From the control booth, the scurrying of engineers around the shuttlebay looked an awful lot like over-stimulated children running rampant at a birthday party. The flashing of yellow alert indicators had caught them in the middle of a diagnostic and maintenance cycle. For the preparedness required at yellow alert, there were too many shuttle pods and equipment sleds crowding the bay. The raised voices of orders being given echoed across the bay at cross-purposes. Despite that first impression of chaos, there were patterns forming: runway space being cleared around the runabout Darial.
And then Commander Elbon Jakkelb strode into the shuttlebay from the corridor entrance.
The broad-shouldered executive officer was looking leaner in his black and red uniform. Days earlier, Elbon had confided in Kellin Rayco about the extra time he had been spending with Captain Taes to ensure she felt supported, and bolstered, and needed after the destabilizing effect blood dilithium had had on her. Because of the psychic intrusion on Taes’ mind, and how her erratic behaviour unsettled the crew, Taes had been avoiding overly much time in public beyond bridge duty. She had been keeping to herself and issued all her orders through Elbon. From experience, Kellin could infer that longer duty hours meant Elbon was sacrificing his own well-being, meals and the like.
Kellin Rayco sprinted out of the control booth, crossing the catwalk in a hurry. He bypassed the turoblift doorway and threw his body at the ladder. After climbing down the first half of the rungs, Kellin jumped the rest of the way, sliding down the rails with a loose grip. Despite all his attention on Elbon, Kellin sprinted past the man to reach the USS Darial before the XO. Planting his boots and filling his lungs with a deep breath, Kellin struck his most intimidating security chief pose to physically block the runabout hatch with his body.
Despite Kellin’s efforts, Elbon only offered an amused smirk to Kellin, as he closed the distance between them. As much as Elbon remained silent, Kellin recognized the look in Elbon’s sapphire eyes. His eyes were laughing at Kellin, at the absurdity of Kellin playing the security officer role with him of all people. Elbon scratched at the distinctly Bajoran ridges above his nose. To most, it might look like a ponderous expression, but Kellin recognised it as a gesture to say: challenge accepted.
Once Elbon was standing close enough for Kellin to smell the fragrance he was wearing, Elbon shrugged off the shoulder strap of his luggage case and hiked it over his other shoulder.
“Say something,” Kellin requested softly.
Elbon shrugged and he frowned. The puzzlement behind his eyes was far more striking than the way the frown put lines of his face.
“I didn’t expect you to react like this,” Elbon said.
“Why not?” Kellin asked. He wanted to sound defiant, but he feared he sounded petulant. “You’re always leaving.”
Lowering his voice, Elbon remarked, “You signed the application too.” His voice was tight, like there was a lump in his throat. He sounded more confident when he added, “This is what naturally happens after a divorce.”
Kellin couldn’t maintain eye contact with Elbon.
“Doesn’t mean I was ready for you to not be here every day,” Kellin admitted.
Elbon sounded hurt when he said, “You could have fooled me.” Hurt, but not defensive. Still, that didn’t make his words sting any less. “After the Delta Quadrant, you stopped coming by my quarters at 2 am. My doors were still unlocked.”
Kellin risked a glance in Elbon’s eyes, but it hurt too much to see Elbon’s own pain. And there were times Kellin feared Elbon’s old counselor training meant he could read Kellin’s thoughts with just a look.
“I told you why,” Kellin said. He tried to measure his reaction, tried to sound matter-of-fact in his delivery. Even in his own ears, Kellin thought he was the one who sounded defensive. “When we thought we were going to die on the USS Brigadoon, I told you everything.”
Elbon snorted; the sound was a brief, yet derisive, laugh. “Yuulik tricks us all into saving her ex-girlfriend — fakes the sensor logs and risks her whole career,” Elbon said, “and yet Kellin Rayco can’t make time for his ex-husband anymore.”
His whole body tense, Kellin kept his eyes on the down. He had stayed frosty while held prisoner by Remans on Kunhri III and yet Elbon’s directness could make Kellin feel tongue-tied. Kellin hadn’t prepared himself for this debate again –the shifts he’d seen in Elbon’s behaviours since their divorce– and he figuratively lost the capacity for speech. His mind went into protective stasis.
Elbon’s voice went cold. “I don’t want to do this again. I have to go,” he said. He shifted the luggage case strap again, pulling it closer to his neck. “There’s been a disaster on the USS Olympic. Their captain has stepped down and their number one is dead. Taes needs me there now.”
Smiling sheepishly at Elbon, Kellin reckoned, “You’re not coming back. You dreamed of captaining the Dvorak and now Olympic provides everything you ever wanted.”
“Not everything,” Elbon said weightily. The sadness in his eyes went away when he put on a sardonic smile. “Besides, what the Olympic needs is a scientist captain, not a retired ranjen. Taes was clear. My only job is to bring that crew safely home to Deep Space 17. I’m going to hold them together like my flock, so they don’t spin out.”
Elbon raised his right palm.
“May the Hand of the Prophets guide me,” Elbon said and then he used that hand to grab Kellin’s ass. As soon as he did it, though, he gently pushed Kellin aside from where he was blocking the runabout’s hatch.
Kellin teased, “The ass of the Prophets blind you.”
Elbon smiled fondly and he climbed the stairs onto the runabout.
“May it ever be so,” Elbon said.