I always loved this community. I find it therapeutically to have this place to hide away for a few minutes from RL, sometimes by writing, others by reading.
And I have to thank this pair of talented writers. This isn't exactly an uplifting sim, but it was one I had to read all trough it, and allowed me a few minutes .
Thank you Sal and Alora.
I joined all the four parts, sorry to make it long, but this is the way it's meant to be read.
((Virixis VI - Alora’s Cabin))
Alora’s fingers danced over the keys of the piano, the ivory and black rectangles bouncing up and down as her hands worked her way over them. The speed was far too slow for the piece, Chopin’s Etude in G-sharp minor, but there was no way Alora was anywhere near ready to play a tempo. Known among pianists as one of the most difficult pieces to play, she had set it before her as a challenge, a goal, something to take up time and effort and brainpower as well as a composition that would allow her to stretch her skills and become a better player. Playing in thirds wasn’t for the faint hearted, but that piece was an ambitious project for even the foremost pianists. Needless to say, it was even more exacting for someone whose every waking moment wasn’t set before a piano. Although she had been playing for two and a half decades, Alora found herself stumbling at handling those thirds, particularly with the delicate touch the semi-quavers required.
Yet, she was not above attempting something difficult. Scaling a mountain like that particular étude, pushing through the complicated runs and delicate trills that raced up and down the keys, would only end in a deep sense of satisfaction one felt after overcoming such a task. So, despite the painstakingly sluggish pace she had to set just to get through the first two measures, she was determined to wade through it. Like anything else, it was most difficult when first approached, and only time and practise would help her push through.
She’d gone through the two measures she’d planned to tackle seven times when the chirp of the door made her hands pause and she turned on the small bench to face the door of her cabin. When the system was told to allow the visitor to enter, the door opened and a familiar face passed through.
Formal. That wasn’t normally Alora’s style, but she bounced back and forth with him, uncertainty making her doubt, doubt making her traverse down a more cautious road.
Taybrim: Commander ::He gave her a polite, gentle greeting with a traditional Betazoid gesture.::
DeVeau: To what do I owe the visit?
Taybrim: I wanted to touch base with you and see how you were doing.
Just like Sal. He was always looking out for others, always making sure they were taken care of. Dropping her gaze, her smile took on a little more humour which reflected in her eyes when she finally raised them again.
DeVeau: Do you feel like I need to be checked on?
Taybrim: I know the mission was harrowing, but I am more concerned about your overall well being.
Maybe he was still thinking of the telepathic contact he had with her. Perhaps it was a general sense of worry for her condition. Both? She was a valuable member of the crew and he wanted to make sure she was well.
Harrowing. It was an apt word, one she had used on many occasions herself. Now? That mission? It wasn’t harrowing. Not compared to other experiences.
DeVeau: Trust me when I say I’ve been through worse.
Much worse, physically, emotionally, telepathically. Alora wasn’t sure if there was going to be anything else thrown at her that compared.
DeVeau: More importantly, how are you doing?
Did anyone ever ask him that? Did anyone check after the Commodore? See to his well being? Alora hoped so.
Taybrim: I am well enough. Though I always worry that there is still more to do.
A gross understatement if there ever was one. But he had taken the time to start to process all that had happened. It was a journey, and he was moving forward.
Still, there were things that lingered in his mind as issues that could come up in the future. And that always worried him.
DeVeau: But it’s over. And we won. ::She paused for a moment, then added - :: You won.
Taybrim: We all won ::he gently offered:: You, Max, Sheila, the whole crew. We all helped. You were more help than you could know.
DeVeau: Not me. I got involved at the last minute. You’ve been dealing with this for how many years?
Sal took in a long, slow breath and contemplated that question. A while. A long while.
Taybrim: Nearly three for the cult itself. ::he considered:: Over five for dealing with the Syndicate.
Ah. That was one area where they still had a war - but this, they’d won against the Cult, and that was a decisive victory. It didn’t end everything, but it did cut off a very real threat, and for the moment, Alora felt they could at least take some relief in that.
DeVeau: There will always be more to do, unfortunately. The Syndicate is a much bigger fish to fry.
Taybrim: I have to accept that some things will never truly go away, but we are able to protect what we love rather than destroy what we hate.
DeVeau: That’s the difference between us and them. We don’t fight because we want to, we fight because we have to, and if we can find other ways to accomplish our goals, so much the better.
He nodded gently, in complete agreement on this.
Taybrim: I agree, this is true. I have hope that if we stay on this course we can protect what we value and help our allies to continue to strengthen themselves. Even in this harrowing mission we still met and worked with plenty of Klingons who understood the stakes and rose to protect what was valuable to them.
Alora studied the man for a moment, her expression neutral, eyes unwilling to reveal with thoughts roamed through her mind. A moment later, she turned, fingers quickly finding the switch that turned off the digital piano that had been provided for her by the resort, then rose. She faced him once again, hands lacing together and resting in front of her.
DeVeau: I have a feeling that’s not the only reason you came by.
Taybrim: You are correct ::He smiled gently:: I know things have been somewhat odd between us from the feelings shared at the Gratitude festival to the telepathic contact. I wanted to see if I could understand your thoughts and feelings on the matter.
There was that gentle tone of the counselor paired with the Betazoid honesty that just came right out and cut to the chase.
Immediately, Alora stiffened at the mention of the Gratitude Festival. In some ways, she had a desire to simply forget about everything that had occurred, every thought or emotion that had been stirred by that concoction which had invaded her body and spurred them to life. On the other hand, Alora had found something she’d thought she’d lost, an ability she hadn’t expected to retain. Either way, she seemed to dwell in a strange mixed existence of uncertainty, guilt, and maybe even a hint of regret. Her footing had been compromised and she was afraid that if she attempted to make a step forward, she’d simply fall and there wouldn’t be a net to catch her. Her reticence spurred the Commodore to continue.
Taybrim: I understand how awkward things were under the influence of the tainted Spring wine. Though I hope you know that I do not hold anything against any crew who was affected during the festival. I, myself, was also affected.
She didn’t want to talk about it. Wasn’t sure how to talk about it. Even though she’d managed to speak to Ashley about it, Alora still couldn’t face the red haired man himself, and try as he might, the Counselor’s attempts to help her come to some sort of resolution had been fruitless. The demons had been fed and they continued to lurk in the shadows, using this as merely fodder for tormenting her. Turning, Alora crossed the room, her eyes breaking away from Sal, avoiding him, training themselves on a new goal, something to distract her.
DeVeau: Do you want something to drink?
He nodded gently, pulling back and giving her some time.
Taybrim: Sure. Orange cider if you would?
Alora, of course, was going to imbibe. After making the Commodore’s request, she ordered chocolate milk for herself, program 100, one of the top favourites. It was a go to when she felt like she needed a little something extra. She paused at his words, then reached out to take her glass, but she didn’t actually drink, and her back remained turned to him, her focus on the sweet drink that she’d requested but seemed only able to stare at.
DeVeau: I’m not sure what to say.
Taybrim: There is no ‘what’ to say. I have no expectations. Sometimes putting feelings you cannot explain into words is a journey and even if you never reach the destination the attempt is worthwhile.
That orange cider sat there, patiently waiting to be taken to the one who had asked for it. Like the man behind her, it offered no condemnation. Yet, Alora still winced, though she wasn’t sure why exactly. Sal Taybrim was, if nothing else, a kind man, so why did what he say sting? Or was she just done with his attempt at broaching the subject?
Taybrim: I accept that you may not be able to answer now, nor soon, nor even on any timeframe that you know. ::He stated openly.::
Maybe it was important that she was simply aware that he knew. That he was prompting her forward on that journey.
Alora inhaled and let out a heavy sigh, then finally reached out to curl her fingers around the glass. It was cool to the touch, and she could smell the citrus as she turned and carried it to the commodore. Finally passing it along, she motioned to the seating area of the room.
DeVeau: Feel free to sit down.
It felt odd, standing there like that. Stiff. Formal. Alora didn’t like it, even though she was taking a more formal stance in other ways. Choosing an armchair for herself, Alora lowered herself down and allowed herself a sip. Thick, chocolatey, oh so good, it slid down her throat, and, perhaps, offered a bit of courage.
DeVeau: Is that the only reason you came by?
Sal settled himself comfortably once asked and leaned forward, shaking his head gently.
Taybrim: No. There is never only one reason to come. There is a world of things we could talk about to understand one another better on so many levels.
For a second time, Alora lifted the glass, savouring the sweetness of her drink, though her eyes flicked up to peer at Sal from over the rim. She dared to turn the topic around, back to something else, something where she felt like she had more secure footing.
DeVeau: Perhaps you would be willing to fulfill the promise you made to me before we went to Qo’nos?
He nodded very slowly, having already considered this and knowing it was a possibility that they would delve into it.
Taybrim: Yes, I am willing.
The cup lowered and she rested the bottom upon her palm, then turned it slowly around and around. Circles. It was going in circles. Sometimes that was how she felt.
DeVeau: Perhaps now would be a good time?
It was true, he had no other plans. Though he was still hesitant no matter how open and honest he was. It bled through his tone.
Taybrim: I have no other plans, so if you wish.
The shifting of the glass, the circling of it in her palm ceased, and she took one last sip from it before setting it down upon the coffee table, then straightened. Her hands laced together and she met his gaze.
DeVeau: I do wish.
Taybrim: You already know I am loathe to cause pain to someone I care about if I can somehow prevent it.
Or an innocent, he was even hesitant to cause pain to a dire enemy and would only consider it as a last resort for the cruel, the corrupt and the criminal. But he was also aware that so many enemies were simply good people of another opinion - just like the Klingon high Council where, in the end, so many of them were actually on the same side, though it took much effort to convince them.
And yet, in that, he also admitted that the telepathic communication Vananth had offered him was painful. She had been terribly injured at the time and just desperate to share the information. It was not her fault.
But it had been a difficult pile of memories to sift through.
DeVeau: I know. But I am loath to leave someone I…
She paused. Dare she say it? Could she say it? What did it mean if she gave it a voice? Was there more to it than simply what the word itself meant? Alora finished it, but the pit of her stomach roiled with uncertainty.
DeVeau: Someone I care about with such a burden to bear alone.
Taybrim: The burden has shifted since we met Kelemkor.
His voice was soft, murmured and yet piercing. That particular connection still rang heavy on his mind.
There was a tilt of her head, a slight lifting of her chin. She didn’t have to ask what he meant - she knew. Alora had been witness to the battle, though she did not know the exact details, had only seen the physical manifestation of what raged between their minds. It didn’t matter. She would not be deterred. Alora rose and closed the distance between them and sat beside him upon the couch. Without a word, she held out her hands to him, her gaze unwavering as hers met his own.
Taybrim: I… ::He hesitated, protective, careful. Stinging words still rang in his ears.:: I will share with you what Ariwyn Vanath showed me.
He did not trust himself to share Kelemkor’s mind. Not yet. He hadn’t yet processed that fully.
Then with the utmost care he started to open his mind to the experience of telepathically connecting with Ambassador Vananth.
He was being careful, trying to limit what he sent to her rather than deluge everything all at once. Alora had been prepared, had a taste of what was to come, but even so, she could not stop the sharp intake of air as the sights and sounds assaulted her. Wavering a little, her hold upon him tightened, and her eyes closed, allowing her to shut off external visual stimuli in order to concentrate on what she was receiving. It helped some, allowing her to focus her energy on dealing with the hand she was being dealt - one that she had requested.
Taybrim: I’m sorry… ::He whispered, trying to stave the flood to as slow of a trickle as possible, but even with his Herculean efforts at control, the flood continued.::
Despite his attempts, what he was sharing was unfathomably horrible. Torture, pain, hatred, malice. It wasn’t just that, the emotions that were so contrary to what was so ingrained in Starfleet, so opposite to the desire to help others and seek out their well being, but the way it was presented, the cacophony of images and noise, scenes scattered and out of order, a fantastic and horrifying array of another’s thoughts, ripped from one mind, shared from Ambassador to Captain, now from Commodore to First officer. Alora gritted her teeth, her eyes squeezed ever more tightly, her hold strengthening.
Taybrim: ~Let me stop…~
It was a plea. With minds linked, he admitted her control locked with his was an open door, one he could not close without causing pain. He would not cause her pain, and he needed her implicit mental permission to stave off the flow without pain.
Determination underscored that single word. How much had he borne and for so long? He’d carried it with him, a man without anyone to commiserate, without anyone to understand, to share it. It was painful, but she had expected that pain, and she didn’t fight it.
And yet, even as it flowed into her, the jumble of insanity, the back and forth and mix up of time, everything sort of slammed together in a maddening jumble of thoughts and feelings, Alora had an advantage - one that Sal had given her. She had a map.
Originally, what had been shared left everything in a neat and tidy order. While unpleasant, it was nothing compared to the agony that she was receiving now, though even what she received now was pale in comparison to her own past. Still, it was painful, but she pushed through it, unwilling to give in. What he had originally presented her with from their first connection was enough that she could use it, a map to guide everything that was thrown at her, to place what she knew from before properly and use that as a key to find the other pieces of the puzzle.
Taybrim: ~please…~ ::Now it was a plea for her to disconnect. A rising agony in his own mind at the pain he was sharing. Agony, shame, pain.::
It was almost like being on the holodeck, but there were multitudes of things flashing through at one time, half were the bits that had been given to her by Sal, playing their way through on one side, the other half the jumble, then between them, they sifted back and forth until it was becoming more cohesive, a single unit, a play that unwound itself in a semblance of order rather than the chaos that had suddenly been thrust at her. Without that guidance of what he’d given her, she would have been unable to sort through it as quickly as she was doing so. Even then, time would be needed, time that she didn’t want to spend right then and there. More inspection, more introspection, more retrospection, all combined to make true sense and give everything it’s proper consideration.
And there was where one of the skills that had been taught her came into play, one useful, perhaps used to her detriment more than should be, but in that moment became an act that allowed her to breathe, allowed her the chance to set it aside for the moment so she could thoroughly examine it all in her own time. Gathering it all, what she had processed in those moments - had they been moments, or hours? Time made no mark there in her mind - she swept them away, tucked them behind a door, one where she could turn her back on it, if just for a little while, granting herself a brief respite so she could ponder how to move forward with the knowledge she had suddenly gained.
That done, she inhaled, a deep almost gasping breath, and she clutched at him, suddenly realising that she no longer held him with one hand, but with both, her grip almost desperate, leaning into him, her breath quickening from the frantic mental race she had just run.
Finally able to withdraw and close his mental shielding tightly around his mind, he leaned forward and wrapped his arms around her shoulders, holding her steady in a gentle, paternal grip.
Taybrim: I am sorry. I am so, so sorry…
His words were spoken, dripping with pain and guilt.
DeVeau: I’m fine. I promise.
Sal stayed perfectly still, steady and gentle. As much of a rock as he could be for her. It was the least he could do.
Taybrim: Breathe, slowly. Focus on the here and now.
He was so worried about her. Always worried about others. Never about himself. How much more did he hold inside? Was what he shared only the tip of the universe that rest upon his shoulders? She remained in his grip, enjoying the warmth of his hold.
Taybrim: That is one of the keys. Here is real, now is real. Everything else is in the mind.
DeVeau: You don’t…
But his guilt spurred him on, so afraid of what he thought he had done to her.
Taybrim: ::He nodded slowly.:: Yes, everything in the mind is equally real. Real, but slippery while here and now is solid.
She didn’t break the hold he had on her. It was far too comforting, not because of what she had experienced, but because such touch had been so rare lately. Instead, she leaned further into it, one hand rising to rest tenderly upon his cheek and guide him so that she could look directly into his eyes . A smile spread across her face, small, but genuine.
DeVeau: It’s okay. You didn’t hurt me.
She hadn’t felt pain. Not her own pain. No, what she had felt had come from others. From him. She hadn’t meant to cause him pain. That was the last thing Alora wanted to do.
He tensed, the knotted feeling of his muscles spreading from his neck, through the shoulders and down into his core. He hated seeing others in pain and loathed causing others pain. But at the moment the mental tempest placed in his mind by Kelemkor was so harsh that all he could sense was pain.
His fathomless dark eyes locked with Alora, confusion bleeding through. How could she not sense the pain? Or did she feel it and withstand it?
Or did she feel it, endure it, and then give a gentle reassurance that she was fine? Because that’s exactly what Sal would do.
Taybrim: Are you sure?
He wanted - perhaps needed to know she was OK. Because behind those superior mental shields he was hurting and didn’t have nearly enough time to process it. The last thing he needed was hurting another to weigh upon his conscience.
DeVeau: But I’m sorry I hurt you. I didn’t mean to. I never want to…
This time he was solid. The tension in his body did not release, but his voice was calm and steady.
Taybrim: You did not hurt me. Ambassador Vananth did not hurt me. Do not blame yourself or anyone else for the scars Kelemkor caused.
His voice faltered slightly at Kelemkor’s name. The mind that would haunt him for quite some time.
Emerald met ebony, seeking, searching. Something was different, more had been left unspoken, the weight no less than before. Perhaps even heavier than before
DeVeau: Oh Sal, what did he do to you?
Taybrim: Same thing he tried with you ::he murmured:: Flaying the mind open to strip mine the pain. ::he took in a long, slow, breath.:: He didn’t win.
The words were confident and honest. But the tone wavered. Kelemkor lost the war, but the battle was gruesome and bloody. Even victors need to recover.
Alora took a deep breath then let it out slowly, her voice soft, a half whisper, but confident.
DeVeau: You don't have to hold back. Not with me. You can let go with me.
He stopped. Almost completely. His body was tight, breath paused, unblinking. This was a role reversal that he didn’t know if he was ready for.
He was the Commanding Officer. It was his role to be the bulwark for his crew. But his role was changing.
In the past he had easily endured. The poor leadership of Commodore Kinney was a welcome challenge, and even a Court Martial couldn’t flag Commander Taybrim’s focus and commitment. Losing Taelon in a temporal rift had only redoubled Captain Taybrim’s efforts to rescue and protect his friend. A deepening nerve damage condition had put Nijil after Fleet Captain Taybrim to enforce medical attention; something Sal accepted more quickly than Nijil expected - because he easily admitted it was foolish to not tend his health when there was important work to do.
Each of his previous First Officers had the benefit of serving at a time when the stakes were lower and the focus was not so tightly on them. But as Sal carried out his do-gooding clean up campaign in the Trinity Sector, notoriety and focus had grown to an uncomfortable degree.
Alora DeVeau had the unenviable role of being the first officer to a man in the most difficult of situations, where his ability to protect her was waning and his need for support was growing.
He felt ashamed.
Taybrim: I can’t. ::he said in a low, serious tone::
He couldn't? Alora didn’t understand, and the only thing she came out was a bare whisper of a word.
Taybrim: Alora, it is my job to teach you. To shelter and protect you so you can grow as a leader and succeed. This has been my promise to each of my first officers. ::he paused, his voice heavy with emotion:: It is unfair to burden you with my demons.
Is that what he thought? That he had to stand alone? To shoulder everything? To carry the weight of the universe upon his shoulders?
After Sal had tapped her as First Officer, Alora had suffered from doubts for the first time in her career. Navigating the strange new office, trying to find the balance between being a friend to her friends and one of their commanding officers had been difficult. And there were still things about that position she still wasn’t sure of.
But that? For the first time since she took up that position, Alora was certain of at least one role, and it wasn’t necessarily just as first officer. It was as a person who cared for him. Sal was Commodore. He was the commanding officer of Starbase 118 Ops. He was their leader.
Sal was also a regular man. And a friend. That was a word she could use. That was safe. That was something he could be. Something she could be. Whatever she felt, whatever strangeness affected her in her uncertainty with her emotions and where she stood, that was at the most basic and fundamental state of being what he was and what she would be to him - a friend.
A tremor rumbled deep within, but she was far too focused, far too determined at that time to let it take any hold. In that moment, it wasn’t about her, it wasn’t about what she felt, what she was struggling with. It was about him. What he needed.
DeVeau: Oh Sal...you’ve left out half of it.
He pressed his lips together, knowing he had left out far more than half. But he was curious as to which half she was referring to.
Taybrim: Which half?
DeVeau: The other half of the equation. We protect each other. We help each other. Bear each other's burdens.
Alora leaned forward, her brow touching his, eyes unwavering.
DeVeau: It is unfair for you to bear it all, to walk this path alone. I want to walk with you. Let me walk with you.
He paused and gazed back at her for one, long moment. As if he was reading her, without actually setting forward any telepathy.
Taybrim: You ask to bear my burdens, but you keep your burdens to yourself. ::he said gently.:: I would share your load and offer mine, but I will not overburden you.
That was why he had originally come. To check in with her. Through the tempest he had not lost sight of his original goal.
His words startled her, and like he had done before, she froze. Alora stared at him, her heart reacting by beating in her chest, pounding against her ribs. She had wanted to help him, relieve his burden. He’d turned it around on her.
DeVeau: You don’t...
Taybrim: It is unfair for you to bear it all and walk your path alone. I want to walk with you. Let me walk with you.
Oh yes, he had been listening.
Her stomach roiled and her body tensed. Alora had shared very little with anyone beyond Ashley, and even he hadn’t known about, at least not in detail, about some of the things she had experienced. She’d been set upon a path. A choice had been placed before her. First and foremost, she wanted to help Sal. Her relationship with Aron had helped show her the difficulties a Captain struggled with, that he needed someone just like anyone else. She had always tried to be a friend. Always tried to offer her support to others.
Now Sal was offering that support, just like Ashley. His approach was different, but there it was nonetheless. Except it was painful. Even with Ashley, she struggled to communicate, struggled to really talk to him. It had taken herculean effort from the counselor for her to even start.
And Sal? He was there. Right there. Offering. Offering and using her very own words against her.
Her throat constricted and she swallowed, her eyes glistening in the gentle light. Yet she didn’t pull away. Why didn’t she pull away? It had been so easy to do so before.
DeVeau: I...I won’t be overburdened.
Taybrim: Then you agree to share equally? ::He queried keenly, a diplomat’s gambit.::
Still she lingered, still she remained there, her eyes locked with his, but her emotions had shifted with the tide.
DeVeau: My burdens are nothing compared to yours.
Taybrim: Burdens are burdens. Comparing their weight is like comparing a targ to a Vulcan astrophysicist. They are so different and each keen in some areas and blunt in others that they cannot be compared.
Alora’s breath quickened with the pace of her heart. Uncertainty warred within her and her mouth worked, as if trying to form words, but the words she attempted to conjure flitted away. He missed nothing, however, caught the silence and answered it.
His expression was soft, welcoming, but his eyes were sharp. That perception of a Betazoid and a counselor.
Taybrim: I understand, Trust is a two way street. I trust easily, backed by my empathy. But I ask for trust in return.
Trust? Was it a matter of trust? Was that why she felt so hesitant? Was that why she struggled to talk about it? No. It wasn’t that.
DeVeau: I do trust you.
And she did. Sal was easy to trust. From the first day she had met him, she’d liked him, found it easy to trust him, both as a Commanding Officer and as a friend.
Taybrim: Then what is the roadblock?
Alora closed her eyes, shutting out his face, his gaze and trying to grab hold of some sort of control. She had been in control just moments before, but now her foot had slipped and she was struggling to hold it together.
DeVeau: It’s not a lack of trust…
Maybe that was true. Maybe it was a defense. Sal wasn’t about to call her out on one or the other. He was here to seek understanding.
Taybrim: I believe you. But I also believe there is more to it.
Her throat tightened further, her words caught in it, choking her voice until they were uttered so quietly that had he not been so close, they would have been lost.
DeVeau: It’s just...so hard.
He reached a hand out.
Taybrim: If you can’t tell me, maybe you can show me?
Alora’s eyes closed, clenching shut, wrestling with the idea. Did he know what he asked? Did he realise what he wanted? What he was asking her to do?
The very same thing she was asking of him.
The question was, could she? Could she be that open with him? Could she share everything? Did he want everything? What was it, exactly, that he wanted of her?
Those eyes opened, the emerald darkening as she gazed at him. They remained locked in that strange embrace, touching, but there seemed a mile of space between them. Her eyes held his gaze and she whispered her following query.
DeVeau: How much do you want?
Taybrim: How much are you willing to show?
Alora licked her lips, though her gaze remained unwavering, and the question came again, softer that time.
DeVeau: How much...do you want?
Taybrim: As much as you are able. ::He paused.:: All of it.
Could she do that? Could she give him all of it? Could she truly bare herself like that again? Could she take that risk?
Tremors coursed through her, her fingers shook again and once more her eyes closed as she took a breath. Steady. One.
A second .
A third step.
Letting it, she slowly whirled down the slide, and when her eyes opened once again, she was steadier. Her grasp on him tightened and she leaned forward.
DeVeau: All right.
There was a pause, a breath, a moment, before she gave the caveat.
DeVeau: You first.
His dark eyes twinkled just a little.
Taybrim: I already went. Now you are delaying. Maybe that is not mistrust, but that is fear.
He had gone, yes, but he had held back. Now she was holding back. Why was she holding back? Alora’s mouth thinned and her eyes lowered.
Taybrim: Fear is difficult and hard to grasp. ::He watched her for a moment:: I do not think you fear me. But I could be wrong.
That was an odd thing to say. Frowning, she looked back at him, shaking her head. Fear Sal? Never. Even from the beginning she held no fear in regards to him. Maybe she was strange that way, looking to her superior officers without the same sort of intimidation that others felt - but Sal was not the sort to instill fear, regardless.
DeVeau: No. it’s not that at all.
Taybrim: Then what do you fear?
That was a good question. What did she fear? What she had feared had already come to pass. She lived it. And though they came less often, she still continued to live it, awakening to the sound of her own screaming, the scent of burning metal and the echoes of the memories of pain on the edges of her consciousness. What did she fear?
Another deep breath was taken as she tried to figure out an answer. She wasn’t sure she had one. Maybe that was part of the problem.
When she finally answered, her voice was soft, and it wasn’t a true answer, but rather an inquiry, a half whispered interrogation.
DeVeau: How much do you want?
Taybrim: To start? What do you want to show?
DeVeau: Of...it. Me. How much do you want?
She had already asked that. Why was she asking again? Why was she hesitating? Why was she stalling, turning the same question around and around and around and neve quite giving an answer.
Sal took in a long, deep breath.
Taybrim: I am never the type to force you to do anything you do not want. You know this, but knowing this has placed us on unequal ground. So I ask you, again, how much are you willing to give?
This was the point where he had to openly give her the freedom to choose.
How much was she willing to give? That was another good question. One she hesitated to answer, one she struggled with. She hadn’t given much of herself to many people. Even Raissa, who had seen and been through a lot more with her than anyone, hadn’t seen certain depths. Only one person had been given everything.
What was she willing to give?
She sat there, staring at him, wrestling with her thoughts, her emotions, two sides in conflict, warring with each other, always at odds, never fully vanishing, only going quiet in the face of necessity as life managed to push them into the corners so she could ignore them for a while.
Taybrim: Then let me put it this way - I will give you in kind what you give me. Is that fair?
That meant she got to set the pace, and the overall sharing. He would follow her lead.
And again, how much was she willing to give? He was only asking for the same thing she was asking from him. How much did she want from him? Was it fair to ask that much? Could she give the same in return?
DeVeau: Then...let me share with you.
Taybrim: Alright ::He tipped his head forward in a gentle nod, holding out his hands to link.::
And there he was. His mind within hers, invited, willing, and welcome. Was he welcome? Yes. He was welcome. This was not an antagonistic presence, but a soothing one. His mind touch was gentle, tender. Perhaps even fearful, but he had nothing to fear. Not from her.
But what did she have to fear? Why did she fear? He had asked her that question and she still couldn’t answer.
She felt him, accepted him, and welcomed him. It was easy to connect to her, she knew, and she hoped that made it easier on him as well. The difficult part was sharing herself. What would she share? How little? How much? How many doors did she open?
How wide did she open them?
He was in her thoughts, in her realm. And so she took control, manifested the connection in a way that made sense to her, creating a visual, and there they were. The tangible world, it was still there, but in their mind's eye, there was nothing around them. Nothing but mist, neither pleasant or unpleasant, neither welcoming or foreboding. It was simply there. He stood, a mental image of himself exactly as he appeared in the real world, outside of the kingdom of her mind. She stood with him, facing him, the nothingness surrounding them both.
A simple opening. He mentally waved at her, like a childhood friend waiting to be led around, shown the sights.
Her eyes drifted away, peering through the shadowy cloud, as if seeking, searching, trying to pinpoint something, but there was nothing there.
What did she want to share? She knew what she wanted him to share. He was only asking for the same thing in return. Should she? Could she? In body and mind, she took another deep breath, another steeling exhale, and when she spoke, her thoughts filled his mind.
DeVeau: ~I don’t know where to begin.~
It wasn’t exactly opening up, but with the statement came a foot in the door, an offer, silent permission that allowed him to prod as deeply as he wished, and a silent promise that she would answer without holding back.
Taybrim: ~As simple as it sounds, most start at the beginning. You choose where it begins. The easiest memory? The favorite? The most present in your mind? The earliest? All are beginnings~
At the beginning? It made sense, she supposed, but did he want that? What would that accomplish? Yet she had said she would, hadn’t she? Had made a bargain. She would honour that as best she could.
She began to walk then, the nothing fading into something, that of the brightness of a childhood, a good childhood, one filled with love and warmth and light. The darkness that penetrated there was nothing, merely moments in time where it seemed all was dark and dim but as through a child’s eyes, an innocence in the suffering that was not truly suffering, simply a rite of passage, though scarring had started, still lingered in fears that plagued her even now, they were overshadowed by the delight that marked the majority of her days. A caring family, one that though it had its own black sheep had nevertheless always loved him, and loved her, and she them in return. Though by no means perfect, even her recollection was idyllic compared to some whose pasts were checked with strife and want. Yet she had never wanted. She had never lacked.
There was much that came at him, the passage of days and years coming at him in seconds. They were not what hindered her. She delighted in their recollection, save for a few moments here and there. For the most part, she could breathe freely in that past, rejoice in the gifts she had.
Then there was Starfleet, an ever tempting goal that had started as a possibility, then grew into a passion. Her acceptance, her years as a cadet, they flew by, filled with eagerness and anticipation. Her first assignment under Captain Aron Kells, the meeting of Saveron, the ups and downs of missions successful and unsuccessful. The memories of trauma, of pain, of those who had caused that pain, they flashed by, the tide of emotions rising and falling in waves and in response to all the things that had occurred, moments of fear and sadness, moments of triumph and rejoicing. Tenderness, the love she felt for a man and his son, the sisterhood she had with others, some faces familiar, one very familiar among them - that of Chythar, others not, but in her memories, he got a chance to know them, to see them as she see saw them.
And the darkness too. It had begun truly in Starfleet, on an early mission, but even that was nothing in comparison with what came after. And it was there she paused, the scene fading, the nothingness returning, and he could sense her hesitation. Her fear.
Sal stayed, steady, an observer. He didn’t interfere, he just watched, trying to understand.
Taybrim: ~ Is this a stop?~ ::he queried, feeling the entire scene dramatically slow down.::
DeVeau: ~ It’s hard. This part. ~
Not as hard as what had come after, but difficult to make her pause. .
Taybrim: ~ Many things are difficult. That is unfortunate, I empathize. But I will offer support. This I can promise.~
It was hard to get through traumatic events - and Starfleet was full of traumatic events. And despite having a counselor on every ship, sometimes such things festered.
DeVeau: I made a promise. I gave my word.
And there was that fear, the lingering demon that swirled the fathoms below, stirred up, waiting for the moment to strike. In the physical realm, Alora took a deep breath, her mind voice soft.
DeVeau: ~You will not like what you see. ~
Taybrim: ~ I do not have to like it ~ ::he thought in an oddly reassuring tone.:: ~I need to understand it. There are things in my own past I do not like. That does not mean they cannot be grappled with.~
She had warned him, her affirmation was given in the revealing of that memory, picking up where she had left off, moving forward, and a name that should have been a welcome one, something denoting a relation, a connection, one either born or forged in love and respect. Yet, the term as presented in that moment made her shudder - The Kindred.
And suddenly he was there, experiencing it as she did, the sudden violation of her mind, the searing pain that ripped through her psyche constantly once it invaded. The cruelty of its intent. It used her as well as the flora upon the ship, items that should have been beautiful, twisted and morphed into something nefarious. They grew and grew, taking over the ship. It was Christmast time, a decidedly human holiday, but one that was supposed to be filled with joy and laughter. Instead, he saw a man clad as the jolly old elf snatched in the clutches of monstrous vines, hear the choking cry die upon his lips, the padding of the strange yet playful outfit writing and trembling until it finally deflated. He could feel the tingle in his fingertips and outwardly her own trembling as she re-lived it.
He was only the first, most dispatched in the similar way, each one experienced by her, as if she had taken their lives from them, as if she had been the one to do it. Then another, a single young ensign, one who had been as excited as she had with his first assignment, who had endeared himself quickly due to his quick wit and pleasant nature, was caught up by her very own hands. The long, slender fingers curled around his throat, the pulse of his body, desperately trying to pump life into his veins, the gasping of his chest as he struggled to fill his lungs with air that was cut off by her own, relentless grip, the bulging of his eyes, the pounding of his heartbeat that began to slow, and slow, and slow til it fluttered, like a faint whisper against the skin, then faded away. The torturous pain continued to lace through her mind even as the surge of power struck her. Power over life and death, the power to take it away, to have such control over a person’s face, and the sheer awesomeness of that ability surged through her. And she recoiled, recoiled from it, recoiled from the phantoms that cackled in her mind, who lashed at her with a thousand hot irons as they held her firmly in her mental prison, punishing her for her unwillingness to cease her resistance, her struggle that was in vain, and slowly she began to despair.
She could still feel the flesh as it folded beneath her grip.
It went on. Others were hurt, Rahman captured, strung up like a piece of meat. Where the flora embraced her, it assaulted others, engulfing them in its malevolent embrace.
DeVeau: I am the Kindred. We are the Kindred.
And it would not be denied. It had encompassed her, swallowed her whole, and she wept within the tortuous cell of her mind they had trapped her in.
Aron. They had Aron. And Captain Egan Manno.
Egan Manno: A captain protects her family.
And she did. She had destroyed them, had been what released them, the agonizing pain of their departure, the blinding anguish was followed by a brief respite of darkness.
Yet she could still feel the pulse fluttering against her fingers.
Taybrim: ~ A terrible assault ~ ::He murmured quietly, feeling the emotions sink into him. Telepathy was his secondary skill - empathy his primary. His telepathic projection remained calm, stoic, supportive and gentle. But his flesh and blood body rocked, processing the emotions she broadcast.::
She moved beyond that. To her family, to the experiences that came after. To Saveron, his teachings, the beginning of the foundations that started to strengthen her mind. Chythar, Raissa coming behind him. The joys, the sorrows, the heartbreak, the healing, the fortification it all flashed past him and her, a shared experience, one ending where the other began, one beginning where the other ended, together traversing down a road that had already been traveled, and now was traveled again. It got better. It went on, the changing of the guard, the changing of the ship, the new posting, her time in the Shoals, Rahman now Captain, Skyfire with her, Raissa, friends, family that had been with her thick andthen, the tapping for a new, classified mission. The meeting of Eudora and Kalin, the painful standoff, the willingness to teach her, the fortifying of the fortress of her mind, the eagerness of discoveries to be made - real discoveries, ones that could help others, ones that could change the course of medicine, the cynical quips, the teasing responses, the passing of time, time spent with one another, growing closer, their first kiss, their developing closeness, the way their minds touched, the tenderness he showed to no one else but her, his mental presence becoming a constant, the sudden proposal, the subsequent impromptu and informal ceremony, the intimacy shared, the joy that came of it, the continuation of their work, the possible break through and the excitement of the attempt to test it.
She trembled, her grip vice like, nails digging into his flesh as the images spurred on, the time moving more quickly, desperate. She faltered, mentally stumbling, the images becoming almost blurred, faces and sounds and smells rushing together into madness. A brief flash of Captain Eudora, her face grim, eyes despairing before blast doors cut off the image. Kalin’s face, klaxon alarms, the acrid smell of some chemical agent, the sting of heat, the roughness of hands grabbing her in desperation, the shadows that consumed her as she was tossed into some large container, the last thing she saw was Kalin’s face before the door hammered shut, the roar of the metal as she pounded against it, the high pitch of her scream, then the sudden, agonizing, searing pain that, like a sword slicing through her, as if her entire body was being ripped apart, mind, body, and soul torn to shreds before she suddenly plunged into the sweet release of darkness.
Taybrim: ~They sacrificed themselves? But you survived?~
A heart beat. Strong. Steady. Voices echoed, distant, and images came in a thin line as the light stung her eyes. Someone was speaking to her, calling her name, shadowed forms slowly focusing into familiar faces, the glare of Sickbay lights drowning everything.
Then fear. Emptiness. Both gripped her, icy fingers clutching at her heart. All around her, bodies moved, people hurried about, the beep of the computer punctuated the syllables of their words, but she heard nothing, barely saw anything, because something was missing. That presence, the constant companion in the recess of her mind, was gone, a chasm in his place.
Kalin was gone.
Sal Taybrim was silent for seconds that seemed to stretch to eternity. He had never seen the other side of self-sacrifice. How raw and painful it was. The emptiness, the longing, the survivor’s guilt. An act of pure love, to let one live through sacrifice.
And yet it led to unyielding pain.
Taybrim: ~ I’m sorry, Alora. ~
He offered the thought as compassionately as he could. Soft and open. He reached his hands out to her.
Her breathing came heavily, and he could almost see the roiling of her emotions as she struggled and fought against them, struggling to keep control. She wanted to flee,to fly away, to not face him, not face it, not face any of it, but for once, she dug in her heels. For once, she stayed. She had made a promise. She had fulfilled it.
It occurred to Sal, in a slowly evolving thought process, that his own self-sacrificing actions were quite triggering for someone who had lost so much. He started to feel foolish.
Taybrim: ~ How long have you carried this burden? ~
How long? It seemed like forever. It clouded everything, overshadowed everything. Even when she was able to shove it aside and focus on life, it was, lingering in the shadows, a pacing dragon ready to strike and lash out without warning.
Alora trembled and she took a few more steadying breaths. One. Two. Three. It was an established pattern, a silent mantra that sometimes worked, sometimes didn’t. In that moment, perhaps the soothing presence of the man across from her aiding in its effectiveness. Closing her eyes, she finally answered.
DeVeau: ~ A little over a year. ~
Her eyes opened, but it wasn’t necessary. He was still there, she saw him, felt him. She didn’t need to use her eyes.
DeVeau: ~How long have you held on to yours?
Taybrim: ~ Some of it for days, some of it for decades~
She had to take another moment, had to focus on something else, something other than herself, something other than her own story, her own sorrow. Once again, her hands clutched at him, and she noted the softness of the sleeves, the soft rhythm of his breath, the brightness of his hair, the darkness of his eyes.
Breathe, slowly. Focus on the here and now.
He had spoken words that had been spoken before, to her, to remind her, to bring her back to the present. Now, they echoed again, that time in his voice. Another series of breaths followed.
DeVeau: ~Maybe it’s time you shared it.~
He paused and reached out, hesitating for a moment.
Taybrim: ~I mean this when I say this is strictly confidential. But you do need to know.~
Alora frowned. Everything was confidential. That was a given. She knew he would say nothing about anything she’d shared, she would offer the same respect. But something in the way he said it unsettled her .
DeVeau: ~It will remain confidential.~
A touch, featherlight like fingertips against her mind. A memory so fresh it was still warm and weeping.
An unauthorized trip, through back passages, avoiding all the reporters. Whyever would there be an issue going to one’s own home? Hauke told him to stay on the Narendra. But this was such a small break of orders. He just wanted to retrieve one or two personal effects.
He paused at the door, hand over the lock. A momentary bad feeling. Double checking. Nothing.
Home. Quarters. Sal had beautiful quarters. Non-standard. Organic curves, hardwood, full of plants. Bathed in a dim golden glow from a table lamp. Peaceful, serene, comforting.
He paused in the entryway, body tensing. A return of the bad feeling. Checking again. Nothing.
Eyes locked with his. Hot breath. The whisper of a blade far too close to his kidney for comfort. The form pulled backwards. Another blade. A hiss of air. A spray of blood. Dead eyes. The body of the assassin dropped to the carpet which had a steady stain of green growing across the cream.
An accented voice: “You should not be here. No longer safe.”
A spike in heart rate, a realization.
Assassination. Far too close. Both in time and in how close he came to watching his own murder.
There was a long, guilty pause.
Taybrim: ~This was six days ago, now.~
For a moment, Alora sat frozen, her eyes wide, and the fear? It shifted, shifted from something that lingered deep within and became focused. It was fear for him.
Taybrim: ~I’m on the Tal Shiar’s hit list~ ::he admitted.::
A foreign feeling welled up in Sal’s chest. Anxiety, discomfort, the seeds of terror that something might be lingering in the shadows at every turn. Terror that bred paranoia. He didn’t like it. He didn’t like checking over his shoulders, he didn’t like the memory of blood spraying across his quarters or coming a hair’s breadth to death.
He hadn’t shared as much as she had expected, but what he had was mortifying. She moved. Without thinking, without hesitation, she shifted, pulling herself out of his grasp so that she could encircle her arms around him, drawing him into her embrace, as if by the mere act of doing so could ward off any threat, any danger.
DeVeau: ~You’re safe now.~
Hesitation. Pain. A spark of fear that flashed, burned and faded all at once.
Taybrim: ~ I’m not. ~
DeVeau: ~You’re safe here.~
Taybrim: ~I am safe, here, in this moment. But when we return to StarBase 118 I am not. There will be another. And another. And another. I do not know what will stop them - if anything.~
He was right. As much as Alora loathed to admit it, he was right. He wasn’t going to be safe once they returned. The Tal Shiar had him in their sites, and they were a particularly deadly foe. Her grip on him tightened.
DeVeau: ~Is there an investigation? Has anything been found?~
Would they be able to find anything? Intelligence hadn’t brought anything to her, but would they? Sal hadn’t said anything to her until now.
Taybrim: ~Yes there is, it is ongoing, and no. They identified the assassin, and tied it to the Tal Shiar… I’m not sure what else there is to find.~
DeVeau: ~We’ll keep you safe.~
How? Alora had no idea. Absolutely none. All she knew was that she couldn’t allow anyone or anything to hurt him.
Taybrim: ~I know you will try.~
He said it with a sorrowful acceptance. He was in no way trying to die. But he was aware that it was a growing possibility.
She would try. Alora didn’t want to think about what would happen if she or anyone else failed. Her hold upon him tightened, then loosened suddenly and she withdrew.
DeVeau: ~Why didn’t you tell me?~
Hurt seeped through the bond, past his shields.
Taybrim: ~Do you think it is easy to rebound and immediately talk about such things?~
He honestly had to process what happened, first - and sleep. He had spent too many insomniac nights immediately succeeding the attempt.
She was quiet for a moment, though she winced both inwardly and outwardly at the admonishment, and even more at the hurt that she felt come from him. Alora knew very well the answer to that question.
DeVeau: ~No. I know it’s not.~
Taybrim: ~I will be honest with my staff moving forward and allow you to help me. That is the best I can do.~
She wanted to reach out, wanted to draw him close again, wanted to somehow make it all go away. But she couldn’t. Alora had no power. And she hated it.
DeVeau: ~I wish I could fix this.~
Taybrim: ~I know. But it is both within our hands to be careful and far outside our reach to control.~
She knew that, but that didn’t stop her from wanting it, but that was far beyond Alora’s power.
DeVeau: ~What can I do?~
He seemed quite plain in his initial thought process.
Taybrim: ~Keep doing what you are doing. You are a tremendous help on StarBase 118.~
Quickly she shook her head.
DeVeau: ~No. What can I do to help you?~
A pause and what seeped through the link was a deep, overwhelming exhaustion, laced with an undercurrent of loneliness.
Taybrim: ~I’m not sure. I’m tired. But I have to keep going.~
She was familiar with that as well. She knew those emotions, those feelings. Alora was far too acquainted with them. She hesitated again, uncertain. Her own trials, her own troubles were pushed aside for the man in front of him. Slowly, she reached out again, her fingers lightly dancing over the back of his hand.
DeVeau: ~You’re not alone.~
She’d heard the same thing, had been offered to her as well, but with the link between them, he could sense the depth of sincerity in each word as she uttered them. She wasn’t much, and maybe she was useless in dealing with the Tal Shiar, but if nothing else, she could offer that.
Taybrim: ~ I know. ~
Slowly, he backed out from the telepathic bond. Not due to avoidance, or pain, but she could feel his concentration fray and mental exhaustion set in. What was once his baseline communication form was now an exhausting endeavor, and he was sitting far lower in the chair than before.
Taybrim: I know ::He murmured.::
Did he know? She hoped so. Once more, Alora withdrew, her hand retreated and she clasped it to the other one.
Taybrim: I’m tired.
The words just fell from his mouth, simple, honest, plain.
DeVeau: You should sleep.
Could he rest? Would he really sleep? Alora wasn’t sure she was going to sleep herself that night. She slid her arms over each other, as if warding off a chill.
Taybrim: I should. And so should you. ::He said with a weariness that indicated it would be difficult for both.
DeVeau: I should.
There was no question of whether or not she should. It was more whether or not she would. There was a new reason to fear, a new nightmare that would join the old. Her gaze lifted, meeting his and for a moment it seemed as if she would say more, but no words came. Instead, her eyes drifted away and toward the door, then back to him, and whatever she might have said before shifted into something completely different.
DeVeau: Do you want me to walk you to your cabin?
He paused and considered, and the words he chose were unexpected, even for him.
Taybrim: Neither of us will be sleeping tonight, will we?
Alora offered a half smile, but there was no real humour in it.
Taybrim: It is not unusual when your mind is too full.
Hers had been too full for some time. There were periods where it was better, where she was able to rest, able to sleep. But then…
DeVeau: It’s...been that way for a while.
Taybrim: Then let’s walk. Walk until the body has no choice but to sleep.
Walk. If only it were that simple. Still, it was better than sitting there trying to distract herself, even with things she enjoyed. Better than running through the scenes over and over and over again, only to have them end the same way every time. Or now, with the new nightmare, into the possibility of what could happen in the future. That was just as frightening.
A moment of silence stretched between them, but finally Alora nodded.
DeVeau: Let’s walk.
It wouldn’t solve anything, but at least she wouldn’t be leaving him alone. At least for a little while longer.
Taybrim: Maybe if we walk until the sun rises, we’ll understand that there is yet hope. ::he murmured, getting to his feet.::
Sometimes it didn’t feel that way. Sometimes, when the darkness closed in and the shadows clutched at the throat, when the nightmares hammered night after night, when the fear threatened to utterly consume, it didn’t feel like it at all. Except she had to remember that was just a lie, a lie the mind told because it was too wrapped up in it all. She’d fallen into that trap. She didn’t want to fall into it again. Rising, she nodded, speaking the words she knew to be true, even if it was hard to remember that truth.
DeVeau: There is always hope.
He offered an arm out for her. A chance for something to hold. Something to lean on.
Taybrim: The sun will always rise again.
Her hand slowly slid through his arm, but she gave as much as she took, leaning and offering herself for him to do the same. The smile that fluttered over her lips was small, but a light shone within it.
Deveau: Then let us watch it rise together.
It wasn’t much, but it was a thin comfort. And sometimes thin comfort and the promise of hope was better than none.
Commodore Sal Taybrim
StarBase 118 Ops
Lt. Cmdr. Alora DeVeau
Starbase 118 Ops