Eye of the Storm

The following story is a sequel to the DS9 episode, “Nor the Battle to
the Strong,” as well as to “Orfeo” (in the a.s.c archive). It is
rated [R] for sexual situations. Persons under 18, or those who have
trouble with gay fiction, should read no further.

Last spring, I told several folks that “Orfeo” was a stand-alone story
and that I’d never write a sequel. Ha!

My wife can be persuasive when she wants to be. Actually, she sat
down after the DS9 episode “Nor the Battle to the Strong” and just
started writing. My initial reaction was, “A Jake-Salene *slash*
story?! Woman, you’ve got to be kidding!”

Anyway, “Eye of the Storm” is a collaboration. The story idea itself
and the plot are largely hers. The writing was more evenly divided,
involving a lot of discussion, debates and outright arguments during
which the cat would go hide under the bed. In an effort to maintain
the same tone as “Orfeo,” however, the final draft is mine. Details
were shared out between us.

Yes, this story IS slash–of a sort. J. hopes those of you who are
regular slash readers are not disappointed. I hope the folks who
aren’t regular slash readers but who aren’t troubled by the idea of
gay fiction in general (like me), might give it a whirl. Those who
are disturbed by the notion of Jake and Salene “getting it together”
at all are free to continue to see “Orfeo” as a stand-alone story, as
that’s what it began as.

We always like to hear from readers, so drop us a line if you enjoy
this tale (or even if you don’t).

Macedon
jrz3@psu.edu

Acknowledgements and notes (from both of us):
–To Peg Robinson and Diavolessa, who read through early drafts of this
and provided invaluable commentary. Without them, this story would be
less than it is. (Also thanks to D. for info on concussions and music,
and to Killa who also looked at a couple of early sections.)
–Natalie U. for the idea of light-treatment for jetlag.
–Those who sent answers to our detail questions. But as it has been
a while since we saw “Homefront,” our descriptions of Joseph Sisko’s
restaurant are likely to be off. Readers with better memories,
forgive us. J. says, “Pretend he redecorated.”
–The partial song lyrics (slightly modified) in section 10 are from
“Piece of My Heart,” and belong to the immortal Janis Joplin.

–Information on Jennifer Sisko came from the Trek encyclopedia and
the novels THE EMISSARY and SARATOGA. And Sethan, Salene’s father, is
a tertiary character from Margaret Wander Bonanno’s DWELLERS IN THE
CRUCIBLE.
–We’ve assumed that while some New Orleans landmarks would remain,
much would have altered significantly by the Twenty-Fourth Century.
Those of you who know the town, don’t expect to recognize it.

A caveat: We have assumed that more than one month passed between
the episodes “Nor the Battle” and “The Ascent” (in which Nog returns
to DS9 for his second year practicum). “Eye of the Storm” begins one
month after Jake’s experiences on Ajilon Prime and about eight after
the events in Macedon’s story “Orfeo”; it ends a month or so before
Nog’s return to the station. Thus, Nog is still at Starfleet Academy
in San Francisco during this tale.

DISCLAIMER: Paramount owns all rights to the characters herein, except
for Salene and Jillian. Resemblance to any individual, living or
dead, is purely coincidental. This is a nonprofit work of fanfiction.
Distribution is free, but please retain this disclaimer and ask the
authors’ permission before archiving this or “Orfeo” to web pages or
sites other than the a.s.c archive.

EYE OF THE STORM
Macedon & J, c1997

Bashir hadn’t yet forgiven Jake.
It wasn’t as if he made Jake’s life hell. He’d even complimented
Jake on the story written for the Trill journal. But he was a little
cold. Withdrawn. It got to Jake–though he couldn’t really blame the
doctor. Bashir might be brash, arrogant, sometimes a snob, but he
wasn’t a coward. And whatever Jake’s father had said about the
virtues of introspection, Jake knew deep down in his center that *he*
was a coward.
That was bitter on the tongue. Still, he might have come to
assimilate it all, if not for the nightmares.
They began almost a month to the day after he had returned from
Ajilon Prime. Sometimes he dreamed of shells going off, of that dying
soldier on a dusty battlefield, of the moaning wounded…but his most
persistent dream was of the morgue–all those bodybags: toe-tagged and
zipped in anonymous silver. It had not been the blood and gore which
had gotten to him most. It had been the ignobility of death. However
the men and women in that morgue had died, whatever noble acts they
may have achieved in the dying, in the end all that remained for them
were faceless silver bodybags. In fifty years, would anyone but their
families remember their names? That was the problem with war. For
every heroic name remembered, a thousand–a million–were forgotten.
He wrote all this in a letter to Salene. He wasn’t sure what his
Vulcan friend made of his bitter philosophic cynicism but something
about Salene encouraged Jake to confidences. Perhaps it was just that
Salene always seemed to find time to respond, or to make time. When
he had left DS9 eight months ago, Jake had feared their friendship
would gradually peter out, as Jake’s with Nog seemed to be doing.
Instead, the opposite had occurred. Jake’s friendship with Nog had
been based on time and shared experience; his friendship with Salene
was based on shared outlook despite cultural differences. Nog was his
buddy. Salene was his alter ego.
Since Ajilon Prime, Salene had also become his lifeline. Jake
wondered if he should be alarmed by the fact that what got him out of
bed some mornings was a desire to see what Salene had to say that day.
Sometimes Jake sent two or three letters within as many hours. He
could clarify things to himself by clarifying them to Salene.
Yet Jake found that Nog also agreed with him on the waste of war.
Vulcan peacefulness–but Ferengi practicality. War interfered with
profit, and waste of life was still waste, a Ferengi cardinal sin.
For that reason, Nog was, if anything, harsher in his condemnation
than Salene.
Nevertheless, the nightmares did not end just for writing about
them to Salene or Nog, or by talking them out with his father. He
thought about going to the doctor to ask for something to help him
sleep, then discarded the idea. Bashir already knew him for a coward;
he didn’t want to show this weakness to the doctor, too. So he kept
his mouth shut and, after a week or two, tried to hide his insomnia
from everybody else–unsuccessfully, he feared. His father knew him
too well. It all finally came to a head in a panic attack.
He had been walking into Quark’s when suddenly, from behind the
bar, something popped….
….and memories drowned him: shells fired by the Klingons, being
out without cover, running, running, running…. He fell to his knees
and rolled under a table, shaking and shouting and struggling just to
breathe. It took almost an hour for him to calm down, and all over a
popped cork.
“JakeO, I think you need a change of scenery,” his father had
said that night. Jake had not even protested. “Why don’t you take a
vacation to Grandpa’s for a while? You can visit Nog at the academy.”
So here he was, on a spaceliner bound for Earth.
He arrived in New Orleans just ahead of a hurricane.

***

He had expected thirty-two degree temperature to be comfortable–
and it would have been, had the humidity not been one hundred percent.
New Orleans was a sauna, not a city. Salene removed his cape, folded
it over an arm, and shouldered his luggage. Kenner spaceport was
primitive: disorganized and sprawling, ill-marked for strangers,
antigravs available only if one rented them. He was not inclined to
waste money on what should have been provided free of charge.
He soon discovered that antigravs were not the only things which
had a fee. And Terrans complained about Ferengi commercialism? One
was required to pay for public transportation! It hardly seemed
“public” in that case. Mildly disgusted, Salene wondered if he could
walk to the hotel except that he was not at all sure where he was
going or how far it was.
He consulted a map at the subspeed station which docked beneath
baggage claim. A portion of the map lit blue to indicate his current
location and another portion glowed red at the address to which he was
going–around the south side of Lake Ponchartrain near the city park:
Esplanade Street. The lake appeared to be huge–more like a bay.
“Excuse me,” he said to a passing woman. “How long would it take me
to walk this distance?”
She stared at him. “Probably from here to your next life–‘less
you got nine like a cat. There’s a hurricane coming, hon.” And she
waddled away, purse and child of nearly equal size bumping after. He
was beginning to understand why the Vulcan travel office gave Earth
low marks on accessibility to foreign travelers. He took the subspeed
after all.

***

“Jake? *This* is my baby cousin? My god! Uncle Ben should have
named you Goliath.”
Jillian Idowu had been raised Christian Scientist and still
peppered her speech with Biblical metaphors though she had long ago
left behind her mother’s beliefs in favor of her father’s “pagan witch
doctor ways,” as his Great Aunt Cassie characterized it. Jake was
embarrassed to admit it was Aunt Cassie to whom he was related instead
of Jillian’s father. The Yoruba had always seemed more civilized to
him than the Christian Scientists.
“Are you going to stand there in the door,” he half-shouted now,
trying to wedge himself under the awning out of the downpour, “or let
me in before I drown?”
“Sorry!” Laughing a little, she stepped aside. “I’m surprised
they didn’t reroute your shuttle down.”
“The storm’s still about fifty miles offshore.” Closing his
umbrella, he stepped through the door. “It’s just sitting out there,
getting stronger. They’re not sure which way it’s going to turn. How
did it get past the storm traps anyway?”
She shrugged. “Your guess is as good as mine. Come on. Uncle
Joe is in the kitchen.”
He followed her through the empty dining room toward the solid
thump of a butcher knife on wood. “Grandpa?” he said, stepping from
the shadowed dining room into bright kitchen light.
“Jake!” Setting aside a cutting board of half-chopped onions,
his grandfather hugged him hard, then led him upstairs to the private
apartment above the restaurant and the guest room which had once been
his father’s bedroom. “Settle in, then come on downstairs,” Joseph
Sisko said. “I’m sure Nog will be in tonight for his tube grubs.
He’s been counting the days till you got here.”
“Grandpa–wait.” Joseph Sisko turned back. “What’s Jillian
doing here? Not that I’m not glad to see her–but I thought she was
with her dad in Ife?”
“She’s tracing the migration of Yoruba drumming patterns out of
Nigeria through Haiti to New Orleans and then up the Mississippi as
jazz developed. Research for the University of Lagos. Ask her about
it and I’m sure she’ll tell you–in great detail.” Laughing, his
grandfather left Jake there to unpack.
He took his time at it, not wanting to go downstairs immediately.
It was more than space-lag; he’d undergone the usual light treatment
at the spaceport. He was just…tired, and felt a need to get his
bearings before descending to face the questions–spoken or unspoken.
At least they hadn’t all pounced on him the moment he’d arrived.
He dropped his bags by the guest bed. It would be too short for
him now; then again, most beds were too short for him now. Going over
to the little dresser, he pick up the photocubes with their frozen
moments in 3D. His father’s childhood, and his too. He seemed very
young–even the one of himself, his father and his grandfather last
time they’d all been together on Earth. He’d been just seventeen.
Had so much happened in a year?
Enough. He had discovered his own cowardice.
Setting down the cube, he raked fingers through the pile of
plastic mardi gras beads: yellow, blue, white, green…. Too bad he’d
come at the wrong time of year. He felt a need for masks, for the
wildness of carnival.
“Jake!” Jillian’s voice on the stairs. “There’s someone here to
see you.”
Jake walked over to open the door. “Nog?” Wasn’t it too early
for Nog? It would be only early afternoon in San Francisco.
“Oh, this isn’t Nog,” Jillian called, “thank the stars. Nog’s
been driving me crazy for two weeks. Besides, I don’t think a Vulcan
would appreciate being mistaken for a Ferengi–”
Jake was out the door and past her, taking the stairs three at a
time.
“Salene!”

***

The woman who had let him in had said she was Jake’s cousin
“several times removed.” Salene wondered why so many human languages
had such imprecise terms for family. All three major Vulcan tongues
had terms for cousins of both sexes up to the seventh degree.
Now, waiting in the main dining room, he studied the place. It
was medium-sized as restaurants went, decorated in dark wood intended
to look artfully rustic. There was frosted glass in the front window,
“Sisko’s” backwards in Tiffany to match the Tiffany lamps over the
booth tables. Various objects hung on the walls; he supposed they
were meant to evoke the history of this region of earth. There was
also a large stuffed reptile hanging from the ceiling. It looked like
a Vulcan *saloba*. Why would anyone wish to stuff a dead animal?
Shuddering, he turned away. Somewhere in the background came the
sound of a weather report: “Hurricane William is still stationary….”
Then Jake’s voice called his name and he turned in time to see his
friend burst out of the kitchen. Jake nearly grabbed him by both arms
before recalling himself and aborting the gesture. “What are you
doing here?”
“I came to see you.” Humans asked obvious questions.
“No kidding!” Jake said. “*Why*?”
Salene hesitated. He had not really expected to be asked why,
was not sure he knew quite how to answer. “You seemed…disturbed.
In your letters. So I came.” At the time, it had been the logical
response. Any Vulcan would have understood–would have expected it–
without an explanation. Jake was his friend. To not come in the face
of a friend’s need was an intolerable disloyalty. But now, Salene was
uncertain. Jake was *not* a Vulcan. Had he acted on instinct
erroneously? Was Jake somehow offended?
But Jake just reached out to grip Salene’s arm briefly. “Thanks.
I owe you one.”
“Friends owe one another,” Salene replied. “There is no tally
board.”
That made Jake smile. Salene had to confess a wholly irrational
pleasure in Jake’s smile. He courted it.
There was a pause, then Jake asked too many questions at once,
“When did you get in? Where are you staying? How long can you stay?”
Salene held up a hand. “I arrived three hours, two minutes ago; I am
staying at a hotel two blocks away; and my next performance is not for
two Vulcan months–the only terminus ante-quem on this visit. I had
no preconceived length of stay scheduled.”
“You checked into a hotel! Hang on a minute. Let me talk to my
grandfather–” And he disappeared back into the kitchen. Salene
shook his head and sat down at a table to await Jake’s return.
In the meantime, Jake’s cousin came back into the room, wandered
closer to him under the pretense of wiping tables. Despite her North
American accent, she had the fine, high cheekbones Salene tended to
associate with Earth’s Africa. In fact, she was quite aesthetically
pleasing to the eyes.
“By the way,” she said finally, breaking the silence, “I didn’t
introduce myself earlier. My name’s Jillian Idowu.”
He studied her for a long moment, hesitating. With strangers,
he was self-conscious of his speaking voice, modulating it carefully
to keep it from being shrill. “I am Salene,” he said finally.
She started on another table, closer to his, answered, “I know.
I recognize you.” She did? “I’m a music historian–Earth’s history,
but I’d have to have my head pretty far in the sand not to recognize
*you*.” Salene almost asked why she would wish to put her head in the
sand at all, then realized it must be a human expression, and said
nothing. “How’d you meet Jake, anyway?” she asked.
“I was invited to sing for an interstellar music festival on
Bajor. Initial rehearsals were held on DS9.”
At that, she gave up all pretense of working and pulled out the
chair across from his, dropping the wet cloth on the varnished top. “I
heard they were having one. How’d it go?”
He hesitated, not sure how to reply. “It was…interesting.”
she grinned. “When someone–even a Vulcan–calls something
‘interesting’, it’s not necessarily a compliment.”
“That would be a…fair assessment,” he replied. It made her
laugh. “You said you were a music historian…?”
“Yeah, I teach at the University of Lagos.”
Lagos? That explained her name–and the cheekbones. “What are
you doing in New Orleans?” he asked.
“Research.” And she began to tell him about it.
Jake came back in the middle of her explanation, followed by an
elderly man who must be his grandfather. Salene immediately stood and
bowed. The man chuckled and patted Jake’s shoulder. “That’s what I
like about Vulcans–they show respect for their elders.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Jake asked in a tone which Salene
had come to recognize as mock affront.
But his grandfather ignored him, spoke to Salene. “I’m Joseph
Sisko, the owner of this humble establishment.” He grinned and swept
a hand around the dining room, then turned serious. “Jake tells me
that you planned to check into a hotel nearby. Our hospitality can’t
allow that; we hope you’ll honor us with your presence.”
A little surprised, Salene bowed again. It was rare that a human
showed a correct knowledge of the finer points of Vulcan hospitality.
“With pleasure.”
Jake was staring at his grandfather as if he had suddenly grown a
second head; the elder Sisko smiled tolerantly. “Jake, my boy, being
in Starfleet or living on a space station isn’t the only way to learn
about other races. Just run a restaurant for a few years. Now”–he
clapped his hands together in what Salene recognized as a favorite
gesture of Captain Sisko–“I have dinner to prepare for. Jake, show
our guest upstairs and Jillian, finish these tables! You can talk his
ear off later. And you”–he pointed to Salene–“if she gets to be too
much, tell her to find another audience.”
Salene shot a glance at Jillian Idowu. “Actually, I find her
theories fascinating. I hope we can continue the conversation later.”
Grinning, she picked up her rag. “Jake, your taste in friends is
definitely improving. How about a few more like him and a few less
like Nog?” She returned to her duty; Joseph Sisko had headed back to
his kitchen.
“Who is Nog?” Salene asked Jake, who seemed suddenly uncomfortable.
“Oh–he’s somebody I knew from the station. Remember the friend
I said had gone into Starfleet? That’s Nog.” Jake began to lead
Salene through the dining room towards the back.
“Why does your cousin dislike him?”
“Well, I guess it’s…uh…Nog’s culture.” Jake appeared to be
uncomfortable. “Nog’s…uh…Nog’s a Ferengi. And Ferengi are kind
of funny about women–”
“A Ferengi!” Salene stopped cold.
Jake turned back. “Yeah. He’s the first Ferengi in Starfleet.
He’s a nice guy. Jillian may not like him, but he’s a nice guy.”
Salene pressed his lips together and said nothing else, followed Jake
upstairs to the guestroom where Jake was staying himself.
A Ferengi!
At least this Nog was in San Francisco and Salene would not have
to deal with him.

Jake was coming downstairs after having left Salene in the guest
room to settle in. Jillian met him at the stairwell bottom, glancing
up the well and sighing a little. “I wish he was even five years
older. He’s cute as bees’ knees, but I don’t want accused of robbing
the cradle.”
Jake blinked. He had never before thought of Salene as ‘cute’.
“He’s a Vulcan, Jill. Vul-can. Forget-it. Besides, how old do you
think he is?”
“About your age–too young,” she said, and winked.
At that moment, his grandfather came up beside them. “Jill–
tables?” Snorting softly, she left. Joseph Sisko turned to study
Jake a moment before asking, “Do you know what it means, that he’s
come here?”
Jake blinked. “Not specifically, no. He said something about my
letters worrying him. Well–he didn’t say ‘worry’ but that’s what he
meant.”
His grandfather was shaking his head. “No, not why he decided to
come…do you know *what it means* that he came?”
Still baffled, Jake said, “No.”
“Let me tell you a story about the first Vulcan I ever had cause
to trade more than a word or two with. She was an exchange student at
my culinary arts school, taking an advanced course on ethnic Terran
vegetarian. Towards the end of the course, she received news of an
emergency back home and asked leave to return to Vulcan. Though the
professor was willing, the school wouldn’t recognize her emergency
because it involved a friend, not family. She went anyway even though
it meant failing. That might seem like a small thing to you or I, to
fail a semester, but Vulcans don’t take well to failure and don’t make
excuses for it. Still, the duty she owed a friend overbore any
personal shame in failing.”
The writer in Jake wanted to know the details. “What was the
emergency she went back for?”
“I don’t know; she never said. But I was enormously impressed at
the time by her loyalty…not the sacrifice itself, but what she chose
to sacrifice *for*: a friend in need. The woman had her priorities on
straight. Some years later, I learned a bit more about it from an
acquaintance who’d lived on Vulcan for a year or two. Vulcans don’t
often make *friends*, you see.”
Jake was poignantly reminded of what Salene had said before
leaving DS9: ‘A Vulcan has colleagues and family…not friends. Not
often.’
“Some of it’s terminology,” his grandfather went on. “As it was
explained to me, the people you and I would call friends, they call
acquaintances. Their main ties are to their families, even more than
among humans. When they do make a *friend*, they start treating that
person like a family member, and they’ll do just about anything for
him or her. Loyalty and duty. Logical, I guess. Or Confucian. They
see life as a web of duties rated according to consequence. Sometimes
their choices baffle humans, but they understand each other. There
are certain expectations–things they’d never outright ask for, but
it’d be rude, even betrayal, not to offer.”
Some pieces were starting to fall into place for Jake. “So like,
if I sent him a letter, he might feel he had to answer it immediately,
no matter what?”
His grandfather nodded. “If he thought you *needed* the answer,
he’d find the time to answer it.”
“Even if he didn’t get any sleep.”
“Even if he didn’t get any sleep.”
“And he’s come here–”
“Because he’s decided that you need him. He owes you that duty,
no matter what it costs him personally. The only thing that could
interfere with his duty to you would be one he counts higher, and he’d
expect you to understand that. Vulcans distrust sentiment but they’ll
go through hell and high water for duty–including the personal duties
you and I would call by a different name.”
Jake was silent a long moment. His grandfather said nothing
else, letting him think it through. “I’ve been taking advantage of
him,” Jake said finally. “I didn’t even realize it.”
“I doubt *he* thinks you did. But it might be a good idea to
learn a bit about Vulcan culture, since you’ve got a Vulcan friend.
That way you can avoid putting him–or yourself–in a spot.”
Nodding thoughtfully, Jake turned his head at the sound of feet
on the stair. Salene was coming down finally.

Salene had spent a few moments in the guest room, trying to
determine where he was supposed to put his luggage and–more to the
point–where he was supposed to sleep. There was one bed. Jake had
clearly claimed it already. It dawned on him that Jake must intend
for them to share it.
This alarmed him. Even Vulcans could be perversely curious about
his physical state. Would Jake stare? Yet he had seen, as Jake had
led him down the hall, that this was a small private apartment: a
single washroom, a sittingroom-cum-workroom, and three bedrooms–one
for Joseph Sisko, one for Jillian and one for Jake. He could hardly
share with Jillian. Had he realized Joseph Sisko’s home so small, he
might not have accepted their hospitality. But that would have been
unforgivably rude. A polite guest did not complain about his bed–or
a lack of privacy. He reminded himself that sensitivity about his
body was illogical and, setting his bags in a corner, left the room.
Voices stopped him in the hall. Vulcan hearing and the stairwell
architecture carried Joseph and Jake Sisko’s conversation up to him.
Almost, he turned away to grant them privacy, but something held him
there. Curiosity was, indeed, a Vulcan sin.
When he had heard enough, he continued downstairs but kept to
himself the fact that he had overheard. Perhaps he should not have.
Jake wore a guilty expression all through their dinner that evening.
It concerned Salene.
They were sitting in the dinning room at a back corner booth–far
from the hanging reptile, to Salene’s relief. Their seat afforded a
small degree of privacy from the chatter of paying customers, of which
there were few tonight. Salene could hear the storm winds outside.
Rain beat on the frosted front glass and it was already dark though
the sun had not yet set. Customer conversation was about the storm.
“It’s started moving again,” someone called to Joseph Sisko when he
and his party entered. Apparently, they were regulars. “It got past
the last trap. That sucker’s actually gonna come in, Joe!”
Across from Salene, Jake muttered, “Great.”
“You are pleased by this?” Salene suspected Jake had meant his
remark sarcastically, but was not entirely sure.
Jake just stared at him, then shook his head. “This city hasn’t
weathered a hurricane in a hundred years.” Then he shrugged, “At
least this building’s older than that, and solid brick; it’s been
through them before. If the hurricane doesn’t come in on top of us,
it ought to stand.”
Salene put down his fork. “It ought to *stand*?”
“Hurricanes have gale-force winds of at least a hundred seventeen
k-ms an hour, and they’re calling this one a Beaufort fifteen! That’s
pretty impressive. The winds are probably over a hundred and fifty at
the eye by now.”
“Forgive me. I do not know a great deal about hurricanes; Vulcan
lacks oceans, remember. What does ‘Beaufort’ mean?”
“That’s a rating scale for storms. I did a report on hurricanes
once, when I was younger. It takes a Beaufort rating of twelve to be
a hurricane.” He pushed aside his plate and set his glass in the
center of the blue placemat. “See, this is the eye. A hurricane
pulls warm air in at the bottom of the central column and spits it out
at the top in the tropopause, so the pressure in the eye drops way
down; that causes the winds to spin around it.” He demonstrated with
his hand. “The closer to the eye, the faster they go.”
Salene cocked his head. “Jake–I know all that.”
“I thought you said you didn’t know about hurricanes?”
“I know the basics. Explain to me how a storm trap works.”
“It catches the storm eye in a gradual forcefield starting at the
bottom, so it can’t pull in any more warm air but it has a few minutes
to let out some at the top before the whole field closes. Basically,
they cut the heart out of it. Trouble is, forcefields can’t just go
up anywhere, especially not ones that big. They have to have a source
to generate them. If the storm doesn’t blow close enough to a trap,
it runs free.”
“And that is what happened in this case?”
“Yeah, I guess. And this storm’s huge. ‘Fat Bill’ I heard one
of the guys on the weather station call it. Hope it doesn’t come in
directly or it’ll blow Lake Borgne right over us.”
Jake’s face was grim and Salene did not know what to say to that,
so he returned his attention to his meal. The food was, of course,
excellent, but he was beginning to take fine food from the Siskos for
granted. Looking rather harried, Joseph Sisko appeared once to ask if
the meal was satisfactory. “More than satisfactory,” Salene replied.
“Is there more news on the storm?”
“It’s supposed to come in west of us, over Vermillion Bay.”
“That’s south of Lafayette,” Jake said.
Joseph Sisko nodded. “They’re evacuating only as far east as
Baton Rouge.” And he disappeared back into the kitchen, shouting
orders to someone inside.
Jake returned then to silence; Salene watched him a while. “Are
you nervous of the storm?”
Jake just shrugged. Several more minutes passed. Salene sipped
the French wine Joseph Sisko had insisted he drink with his meal, and
thought about what the old man had told Jake earlier–and Jake’s
guilty response. They did not really understand one another’s basic
assumptions about the universe, for all they often understood one
another’s minds very well. He wrestled with whether or not to tell
Jake what he had overheard, finally gave in.
“Your grandfather was correct, earlier,” he said, tearing off a
piece of bread, “regarding my people and duty. He was also correct
that I do not consider you to have taken advantage of our friendship.
Do not blame yourself unfairly.”
Jake jumped, dropped his fork. “You heard all that?”
Salene nodded, mopped up sauce with brown bread. “Humans tend to
measure the volume of their speech by their own hearing.”
Jake’s expression was a picture of mortification. Salene went
on, “I did not intend to embarrass, merely to remove undue guilt which
you may feel regarding my presence here. I came by my own choice.”
“But I didn’t mean for you to think you had to–”
“I didn’t.” Salene held Jake’s eyes. “You are my friend.”
“But that’s just it,” Jake said, dropping his voice as someone
passed their table headed for the restrooms. “I didn’t know Vulcans
had all these…expectations–that you’d think you had to answer all
my letters as soon as I sent them, or come running just because I
can’t seem to get my act together. It’s my problem, Salene. You
don’t have to feel responsible for me.”
Salene shook his head. “You are wrong. I am responsible for
you, and you for me. It is the way of things. No person exists in a
vacuum, however much he or she might wish it.”
“Somehow that doesn’t sound very Vulcan,” Jake muttered, picking
up his dropped fork. “I thought Vulcans were big on self-sufficiency.”
“On the contrary–responsibility is the heart of Vulcan ethics.
There is a difference between being responsible to and being a burden
upon. You have confused the two. All being are responsible for one
another by the nature of existence. To borrow from one of your own
religions, it is the interplay of karma and dharma. The ties of blood
entail certain responsibilities to relatives, but there are others to
whom we freely choose to owe duty. You, I choose.”
Jake was staring at him. Salene got the impression that he had
said something Jake found either astonishing or profound. Sometimes
it happened so, and Salene could never predict what would move Jake.
He wondered what it was like, to live a slave to emotion. Unsettling,
he would think.
“Thank you,” Jake said now, then glanced down at his glass of
soda, took a sip, shifted in his seat. “You know, I might not always
understand what I’m supposed to do, what responsibilities I owe you,
as your friend. You might have to tell me. Even if it feels rude,
tell me anyway. I don’t want to screw up.”
Salene waited until Jake quit squirming. “I believe you already
know more than you realize. Humans have a word for it: intuition.”
“Yeah, well, human intuition isn’t always very reliable.”
“True. And that is why Vulcans prefer duty.”
Abruptly, Jake broke up laughing. Salene just shook his head,
wondering if he would ever be able to predict human responses.
Before either could speak further, the whine of a transporter on
the far side of the room diverted their attention. It coalesced into
a smallish Ferengi in a red Starfleet cadet uniform.
“Nog!” Jake said, standing.

II.

Nog wasn’t supposed to be here this soon. Given the hurricane,
Jake had wondered if Nog would make it at all.
The Ferengi waved and Jake took a few steps forward, then stood
frozen between his two friends. Bleach and ammonia. In his own mind,
he’d compared a meeting between Salene and Nog to a mix of bleach and
ammonia. He’d expected to have another hour or so, to prepare Salene.
Now, he wondered what he’d thought he could possibly have accomplished
in an hour. The antipathy between Vulcan devotion to logic and
Ferengi devotion to profit was legendary.
Grinning, Nog came forward to embrace Jake. “They almost refused
to beam me in, because of the storm–” Only then did he glance past
Jake to see Salene in the booth shadows behind; surprised, he blinked.
Jake turned. Salene, glass of red wine in hand, lounged sideways on
the bench in an uncustomary slouch, regarding Nog as if he were a
rather dubious pet which had followed Jake home.
“Who is that?” Nog snapped.
“Uh– Nog, that’s Salene. Salene–this is Nog.”
Salene said nothing. Jake had noticed before, when Salene had
been on Bajor, that the castrato spoke little in company which might
prove hostile. To protect himself from ridicule regarding his voice,
he wrapped himself in that damnable Vulcan silence which read to
strangers so very much like scorn.
Nog waited five breaths before turning to Jake and saying, “Come
on, let’s go somewhere else–somewhere with better company.”
“Nog, wait, I–”
“Go,” Salene interrupted. Jake glanced at him, trying to ask
permission without asking it. Salene said nothing more, his own face
utterly expressionless. After a second, Jake turned back to follow
Nog towards the kitchen.
They’d barely gotten two steps inside before Nog shoved Jake up
against the wall. “Who was that? And don’t just give me his name!”
Despite the dramatic difference in their sizes, Jake felt
intimidated. “He’s a friend.”
“A *Vulcan*? They don’t have friends!”
“What’s this?” Joseph Sisko asked, coming up beside Nog.
Nog let Jake go. “Nothing,” he said.
“Good.” The elder Sisko wiped his hands on the white towel
tucked into his belt. “I’d hate to think you hadn’t learned tolerance
after a year in Starfleet.” He gestured back out towards the dining
room. “Go sit down, both of you. I’ll bring Nog his dinner in a bit.
You’re early, Nog.”
“I came early,” Nog said, “because I thought Jake might be
lonely. I didn’t realize he already had *company*.”
“I didn’t know he was coming,” Jake replied.
“Well get rid of him. Vulcans are no fun.”
“You don’t even know him!”
“I know Vulcans.”
“Nog–tut, tut.” Joseph Sisko shook a finger at Nog, patted Jake
on the back and returned to his pots.
“Come on,” Jake said. “I can’t leave him sitting out there all
alone. He’s my guest.”
“An uninvited one.”
Jake spun around, glared down. “But not an unwelcome one. Cut
it out, Nog.” They measured each other a moment, then Nog followed
Jake back out to the dining room.
“Well,” Nog said when they rounded the corner, “I don’t guess
he’s alone any more. Fine with me; we can get our own booth.”
Across the dining room, they could see Jillian leaning elbows on
the table, smiling her seduction smile and speaking intimately to
Salene. Jake felt the same kick in the gut as when he had brought
out his grandfather earlier to meet Salene, only to find Jillian had
already cornered him. Apparently, she had decided to try her luck
after all. Vicious pettiness made him say, “She won’t get far.
Salene’s a eunuch.”
“He’s a *what*?” Nog hissed.
Immediately guilty, Jake tried to pass it off: “Never mind.”
Nog grabbed his arm. “No! What did you say?”
Jake dropped his eyes. “He belongs a very special class of
sacred singer, on Vulcan. They’re castrated to preserve their
voices.” Nog’s face betrayed his horror. Jake went on, “It’s an
honor, Nog. On his homeworld, Salene’s famous.”
Shaking his head, Nog said simply, “That’s sick.”
“It’s not your place to judge his choices!”
“He *chose* it?”
“Yes, he chose it.”
“That’s even sicker.” Nog looked from Jake to Salene talking to
Jillian, then back to Jake. “It sounds like you approve, though.”
“Let’s just say that I understand.”
“Well I don’t.”
“That’s fine. But don’t say anything to him about it.”
“Why not, if it’s an honor?” And Nog headed for the table. Jake
grabbed for him–missed. A weak-water flash of fear went through him
as Nog snatched a chair from another table and sat down at the end of
the booth. “So,” he said loudly, glancing back to where Jake stood
frozen in place, “are you going to sing for us? A little melody to
show off your high notes?”
“Nog!” Jillian snapped. Salene whipped his head around. Jake
felt black eyes slice through him, cutting out his soul. He shook his
head a little, as if he could somehow undo what he’d done. Salene
held his gaze a moment more before refocusing on Nog. Slowly, he rose
to step away from the table. For just an instant, Jake feared he’d
strike Nog, then realized how stupid that was. Salene was a Vulcan.
Almost absently, Salene tapped the edge of his wine glass with his
fork. It rang. Then he opened his mouth to let out a single, perfect
high note which shattered the glass. Red liquid poured onto white
tablecloth, like blood, like the sun setting over Ponchartrain.
Every head in the restaurant had turned. Even Nog was surprised.
Stepping further clear of the table, Salene surveyed them all.
Then he sang.
It was not a Vulcan song. Or opera. It was an old Gospel tune:
the music which had inspired jazz and given birth to the blues. He
was honoring Jillian.

Swing low, sweet chariot, coming for to carry me home;
Swing low, sweet chariot, coming for to carry me home.
I looked over Jordan and what did I see,
coming for to carry me home?
A band of angels coming after me,
coming for to carry me home.

Jake had heard some of his father’s more conservative, race-
conscious friends say that a white man couldn’t sing gospel: “They
don’t know the pain it bled out of.” Salene was not exactly white.
He was something even further afield: he was Vulcan.
But pain was a universal thing. Even Vulcans felt it. They
would never admit to it, not in words, but they felt it. Salene put
into his music what he could never say aloud–and used it to indict
Jake. Yes, his choice had been meant to honor Jillian. But it had
also been meant to crucify Jake.

I’m sometimes up, I’m sometimes down,
coming for to carry me home;
but still my soul feels heavenly bound,
coming for to carry me home.

Jake’s soul had been sent straight to hell.

Swing low, sweet chariot, coming for to carry me home;
Swing low, sweet chariot, coming for to carry me home–

The last note whispered away. There was a pause, an intake of breath,
then the restaurant erupted. Salene patiently acknowledged the
triumph, gave Jillian a little bow where she stood, clapping and
grinning madly. Then he stalked toward the kitchen. As he came level
with Jake, he paused, met Jake’s eyes once, then continued on.
Slipping past Jake’s grandfather in the doorway, he disappeared
through the back.

The spaceport was temporarily closed. The hurricane, of course.
He would have to wait until morning before he could catch a spaceliner
to Vulcan.
“Kaiidth!” Frustrated, Salene jabbed off the comm and rested his
chin on his fist, closed his eyes, struggling for calm. He was young
yet and his control imperfect. More, he possessed an artist’s
temperament–always had. He fought against it with the twin tools of
logic and the ruthless suppression of his ego, teaching himself not to
take offense, even sometimes when he should. After the incident on
Bajor, he had thought perhaps he had finally conquered his temper.
Jake’s betrayal had blindsided him, made him lower himself to execute
a display for a *Ferengi*. Fool. He was as angry with himself as
with Jake. He had trusted a human to understand, to respect what he
was, not make light of his state to others. It was his own fault; he
had laid himself open to this.
And now he was stuck here. Breathing out, he flipped up the comm
again. He had canceled his reservations, but perhaps he could still
get a room at the hotel–
The door opened. Salene turned.
It was not Jake. It was Jillian. “Nog can be a jerk,” she said.
“Ignore him.” It was meant kindly but annoyed him nonetheless. He
realized that he had wanted her to be Jake. He said nothing. She
came a little further into the guest room, sat down on the other side
of the bed and absently smoothed the spread. “You have a beautiful
voice; I’m honored that I got the chance to hear you, chi`pah. Nog
doesn’t understand or know who you are.” Salene still said nothing.
“Won’t you come back down?” she asked. “Jake was telling Nog where he
can get off, when I left.”
Salene turned away. How could he explain that it was Jake who
must have told Nog about him in the first place as some kind of jest?
There were heavy footsteps in the hall; Salene heard Jake’s voice.
“Jill, Grandpa wants you.”
“No, he doesn’t,” she replied. “But I’ll go anyway and leave him
to you. Maybe you can get him to say something.” The tone was light
but Salene recognized it for a rebuke anyway.
When the door closed, he glanced around. Jake stood just inside
the room, arms hanging loosely. The silence was heavy. “I’m sorry,”
Jake said finally. Salene said nothing so Jake added, “I didn’t mean
to tell him. It just…popped out.”
“I’m sure.”
“Well, you said once you didn’t like it when people avoided the
subject! Now you’re all pissed off because I told Nog. I wish you’d
make up your mind.”
Standing, Salene walked over to face Jake. “I am not ‘pissed
off.’ But did it never occur to you that I might wish to be unknown
here? To avoid the stares, the questions I see behind their eyes,
even sometimes the disgust? It fatigues me.”
Jake’s face wore the frozen blank look of humiliation, then
abruptly it went hard. “You could’ve just ignored him, y’know.
You’re the one who stood up and gave that little performance!”
Which was precisely the problem. Salene had indulged his desire
to shame the Ferengi and, in so doing, had shamed himself. He had
betrayed anger. Clenching his jaw, he turned the conversation. “Why
did you say anything to him at all?”
“I told you–it just popped out.”
Salene regarded Jake, who dropped his eyes. “So I thought,”
Salene said. “It is not the sort of thing which ‘pops out’.” A
pause, then, “Why? Were you attempting to use me for humor?”
“No!” Now it was Jake’s turn to be angry. “I wouldn’t do that
to you. It’s not a joke.”
“The Ferengi thought it was.”
“Well, Nog’s…a Ferengi. What else can I say? He gets stupid
about that kind of thing. It doesn’t mean I agree with him. You’re
not a joke to me, Salene. But Nog said something about Jillian coming
on to you, and I…said she wouldn’t get very far.”
Salene considered this. Jillian’s manner had been motivated by
romantic interest rather than hospitality? How peculiar. “My being
castrato has nothing to do with why her overtures would not have
succeeded. Castrati are not forbidden to marry, but your human mating
behaviors are not consonant with Vulcan ones.”
Jake gave him a very odd look. “What has *marriage* got to do
with it?”
Before Salene could reply that marriage had everything to do
with it–Vulcans did not court for other reasons–a siren started
wailing in the distance. Salene tipped his head. “What is that?”
It was a moment more before Jake heard it, too. Then he moved
towards the window to peek out the blinds. This room was on the
streetside facing the city park. “I can’t see.”
Someone came pounding up the stairs. “Jake! Salene!” Jillian’s
voice. “They’re calling for an evacuation! The hurricane’s changed
direction. It’s headed right for us!”

***

Jake didn’t know what to do about his grandfather.
“Grandpa–we have to leave!” All the patrons had since departed,
and Nog had beamed back to San Francisco. Almost forty-five minutes
ago, the local reserve guard had come by, pounding on each door, to be
sure the populace knew about the evacuation. The hurricane had turned
abruptly and was coming in fast. Jake could hear winds picking up
outside. Rain lashed the windows.
But Joseph Sisko was frantically trying to pack his kitchen.
“We can’t take all that stuff with us!” Jake protested. “It
won’t fit on the transport. The guards said two bags each–no more.”
“Well let me at least get it off the floor in case the restaurant
floods. Jillian–not there. Put it *up*. Find a spot on a counter.”
“There aren’t any more spots!” she snapped.
Silently, Salene took the box of cooking utensils from her, set
them on another box long enough to stand on tip-toe and knock down a
stack of carry-out boxes atop the cabinets. “It will fit there.”
Sisko glanced over his shoulder even while packing another box. “Good
idea. Push down all the junk from up there; I’d rather save my wok
than the damned take-out boxes.”
“We don’t have time for this!” Jake broke in. “The transports
are going to leave us.”
“Then quit arguing and help me,” Salene muttered under his breath
when Jake’s grandfather had turned away. “The sooner this is done,
the sooner we can convince him to leave.”
He cleared a spot on the counter to heave himself up, stand, and
push down all the spare paper items stacked on the cabinets. Jillian
started passing up what was most critical to save. Frustrated, Jake
sighed, then got up there with Salene.
“This isn’t going to do any good,” he whispered as he slid a box
back towards the wall. “The flood level is two feet above the dining
room floor, and the swells would bring it almost to the second story.”
“I have found,” Salene whispered back, “that it is often easier
to simply comply with an illogical request than to argue with panicked
humans.”
Jake grinned. “Salene, you’ll learn a sense of humor yet.”
“I sincerely hope not.”
Something crashed through the front window. All of them jumped,
even Salene. “Tape the windows!” Sisko shouted, throwing masking tape
to Jillian. She hurried out. “We’re almost done,” he said to Jake
and Salene, handing up two last boxes.
Outside, the wind screamed. Salene had tilted his head to
listen. “How fast does a hurricane move? It seems as if it has
already arrived.”
“That’s nothing,” Jake said, “just the edge. We won’t be here to
see the real thing.” He glanced at the chronometer on his wrist, made
a little noise. “Grandpa–we have only *fifteen minutes* left to get
to the transport!”
“It’s a five minute walk from here. You and Salene go on up and
get your things. Jill!” he called. “Go get your bags.”
Salene leapt down lightly. Jake moved to follow, almost put his
foot down on a box of glasses. Twisting at the last second to avoid
them, he lost his balance–fell.
“Jake!”
He managed to land on his feet–barely–heard his ankle snap as
his weight hit the edge of his foot, turned it under him. For just
an instant–no longer than it took for him to say, “Oh!”–there was
blinding pain. He sat down hard. After that, shock took over. The
sound of snapping bone was worse than the hurt. His grandfather was
right there. “Jake? Jacob Paul?”
“I think my ankle’s broken,” Jake said. His voice sounded
surprised even to himself.
Joseph Sisko went grey as he bent over his grandson. “This is my
fault! I shouldn’t have let you boys up on the counter. Jillian!”
Salene pushed him away, gently. “I can carry him, but someone
else will have to carry our things for us.”
“I will.” Jillian had come running. “I’ll take them down now,
then come back for mine. Grandpa–go.”
Jake’s ankle was starting to hurt a little. “Salene, you can’t
carry me! I’m as big as you are.”
Salene had been looking around the kitchen for something. Now he
glanced over. “Your height will be awkward, but I am quite capable of
bearing your weight. Where are the towels? We should remove your
shoe and wrap the ankle first.”
How could he be so calm?
Stupid question. He was a Vulcan. “They’re in the third drawer
from the end,” Jake said. “And I still don’t think you can carry me.
Find me something to lean on.” He pulled himself to his feet.
“I told you, I can. Now sit. Standing causes the blood to go to
your foot, making it swell faster.”
Jake ignored him. Jillian was coming down the stairs with one of
Salene’s bags, one of Jake’s and one of her own. “I’ll be back,” she
said, headed for the front door. Joseph Sisko came down more slowly.
“Jake–?”
“Go on,” Jake said. “I’ll get there.”
Salene had grabbed a chair from a corner. “I said sit!” And
he shoved Jake roughly into the chair, knelt in front of him to begin
unlacing Jake’s boot. His movements–rushed and jerky–betrayed his
alarm far more than his expression or voice.
When he got the boot off, he wrapped Jake’s foot with ice, then
went upstairs to get the last of their bags. Meanwhile, Jillian came
back, squatted down by Jake’s chair. “Uncle Joe is on the transport
and I told the guards to keep him there. I also told the driver what
happened. He said that if you don’t make this transport, there’s
another on the way in about ten minutes. This one wasn’t big enough.
It’s been so long since the city had to be evacuated, I think they’re
all chasing their tails. It’s a disorganized mess.”
“What about transporters?” Salene asked.
Jillian shook her head. “They’re using them for hospitals and
nursing care. Ambulatory citizens have to go by ground transport.
Anyway, the driver of this one said some of the younger people are
volunteering to wait for the next one. Do you want me to stay, too?”
Jake shook his head. “No–go with grandpa. Make sure he takes
his medicine.” He glanced at Salene, who just nodded. “We’ll wait;
we’ll be fine.”
She nodded. “Okay, then. The hardest part will be finding each
other later. Remember we’re on transport seventy-six. The one coming
for you is supposed to be one-twenty-four but everything’s so crazy,
it might be a different one. So you remember ours.” Leaning in, she
kissed Jake on the cheek, smiled at Salene, and hurried off with all
their bags but one–the little pocket which contained Jake’s writing
material: his PADD and stylus, some reference clearcells and a pack of
velslips. Whenever Jake travelled, he never let these things far from
him. A peculiar paranoia. Now, he would carry the pocket himself; it
was neither heavy nor large. He would also carry his shoe. Salene
handed it to him.
“Should we wait out of the rain?” Jake asked.
“I do not think that would be wise. We might miss the transport.
Now, put your arms around my neck.” He bent down.
A little skeptical, Jake did so–then he was being lifted bodily
out of the chair. “Wow!” He laughed a little. Salene really could
pick him up. They headed for the door.
“You will have to open it,” Salene said.
Jake did so. The wind tore it out of his hand, slamming it back
against the wall. “Put me down so you can close it!” he called over
the whistling. “If we leave it open, Grandpa’ll kill us.”
“I do not believe it will matter,” Salene said, but did as Jake
said. Jake leaned against the wall, balanced on one foot, and looked
around.
Lights burned in a few windows and along the street; power was
still running in the city. Rain and overcast made it very dark
outside the yellow pools of streetlight. Debris blew through them.
Dimly, Jake could see the outline of park trees bending. He could not
hear much of anything but wind. Not even sirens any more. The first
transport must already be gone.
The door secured, Salene turned. Already, rain had plastered his
long hair to his skull, outlining the points of his ears. “Ready?” he
shouted. Jake nodded and Salene picked him up again.
It was well they had not waited. They had to make the three-
block trip in stages. Salene could lift Jake but not carry him more
than about twenty paces before needing to rest a moment. “This is
silly!” Jake shouted at one point. “You should have just got me
something to lean on so I could move for myself.”
“What was I supposed to get?” Salene snapped back. “Did you have
a pair of crutches lying about? Now be silent!” And he picked Jake
up again–forcing himself to take thirty paces that time, perhaps just
to prove that he could.
The winds had gotten worse even in the very short time since they
had left the restaurant. Larger debris was blowing now: a gutter, a
bit of light metal garden fencing, painted plywood, a large plastic
incinerator cover. Jake saw no one else on the street. “How long has
it been? Did they leave us?”
“It has been seven minutes, three seconds,” Salene huffed. “The
stop point is just around the corner.”
They would have made it, if not for the piece of aluminum siding
that ripped itself off one of the sight-seeing trolley-stop shelters.
It hit Salene hard in the side of the head. Salene dropped, dropping
Jake with him. “Ooof–!” It was amazing that Jake broke nothing
else.
But Salene was out cold.
Jake shook him, shook him again. No response. “Dammit, Salene!
Salene! Wake up!” Still no response. Emerald blood leaked from a
long gash which ran from just above Salene’s ear across his cheekbone.
Rain diluted it, turned it chartreuse on brown skin. “Salene!”
Jake heard an engine roar over the noise of the wind, looked up.
On a cross street a hundred feet away the second transport streaked
past. Leaving. It was leaving them. “Wait!” Jake shouted. “Wait!”
He pushed himself up. Screaming pain in his ankle knocked him back to
his knees. He stared after the transport. Would there be a third?
Probably not.
What were they going to do?
Sick-white panic rose up to choke him–the same panic he had felt
on Ajilon Prime. They were alone with a hurricane coming. They were
going to die.
“Get a hold of yourself!” he whispered. Salene needed him.
He turned back to his friend. Salene was still unconscious; even
slapping him did no good. It was up to Jake now. “Don’t panic.
Think.”
They needed shelter–preferably high and certainly old…a
building which had proved itself in past storms before the advent of
modern storm traps. Shelter would do them no good if it came down on
top of them. The restaurant might have served but Jake could not
possibly drag Salene back there. And it was at a low point in the
street. Of course, no place in New Orleans was truly *high*, but a
five-foot embankment could make a difference. He looked around.
There. Catty-corner across the street was some old religious
structure built on a little hillock. Not a church. It looked like a
temple. Probably Buddhist, from the mid-twenty-first-century
missionary wave following the Last War. For a while, there had been
more Buddhist temples in New Orleans than in Bangkok. The bigger ones
were still around.
Turning back to Salene, Jake tried one more time to rouse him.
No good. He was going to have to move them both. Taking a deep
breath he picked up his boot where it had rolled away when he had
fallen, tore off Salene’s makeshift bandage, then began working the
boot back on his foot. God, it hurt. Gritting his teeth, he finally
forced it on, felt the ends of snapped bone grind together as he did
so. That almost made him pass out beside Salene, but he couldn’t
allow himself the luxury. “Salene needs you.” He whispered it over
and over to himself like a litany. Attaching the carry-strap to his
pocket and throwing that around his neck, he set hands under Salene’s
armpits, staggered up.
Pain. White, white pain. For a moment, he saw nothing, heard
nothing, felt nothing but pain.
He couldn’t do this!
Yes–he could. He had to. If he didn’t do something, they’d die
out here. He might be able to crawl off alone, but he couldn’t leave
Salene. He’d left Bashir; he couldn’t leave Salene.
“Focus,” he muttered to himself. “Think like a Vulcan; think
like Salene would.”
Panic receded, and the pain with it.
Tightening his grip on Salene, he moved backwards, dragging his
friend’s body after. One step. Two. Three. Ten…seventeen…
twenty-seven…. He shut out the wind, shut out the rain, shut out
the screaming pain in his leg, and counted to himself. Fifty-seven
paces brought him to the foot of the grassy hillock. He tried to drag
Salene up the grass but the rain had made it too slick. He had to go
a little further till he could reach a ramp. At least there were no
stairs.
The slender palms on the temple grounds were bending in the
middle. Bushes strained, ripped of their leaves. Jake dragged Salene
up the ramp. Ten steps…twenty-two…thirty-eight. He noticed
suddenly that the street lights had gone out. So. No power. But
they were at the door. What if it was locked? He had not thought of
that before starting over here.
“Please be unlocked.”
It was. How he managed both to hold it open and drag in Salene,
he could never remember later. As soon as they were inside, door
closed on the howling wind, he passed out on white tile.

III.

Jake woke some time later, probably only a few minutes, to find
himself flat on his back on a wet floor beside the still-unconscious
Vulcan. He pushed himself up on his elbows to look around. He had
never been in a Buddhist temple before. It was…almost gaudy. Gold
leaf and bright paint and lots of statuary. Someone had left candles
burning. Probably stupid–just begging for a fire–but he was glad of
it. He would hate to have been left in the pitch dark.
The main sanctuary had no pews, as in a church, only kneeling
pads stacked against a wall. They would be something to put beneath
Salene’s head and feet so he did not go into shock. Did Vulcans go
into shock? Jake had no idea. He just hoped he could remember
something about head wounds from Dr. Bashir’s first aid classes. He
did remember that one wasn’t supposed to move the victim, but that
hadn’t been an option.
He pushed himself to his knees, told himself, “Just a little bit
further.” But when he touched Salene to move him, Salene moaned. Was
he coming around? Jake shook him. “Salene?”
It took a few minutes, but Jake finally got Salene conscious
enough to move under his own power. Jake crawled after. They both
collapsed on the first kneeling pad in the pile. “Where are we?”
Salene whispered, wiping blood from his face.
“Buddhist temple,” Jake panted, stretching out his bad leg. The
ankle was really swollen now but he leaned over to inspect the gash on
Salene’s head instead. Weakly, Salene tried to push his hands away.
“Stop it!” Jake said. “Let me look at it.” It wasn’t pretty. The
aluminum siding had cut deep and ragged, tearing a bit of flesh away
from the skull. Jake tried not to gag. “I should put something on
this,” and he pulled off his shirt, tore a sleeve to make a ball of
it. At least the shirt was clean. Wet, but clean. “Hold this to the
wound,” Jake said while he ripped free the other sleeve and twisted
the body of the shirt to tie it around Salene’s head. Salene waited
patiently, the makeshift bandage he held to the gash already dark with
blood. Jake got it tied in place.
“You will be cold, without a shirt,” Salene said. His speech
sounded slurred.
“I’ll be fine. I’m more worried about you catching a chill.”
“I shall manage.” A pause, then, “How did we get here?”
“I dragged you.”
Salene lifted his chin to stare at Jake.
“You’re heavy, too,” Jake added, trying to make light of it.
Salene said nothing to that. Instead he said, “I must assume we
missed the transport?”
“I couldn’t drag you that far, that fast.”
“Forgive me–it was not a censure. No doubt I owe you my life
for getting me in here.” He turned to study Jake again. Candlelight
danced on his tan skin; it was paler than usual, probably from shock.
“Why did you not leave me? You endangered yourself.”
“I couldn’t leave you. I left Dr. Bashir. I couldn’t leave you.
You wouldn’t *be* on this planet if not for me. I’m responsible for
getting you hurt.”
“You are not.” Eyes closed, Salene said nothing more for a few
minutes, then whispered, “I believe I have a concussion.”
Jake snorted. “No surprise. Don’t we just make a pair? I have
a broken ankle. You have a broken head.”
Salene did not, quite, smile. “Distract me.” He leaned back
again. “Tell me how humans understand friendship.”
Jake blinked at the leap of subject. Were they back to that
again? “What do you want to know?”
“Given our discussion at dinner, it occurred to me that we do not
always understand each other, even while understanding each other.”
“That bump did scramble your brain. What you just said made no
sense.”
Salene ignored the sour attempt at humor. “Explain to me how you
understand our friendship.”
“I don’t know.” Jake looked around to hide his confusion.
“We’re friends. What else is there to say?”
“But what does that *mean* to you?” Salene sounded as frustrated
as Jake felt.
“Friends…do things for each other. It’s not so different from
Vulcan duty, I guess. But we don’t think of it as *duty*. It’s
something you do because you want to, not because you have to.”
“And you assume that duty is never chosen?”
Jake remembered what Salene had said over supper: You, I choose.
“I guess,” he said aloud now. “It just– ‘Duty’ seems like a bad
word for it, like it’s a chore.”
“Sometimes it is,” Salene said. For a moment, Jake thought he
was trying to be funny, then realized he was not. Salene only got
humor about half the time.
“But if it’s a chore, it’s not– I don’t know. I don’t know
what I’m trying to say. Being your friend isn’t a chore.”
“Even when you must drag me through the rain, in the face of a
hurricane, with your ankle broken?”
“That’s different! You’re misunderstanding on purpose.”
“No, I am not. My point,” he went on before Jake could
interrupt, “is that friendship may entail situations and actions we
would not choose for our own amusement–‘chores’ if you wish, or
duties. But that does not mean the friendship itself is distasteful.”
“Of course not.”
“Yet you objected to characterizing friendship as duty.”
“God! Even when you get hit in the head, you still argue worse
than a lawyer. It’s not that I don’t think friendship has duties but
I don’t want to think of it primarily as duty!”
Eyes closed, Salene let his lips twitch. “Nor do I.” Before
Jake could think of anything to say to that, Salene went on, “Thank
you, for pulling me to safety. It was a brave act.”
Jake knew very well that Salene wasn’t mocking him but the choice
of adjective hit him like a sucker-punch, knocking a harsh laugh out
of him. “Me? Brave? I’m the guy who runs from popping corks,
remember?”
Opening his eyes, Salene levered himself up a little to glare at
Jake. He had started to shiver, Jake noticed. “I should get you a
blanket or something.” Were there blankets to be found in a temple?
Salene’s hand on Jake’s wrist stopped him from crawling away.
“Sit. I have two good legs.”
“And a cracked head. You shouldn’t move around.”
“And your ankle is broken.”
“Yeah, but it’s nothing a medic couldn’t fix in ten minutes. I’m
more worried about you.”
“Jake. Sit down.” The words were neither loud nor hard, but
they carried all the resonant authority Salene’s trained voice could
muster. Jake sat almost without thinking. “Listen to me. What you
did *was* brave. There are many kinds of courage–even of physical
courage. What it takes to hold ground in the face of enemy fire is
not the same as what it takes to stand up on a broken ankle and drag a
friend to shelter. They represent different kinds of fortitude in the
face of crisis–different kinds of crisis, in fact. And neither
compares to moral courage–of which you have demonstrated time and
again you have much. I admire you. And I thank you for my life.”
Hot with embarrassed pleasure, Jake glanced all around them…
anywhere but at Salene. Salene let his wrist go and, to Jake’s alarm,
pushed himself to his feet. “What are you doing?”
Salene swayed, caught his balance. “I will find something to
wrap around us both.” And he stumbled away, hand braced on the wall.

“Salene! Salene, come back here!”
Salene ignored Jake and continued on towards the front of the
temple and a small door he had noticed off to the side, almost hidden
by shadow. Red and white candles flickered in their holders, glinting
off brass statues of Siddhartha Gautama–the Buddha–along with a
dozen different bodhisattvas, all lined up atop a table decorated with
bronze revetment plaques.
Salene reached the door and tried it. Locked. Luckily, it was
the old kind with a handle. He shoved it open, snapping the latch.
Inside was a storage area with more statuary, bowls, boxes of candles,
vases for flowers, small ‘spirit houses’…and plenty of cloth–altar
decor of some kind. But as soon as he was out of Jake’s sight, Salene
grabbed a small brass bowl and retched into it, hoping he was not
profaning some sacred object. He assumed they would rather him empty
his stomach into a bowl than onto the floor. It would be easier to
clean up. He was grateful for the wind outside which covered the
noise. Jake would worry though there was nothing he could do, or he
would shoulder inappropriate guilt for what had been purely an
accident.
When Salene had control of his stomach again, he pulled down a
stack of oblong cloths, took three of them. These, he carried back to
Jake, who had dragged a kneeler out into the center of the temple,
away from the small, high windows. “Wrap this around you,” Salene
said, handing Jake a cloth as he lowered himself gratefully back to
the floor, wrapped his own about his shoulders and spread the third
over their legs. “I think I shall try to rest.” And he turned so as
to lie on the non-wounded side of his head.
Jake was silent a while, though he shifted restlessly. Salene
listened to the wind outside. Sleep was impossible, no matter how ill
he felt. Finally Jake said, almost to himself, “I wish I knew where
the storm eye was.”
“Why?”
“So I’d know how fast it’s moving, how close it’ll come to us–”
“Would knowing change our situation?”
“No.”
“Then rest, Jake. You only make yourself more anxious.”
“Easy for you to say. I can’t just turn off my feelings like a
water faucet!”
“Is that what you think Vulcans do?”
“Well, isn’t it?”
“No. We are taught to step beyond emotion so that we may control
it, rather than permit it to control us.”
Jake was silent a moment, then said, “That would’ve come in handy
on Ajilon Prime.”
Salene rolled over onto his back. The temple was getting darker.
Some of the candles had gone out. Jake was a silhouetted profile:
high round forehead, scooped nose, full mouth–a handsome face, Salene
thought idly. Aloud, he said, “The past is the past; you cannot
change it. What is the Terran idiom? Quit booting yourself.”
Jake grinned; even in the half-dark, Salene could tell. “It’s
‘quit kicking yourself.'”
“Yes. Well?”
Jake shrugged. “I think it’d be nice to be able to get past my
feelings–maybe not to have any. Fear I could definitely do without.”
“You are not a Vulcan, Jake. Do not try to be.”
Jake snorted. “Funny. I’d’ve thought you glad to convert me to
Vulcan stoicism.”
“Vulcan philosophy is not evangelical; I have no wish to convert
anyone, least of all you. Be who you are. There is value in Jake
Sisko–who is human, and emotional.”
“And a coward.”
Irritated, Salene sat up and grabbed Jake’s chin, forced his head
around. “I thought we had settled this? You are not a coward.” They
were almost nose to nose. Stomach quivering, he let Jake go, turned
away and laid back down. He must still be nauseous.
Jake touched his shoulder. “Go to sleep, Salene.” And Jake left
the hand there. Salene found it oddly comforting.
He must have dozed after all. The sound of breaking windows woke
him. He jerked up, which set his head spinning and nearly made him
retch again. He swallowed it back. Jake had also jerked awake. Cold
wind whistled through the temple and Salene was glad for the makeshift
blankets. He could barely hear Jake shouting right beside him: “What
day is it?” Salene turned to stare. Had Jake become delirious?
“Tell me the date, my name and yours.”
Salene understood then. He set a hand on Jake’s arm, shouted
back, “I am fine; my memory is intact.”
“So–your name? The date?”
Salene sighed. “My name is Salene ch’Sethan, you are Jake Sisko,
and do you want the date by Earth’s calendar or Vulcan’s, or both?”
Jake grinned. “In first-aid class, Dr. Bashir told us to keep
asking till the patient answers and we can be sure they’re all right.”
He looked up towards the now-broken windows. “Do you have any idea
how long since we got in here?”
At least the head-blow had not disrupted Salene’s internal time
sense. “One hour, seven minutes.”
“It seems like longer.”
“Yes.”
“It’s going to get chilly now. Do you want to scoot closer
together? I know Vulcans don’t touch much–”
“It is only logical that we share body heat,” Salene said, moving
closer to Jake, his back to Jake’s front. They rearranged the altar
cloths around themselves and huddled down against the kneeler.
“You can rest your head on my chest,” Jake offered.
Salene was reluctant; it felt odd and awkward. But his head hurt
badly and he found it difficult to keep his eyes open. He let them
fall closed and leaned back. Muscles tense, Jake held very still–as
if afraid Salene might bolt. Salene could have told him that he was
too sick to move. After a long while, Jake’s arm slipped around his
chest to hold him tightly. Salene could feel Jake’s breath on his
hair and deliberately blocked the human flutter of random thoughts and
feelings their touch might otherwise have made him privy to.
It felt…good…to be held. He could not recall the last time
he had been held like this by anyone. Not since he was five? Six?
Vulcan children clung. Tactile connections were critical to their psi
and psychological health. Gradually, they were weaned of touch as
they mastered inner shielding until, outside of emergencies, extensive
body contact was permitted only to one’s bondmate–and Salene had no
bondmate any more. The sudden thought of going through life never to
be held like this again almost made him weep.
It is the concussion, he told himself, guilty for cherishing what
necessity and survival had thrust on them.

Jake’s feelings were less complex, though no less troubling. He
hoped Salene would not shift to the right or they’d both be horribly
embarrassed. He couldn’t believe he was sitting here with a hard-on
just from holding his friend. Salene was *hurt*, for chrissake, and
all Jake could think about was scratching an itch?
It was the hair: Salene’s long, wet hair clinging to Jake’s bare
chest, a bit cold but surprisingly erotic. It teased sensitive skin
like the whispery brush of damp fingers. Even wet, it was soft, and
as thick as a woman’s, or a boy’s. In fact, looking down at Salene
from this angle, the alchemy of arrested adolescence lent him a
baffling androgyny. He seemed to waver between man and woman like
an optical illusion: first a vase, then two faces.
Jake swallowed, telling himself, Think of something else. He
couldn’t believe the direction of his own thoughts. Salene was his
friend. And Salene was a man. Jake was not attracted to men.
Was he?
“This is weird,” he whispered under cover of the wind. But,
almost absently, his hand strayed up to stroke Salene’s hair.

The wind outside had become so intense that it seemed the whole
world consisted only of its roaring. Salene hoped his hearing was not
permanently damaged. He would not have believed it could get louder–
until it did.
Actually, the sound was more a rumble in the tile beneath them
than a noise. “What is that?” Salene shouted, though he doubted Jake
could hear. Perhaps Jake read Salene’s lips; he shook his head.
Then it struck the north temple wall.
Water.
Flood water.
The wall was crumbling.
Instinctively, Jake’s grip on Salene tightened, but it was
Salene’s strength that saved them and kept them from being separated.
Even as the waters swept in and tumbled them over, threatened to tear
them apart, Salene snared Jake’s wrist with one hand and grabbed for
anything bolted down with the other. At first, he found nothing. He
could not see through the dark foaming water. Then his hand closed on
something that did not yield or move with him. It nearly ripped his
shoulder from its socket. “Jake!” he screamed, not caring for the
moment that it came out shrill. He could feel Jake’s wrist still in
his, then Jake was grabbing on to him with both arms and legs. The
flood waters bore them up.
Salene had hold of a chair arm; he could tell no more than that.
Once the swell had passed, it was not so bad. They had only to hang
on. As the flood waters receded, Salene could discern that they had
been thrown up by the altar. All the statuettes, bowls and candles
were gone, leaving twisted revetment plaques, the table, and this
chair bolted through tile into solid concrete. It was the oversized
throne in which the largest buddha had been sitting. “Take hold of
the chair!” he shouted to Jake.
“I can’t!” Jake screamed back. He was terrified.
“Take hold of the chair!” He was not sure how much longer he
could manage for both of them. The flash flood had ripped the bandage
from his head, reopening the wound, and Jake’s arms around his neck
were choking him. “Take hold of it! I am afraid I may pass out!”
Jake groped for the chair, found it and latched on. Then he was
pulling himself and Salene both up into it. The waters had gone down
enough that the chair sat above the flood. Jake had been wise to pick
the temple for shelter, Salene thought. They were several feet above
street level. Only about two feet of water covered the temple floor
now, though it was still quite deep in the street below. Salene could
see the street through the missing wall. But high or not, the temple
was destroyed: half the roof gone with the fore-wall, nothing left of
the altar but a few permanent items. At least the rear wall sheltered
them from the worst of the wind. In the oversized throne, they curled
themselves as small as their height would allow, braced each other,
and waited.

The eye must be nearly on them, Jake thought, hoping they had
seen the worst of it. They wouldn’t survive another wave like the
last one. He could feel Salene trembling, but whether from the cold
or from shock and the head wound, Jake didn’t know. With the roof
mostly gone, the wind drove rain in on them. Jake pulled Salene as
close as possible to warm him with his own body. His friend was in
bad shape, having lost blood earlier and now, with the bandage gone,
losing more. The rain washed it away before it could clot. “Please
don’t let him die on me,” he whispered to any god willing to listen.
“Please don’t let us die.”
The eye’s calm hit suddenly. Wind dropped to nothing. Jake
lifted his head to look around. So did Salene. The sky had lightened
to what one would expect on a normal night. Bizarrely, Jake could
even see the moon. What time was it?
“We should try to find better shelter,” Salene said, alto-bell
voice hoarse and strained.
“Yeah,” Jake agreed. “But *where*?” He nodded towards what they
could see of the street past the crumbled wall. It looked like a war
zone. Worse. “I wonder if there’s much left standing at all.”
“How long will the calm last?”
“I don’t know; depends on how big the eye is. The bigger the
storm, the bigger the eye. I’d say a little while.”
“I shall go and see what *is* still standing.”
Jake grabbed him before he moved. “Your head–!”
“In the interest of survival, I can manage.”
Jake just nodded and let him go.
Face haunted, Salene returned in short order. Jake wondered what
it looked like out there. “It seems the north side of most buildings
collapsed in the flood but there is a good portion of this building
still intact behind the sanctuary proper. Offices, I presume. I do
not know if the rooms there will be safe, but we are not safe here.
Come. I cannot carry you now; my shoulder is damaged. You will have
to lean on me and hop.” He helped Jake to stand. He looked, Jake
thought, like shit. But he was also right–they had to get out of
here before the second part of the storm hit. They could rest later.
They passed through the little closet Jake had seen Salene disappear
into before, to reach the back. Finding the largest room they could,
they waited, tense, silent. The silence got to Jake. “I’m really
sorry for dragging you into this.”
“Jake, you did not drag me into this. It was my decision to
come to Earth; I simply have poor timing.”
“Maybe. But if something happens to you….”
“Quit blaming yourself. It grows tedious.”
Jake shut up, studied Salene, or what he could see in the dim
moonlight. One side of Salene’s face was turning dark with a bruise;
blood still trickled down. “We need to put another bandage on you,
and I’m all out of shirts. Give me yours; it’s half torn up already.”
Salene stared at Jake a moment before unsealing the shirt and handing
it over. Jake ripped it into strips, cleared the wound of hair and
then rebandaged it.
Another tense silence. Salene had crossed arms over his chest.
Modesty or cold? Jake had never heard that Vulcans were particularly
modest–just the opposite, in fact. Jake scooted over to put an arm
around Salene, who jerked away. “What are you doing?”
Frowning, Jake said, “Trying to warm you up. It’s important to
keep you warm.”
After a moment, Salene relaxed. Jake moved him so they could sit
as before, Salene’s back against his front. Vulcan skin was fever
hot, or maybe he did have a fever. Touching Salene’s forehead with
the back of his hand, Jake said, “I don’t know what your skin is
supposed to feel like to know if you’re too hot.” Salene made no
reply. Jake began to stroke the wet hair, as if calming a nervous
pet, though he was the one with nerves. It was still quiet outside–
no wind or rain–but anticipation of the next bout churned his
stomach. He needed distraction. “Can I ask you a question?”
“Must you always ask before asking?”
Jake laughed, more to satisfy the uncharacteristic attempt at
humor than because it was funny. “You said, earlier, that Vulcan
courting patterns aren’t the same as Terran. So–how *do* Vulcans get
a date on Saturday night?”
He felt Salene tense. “They don’t.”
Jake sat up a little so he could see his friend’s face. “Then
how do you meet each other? Husbands and wives, I mean.”
“We are betrothed in childhood–at seven, usually.”
“Oh.”
“There are reasons for it,” Salene added.
“Which are?”
“It is not to be discussed.”
That was an odd answer. “So then, I guess you like, have a
fiancee back on Vulcan?” He felt both relief and disappointment at
the thought.
“No.”
“No? But you said castrati aren’t forbidden to marry–”
“We are not…but I am no longer betrothed. Jake, your questions
have passed beyond what politeness permits.”
Vulcanese for “drop it.” Jake was left wondering if Salene had
been betrothed once and why he wasn’t any more. If marriage wasn’t
forbidden to him, then it must be that the girl had wanted out of it–
probably because of the castration. No wonder Salene didn’t want to
talk about it. Jake returned to petting Salene’s hair. The wind
outside was picking up. “Here it comes,” he whispered. Salene nodded
and, a little to Jake’s surprise, pressed back against him as if he,
too, needed comfort. “We’ll make it,” Jake said, not because he
believed it, but because he hoped that by saying it, he could make it
true: invoking the magic of prophetic declaration. The thought made
him snort.
“What is so funny?”
“Nothing really. Gallows humor.” But Jake twisted his head to
look down at Salene. His friend’s voice had sounded slurred again.
Was he falling asleep? Faint light from the window glistened on
Salene’s upper lip. It was wet. *Tears*?
No. Fluid. Bloody fluid was seeping from his nose, and from his
ears, too. Reaching up, Salene tried to wipe at it, missed completely
and had to try again. The lack of coordination scared Jake. “Good
god,” he whispered. “Salene, don’t you dare die on me!”
“I will…endeavor not to.”
He voice sounded really weird now. Jake pulled him close and
pressed his face against the side of Salene’s, begged, “Don’t die on
me. Promise you won’t die.”
There was no reply. Salene had passed out.

IV.

For a moment, Jake feared Salene dead. Then he felt the Vulcan’s
breath on the back of his hand where Salene’s head had sagged forward.
Salene was just unconscious. It was up to him now. Whatever came, it
was up to him to look after them both.
He saw a metal table in one corner and managed to drag it into
the room’s center so that he and Salene could lie beneath it. If the
building really did come down on top of them, the table would not save
them–but otherwise it offered some measure of protection. Then he
wrapped the torn altar cloth around Salene in an effort to keep him
warm, and waited. Before long, the storm’s other half hit: clouds hid
the moon and all light went out of the room, wind howled in the dark
like the souls of the damned.
How cliched. Next he would be writing, “It was a dark and stormy
night…” which, of course, it *was*. The thought made him laugh.
He had no idea how long the second half of the storm lasted, but it
was not as bad as he had feared. No new flood from Ponchartrain or
Lake Borgne struck the temple. Now and then, Salene stirred beside
him but did not return to consciousness. Jake checked his pulse,
couldn’t find it and was reduced to listening at his side for the
heartbeat. Irregular, but strong–and fast. Was it normal for a
Vulcan heart to race like that?
After a while, stark fear paled into tense hypervigilance. Jake
jumped at the least change in sound, but otherwise suffered perverse
boredom. Feeling for the little pocket he wore around his neck, he
was relieved to find that nothing had been lost in the flood. That
might have amazed him but he was past amazement just as he was past
fear. Instead, he drew out his PADD, feeling for the switch and
tripping it from “write” to “record.” Then he began to speak, trying
to recall all the details of his experience. Observe, observe.
Always observe. “This is how to do it. Notice everything.” That was
the first line of a poem he had read once, about the art of writing.
Notice everything, the poem had said: the smell of urine in the toilet
of a Greyhound bus, the sound of your mother weeping at your father’s
graveside…. Those might not be *his* own experiences but he had
instinctively grasped that demand for merciless particularity. What
is the shade of Vulcan blood thinned by rain? What glow do candles
cast on brass? What is the crash of concrete crumbling under the
assault of water? What is the rush of unexpected desire, quick as a
blush, from the kiss of damp hair on bare skin?
He broke off and shut down the PADD. He didn’t want to think
about that moment back in the sanctuary. It had just been heightened
emotions; he wasn’t *really* turned on by Salene. Nevertheless, his
hand crept out until the fingers found that same hair, closed in it,
as heavy and soft as Vulcan silk. “Don’t die on me,” he whispered
beneath the roar of the wind.
Time ceased to have meaning. Unable to see for the dark, unable
to hear for the wind, touch alone grounded him. Compulsively, he
stroked Salene’s hair, shoulder, bare arm. The skin was soft and,
deprived of sight, Jake could almost pretend he touched a woman’s body
–till his palm crossed the flat chest. He jerked back and locked
arms around his knees. This was absurd. He would not think about it,
just bury it somewhere inside.
After an interminable time, a new sound startled him: the rasp of
his own shifting body. The gale outside must be dying down. After
checking Salene–whose condition was unchanged–he crawled from
beneath the desk to make his awkward way to a broken window where he
could look out through the pouring rain.
Disorientation. Profound disorientation. He could recognize
nothing. It was as if he had been dropped into the middle of some
strange city after a nuclear holocaust.
A few buildings still stood, little else that he could see.
Piles of concrete rubble, twisted-metal and broken glass alternated
with uprooted bushes and trees broken in the middle: scrub oak and
royal palms, the desiccated remains of a waxy-leaved magnolia. A lone
gull perched atop a lamppost stump, huddled down against the storm.
What should he do now? Go outside to await a rescue crew? But who
would they be coming to rescue? They thought the city evacuated. Any
damage assessment would likely wait till morning. He glanced behind
him. Could Salene last till morning? He crawled back to his friend,
checked his heartbeat again. It sounded faster and weaker both.
“Don’t die on me,” he whispered yet again.
In fact, rescue crews did come. As soon as the main storm clouds
cleared out, Jake heard the sound of flitter and hopper engines, saw
yellow flashing lights. Pulling himself over to the door, he managed
to crawl down the hall to an exit. “Over here!” he shouted, waving
wildly. One of the flitters set down on the temple hillock about
twenty meters away.
Starfleet. Academy cadets. Gold security and red command, a few
medics in blue. Soon Jake was surrounded, carefully lifted into the
flitter. “Inside,” he managed. “My friend–inside the building.
Under a table in the big room. He’s got a concussion.” Some of the
cadets hurried off while others secured Jake’s stretcher. But Jake
could not rest till he saw them bringing Salene. “Is he still alive?”
A medic nodded absently, already busy at work. Sighing, Jake closed
his eyes as the flitter took off.

***

As Jake had predicted, it took a medic ten minutes to reset and
fuse the bone just above his ankle joint. He was told to take it easy
for a few days, then released.
Salene’s condition was more serious.
“They transported him to Starfleet medical in San Francisco,” Nog
said when Jake exited the infirmary. Nog had been waiting. He looked
tired. Like the other cadets, he’d been working disaster relief since
about nine the night before, but had wanted to see that Jake was all
right, and to pass on the news about Salene. “No one here knew how to
treat a Vulcan for concussion. There’s some weird connection between
their body and their mind. It made his heart start arresting and they
couldn’t make it stop.”
Jake’s own heart spasmed at the news. “And now?”
“I don’t know; I guess he’s fine.”
“You *guess*?”
“It’s not like I’ve had a lot of free time to keep up with his
condition!”
Jake sighed. “Yeah, you’re right. Sorry.”
Nog offered a scrap of toilet paper with a comm number written on
it in real ink. “Here’s where you can call to find out about him. I
told them he’d been staying with a friend in New Orleans and that
you’d get in contact with them.”
“Thanks, Nog.” Jake took the paper.
“Hey! That doesn’t go there!” Nog shouted, started to hurry
after the offending cadets, then turned back to Jake.
“Go on,” Jake said, waving the paper. “Thanks.”
Nog disappeared.
Jake stood irresolute a moment, torn between looking for his
grandfather and Jillian or calling about Salene’s condition. He
finally decided he’d better look for his grandfather first.

***

Salene’s body had put itself into a healing trance. He had never
suffered one before–had never been this badly hurt–but immediately
recognized the signs: he could hear, and was aware, but could neither
move nor speak, could not even open his eyes. He was beginning to
understand the Terran idiom “die of boredom.” On Vulcan, patients in
healing trance were visited, read to, kept abreast of any news. But
here, people seemed to assume him comatose. Certainly the aides
working over him thought so.
“Floor gossip says this one’s a eunuch.”
“Yep.”
A pause, then the first speaker added, “He’s kind of pretty.”
“If your taste runs to teen heartthrobs.”
A laugh. “I wonder if Vulcans have teen heartthrobs?”
“You gotta be kidding.”
Another pause. Salene could hear them moving around his bed. He
wished he was unconscious; he did not want to hear this. “Why?” the
first speaker said finally, angrily. “Why would they do this to a
kid? Poor thing.”
“Poor nothing. He’s the Vulcan version of a superstar–a singer.
I heard the doctors talking, earlier, explaining why he wasn’t to be
given any hormone therapy. It’d ruin his voice. They castrated him
for the voice.”
“How awful!” The bed rocked. One of the aides had sat down next
to him. He felt her touch his cheek, feather-light. She spoke to
him, a question no doubt meant to be rhetorical. “Do you have any
idea what they took from you?”
Her companion said, “I doubt he misses it; he doesn’t have the
drive. Besides, Vulcans don’t look at sex the same way we do.”
“Just like a man–the first thing you think of is sex.” But her
tone was amused. “I was thinking of kids, a family. Sex, too, but
it’s more than just that. How would you feel if you didn’t have
Blanche and Sam to go home to, at night? They didn’t cut out his
heart along with his testicles.”
“Vulcans don’t have hearts,” the other said. “Didn’t you know?
They’re born with an ice cube in their side. Come on. We have the
patient in 14-A to change.”
Salene heard the sound of their feet retreating and was grateful.
What did humans know of the Vulcan heart?

“Excuse me.” Jake stopped at the ICU front desk in Starfleet
medical. “You have a Vulcan here? Beamed in from New Orleans? He
had a head wound–a concussion?”
One of the nurses turned. “He’s my patient. You are–?”
“I’m Jake Sisko. His friend. How is he?”
She stepped around the desk to peer up at Jake. “You look ready
to fall over, Mr. Sisko. When’s the last time you slept?”
It was the same thing Jillian had said when he had finally found
her and his grandfather at the shelter. “I’m all right,” he said–
automatic defense. “Just tell me. How is he?”
She studied him a moment more, then said slowly, “He’s doing
pretty well, for a moderate concussion. There was only a small
fracture in the skull, and we’ve brought down the swelling inside the
cranium. He should wake soon.”
“They said– Back in New Orleans, they said he went into cardiac
arrest?”
She nodded, her face untroubled. “When a Vulcan suffers a head
injury and dozes off long enough, the body tries to enter the healing
trance. But it’s the brain that regulates the trance, so if the brain
is injured…. Well, things can go a little haywire. He’s fine now.
He just needed external help to regulate his breathing and heartbeat.”
While she had been talking, they had been walking towards one of the
private rooms. Now, she halted outside of it. “He’ll have a lot of
things hooked up to him, but don’t be alarmed by that. He’s in good
shape. Our scanners show that he came out of the deep trance about
five hours ago. He’s aware now. He can’t move at all, so he can’t
respond to you in any way, but he can hear you. Feel free to talk to
him.” She glanced towards the door. “He’ll probably be glad of the
company. We don’t have enough staff to sit with the patients.”
So saying, she pushed open the door to let Jake enter.
His first impression was of a lot of beeping machines. He wasn’t
sure if there was a person under it all. Moving up to the bed, he
could see Salene lying motionless under the med-tunnel that was
keeping him alive. Glancing around for a chair, Jake found one in a
corner and pulled it up to the side of the bed. “The nurse said
you’re aware but you can’t answer me.” It felt strange, talking to
somebody who looked one step away from death. “She said I could talk
to you. I don’t really know what to say.” He paused, as if half
expecting a reply but of course there was none. The heart monitor
continued to beep softly; lights went round and round in a regular
pattern on the EEG monitor attached to Salene’s forehead. “I guess
you want to know what happened after you passed out, huh?”
In a soft voice then, he told Salene about the second half of the
storm, about being found and rescued by Starfleet cadets, about being
taken to a hospital in Baton Rouge where evacuees were temporarily
quartered. “Grandpa and Jillian are both fine; they told me to tell
you ‘hello.'”
God, that had sounded stupid.
“I brought your bags, so you’d have some clothes when you wake
up. And I sent a message to your home, to let your family know you’re
all right. I’m not sure if they’ll hear on Vulcan about an Earth
hurricane but I figured if they did, they’d be worried.” Worried!
What a human thing to say. “Well, whatever. You know what I mean. I
wanted them to know you were being taken care of.”
Running out of conversation items, he paused. His throat hurt
from constant talking. The fact that Salene gave no response made it
difficult to believe he was aware. The monitors continued to blink
and beep, the med-tunnel breathed for him. Jake studied the alien
face. Salene had unusually level brows for a Vulcan–low over deep
set eyes. There was a brown mole right in the middle of his earlobe,
and his nose had a small dimple in the cartilage at the very tip.
Jake had never noticed these things before, had never studied Salene’s
face intently enough to do so.
Where did consciousness hide?, Jake wondered. Salene was not
dead. After his experiences on Ajilon Prime, Jake knew what death
looked like. Dead people did not look asleep; they looked dead.
Salene’s face held that indefinable *something* that animated. But
was he really aware of anything?
And if he was? What must it be like to be stuck in a body
unable to move, even to scratch an itch? “I have an idea,” he said
then, a little startled to realize that he had spoken aloud. “Be
patient; I’ll be back.”
Rising, Jake left the room and the hospital. It did not take him
too long to find what he wanted, then return. Nothing had changed
in the meantime. The monitor still beeped, the med-tunnel still
breathed, and Salene lay unmoving. “I’m back,” Jake announced, went
over to sit down by the bed. “I went on a little shopping trip.” He
opened his package and inserted the power cell. “I don’t know how
long you’ll be out, and I don’t think I can talk through it all–I
really do need to sleep–but I got this so you wouldn’t be bored.”
He set the Beltclip for audio only, turned it on to key a search for a
direct-feed music channel: Vulcan or classical. There was only one of
the former but several of the latter. “Classical” covered a broad
range, he found. At a loss, he settled for the Vulcan; it was easier.
Then he laid the clip on the pillow near Salene’s head. He was afraid
to put in the earpieces. As Vulcan hearing was so much better than
human, what was normal to him might blast Salene’s eardrums.
“I hope that’s okay. I didn’t know what to pick, but I figure
it’s better than nothing. I’m pretty tired; I think I’m going to go
take a nap now. There’s a sofa over here under the window. I’ll
stretch out there. I’ll be right here in the room unless I tell you
I’m leaving. I won’t just disappear on you.”

For a few minutes, Salene could hear Jake moving around, then
there was just the music.
He was touched, both by the gesture and by Jake’s promise not to
leave without saying so first. Jake had put himself in Salene’s place
enough to imagine what Salene was experiencing; it was that ability
which made him a good writer. So Salene listened to the music Jake
had picked and wondered how much longer his body would insist on
keeping him in-trance.
In fact, it was only three hours later that he began to have the
first hints of control over his body again. He could tell because his
natural instinct was to fight the respirator. He hoped someone would
notice his readings quickly. Trouble breathing aroused a very basic,
instinctual fear which affected even Vulcans. His eyes snapped open
and he strained upward against the med-tunnel.
Then the door was crashing open. Salene heard Jake shout,
“Wha-?” from where he had been asleep by the window. A Terran woman
in medical blue punched a code into the tunnel, then leaned over to
check him. Smiling to see that he was awake, she struck him hard on
the cheek.
“What are you *doing*?” Jake yelled.
It took only three slaps. “Enough!” Salene said and she stopped.
Before Jake could grab her, Salene added, “Hold, Jake. She is doing
her job.”
“By *hitting* you? That’s some kind of weird medicine!”
Salene twisted his neck to look at Jake but it was the woman who
explained, “A sharp shock–like a slap–is necessary to bring tranced
patients to full consciousness.” She tripped a few more switches on
the tunnel, glanced at Jake. “Would you mind stepping outside a
minute? I’m going to take the tunnel off of him. I’ll call for you
when I’m done.”
Wary, Jake hovered at the door till Salene nodded. When he was
gone, the nurse smiled at Salene again but made no further move. “Do
I have your permission to touch you in order to disconnect the tunnel?
I’m sorry we couldn’t ask when you were first brought in.”
She clearly knew Vulcan customs. “Yes, of course. And there is
no need to apologize for doing what was necessary to save my life. I
am grateful.”
She nodded. “I just wanted to be sure to *ask*. Most folks on
the floor aren’t familiar with your people.”
“How did you learn?”
“I did a practicum on Vulcan for a year.”
“Where?”
“TriStaav. They were looking for a nurse who could handle Terran
patients. I was looking for the experience. It was a good year.” As
she spoke, she punched codes into the tunnel and began unfastening the
clamps, then raised the lid part-way, enough to disconnect the tubes
and nodes beneath. He had found that humans used chatter to distract
or to put another at ease. It worked, actually. Listening to her
describe her year in TriStaav Med Center, he was not so conscious of
her hands on his body…until it came to removing the catheter. That
was a most peculiar sensation: almost but not quite painful. It only
added insult to injury that she must touch him *there* to do it.
Finished, she handed him a hospital gown. “Do you feel able to
sit up enough to put it on?” He nodded and she busied herself pushing
equipment away from his bed and securing the tunnel beneath while he
dressed in blue padded cotton. When he had laid back down, she pulled
the sheet up over him and piled on several blankets. “I raided the
closet for you. If these aren’t enough, buzz me and I’ll bring you
more.”
“My thanks.” He pulled the blankets up to his chin, feeling
oddly vulnerable though he knew the reaction illogical. “How long
shall I be kept here?”
“In this unit? Only another day probably; you’re doing very
well. But I think Doctor T’Dell wants you under observation for
another few days. I’ll be paging her, to let her know you’re awake,
and I’ll call your friend back in now.” She left.
A moment later, Jake entered, looking slightly unsure of himself
and quite tired. “You should go back to sleep,” Salene said.
Jake shrugged, then pulled up a chair to sit down near the head
of the bed. “How do you feel?”
Salene considered the question. “Weak, somewhat disoriented yet
though that is passing.” Then, just realizing it, “And hungry.”
Jake grinned. “You want me to sneak you in a sandwich?”
Salene frowned. “Why would it be necessary to sneak it? If I
have physician’s orders not to ingest solids, I would not presume to
break them.”
That just made Jake laugh and sit back in the chair, propping his
feet against the metal edge of the bed. “You must be feeling better;
you sound almost back to normal.”
“I am…gratified that you find my responses amusing,” Salene
replied dryly. “But you did not answer my question. Would you eat
solid food if it were against physician’s orders?”
Still smiling a little, Jake shook his head. “Probably not. I
was just trying to make a joke. But some people would.”
“That is not logical.”
“No, but it’s pretty human.”
“Indeed.”
A few minutes of silence, then Jake asked, “When you were under,
could you really hear me?”
“Yes.”
“You understood what I said and everything?”
“Yes.”
“Wow. I sure couldn’t tell.”
“You would not have been able to, unless you had touched my
mind.” He reached over to the little table beside his bed where the
nurse had set the transceiver. It had been switched off. “Thank you,
for this.”
Jake shrugged. “Sorry I didn’t get here sooner so you could get
more use out of it.”
“What is the human saying? ‘It is the thought which counts.’
And I will get further use from it, I am certain.” He put back the
transceiver on the table.
Jake had leaned forward again, elbows on knees. “Can I ask you
something?” He had the most annoying habit of seeking permission for
a question, as if doing so were more likely to secure him an answer.
Salene was learning simply to agree and not trouble to point out the
illogic behind the behavior. Now, he just nodded. Jake licked his
lips and said, “I’ve heard before that Vulcans are telepathic. And
you talked about me touching your mind…. How telepathic are you? I
mean, are you like the Betazoids? Can you, like, talk inside my
head?”
“No. In fact, from what I understand, Betazed telepathy does not
mesh well with ours. We do not project thoughts, we share them. Or
more precisely, we share the process of thinking. This is why it is
called a ‘mindmeld’. Two become one, for a brief time.” Salene
considered Jake a moment. “I will not read your thoughts simply by
touching you, Jake, if that has been a matter of concern to you.”
Jake shook his head. “No, I wasn’t afraid you would. I was just
curious. Is mindmelding something you do a lot, on Vulcan?”
“No.”
“Have you ever done it?”
“Yes.”
“Am I making you uncomfortable? Your answers get shorter when
you’re uncomfortable.”
“Your line of inquiry is somewhat intrusive, but I would rather
you ask your questions than wonder. I shall tell you if I do not wish
to reply to a question.”
“Fair enough. So, what’s it like? The mindmeld, I mean.”
Baffled, Salene was silent a moment, trying to decide how to proceed.
Jake may as well have asked him to describe the electromagnetic
pattern which his vision allowed him see and Jake’s did not. Finally,
Jake said, “I guess that’s a question you don’t want to reply to.”
“No. No, I said I would tell you. I was simply attempting to
formulate a response in terms you could understand.”
“You have to pick little words for my tiny human brain?” Jake
sounded inexplicably angry and Salene frowned.
“Why did you assume I meant that pejoratively? I did not. How
would you describe the color purple to me?”
Apparently caught off guard, Jake said, “Huh?” He must not
realize….
“I cannot see the color you call ‘purple’–no Vulcan can. You
did not know this?” Jake shook his head. “To my eyes it registers as
black or blue. Yet I know ‘purple’ exists because I have been told
that it does. Thus it is with the mindmeld. How can I explain it to
the non-telepath? You have no frame of reference to understand.”
Jake thought about that. “Yeah, I guess. How *would* I describe
purple?” Abruptly he grinned, as if he were taking it as a challenge.
“Well, it’s–I don’t know–*warmer* than blue, or green. Richer. But
maybe that’s just because it’s associated with kings. ‘Royal Purple’,
y’know.” He closed his eyes, added, “Purple makes me think of stained
glass windows and Christmas.”
“The latter of which is hardly a useful referent for me,” Salene
pointed out. Jake just grinned. “As for the mindmeld, it is”–Salene
closed his own eyes in turn, in order to speak without distraction–
“touching beyond the skin. It enlarges us. To think as another
thinks, to *be* another and to have him or her be you. It is…
understanding.” He opened his eyes again.
Jake’s expression was unreadable. “Sounds kind of vulnerable.”
“Indeed. That is why we do not often engage in it.”
“I guess you can do it with everybody, not just other Vulcans?”
“It is easiest with another telepath, but it is possible–for
most of us–with the mind-blind. A few are not strong enough.”
“Are you?”
The question seemed to have caught Jake by surprise as much as it
did Salene; his expression was startled.
“I have never tried,” Salene said.
“Would you like to?”
“You are volunteering?” Most humans were reluctant to share
thoughts–or so Salene had been given to understand. But if Jake did
not have his father’s interest in a Starfleet career, he did have
Starfleet curiosity.
Now, he shrugged. “If you’re game, I am.”
Salene crossed his arms under the blankets and considered. He
had never touched the mind of anyone outside his family, except she-
who-was-no-longer-his. He tried to imagine what it would be like to
touch the undisciplined, emotional mind of a human. Disturbing, no
doubt. But perhaps also interesting. And Jake was his friend. He
realized abruptly that there were none of his own people besides his
family he would trust in a mindmeld more than this human. “All
right,” he said finally. “But not now. To meld is draining, and I am
not sufficiently recovered. Also, more certain privacy is to be
preferred over a hospital room.”
“Okay.” Jake nodded.
“You should return to your grandfather,” Salene said. “You are
in need of rest, and I am not in need of a personal nursemaid. There
are more than enough of the professional variety within easy call.”

V.

Jake had come to San Francisco to pick up Salene despite the fact
Salene had told him it was unnecessary. Motivated by guilt, Jake had
insisted. He blamed himself for Salene’s injury and any attempt
Salene had made to alleviate Jake’s remorse had been met with the
protestation, “You wouldn’t have even been here if it hadn’t been for
me.” True enough but in Salene’s opinion, insufficient cause for Jake
to accept responsibility. One might as well blame the storm-trap
designer for this storm’s refusal to take one of the algorithmically-
projected routes.
“Why do you insist that it is somehow your fault that I was
injured?” he had asked–again–just yesterday.
“*Because*–”
“Because I chose to visit New Orleans during hurricane season for
the northern hemisphere? You did not insist that I come; you did not
even invite me. It was my decision. And unless you have abilities of
which I am unaware, you did not create that hurricane to greet me.”
Jake had laughed, then sobered. “But I’m the one who fell off the
counter and broke my ankle, like a big klutz. If I hadn’t done that,
we’d have made it to the transport with time to spare and you wouldn’t
have got thwacked in the head.”
“Perhaps. And had your grandfather not attempted to preserve his
cooking implements, you would not have been on the counter in the
first place. Do you blame him for your broken ankle?”
“Of course not!”
“So. Blaming yourself for my injury is just as illogical. Your
fall was *accidental*; my being ‘thwacked in the head’, as you put it,
was equally accidental. The path the storm itself took, while not
accidental, was hardly the result of malicious intent. Therefore
blaming yourself seems both inappropriate and, frankly, *silly*.”
Jake had thought about it, but Salene was not certain he had accepted
the logic of Salene’s arguments. And so, today, Jake had come to San
Francisco for the pointless task of walking with Salene down to the
transporter center to be beamed right back to New Orleans. When they
arrived, both the extent of the damage and the extent of repairs
already underway astounded Salene. It would take years for the
landscape itself to recover but most of the debris had already been
cleaned up and a remarkable number of smaller damaged structures had
been replaced, including the tourist trolley-stop siding which had
torn away and struck Salene on the skull. Repairing larger buildings
would require longer, despite disaster-relief from the government. At
least most buildings had power and water again Jake told him, though
the majority of citizens were still staying in relief shelters. A few
had moved back into the few buildings which had escaped severe damage,
Jake among them. It seemed that while the downstairs restaurant had
suffered badly, the upstairs had not, particularly the guest room
wherein Jake and Salene had been lodged. Salene chose to stay there
with Jake. In a few days, Joseph Sisko and Jillian would be able to
return as well.
For the time being, however, they came in the mornings and left
in the evenings. Both were busy at work when Jake returned with
Salene: Jillian repainting while the elder Sisko worked with repair
people replacing fixtures for the tiffany lamps. They broke off to
greet Salene while Jake took Salene’s bags upstairs. After Joseph
Sisko had gone back to overseeing electricians and with Jake still out
of earshot, Jillian said, “Maybe Jake’ll be able to concentrate on
what he’s doing now.”
“Why would he not?” Salene asked, surprised.
She gave him a shrewd, amused look. “His body’s been in New
Orleans, but his mind’s been in San Francisco.”
Unsure exactly what she meant, or what to make of the several
possibilities which occurred to him, Salene did not reply at first.
Yet before she could move away, he said, “I believe Jake is suffering
illogical guilt regarding my injury. What is the usual method of
erasing such? I have attempted to do so several times already, but
seem unable to succeed. Perhaps I am going about my reassurances
incorrectly?”
“I doubt it.” Her voice was dry. “Some people just like to
wallow. Usually Jake isn’t one of them, but you present a special
case.”
“In what way?”
She shook her head. “I don’t think you want to know. Let’s just
say it’s irrational human emotionalism.”
This answer did not satisfy Salene but for the moment, he decided
not to pursue it further. He might have asked Jake himself to explain
her cryptic remarks but suspected it would only cause friction between
the two so he watched as she turned away and went back to painting.
Jake had returned. “Tell me how I may be of service,” he said to his
friend, gesturing around at the wrecked restaurant.
“You don’t have to–”
“I am recovered, and I have two good hands. There is no reason I
should not assist.”
For a moment, Jake just studied him, then gave a little shrug.
“Well, okay. But if you get tired, quit,” and he led Salene over to
ask his grandfather what was next on the agenda to be done.

***

Jake wondered if Salene really had the good sense to stop when he
was tired. Long after Jake and Jillian had collapsed in one of the
re-upholstered booths to eat a late supper of replicated vegetarian
lasagna, Salene was still painting in the kitchen. Joseph Sisko had
already returned to the shelter for the night and Jillian was leaving
soon. “I wish he’d quit,” Jake said of Salene to Jillian. “He’s
making me feel guilty.”
Reaching across the table, she squeezed one of his hands. “He’s
a Vulcan. He has twice your strength and stamina.” She tilted her
head a little. “Being a eunuch doesn’t change that, y’know.”
Blood burned Jake’s neck and cheeks. “I didn’t think it did!”
“Really? Then why are you being so protective of him? If he
was Nog, would you assume him so fragile, or assume he wouldn’t know
his own limits? Jake, he’s a grown man! A young one, especially for
a Vulcan–but still older than you are. Do you think they took his
common sense along with his testes? If you patronized me that way,
I’d bop you one for it.”
Jake chewed his bite and considered what she’d said. *Was* he
unconsciously assuming Salene’s lack of testosterone–or the Vulcan
equivalent–made him somehow fragile? During the storm in the temple,
it was Salene’s grip on the altar chair and on Jake which had saved
them both. And Salene had been the one to pick up Jake and carry him
most of the way to the transport stop. He was neither fragile nor
weak and Jake’s unconscious assumption that he was just insulted them
both. “Okay,” Jake said after a moment. “So I guess he knows when
he’s tired. But I wish he’d give it a rest for the night. I feel
bad, sitting out here eating while he’s still in there working.”
“Then just tell him so. Or better yet, tell him you’d like to
have his company for dinner. He’s more likely to respond to that.”
Jake eyed her. “And you wouldn’t mind his company, either.”
She smiled. “No, I wouldn’t, but not for the reasons you
think.”
“You told me you thought he was cute…earlier.”
“Earlier, I did.”
“But not since you found out he was a eunuch,” he said, low and
harsh. “And you accuse me of patronizing him!”
“It has nothing to do with the fact he’s a eunuch. Jake, I
already knew he was a eunuch. I’m not sure you realize how famous he
is, do you?” She was mopping up tomato sauce with a piece of bread.
“But it’s not *me* he traveled sixteen lightyears to see.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
She leaned back in the booth and just watched him for a moment,
then said, “Y’know, the fact that he’s a eunuch–as well as a Vulcan–
doesn’t erase his need to care and be cared for. He’s still human, in
the broader sense of the word. He needs to be loved, to know he
matters to someone, no less than you or I do.”
Impulsively, Jake asked, “Do you think he can fall in love? I
mean romantic-type love?” His own question surprised him, even if it
didn’t seem to surprise her. She thought about it.
“If by that you mean, does he feel desire?…I don’t know. I’m
not a doctor, but I am a music historian and I can say that castrati
often had reputations as lovers.”
“I know that,” Jake said, masking embarrassment with impatience.
“Then why ask me?”
He shrugged. He hadn’t meant to ask, really; he’d just been
vocalizing a question that had been running around in his own mind. “I
read a lot about the castrati, for a story I did. You’re right that
they had reputations. Cafarelli was pretty notorious for getting into
fights and having affairs–but I wonder how much of that was just the
way he thought he had to act, to be taken seriously as a man? And
anyway, Vulcan chi`pain aren’t the same as the Terran castrati. For
one thing, the castrati were famous and popular in opera, but looked
down on and joked about generally–like a necessary evil. Chi`pain
are respected on Vulcan. No one would joke about them–if Vulcans
made jokes. Plus the boys have to *ask* for the operation themselves;
it’s not done to them. They’re operated on as late as possible, and
only the few who can sing like Salene even have the option. Right
now, there’re sixty-two chi`pain out of five *billion* Vulcans! And
that’s counting the retired singers.”
She had leaned forward to rest her elbows on the table. “You
know a lot about it, don’t you?”
He shrugged, suddenly embarrassed. “I told you, I read a lot for
a story.” She just smiled. He went on, “But in everything I read, I
never came across any hint that they had reputations as lovers, like
Cafarelli. Sure, some of it’s that they’re Vulcans, but there were
chi`pain before Surak, and they *still* didn’t have reputations like
that.” He paused, then added, “Salene did say they’re allowed to
marry. I didn’t know that. Most of the ones I read about seemed to
be single, like him. It made me wonder how much of the reputation of
the castrati was just blow. I guess they could do *something*, or
they wouldn’t’ve had reputations at all, but I wonder how much they
actually enjoyed it?”
She gave him the same amused smile. “Jake, answer me this: what
makes you think a person has to come in order to enjoy sex?”
Jake wasn’t sure if he was more embarrassed or more surprised. He
shrugged. “Well, isn’t that the point?”
“Is it?” she asked, might have said more, but sat up abruptly
instead and looked past Jake’s shoulder. He turned. Salene had
emerged from the kitchen to set a paint tin, roller and brushes–all
cleaned–outside the kitchen door. Then he joined them at the table.
By some miracle of neatness, he seemed to have acquired no paint
splatters or spots on his clothing. Jake pushed the now-cold platter
of lasagna towards him. “You can warm it in the kitchen replicator,”
he said.
Salene took a generous portion–there was nothing wrong with his
appetite–and disappeared back into the kitchen. Rising with her
empty plate, Jillian followed. They came back together. It was
funny, Jake thought. Alone, Salene looked pretty androgynous but
standing beside a woman, he was obviously male. Though he lacked the
strong jaw of most post-pubertal men and his mouth was best described
as “child-sweet,” there was a hollowness to his cheekbones and
something about the nose and chin that was definitely masculine. Or
maybe it was just that his features were kind of sharp: a prominent-
featured cherub with a man’s eyes.
As they approached, Jillian was saying, “…you don’t have to
come, mind. It’s only an invitation, so don’t feel compelled.”
Salene set his plate on the table and turned to her. “I would be
pleased to join you.”
“Join her where?” Jake asked.
She answered. “Down at The Duke’s. I and some friends get
together on Thursday afternoons, before the place opens, to play. It’s
just for fun–a jam session. Usually jazz, but not always. I told
Salene he’s welcome to join us but didn’t have to.”
“He’s on vacation,” Jake muttered, sullen.
Salene sat down across from Jake. “Indeed. Vacation from
rehearsals and performances–not from music itself.”
“But you said you wanted to be incognito, not paraded around and
stared at.”
Salene appeared uncomfortable, or as uncomfortable as a Vulcan
ever did. “I do not believe your cousin intended such.”
But, from the expression on Jillian’s face where she stood behind
Salene’s shoulder, Jake was not so sure. “Salene can just come and
listen,” she said. “He doesn’t have to sing if he doesn’t want to.”
She glanced down at him where he had turned to look at her. “And if
you change your mind about coming, just say so. I won’t be offended.”
He nodded once and she took her leave of them. When the front door
had closed behind her, Jake said, “I’m not so sure she doesn’t have
something up her sleeve. Jill usually does.”
Salene concentrated on his lasagna and did not reply for several
minutes. Finally, he said simply, “I miss singing.” He flashed a
glance up to Jake. “Would you not miss writing?”
Put that way, Jake understood, and backed off. They spent the
rest of Salene’s supper discussing restaurant repairs, then Salene
went upstairs to call his family on the comm while Jake closed up
downstairs. Alone for a few minutes, it occurred to him that he
should’ve moved into his grandfather’s room until his grandfather
returned. Vulcans were pretty private. But more than that, it seemed
a bit…intimate…sharing one bed when the whole building was empty.
Jake hoped Salene didn’t misunderstand, think he was trying to come on
to him.
That probably hadn’t even occurred to him, Jake thought; Salene
was a Vulcan.
When Jake got upstairs, he thought of another potential problem.
He didn’t have any pajamas, didn’t know if Salene did either, didn’t
even know if Vulcans wore pajamas. He found Salene bent over his bags
in the room. Standing awkward in the doorway, Jake said, “I, uh–I
don’t have any pjs with me, just a robe.”
Still crouched, Salene twisted to look up at him. “Neither do
I.” Something in his face alerted Jake. He might appear calm, but he
was just as uncertain as Jake himself. Jake could see now that he had
been hunting through his bags for a shirt to sleep in.
That returned confidence to Jake, who entered to sit on the end
of the bed. “Well, wearing skivvies is fine with me–but I don’t know
Vulcan customs, so if you’re offended, just say so.”
Salene had twisted slightly to keep his eyes on Jake. “Vulcans
do not share human concepts of modesty. The body is merely a body. I
usually sleep in nothing at all.”
Jake had to fight to keep his feelings off his face. *Nude* was
a bit more than he’d bargained for. Salene seemed to guess as much,
despite Jake’s struggle not to react. Standing, he said, “I will
sleep in my underwrap.”
“You don’t have to–” Jake began, not wanting to put Salene out.
“I will sleep in my underwrap,” Salene repeated, and began to
strip. For three breaths, Jake just stared, then realized what he was
doing and turned away. Despite Salene’s words about the body just
being a body, the almost defiant way he was removing his knee-length
Vulcan tunic and draw-string trousers made Jake think that *Salene*,
at least, might be a little sensitive. Standing, Jake turned his back
to undress himself, then walked down the hall to the bathroom where he
brushed his teeth and used the toilet before heading back to the room.
Salene was braiding his hair. From behind, his body looked perfectly
normal.
“Why’re you braiding your hair for *bed*?” Jake asked.
“So it does not tangle,” Salene replied, turning around. That,
too, was almost defiant, as if inviting Jake to look.
Jake dropped his eyes down Salene’s body. Nothing unusual from
the front, either, except for a lack of body hair. But then, Jake
didn’t have much body hair himself. The most distinctive feature of
Salene’s torso was the broad chest–a singer’s chest with powerfully
developed lungs and diaphragm. Everything else about him looked the
way it should, including the bulge in the front of his shorts. Jake
had barely let himself notice that, but could not quite keep from
noticing, either.
Salene was not a freak. In fact, he was kind of attractive with
his long limbs and long hair and swarthy skin…a bit Arab-looking, or
maybe gypsy. Yes, gypsy. Of course, that comparison didn’t make
sense for somebody from another world, but Jake made it nonetheless.
Abruptly embarrassed for giving in to curiosity even for a minute, he
turned away. “I guess we should get to bed. They’ll be here early to
start work again.”
“Yes.”
Jake slid between the covers while Salene ducked out to take his
turn in the bathroom. Lying on his back, hands behind his head, Jake
thought again about the wisdom of this. Maybe he really should go
sleep in his grandfather’s room. But if he did that now, it would be
an insult to Salene, as if he were saying he didn’t want to sleep with
him.
He should’ve thought through sleeping arrangements better. He’d
been so anxious about everything else, he hadn’t considered what would
actually happen when it was time to hit the sack.
Turning onto his side, Jake closed his eyes and tried to sleep.

Salene took his time in the restroom, putting off as long as
possible the return to the guest room. Jake had been surprisingly
discreet but Salene had not missed his friend’s appraising glance.
What did Jake think, when he looked at Salene? Stripping off his
underwrap, Salene studied his reflection in the full-length mirror. He
had done this more than strictly logical after the operation, but in
recent years, he had grown used to his body’s appearance. Now he
wondered again what others saw.
His limbs were out of proportion to the rest of him, but not, he
thought, so much as to make him unattractive. Hair grew only on his
head–none on chest or under his arms. Even his pubic area was but
lightly downed. He stared critically at what that down revealed.
Though his voice had never broken, his genitals had begun their growth
before he had undergone the operation; they had been caught at that
awkward stage somewhere between boy- and manhood. Prostheses filled
out the sack behind so none could tell what he lacked.
Nonetheless, he felt that lack acutely. It was illogical but
admitting that did not erase his sensitivity any more than the fact he
had chosen to undergo the operation erased his regret.
“Regret is part of being alive.” The words whispered through his
memory in Seltor’s ancient, cracked voice.
Not long after the operation, he had been invited to the rooms of
Seltor ch’San, then the oldest living chi`pain and among the greatest.
Seltor had retired half a century before to live in the T’LingShar
dormitory, cared for by the younger singers and the nephew he had
adopted as his own son. A week after Salene had joined their ranks–
when the trial period was over and there was no going back on the
operation–Seltor had called Salene to his rooms, given him tea and
sat him down on the porch overlooking the garden. Salene remembered
their conversation as if it had happened yesterday. To be granted a
private audience with Seltor was no small honor. What Seltor had said
to him, he had kept in his heart ever since.
After settling himself in the chair opposite Salene, Seltor had
looked out across the garden to where the orange sun sat fat on the
horizon. Narrowing his eyes, he spoke without preamble. “If you
apply yourself, you have the potential to be a greater singer than I,
Salene-kan. Were I still able, I would make you my own student.”
Shocked to his core, Salene had barely managed to reply, “You do
me too great an honor, t’kari.”
“I speak the truth. I was pleased when you elected to make the
sacrifice.” He had turned his eyes back to Salene. “But I will now
say to you what no one else will say, if you will hear me. I am an
old man, long past the need for false dignity.”
“I will gladly hear whatever you have to tell me, t’kari.”
Seltor had nodded. “Right now, you are firm in your decision.
Were you not, you would never have passed the trial period. But in a
year or two, when you see your agemates maturing while you remain like
a boy physically–you may come to regret that choice. This is normal.
Making choices is part of life, but choices bring regrets, even if we
would choose the same, given a second opportunity. The choice you
made a week ago when you underwent surgery, and confirmed yesterday by
refusing the reversal, will alter your life. Sometimes you may
regret. Thus I tell you plainly: we all do. Those who pretend
otherwise are not being honest with themselves. The only way to move
past regret is to accept it, not deny it. Regret is part of being
alive.”
Then the old man had sipped at his tea while the setting sun
gilded marble porch columns and threw sharp shadows all along the
peristyle perimeter of the dormitory. “The hardest thing you will
face will be the aloneness,” he had continued. “I understand your
bondmate asked to be freed?”
Salene had just nodded. He had known, before electing to have
the surgery, that she would call for the dissolvement of their bond if
he did so. That fact had been both a grief and a relief.
“It happens to most of us,” Seltor had said. “Those whose mates
remain bonded to them are the fortunate few, but keep in mind that
companionship can be found in other quarters. I have had no mate, but
I have had companionship. Learn to cherish what comes your way. Pon
farr aside, there is that in the Vul’kah soul which demands such
companionship; chi`pain know that need no less than other men. For
us, complete aloneness ends in madness. Do not turn aside the chance
for companionship even if it is not embodied in a traditional mate.”
Now, Seltor’s advice seemed to Salene almost prophetic. Had the
old man really meant what he had seemed to mean? Companionship from
one who was not a bonded wife? Scandalous. Surely that was not what
Seltor had intended to imply. Salene wondered what the old man would
have made of his friendship with Jake Sisko, but could never ask.
Seltor had died of old age two years ago.
Bending, Salene retrieved his underwrap and stepped back into it.
Being friends did not mean that Jake would not be curious about his
body. Why assume that Jake’s curiosity stemmed from disgust? Salene
was rather curious about the texture of Jake’s hair, so different from
his own. It looked to be wonderfully springy. Yet Salene was well
aware that for North American blacks, hair texture had historically
been a sore point, some going so far as to apply horrific chemicals to
straighten it like a European’s. Jake had once referred to himself as
“nappy-headed,” and while he had clearly meant the term humorously, an
edge in his voice had alerted Salene. What Salene found inviting to
the fingers was viewed more ambivalently by the possessor of it.
Turning out the light, he returned to the darkened bedroom. Jake
appeared to be asleep already, his breathing regular. Slipping into
the bed on the other side, Salene drew up the covers–but did not go
immediately to sleep. He was chilled, the temperature having dropped
enough to be uncomfortable, and while Jake had covers sufficient to a
human, they were not enough for a Vulcan. More, Jake tended to sprawl
in sleep, forcing Salene to the edge of the bed to avoid accidental
touch. After twenty-two minutes of staring restlessly into the dark,
Salene rose to find a robe, wrap it around himself and retreat to the
chair in the room’s corner.
Jake must have felt him rise, for he sat up abruptly in bed, full
of the baffled alertness shown by those startled awake. “Hunh? Hunh?”
From his seat in the corner, Salene said, “Go back to sleep.”
A night-light in the hallway cast Jake’s form in candle-yellow. “What
are you doing sitting up?” he asked.
Faced by such a direct question, Salene hesitated. He could
either lie, or insult his host by implication. He settled for the
insult. “I was cold.”
He heard Jake slap his forehead. “I forgot! You need more
blankets.” And Jake hopped out of bed, went into the hall to rummage
in a closet, came back with two wool blankets which he handed to
Salene. “Will that be enough?”
“Sufficient. Thank you.” And Salene began spreading them on his
half of the bed. Jake watched, then sat down abruptly, his expression
dejected. Salene paused. “What is it, Jake?” Jake shook his head.
“Tell me.”
“This was a mistake, wasn’t it? I mean, us trying to share a
bed. I just didn’t want you to have to pay to stay at a *hotel*. It
didn’t seem very hospitable. But your staying here isn’t working out
any better. You’re cold, you’re uncomfortable, you can’t sleep….
You just accepted our offer because you felt like you had to, didn’t
you? I didn’t think about that. I was trying to make you more
comfortable, not less.”
Salene finished tucking in the second blanket, then sat down next
to his friend. One of Jake’s virtues was his straightforwardness;
Salene rarely had to probe far before Jake would tell him what was on
his mind and Jake’s honesty required an answering honesty from Salene.
“The situation is not ideal, no, but the sentiment was appreciated.
Unfortunately, humans and vulcans are different enough physiologically
to present difficulties when sharing quarters, much less beds. It
seems your desire to offer hospitality, and mine not to offer offense,
produced something of an unfortunate impasse.”
“In other words, trying to be nice just ended up being a pain.”
“Colorfully put, but essentially true.”
“I’m sorry.”
“So am I.”
Jake glanced over sharply. “Why? It wasn’t your fault.”
“It was no one *fault*, Jake, except in our mutual reluctance to
speak frankly. I am sorry that we waited so long to be honest with
one another. Perhaps, in the future, we should worry less about
offending and more about honesty. There is no offense given where
none is taken.”
Jake grinned. “A pact? I’ll tell you if you do something to
make me uncomfortable, if you tell me the same?”
“A…pact, yes.” He offered Jake his hand. Jake stared at it,
one eyebrow hopping a little. “Is this not the human way of sealing a
pact?” Salene asked, suddenly unsure.
Nodding, Jake took Salene’s hand and gave it a single firm shake.
“I didn’t think Vulcans liked to shake hands.”
“Normally true. There are exceptions.” Jake’s hand was cool,
the skin dry. Salene could feel the boil of Jake’s emotions beneath
the surface, emotions which he kept off his face. Humans had their
own manner of control, Salene was learning.
“What’s the Vulcan way?” Jake asked, releasing Salene’s hand.
“Vulcans do not make ‘pacts’, we make vows. Once, we sealed them
with blood; now, our word is enough. I do not believe this agreement
merits a vow, quite.”
Jake smiled. “Probably not.” Then he frowned, stood. “I guess
I’ll go sleep in Grandpa’s bed tonight. He won’t care.”
Salene looked back at the half-blanketed bed. “You need not. I
believe this will do, provided that you avoid taking your half and my
half of the bed, both.”
Laughing, Jake said, “If I do, just kick me back over onto my
side.”

VI.

“Two orange juices, large.”
The replicator materialized the glasses and Jake brought one to
Salene, who paused to drink it down all at once before returning to
his task of putting in new counters to replace the water-warped ones.
Sipping his own juice more slowly, Jake watched. “Somehow I never
pictured you as a carpenter,” he said.
“My father is a luthier,” Salene reminded him. “I learned how to
operate a CNC machine before I was ten, as well as chisels and rasps
and spokeshaves–not to mention various sanders.” He held up a much-
worn sanding block with which he had been smoothing the new counter
before putting on the oil finish.
“There’s got to be an easier way to do that,” Jake said.
Salene gave his characteristic small shrug. “I did as much by
machine as possible; there comes a time when one must work by hand and
feel.” His braid swung between his shoulderblades as he sanded the
maple surface. “Here,” he said, reaching for Jake’s hand. “Touch.”
He set the hand over a section of counter near the back. “Do you feel
it? The catch yet on the pads of the fingers?”
“No,” Jake said. It felt fine to him. His response won a soft
snort from Salene, who returned to sanding.
Over two weeks had passed since the storm; the restaurant was
almost repaired and his grandfather planned to reopen that weekend,
along with a lot of other businesses. There was to be a big festival
downtown. Jake was looking forward to it; New Orleans knew how to
throw a party. There would be lots of food and music. He’d enjoy the
former, and suspected Salene would enjoy the latter.
Jake knew his friend missed music. Repairing damage from the
storm had kept Jillian’s group of musician friends from meeting last
week, and his grandfather’s restaurant didn’t even possess a piano.
Salene sometimes sang as he worked, which seemed to please him as much
as it did them. Otherwise, he had no outlet, so Jake tried not to be
jealous of the fact he was going with Jillian to The Duke’s that
afternoon. After all, Jillian had invited Jake, too.
His friendship with the Vulcan had returned to an even keel after
the first awkward night. He’d even grown used to sharing a bed: found
it oddly comforting. As for Salene, the few times Jake had suggested
a different solution to the bunking problem, Salene had told him not
to be concerned. Jake took that to mean Salene didn’t mind, either.
“Hey! You two about ready to call it a day and go jam for a
while?”
Jake and Salene turned. It was Jillian. Setting aside the
sanding block, Salene said, “If by that you mean, am I prepared to
conclude working for the afternoon and join you at an informal pursuit
of music, the answer is yes.”
She laughed. “Vulcan humor.”
“Vulcans do not joke.”
“Yeah, right,” she said, walking away. “And I’m the queen of
Sheba. I’ll meet you guys outside in ten minutes.”

Before they arrived, Jillian asked whether Salene wanted to be
introduced as Jake’s friend or as himself, but in the end, it proved
moot. They’d barely gotten inside the door before someone hurried
over to gush, “Jill! You said you were bringing someone new, but you
didn’t say it was *Salene of Vulcan*. Good god, girl, that’s like
showing up with Robert Johnson! Or maybe Maria Callas.” She turned
to grip Salene’s hand, bending just enough to show the cleavage bared
by a low-cut dress. It was such a cliche it was almost comical, but
Jake had to admit he had a hard time keeping his eyes above her neck.
“I am so honored to meet you!” she was saying to Salene. “I have all
your recordings but never expected to get to hear you in person, much
less talk to you! You just have to sing for us.”
Jake winced for the idiocy of the human race even while feeling a
bit taken aback. He’d known Salene was famous, but that famous? Did
women throw themselves at him like this all the time? Probably not
Vulcan women, Jake decided, but felt a twinge of jealousy nonetheless.
Must be nice.
Salene was disentangling his hand and himself with gracious,
practiced ease. “I am honored,” he said, taking a step back so he
could execute one of his little bows. Jake realized now that the
gesture served to put a discreet distance between himself and others
without appearing rude. “As for singing–I do not know yet. We shall
see.”
A man as tall as Jake and twice as wide appeared beside Salene’s
admirer. “What are you blathering about now, Larissa?” Then he
nodded greetings to Salene. “I’m the Duke. Welcome. And don’t mind
her none. We buy her books and buy her books but all she does is eat
the covers off.”
Salene blinked. “I…am not certain I follow. She eats the
covers of books?”
The Duke laughed and slapped a table top. “Never mind, son.
Come on in and welcome to all ya’ll.”
The cat out of the bag, Salene was pressed to join the musicians
onstage. Jake took a seat alone at a table off to one side, drank
rootbeer and listened. His friend was pretty good on a guitar, though
why that should surprise Jake, he wasn’t sure. He’d known Salene’s
musical education included instrumental as well as vocal training; he
just tended to think of Salene as a singer. Now, though, the Vulcan
sat on a stool with a borrowed acoustic in his lap, following chord
progressions by watching and listening. To Jake’s mind, there was a
surprising lack of talk. Conversation conducted itself in harmony.
About ten other musicians, Jillian included, hung about, drifting in
and out of songs. Salene alone stayed onstage through all of them.
He seemed to be undergoing some kind of testing, the way a new arrival
at a party is plied with questions. These questions just happened to
be asked and answered in music.
Musicians weren’t the only ones in the dim, close bar. Hanging
about were others like him: groupies or the curious, Larissa among
them. Though she clearly knew something about music, he hadn’t been
able to figure out yet what she contributed beside distraction.
Salene was the only one whose eyes *hadn’t* strayed in her direction
at least once. Her skirt was as high as her neckline was low and the
green velvet fit like a glove. God. Jake scooted his lower body
further under the edge of the table.
Movement to one side made Jake turn his head. The Duke had sat
down at the table. “Never heard a Vulcan play jazz before,” he said
by way of greeting. “He sure did pick up that guitar fast enough; C6
sustained ain’t exactly common. Like to hear him sing but I doubt he
will now. Larissa threw him for a loop.”
“Vulcans don’t get thrown for loops,” Jake replied.
The older man shook his head, chuckled and tapped the tabletop
with sausage fingers. “Don’t buy into that ‘Vulcans don’t feel’ crap,
son. I’ve known me quite a few Vulcans in my day. Every damn one of
’em felt as much as you or me–just hung different names on it.”
Jake studied the Duke and wondered how old the man was. With
buzz-short hair just beginning to grey, he looked in his mid-fifties
but something about the eyes argued greater age.
“Your friend there,” the Duke went on, “is as nervous as a long-
tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.”
Curious, Jake sat up and leaned over the table, rootbeer glass
cradled between his palms. Writers were supposed to learn to read
people but Jake suspected he could take lessons in the art from this
man. “How can you tell?”
“Watch his feet,” the Duke replied. “And his hands. Vulcan
faces don’t tell you nothing. You gotta watch their bodies. See how
he can’t sit still? Keeps tugging at his pant-leg? He’s nervous.
Could be upset, too, but I’d say–under the circumstances–it’s
nerves.”
Jake was silent a while, observing. The man was right. Salene
kept reaching down to smooth nonexistent wrinkles in his pants. He
even let one of his legs jiggle while waiting between songs. Small
gestures, all, but they told a story that could never be read in his
expressions–or lack thereof.
“Older Vulcans,” the Duke went on after a while, “you can’t read
them that way. It’s the young ones like him who give away their mood
in their bodies. With the older ones, you gotta look harder–but it’s
still there. You gotta listen, too, to what *ain’t* said as much as
to what is. A judicial silence’ll tell you as much as a whole spate
of words.”
“Can you guess what he’s nervous about?” Jake asked.
The Duke grinned white and wide in the dimness. “His voice, of
course.” Jake started to ask why the Duke thought Salene would be
nervous of *singing*, of all things, but the nightclub owner rose
abruptly. “I got things to do before opening time.” And he patted
Jake’s shoulder. “See you round, son.”
After he’d gone, Jake mulled over what he’d said: ‘His voice, of
course.’ The Duke had made it sound like the obvious answer. But,
when Jake stopped to think about it, he realized it *was*. Larissa’s
initial reaction aside, it had become clear that while most of the
others had at least heard of Salene, only a few had actually heard
him. Most didn’t know him for a soprano–and he didn’t look inclined
to enlighten them, either.
The jam session went on another hour until the evening patrons
began trickling in; this was only the second night the bar had been
open since the storm. Not once in that hour did Salene sing. The
hired band finally decided it was time to get down to the business
they were paid for, and Salene helped the others pack up, then escaped
with Jillian out the back before Larissa could catch him again. Jake
made his way outside, too, finding the two of them in time to hear his
cousin say, “…I had *no idea* she’d recognize you as soon as we
walked in. I could throttle her for grabbing you like that!”
Salene just held up one hand; the other gripped a guitar case.
The instrument’s owner must have loaned it to him for the week. “No
matter,” he said.
“Will you sing next time?” Jillian asked.
“Perhaps,” Salene replied. Jake remembered what the Duke had
said and recognized the ‘no’ behind ‘perhaps’, wondered if Jillian did
as well because she dropped it.

***

Salene was upstairs on the guest bed, experimenting with tunings
on the borrowed guitar. Unfortunate, that the instrument was fretted
or he could have re-tuned it to match a six-string Vulcan gadulka–
something he was moderately skilled at playing. With a Terran
instrument, he found himself stuttering his way through fingerings.
Here, alone, he sang softly to himself.
He heard Jake come up the stairs, wondered if his friend realized
how distinctive his step was: a rolling gait in which Salene could
almost hear the slouch of his posture. The door opened and Salene
looked up but did not quit playing, or singing. For Jake, he would
sing. The human approached the bed, sat down on one edge, fidgeting
nervously with a sheaf of papers in his hands. Salene finished the
musical phrase and set the guitar aside. “Yes?”
But Jake did not proffer the papers. Instead he asked, “What was
that? I’ve never heard you do that kind of music before.”
Salene picked up the guitar again, bent a few strings to produce
the proper pitches and sang a line. “The style of music comes from my
mother’s native province. It falls on your ear peculiarly because it
employs asymmetric meters and a scale not based on your major-minor
tonalities. Alone, I cannot produce the parallel harmonies which make
it unique: seconds, sevenths and ninths are the common intervals.” He
sang one line and played the other as best he could.
“Sounds kind of haunting,” Jake said.
“The closest parallel on Earth of which I am aware is the folk
singing of Bulgaria and Thrace.”
Abruptly Jake grinned. “Hey, wasn’t Orpheus a Thracian?”
“I beg your pardon?” Then Salene remembered–‘Orfeo’ had been
the title of the story Jake had written for him. “Ah,” he said in
sudden comprehension and allowed himself the ghost of a smile. “You
are implying that Pilentze is Vulcan’s Sofia?”
“Something like that,” Jake said. “Pilentze is where your mother
is from?”
“Yes.”
“How far is that from T’LingShar?”
Salene did not think Jake was asking for the precise distance.
“A quarter of the way around the planet, in the opposite hemisphere.”
“Wow. My mother was only from Pennsylvania.” He glanced down
then at the papers in his hand, set them on the bed between them.
“Speaking of my mother–I thought you might want to read this.”
Salene reached over the guitar top to retrieve the stack. It was
heavy and smooth: rich, the feel of real paper. A luxury on timber-
starved Vulcan. The title page read, “Anslem, by Jake Sisko.” It had
been hand-written, as were all the pages after.
“This is the story you told me about,” Salene said. “The semi-
autobiographical one. The one for which you nearly died.”
Jake nodded. “Oniya gave me the paper. And the pen. Someday
I’ll finish it, but I wanted you to read what’s there–if you want to,
that is. The spelling’s pretty bad.”
Salene looked up at Jake, who squirmed nervously an arm’s reach
away. “I have…grown accustomed to your spelling. It is nearly as
creative as your characterizations.” That won the smile he had hoped
for. “Of course I wish to read it, Jake. I am pleased you would
trust me to do so.”
Jake shrugged. “You’re my friend. You can, uh, comment on
things, too, if you want. Just don’t write on the paper.”
“I would not.”
Jake rose and headed for the door. Salene knew that he disliked
being present while someone read his stories and would usually go off
into another room, reappearing only when he thought the reader was
nearly done.
Salene spent most of that evening sitting in a booth downstairs,
a pot of tea on the table and a PADD beside Jake’s manuscript. He
took seriously the responsibility of critique when Jake asked for it,
though he knew himself no more an editor than Jake was a music critic.
Still, Salene valued Jake’s uneducated opinion. While there was much
Jake did not know enough to assess, that same ignorance–or really,
that *innocence*–kept his commentary uncolored by assumptions and
expectations. Jake did not know what he was supposed to appreciate or
deplore, so he said exactly what he thought. Salene hoped Jake found
the same value in his own critique of Jake’s writing.
Eleven minutes past midnight, Jake padded through the darkened
restaurant to Salene’s table, slid into the booth across from him and
picked up the PADD without interrupting. Eyes on the manuscript,
Salene absently pushed the teapot over to him. He was nearly done
with what Jake had so-far written, could tell the story was going to
break off in an awkward place, plot-wise, and found himself slightly
annoyed by that fact. He wanted to read the rest.
Jake poured himself tea and scrolled through the notes Salene had
made on the PADD. When Salene wanted to add something, he held out a
hand and wiggled his fingers. Jake passed the PADD over and Salene
entered his comment, then passed it back. The silence was serene.
Finally he turned over the last page, sat back. “The paragraph stops
in the middle,” he said, unable to mask his irritation entirely.
Jake grinned instead of taking offense. “Cliff-hanger,” he said.
“Have you at least plotted the rest?”
Jake pulled a small PADD out of his pocket and passed it over. It
was already keyed to a screen, Salene saw. “I may change things, as
it goes along.”
“Of course.” Salene bent to read. Jake had outlined the coming
chapters and drawn a story-arc with the major climaxes sketched in.
When done, Salene handed back the PADD. “I must confess that I find
reading half a story somewhat…disgruntling.”
Jake’s eyebrow twitched. “Is that a compliment or an insult?”
“Neither, merely a statement.”
“But do you, like, *want* to read the rest?”
“Certainly. You have yet to write a story which I find so
uninteresting I do not wish to finish it.”
The eyebrow quit twitching and the grin came back. “Then it was
a compliment.”
“I do not follow.” Sometimes human connections baffled him.
“It’s a compliment because you’re disgruntled because you *want*
to read the rest. See?”
Now Salene was well and truly confused. “But why else would I be
disgruntled?”
Jake just shook his head and sat back, turned the little teacup
round and round on the freshly varnished tabletop. “So–what did you
think?”
Salene pointed to the PADD in the middle of the table between
them. “That contains comments on the finer points.” He looked up at
Jake, trying to gauge how much of his opinion Jake wanted. Normally,
his friend was able to hear well, but human egos were fragile and this
was a story particularly close to Jake–the only one he had never let
Salene read, until now. “I believe you have struck that rare balance
between writing that which you know–your experiences–without writing
yourself. Anslem is not Jake, but there is enough of Jake in him that
I believe in him. There is a…power…here which draws the reader.
In Vulcan, we would say this story wakes that spark of the infinite
which lies sleeping in our bellies.”
“I like that. Visceral.”
Salene allowed himself the ghost of a smile. “I thought it might
appeal to the writer.”
Jake shifted on the bench. “But…? I hear a ‘but’ coming
somewhere.”
How could Salene say, This story is beyond your present skill?
Yet that was the truth. Jake could no more complete this story than
Salene could compose an opus. The fact that Jake had set the story
aside argued that he knew as much, but Salene could not be sure, so he
puzzled over what to say.
“Just tell me,” Jake said. “You always tell me the truth.”
Salene set a careful hand atop the manuscript, as if he could
soothe it, and Jake by proxy. “You are not ready to finish it. Not
yet. I believe you have more living to do, first.”
Jake frowned. “What do you mean?”
“I am not certain that I can explain.” He pressed his lips
together, considered. Jake waited. “I believe it is that, while the
characters–particularly Anslem–strike me as remarkably formed, and I
believe in them…I do not believe in what they do. You have over-
exaggerated your plot in places, not trusting the power of your prose.
Jake–” He reached out to set a palm beside Jake’s on the table top,
not quite touching. “Your particular gift is a poetry of prose. Your
grammar aside, your spelling aside, you have caught the beauty of
words for their own sake. That lives in your soul. Do not seek to…
dress it up…with melodrama. It needs nothing but the bare stage.
Simplicity. Understatement. The well-chosen verb. I see this in
parts. Here–” He looked down at the manuscript and searched through
it until he had found an example:
“Standing on the deck, watching the unmindful crowd mill
below, the hollow place inside him burst at last. For a
moment, he could neither see nor hear. All he knew was
a tearing grief, wringing him dry until, emptied at last,
he wept.
“That is…incredibly evocative,” Salene said, “It needs nothing more.
End of scene. Yet, in the very next paragraph, you have him spot a
woman in the crowd below who reminds him of his mother.” Salene
tapped the page. “Unnecessary! He had gone up to the deck to be
alone in the first place because it is the anniversary of her death.
That is enough. You do not *need* to twist the knife. Do you see?”
Jake thought about it, then held out a hand for the manuscript.
Salene pushed it across. Taking a pen from his breast pocket, Jake
slashed through the paragraphs that followed. “You’re right.” Then
he sighed and his shoulders slumped. “But until you pointed it out, I
thought that was a great scene. How can I trust my instincts?”
“It is a fine scene; you simply must learn where to enter a scene
and where to end it.” Folding forearms on the table, Salene leaned
in, cocked his head. “Experience. It will come. Your instincts are
not untrustworthy, simply untrained–like a singer whose pitch is true
but who breathes in all the wrong places. He must learn phrasing and
breath support. So you also must learn phrasing, and control. Your
pitch is excellent. That is what one has, or does not have–it cannot
be taught, only heard. You hear.” He nodded to the manuscript in
Jake’s hands. “Those characters and those words are yours. In time,
you will discover what to do with them.” He pushed himself up from
the booth and stretched his back. Muscles ached from sitting still
for hours. “Come; it is late and time for sleep.”
They cleared the booth. Salene noted that a subtle slump still
pulled down Jake’s shoulders. He needed something more. Almost
diffidently, Salene reached out to touch Jake’s shoulder with two
fingertips. “Thank you,” he said, “for trusting me enough to permit
me to read ANSLEM. It was a great gift; I am not unmindful of that.”
Jake nodded and tried on a smile. “I know.”
“I did not say what you wished to hear.”
“You said what I needed to hear–what I already knew, really, but
you said it better. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what was wrong
with the story. I owe you for that. Maybe I was too close to it.”
“Perhaps so. Jake, I have never said, but should have–I grieve
with thee, for the loss of thy mother.”
Jake seemed thrown by that, then shrugged. “It was a long time
ago. And I have my dad.”
“Nevertheless. She was your mother, and there was no chance for
you to prepare, no opportunity to say goodbye.”
To Salene’s surprise, Jake’s eyes began to tear. Ashamed for
having caused his friend to lose control, Salene turned away, took the
teapot to the sink. Behind him, he heard Jake trying not to cry and
so he remained with his back politely to Jake until Jake could master
himself.
“Great!” Jake finally muttered. “You’re the one who brought up
my mom, then you go stand over there as far away from me and my vulgar
human emotions as you can get. Sorry if I *offended* you.”
Startled, Salene turned. “That was not my motivation!”
“Then what was?”
“I…did not wish to shame you.”
“*Shame* me?”
“By witnessing your grief. Jake, even Vulcan sons are permitted
to weep for their mothers but–” He stopped. From Jake’s expression,
it was clear this was a case of clashing cultures. “Forgive me. In
my ignorance, I have offended where I meant least to offend.”
Jake’s whole expression altered and he shook his head, scrubbed
at his eyes. “No, it’s not your fault. I keep expecting you to act
like a human, but you’re not human. I can’t ask you to do all the
understanding without trying to understand you back. That’s not fair.
You gave me what a Vulcan would want.”
“But not what this human needed. What do you need, Jake?”
Jake ran his hand over his face. “What you can’t give: an arm
around the shoulders, a hug…something like that.”
“And I did exactly the opposite.”
“I told you–you gave me what a Vulcan would want. It’s not fair
of me to expect human reactions from you.”
Salene considered. “Perhaps there is a compromise.”
“What d’you mean?”
“In the hospital, you asked if I would be willing to demonstrate
the mindmeld for you.”
“Yeah. I wondered if you’d forgotten. Or I thought maybe I’d
really overstepped with that one.”
Salene tilted his head. “Were that the case, I would have so
informed you. Our ‘pact’–remember?”
“That was before the pact.”
“Nevertheless. As for the mindmeld…it is not an uncommon offer
between friends when one of them has suffered a great loss.”
“Even a loss that’s eight years old?”
“Eight years ago, I was not there.”
“True.” Crossing his arms, Jake looked down at the tiled kitchen
floor. Salene wondered what he was thinking. Jake had been partly
correct. Salene *had* deliberately refrained from mentioning the meld
again. Jake had not overstepped in asking, but the intimacy required
for a meld had kept Salene silent on the matter. Now after Jake had
permitted him to read ANSLEM, and after Jake’s willingness to ask no
more than Salene could offer even in the face of Jake’s own need,
Salene could only meet that openness with openness himself. To offer
to meld was the logical response.
“At the hospital,” Jake began, “you said it needed some privacy.
Is down here private enough?”
Salene glanced around, took in the open stairwell to the upper
floor. “The room would be preferable, I think.”
Turning for the stairs, Jake said, “Then let’s go up.”

In something of a daze, Jake led the way. He hadn’t expected
this. Of course he’d asked for it that day in the hospital room, but
he’d not really expected Salene to take him up on it–had half-hoped
Salene wouldn’t, even while half-hoping Salene would. What had
possessed him to invite somebody into his head two weeks ago and again
just a few minutes ago?
By mutual unspoken consent, they prepared for bed. Jillian and
his grandfather’s doors were closed for the evening but when Jake came
back to the guest room, he whispered, “Should I lock the door?”
Salene glanced at him, then away. “No. No need.”
Jake nodded, then watched Salene pull around the room’s single
chair to face one corner of the bed, indicating for Jake to take the
chair. Wondering again if he’d lost his mind, Jake sat. Salene took
the place opposite and, eyes closed, pressed his hands together a
moment, as if praying. Opening his eyes finally, he focused on Jake.
With odd attention to irrelevant detail, Jake noticed that his irises
were so dark, the pupil was all but indistinguishable: Gypsy magician
eyes, as inky as the velvet under fortune-telling cards. What fortune
would he tell Jake?
“There are several levels to a mind touch,” Salene said, “the
mindmeld being the most extreme. I understand that the instinctive
reaction of the mind-blind is to resist. As I have never attempted to
touch a non-telepath–and as you have never been so touched–it might
be best to begin at a lesser level.” And he held out his hands, palms
up. Jake hesitated, then put his in them. Long tan fingers closed
over Jake’s brown ones and Jake felt an odd tickle under his skin, as
if someone ran nails lightly all over him. It was sensual but not
quite erotic. “When I begin the meld,” Salene said, “you must not
fight me, though it may seem invasive. I will not hurt you–I cannot,
without hurting myself also. You must trust me.”
“I do,” Jake replied, barely above a whisper.
Salene just nodded. The tickle under Jake’s skin increased,
became a rippling flash like an electric shock: not enough to harm,
just enough to set his teeth on edge.
Abruptly, he became aware that he was experiencing sensations
that weren’t his. Instead of warm fingers covering the backs of his
hands, he felt cool skin under his touch. He became aware of strain
on his lower back from sitting up straight on a too-soft bed. He
could hear the click of the overhead fan…*loud*. Everything was
suddenly *loud*. He could hear another’s rapid breath–his own–and
the rasp of cloth when one of them…which one?…shifted slightly.
So this was Vulcan hearing? Amazing.
The awareness moved beyond mere sensations: he knew a nervousness
not his own. Salene was scared, too. “I trust you,” Jake said again,
putting all his faith in those three words. Salene’s face had gone
stark, as if startled–or as if he struggled to contain something more
volatile.
Letting one of Jake’s hands go, Salene raised his own to spread
the fingers spider-like on the side of Jake’s face, then leaned nearer
until their noses were inches apart. “My mind to your mind,” he
whispered.

VII.

“My mind to your mind.”
Inside his skull, Jake felt pressure–a reach and twist as if
someone were trying to wring out his brain.
“My thoughts to your thoughts.”
The grip increased, crushing Jake’s skull. Resist!
“Our minds are…
“…one,” said Jake-Salene.
Pressure ceased. Pain ceased. There was only this joined
floating, like two people trying to share a single hammock, limbs all
wrapped around each other until it was impossible to tell where one
began and the other ended.
Fascinating, this tendency to comprehend via metaphor.
Amazing, this clarity of thought, like an equation, or the
precise patterns of a…*fugue*?
A single theme introduced at the outset, to be taken up and
repeated throughout the piece in a contrapuntal style….
Talk about metaphors!
Jake-Salene laughed. One reached up to touch the face of the
other even as one had already touched and been so touched.
Deeper.
A white room. Sterile. A woman’s face hovers above–skin dark
like the human half of his self, but with heavy black hair falling in
a single braid over her shoulder.
“Mother?”
“It is over.”
“Successful?”
A pause. A pain in black eyes. “You have a week. Should you
alter your decision, you have a week to reverse the operation.”
“I won’t. I want to sing.”
A hand on his brow, warm, brushing back his hair. “You will.
Either way you chose, you will always have music.”
Deeper.
A dark room filled with smoke and the wild flash of red alert.
Sirens whoop in time to the panicked beat of his heart. “Mom!” All
he can see through the smoke is a pile of rubble. His mother is under
it somewhere. He tries to shove aside a fallen support strut but ten-
year-old muscles cannot even budge it.
“…all personnel and family members, report immediately to the
escape pods. Emergency evacuation proceedures are in effect…,”
drones the computer.
“Mama!” He knows only terror.
A door behind him bursts open; his father looms. “Go, Jake!”
“But Mom, she’s–!”
“Go with Lieutinant Hranok! Now, Jacob Paul!”
He went with the Bolian.
Deeper.
Stone echoes with the rustle of bodies. Even the slightest shift
sounds loud, interrupting the music–the magic flow of notes cascading
over him, around him, filling up the holes in his soul. The voices!
The voices hold him rapt and frozen, captured by splendor.
After, when the silence of music’s cessation echoes like thunder,
he whispers to his father, “I wish to sing like that.”
A long silence, then the reply, “It is a great sacrifice.”
His own answer–too quick perhaps: “Nothing is too great for
that!”
Deeper.
Sunlight ripples gold on spreading rings from a fishing line.
Feet dangle from the bridge-side; heat bakes the wood beneath, turning
him drowsy. His father sits beside him, dressed in Starfleet red. It
is not a real bridge, or a real river, or a real fish biting his line.
It’s a holosuite on a Cardassian spacestation, halfway to nowhere and
not another person his age in the whole place except one ugly Ferengi.
When his father leaves him, he retrieves a PADD from the black bag at
his side, wedges the pole between two planks. Fishing will keep. On
the PADD, he writes, “It’s been a week since we arrived here….” He
can talk to a journal, at least. He keeps writing.
Deeper.
“There’s the eunuch.”
“No shit? A eunuch?”
“No shit.”
“He looks normal.”
“Wait till he opens his mouth. It’s freaky.”
They do not know Vulcan ears can hear them, even seated down in
the orchestra pit.
Freaky.
Freak.
Deeper.
Sunshine bright on the shocking contrast of black Pennsylvania
earth atop white February snow. Taps is being played. The sunlight
charms an obscene sparkle from the grey granite gravestone. It should
be overcast, or snowing in piles. But bright winter sun picks out the
inscription: Lt. Jennifer Martin Sisko // January 3, 2332 – January
30, 2367 // Beloved daughter, wife and mother. She gave her life to
preserve our freedom.
“The Lord is my shepherd….”
Deeper.
Deeper.
Deeper again.
Memory piled on memory. Some pleasant, some painful, they spin
out like the dust of a nebula. There is one more, one not so old, one
they share. They look at it together, like a coin impossibly seen
from both sides simultaneously.
“I bet you’ll be glad to get back to your friends in T’LingShar.”
“A Vulcan has colleagues and family, not friends. Not often.”
“Well, you’re my friend.”
“I…thank you for that, Jake Sisko.”
Neither had realized that simple exchange had meant so much to
the other.
He is all warm under the skin. Fire burns in his belly, licking
at him. The threads of their individual thoughts, like two cords of
bright string, tangle and twist…fuse into one.
Too close.
A human heart driven to beat at Vulcan speed. The capillaries of
a human brain opened to push blood at a Vulcan pulse.
The meld is too close!
It.
Must.
End.
“I am Salene….I am Jacob; I am Salene…I am Jacob….
“I am Salene!”
“I am Jacob!”
Jake gasped, his racing heart setting his whole body on fire. He
could feel the press of Salene’s fingers on his face, the warmth of
Salene’s skin under his own hands. Salene’s breath puffed light
against his cheek, smelling of Terran peppermint toothpaste. Gripping
the fine facial bones, he turned Salene’s head, shifted forward.
Their lips touched; it lit novas in all ten of Jake’s toes and
the backs of his knees. He opened his mouth, felt Salene do the same.
Then he was touching the tip of his tongue to the tip of Salene’s
He may as well have walked into the white backflow of a breached
warp core. Incinerated alive. Nothing left but ash and lust.
Salene’s fingers tightened on his skull, holding his head
immobile, but he couldn’t have moved away if he’d tried. His own
hands tore through Salene’s hair, freeing it from its braid until it
fell sleek down Salene’s back while their tongues fought a war of
thrust and retreat.
He’d never kissed anyone like this. Not a woman, not a man, not
anyone.
Struggling to his feet, he dragged Salene up with him, let
Salene’s face go long enough to undo the fastenings on their clothing.
Shirts fell, then pants, then underwear, too.
Oh, God. Skin on skin. Salene was so *warm*. And his body was
soft, like his hair. Jake wanted to run his hands all over him. Over
all of him–even that. Especially that.
“Ah!”
His voice or Salene’s? Still linked by the fading meld, they’d
gripped each other’s cocks at the same moment. Salene’s felt short in
Jake’s hand, short and thick. He’d bent a little, forehead pressed to
Jake’s shoulder, his breath rapid–almost a startled pant. They moved
together, a rhythm as old as life. Fast push of fingers down a shaft;
slow pull up. Fast and slow. Fast and slow. Thrust and pull. Pause
to squeeze the head, brush the sensitive tip. Not much longer now.
Maybe he said it aloud. Maybe he didn’t. Salene grunted in reply.
Jake felt distracting tendrils try to grip his mind like the fingers
tight around his cock but, consumed by a burst of raw sensation, he
brushed them away.
“Ah, ah!”
They were standing up. How could he come standing up?
He was coming anyway. Salene supported his weight as his legs
buckled, let them both down gently. Jake barely felt the scratch of
carpet. All feeling centered on six inches. Salene’s hands squeezed
him, one around the shaft, the other over the head.
“Ah, god!”
Jake let go with a wild explosion like three photon torpedoes,
all over Salene’s hand.
“Jake….”
“Shhh.” His arms went around Salene’s shoulders, pulled him
close. He was so dazed, so tired…but oh, he felt so *good*. He ran
hands all over his friend’s back and flanks, up his thighs–
Salene wasn’t finished.
How could I be so selfish?, Jake thought, closing fingers around
Salene’s shaft to pump him hard. Salene made a surprised little noise
and began to rock into Jake’s hand. It went on a while. Jake tried
to speed things up a bit by licking Salene’s ear or biting his neck,
cupping his scrotum. The latter only made Salene jerk in surprise and
try to twist away.
“Okay, okay,” Jake whispered. “I won’t touch you there.”
Instead, he let his fingers find the penis root behind the sack, rub
that instead.
Nothing seemed to be doing any good. Salene never lost his
erection but he couldn’t seem to come, either. The harder Jake tried,
the more distant Salene seemed to become: eyes closed, face still. He
wasn’t even breathing heavily any more.
Finally, his hand closed around Jake’s wrist, almost pinching.
“Enough,” he said.
“But–”
“Enough!” Salene disentangled himself neatly, stood. Naked and
still erect, he looked vulnerable in the glaring bedroom overhead.
What am I doing? What are *we* doing? The questions exploded
in Jake’s head.
I was just jacked off by my best friend.
Jake rolled away abruptly, drew up his legs and wrapped his arms
around them. “Oh, damn,” he whispered.
There was a long pause, then Salene grabbed his clothes and
walked out. Jake just laid there on the carpet, unable, unwilling, to
think. If he let himself think, his world would fall apart. After
some time–he didn’t know how long–he heard the toilet flush. A door
opened down the hall, but the door to the guestroom did not. Feet on
the stairs instead. Jake still laid there, naked, cold, the remnants
of his own orgasm drying on his belly and hip.

*Shame.* He knew nothing but a holocaust of shame: the sacrifice
of his self-respect for daring to desire.
His first reaction was to run. Literally. To run as far away
from this place, this experience, as he possibly could. But what
would that accomplish? He would end up lost in a strange Terran city.
Even now logic interrupted to take pragmatic pot-shots.
He found a corner of the downstairs dining room where moonlight
could not reach, curled up on the floor with arms around his knees.
Panic licked at him, the wild rush of terrible anxiety so overwhelming
he did not even know where to begin in trying to master it.
Oh, it was familiar. Hyperventilation. Tunneling vision. His
heart slamming in his side. Only too familiar.
Breathe! Now in, now out; now in, now out. Control. Simple
control of respiration. Begin with simple control of respiration. He
would not further humiliate himself by yielding to an anxiety attack.
He was a child no longer–not that sensitive, artistic child too
fragile to master himself without drugs and healers and help. They
had demeaned him with their ‘help.’ He was stronger than that. He
would be stronger than that.
After a long time, he could think again.
Shak! Idiot.
How could he have let this happen? How could he have been such a
colossal fool? Did he really think an operation–the loss of a pair
of gametes–would alter anything? He had been running from this as
long as he could remember, all the while carrying it right along
inside him like a tracker-chip hidden in his skull. It was time to
face certain truths. Jake deserved that much, at least. Salene would
tell Jake the truth.
Pressing his forehead into the arm lying across his knees, he
bit the back of his other hand–hard enough to bruise. Maybe if he
made it hurt enough on the outside, it would stop hurting on the
inside.

Legs still shaky, Jake had finally gotten up. He didn’t know
what to do, so he grabbed a robe and underwear and headed for the
bathroom. Cleaning himself up, he didn’t have to think. Cold water
on his skin felt good. Maybe it would freeze his brain. Or freeze
that part of his anatomy which had gotten him into so much trouble.
“Oh, god–what did I do?” Bending over the sink, he put his face in
his hands, then dropped the hands to stare at his reflection.
He didn’t look any different.
Still trembly from shock, he bent to retrieve his underwear and
knocked into the bathroom counter, almost fell until he grabbed the
edge. Was this what being drunk felt like? He was drunk on fear.
Putting on the robe and calling down the light, he left.
He had to talk to Salene. He didn’t want to, didn’t know what to
say, but he couldn’t *not*. Even if just to give Salene a chance to
call him a bastard, he owed it to his friend to go downstairs and face
up to what he’d done.
He’d wrecked their friendship.
Downstairs, the lights were off and Jake could see nothing in the
dining room, but some sixth sense told him someone was there. He
found Salene by sound–the bare shift of a body. Salene was curled in
a corner with arms around his knees, and if Jake couldn’t see his face
in the dark, he could read misery in the posture. He sat down beside
him. For a long time, neither spoke. Finally, Jake whispered, “I
don’t know what to say. ‘I’m sorry’ sounds pretty stupid–but I am.
I– God, I can’t believe I did that! It was totally insane. I won’t
even ask you to forgive me. I just…wanted you to know. I didn’t
mean to take advantage of you.”
He rose, started to move away. Salene’s hand darted up to close
over his wrist, gripping cruelly. “Ow!” Jake said, surprised. Salene
began to exert force, pulling him back down. Unable to resist and a
little frightened, Jake sat.
Salene leaned in; Jake could feel his breath. “Do you really
think you could *force* me to do something against my will?” The
question surprised Jake into thinking, and the hand on his wrist
tightened further. Salene was strong!
Jake understood then. That was the point. Salene was physically
far stronger than Jake. “No, I don’t guess I could,” Jake replied.
“But there’re other ways to coerce somebody.”
Abruptly, Salene released him and Jake pulled his arm against his
body, rubbed the bruised wrist. Salene had turned away; Jake could
tell by the direction of his breathing. “I did nothing which a part
of me has not wanted to do for some time. It was I who coerced you.”
Completely stunned, Jake began automatic protest, “No! I–”
“Yes!” Salene hissed back, whipping his head around. “We
mindmelded. How do you know–how even am I to know–if what happened
came from your desires or mine?”
Jake blinked. “But you don’t–”
“I don’t have desires?” Jake heard Salene shift, and the slight
knock of his skull against the wall. “What would you know of what I
desire?”
“I…guess I wouldn’t,” Jake admitted. Confusion was overcoming
embarrassment. “But I didn’t think you could, uh, do it.”
“What do you think just happened upstairs!” Bitterness laced his
words.
“But you didn’t come.”
“And that is disproof of my desire?”
Well and truly confused now, Jake leaned his forehead against the
arms braced on his knees. What was Salene trying to say here? How
could he blame himself? “Why do you say it’s you and not me?”
“Have you ever before been attracted to someone of the same sex,
Jake?”
“No.”
Salene said nothing further, as if he couldn’t bring himself to.
Or as if Jake’s reply *was* the answer.
Jake jerked up to stare even though he couldn’t see Salene in the
dark. “You *have*?”
“Yes.”
For the space of five seconds, Jake couldn’t respond in any way,
then he began to blurt reassurances. “You don’t think, just because
we…you know– That doesn’t mean you’re a homosexual! I’m not a
homosexual! I don’t think.”
Why was he acting like he should be ashamed of it, if he was?
And yet, he *was* ashamed.
He felt Salene’s hand close on his arm…gentle this time.
“Jake, be still. It is not because of what happened upstairs that I
think so. I *know* so. I have always been this way. It is simply
not something I have given any thought to, in recent years. After the
operation, I did not believe it would matter.”
Several things came together then in Jake’s mind: the humiliation
present in Salene’s tone, the fact that Jake had never before heard of
a same-sex Vulcan couple, even Salene’s choice to be castrated. “Is
that why you had the operation?” he asked. “Because you’re gay and
Vulcans disapprove of homosexuality?”
Salene snapped his hand back. “That is not why!” Abashed, Jake
said nothing and after a long, uncomfortable pause, Salene sighed.
“And that was not an honest answer. The truth is my…orientation,
you would say…did have something to do with my choice. It was not
the only reason, not even the primary reason. Yet it did influence
it, yes.”
God, what a perverse way to escape his sexuality, Jake thought.
Surely Salene wasn’t the only gay Vulcan. What did the others do?
“If you hadn’t had the operation, what would’ve happened to you?”
“I would have married.”
“A woman?”
“Of course a woman!” Salene took a breath. “My apologies. My
control is abysmal tonight.” There was a dry edge to his voice. “On
Vulcan, same-sex marriages are not made. They are not forbidden; they
are simply not made. They are considered illogical.”
“Why?”
A rustle of cloth. In his mind’s eye, Jake could see Salene’s
shrug. “Same-sex matings are sterile. The only justification for
them is…emotional.”
“What’s wrong with that? Aren’t Vulcans allowed to marry the
person they love, be happy?”
“What a human view! Your expectations of what marriage is for do
not necessarily match Vulcan expectations, Jake. We marry to continue
our house and line, for companionship, for…other reasons. Not for
‘happiness.'”
“So–if you weren’t chi`pain, you’d still be expected to marry a
woman, even if you weren’t attracted to her?”
“Yes.”
God, that’s crazy, Jake wanted to say but bit his tongue. Were
Vulcans really that unreasonable?
“Jake, you assume that I did not wish to marry. In fact, I did.”
Utterly baffled now, Jake could say only, “*Why*?”
“Vulcans…need…companionship. We are bonded in childhood.
One reason is something I cannot discuss with you–not now. But there
are other reasons. We are a people made to be mated, much more than
humans are, I think. I can imagine worse things than to be married to
a woman with whom I had something in common–regardless of my sexual
preferences. For us, marriage is not consonant with your human
romance.”
Jake considered that. “Then, if you wanted to marry, why’d you
say you had the operation to get out of it?”
“I did not say that–you assumed it. What I said is that I could
not deny that my orientation had something to do with my choice.”
Vulcan nitpicking, Jake thought.
“In any case, matters are rarely either/or.” Salene paused. “I
wished to marry, and I did not wish to. When opportunity rose for me
to take a third path, it seemed fortuitous. But I did not make this
choice because I had no other options. I chose it because it seemed
best. My bondmate–she to whom I was betrothed–did not want me to
undergo the operation. I knew she would dissolve our bond if I chose
it, yet I believed such would be fairer to us both. I am not sure she
would agree. In fact, I know she would not. She was…angry. There
is no other word for it. We have not spoken since.”
“Did she, uh, know about you?”
“If by that you mean, did she know I am homosexual? Yes.”
Jake frowned. “And she still wanted to marry you?”
“Jake–you are thinking like a human again. We were compatible
in other ways.” Salene hesitated, then said almost diffidently, “But
even that is not entirely honest. As I said, matters are rarely
either/or. One part of me found her companionship desirable. Another
wanted something different.” A second pause before he added, “So I
both regretted the bond’s dissolution even as I welcomed it.”
Resting arms on his drawn up knees, Jake leaned his head against
the wall. His mind felt tired from trying to wrap itself around such
a different set of assumptions about the universe. Salene was gay and
ashamed of it–but not for the same reasons Jake would be. Salene was
ashamed because he wanted a relationship whose only justification was
personal and emotional: things Jake just assumed to be permitted. The
difference caused Jake to reconsider his own shame, which, in turn,
brought him back around to what had happened upstairs. Talking about
Salene’s sexual orientation and Vulcan culture had let Jake shove out
of his mind *why* they were talking about it. Now ‘why’ resurrected
itself. Had what happened–
Dammit, Jake, call it what it is.
Had he and Salene *had sex* because Salene had put that desire in
Jake’s head? It was pretty obvious that Salene thought so. Maybe it
was even true.
And did he put the desire in your head in the temple too?, Jake
asked himself.
Jake realized that he didn’t know *what* he felt for Salene any
more–or whether those feelings were his, or Salene’s. He pressed his
thumbs to his temples. “So it’s all fake? Everything I’ve been
feeling is fake?”
The silence stretched so long, Jake thought Salene wouldn’t reply
at all. Finally, he said–voice tight–“I would like to think my…
feelings…are not ‘fake.’ To me, they are quite real.”
Dropping his hands, Jake glared into the shadows where he knew
Salene was. “But to me? What’s real to *me*?”
“I do not know. Only you can answer that. That is why I told
you what I feel: to help you decide what you feel. Or not.”
Wanting to lash out, Jake snarled, “I didn’t think Vulcans let
themselves feel.”
“We feel. I feel.”
That sharp honesty popped the balloon of Jake’s anger. “I don’t
know what I’m feeling,” he admitted. “I do really like you. I mean,
as a friend, at least.”
Salene made some sound. A snort, a laugh, a choked sob…Jake
couldn’t tell. After a moment, he said, “I would like to believe that
so much, at least, is not merely my projected wish.”
Suddenly feeling very much like a heel, Jake found and gripped
Salene’s hand briefly, then let it go. “You *are* my friend. Maybe
the rest of it…I don’t know. I’ve never liked a guy before. Never
even considered it, to be honest. I mean, I don’t have anything
against it. It’s normal, if you’re gay. I just didn’t think I was
gay, or even bi. Now, when I–” He cut off. He was rambling.
“Now,” Salene finished for him, “when it is *you*, you find
yourself no longer so tolerant. You find yourself ashamed, in fact.”
Jake didn’t want to admit it, but he also couldn’t deny it so he
said only, “It cuts pretty close to what it means to be a guy.”
“Indeed. Like being castrato.”
Jake dropped his eyes and, in that moment, realized that the
Federation’s much-touted acceptance of alternate lifestyles–Vulcan
IDIC; how ironic!–was fifty percent sham. No one would ever say
anything negative to his face, but behind his back? Could he know
they were whispering about him behind his back? Yet these were things
Salene faced every day, as a eunuch. In daring to be Salene’s friend,
Jake had thought himself willing to face those whispers, too. Now he
realized he’d just been toying with it from a safe distance. He was
willing to be the friend of a eunuch but wasn’t willing to *be* a
eunuch. He was willing to be the friend of a same-sex couple, but
wasn’t willing to be one in a same-sex couple. Faced by the sudden
possibility of his own bisexuality, he found himself backpeddling like
mad.
“I’m such a hypocrite,” he muttered, running a hand over his
face. “I’m sorry. I’m just…really confused. I don’t know what’s
you and what’s me–but I’m pretty sure this isn’t entirely you. I
feel something for you, something bigger than the friendship I’ve got
with Nog. Besides, if you feel desire, how far does it go? Honestly?
You seem to think you imposed it on me, through the meld, but maybe
it’s not that simple. You said things aren’t always either/or.” Jake
thought back to that second just before he’d come, when it had felt
like someone was knocking on his skull, wanting in. “Maybe you got
something out of it from me, too.”
“You supplied the desire and I the direction of it?” Salene asked
sarcastically.
“Yeah, maybe. Is that so crazy?”
After a moment, Salene said, “No. It is…quite likely, in fact,
given the intensity we had reached in the meld. But that does not
excuse the fact that you would not have desired me, had my interests
not infected you through the meld.”
Jake gave a short laugh. “It’s not a *disease*, Salene! I can’t
catch being gay from you. I felt something, too. Maybe it’s not
something I’d have acted on, or even thought to act on, normally. But
if I’m really honest, I can’t say I regret it. You said I didn’t make
you do anything you didn’t want to. Well you didn’t make me, either.”
He was silent a while, trying to marshal his thoughts. Salene did not
interrupt, seemed willing to wait for whatever might come.
“I don’t think I’m gay,” Jake said finally. “But I do care about
you–and you happen to be a guy. Maybe what we’ve got just doesn’t
fit the normal categories, y’know? I don’t want to pretend tonight
never happened.” He searched for Salene’s hand again, found it.
Salene let him kiss the back of it. “I guess, well– I think I love
you. I mean, I *do* of course, as a friend. But as more, too. I
think I love you as more than just a friend.”
Well, *that* had certainly sounded corny, Jake thought.
Salene did not reply verbally but his hand closed tight over
Jake’s. Jake stood then, pulled Salene up after. “Let’s go to bed.
The sun’ll be up soon.”

VIII.

Brilliant red against black, spreading out in a gossamer burst
from the white-hot center, then twinkling slowly down, down. A
million Terran fireflies.
“Ah!”
Around him, human voices murmured their appreciation of the
pyrotechnic display in the sky over Lake Ponchartrain. “It’s like
fairy dust!” someone said.
Salene turned to speak into a round ear. “What is ‘fairy dust’?”
Glancing over, Jake replied, “It’s this dust, this magic dust stuff
that Peter Pan sprinkled on people so they could fly to Never-
Neverland.”
Salene blinked. Jake’s response had made…absolutely no sense.
Perhaps not unexpectedly. Jake was drunk.
Of course, it had begun as an accident.
This was Re-opening Gala–the city’s celebration of its survival
of Hurricane William. Jake had used promises of music to coax Salene
out into a shouting, shoving, manic crowd. And there had been music.
New Orleans tonight was a city of music and light. Wildly conflicting
melodies blew from open bar doors, from little stages under green and
white awnings, from parties in perfect French rooms in the apartments
above, from blossom-trellised pergolas in replanted city gardens.
Tiny white lights lit the park trees, neon and chinese lanterns lit
the buildings and shops, and archaic gas lamps lit the streetcorners.
Nostalgic recreations of open-sided trolleys ran on tracks through the
streets. There was food in restaurants and in street-side booths.
There were meandering entertainers: a pair of jugglers, acrobats, a
woman with a tame, oversized animal walking upright. “A bear,” Jake
had named it. Shadow-dancers and sketch-artists, painters who painted
in water color and those who painted in laser light. A glass blower.
A hologram artist. Even a potter working at a wheel.
Once, they had run into the Duke. He had been standing outside
his jazz club when the two of them had strolled by. He had waved;
they had waved back and Jake had used the opportunity to duck inside
for a rootbeer, leaving Salene alone with the man. Salene found few
humans too opaque to read, or too intimidating to address easily. He
found the Duke both. After a few awkward minutes of silence, he had
ventured, “If I may, how did you come to be called ‘the Duke’?”
“I am one.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“One of my white ancestors belonged to the British aristocracy.
When that branch of the family died out, the whole kit and kaboodle
passed to the American side. So now they got a New Orleans nightclub
owner in the House of Lords.” He had winked.
Salene had looked off up the street. Clowns were coming down it,
followed by a figure costumed in bright bird plumes. How long did it
take Jake to get rootbeer? The Duke spoke again, “Be gentle with that
kid in there. He’s in love with you.” It was so unexpected, Salene
had jerked around his head to stare. The Duke had held his eyes until
he was the one forced to look away first. “Ah,” the man had said. “I
thought that might be the case.”
To which Salene had snapped, “What might be the case? I said
nothing from which you could derive conclusions of any sort.”
“You didn’t have to say anything, chi`pah.”
The use of his title had grated on him. “If you know I am
chi`pain, and what that means, then you must also know that what you
suggest is impossible.”
“Impossible, or merely difficult?”
Tightening his jaw, Salene had turned away, “It is impossible.”
The reappearance of Jake had spared him any retorts from the Duke and
when his friend had dragged him back out into the madness of carnival,
for once, he had been glad to go.
And it was that very madness which had resulted in Jake being
served a beer he had not ordered.
Under normal circumstances, Jake Sisko ate at least once an hour
if he could manage it. Tonight, he had eaten his way around the City
Park so when he had stopped at yet another mobbed street-side kiosk to
get them a drink and “something salty,” Salene had waited patiently.
A full eleven minutes later, Jake had returned with a bag of wilted-
looking fried food and two cups of very dark liquid. “It’s beer!” he
had called over the crowd noise. “Real beer–not rootbeer or even
synthehol.” He had held one out to Salene.
Salene had stared at it. “I did not request this.”
“Neither did I! The guy just gave it to me–mistook me for
somebody else, I think. They’re so swamped, I didn’t want to say
anything. Besides”–he had grinned and led the way to a rare empty
spot on a park bench–“who am I to turn down free beer?” Then he had
taken a sip, only to spit it out all over the grass. “This is awful!”
Sitting down, Salene had sniffed the cup Jake had left him.
“Stout.”
Eying Salene suspiciously, Jake had asked, “How would you know?”
“Given the color, consistency…and the odor…it is a logical
deduction.”
“Chief O’Brien swears by this stuff.” Jake had taken a second
sip, then a third. “Y’know, when I’m ready for it, it’s not so bad.
A little strong–well, a *lot* strong–but not so bad.”
In the end, he had drunk his cup and Salene’s too; Salene had
honestly not thought to stop him. Then he had gone off to find more.
“I want to try something else!”
He had tried at least four something-elses and had ended up
leaning on Salene all the way down to the boardwalk by the lake where
the firework display was set for midnight. Salene emphatically *did
not* understand how humans could enjoy the experience of alcoholic
inebriation.
They had found a spot in the shadow of a closed boardwalk stall,
the stall front providing something to lean against. Sagging down on
the pine boards, Jake had declared–loudly–“I feel so weird!”
“You are so drunk, that is not surprising,” Salene had replied.
Jake had laughed and leaned companionably into Salene, who had tried
to move away. “Perhaps we should not– And in public–”
“Your hair’s down,” Jake had said, words slurred. “No one can
see your ears. They won’t know you’re a Vulcan.”
But it was not the reactions of others which Salene feared.
They had studiously avoided touching since that awful, wonderful
encounter two nights ago. Despite their intimacies and confessions–
or really, because of them–a profound uncertainty had slammed down
between them since, leaving them scarcely able to look one another in
the face if they were alone. It had been a relief to use the burst of
preparation for this reopening festival in order to avoid one another.
Busy all day yesterday, they had fallen into sleep immediately last
night and, this morning, had been waked early to finish what had not
been finished the day before. Through it all, they had kept their
distance–until tonight. Until now.
Now Jake was leaning against Salene’s shoulder to watch the
fireworks and Salene was experiencing a completely different sort of
fireworks inside his body. They went off in regular bursts low in his
chest, radiating out to the ends of his toes and tips of his fingers.
Shifting a little, he slipped an arm around Jake’s waist and pulled
the warm body closer against the chill air of late October.
No–be honest, he told himself. It was not chill air that drove
him, it was the extraordinary rush of touching Jake. He was not the
least bit cold. Jake’s Peter Pan must have spilled fairy dust on him.
He was flying.
“Where is this ‘Never-Neverland’?” he whispered in Jake’s ear.
Maybe they could go there and escape the expectations heaped on him,
the training which said that what he felt–yes *felt*–was wrong
because it was illogical. His brother’s words on the comm this
morning had been a cold, blunt reminder of reality. “Where is Never-
Neverland?” he asked again.
Jake gestured vaguely at the sky, lit now by another explosion in
green and blue. “Out there. Second star to the right and straight on
till morning.”
Poetic metaphor no doubt. Jake was gesturing at Sirius and
Salene sincerely doubted that Never-Neverland could be found orbiting
Sirius. “What is Never-Neverland like?”
“It’s magic. Peter Pan didn’t have to grow up as long as he
lived there.” He sounded half-asleep. “I’ll tell you the story
tomorrow.” And shifting closer, he dropped his head on Salene’s
shoulder, settling down in the blanketing shadow and the cozy
anonymity of an indifferent crowd.
Salene stroked Jake’s side and told himself, You are quite mad:
mad for permitting it to get this far, and mad for entertaining any
hope that it might continue. What place in the universe was there for
them?
Never-Neverland, indeed. He watched the fireworks and dreamed of
impossibilities.

Someone was nudging him and saying his name. Jake came up out of
dreams enough to mutter something and curl closer to his improvised
pillow…except that it was his pillow which nudged him. “It is time
to go, Jake. The fireworks are over. You slept through them.”
He let himself be roused and, sleepy and still drunk, rubbed at
his eyes, tried to focus on the figure beside him. The mountain was
moving. He looked up and up.
“Come.”
Snorting, he set his hands one to either side and heaved himself
to his feet, wobbled. Strong hands steadied him. “Lean on me.” He
did as the voice commanded.
They were half-way back before the night air woke him further and
cleared his head moderately. Salene still had him, one arm around his
waist, his arm over Salene’s shoulders. Irritated, he pulled away.
“I can walk under my own steam!”
Salene’s voice was stiff. “As you wish.”
Jake breathed out. “Sorry, I–”
But Salene had turned away, headed back for the restaurant. Jake
knew he couldn’t return home in his current state. His grandfather
would kill him. He took a few hurried steps after Salene, set a hand
on his friend’s shoulder. “Slow down.”
“I am fatigued,” Salene said, not quite turning. “A rapid return
seems in order, so that I may all the sooner sleep.”
It wasn’t even a convincing front. “I know you were just trying
to help,” he said. “Sorry I snapped. I just…feel kind of dumb. I
didn’t plan to get drunk.”
“Six glasses in two-point-eight hours would seem to argue to the
contrary,” Salene said.
So. Forgiveness would not come that easily. “What’s wrong?”
Jake asked.
“*Nothing* is ‘wrong.'”
“If nothing were wrong, you wouldn’t be so emphatic about it.”
Salene spun around to glare. It put Jake off a little. Those
Gypsy magician eyes could frighten or hypnotize. But it wasn’t a
violent face, just a sad one: moody, distant, sometimes dreamy,
sometimes sullen…all the things the Vulcan in him would deny to the
end of his days.
Jake grabbed his wrist and pulled him under one of the new
lattice-roofed park arboretums. Honeysuckle vines had been twisted
artfully above, the work of gardeners, not nature. It was dark
beneath and heavy with scent. Outside, the crowds passed by, headed
home for the night. Pulling them further inside, away from prying
eyes, he finally turned to face Salene, started to speak. But there
was nothing to say. It wasn’t words that had caused them problems.
It was what they didn’t want to talk about.
He leaned in for a kiss but unable to see in the shadows, missed
Salene’s lips and hit his chin instead. Abruptly, he was being shoved
back to a wooden arbor strut, one of Salene’s long hands over his
mouth, another against his chest, holding him still. He said nothing
because he couldn’t; Salene just said nothing. They breathed. After
a moment, Jake felt Salene’s hands release him. He didn’t move.
Salene’s fingers touched his cheek, his lips, brushed a thumb over
them, then drew the thumb down over the chin and along the jaw and
throat to rest gently against Jake’s adam’s apple. Jake swallowed,
let his own hands go out to grip either side of Salene’s waist, pull
him closer. Hip to hip. One thing about being drunk–it made him
brazen. And horny. Leaning forward, he bit at Salene’s lips. The
hand came up again to cover his mouth. He bit the fingers, gently
enough, but Salene sucked in breath. At first, Jake took it for
arousal but after a second, he realized Salene was in pain and let go,
took the hand in his and raised it up until he could see it in a shaft
of gas lantern light.
It was bruised, tattooed in a neat pattern of teeth-marks. “I
didn’t do that!” It was half protest, half fear.
“No, you did not,” came the reply. “I did.” Salene reclaimed
his hand, turned away.
Silence.
Finally, Jake said, “Why’d you bite yourself?”
There was no reply. Jake stepped up behind him, slid arms around
his middle and pressed up against him from behind. “Tell me.” Salene
shook his head; Jake could feel strands of loose hair tickle his
cheek. He was no longer feeling so drunk, just tired and worried and
defeated. “Then if you won’t tell me why, at least tell me when.”
“Two nights ago.”
“Two *nights* ago? You’ve been hiding it that long? What is
this–some kind of bizarre Vulcan penitence?”
Salene shoved him back and away so hard, Jake stumbled, kept from
falling only by luck.
“Do not mock me!”
“Sorry. And I wasn’t. I just…don’t understand.”
“Why do you assume that I do?” Salene spun and stalked away,
threw back over his shoulder, “I do not understand any of this!”
Jake had to run to catch him up, back in the street. “Look,
let’s go somewhere–”
Salene ignored him.
“Come on, Salene!”
Salene still ignored him. Jake was reduced to following at his
heels all the way back to the restaurant, but Salene froze about fifty
feet from the entrance. He was shaking, Jake noticed.
As bizarre as this feels to you, he told himself, think how it
feels to him. He’s not even used to feeling at all!
But Jake wasn’t sure he believed that. Salene felt, he just
wasn’t used to *admitting* that he did. Two nights ago, he had
admitted it. “Come on,” Jake said. “Let’s go upstairs and talk.
Nothing else. Just talk.”
“I do not see the point. We have already ‘talked’.”
“Yeah, and we need to talk again, don’t we?”
“About what?”
“About us.”
“‘Us’, Jake?”
“Yeah–*us*. Don’t pretend there’s not an ‘us.’ There’s an us
or you wouldn’t be here in the first place.” He didn’t want to have
this conversation any more than Salene did, wanted to just let it all
happen and then he wouldn’t have to take responsibility for it. But
that wouldn’t work. In the end, he’d still have to face what had
happened between them and he might lose Salene if they didn’t decide
at the outset where this was going. This couldn’t be a fling. Salene
was a Vulcan and Vulcans didn’t have flings. Nor, Jake realized, did
he want it to be a fling, either. He’d never given much thought to a
long-term relationship–he was too young–but he had the sudden,
overwhelming sense that this was *it*. Salene was it. Youthful
romantic theatrics, perhaps, but he still felt it: down in his solar
plexus and deeper than thought.
This is crazy, one part of him said. That didn’t change his
certainty any. “Come upstairs with me,” he said, held out a hand.
There were a lot of layers in that simple question.
Salene looked at the hand, then up to his face. Warm fingers met
Jake’s. “All right.” It was acquiescence.
The restaurant was closing; it was one in the morning. His
grandfather was still up. Jake’s father always said that he had
gotten his night-owl genes from his mother and grandfather. “There
you two are!” Joseph Sisko called, waving them over. Jake approached,
Salene a silent presence behind him. “You’ve got a visitor,” his
grandfather said, nodding out towards the back of the restaurant where
Nog sat at his usual table.
Jake wanted to curse in frustration, felt Salene’s hand close
gently on his elbow. “I’ll be upstairs,” Salene said. Turning, Jake
looked back at him, tried to read his mood. “I’ll wait.” There was
no expression on that Vulcan face, but the black eyes were calm. He
no longer looked ready to bolt.
“Okay,” Jake said. Salene moved away and Jake turned back to his
grandfather, who had watched their exchange with wise eyes. Abruptly,
Jake realized that his grandfather knew. Blind terror seized him.
“It’s not–”
“Jake, go see Nog. We’ll talk about this later.”
“But–!”
“Jake. Nog has been waiting for two hours.” His grandfather
caught and held his gaze. “I’m not angry,” he added, then returned to
oversee cleanup.
A little stunned, Jake walked out to Nog’s table. He spent the
next hour listening to Nog’s chatter and thinking hard about Salene
and his grandfather and how his life was suddenly changing faster than
he could keep up with.
Nog had been to New Orleans since the storm, of course, though
the restaurant had been closed and there were no tube grubs to be had.
Jake half-thought Nog was keeping an eye on Salene, as if he did not
trust him–though the idea of a Ferengi not trusting a Vulcan was
ludicrous. Now, Nog broke off in mid-sentence to ask, “What’s up with
you? You haven’t heard a word I’ve said.”
Jake swung attention back to his friend and took a sip from a cup
of nearly-cold coffee. He hated coffee but needed it tonight to clear
his head. “I’m just distracted,” he said.
“Yeah, I noticed. And the distraction has pointed ears.”
Nog, too? Jake’s eyes flashed up. But no, it was just Nog’s
usual jealousy of Salene.
And oh, what was he going to do about Nog? How would the Ferengi
take it when he found out about Jake and Salene? Jake realized that
he’d never heard of a same-sex Ferengi couple either, but he knew
Quark had a whole selection of holodeck sex programs for “alternate
interests,” as he called them. Jake and Nog had snuck a look through
the index, some years ago now. It had been quite educational. But
the same-sex programs hadn’t been in the “alternate” category; they’d
been in with the usual programs. Maybe that said something about
Ferengi attitudes or maybe it just said something about Ferengi
business sense when it came to humanoid customers.
“What *is* it?” Nog hissed, leaning over the table. “He insult
you or something? I told you Vulcans don’t have friends; they’re too
arrogant to think they need them.”
“It’s not that,” Jake said, took a breath. Should he tell or
not? “We’re just…having some problems.”
Snorting, Nog sat back and took a sip of his rootbeer. “You make
it sounds like you’re a couple or something.”
“What would be wrong with that?”
It was out before Jake could bite it back.
Nog’s eyes got very wide. He set down the rootbeer. “What? But
you– I mean, we’ve– What about the *females*, Jake?”
Jake shrugged. “I still like girls. Salene’s…an exception.”
“That’s an understatement! Any man who *chooses* to make himself
like a female…!”
Nog’s reply shocked Jake into several seconds of silence. They
had never settled the gender thing, just tacitly agreed not to discuss
it. Nog had accepted human women in command by deciding that Ferengi
women were just not the same: “Naturally inferior. It’s a simple
matter of biology.” Of course, human men had said that about human
women five hundred years ago, too, but it was easier for Nog to decide
that human women were different than to re-evaluate his opinion of
Ferengi women. And he retained enough typical Ferengi male chauvinism
to set Jake’s teeth on edge.
But is it really all that different from human male chauvinism?,
Jake asked himself. The human version was just better hid, only
showing itself when confronted by the unexpected…like Salene.
“Salene isn’t a woman,” Jake said now. “He’s a eunuch, and
unique.” Okay, so it was a stupid play on words, but it fit.
Unfortunately, the pun didn’t carry through the universal translator.
“Unique, maybe; weird for sure.” Then Nog shrugged. “But if you
want to waste your time chasing a Vulcan–and a *castrated* Vulcan, at
that–it’s your business. You’ll get tired of him fast enough; gossip
around the Academy says they only have sex once every seven years.”
Startled, Jake sat up straight. “What?”
Nog seemed pleased to know something Jake didn’t, and leaned over
the table again in the habitual manner of all Ferengi confidences.
“It’s called pon farr–hits them once every seven years and then they
go crazier than a pair of sex-starved Klingons. But the rest of the
time….” He drew a finger across his throat in a silent gesture.
Jake frowned at the table top and thought about that. Could this
pon farr explain Salene’s inability to come two nights ago? But when
they’d talked downstairs after, Salene hadn’t said anything about any
pon farr, and he had admitted to desiring Jake. Jake had assumed the
problem lay in a lack of testosterone, not some peculiar seven-year
itch. Was Salene not telling him everything? How could they have a
relationship if Salene didn’t tell him everything?
Nog had slouched down on his side of the table, confident that he
had finally hit on something important enough to make Jake reconsider
a relationship that Nog clearly thought a bad idea. Jake wasn’t sure
if he was more irritated with Nog, or with Salene. He stood. “Look,
it’s late. I need to get to bed. And anyway, there isn’t anything
between Salene and me, really.”
“Then why’d you imply there was?” Nog demanded.
“I just…didn’t like the assumption that there’d be something
wrong if there had been.”
Nog eyed him suspiciously. “Whatever.” He stood up. “I’ll talk
to you later.”
After Nog had left, Jake passed through the kitchen headed for
the second floor. He half-expected to find his grandfather still in
the kitchen, but found only Tad, running the last dishes into the
cleaning units. “JoePa went to bed half an hour ago,” Tad said when
Jake asked. Relieved to escape *that* conversation tonight, Jake took
the stairs two at a time.
When he reached the room, the lights were out. Salene was in
bed, apparently asleep. So much for waiting. But then, Salene had
said earlier that he was tired and while that might have been half
diversion, Vulcans didn’t like to lie outright so it had also probably
been true.
Jake went to the bathroom to ready himself for bed, came back but
didn’t climb under the covers. He sat in the corner chair. The chair
springs squeaked and the shape on the bed moved, made a noise of
waking. “Jake?”
“Yeah, it’s me. I didn’t mean to wake you.” He tried to keep
the accusation out of it: You promised to wait for me.
Sheets rustled as Salene sat up. “I was napping until you
returned.” A pause. “Come to bed.”
And just what kind of invitation was *that*? Rising, Jake went
forward, felt for Salene and found his arm, his hand. Salene drew him
down under the flung back sheets, pulled him close. Jake got a shock;
Salene was completely nude under the covers. Surprised or not, Jake’s
body still reacted, quick as a blush. He tried to shift away; Salene
didn’t let him. “I thought we were just going to talk?” Jake asked.
Salene’s hand came up to cover Jake’s mouth, like earlier that
night in the garden arbor. “I do not wish to talk,” Salene whispered.
“Humans talk entirely too much sometimes.” He rolled Jake over, put
himself on top, a dark shadow against the light from the window. His
skin was…incredibly warm. And soft. And Jake was starting not to
care about talking after all.
But this was all out of character. Jake had been the one to
drink six beers, not Salene. He spoke between the fingers over his
mouth. “I’m not sure this is a good idea. I think you still have
some things to tell me–like about pon farr.”
Salene’s mood altered abruptly, as if he had been acting. Maybe
he had been. Jake was starting to wonder just how well he knew his
friend. Rolling off Jake, Salene lay flat on his back, one hand
languid on his chest. “Where did you hear of it? Or no, permit me to
speculate. It was the Ferengi. They will sell any information for a
price. Did you hire him to investigate me, or Vulcans generally?”
“*What*?” Furious, Jake scrambled out of bed, almost tripped on
the bedsheets. “Lay off Nog, Salene. Lay off me, too. I didn’t go
behind your back and he didn’t sell me anything. He told me. Which
is more than you’ve done.”
Salene sighed in the dark, but it did not sound repentant. “Pon
farr is a topic of…much shame…to my people. As it has no impact
on me, there is no reason for you to know.”
Jake waved an arm. “Maybe just for *honesty*-sake? Nog said
Vulcans only have sex when they’re in pon farr.”
“Nog does not know what he is talking about and would do better
to be silent! Very well, then. You would know? I will tell you.
Pon farr is the Vulcan mating cycle. Men suffer it every seventh year
of their adult lives. They must mate, or die. It is not considered
a pleasant experience. As I will never be an adult male, it will not
affect me. End of lesson.”
Mate or die? Jake hid his shock behind his anger. “You’re in a
mood tonight! Is this your way of punishing me for talking to Nog
instead of coming upstairs with you?”
“No.”
“Yeah, right.”
Salene snorted delicately. “If you had already made up your mind
regarding my motivations, why ask me at all?”
Jake collapsed onto the side of the bed, back to Salene, and
stared out into the room’s dark. “What are we doing?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“What are we doing, fighting like this? I mean, this is crazy.
We were supposed to have a conversation, not a war.” There was no
answer behind him. “I know this isn’t easy for you. It’s not easy
for me, either. I don’t know what happens next any more than you do,
but we managed to talk two nights ago without snarling at each other.
Can’t we do it again?”
He felt a hand, light on his back, gentle. “Please,” Salene
whispered. “I do not think that I am ready to…talk. Yet. Please.”
It was almost pleading and Jake realized that he had never in the now
nine months of their friendship heard Salene plead for anything. Ask,
needle, rebuke, inform, tease even…but never plead. He turned a
little to look down at his friend. White moonlight from the window
painted Salene’s face, cast shadows in his eyes and the hollows under
cheekbones. “Please,” Salene said again.
Jake gave in, slipped back under the covers.

IX.

Fey. That was the Terran term for what he was feeling: fey.
Unreality had settled over Salene, the kind that came when nothing one
did would matter, so one may as well risk all. He had known since
talking to his brother that morning that either way he chose tonight,
he would lose something precious to him. T’kari Seltor had been wrong;
he could not have both music and companionship.
Jake slid in beside him under the covers. So innocent. Jake may
have lived through Ajilon Prime, but he was still an innocent who
believed in Never-Neverland and *almost*…. The force of his belief
was almost enough for Salene to believe in it, too. For a few minutes
out in the street, Jake had made Salene believe. But in the end,
Salene knew better. There was no Never-Neverland to be found around
Sirius or anywhere else in the galaxy.
Nervous–Salene could feel it–Jake brought up his hands, folded
together, between their chests. “I, ah, don’t really know what to do
next. I mean–”
Salene pressed a hand over Jake’s mouth again, as before. *Why*
did Jake insist on talking? Speech required thought and Salene did
not want to think. If he let himself think, he could not do this.
“Lie still.”
Jake obeyed. Salene rolled him onto his back, threw off the
covers and straddled his thighs, let fingers memorize the cross-hatch
of lean young muscles in shoulder and chest and abdomen, let his psi-
sense unfold as if inching under Jake’s skin. No thought. Just
touch. The raw data of physical sensation. Jake had half-closed his
eyes, but watched Salene from under the lids. There was a freckle on
the right lid. Leaning over until his hair fell around them both,
Salene pressed his lips to the freckled eyelid, then to the other.
Jake made some noise, gave up on trying to be passive and reached for
Salene, pulled him down so their whole bodies touched bare except for
that rough white interruption of cloth about Jake’s hips. Salene
peeled it down and away; Jake helped. It ended in a hump under the
sheets at the foot of the bed. Then he reached for Jake’s hand.
Jake misunderstood the gesture, took it for an invitation and
gripped Salene’s penis firmly, began pumping it. That made them both
jump, Salene because he was not ready to be touched there yet and Jake
because he had not expected to find Salene still half-flaccid. Jake
certainly was not. “Wha–?” he said.
“It is not so easy for me,” Salene whispered. “Be patient. And
be silent.”
Jake opened his mouth–probably to agree–but Salene pressed the
back edge of his hand between Jake’s teeth. It was not his bruised
hand. Jake bit down: lightly, lightly. Enough to make Salene shiver
and part his own lips, enough to repair the damage Jake’s over-
eagerness had wrought. Slowly, he pulled his hand away, placed it on
the side of Jake’s face. He needed to touch inside, not just on the
flesh. It was an eagerness different from Jake’s physical wants. He
held himself in check and waited for Jake’s permission; Jake swallowed
and nodded. With a little sigh, Salene closed his eyes and slid
inside Jake’s mind.
It was not, precisely, a mindmeld. There was no exchange of
memories, no sharing of thought; it was mental nakedness to match the
physical intimacy their bodies knew. Salene came fully erect.
Feeling Jake’s surprise, he sent, *Mental touch is necessary for us.
This touch first; the rest after. Vulcans are not humans.*
He opened his eyes. Jake was running hands through his hair.
“Can I kiss you now?” In answer, Salene bent down to set his lips on
Jake’s. It was…terrifying. His heart snapped like a banner in his
side and wings unfurled in his chest, tickled him and made him gasp.
Jake kissed him harder. It was not that either of them knew what he
was doing, but the sheer electric excitement of this familiarity made
up for any lack of skill. They explored one another’s mouths. Even a
week ago, had he been told that he would so want to put his tongue in
Jake Sisko’s mouth, he would have believed the one who said so quite
insane. It was all too unhygienic and disgusting. Now, that most
unhygienic of acts thrilled him. Finally he pulled back and a trail
of spit strung out between their faces. Jake laughed, swiped at it.
“You ready to try something else?” he asked.
*You really cannot seem to avoid talking, can you?*
“Sorry. I guess it’s a human thing.”
“No,” Salene spoke aloud, “I suspect it is a ‘Jake thing’.”
“All right then, I’ll try to be quiet.”
“Complete vocal silence is not necessary, but a cessation of
these attempts to carry on a conversation would be appreciated.”
Salene was suddenly being flipped over to put Jake on top. Taken
by surprise, he blinked at the ceiling and Jake whispered, “Leverage,”
as if to answer an unspoken question. Then he held up a finger. “I
just said one word.”
“Six, now: five to excuse one. ”
Jake tilted his head. “Why does talking bother you so much?”
Frustrated and rapidly losing both his arousal and his sense of
wildness, Salene said, “I do not want to think! I cannot– Thinking
gets in the way!”
Jake glanced down between them, as if to see for himself; then, a
bit shamefaced, admitted, “If I *don’t* think–at least a little–I’ll
come too fast and leave you behind. Like last time.”
“I did not ask you to wait for me.”
“But I want to wait.” Jake was running a hand lightly up and
down Salene’s chest: stomach to collarbone and back to stomach, lower
to the pelvic indention. Scooting down Salene’s thighs, he moved the
hand in to slide a forefinger over Salene’s penis, flaccid again. The
touch sent heat and cold through Salene’s bones, made him shudder and
swell; Jake’s lips parted and his own penis jumped in response. The
mental link was still present and Salene could sense Jake’s wonder, a
pure delight at his ability to give pleasure. His hand closed around
Salene. Salene let his eyes drift shut and for a few minutes did
nothing but rock into Jake’s hand. He could float like this forever
if Jake would let him. But Jake’s impatience was already beginning to
show, just as the other night. He was pushing the pace, rubbing
harder, trying to propel Salene towards a release Salene could not
experience. Frustrated yet again, Salene breathed out in a gust and
said, “Stop it! I cannot climax. Stop trying to beat it out of me!”
“How do you know you can’t? I’d like to be able to give you
that; if I’m going too fast, I’ll slow down. I don’t mind. Really.”
And his hand returned to the same slow pull it had used in the first
place. Salene closed his eyes once more but was too self-conscious to
relax. All he could do was imagine how absurd this must look, and how
foolish he had been to engage in such an illogical, emotion-ridden
activity in the first place. What did he think he was doing?

It did not require much deductive reasoning on Jake’s part to
realize a fly had landed in the ointment somewhere. Salene’s face was
tense, his lips tight–and not in pleasure. He had that I’m-ready-to-
bolt expression again. Jake slid sideways off of him, one hand still
cradling the limp cock. “Tell me what you want me to do.” Maybe–as
with the mindtouch–Vulcans required something else. They weren’t
human. The color of the cock in Jake’s hand said that much: it was
bronzy-green. Since Vulcan lips were red, Jake had just assumed their
cocks would be, too. So much for assumptions. Otherwise, it wasn’t
hugely different: shorter but thicker, the head more elongated and
without a rim that clearly separated it from the shaft. The oddest
part was the foreskin which covered the whole thing like some kind of
sheath. At least it pulled back like a human’s when Salene got hard.
But just because he was equipped basically the same didn’t mean that
equipment reacted the same. “Tell me what you want,” Jake said again.
“I don’t *know*,” Salene admitted, as if the words themselves
hurt coming out. He spread a palm over Jake’s chest, brushed the
thumb back and forth over one of Jake’s nipples. It was direct
current to Jake’s cock–but irritating at the moment.
Gripping Salene’s wrist, he said, “Don’t. That’s distracting. I
want to concentrate on you.” If he concentrated on Salene, he could
keep his mind off himself and last longer.
Salene’s gaze had flicked back up to his face. The shadow of
humor hid in his eyes. “And I would prefer to concentrate on you.”
Jake laughed for them both, ran a hand up one of Salene’s arms to
cup the curve of shoulder. The castrato was surprisingly well-built–
better built than Jake, in fact. Jake kept having to remind himself
that Salene was neither boy nor woman; he was a man. Jake’s confusion
stemmed from the eerie androgyny of the face. Were Salene made up for
the stage like the old opera stars, he could easily pass as a woman.
Maybe it was his androgyny which allowed Jake to be attracted to him
in the first place. He had that sharp beauty which photographed well
and made teenaged girls sigh. A gypsy prince: all planes and hollows
and black eyes. And that extraordinary hair. He would keep a boy’s
thick hair all his life. Jake rubbed a lock of it between thumb and
forefinger. Salene ran his own hand over Jake’s hair. “It is
pleasant. Springy.”
“How come it’s okay to talk if you start it, but not if I do?”
This time Salene did smile: a small Mona Lisa smile, as if he had
some private secret. “I have decided to wave a white flag on the
subject of your chatter.”
Jake was relieved. Talking allowed him to keep from leaping out
and running away. When he shut up, it reminded him that he was lying
naked in bed with a guy and the improbability of that struck him hard.
It would take some getting used to, but for Salene, he was willing to
get used to it. He just hoped the rest of his family would. His
grandfather really hadn’t sounded angry, but his grandfather was not
his father. And if Salene wasn’t Marta seven years his senior either,
in some ways, that was probably worse. Jake couldn’t see his father
taking to the idea of Jake serious yet about anybody–even a Vulcan.
“This is serious, isn’t it?” he asked, frowning slightly. Salene
raised an eyebrow in unspoken question. “This relationship, I mean.
It’s serious.” He wanted Salene to tell him that he wasn’t the only
one who felt as if he was jumping in over his head, and that it was
okay. Someone would be there to catch him.
But Salene said nothing, just tugged down Jake’s head to kiss.
Jake supposed that would have to serve as an answer. To be fair, it
was an answer. Vulcans didn’t crawl into bed at the drop of a hat.
For every doubt Jake had, Salene must have twice as many–three times
as many–yet he’d risked it. Jake fought against expectations which
rose only from his age and gender. Salene fought against them for
having sex at all, for feeling passion at all. And he certainly felt
passion; it was in his kiss, in the hand which had tightened on the
nape of Jake’s neck. Jake was starting to understand all those old
Vulcan epic poems about blood feuds and death pacts and bloody battles
stirred up by Vulcan passion. The war over Helen of Troy was nothing
compared to Vulcan history.
Intermission was over. Salene’s mind sent invisible tendrils out
to re-establish the connection with Jake, and his erection hardened
against Jake’s thigh. Jake shifted until their cocks lay side-by-
side, pressed together between their bodies. Then he thrust forward.
Salene’s eyes snapped open, caught and held Jake’s. They began to
move against each other: a gentle undulation–all the while holding
eye contact. It was as if Salene did not want to let Jake forget who
he was making love to.
For all Jake’s protestations about wanting to wait on Salene, he
came fast. He had little experience in holding back and no outlet
besides his own hand. The excitement of simply being with another
person was enough to send him racing right over the edge inside two
minutes, leaving Salene far behind. “Sorry,” he whispered when the
spasms were done with him. “I didn’t mean to do that.”
“Shhh,” Salene replied, rubbing his back. “It pleases me to
please you.”
“That sounds so *noble*,” Jake snarled, rolling away carefully to
avoid getting the sheet wet. Grabbing his dirty underwear, he wiped
himself off, then cleaned Salene, too–almost roughly.
Salene sighed. “Did it never occur to you that giving me an
orgasm may be more your concern than mine?” Surprised, Jake stopped
and looked up. Salene brushed his cheek. “I wish to touch you, be
touched by you: that is enough for me. I also take enjoyment from
knowing that my body gives yours pleasure.”
Jake snorted and threw the underwear into a corner. If Salene
had ever *had* an orgasm, Jake doubted he’d be so complacent about not
having one…
…which, in turn, brought Jake up against yet another previously
unrecognized assumption that he’d held about Salene. Yes, Salene was
a man. But in Jake’s concern not to effeminize him, he’d gone too far
the other way and overcompensated: inside-out male chauvinism. Salene
was a eunuch and unique; it was more than just a play on words. His
lover was different and Jake had lost sight of that. They would have
to discover together what it meant. Did Jake *need* to make Salene
come in order to feel like a real man? Could he be man enough to let
Salene be Salene?
Propping himself on an elbow, Jake whispered, “I don’t mean to
make you feel inadequate. I just don’t want to run off and leave you
…like I don’t care if you enjoy it. But maybe I’m just imposing my
wants on you. If you’ll tell me–or show me, if you can’t tell–what
would feel good, I’d like to make you feel good. Whatever that is for
you. Teach me.”
For a minute, Salene simply studied Jake’s face, then he said,
“What I want most is to be held.”
That’s it?, Jake started to ask, then stopped himself. It was
patronizing on his part to assume that Salene didn’t know what he
wanted, so he scooted down and opened his arms, let Salene settle
against him, head on Jake’s shoulder. Absently, Jake stroked his back
and for a long time, nothing else. He was subliminally aware of the
telepathic connection; he breathed in time with Salene and, both tired
and sated, dozed a bit too. Only gradually did he become aware that
Salene was stroking him with more deliberation. He was young; his
body responded without much coaxing. In fact, his body responded
before he quite woke up. Sleepy still and with immediate appetites
already met, Jake no longer felt as if he teetered on the edge of
coming. He let Salene explore him as he explored Salene and in that
relaxed ambiance of mutual investigation, was even permitted to touch
Salene’s scrotal sack without making the castrato flinch. Gently, he
manipulated the prostheses inside it, unable to tell they weren’t
real. “Does this feel good?” he whispered.
*To be honest,* Salene said through their link, *the sensation is
somewhat…odd. Does touching me there satisfy your curiosity?*
Embarrassed, Jake let him go.
*No,* Salene sent. *That was a question; not a rebuke. You may
keep touching me it you want.*
Shyly, Jake put his hand back. The sack was soft and hairless–
Salene had little pubic hair–and the weight was pleasant in his palm.
He moved his hand back to the erect cock itself, slid a finger under
the retracted wrinkle of foreskin around the base. Salene made an odd
noise. Mouth open, his head was thrown back against the pillow,
sweat-damp black hair spread out all around. Jake raised up over him,
kissed that open mouth even while continuing to tease the base of
Salene’s cock. “This feels better, I guess?”
Salene didn’t bother to reply. Grinning, Jake ducked his head,
ran his tongue over Salene’s throat, neck, up to the ear, then bit the
lobe. Boy, *that* got a response: Salene jerked under him. He ran
his mouth over Salene’s torso, licked him from elbow to armpit to
nipple to the shallow navel and S-curve of his pelvic bone. Salene
made no more noises, but both his hands gripped Jake’s skull. Jake
was very aware of the erection beside his left ear. Part of him
wanted to move his mouth sideways, kiss him there, too. Part of him
was appalled by the idea. Put his *mouth* on it?
Instead he licked his way down the outside and up the inside of
Salene’s right thigh. Salene twisted and hissed in. Excited by the
sound, Jake moved his face up so that he could sense the heat of
Salene’s erection an inch from his lips–but he kept his eyes closed.
Taking it in his mouth was easier to contemplate if he didn’t look at
it. Salene must have felt his breath; the grip on his head tightened.
A warning? A request? Did Vulcans engage in oral sex or would Salene
be disgusted if Jake tried it? Salene had to know, had to guess what
was in Jake’s mind–and he wasn’t shoving Jake away. Opening his lips
a little, Jake pressed the tip of his tongue to the base of Salene’s
stiff cock, just above the foreskin sheath. Salene sucked in breath,
fingers tightening again on Jake’s scalp. Jake slid his mouth along
the big vein on the underside, flicked the edge of the head with his
tongue. Salene shuddered, which in turn excited Jake even more. This
wasn’t off-putting at all; the thin skin was incredibly soft, like
licking silk, the smell mild, and there was no taste but the light
salt of Vulcan sweat, less salty than human, in fact. Best of all, he
could feel–ever so faint–Salene’s pulse flutter against his lips,
the fast pound of a Vulcan heart.
Suddenly and quite clearly, Salene’s feelings slammed into Jake’s
mind: profound gratitude to be kissed all over, accepted all over–
even there where he felt most ugly and self-conscious. Buoyed by
Salene’s gratitude and full of almost painful tenderness for the shy
vulnerability, Jake opened his lips to take in the head. “Careful of
your teeth,” Salene whispered, alto-bell voice breathy. Jake moved
down on it until the head struck the rear roof of his mouth, then back
up.
Salene said something then in Vulcan. Jake had forgotten that
Salene actually *spoke* Standard, didn’t need a universal translator.
“Hlyobav-sye. Hlyobav-sye, Iakhov.” Jake’s name: Iakhov. Jacob. He
also knew–grace of the mindtouch–what the words meant. I love you.
Forbidden sentiment dragged out of him in a fit of raw lust. But Jake
trusted that explosive declaration more than if Salene had uttered the
words in cool logic.
He couldn’t take in Salene’s cock all the way; it made him gag.
He took what he could. The up-and-down movement hurt his neck. No
doubt reading Jake’s discomfort, Salene held Jake’s head still and
rocked into his mouth instead: carefully, so he didn’t choke him. At
some point, desperate with the need to increase his sensation, Jake
dropped his hand to his own cock and began pulling on it. Up and
down, up and down. Slip-slide up and down. His mouth around Salene;
insistent fingers on himself, thumb over the tip slit beaded with pre-
ejaculate. His saliva bubbled around Salene’s cock. Salene groaned,
hips moving in a rhythm like the sea. Jake could feel the touch of
Salene’s mind on his own. Building, rising, pushing up, up.
*Faster!*
It was an appeal, it was surrender. Mental fingers pried into
Jake and his hand on himself increased speed together with Salene’s
hips. He pumped himself, but it was as if Salene touched him, as if
Salene’s hand stroked his cock, moving them inexorably towards where
the world dropped off, the energy barrier at the edge of the universe.

Salene had long ago lost any sense of himself as a reasoning,
sentient being. He was sunk in the tidal warmth of erotic sensation,
spiraling up towards something on the wings of Jake’s excitement. The
engulfing pleasure of wet heat, of being *inside*, was overwhelming.
He was all body–just one engorged phallus. In-out, in-out. Hot.
Wet and hot. Straining pressure, like a coiled spring. In-out.
The explosion–a sympathetic backwash from Jake–caught him by
surprise. Having never experienced orgasm before, for a moment, he
thought he was dying. Sharp, sharp, piercing release. Climax speared
him at the base of non-existent testes and startled a cry out of him.
Involuntary muscles curled his toes and arched his back, clenched in
his loins to deliver a fluid that wasn’t there. Six shudders and the
exquisite feeling passed, leaving him spent almost beyond bearing.
After an eternity, he could breathe again, think again, feel Jake’s
cheek on his abdomen. He was back inside his skin.
“Wow,” Jake whispered. “Was that supposed to happen?”
“Was what supposed to happen?” Salene asked, surprised to find
his sinuses mildly congested. Apparently orgasm stimulated *all* the
mucus membranes.
“I mean…. That was…I don’t know–like feedback through a
speaker. Incredible.” Jake found something to wipe his hand on.
“And you came.”
“Indeed,” Salene replied. “It was the mindlink. I experienced
what you did.” He slid one hand under Jake’s armpit, hauled him
upward. Obediently, Jake moved, pressed his face into Salene’s neck,
draped his body over Salene’s torso. They said nothing.
As the blood rush faded, Salene became aware that he was cold
except where Jake blanketed him. “Pull up the cover,” he whispered.
Jake complied, then dozed off, a dead-weight on Salene’s left arm and
shoulder. Salene lay in the dark and stared at the ceiling, refusing
to sleep, hording each minute, a miser for experience. There would be
time for sleep later, time when he would welcome oblivion’s relief.
He bent to press his nose to Jake’s fuzzy crown, breathe the scent of
oil which Jake rubbed into his hair to keep it from matting. Salene
washed his hair to get rid of oil while Jake put oil in his. How odd
and precious, these small differences they had discovered between
them. Salene wished they had time to find more, but time was the one
thing they were out of.
He watched Earth’s silver moon sail toward setting outside the
window and consciously set aside thought. For a few hours, he simply
existed. Finally, it was time. He had shifted Jake off him a while
ago so that his rising would be less likely to wake his friend. Now,
he slid from bed with as little disturbance as possible. Jake moved
but did not wake. Picking up the clothing he had laid out for himself
earlier, he made his way in the dark to the restroom, dressed quickly
and stole back.
Jake had turned over. Salene could hear his light snore; he was
catching a cold and it made his breath heavy. Going to the bedside,
Salene knelt, reached up, touched two fingers to the smooth place
between Jake’s brows. It took him five seconds, then it was done and
nothing could break it but his own death–or Jake’s.
Body and soul. He belonged to Jake Sisko now, had defiantly
offered up what his culture forbid him to give. So he gave with one
hand and took away with the other, and did not expect forgiveness. It
would be easier if Jake could hate him. Jake would never know what he
carried inside; it was Salene’s secret gift.
Setting a small velslip on the pillow he had occupied, Salene
rose, took his bags and headed for the hall. One advantage of his
neatness over Jake’s characteristic scattery was that Jake had not
even noticed that Salene was packed.
As he passed the guest door that belonged to Jillian, the door
opened and she came stumbling out…right into him. It startled them
both. “Oh!” But she kept her voice down. “Sorry. I was headed for
the bathroom. Were you on the way there yourse–?” She stopped as it
struck her that he was dressed and carrying bags. “Oh,” she said
again.
Then she had him by one elbow–she who had been so careful never
to touch him before–and was propelling him down the stairs, through
the kitchen, out into the dining room. “What the *hell* are you
doing?” she snapped when they were well away from the stairs. “And
don’t come back at me with some damned Vulcan literalism like
‘Leaving.’ You know exactly what I mean!”
But in fact, Salene had no idea how else to answer. Nor did he
have time for this. His shuttle left in an hour; he had waited to
depart until almost the last possible minute. “I must go,” he said.
“What are you running away from?” But she barely paused before
answering her own question. “It’s Jake, isn’t it? You’re running
away from your feelings for Jake. And don’t bother denying that you
have feelings for him.”
He would not have tried, so he said nothing; there seemed to be
nothing to say. He made to move past her. She grabbed his arm. “You
son of a bitch! He *trusts* you and you’re going to just sneak out on
him in the middle of the night?”
“I have no choice,” he hissed. “Let me go.”
“You do have a choice! This is all very melodramatic, Salene.
You’ve studied one opera too many. Now you’re trying to sing Romeo
and Juliet. I suppose you left him some note about how you’ll love
him forever, but please don’t come after you because the fates just
didn’t mean it to be?”
Salene was angry–but he was also surprised. In fact, he *had*
left Jake a note which included variations on two of the three things
she had just listed. How could she have known? “What I wrote to him
is none of your business.”
“Oh yes it is, because *I’m* going to be the one still here to
face him in the morning, to sit with him when he cries. You won’t.
You want to deliver your last lines and flee the stage. How childish
and…histrionic!”
“Histrionics are precisely what I am trying to avoid!”
“No, *consequences* are what you’re trying to avoid. Grow up!
Life is full of consequences, whether or not you’re around to see
them. If you want to be taken for a man, then quit acting like a
cowardly little boy.”
“I am a coward–but not for the reasons you think. I did not say
I was without fault; I said I had no choice.” Opening the door, he
glanced back at her where she stood, illumined starkly in a shaft of
white magnesium light from a streetlamp. “Live long and prosper,
Jillian Idowu.”
Her jaw hardened; she turned her back on him. “Go to hell,
Salene.”

X.

Jake didn’t cry. Not that morning when he woke to find Salene
gone and not in the week that followed.
He wasn’t willing to let himself cry any more than he was willing
to read the velslip Salene had left. Crying would give release to his
anger and reading the velslip would give explanations. Jake wanted
neither. To be honest, he didn’t give a damn why Salene had left.
All that mattered was that he had.
Instinctively, he knew better than to try to find his friend.
His initial panic upon waking alone had lasted perhaps thirty seconds,
followed by a succession of realizations. With bitter clarity, he had
understood at last what had made Salene act so uncharacteristicly the
night before. It was easy to throw caution to the wind if one didn’t
intend to stick around to reap the results. He had also understood
that Salene’s departure was permanent and the Vulcan wouldn’t welcome
any attempt by Jake to contact him. Jake had spent a few critical
minutes in front of a comm screen, debating whether or not to call
Salene’s apartment on Vulcan and leave a message anyway. In the end,
he had not. He had no desire to push himself in where he wasn’t
wanted. It was clear that Salene didn’t want him.
Jillian knew something. She’d had breakfast waiting when Jake
had come downstairs–a single breakfast–and her expression had been
gentle. Almost, he’d asked her to tell him what she knew, but didn’t
for the same reasons he hadn’t read Salene’s note.
In the week that followed, Jillian and his grandfather walked
softly around him. Neither said anything about Salene; he said
nothing to them. It was almost as if Salene had never existed. Maybe
they were trying to spare him pain but he resented the silence. Of
course, he knew perfectly well that he would have resented their
intrusions, too.
Nog visited the restaurant only once more. He had final exams
for his first year coming up, and was busy. After those, he’d get a
brief leave before his second year practicum. “They’re going to send
me to DS9!” he crowed almost before he’d fully materialized. “I’ve
been assigned to the station for my practicum!” Then he was grabbing
Jake and pounding him on the back. “You said before that you were
thinking about moving out of your dad’s quarters. We could share an
apartment, and–”
Abruptly he stopped, as if only then noticing Jake’s dull
expression. “Aren’t you happy, Jake? We can be roommates!” He
stopped again and glanced around, aware now of something else.
“Where’s the pointed-eared songbird?”
Jake sat down in one of the spare chairs against a back wall.
“Salene had to go home. And yeah, of course I’m happy. I’ve just
been a little tired. I caught a cold; or maybe it’s allergies.”
Apparently the diversion was convincing enough as Nog asked
nothing further about Salene but spent his visit alternating between
panic over his finals and plans for rooming together. Jake nodded a
lot and later, couldn’t remember what he’d agreed to. No doubt Nog
would tell him again–probably four times, at least.
That last week of his vacation crawled by. He had been supposed
to visit his maternal grandparents in Pennsylvania before returning to
DS9, but just couldn’t. He wasn’t up to acting normal. At least with
his grandfather and Jillian, he didn’t have to. They gave him space
to put his life back together, learn to think singly again. He hadn’t
realized how much he’d begun in just a few days to rearrange plans for
the future to include Salene as a matter of course. Now, all that
collapsed on itself. Perhaps he should have seen it coming. What
would a Vulcan want with a crass, emotional human like him? He was
good only for a one-night stand–
Stop it!, he told himself. He was being stupid. It was *Salene*
who’d run away, abandoned Jake without any warning. Jake hadn’t done
anything wrong.
Had he?
In this way, his moods swung back and forth between anger and a
paralyzing insecurity. Worst of all, the nightmares of Ajilon Prime
which had sent him to Earth in the first place now returned. But they
were different. Instead of being victimized by memories of violence,
he victimized Salene. One nightmare in particular disturbed him: he
would be carrying yet another bodybag into the morgue where the ME was
tagging corpses. The ME would unzip the bodybag to reveal Salene’s
face. But what troubled Jake was not the horror of seeing that face
dead and white, but the vicious vindication it aroused in him. Did he
really want Salene dead? Apparently, part of him did. Hate wasn’t
the opposite of love, it was just the other side of the same coin.
Jake wished he could feel apathy.
When the week was out, he prepared to return to DS9. The morning
of his departure, while he was packing in his guestroom upstairs, his
grandfather appeared at the door, knocked on the wood. Jake jerked
around. “Grandpa?”
“Can I come in?”
“Of course!”
Joseph Sisko sat down on the end of the bed, lined hands folded
loosely between his knees. He studied Jake. Abruptly nervous, Jake
squirmed under the scrutiny.
“There will come a day, Jake, when you wake up and he’s not the
first thing you think of. Then a day will come when you realize
you’ve eaten breakfast and not thought of him yet. Then one day, most
of a morning will have gone by. Then a whole day. Then several days.
Time does heal, if you let it.”
Speeches. He wasn’t in the mood for speeches, even ones that
were well-meant. Arms crossed, he turned away, stalked to the window.
He could see a good part of the park from here. In the distance, the
ferris wheel spun round. Round and round, like his thoughts.
“I keep asking myself what I did wrong.”
“Maybe nothing. It’s hard enough to work out relationships
without adding the tension of two cultures. Vulcans are different
from us–not as much as they pretend, but they are different.” A
pause. “I think he tried, son. I watched. He did care for you.”
“How can you defend him? He didn’t even say goodbye!”
“I’m not defending him; I’m too old to have much patience with
that kind of overblown sense of tragedy. Life has enough of the real
variety to go around, without inventing more. I’m trying to reassure
you. It can be easy to think the other didn’t care, or didn’t hurt…
even to wonder if you meant anything to him at all. I’m telling you,
you did. I saw it. Maybe you meant too much.”
Jake shoved his hands in his pockets. “Maybe.”
Behind him, pantlegs rustled dry against each other and the
movement brought a waft of old man smell which, as a child, had meant
stories and treats and secret conspiracies against his parents. His
grandfather had used to put masking tape on the inside of the cookie
jar, so Jake could open it without his mother hearing. It was time
for another conspiracy. “Please don’t tell my father about this.”
There was a long pause, then his grandfather asked, “Is that your
pride talking, or your fear?”
“Both,” Jake admitted.
“You know, your father’s been standing where you are. Your
mother was hardly his first love. Ask him about Brenda Anderson some
time. Broken hearts are part of growing up, part of testing the
waters, finding out who’s right by finding out who’s wrong.”
Jake shook his head, almost violently, turned. “Grandpa, Salene
wasn’t a test. He was an accident.” His grandfather’s face went
blank in surprise. “A good accident,” Jake clarified. “The kind
you’re glad you made. I don’t know what you’ve been thinking about me
in the past week, but he’s the first guy I ever felt this way for.”
There he went again, trying to ‘defend’ himself like it was a cause
for shame. Impatient, he waved a hand. “I think I fell for him in
the first place because he *was* right. The right one. Just not in
the package I expected.”
His grandfather smiled at him: a bit fondly, a bit wistfully.
“You know, son, there’s more than one ‘right’ one.”
Jake turned back to the window. “Maybe. You never married
again.”
Rising, Joseph Sisko came over to squeeze his shoulder. “That’s
because I’m a cantankerous old geezer; you’re a bright, handsome,
talented young man. The ladies, or the gents, will be beating a path
to your door. From what your father tells me, he has to chase the
older women away from you as it is.”
Jake tried to smile but it died on his lips. His grandfather
squeezed his shoulder again. “Come on. We should get going.”
“You won’t say anything to Dad?”
His grandfather’s expression turned stern. “I wouldn’t have
anyway. That’s your place, not mine. You’re a grown up now, Jake.”

***

It was a long trip back. Most of it, he spent in bed, unable to
sleep. Was this what depression felt like? He was supposed to start
college courses this week–long-distance education–but he couldn’t
pull himself together enough to read the first chapter of his text,
much less answer the first set of questions. Nor could he concentrate
enough to write fiction. He lay on his transport bed and stared at
the wall, listening over and over to the set of music chips Jillian
had given him.
The blues. “There’s music for what ails you.” It was the only
thing she’d said to him about Salene. The second day after Salene had
left, she’d come upstairs to deposit a whole pile of chips on his
dresser: copies of most of her collection. Antarian blues. Betazed
blues. Even Bajoran blues. But it was old Earth blues he liked the
best, the gritty, growling-low voices so different from Salene’s bell-
pure soprano.

Didn’t I make you feel like you wanna own me?
Yeah, didn’t I give you nearly everything
that a man possibly can?
Honey, you know I did.
Each time that I tell myself that I,
well I think I’ve had enough;
Well I’m gonna show you, baby, that a man can be tough.

I want you to come on, come on, come on, come on–
Take it! Take another little piece of my heart, now baby.
Break it! Break another little bit of my heart, oh yeah, yeah.
Grab it! Grab another little piece of my heart, now baby.
Well you know you got it, if it makes you feel good.
Oh yes, it did.

***

When the transport reached DS9, Jake disembarked, stepped out of
the airlock tunnel into his father’s hug. “JakeO!” He clung for a
minute, needing that tactile reminder that he was alive and encased in
flesh. Perhaps his father sensed something. He pushed Jake back and
looked into his face. “How are you?” It wasn’t just the standard
greeting.
“Fine,” Jake lied.
“The nightmares–?”
“They’re gone. Mostly.” His father’s raised eyebrow made him
add, “No, really. They’re gone. I’m fine now about that.”
His father picked up one of his bags and they began walking back
towards their cabin. “I understand you proved yourself during the
storm,” his father said. “Dragged your friend to safety on a broken
ankle. That was a brave act, Jake. As brave in its own way as facing
Klingon fire.”
Jake blinked. He’d almost forgotten. So much else had happened
since that his previous concerns about his cowardice seemed very far
away now. “Yeah,” was all he said.
His father glanced over. “Are you *sure* you’re all right? You
don’t look well.”
It provided an excuse. “Actually, I’m not feeling any too well.
I think I caught something. I went through the whole hurricane
without getting sick, but now I’ve got a cold or something.”
His father stopped to put up the back of his hand to Jake’s
forehead. “Dad!” Jake protested.
“You’re not hot,” Sisko said. “Maybe you should go see Dr.
Bashir, though.”
Tell a white lie and face the consequences, Jake thought. “I’m
not *that* bad. Just a little under the weather.” He made himself
meet his father’s eyes. They held the look a few minutes, then his
father shrugged and picked up his suitcase again.
“Have it your way. But there’s no reason not to see the doctor,
if you’re not well.”
Jake doubted Bashir had anything for a broken heart.

***

The buzzer went off. Sighing and tossing the PADD aside–the
blank PADD he’d been staring at for twenty minutes–Jake pushed
himself to his feet to answer the door. He wasn’t expecting company.
It was Dax, dressed in a flowing semi-transparent caftan over a
bodysuit. It picked up the blue of her eyes. She carried something
wrapped in silver under her arm. He frowned. She wasn’t often out of
uniform, on the station. “Dad’s not here,” he said. “He’s working
the evening shift tonight, till oh-one-hundred.” Didn’t Dax know
that?
Grinning, she stepped past him. “I’m not looking for Ben. I’m
looking for you.”
“Huh?” was the best he could manage. She’d come looking for him
dressed like *that*? He started to get nervous.
She went into the kitchen area and helped herself to a pair of
liquor glasses. Turning, she must have seen something in his face,
grinned and winked. “Relax, Jake. I haven’t come to seduce you.” He
felt himself blushing. Of course she hadn’t. Why had he thought–
“Sit down,” she said, interrupting his embarrassment. Coming
over, she set a glass on the coffee table in front of him, another in
front of herself. Then she opened the silver package. “Saurian
brandy.” She poured him some. “The real thing–eighteen year. Nice
and smooth.” Pushing the glass over to him, she added, “I’ve been
waiting for a night when Ben was on the late shift.” She’d come to
get him drunk? Now he was really confused. “Drink up, Jake. Then
we’ll talk.”
He picked up the glass to swirl the liquid, sniff it. He’d never
had brandy, hadn’t had much hard liquor period. Oh, certainly he and
Nog had snitched a few drinks from the bar now and then. Experiments.
He’d never been *given* hard liquor by an adult. He glanced over at
her. She was sipping hers, watching him with a smile. He tried some.
This was a good deal better than what he and Nog had stolen. Smooth
enough that the kick didn’t hit him till he’d swallowed it. Then it
made his eyes water. He coughed, wiped at the tearing. “Try another
sip,” she said, grinning. “The first has to burn away the nerves in
your throat.”
Still not at all sure what this was about, he shot her an
uncertain glance but did as she said. She was right; it was easier.
He took a third sip. His belly was starting to feel warm.
Her own glass cradled in her hands, she curled her legs up beside
her on the couch. “Now,” she said. “Tell me what happened with
Salene.”
It was a good thing he hadn’t had brandy in his mouth or he’d
have spit it out all over the table. And he might have tried to deny
that anything had happened, had his own shock not already given him
away. So he turned to offense-as-defense instead. “How’d you know
about that?”
“Jake, I’m over three-hundred years old.”
“That doesn’t make you psychic!”
She just smiled enigmatically. “Your father thinks you’re sick,
you know. He told me yesterday that he doesn’t understand why you
won’t go see Julian; he’s afraid maybe you think Julian is still mad
at you. His mental image of you hasn’t quite caught up with the
reality yet, so he’s missing what’s right under his nose.”
Jake took another sip of the brandy–he was going to need it–
then said sullenly, “You didn’t answer my question: how did you know?”
She shifted on the couch. “Well, I have to confess I have a few
clues your father doesn’t. I’m a scientist, and scientists are used
to drawing conclusions from raw data. So, if the message rate from a
certain account on the station to a certain address on Vulcan was a
bit…astronomical…before the owner of that account took a little
vacation–where he saw this same Vulcan–but when he came back, not a
single message went out to that Vulcan’s address…. Well, it makes
one suspicious. Add to that this same person is moping around the
station like he just lost his best friend.” She watched him over the
rim of her glass. “Makes me wonder if he has.”
He stared back. She knew, and she didn’t, and he wasn’t sure he
wanted to explain. Dax had been his father’s confidant almost as long
as Jake had been alive. She was on her eighth life. She’d seen it
all and probably done it all–or as close as made no difference. He
wasn’t sure she’d understand. Well into her fourth century, could she
still remember what the first time had been like? Besides, she was
his father’s friend.
As if reading the direction of his thoughts, she said, “Anything
you tell me will be strictly confidential. Unless, of course, you
murdered him and humped his body in the Gulf of Mexico. Then I’m
afraid I’d have to alert the authorities so they could dredge for it.”
Jake didn’t laugh; the joke fell flat. She leaned forward. “I won’t
tell your father, Jake. I didn’t come here on assignment from Ben,
fishing for information. I give you my word.”
He stared down at the topaz liquor in his glass, drank more. It
was making his head buzz. “I don’t even know where to begin.”
Confident now of her victory, she returned to gentle ribbing.
“The beginning is usually good. Then again, you could start at the
end and leave me guessing. Artistic license.”
He shot her a look, said abruptly, “He left me,” then took a long
drink of brandy. Too long a drink. He coughed.
Pulling in her chin, she absorbed the implications of that: what
his wording meant. She was even better at hiding her feelings than
Salene. “What made him leave?” she asked. Jake shrugged. “He didn’t
tell you?”
“He left me a note. I didn’t read it.”
“Why?”
Exploding to his feet, Jake paced. “Because I don’t *care*, all
right? I don’t care why he left! I just care that he did!”
“Well, how do you know he’s really left you then?”
That stopped him short. “What?”
She shook her head, uncurled her feet and sat up on the couch.
“Living life based on assumption will get you in trouble. If you
don’t read what he said, how do you really know what happened? Maybe
it was a message for you to meet him for a secret rendezvous on Risa.”
Jake opened his mouth to say how stupid that was, but she waved a
hand. “Don’t. My point is that you’re beating yourself up without
having all the facts.”
“And the facts are supposed to make me feel better?” He almost
shouted it.
“Maybe. Maybe not. But you won’t know till you find out what
they are.” She rose, came over to face him. “Vulcans are…almost
annoyingly constant in their affections; of course, they won’t admit
to having affections, but we all know better. When they commit
themselves, they do so permanently. Whatever happened between you–
And no, I don’t expect all the juicy details, unless of course you
want to give them.” She grinned. “Whatever happened between you, he
didn’t leave for fickleness or because you didn’t mean anything to
him. If there was something for him to *be* leaving, then you got
thoroughly under his skin, I’d say. Of course, I think you’d gotten
thoroughly under his skin before he ever left DS9.” She winked.
“My grandfather said maybe I meant too much to him, and that’s
why he left.”
Shrugging, she went back to sit down. “Possibly. I suspect
there’s more to it than that. Vulcans are too good at explaining away
their own irrationalities.” She patted the couch beside her. “Come
sit back down and tell Auntie Dax the rest of the story.”
He felt one eyebrow rise. “I thought you weren’t going to dig
for the juicy details.”
“I said I didn’t expect them; didn’t say I wouldn’t *ask*. And I
am…insatiably curious,” she admitted, raising her glass to him.
“Come on. It’ll do you good to talk to someone.”
So he did. And she was right; it did feel good to have someone
to tell. She made a remarkably sensitive audience. She didn’t ask
him to describe anything really private, sensing he would’ve been
uncomfortable doing so with her, even if she had been a man herself in
previous lives.
Around midnight, she glanced up at the clock and sealed the
decanter. He was buzzed, but not as drunk as he’d been at the gala.
“Time for me to go, and time for you to go to bed,” she said, but
without sounding motherly. In fact, he’d felt surprisingly adult with
her tonight. Her occasional bits of advice had been an older adult’s
to a younger, not an adult’s to a child. He walked her to the door.
“Thanks, Jadzia.”
Leaning up a little, she kissed his cheek. “Good-night, Jake.
And go read his letter. But remember”–she held up a hand, frowned
and grew serious–“for all their logic, Vulcans can be as prone to
bathos as any Klingon I ever met. They *like* their extremes and
their tragedies. They haven’t changed much in a thousand years: Surak
not withstanding. Don’t be pulled into that with him.” She stepped
out then, let the door close behind her.
He brushed his teeth, then puttered about getting ready for bed
knowing he was finding things to do, putting off what he should have
done over two weeks ago. Going into his bedroom, he retrieved the
velslip from where he’d shoved it in a side compartment of his bag.
Nerves made his hand shake so hard he could barely insert the slip
into his PADD.
Velslip was the same medium he used for writing. This wasn’t a
visual letter or even an audio one, but the old-fashioned written
kind. It began bluntly, without even his name to soften it:

While you visited with Nog, I read “Peter Pan.” A quaint
tale, but with a larger truth. Eventually Peter must leave
Never-Neverland in order to become a real boy. You who are
so fond of metaphors may take that as a metaphor for my
decision. A relationship between us could not work, Jake;
the only place we might exist as ‘we’ is Never-Neverland.

My brother made it clear to me by comm this morning that I
had to choose between you and my family. I told you once
that chi`pain are permitted to marry. This is true–but we
may marry only she to whom we were betrothed in childhood.
If that bond is repudiated, we are expected to remain alone.
To do otherwise–particularly to choose as I would–displays
an excess of emotion: a weakness. It would not be forgiven;
I would be disowned. I might have chosen you still, yet
that would also have meant abandoning my life as it has
been, including the singing for which I was made, which
defines who I am. If I gave that up, there would be nothing
left for me, no reason for my existence, and I would come to
resent you. I prefer a more pure memory.

Or so I tell myself. The other half of the truth is less
attractive. I resist forsaking what I have known for almost
twenty-two years because I am afraid. You who call yourself
a coward have shown far greater courage than I. You possess
personal honesty, and a willingness to throw yourself into
life. You are the better man, Jake Sisko. I salute you.

Do not attempt to contact me, or change my mind. We made a
pact, if you recall: I would tell you when something you
asked of me was more than I could give. I must invoke it now.
I regret that my shortcomings will cause you pain. If it
pleases you to know, I too shall suffer. I gave you what I
could. That it was not enough is my fault, not yours.

Peace, and long life, my friend.

Jake ripped the velslip out of the PADD and threw it across the
room, then stared a while at the bit of offending black on the floor.
Rage made his breath heavy, but he could not decide at whom his rage
was aimed: Salene, for his fears; Salene’s family, for intolerance; or
himself, for not being able to fix it all.
But there had been no magic fix on Ajilon Prime and there was
none here, either. In war, people died; sometimes they died badly.
And love could be forced to limp along, lamed by circumstance. Or by
blindness to larger truths. Just believing wasn’t always enough, and
Tinkerbell died.
Sitting down on his bed, he wept for lost innocence. He was a
real boy now.

*** FINIS ***

Feedback not only welcomed, but encouraged.
We can be contacted at jrz3@psu.edu
At the present time, J. plans a sequel, entitled “Anslem.”
But we’re not promising anything. ;>

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.