Episode 4: Whispers In the Dark
Location: Counseling Offices
Arnon sat in his office and sipped tea as he awaited his next appointment. He always looked forward to meeting with this particular client. He also thought Tara Neprem would have a lot on her mind since she'd help capture Nathan Hunter.
Tara was relieved when she came up to Arnon's office that there was no strange obscure hint from Markos of some patient with strange sexual escapades, nor any strange paraphernalia sitting in the waiting area; maybe the Rigellian had anticipated the weight on Tara's shoulders and made sure her entry into her next session was headache-free, or maybe it was just a slow day for Arnon. Either way, as Tara entered the office, she did so silently, no greeting, she simply sat down not even bother reaching for the welcoming bowl of butter tea waiting for her. Her gaze met Arnon's for a moment, then with a sigh she leaned over until she flopped onto her side on the couch; she was done 'adulting' for the day, wanting instead to go back to before she had ruined a perfectly good command dynamic by doing something stupid, before Nathan had become a traitor and they were still friends...
Arnon smiled at Tara.
"Well," he said. "I guess I don't really have to ask how you're feeling."
Arnon set down his tea and rose from behind his desk. Opening up a wall compartment, he pulled out a soft blanket and gently covered Tara with it from her feet to her shoulders. Then he took a seat across from the couch.
"Rest," he said. "When you feel like you're ready, go ahead and tell me what's on your mind."
Tara pulled the blanket up so that it covered her head, the warmth and the darkness making her feel safe, like being back in the Caves.
"You know what the worst part of all this is?" Tara finally spoke up from beneath her blanket. "Command was pleased with my actions, satisfied that I could do what's required of me without making rash decisions like I did on Deep Space 10... So barring the minor physical restraints of my recovering symbiont, I've been restored to full duty, I just had to betray one of the best friendships I've ever had to achieve it."
"Tara," Arnon said gently. "Not to sound like were on an elementary school playground, but he started it. Nathan betrayed not only Starfleet, but you as well when he sided with the Consortium."
"But what if he didn't?" Tara asked, lifting the blanket off her face and looking over at Arnon. "What if he was brainwashed? Sure, maybe the anger he felt made it easier for them to get inside his head, or made it easier for him to do what he did, and what he did to Carter's boy was definitely self-motivated, not the Consortium, but..." Tara sighed. "But I'm telling you, Doctor, the Nathan I met on Apizmic III was not the same Nathan I served with."
"That could be," Arnon said. "But he's not talking And, if that's the case, don't you think your friend would want you to bring him in? Wouldn't he have done the same for you if your roles were reversed?"
"I don't know," Tara answered softly. "I really don't know..." Tara draped an arm over her forehead and stared up at the ceiling. "He was my friend, so of course I want to believe the best, but after all I've seen... I just feel like I don't know him at all anymore." Which she knew wasn't entirely true, she had known enough to tie him to the kidnapping, known enough to play his game until she could get under his skin, but that had been different, she hadn't wanted to do that to him!
"Are you saying that if you were brainwashed that you wouldn't want a friend to stop you from doing something terrible?" Arnon asked.
"Well of course, as the person I am now, I would want someone to stop me if I went out of control!" Tara said with a huff. "But when you're in it, when you can't remember who you are anymore, when you can't tell up from down or right from wrong... I guess I don't really know what I'm trying to say..."
"I do," Arnon said, chuckling. "You're trying to say that you're a bad person, a bad friend, and that you deserve to be miserable. Does that sound about right?"
"Well, when you say it like that, it does sound rather ridiculous," Tara replied, pouting slightly.
"Yes," he said. "Yes it does sound ridiculous! Look, Tara, I can talk to you until I'm blue in the face and I still won't be able to convince you that you didn't betray Nathan Hunter by bringing him in. You have to come to terms with your guilty feelings about 'betraying' Nathan on your own. All that I can do is guide you along to your truth. But...if I was to try and tell you a truth or two about this situation, it would be these two: 1) If Nathan was brainwashed, then the original Nathan, the 'real' Nathan, would have wanted a friend to stop him, and 2) If Nathan wasn't brainwashed, then he betrayed you, his fellow officer, his friend, and he got what was coming to him from one of the people most justified in this galaxy to give it to him. I truly and honestly believe these things, Tara. I think you know me well enough to know that I wouldn't lie to you about something like this."
"I believe you, and on some level I even agree with you," Tara replied, finally sitting up properly on the couch, but she still kept the blanket. "Goodness, even my past hosts agree with you! But in my heart, where it still hurts, I still want to hold onto hope that my friend, the friend who cared so much and gave so much of himself and put so much passion into everything he did, is still out there somewhere waiting to come home. Does that make any sense at all?"
"Of course it does," Arnon said. "And not giving up on Nathan Hunter, that is proof positive you're both a good person and a good friend. Bringing him in doesn't mean that you've given up on him. It just means that you did your job."
"I know," Tara admitted sheepishly. "I just feel really guilty because I haven't been to see him since we've had him in custody; well, I went once, but the one time I worked up the nerve, the Captain was already there and-" Tara stopped herself, not wanting to possibly incriminate Nilani. "Emotions were heated between them both, and instead of trying to talk to my friend, I helped diffuse a tense situation by encouraging the Captain to ignore him, like he didn't even matter, like his presence meant nothing. I got under his skin on the planet, I hurt him with my words, and then I did it again in the Brig. What kind of friend does that?"
"A friend in the unenviable position of having to protect one friend from another," Arnon said. He didn't comment on Nilani any further. Her anger regarding Nathan Hunter was strong and, in Arnon's opinion, clouded her judgement.
"Maybe..." Tara left it with a sigh as she took her gaze off of Arnon. "After watching you talk to Nathan, I wonder if I should try to go see him, or if I should maybe cut my losses and save myself the heartache."
"Nathan is extremely manipulative in his present state," he said. "My advice would be that you do not visit him until you feel confident that you did the right thing. If he senses any equivocation on your part, if he senses your confidence wavering, he'll attack. It maybe so subtle an attack that you don't realize it's happening until he's under your skin, and by then it will be too late."
Tara nodded in acceptance of his advice; he was right, she had pushed the boundaries with Nathan, it only made sense that he might try to push back if he sensed any weakness. "And you truly believe I did the right thing?"
"I do, Tara," Arnon said gently. "And I'm hoping you'll stay open to the possibility of believing that, too."
"I'm doing my best, it's just not easy," Tara replied. "Not that I ever thought it would be; I knew it would be hard on me, just never knew that doing the right thing would make me feel like this."
"What's that old saying?" Arnon said. "Ah, yes. If doing the right thing was easy, everyone would do it."
That finally got a smile from Tara. "Yes, I guess that's so," she said. "Actually, that sounds like something Kareel would say to me; you two would get along very well."
"Glad to be in good company," he said. "Maybe sometime you can tell me about Kareel. So, between now and the time I see you again, professionally I mean, I'd like you to spend a little bit of time each day wearing what we'll call your 'I believe I did the right thing' hat. Just test out the feeling for a little bit each day. Can you do that?"
"A hat?" Tara said, almost suspiciously; she wasn't fond of hats, but she had a feeling he didn't mean it literally, so she would see where this would go. "I can give it a try. As for talking about Kareel, or even Arjin for that matter, I don't mind. But I think I would be more comfortable in the casualness of a more social visit," she said, completely ignoring the fact that she was still cuddled in the blanket Arnon had laid across her; couldn't get more casual than a safety blanket! "Maybe we could do dinner sometime."
"That would be lovely," Arnon said. In private practice, he wouldn't dream of seeing his clients socially, but he was a small town doctor at heart and starships were a lot like small towns. There were only so many people he could interact with socially. His rank made it more likely that he would interact with officers, and senior officers at that. If he kept all of his relationships with his peers strictly professional, he'd have no friends and no social life. "Let me know when you're free and we'll do dinner. Now, however, I need to get ready for my next client, so, as much as I hate to do this, I need to kick you off of my couch and take back my blanket."
"Arjin thinks you're a meanie and that I should take your blanket," Tara said with a fake scowl; she didn't know what it was about this strange doctor, but somehow Arnon always managed to get her out the door feeling better than when she came in.
"Fine," he said. "You can keep the blanket for now, but I'm afraid I'm going to need the couch for my next client."
"Fair enough," Tara replied, smiling once again. There was something oddly satisfying about indulging Arjin as she wrapped the blanket around her shoulders and stood up with the intent to walk out with it. She knew she couldn't get away with this all the time, especially as a Commander, she had to maintain a certain level of professionalism, but cutting loose and enjoying the frivolity of a previous life was one of the many joys of joining that she hadn't really taken advantage of. Until now. "Thank you, Doctor, I'll contact you later for a dinner date."
Arnon rose and walked Tara out.
"I look forward to it," he said. He shook his head and chuckled as she left, wrapped in a largish blanket. This 'Arjin' clearly contributed to her playful side. Arnon could sense an emotional shift when Tara let this past host of Neprem surface for a moment. He hoped Arjin could help Tara smile more often. "Until later, Commander!"