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Ensign Yael - Fortitude and Forced Smiles

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((Bajoran Temple Gardens - Starbase 118 Ops))


((Day Two - Bajoran Gratitude Festival))


Ashley was feeling better since being treated for the love poisoning at the Gratitude Festivals first day.


He’d slept well, a solid three hours that night, and felt *great* actually.  Probably due to his long pseudo-hibernation nap the day before.  He was definitely well rested.


Things were still bustling on the second day of the festival, and it didn’t appear the energy would ebb off for a long while yet.  Plenty of people were drinking, but no one was out of control or problematic, despite the flowing drinks.  The memory of yesterdays event didn’t seem to diminish the celebration.  That was one thing he really liked about Bajoran culture.  It was resilient in the face of just about anything.


The Denobulan hybrid smiled almost longingly at the celebrating drinkers.  He *used* to drink.  It was the only time he’d been able to let his guard down, and really be a *person* past all the self-imposed limitations and restrictions he used to live beneath.  The recent poisoning had been much like being drunk, in a way… and had reminded him of how it felt.


A little out of control.  A little free.  A bit *exciting.*


Things were different now though.  He was so much more a real person than the shadow he’d been.  At least… he was trying his best.  What he *wasn’t* trying to be anymore was perfect.  He was more able to accept his faults, his failures, his very Human and Denobulan issues, while also not dwelling on them.  Facing them was unpleasant, at times… but not facing them had nearly broken him.


Drinking had eventually become a vehicle for his self destruction, so it had been cut out.  He’d gone to rehab on Earth and hadn’t touched a drop in over two years… every time he walked into Verriar’s bar and walked out sober, it was a small victory for him.  It was part of the reason he sought her establishment out.  To be surrounded by it and not partake, it gave him a sense of strength he used to have to fake.


Lately though, he no longer felt the confidence was fake.


And that was more freeing than anything he could imbibe. 


Stepping up to one of the flaming braziers, he lifted his Renewal Scroll to the rim and let it fall into the cup.  He’d had it in his jacket pocket the day before, and it had been forgotten after the excitement.  Now it was a little crumpled, but still good.  He intended to complete the Bajoran ritual.  The flame turned a light blue for a moment as the parchment was incinerated in the small, steady flame.


Turning from the brazier, he stepped away from it with the intention of enjoying the evening further… but stopped dead in his tracks.


Not ten paces away stood an older Denobulan, dressed in traditionally conservative cut tan clothing, with piercing dark purple eyes.  There was more girth and weight to his frame, with about five inches height on him as well.  However, the strikingly similar features were clear.


Yael:  Father…?!


Ashley didn’t manage to avoid sounding surprised.  His stomach clenched… they were surrounded by celebrating people and noise and chatter, and it all drowned out to the sudden pounding of his heart in his own ears.  His mind began to race with the “why” of it.


It had been over TEN YEARS since they’d last spoke.  Why was he here *now*?!


Phax:  Deneve.


Ashley’s initial reaction dulled as he blanched out his expression and set cautious eyes on the older Denobulan.  He tried to drown out any expression on his face that couldn’t be called neutral.


Yael:  I go by Ashley.


Phax:  Yes, I know.  Your *Human* name.


There was a silent pause that was pregnant with disapproval.  Ashley didn’t move.  Barely breathed.  His father had turned against liking Humans since his wife… Ashley’s mother… had left him when their son was only seven years old.  The older Denobulans disposition had never improved since… the memory of him praying for the school year on Denobula to end so he could travel back to Earth hit him with force and crystal clarity.


Yael:  What brings you to Starbase 118?


Phax:  There’s a medical conference on Rigel Four.  I’ll be presenting to the neurologists present.  This starbase is on the way, and the transport stopped for the Festival.  ::pausing::  The computer told me where to find you.


Ashley forced himself to smile pleasantly, but wasn’t sure he pulled it off.


Yael:  I see.  You’re looking well.


Phax:  You’ve gained weight.


It was said in a way that one could never decipher if it was a compliment or a critique.  Ashley *had* gained a few pounds in the past years, after getting healthier.  He was no longer painfully thin, and was typically happy about that.  Now… he tried not to let his posture shrink.  He kept his shoulders up and back, somehow.


Yael:  I’ve taken to exercising regularly.


Phax:  And you’ve taken to wearing *those*.


Clear and dripping disapproval as his father motioned to the electro-stabilizing braces on his wrists and hands.  He suddenly felt *sharply* self-conscious about them.


He wished he had worn jacket from the day before… instead, he’d left it behind in his quarters and gone with the simple gunmetal grey turtleneck and black pants, with nice boots.  He’d even pushed his sleeves up his forearms… he’d barely thought twice anymore about showing off the braces.  He’d grown less shy of others seeing them after his friends had had roundly positive reactions to them.


Now, he had to stop his instinct wanting to pull his sleeves back down… he didn’t want to seem reactionary… but he wasn’t wearing nearly enough armor for this sudden encounter.


Yael:  I find them to be quite useful.


Phax:  It would be less *embarrassing* for you if you had the bilateral brain surgery to suppress your symptoms.


Yael:  That surgery only has a 39% success rate, and can cause deficiencies that are worse than any of my current symptoms.


Dark violet eyes set on him… they hardly changed at all, but Ashley internally cringed.  He had to stop himself stepping back instinctively as he *felt* the threat in them.  His father moved now, taking several steps closer until he was standing nearly at his side… and he had to swallow an irrational amount of fear as the man stepped closer.  Phax looked past him and into the flaming brazier he’d just slid his Renewal Scroll into.  Ashley didn’t move, setting his eyes in the distance, now looking past him into the crowd.  There was a long pause as Phax surveyed the crowd silently, and Ashley stayed silent.


Phax:  How is your mother doing these days?  Has she remarried?


In his mind he scrambled for an honest answer that wouldn't betray his mothers privacy to the man she had cut out of her life.  He called on the diplomacy he'd learned in years past to mediate an appropriately vague response that wouldn't inspire his fathers less charming side.


Yael:  She's quite happy, and has said she hopes you are as well.


Phax:  Mmm.  ::he nodded as if this answer was relatively acceptable, then...::  Shouldn’t you be doing something more *important* with your time?


Yael:  My crew is enjoying leave at the moment.  The Gratitude Festival is highly valued by our Bajoran crew.


Phax:  It looks like an excuse for a party.


Whereas Ashley might have said the same phrase with joy or excitement, Deneve Phax said it with an air of disdain that was not subtle, and was obvious in its judgement.


Phax:  But I *suppose* you could finally find a lady friend at an event like this.  Make some grandchildren for me.  It would be about time.


Yael:  ::blandly::  I’ll get right on that.


Phax:  ::continuing regardless of his sons tone::  When I heard you’d gone active duty with Starfleet again I had *hoped* it was for something valuable.  You’re still pretending to be a doctor, then?


Yael:  The field of psychology does not lose value just because you don't *respect* it.


The words were out of his mouth before he could stop them, and in a crisp tone he finally couldn't control.  He instantly regretted saying it as his fathers dark eyes slid over and onto him.  They stood mere feet apart, nearly shoulder to shoulder… not matched in height… and he felt himself being looked down on.


He felt it in his BONES.


Phax:  Don’t get defensive with me.


There was a warning in those words… and Ashley couldn’t help but swallow his fear.  It was becoming exceedingly more difficult not to physically shrink.  Instead he smiled again, forcibly, turning to look at his father directly.


Yael:  I wouldn’t dream of it.


He had to look up to match his fathers gaze… and his skin crawled when the man smiled down at him, his crows feet folding slightly deeper as he did so.  Ashley kept his own smile on his face by force of will.


Phax:  When you make the decision to have the surgery, don’t go to someone else.  I have a *43%* success rate.


His father reached up with one hand and tightly grasped Ashley’s shoulder, giving him a slight but firm shake.


To anyone watching, it might have seemed like a friendly gesture.  But inside his guts Ashley had a visceral reaction to the touch.  His mind froze as his father squeezed his shoulder, and every muscle in his body stiffened.  There was a silent disgust that ran through him, and his stomach threatened to roll over.


Then… the hand was gone, and his father walked away without so much as a goodbye, disappearing into the crowd.


The Denobulan hybrid stood there, frozen, his skin crawling with invisible spiders… it was stunning how sharp and prickling the sensation was this time.  The forced smile melted from his features… and he stood there, unmoving, bidding the contents of his stomach to *stay* in his stomach.


He suddenly took a deep breath, having unconsciously been holding it, then thought to look around him.  There were some Bajorans nearby glancing at him… he was just *standing* there alone, which probably seemed curious.  One looked like they might be about to come over, so he took to a suddenly quick pace toward the turbolift in the opposite direction his father had gone.


If he was going to vomit, he didn't want it to happen in public.


Ensign Ashley Yael


Starbase 118 Ops


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