The week Elbon and Kellin were first married
“Have you decided?” Elbon Jakkelb asked, breaking the comfortable silence between them. Under the desert sun, Elbon’s skin was glowing and his posture was loose. He didn’t appear the slightest bit winded by the uphill trek. Kellin hadn’t known Elbon for long, but he could see a furrow of concern in Elbon’s brow –right above the Bajoran’s nose ridges– and a smirk of something else at the corner of his lips.
“Hmm?” Kellin Rayco intoned back. His conscious mind had gone away to some other plane of existence. He couldn’t recall for how long they had been hiking through the H’erat desert in silence. Rather, Kellin’s attentions had been tied up in his senses, appreciating the arid landscape and the dramatic rock formations that created jagged hills all around them. He had also been appreciating the landscapes of Elbon’s firm body too. Dumbfounded Kellin asked, “Decided what?”
“How you’re going to tell your mother you got married on a whim?” Elbon impishly said. There was a wild fire behind his blue eyes and his smirk erupted into a full smile. Kellin had already shared with Elbon how anxious he felt about telling his parents about their impulsive decision, and Elbon had already shared with Kellin how much the chaos of it all appealed to him. Elbon couldn’t quite know what it felt like, Kellin supposed, because Elbon had lost his entire family in childhood. At least, that was Kellin’s current understanding. Thus far, Elbon had deftly deflected any of Kellin’s inquiries about the details.
At the mention of their marriage, Kellin took hold of Elbon’s wrist and he planted a kiss on the betrothal bracelet he wore. Kellin had picked out that bracelet from the Risian resort’s gift shop exactly four days after he had met Elbon on Risa, exactly four minutes before they had run into the wedding chapel, and exactly four days before they had arrived on Bajor to begin their impromptu honeymoon. His shoulders softening, Kellin literally pouted when he said, “She’s going to be heartbroken that she missed it.”
“She loves you,” Elbon said emphatically. Kellin wondered how Elbon could know that –having never met her– and yet he loved the way Elbon sounded so certain. “She has to understand you’re your own man,” Elbon said and Kellin returned that statement with a dubious expression. Elbon laughed, and he added, “…Worst case, I can marry us again.”
The sky was unforgivingly cloudless and the sun was high overhead, giving the white sands a blinding quality. Kellin reached up to adjust the cream-coloured cloak of his desert uniform, tugging on it to provide more protection for his eyes. Kellin asked, “Is that a responsibility of diplomatic officers I don’t know about?”
Even though Elbon was close enough that their elbows brushed together as they walked, he was forced to squint to look at Kellin directly. “No,” Elbon said, “I’m a ranjen.”
“…What?” was all Kellin could think to say, dumbfounded again.
“Before I joined Starfleet, I served the Prophets as a ranjen,” Elbon answered. Elbon displayed no outward signs of discomfort at the superheated air, the brightness, nor the uneven terrain of the rocky dessert. The sheen of perspiration on his skin was appealingly dewy. He might as well have been strolling through a meadow on a spring morning.
Kellin, by comparison, felt as if he were drenched with his own sweat. Despite the miracle materials that made up his hot weather uniform, the fabric was sticking to him in warm, wet patches. Even worse, what little of his skin was exposed to the sun felt as if it were reddened and swelling with sunburn. Worse, the spots along his hairline that marked him as Trill were starting to itch. Following his first thought, Kellin asked, “What made you quit the Vedek Assembly?”
“We don’t have to do that,” Elbon replied easily. Figurative clouds passed over his eyes, masking the open, jovial mien Kellin had observed in Elbon all morning. “The past is behind us. There’s no benefit in examining every crevice of every day behind us. What matters is now, right now, and building a future together, right?”
“Yeah,” Kellin said unsteadily. “…I guess so.”
“What about security officers,” Elbon asked, quick to return to the earlier conversation, “can they conduct marriages, if we’re going to perform a second service for your family?”
Chuckling, Kellin replied with a, “No, that hasn’t been in my training.”
Shaking his head as if he were overcome by a realisation, Elbon asked, “What do you actually do on the USS Uzaveh?”
Kellin nodded at that question, also recognising that they had never spoken at length about their day jobs. Their duty to Starfleet had been the last thing they had wanted to talk about on Risa… when they had been in a mood to talk at all. “I maintain the crew’s sovereignty,” Kellin said, echoing something a mentor had said to him, in a childish attempt to sound intelligent to Elbon. “And I defend the crew’s safety.”
“No, I know,” Elbon said, bobbing his head from side to side. “I took that class in bridge officer training too, but what do you do? How do you spend your days?”
“I serve bridge duty, most shifts,” answered Kellin. Although the answer had come quickly, he couldn’t hide the distraction in his tone. He retrieved the tricorder from his pocket and tried to make sense of the map on the display. “Ugh,” he breathed out in frustration, while he waved the tricorder one way, and then the other. After an excited, “Wait,” Kellin took hold of Elbon by the shoulder. When Kellin turned to walk in a new direction, he pulled Elbon along with him.
Following the new path of travel obediently, Elbon put his trust in Kellin, even though they were venturing around Elbon’s planet of origin. Responding to what Kellin had said, Elbon asked, “And that’s enough for you? Monitoring ship status; maintaining weapon systems… You find that fulfilling?”
Kellin shook his head, but it was to say, “I don’t understa–” Looking up from his tricorder again, Kellin could see it now. From a distance, he could see the abandoned H’erat settlement at the base of the largest rocky outcropping. That jagged hill was encircled by the ancient H’erat aqueduct; in its hand-crafted beauty, the aqueduct looked like a crown from this distance. “Ah,” Kellin said, “There it is.”
“–Bajorans have lived here for centuries. The design and construction of this aqueduct has become a thing of legend to the quadrant at large. Many families of H’erat could trace their lineage back to the time of the aqueduct’s inception,” Elegy said, sounding haunted. They had hiked into the abandoned town, meandering between small homes and places of business or worship. Elegy put a hand on what must have been a window, or maybe a door, into one such half-collapsed structure. “By the Prophet’s will, they even survived the occupation, but in the past decade… everybody left. One by one, the community dispersed and started anew elsewhere.”
Kellin put a hand on Elbon’s waist as he stepped around him, before venturing into the damaged structure on his own. “A ruin,” Kellin remarked. Venturing further inside, Kellin asked, “What can cause a community to just up and leave like that? Especially in a time of rebuilding and rebirth on Bajor? It’s not as if they were young and hopeful, taking on more than they could manage. Like you said, they had survived in this harsh climate for centuries…”
“Maybe someone made a minuscule mistake and their life got harder, and then someone else made a minuscule mistake and their life got harder,” Elbon said, thinking aloud, “until people started to walk away, one by one. And then that was it. There was a crack through the foundation of this beautiful dream. So few of them remained, and no one wanted to admit their mistakes, but their resiliency had been shaken. Every little huge mistake that followed took them careering even faster to ruin.”
“Mmm,” was all Kellin said in response. Elbon stood watching Kellin explore the empty home.
They had retreated from the scorching sun. Having found an abounded home that was intact enough to provide some shade, Elbon had sat himself down in what might have been a kitchen, once. He’d taken off most of his uniform and laid it out to dry. He’d leaned back against the tall segment of wall and Kellin had laid across Elbon’s lap. Making himself comfortable, Kellin had rested his head against Elbon’s chest, and even in the heat, they managed a light doze.
But then Elbon was patting Kellin’s left flank. “Promise me,” Elbon whispered. “Don’t let me reduce you to a ruin. If you ever feel like you can’t be you. Like you’re losing your you. Don’t let it be for me. Leave me before you let that happen. Promise me.”
Kellin offered no indication if he were awake or asleep and, in time, Elbon drifted off again.