love you. I just wish you’d give me another chance to prove it.”
Kelley could only stare for a long moment, before glancing at his sister. Rebecca offered a soft smile, then said, “I can’t advise you on this one, baby brother, except to say that instead of going with your gut, try listening to your heart. You have waited so long to truly love and be loved; I wouldn’t want to see you throw away a chance at it because of one mistake.”
He snorted softly. “Next you’re going to tell me that every couple fights or some such bullshit platitude.”
“It’s not bullshit, Jordy,” Rebecca rejoined. “It’s the simple truth. You’re not always going to agree and you’re both going to make mistakes. And while letting yourself love someone gives them the power to hurt you more than anyone, it also means you have to have the strength to love them more than the hurt.”
“You mean forgive them.”
She nodded. “I do. Loving can hurt sometimes, but loving can also heal. It can mend your soul, if only you are willing to let it.”
Again silence fell, until Kelley pushed his chair back and stood. “I can’t do this right now—all I can think about is my little girl and keeping her alive. I need some air.”
He moved quickly toward the door, though to the surprise of his guests he stopped and looked back to Whitehorse and said, “Miami wasn’t built in a day.”
When he had gone, Whitehorse looked to Rebecca. “Miami? What’s that?”
Rebecca smiled. “It’s where we’re from—Miami, Florida. If you don’t mind my sisterly advice, just be patient. My gut, and my heart, tells me that my brother loves you, and that’s why this one mistake hurt him so much. But he may not yet have admitted it to himself. So if you can, Trevor, just be patient. He’ll come around.”
When the Messenger arrived at last, Kelley, Whitehorse, and Rebecca were waiting at the Ventral 4 airlock. They knew that Tiessi’s body would be beamed over, but a medical team was to escort the stasis unit with little Cassana off the ship by more conventional means. Kelley knew that Trevor was eager to see his sister for himself, but was determined to support him.
It was, he admitted, a comfort to know that he was putting someone else’s interests before his own, if only for a moment.
Dominic Murphy, captain of the Intrepid-class ship, stepped through the airlock as soon as it slid open, followed almost immediately by Dr. Nir’ahn, who walked beside the stasis unit being pushed on a hoverbed by a Ferengi female.
“Captain,” Kelley acknowledged, then stepped over to Dr. Nir’ahn. “How is she?”
The Andorian smiled. “The same, Commander, as she has been in stasis almost from the moment she came aboard our ship. She wasn’t injured—her mother made sure of that—”
“How do you know that?” Whitehorse asked.
Murphy looked to him. “Eyewitness accounts of the first responders, Colonel. They said she was curled around her belly as if to protect it. Her camera operator, who also died in the explosion, had fallen on top of your sister as if he had pushed her down. He took the brunt of it, but sadly your sister’s injuries were just too severe for her to survive. It is believed she held on as long as she did to give her daughter the greatest chance of survival.”
Nir’ahn nodded her agreement. “Given the medical report and my own examination, I’d say that was an accurate assessment. And now that we’re here, I really think it best we get this done.”
Kelley, who had looked down into the small window in the unit’s cover to see the tiny face below, started at her words. “Oh, yes. Yes, of course.”
She was so very small, he thought as they walked. So small he was certain she would fit in the palm of his hand. God, please let this work.
When they reached Echo Medical, they were met by Dr. Jiraz and a dark-haired female of Vulcanoid descent. She was introduced as Dr. Sanai Grayson, a physician of multiple specialties that included hybrid genetics. “I asked for a consultation on the case to be absolutely certain all goes as we hope it will,” the Denobulan concluded.
“Of course,” Kelley said with a nod. “Whatever it takes to ensure Cassana’s best chances.”
Dr. Grayson flicked a glance at Whitehorse. “I understand also that you require an anchor?”
Whitehorse frowned, and cast his eyes on Jiraz. “You told her about that too? That was supposed to be confidential, Doctor.”
“My apologies, Colonel, but she is the only physician in the sector who is even capable of performing the procedure,” Jiraz told him. “I had to consult with her about that as well, so that we also ensure your survival.”
Murphy raised an eyebrow. “Do I even want to know what that is all about?”
“Patient-doctor privilege, Captain,” Nir’ahn said, before gesturing to Rebecca. “Come, Mrs. Woodson, let’s begin the preparations.”
Rebecca nodded and went with her immediately, followed by the med tech with the hover gurney. Kelley followed, and stood with his hand resting atop the stasis unit casing while his sister changed clothes and was settled on the biobed, where she was then injected with a number of medicines. Jiraz and Grayson both came in to begin preparing the baby for the transfer.
Just as they were about to bring Cassana out of stasis, a crewman rushed in from another area.
“Commander Kelley, come quickly. He… He’s going nuts!”
Alarm shot through him, and he glanced at Rebecca lying on the biobed next to him.
“Go, Jordan. If you don’t, they’ll have to call Security and that’ll get him shot.”
He nodded, then glanced at the doctors. “Wait for me,” he said, then moved to follow the crewman out.
“What happened?” he asked as they hurried toward the morgue.
“I don’t know!” said the young man; as they drew closer, Kelley could hear the noise of what sounded like someone causing a great deal of damage. “He asked to be shown his sister’s body. I took him to the morgue, opened the drawer, and he just suddenly flipped the frak out!”
Murphy was standing in the morgue doorway, trying to calm Whitehorse down. Kelley put a hand to his shoulder, and said quietly, “I’ve got this, Captain.”
Messenger’s captain looked as though he might argue, but conceded with a nod. He stepped out of the way and Kelley moved past him. He took in the sight before him and felt his eyes growing wide. Tiessi’s body lay eerily still on a slab sticking out from a wall of morgue drawers, while all over the floor lay various instruments and parts of the control console that was no longer standing, having been knocked over in the midst of Trevor’s rage.
Whitehorse himself was now on the floor trying to tear the console apart further, it seemed. The backs of his hands were bloody, and tears streamed down his face as he intermittently cried out. Kelley found himself utterly unable to feel anything but heartbreak for the other man’s anguish.
“Trevor?” he ventured in a low tone. “Trevor, stop. You can stop now, I’m here. It’s gonna be okay.”
“No it’s not,” Whitehorse cried, his body rocking back and forth. “No it’s not—nothing will ever be okay again! My sister is gone! My baby sister—the only blood relation I have left! Now who regards me? Who will love me unconditionally? Who will support me and my madness?”
Kelley slowly moved closer. “Tiessi isn’t the only blood relation you have, Trevor. There’s a baby girl a few rooms down the hall who shares your blood. Your sister’s daughter. Your niece. She’s going to need you, now more than ever.”
“Cassana doesn’t need me. She has you. What does she need me for?”
He moved closer still, side-stepping the console as he spoke. “To tell her all about her mother. You knew Tiessi better than anyone—Cassana will need you to tell her all about her kindness, her sense of adventure, her drive to keep the people informed, and her bravery in protecting her child in the last moments of her life.”
Kelley knelt beside him slowly. “She will need you to tell her what made her mother laugh, what made her cry, what her favorite color was, her favorite song… All the little, seemingly insignificant things that no one else knows about Tiessi. Cassana needs you to tell her those things, and I need you to do that for her because I can’t.”
Whitehorse paused, then pushed the console away from him; Kelley watched it slide across the floor, then looked back as the Betazoid grabbed his own head and began to rock again. “You want me for Cassana, but you don’t want me for you,” he said.
Suddenly he jumped to his knees, turned, and took Kelley’s face in his hands. “Come back to me, Jordan, please! I can’t do this alone. Even if you’re not my anchor, I still need you. I cannot bear the thought of living in this universe alone, without someone to love me. Please! I swear I would climb every mountain, swim every ocean, and wade through every backwater swamp on every Deities-forsaken planet in this galaxy if I could just be with you and fix what I’ve broken.”
Kelley sighed. “Can you fix me?” he asked as he gently pried the Betazoid’s hands away and turned, dropping to his butt and leaning back against the wall. “I’m beginning to think I’m the thing that’s broken, Trev.”
Whitehorse wiped his hands on his trousers, then brushed at his face and sat back next to him. “You, broken?” he said with a scoff. “You’ve got trust issues, Jordan. I have to be linked psionically to some other poor shmuck for the rest of my natural life or I’ll go crazy.”
Considering that for a moment, Kelley couldn’t help but chuckle. “Yeah, I suppose you do take the trophy for being broken.” He then sighed again. “Truth is, I don’t know exactly why I can’t just forgive. All I know is that in that moment, when I learned you were Tiessi’s brother, I remember thinking you were the person I loved, and I couldn’t stand the sight of you.”
“So you love me, eh?” Whitehorse countered with a touch of his usual cheek.
Kelley looked at him. “I think that’s why it hurt so much that you hadn’t told me the truth. Believe me, I’m more surprised than anyone. After Rogan, after everyone else all these years… All this time that I’ve fought against falling in love, dreading the possibility I could be burned again, and you pulled me in in only four months. And then that day happened, and I felt like the past was repeating itself yet again, like I would never be able to break the frakking cycle. God, I get so frelling tired of the same old shit over and over again.”
Tentatively, Whitehorse reached for his hand and laced their fingers together. “You’re not the only one tired of the same shit, different guy. I wanted things to be different with you, and yet I found myself repeating the same old mistakes. Acting like an ass, not telling the whole truth.”
“Would you at least have told me about the anchoring?”
Whitehorse snorted. “That would have been easier to tell you about than Tiessi. For some reason, I was never afraid you’d deny me because of that.”
He glanced then at his sister’s body. Tears fell from his eyes as he stared. “I already miss her so much. Being linked to her was…peaceful. There was still the background noise, but just thinking about her kept me calm or helped me get there. You know, when she actually learned about the anchor and what it meant, she just accepted it. She was never not supportive of me; in fact, she was always worrying about me. Checking in on me. Whenever I was in the field and couldn’t be reached, I always found dozens of messages waiting for me when I got home. No reproachment for not calling back, just Tiessi telling me about her day and how much she missed and loved me.”
“My family does that, too—Becca especially. Not that I’ve really ever been off the grid like I’m sure you have, but there are times I go days, even weeks, without calling. I just get so wrapped up in my work that I forget, or just don’t make time for them. But they never get on my case about it, they just…show me love.”
They sat together in silence for a moment. “I know that our problems can’t be fixed in a day,” Whitehorse said at last. “I’m just asking you to give me another chance.”
Kelley looked down at their joined hands and considered how very right it felt to have Trevor’s fingers twined with his. He considered again how, in spite of his efforts otherwise, he’d fallen in love with the man next to him. And he considered how very much he did not want to spend the rest of his life alone, flitting from one emotionless liaison to another.
He drew a breath, then turned his gaze to meet the Betazoid’s pleading one. “We’ll work on you and me tomorrow, okay? Tonight, I just want to be there for Cassana.”
Whitehorse sighed, then nodded his agreement. Together they stood, then Whitehorse walked over to where his sister lay. Kelley followed, and only then did he take note of the injuries she had suffered to her face. Wounds that had surely bled had been closed, but bruising remained. He was glad that the wound which had ultimately led to her death did not appear to be visible. Trevor might not have been manageable had he seen that.
Bending, Whitehorse touched his lips to her brow, then stood and pushed the tray back into the wall and closed the door. The two then walked out together in silence, passing a confused Captain Murphy as Kelley lead the way back to the surgical suite. There they found the doctors and Rebecca eagerly awaiting them.
“You okay now, Trevor?” Rebecca asked.
“I think I will be,” he replied.
“We will discuss the anchoring procedure once the infant has been successfully implanted into Mrs. Woodson, Colonel,” said Dr. Grayson. “Considering the amount of time that has passed since the connection to your sister was broken, and the fact that there has already been one…incident…I believe it best that the new link be established as quickly as possible, before your condition deteriorates further.”
Whitehorse nodded. “You’re right, Doctor. I’d rather not do any more damage than I’ve already done, or risk hurting anyone.”
“Has a volunteer been identified?” the Vulcan asked.
“I’ll do it,” Kelley said immediately.
“Jordan, you don’t have to,” Whitehorse countered.
“Maybe not, but I’m going to anyway,” he replied. “Look, we’re going to be in each other’s lives for Cassana’s sake. We’re going to work on our relationship to try and fix it—” He ignored his sister’s knowing smile at those words. “—and there’s the simple fact that we work together. Besides which, I gather from what you and Dr. Grayson have said that you’re only going to get worse—meaning possibly more violent and unmanageable—the longer you go without being anchored. You need me to survive and I need you to be here for your niece. End of discussion.”
Grayson lifted an eyebrow. Jiraz and Nir’ahn appeared to be fighting smiles, and Rebecca wasn’t bothering to hide her own. Whitehorse only stared, then slowly he smiled as well.
“Have I ever told you I like it when you get bossy?” he said.
Kelley rolled his eyes. “And he’s back.”
Grayson cleared her throat softly. “Shall we proceed?”
“Please,” Kelley replied. Inside, the tension of the last twelve hours—as well as the pain and anger of the last four weeks—began to melt away.
Echo Medical Center
He could not help himself. Kelley continued to sit and stare at the now round belly sported by his sister, his gaze sometimes drifting to the monitor keeping track of the vital signs of both Rebecca and Cassana.
All were steady. All were strong.
He turned at the sound of his captain’s voice. Standing, he faced her fully and said, “Synnove, why aren’t you at home in bed? It’s after midnight.”
The Orion grinned. “I could ask you the same thing.”
“I asked you first,” he retorted.
She rubbed her belly and glanced at the sleeping Rebecca. “I couldn’t sleep. I always have trouble sleeping when Brian is away—it’s funny, you know, how quickly I grew used to having him beside me once I let him in my bed.”
“I’m still awake, and here, because I can’t seem to drag myself away,” Kelley said as he turned and sat back on the stool he’d occupied. “I’m sure Dr. Jiraz has already told you everything, but it went perfectly. Cassana already seems to be thriving. Of course, it’s only been a couple of hours, but they assured me they didn’t expect any complications.”
Natale put a hand on his shoulder. “Then don’t go looking for any.”
From the corner of his eye, he noted her looking across the room, where Whitehorse lay on another biobed, also resting peacefully. “I also heard that you agreed to be Trevor’s anchor.”
He nodded, then turned his head to look up at her. “I did. He…had an episode in the morgue. Obviously you know about that as well. But we came to an understanding and…” Kelley sighed. “It wasn’t easy, seeing him like that. Seeing him so lost and desperate. It’s odd that seeing him like that is what made me realize why what he did hurt so much.”
“You love him,” Natale observed quietly.
Kelley nodded again. “I believe I do. So I told him I we could work on us, and since we’re going to be in each other’s lives regardless, because of the baby, I didn’t really see the point in putting the burden of being his anchor on anyone else.”
Natale smiled, then looked again toward Whitehorse. “It’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines, it will shine out the clearer.”
“Tolkien. The Return of the King,” Kelley replied.
“The Two Towers, actually,” she corrected him. “The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy are Brian’s favorites. He made me read them with him once a year during our academy days, as well as when we were stationed together on the Montana. And when we were apart—especially when he was married to Vera—I would read them to feel close to him.”
“Captain Wallace was actually married to someone else?”
She nodded. “For three years. Guess he finally got tired of waiting for me, at least for a while. She ended up filing for divorce because he was rarely home.”
Natale looked down at him. “That quote came to me just now as I was thinking of how painful the past weeks have been for you both, and how especially hard the last half day has been. But I think, together, you can and you will get through it. The love you share was not broken after all, Jordan. Just a little bent.”
“Like you and Captain Wallace?” Kelley suggested.
Again she smiled. “Very much so. And I am so happy, for your sake, that you’ve decided to give the jarhead another chance. I wasted twenty years pushing Brian away, thinking it was for the best. An entire lifetime, Jordan. I’d have hated to see you be as foolish as I was.”
“I’m tired, Captain,” Kelley said then. “Tired of being lonely, tired of being alone. In my own way, I have wasted twenty years—I spent half my life being afraid of getting burned again. And now, while what he did still hurts, it doesn’t change the fact that he needs me...or how much I love him.”
His gaze traveled then from his captain to his sister, from the child inside his sister to his lover, and came again to rest on the woman who stood beside him. With a smile, he said, “You’re right. Even darkness must pass.”
Songs that inspired me:
"The Reason" by Hoobastank
"The Reason" by Calum Scott (duet version featuring Leona Lewis)
"Photograph" by Ed Sheeran
"Just Give Me A Reason" by Pink (featuring Nate Ruess)