trekwriter151: (phlox)
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Five

"Funeral services have always given me the creeps."

Bernhard glanced at Johannes with a look of agreement. "The Irish have the right idea, I must admit. A party and a celebration of life."

Lailah's quiet tone startled him as she appeared, unnoticed, at his side. "Is that not disrespectful to those who mourn?"

Bernhard chuckled and shrugged. "Some would say yes, Lailah, but others prefer to remember the deceased as they were when they were alive. They gather and share stories about their achievements and their triumphs. It eases the grief and the pain."

"We do that as well," remarked Treesal, who leaned on the wall next to Johannes, "but the ones who adhere to the old traditional ways do not approve."

The four of them watched as the crowd gathered in Phlox's Sickbay. The Jupiter Station engineers and technicians had already installed the new imaging chamber and one of the newer biobeds. A thoughtful carpenter had installed shelving along the walls, effectively doubling the storage space. Feezal's electron microscope sat in a place of honor on the counter, while Lailah's contribution, new surgical instruments, were tucked away in the drawers.

The menagerie rustled and squeaked at the presence of so many people. They sat on cushions on the floor, with the principal mourners along the wall and seated behind a low table adorned with candles and flowers. The other guests sat on the other side of the table. The normally clean, sterile Sickbay walls were draped in burgundy and dark blue silk. Incense wafted through the air and tickled Bernhard's nose.

He surveyed the crowd with a careful eye. Azkiel Phlox's family sat in their places, impassive and stern. The women wore flowing gowns, while the men had on simple tunics. One young man in particular startled him; he was a spitting image of Phlox, down to the bright blue eyes, but a scowl turned the corners of his mouth downward, and he glared back at Bernhard.

Was gibt's denn? Was ist sein Problem? What the hell's his problem? Bernhard was confused for a moment, then he realized that Lailah had linked her arm through his. Treesal was whispering something in Johannes's ear; he nodded and replied to her question. The young man's scowl turned into a full-fledged glower.

Uh-oh. He was about to tell Lailah to step back a pace or two when a gong rang, once, twice, three times. Bernhard glanced at the back of the room, where Lieutenant Commander Malcolm Reed stood at watchful attention. Reed nodded at Bernhard, all business. Bernhard moved to his position, closer to the line of mourners, while Johannes took his own position between the table and the crowd. Thankfully, Lailah and Treesal joined their mother at the back of the crowd.

The tension increased as Bernhard saw the one lone female Human sitting between Feezal and Zariel. Hoshi Sato-Reed knelt there on her cushion, dressed in a black silk kimono decorated with white cranes. One of Azkiel's daughers—Yutis, Bernhard remembered—had requested Hoshi's presence. Aside from the Security detail and Hoshi, no other members of the Enterprise crew were permitted to attend. Even Captain Archer had to avoid Sickbay for the duration of the ceremony.

Then Azkiel rose up from her cushion and moved to the low table. She began speaking in Denobulan, her voice rising and falling in cadence. Bernhard didn't understand it, but it sounded like some kind of invocation. It carried through Sickbay, loud and clear. She finished her introduction, the gong rang, then she nodded at the back of Sickbay, towards Phlox's office.

Her three husbands filed in, carrying three jars covered in Denobulan script. Phlox held the largest one between his hands, then Kannik carried a medium-sized one, while Groznik had one the size of his palm. With solemnity, the three men walked up to Azkiel and the low table. Phlox placed his jar in the center of the table and arranged the other two next to it.

Urns? They look like urns, Bernhard thought. The realization made him slightly nauseous as he added, I suppose their Matriarch would want to attend her own funeral ceremony? Denobulans cremated their dead, as opposed to burying them. He understood the reason; there was literally no room on their continent for cemeteries.

Phlox began some kind of litany, gesturing towards the urns, and Azkiel punctuated it with a loud wail. It was some sort of signal for the entire crowd to scream and wail in grief. The intensity of it surprised Bernhard; he was stricken by the tears that streamed down Hoshi's face, though she didn't participate in the wailing.

Then one of Azkiel's clan—the young man Bernhard had seen earlier—jumped to his feet and stalked towards Phlox, Kannik and Groznik. He shouted something that was barely heard over the caterwauling, but whatever it was, it definitely was not part of the ceremony. Phlox's eyes widened, even though he didn't miss a beat of his litany. Kannik looked scandalized and Groznik's face turned a bright shade of scarlet.

Bernhard looked over at Johannes, who had crept closer to the front of the room. Neither man drew out his phase pistol, but Bernhard put his hand on his on his side. Malcolm leaned against the locked Sickbay doors; no one could leave without getting past him. Bernhard hoped he and Johannes wouldn't have to pry Phlox and the young one apart. The last thing they needed was a fistfight in Sickbay.

At least we're in the right place for it. After all, the bandages are in the cabinet behind me. Bernhard winced at the thought. Please, God, don't make me have to use them.

Before anyone could stop him, the young man grabbed the largest urn and shattered it on the low table. Azkiel shrieked in surprise as a fine mist erupted in front of her. Bernhard was about to tackle the boy to the floor, but then he crumpled into Azkiel's lap, sobbing as if his heart had burst in sorrow. Phlox immediately knelt and threw his arms around them both.

The sudden silence hung as heavy as the ash that floated in Sickbay.

Bernhard blinked, then exchanged a look of stunned astonishment with Johannes. They both looked towards Malcolm Reed, but their chief seemed as confused as they were. Malcolm coughed and waved smoke from his face. Finally Groznik turned back to the crowd, his voice taut with grief.

"It is over," he said in English. "The Matriarch is now part of us all, even those who knew her not. So it is and so it will be." Groznik eyed the huddled forms of his wife, husband-in-law and second-son and his features softened. "The Matriarch will live in us and her spirit will bless this place and all those who enter. May this be a lesson in healing of hearts and souls, which is appropriate for a place of healing the sick and weary."

Groznik raised his eyes and stared directly at the other two young men sitting next to Azkiel's daughters. An unspoken challenge flashed among the three of them. Bernhard felt the hostility flare as the older of the two got to his feet and walked towards the exit.

"Let him go, Lieutenant Commander Reed," Groznik said, his deep voice still tightly controlled. "He has decided not to join the family, as his right."

Malcolm stepped aside and touched the door controls. The man glared at him and strode out without looking back. His companion followed in short order. Neither of Azkiel's daughters seemed to be upset at their abandonment.

"Let us remember our Matriarch in our own way. Let us heal, let us love." Groznik drew himself to his full height and marched out and the Denobulan crowd quickly dispersed with little fanfare. The two daughters knelt next to Phlox and wrapped their arms around him.

Lailah appeared at Bernhard's side again. "Leave them; nothing will happen to them here."

Malcolm appeared on his other side and said in a low voice, "Mess Hall. You and Johannes. Now. We need to let the air recyclers clear the area."

Bernhard nodded and followed Malcolm and Lailah out of Sickbay, but he glanced over his shoulder at the quiet mourners behind him.

*****

"All right, will someone please explain to me what the bloody hell just happened?"

Hoshi put a hand on her husband's arm as he coughed slightly. Captain Archer had ordered Sickbay and part of E Deck isolated until the ash cloud dissipated. Luckily, it didn't cause any health concerns for the Humans involved with the ceremony.

She sighed and laid her head on his shoulder. "We just witnessed a first for Phlox's family."

Feezal nodded, her face unwontedly serious. She sighed and rubbed her cranial ridges. "You must understand something, Malcolm: Azkiel's family is quite...orthodox in their traditions. What her son, Mettus, did was quite extraordinary. He scattered his beloved Matriarch's ashes in the most surprising of places: Phlox's Sickbay."

Malcolm looked sick to his stomach. "Does this mean she'll be a permanent resident?"

Zariel chuckled and shrugged. "In a way, yes."

"Bloody brilliant. I'll be breathing in her ashes every time I'm stuck in there."

Hoshi shook her head, but her eyes danced with humor. "No, you won't. It'll dissipate in time."

"Wonderful."

Feezal continued her explanation."When Mettus did that, he freed her spirit, so to speak, in a place that he felt the Matriarch would thrive. His father's Sickbay. The other two urns will pass to him because he was the closest to her, so she will always be with him too." She sighed. "Mettus and Phlox have been estranged for ten years, Malcolm. Ten years, and Azkiel was powerless to stop it, as were the rest of us. In one fell swoop, he exorcized his own demons, freed the Matriarch from her limited attitudes that held her in this plane, and reached out to his father at the same time."

"So you're saying that the Matriarch will have a change of heart, um...metaphorically speaking?" Bernhard asked.

"She'll watch and learn and see that Denobulans and Humans can be friends," Zariel said with bright grin. "Either that, or it'll irritate her no end, and she'd can't do anything about it."

Johannes chuckled. "Look at it this way, Lieutenant Commander: at least Mettus didn't break the urn in the Armory." He shared a grin with Treesal, one that touched off alarm bells in Bernhard's mind and one that made Feezal's smile widen.

They all laughed, but sobered as Bernhard said, "So...I assume two of the weddings won't take place."

"It seems that way." Zariel sighed. "Idrmu and Kiritan...well, I never thought they were suited for either of Azkiel's girls anyway. Too serious. Too proud. Too inflexible."

"Too much like a r'dughat," Treesal added. "That's the slime under your shoe."

"Treesal!" Feezal said with mock horror.

She shrugged. "Sorry, Mother. Deroceras reticulatum. A slug harmful to crops, which leaves a trail of slime that has some interesting biochemical properties..."

"Treesal!" That came from Johannes, who sputtered with mixed revulsion and mirth. "God, you're hilarious!"

And Bernhard saw the amused look that passed between Malcolm and Hoshi and the knowing look that passed between Zariel and Feezal. Oh, verflucht! Perhaps there will be a wedding after all, just not one that we expect. Johannes, you crazy idiot. He glanced over at Lailah and thought, Now that I know what their plans are, how am I going to get out of this one?

An idea formed in his mind, but he was going to need some help.

Six

Phlox sighed and ran his hand through his youngest son's short hair. It was strange to look at Mettus; the boy looked exactly like him, minus thirty years of life, give or take. There were bags under Mettus's eyes, and his mouth twitched. The emotional outburst had drained him into unconsciousness. Azkiel lay on the next bunk, her face turned towards the wall of Phlox's quarters.

Why did he do what he did? Phlox wondered about Mettus's motivation. Odd that he chose to break the jar in Sickbay, of all places. Phlox made sure the Matriarch's ashes were purged from Enterprise's air system; he understood Lieutenant Commander Reed's and Captain Archer's unease about Shastia's physical presence on the ship.

There was no precedent for what had happened during the Matriarch's funeral ceremony. After Mettus's actions, both Yutis and Opur had been abandoned by their fiancés. Neither girl seemed overly angry or upset by the turn of events. That was enough to make Phlox wonder just what had transpired behind his back.

"Mettus?" Phlox whispered. "Mettus? That's a good boy. Open your eyes."

Mettus's eyes flickered open, but they gazed at the ceiling. "Matriarch?" he whispered faintly.

"She is here and everywhere, Mettus," Phlox answered softly. His heart broke at the utter desolation in his son's voice. "You have set her free. She is with the Ancestors now, my son."

He didn't seem to register his father's voice. Instead, he whispered again, "Please forgive me for my ignorance and my blind faith. I tried to match the old scripts with the events in my life, but they did not agree. I had a crisis, Matriarch. I did not know where to turn. They all turned their back on me, became impatient. I pushed them all away."

Phlox said nothing as Mettus made his confession of the soul. Every time he'd received word of the family on Denobula, it had been "Mettus is so stubborn...Mettus is so hard-headed, Mettus is so anti-social..." The only positive news he'd ever heard was from Azkiel: "Your son memorized all ninety-three verses of the Denobulan Analects and won the Golden Hawk Scholarship. I think he could be a Judiciary or a Monk Supreme, if he only applied himself.

That gave Phlox an idea. He reached over and stroked Mettus's cranial ridge. "My son, what do you want now? If you had the choice, what do you see yourself doing?"

"I want to touch the Ancestors," Mettus said, his eyes wide and his voice hushed with reverence. "I want to surround myself with their words and their thoughts. There is so much change, so much change, and I am afraid..."

"You have nothing to fear, my son," Phlox told him. "All change from the familiar elicits fear and uncertainty. Nothing remains static in the Universe."

"The Antarans have hurt us; who's to say that others will not?" Mettus turned his head away as a single tear streaked down his cheek and was lost in his hair. "The Matriarch told of the horror stories about the war, about what they did to the Denobulan people. She told me about the bravery of those who went before us. She wanted me to hold to their example. I tried, but I was not good enough. She told me I would never be good enough and everyone told me I would never be good enough—"

Phlox swallowed a sob. He had to wait until his voice was calm and even again. "You needn't drown yourself in self-pity, Mettus. You are responsible for your actions and the consequences of those actions. Don't bother with others's standards, my son...what do you hold yourself to? I don't want to hear any more excuses. It stops now."

"I have nothing. I am afraid."

"Don't believe that." Even Phlox was beginning to lose his legendary patience, but he forced himself to keep his serene tone. "You still have the ancient words of our people and the talent to forge new words for those who come after us. Will you do that?"

Mettus turned his head to look back at his father. "Yes," he said in a soft voice. Then again, stronger, "Yes, I can do that. I will do that."

Phlox stroked his son's forehead. "Are you sure this is what you want? The Scribes and Monks Supreme will accept you, my Scholarly Son, if you desire this."

"Yes. I want this." And Mettus's eyes began to droop again. "I will think more upon this, Gheru."

His fingers paused for the briefest of moments. Gheru. The formal word for "father". No one ever called Phlox that, no one, except for Mettus. In years past, Mettus used the word like an epithet. Now, he used it in grateful wonder.

"Think of it and take all the time you need, Sefru. The Universe is open to you now. Whatever you decide, know that I and your mother will support whatever you do."

"Yes, Gheru." Mettus's eyes drifted closed and he sank back into slumber. Phlox sat at his son's bedside, unwilling to let go of Mettus's hand. Would Mettus remember this conversation? Perhaps, perhaps not, but even if Mettus didn't, Phlox vowed to himself that he would never forget it.

*****

"It seems like I missed a whole lot," Trip Tucker commented, as he sipped from his beer stein. Captain Archer had invited him to dinner after Trip had returned from his visit to Vulcan with T'Pol. He was eager to get back to the engine refit, but wanted to touch base with Jon and the others.

"Yeah. Phlox and Hoshi explained to me what the significance of Mettus's actions were. I think their family'll be talking about it for years to come."

"Poor kid." Trip shook his head. "Phlox mentioned he's kinda sheltered and closed-minded, so no wonder what he did was so unexpected. You think that maybe there's a chance of some kinda reconciliation 'tween the two?"

"I hope so. I know this estrangement's been eating at Phlox ever since we shipped out of Spacedock." Jon sighed and rubbed his temples. "It'll be up to Mettus whether or not to accept Phlox's truce. And to top it off, two of the weddings were abruptly canceled right after the funeral ceremony. The grooms of Azkiel's daughters just walked out."

Trip choked on his beer. He burst out, "They just walked out ? And Phlox's family just let'em?"

"Apparently, they can break an engagement right there, if they witness something about the clan that they find...scandalous. Funny thing is, neither of the dumpees were upset by it, which makes me wonder why they were engaged in the first place. Azkiel only told me that both young men were highly placed in Denobulan society, so I bet that had a lot to do with it."

Trip snorted, took another swig, then commented, "Social-climbers. Gotta love 'em. So, that means the ones gettin' married now are—lemme get this straight—one of Zariel's sons and Zariel's daughter, and the Doc's second cousin, Floos. Who's doin' the ceremony?"

"A Denobulan Judiciary, who's coming in tonight. It's a joint wedding, which saves time. Means he'll only do the ceremony once and not three times."

"And to think he could've ended up doing it five times. Ouch. And the site's still Sickbay, right? The air's all cleaned up by now?"

"Sickbay's and E Deck's clear now, if that's what you're asking." Jon was still massaging his temples. "Malcolm's paranoid about the 'Matriarch's metaphysical presence', as Feezal calls it. I think it's given him more motivation to avoid Sickbay."

"Don't blame him. I would too." Trip rolled his eyes. "And damn, I left Malcolm's biobed untouched. Rostov chiseled in Mal's initials to mark it."

Jon laughed. "Rostov did that? I was wondering."

"Don't tell Malcolm. I still need Mike in Engineerin'."

"I promise I won't tell Malcolm." Jon's chuckle was interrupted by the whistle of the comm. He pushed the button and said, "Archer."

"Captain, this is Ensign Birkenwald. May I talk with you? It's rather urgent."

Jon's brow furrowed. "Is there a problem with the Denobulans?"

Birkenwald hesitated a moment, then answered, "It might become one."

Archer's scowl deepened. "Should I page Lieutenant Commander Reed, Ensign?"

"That might be prudent in this case, sir."

"I'll meet you in my Ready Room on the Bridge in five minutes."

Johannes sounded relieved that the captain was taking him seriously. "Thank you, sir."

"See you then. Archer, out." He wiped his mouth with a napkin, then said, "Duty calls, Trip. You going to Engineering?"

"Actually, not directly. Ensign Mueller asked me to look at some stuff in the Armory, so I'll poke my head in there first. I'm still running on Vulcan time, so I'll be up for a bit yet."

"All right. I'll see you later, Trip."

"Later, Cap'n."

Archer grinned, then got up and headed out of the Captain's Mess. As he made his way to the corridor leading to the lift, that grin turned into a frown. First Johannes, then Bernhard. I wonder if there's something else going on. Bernhard usually tells Malcolm first about any problems in the Armory, not Trip.

He sighed in resignation, for he knew he'd find out soon enough.

*****

"Hey, Bernhard? You in here?" Trip looked around the Armory and spotted Crewman Meyer. "Hey, Dave, is Mueller around?"

Meyer glanced over his shoulder, his hand frozen in the action of snapping a phase pistol back together. "He's on the upper deck, sir, in the control room."

"Thanks." Trip climbed the ladder, then spotted Bernhard in the duraglass enclosed room. He wondered why the Bavarian was here, as opposed to protecting Phlox's wife and daughters. Then again, he considered that any man guarding Feezal might think of the Armory as a haven. "Bernhard? You wanted to see me?"

Bernhard glanced up like a scared rabbit. "Yes, Commander. I need to talk to you about a...sensitive subject."

"Lemme guess. Feezal?"

"Not directly. Feezal has been cordial and respectful to me and Johannes, Commander. I find her pleasant company." Trip gave him a "you-gotta-be-kiddin'-me" expression. Bernhard shrugged and clarified, "She has not made any untoward advances toward me."

"That's a relief. When she was last here, I felt like I was bein' hunted." Trip raised his eyebrows and continued, "Problems within the clan? The Cap'n told me about what happened during the funeral ceremony. I'm sure there'll be some friction 'tween the members."

"Actually, that's not it, either, sir. No one seems to be at each other's throats, yet."

"Then what's the problem, Bernhard?" Trip realized that the Bavarian was dancing around the subject, which was not like him at all. "Ya said Feezal wasn't botherin' ya."

"It isn't Feezal, sir. It's one of her daughters. Lailah."

Trip frowned; he could never keep Phlox's relatives straight. "Which one's her?"

"The surgeon, sir. Phlox's eldest daughter."

"Oh, hell," Trip groaned. "Have you told Feezal and Phlox?"

"Feezal doesn't seem to disapprove. Doctor Phlox has been concerned with his youngest son, Mettus—"

Trip nodded. "The one who broke the urn in Sickbay and scattered the ashes all over the place."

"Yes, sir."

"What has Lailah been doin' that's got you so uncomfortable?"

Bernhard glanced at the door, as if reassuring himself that it was securely closed. "She's been asking me about my family back in Rosenheim, about Starfleet Medical's branch in Berlin, about Bavarian cuisine—"

"Bratwurst and beer?"

"Commander." He rolled his eyes. "She told me about her childhood, her friends and colleagues on Denobula, her various siblings. In fact, her half-brothers are quite humorous; both of them are Zariel's sons. Lailah seems companionable enough, but the looks that pass between her and her mother make me nervous."

"So Lailah's not quite as blatant as Feezal was with me. I mean, the woman was checking out my assets when she thought I wasn't lookin'!"

"Um—" Bernhard turned a deep scarlet and suddenly he found his boots interesting.

"Okay, so Lailah's interested in ya, but ya don't share the sentiment. Why don't ya let her know now, as opposed to when she decides to drag ya bodily to the altar?"

"I really don't want to upset her, Commander. She's a kind-hearted woman, with a good temperament and she really is a joy to be around. I do like her, sir, but...not in that way."

"Then tell her, Bernhard." Trip reached over and clapped the tall man on the shoulder. "Look at it this way: it's better that ya let her down gently, then get her—or Feezal's—hopes up. Make it clear that ya value her as a friend, first and foremost, and what that friendship means to ya."

Bernhard sighed. "I take it that you've got this speech down pat, sir?"

"More than ya know. I was singin' that tune with T'Pol for the longest time, believe it or not." Trip smiled and added, "If she's what you say, she'll understand."

Bernhard gave a great sigh of relief and said, "Thank you, sir. You've eased my mind considerably. I'd considered hiding, shooting myself out a torpedo tube, commandeering a shuttlepod, or asking Crewman Cutler to pose as my wife—"

Trip burst out laughing and the tension in the control room evaporated. "Good God, man! I'm not sure if Liz Cutler would've gone along with it, but—"

"I can't ask Hoshi or T'Pol, sir," Bernhard pointed out.

"Yeah, good point." Trip's face softened as he added, "Feel better?"

"Much. Thank you, Commander."

Then Captain Archer's voice echoed from the comm. "Archer to Mueller."

Bernhard touched the comm. "Mueller here, Captain."

"Will you and Commander Tucker come to Sickbay, please?"

Trip gave Bernhard a look of concern and asked, "Is there something wrong with Johannes?"

"Not exactly, but I need both of you here."

They glanced at each other, then they both chorused, "On our way, Captain."

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trekwriter151

May 2012

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