Posted on April 18th, 2016 by T'Kirr and Ian Blackthorne
by T’Kirr and Ian Blackthorne
The San Francisco Bay’s incessant wind tossed Brooke Zuriyev”s dark locks about her face as she looked up from her cup of coffee to see her friends approaching, exactly on time. They were dressed in civilian attire as she had requested of them, and as she was herself, shielded from the wind by a tan trenchcoat. She rose from her seat at the tiny bayside cafe to greet them, offering a tight but grateful smile.
“I can’t thank you guys enough for coming. I know it was inconvenient.”
Ian Blackthorne offered a half-smile as he answered, “Well, you were so cryptic over the comm, and your daughter was so insistent that we speak, that we had little choice but to show up in person.”
Brooke wrung her hands a moment before hurrying back to the table and showing them to sit. “Yes, well, believe it or not, that was her own doing. I haven’t quite decided yet whether or not I’m happy that she did,” came her wry admission as she lowered herself stiffly into her own chair.
“I can see a lot of both of her parents in AJ — oh, and it still feels weird calling her that, by the way,” Ian began in an attempt to ease her worry. “If it was the right thing to do to get herself temporarily assigned to Atlantis just to convince me to be here, then that’s exactly what she was going to do.”
In response, Brooke nodded to herself, biting at her lip nervously. T’Kirr, having been quiet up until now, said in a calm voice, “Just tell us what’s bothering you, Brooke. We will listen.” Brooke gazed back at her a moment, finally nodding and taking a deep breath.
“Okay, well I don’t know anything for sure. And, really,” Brooke paused, raising her hands apologetically, “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve told myself that it’s all just in my head, but I can’t help feeling like there’s something not right.” She glanced around before looking them both in the eye and saying in a hushed voice, “Alexi told me the same as you that he wanted to retire, but I don’t think it was his decision.”
“Not his decision? What do you mean?” Ian couldn’t imagine the Alexi Zuriyev he knew letting someone else dictate the course of his career. With a slight smirk, he remembered that there was one person that could do such a thing, and she was sitting right in front of him. That couldn’t be right, though, since Brooke’s manner in their last meeting made it clear that she was against his retiring.
Ian’s eyebrows slowly raised as he realized what she was saying, then narrowed as he leaned in to answer, joining her in her conspiratorial tone, “Are you saying that he was coerced or forced into retirement?”
Brooke’s eyes slipped closed as she nodded over a shuddering breath, hearing the words from Blackthorne confirmation that it was no longer just her that now knew of her suspicions. “That’s what I’m saying. Like I said, I don’t have any proof, but ever since he ‘decided’ to retire, he’s just been…different. Moody, sullen and withdrawn.” She furrowed her brow, looking to Ian. “Like how he gets when backed into a corner, you know?”
“Oh yes, I’ve seen that before, but it could just be depression caused by actually retiring.” Ian did not need his empathic skills to tell that Brooke had not summoned them all this way based on Alexi’s mood. “I can tell that you have more, though.”
“Can’t fool you, can I, Ian?” Brooke replied with a smirk, but it quickly faded. “I’m used to listening to his thoughts, with our bond and everything. He’s always thinking, and I’m used to the patterns, when he’s alert, when he’s sleepy, or…other things. You two know what I’m talking about.” She offered them a pained expression and tapped vaguely at her temple. “Since he decided to retire though, there are sometimes thoughts that just seem…wrong, out of place. I don’t know.”
Ian shared a look with T’Kirr, understanding fully the gravity of the familiarity of a bondmate’s thoughts being interrupted. He could sense no deception from Brooke, only sincerity, concern, and a tinge of fear as he faced her to speak, his voice quiet but firm. “Alright, who do you think did this?”
“I don’t know.” Brooke clenched her fists and curled her lip. “I know that’s not helpful, but I really have no idea. I wish I did, for his sake.”
“If what you say is true, I wouldn’t even know where to begin digging to do something about it; Alexi would have been my first stop. The integrity of Starfleet Command could be completely compromised.” He leaned in closer to the center of the table. “No one would be trustworthy.”
Brooke’s eyes were downcast. “I know. The very idea of it is overwhelming, and Alexi certainly can’t help me. I didn’t know who else to turn to. I was hoping you would have an idea.”
Ian let out a long sigh. “I might. I don’t know; I’ll really need to carefully consider what to do and who I can talk to, if this has any chance of being true.” He offered a reassuring look directly into her eyes and continued, “But I will, Brooke, I promise you. I owe it to you both.”
The effect of his words were immediate, and Brooke let out a shaky sigh of relief. She reached for his hand and clasped it tightly, then looked to T’Kirr to include her, too, even though Brooke knew the Vulcan wouldn’t offer her own hand. “Thank you, both. I know I must sound crazy, but I just know something is going on. I of course think of Alexi, but it could just be a tiny piece of a much larger, ugly puzzle. I’m terrified to think what it could mean.”
Ian gave her hand a comforting squeeze and offered, “So am I, Brooke, so am I.”