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JP: LtCmdr Sal Taybrim & PNPC Lt Vance Sheridan, "Rock Bottom&


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((Starbase 118: Executive Officer’s Office))


::Vance stood outside Commander Taybrim’s office, listening to the sound of his own pulse in his ears. He didn’t usually get nervous about being on the receiving end of a counselling session, but then they were usually just routine check ups. In this case, he knew he was going to have to confront a number of unpleasant things, and he wasn’t looking forward to it at all. Fortunately, the starbase’s first officer had graciously agreed to slot a session into his busy schedule, which meant that Vance had been spared from speaking to a member of his own department. He trusted in their abilities, of course, but there was a part of him that felt like talking to them would make things difficult for him in the long run. He didn’t want to risk giving himself a complex about seeing one of his colleagues around and about in the corridors if this ended up taking more than one session.::


::Taking a deep breath, he pushed the door chime and waited to be called inside.::


Taybrim: Enter


::Vance walked through the doors, feeling as though his legs were pulling against elastic restraints. He made an attempt at a cheerful salute.::


Sheridan: Hello, Commander. Thanks for agreeing to see me.


::Sal nodded, gazing up placidly from the stack of reports he had on his desk. The office was tidy, neatly set with various stacks of work in organized piles. The walls and flat surfaces were decorated with a relaxing array of pictures and pieces of artwork, some of which Sal had chosen for the lovely moods they created (things that had decorated his office as a counselor) and some that were sentimental - brought back from various shore leaves or gifted from friends. There were holopics of his family from several years ago on Betazed, mementos from former crewmates, and one small rather humorous trophy for the ‘Academy Classic Mini Golf Championship’ of 2388.


The whole room smelled of orange, cinnamon and a faint lingering note of pepper, owing to Sal’s beverage of choice.::


Taybrim: I’m glad to have a chance to talk. ::he gestured to one of the open chairs:: Please be seated. Can I get you anything to drink?


::Vance sat down, taking a deep breath and sitting on his hands to keep from giving away exactly how nervous he was.::


Sheridan: I was going to ask for a coffee, but it smells really orangey in here. Is it from herbal tea?


Taybrim: Rigellian orange cider. ::A faint grin:: I only drink coffee on special occasions. Or high stress occasions. In the region of Betazed where I grew up, citrus fruits were very popular. They’re more astringent on Betazed, though - almost medicinal. So when I found other planets had citrus, I was hooked. ::he chuckled:: I suppose I can think of worse things to be attracted to.


::He had a point. It was easy to drink too much coffee when you were in an office job, or at least the office-based part of a Starfleet officer’s duties. Herbal tea was much better for you, and could hardly be described as a vice.::


Sheridan: You’re right. I think I’d like to add some citrus to my life as well, please.


::In all honesty, Vance had already drunk enough coffee in the past few days that he was surprised he wasn’t suffering from a major outbreak of the jitters. Anything that could help him to relax would be most welcome.::


::Two mugs materialized into the replicator pad. Sal had tweaked his favorite into several versions, and while his normal morning brew had a combination of sweet orange and the slow burn of pepper in it, the one he opted for was mellower, tinged with a hint of honey and a bit of cinnamon and ircan root for a ginger like heat without a burn. He offered the first mug over towards Vance, retaining the second::


::As they settled, Sal leaned back, slowly shifting from his executive officer hat into his well worn counselor skin. When he had first started his career he had agonized about shifting departments, several times. But as things went on, he started to appreciate this breadth of skills, even if his depth in any one area was lean. There were many skills from his past assignments that he valued - and this was one of them.::


Taybrim: How have you been, since the aftermath of the riots? ::His voice was even, with an undercurrent of empathy. There had been so much work that was done in the last few days, he expected the majority of the crew was feeling drained - none so much as those committed to keeping everyone sane::


::Vance took in a long, slow deep breath. He could pointlessly stall for time, (“Fine, everything has been going OK, I just wanted some advice on maintaining work/life balance…”) or he could do what he knew he had come here to do and tell the truth. His session with Sabina the day before had opened his eyes to the fact that he needed to offload some of his problems and stop them from growing into something bigger. This was his chance.::


Sheridan: Uhh, not so good, actually. I experienced some things that were pretty unpleasant and made some calls that I’m really not so proud of. Kind of to the point where I really feel like I failed to do my duty… so I’ve been burying myself in appointments to make sure I have to focus on other people rather than myself.


Taybrim: ::Ginger brows knit together for a few moments, considering the admission. It wasn’t unusual for a counselor to bury themselves in work for various reasons. Though it was quite perceptive of Sheridan to parse out the reasons for his actions. His true question was on how Sheridan felt he had failed, when by all official reports he had done quite well. But first things first. Deal with the thick layer of pain that was coating the delicate feelings of self doubt.:: Experiencing the unpleasant I understand all too clearly. Have you talked about is before now?


::Vance shrugged, and looked in the direction of one of the pictures hanging on the wall without really focusing on it.::


Sheridan: No. I’ve been avoiding it. ::He looked down into his own lap.:: The stuff that happened, particularly on the Noguwip, isn’t like anything I’ve ever experienced before and I guess I was just hoping I’d get over it without having to talk to anyone.


::He looked up, wearing a resigned smile. That was the kind of behaviour he tended to gently admonish some of his patients for. It was easier to overlook when you were the guilty party, though.::


Taybrim: ::Open, coaxing:: What happened on the Noguwip?


::There was a pause as Vance tried to decide where he should start. Should he ease himself in with recounting the tale of being given the choice of watching a colleague have their head cut open by a circular saw or flashburning half of his own torso? Or the humiliating experience of having a telepathic being sifting through his thoughts and memories like choices on a replicator menu? He could feel anger starting to bubble up inside him and he tensed up, fingers clenching tighter around the handle of his mug.::


Sheridan: The… uh… the captain, of the Noguwip. His name was Y-rocck. He looked like a snake. No limbs, just this long body, with some kind of grotesque mask, almost like a clown. He said something about that entity that caused the riots being a demon, and that we all had to be cleansed.


::Sal’s own telepathy was weak, it came and went like waves lapping upon a shore as a result of youthful overconfidence and 100mA of electricity running through his body. But his empathy was still fairly strong. The tension is Vance’s form did not go unnoticed, nor did the sudden blackening of the emotional timbre in the room. In response the little ginger haired man seemed to radiate calmness, like a port of solace in a tempestuous ocean.::


Taybrim: ::Nodding understanding:: Go on.


Sheridan: He did something to stop us from beaming out. Set up a dampening field, or raised the ship’s shields or something. Then he started questioning us about the girl. I thought he was trying to find out what we knew about her, but now I think he was trying to find out how much contact we’d had with her. Only he didn’t do it by asking us questions.


Taybrim: ::Brows furrowed, the implications of that statement were dark and clear. Still, Vance needed to talk this out.:: What happened?


Sheridan: I saw it happen to Lieutenant Tiam first. Y-rocck was telepathic. He forced his way into her mind. Ambassador Calderan warned him that he needed to stop, but he just carried on. When he was done with her, she told us she was alright, but I didn’t have any time to worry about it before it was my turn.


::He abandoned his mug, leaving it on the table, and sank into his seat, wrapping his arms around himself, fists clenched around handfuls of uniform on each of his sides. He wanted to look at Taybrim and actually tell him the story, but his eyes wouldn’t lift higher than the rim of the table in front of him.::


Taybrim: ::Despite his calm demeanor, Sal’s teeth clenched. He knew that pose. He had not only seen it before, he had lived through it. For a moment his eyes closed, giving the man a second to steel himself. When he spoke, his voice was low, filled with kindness, and yet the sort of firmness one didn’t back away from:: What did he do?


Sheridan: He… he sifted through my recent memories. Reporting aboard the starbase. A conversation with Sabina in the turbolift. ::His words became more rapid.:: I could feel him digging around in my head, and I tried really hard to take control by thinking of a memory from school but the next thing I knew I was stood in the playground with a bunch of people pointing and laughing. I mean, I don’t even care about the memory - that kind of thing didn’t happen very often and it was a long time ago, but it was him just showing me a fraction of what he could do if I tried to stand up to him. I know that was a fraction.


::He could feel his anger and frustration intensifying, and he was talking past a lump in his throat now.::


Sheridan: It was like waving away an insect or something, and it took him no effort to just reach in and take control of my mind…


::He turned his face away and used the heel of his palm to intercept a hot tear before it could escape his eye, half hoping that the XO wouldn’t see it. He knew there was no way he would have missed it, though, especially seeing as there were more coming.::


Sheridan: God, this is embarrassing…


::He was referring to the fact that he couldn’t even keep control of his own emotions more than anything else. Control wasn’t something he was going to be allowed to have, apparently.::


Taybrim: It is not. ::He replied simply, letting that hang there for a moment before explaining:: Embarrassment implies your reaction is either wrong or foolish, when it is neither. Your reaction is natural and understandable, and I see no weakness in it. ::His dark eyes were fixed upon Vance, half hooded in a quiet, non-judgemental gaze::


::Vance heard the words and took some comfort in them. His reply came initially in the form of a nod as he gasped in awkward breaths, wiping at his eyes with his uniform sleeves. He was determined to take back some form of control. He wanted to acknowledge Taybrim’s sentiment a little better, though, and managed to croak out a word.::


Sheridan: Thanks.


Taybrim: ::He put a hand to his chin in thought:: ‘Cleansing’ is a very tame word for what was a crime committed upon you. Even with good intentions, telepathic rape is a criminal act. ::He spoke carefully, but the last words were sharp, no matter how softly they were delivered. The word rape was a difficult one in particular, and the concept was too often skirted around by those unwilling to struggle with the full magnitude of the crime committed upon people like the away team.::


::Rape. Vance hadn’t thought of it like that. He’d been trained at the academy to help victims of rape as part of his studies to become a counsellor. Not one day ago, he’d sat down opposite Sabina Tiam, who had been exposed to the same thing he had, and run what he had felt had been a successful support session. They had discussed the feelings of helplessness and anger that she had been feeling and the effect that Y-rocck’s influence was having on her life. He’d even recognised potential signs of trauma, and dealt with them as such, but he hadn’t thought of that word. And yet it was one that should have come to mind. Maybe it didn’t matter that he hadn’t said it out loud during that session as far as Sabina’s treatment went but, ordinarily, he would have. So why hadn’t he?::


::Because it was a dirty, ugly word, and it made him feel weak and stupid.::


::The realisation was enough of a shock to stem the tears, though. There was none of the usual brightness in the Vance Sheridan that finally spoke, and he latched onto one of the details that the commander had mentioned.::


Sheridan: I don’t even think that was the cleansing. That seemed to just be his way of proving a point. The cleansing came after we were all dragged away by some weird creature with tentacles and dropped into containment pods. Lieutenant Tiam’s pod started filling up with gas, and Ambassador Calderan’s had a circular blade slowly descending towards her head. Nothing happened in my pod, but I was the only one with a phaser.


Taybrim: ::He frowned, deeply. These aliens may operate on a different cultural standard than the Federation, but this entire story was turning into one of abuse of three Starfleet officers. Abuse that was passed off as ‘cleansing’ and therefore a ‘good thing.’ Sal was disgusted by the story that was shaping up:: What did you do?


::Even though Y-rocck seemed to have wanted the officers’ imprisonment to have the greatest impact on them, Vance found it much easier to recant the tale of their escape from captivity and how they had been declared as ‘cleansed’ than he had about Y-rocck’s mental probe.::


Sheridan: I didn’t have any choice but to fire at my cell, point blank, with the phaser on high thermal. I broke out, but suffered burns on my arm and down my side. I don’t really remember a lot of what happened after that, other than that I beamed out with Lieutenant Tiam, and we left Ambassador Calderan behind.


::He immediately turned his head away as he felt a fresh wave of guilt and shame. How could he have left her, knowing what the monsters on that ship were capable of?::


Taybrim: You didn’t leave her behind. You were forced to return. There is a difference between a choice you willingly make and one you must endure.


Sheridan: Twice, though? I did it to her again on the promenade when I told you it was OK to just beam her out…


::On some level, he knew that he hadn’t had a choice, but he was losing the battle against his emotions again. He was a good person. He’d done nothing but help people this far in his career and he’d prided himself on that. Literally the second he’d stepped onto Starbase 118, that had changed. He slumped forward, elbows on knees, gripping the back of his head with both hands. It felt like someone had smashed through the [...] that let him hold back his feelings and keep them in control.::


::No, not ‘someone’. Y-rocck. He was to blame for it. Well, he wasn’t going to win. Not this time.::


Taybrim: ::He could feel the emotions rolling off the counselor, without even reaching for them. It made Sal chew his bottom lip, a surge of empathy welling in his chest.:: Vance, your reactions to what happened were unavoidable. And what you feel is normal. It may be uncomfortable, but that does not mean it is not valid.


Sheridan: It fell to me to make the call. It’s my fault.


::He still hadn’t been to see if Ambassador Calderan was alright, in fact. That would have involved facing up to his own decisions, as well as his experiences on Noguwip, and he wasn’t sure he was strong enough to do that yet. How selfish he was.::


Taybrim: Do not blame yourself. If others blame you, it is only because they do not understand what has happened. ::He leaned forward. He was all too well aware of the pain and anger the counselor must be feeling, and he felt a deep need to reach out, and offer something, even just a sympathetic ear:: You can come here any time you need. I would be happy to meet with you.


::Vance let out a deep sigh and sat up again, rubbing his forehead. He looked at Sal through red, puffy eyes. It did come as a relief that he was being so understanding and supportive, and he felt like having someone to talk to if he needed it would be a good thing.::


Sheridan: I would really appreciate that.


Taybrim: ::A nod:: Regular social contact will help you feel less isolated. ::A small smile:: If you like we can make a lunch date. Private or public, either works for me.


::While his first instinct was to say private, Vance was determined to keep as much of his routine as normal as possible. He didn’t want to take any more time off work and he wanted to try to take each day as normal. Didn’t he deserve to be able to do that? He hadn’t asked for any of this.::


Sheridan: I think I’d like to try public, but maybe not somewhere too busy. I’ve been feeling uncomfortable around telepaths lately, although not you - you’ve been really helpful. I think I’d get on better with somewhere I can see who’s around me… for now anyway.


::It was interesting to him that he didn’t find Sal Taybrim threatening. Maybe it was because he’d been so understanding that he was able to trust that he wasn’t just going to rifle through the private thoughts in Vance’s head. Or maybe it was because he’d just broken down in front of him and admitted to feeling weak and desperate, so he didn’t feel there was much left to humiliate him in his eyes. Either way, he felt like he was an ally. He wasn’t completely uncomfortable around Sabina either, so maybe this was something he would be able to get over relatively quickly.::


Taybrim: My species has a very strict code when it comes to the moral conduct of telepathy. ::he mused quietly:: I think you will find Tiam in agreement, and she will likely be another empathetic support. ::A pause, before he gazed back at Vance:: I would be happy to meet wherever you are comfortable. And you are always welcome to change your mind as to place. ::he smiled, knowing that it was difficult to commit to decisions during a healing process. Sal was more than willing to be flexible - he remembered how much he had appreciated the people who were flexible with him and had resolved long ago to offer it to others.::


::Vance finally cracked something that resembled a half smile. At least things were out in the open now. Sometimes you had to let yourself go so that you could build yourself back up again. He’d seen it happen enough times with his patients to know that.::


Sheridan: Thanks. ::He took in a deep breath through his nose.:: I have the rest of the day off, so I think I’m going to see how many different desserts my replicator can make before it overloads. Maybe catch up on some rest.


::He was exhausted, after all, and he hadn’t really given himself enough time to recover from the physical toll the last mission had extorted from him.::


Taybrim: I think that is an excellent idea. Set no alarms and sleep as long as you need. ::A fond smile. He knew how grueling Starfleet could be, and for some reason all the good officers seemed to feel guilty when they took time for themselves.::


::No-one on Vance’s staff had complained once when he’d re-jigged the schedule to give himself some down time. Maybe they had noticed he’d been pulling double shifts since the riots had finished. He doubted they would mind one more morning.::


Sheridan: Thank you, Sir. That’s really good of you. I’ll do that.


Taybrim: ::He stood as the other man stood and offered a hand out. It wasn’t quite the Human handshake, just a clasping of hands. The reaffirmation that people were physically there for you, willing to support you without hurting you.:: Rest well, Vance. Let me know where you would like to get lunch tomorrow. ::he smiled with the look of ‘if you sleep through breakfast, I’ll never tell’::


::Vance really did appreciate that gesture. He’d only met the commander in person just a few minutes ago, and he already felt like he could depend on him. Meeting up for lunch and talking about something other than the horrors of the Noguwip would be a welcome change from driving himself to the point of exhaustion each day. It kept his mind off the things he didn’t want to think about, but it wasn’t doing him any favours in the long run.::


Sheridan: I will. I’m looking forward to it already.


::Sal offered one last parting smile, letting the man leave at his own leisure before he sat back. The whole affair with the Noguwip was turning up some painful and unpleasant truths. He had confidence that both Tiam and Sheridan would recover in time. Perhaps Sheridan would need more time, but he was starting to realize the situation and was certainly taking steps along the path of the healing process. The only member of the away team he hadn’t seen was Nia Calderan, and he was worried that Y’Rocck’s influence was even stronger on her than the others, judging from her reactions when she was beamed back onboard. Considering her position and her relationship to Commander Handley-Page; Sal was very worried about her. The little ginger XO frowned as the doors to his office closed. This past mission rent the crew in more ways than one.::


::The door slid closed behind quite a different Vance Sheridan than the one that had walked into the office. His eyes were a little less bright than they had been when he’d reported aboard the station, and he felt like he’d left a part of himself on the alien ship. Still, his meeting with Commander Taybrim had proved that there were people who were prepared to help him to get back on his feet. With their help, and by thinking about his own training, he felt he had a good chance of getting through this.::


~*~

tbc

~*~


A JP by:


PNPC Lieutenant Vance Sheridan

Counsellor

Starbase 118 Ops


SIMmed by: Lieutenant Commander Chen


~and~


Lt. Commander Sal Taybrim

Executive Officer

StarBase 118 Ops

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