Part of USS Endeavour: Certain Dark Things

Certain Dark Things – 6

The Round Table, USS Endeavour
February 2400
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Rhade slid into the booth across from Dathan, steaming mug of tea in hand, and to his great surprise she looked up from her PADD with a start. ‘My apologies, I didn’t mean to surprise you.’

‘No, you’re…’ Dathan rubbed her temples and pushed the PADD away. ‘The captain has me working double-time catching up on the situation we left behind in the Neutral Zone. And there’s only so long I’ll have immediate access to the intel coming into Admiral Beckett’s office.’

He cast a quick glance about the Round Table. As the private bar reserved for the exclusive use of higher-ranked personnel, it made both a good place to escape the hustle and bustle of work, but also somewhere people could talk somewhat delicate shop over a drink. ‘The situation has turned that volatile?’

‘Not in any confirmed way that affects us,’ Dathan said a little cagily. ‘But normally I would be funnelling some of this to Commander Valance for operational readiness. Graelin prefers me to present this with more up-front analysis.’

Rhade grimaced. ‘The commander won’t be out of action for long.’

‘We have absolutely no idea,’ she pointed out. ‘She’s still unconscious eighteen hours after trying to help Commander Airex. If they could pull her back out, they would have done so.’

‘I offered my assistance,’ he sighed. ‘I know Trill minds are very particular, and this would be unlike anything I’ve done before, but… surely telepaths can be of some aid in disentangling minds from one another.’

Dathan’s eyebrow quirked. ‘We’re docked at the biggest Starfleet facility in the sector. No offence, Adamant, but if they need a telepath in to yank Valance’s mind out of Airex’s, they probably have an outright expert in such matters to hand.’

‘You’re right.’ He scratched his chin. ‘Have you spoken to Cortez?’

‘Why would I do that?’ Dathan mused, looking back at her PADD. Then she hesitated. ‘That is, there will be people who can help her better than me.’

‘Kharth?’

‘Forgive me, but I would rather spend the next forty-eight hours single-handedly disentangling a month’s worth of events in the Neutral Zone than have one conversation with Kharth about Airex and Valance.’

Despite himself, Rhade’s lips curled. ‘Greg is attending to this, at least.’

‘Quite.’ But she glanced up and caught his hint of a smile. ‘You seem in a good mood.’

He frowned. ‘Commander Valance -’

‘Before that. And I’m not about to judge you for your life not screeching to a halt for someone you’re not that close to.’

Rhade’s gaze fell into his teacup, steam still curling from the amber liquid. He had already applied what little sweetening he wanted, and still he took up his teaspoon and stirred it again, breaking the placid surface. ‘I spoke with Rosara the other day.’

He did not need his telepath’s senses to pick up on Dathan tensing, as she often had when conversation veered near the personal. But this time it felt like bracing rather than throwing up walls, and when he glanced up, her eyes were on him. ‘Oh?’

‘We…’ Suddenly, words that had hummed through him evaporated. There was no script for this, and certainly not to describe what had happened alongside how it made him feel. Rhade swallowed. ‘We have decided to go our separate ways.’

Her eyebrows raised a half-centimetre. ‘On the arranged marriage.’

‘She has always struggled with it more than I have; her family have always been more… strict. Their expectations of the commitment have left her straining against it.’ He tried to sound like this was a simple explanation about which he felt very little. ‘Which is to say that we were not committing to the same life, even if it would be together. And it has become apparent to us both that it is not a life for her.’

Dathan tapped her stylus against her PADD. ‘But it’s a life for you?’

He hesitated. ‘What I sought was a companionship with someone that did not have to be my everything. A partner in building a life who was not the core of that life. I do not mean for that to be cold, but I have never been raised to believe one person is everything to you. It seems she is not the same.’

‘You sound,’ said Dathan, tilting her head a half-inch, ‘almost relieved.’

Rhade sighed. ‘I was prepared to work at this. Learn how to better communicate with her. Work at being that one person, if that was what she wanted from me. Find a way to thread the needle on those different expectations of ourselves, of our families. But if she does not think that is possible… if that is not what she wants… then it is for the best that we take a step apart now, yes, rather than once it feels too late and we resent one another.’

Dathan bit her lip. ‘You are relieved.’

‘I’m not too proud to admit that,’ he said, expression creasing. ‘We should be relieved when we make brave, healthy decisions about our future and happiness.’

‘And,’ she said lightly, ‘when you’re off the hook with someone who doesn’t share your interests, your approach to life, your mentality.’

He tilted his head. ‘That is an opinion you have kept close to your chest for some time.’

Again she tapped her stylus. ‘It seemed undiplomatic to say as much when you were committed to marrying her. I have the greatest respect for Lieutenant Thawn’s mind and abilities. She deserved that commendation. But you never seemed much aligned as people.’

At last, Rhade’s smile saddened. He had felt guilty when Thawn had first come to him, as if he had failed her on Whixby, failed her in the long months since he had come aboard. Then he had felt guilty for feeling relieved. But the more Dathan spoke, the more he felt guilty for not feeling guilty. ‘I would try to be what she wants. But she has to want it,’ he agreed at last.

‘Then I am glad,’ Dathan said softly, ‘that you can now be what you want.’

‘Is it ever that simple? We are all of us creatures of duty.’ But something else twisted in him, and it came like a sharp wind from over the sea, biting with crisp new anticipation, desires, nerves. Rhade pushed the teacup back and drew a slow breath. ‘And our wants still come with obligations.’

She was frowning, and now he couldn’t tell if his words had sparked something in her or if she was simply picking up his apprehension. ‘I would say obligations tether our wants.’

‘Maybe.’ He swallowed. ‘But I am blathering now to avoid speaking simply. Let me stop that.’ Rhade straightened. ‘Before we leave Starbase Bravo, would you like to have dinner with me?’

That stopped her short, and though her expression didn’t change, he still caught a wave of emotion. Shock and delight in more intense measures than he expected, but that wasn’t what surprised him. What wrenched in him, before he felt her feelings vanish before him as if she had slammed a door not just on him, but on herself, was the deep wellspring of terror they seeped into.

And still Dathan Tahla gave the faintest of smiles that he could not read as anything but genuine. ‘Dinner,’ she echoed, and at last awkwardly nodded. ‘That sounds nice.’