Dakh Pthak by sixbeforelunch
Summary: Cast out fear. There is no room for anything else until you cast out fear.
Categories: Expanded Universes Characters: Vreshm V'rsi T'Lin, Xkasha L'gar Veral
Genre: Drama, Het
Warnings: None
Challenges: None
Series: Pi'maat
Chapters: 3 Completed: Yes Word count: 7197 Read: 501 Published: 19 Sep 2021 Updated: 19 Sep 2021

1. Chapter 1 by sixbeforelunch

2. Chapter 2 by sixbeforelunch

3. Chapter 3 by sixbeforelunch

Chapter 1 by sixbeforelunch
"I do not understand T'Reya." Tenat said.

T'Lin finished loading the last of the weeds into the compost pile and got herself a drink of water. She took a seat next to him, and when she had quenched her thirst, said, "She is an unusual person."

"Yes, but I am not speaking of her eccentricities. I am speaking of that." He nodded in the direction of what would eventually be a sculpture garden on the property of the new house, where T'Reya and Xhil were engaged in one of their enthusiastic collaborations, talking over one another, speaking too loudly, and, what was most suggestive, standing far closer than was commonly accepted as proper for public behavior. T'Reya grabbed Xhil's hand and pressed it against a piece of stone, holding her hand on his as she talked.

T'Lin colored slightly and looked away. "They went to Risa together." That was why T'Reya had not been on Vulcan when the unfortunate incident with Suvin had occurred. Her eccentricities aside, her presence would have been a comfort then.

"And came home still unbonded," said Tenat.

"Perhaps they bonded and said nothing?"

Tenat shook his head. "I do not think so. T'Reya might bond without registering it with her clan-family, although I doubt even she would be so brazen, but Xhil would not."

He was probably right. "People have taken note nevertheless."

Tenat spread his hands. "People always take note when something unusual happens." He glanced behind him. "As my wife well knows."

T'Lin looked back in surprise. She had not heard T'Asair approach. T'Asair gave them both a disapproving look but addressed her words to her husband. "I wonder at you speaking about her. Surely you know how unpleasant it is to have people talking about you."

Tenat pressed his lips together and said nothing. T'Lin stared down at her hands, knowing that T'Asair was right. She had no business speaking of T'Reya and Xhil behind their back. In a community as small as this, secrets were hard to keep, and everyone knew that Tenat and T'Asair were not presently cohabiting. His move into a small apartment in the center of town had indeed been noted by most of the town, and a few people had even seen fit to discuss a matter they were not a part of. T'Lin had disapproved of that, and it was hypocritical to speak similarly of T'Reya and Xhil, even if they were close enough to her that she had an interest in their affairs beyond simple curiosity.

Tenat rose from the stone bench and fetched a glass of water from the nearby pitcher. He held it out to T'Asair, who, like T'Lin, was dirty and flushed from working in the garden. T'Lin continued to examine her hands and pretended ignorance of the small drama playing out next to her. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw T'Asair turn away without a word. Tenat stared after her, and then poured the untouched water back into the pitcher and set the glass down.

"I should return to my work," he said, and walked away. A plumber by trade, he was figuring out how they would replace the aged pipes in the new house to bring them up to modern codes and tie them into the current water system.

When he was gone, T'Lin sighed. She wondered sometimes what would have happened if she had died. She did not think that Xan's grief would have overwhelmed him as thoroughly as Tenat's had and that he would run away from his remaining family as a result. She did not think that even if he had, T'Lyra's resentment would be so intense as to cause her to reject water from him. But had T'Asair and Tenat ever thought that such a thing could happen to them? One never knew if or how one would break until it happened.

She rose from the bench and gestured to her mother who was several meters away, indicating that she was leaving now. T'Lyra nodded, and T'Lin set off for home, to quickly shower and change her clothing, and then to the port, where she caught a ferry to Klan-ne. It was not absolutely necessary for her to use the school's holosuite to complete her assignment when Shi'aluk had a holosuite of its own, but it gave her a reason to go to Klan-ne. Veral was working a sixteen hour shift at the hospital there, and if he was not over-burdened with patients, they might be able to spend a few minutes together, and perhaps even have a meal. He had been busy, as had she, and she missed him.

She arrived at the holosuite on the campus of the University of the Vuhlkantra in Klan-ne just in time for her allotted two-hour reservation, signed in, and began her assignment. It was a randomized scenario in which she was required to assess a situation and make a determination about how to proceed. It was designed to test her ethical reasoning, as well as her judgment and her ability to react logically instead of emotionally to an extremely fraught situation. She had been warned that there was never a good choice in these exercises, and that proved to be true. She was placed in the role of a social worker on a space station and presented with an older man suffering from dementia and being abused by his family. The family was not from a Federation world, and she had no legal authority over them or their ship, but the man's wandering from his ship had placed him on the station, which did give her the option of acting to protect him. Pursing legal action would lead to a possible interstellar incident, however. Also, he did not understand why she was trying to take him from his family and kept begging her to go home.

In the end, she had him treated by a doctor to tend his wounds, tried to give his family resources to better deal with having a mentally unwell person on their ship, and sent them on their way, well aware that she had possibly sent the man off to die of abuse and neglect.

When the scenario dissolved around her, it was jarring. She had nearly forgotten that none of it was real.

"Exercise completed," the computer announced. "Self-assessment is due tomorrow by the ninth bell."

T'Lin went to one of the many meditation chambers offered at the school, sat in the cool, dark space, and reoriented herself to reality. When she had settled, she went to the library, found an unoccupied study pod, and wrote up her self-assessment, including justifications for her actions. After re-reading it twice, submitted it to her instructor, not at all certain she had done anything right.

But there was no sense in ruminating. After being so thoroughly exhausted by the ethical exercise, she wanted something easy, and pulled up some practice exams from the calculus class she was taking for fun. It was soothing to work at something which had a concrete answer waiting to be found, and she lost herself in it for nearly forty-eight minutes until she was interrupted by a gentle tap on the glass.

By convention, the study pods at the university were as inviolable as a monk's cell. For an aide to interrupt her indicated that something was very wrong. She closed the holograms suspended in front of her, opened the door to the pod, and raised a questioning eyebrow at the aide.

"There is a call for you from the hospital in Klan-ne."

T'Lin reached immediately for the bond with Veral and found it present--of course it was present. If he or anyone else who threaded through the tapestry of her mind had died or was near death, she would have felt it before now. The bond was silent, a blank wall that usually meant he was involved in some sort of mental work with a patient. She went to the row of communication booths that lined the wall of the library, entering the one that the aide gestured to.

A woman in healers robes was on the screen. T'Lin closed the door, and the woman said, "I am Healer N'Livek. You are the bondmate of Veral?"

T'Lin squared her shoulders. "I am."

"Something has gone wrong with a meld that your husband performed on a patient." Before T'Lin had even finished processing the sentence, N'Livek quickly added, "The first thing to know is that when the meld failed, it failed safe. There is no reason to believe that there will be any lasting damage, especially if we have your help."

"Anything," T'Lin said. "What do you need?"

"Come to the hospital. I will meet you at the main entrance and explain everything."

T'Lin nodded, and closed the comm. She went to open the door to the comm booth and pulled the door the wrong way twice before stopping, taking a breath, and running through an elementary discipline to get her anxiety under control.

Dakh pthak. Nam-tor ri ret na'fan-kitok fa tu dakh pthak. Cast out fear. There is no room for anything else until you cast out fear.

The school was on the other side of Klan-ne from the hospital. She briefly considered a transporter, but the walk to the nearest transporter station was nearly ten minutes, and N’Livek had not indicated that this was the sort of emergency necessitating a site-to-site beaming. Still, she all but sprinted out of the library and to the nearest streetcar station. She eschewed the automated street cars that followed a pre-determined route around the city and ordered a direct ride. When it came, she took a seat, punched in her destination, and spent the five-minute ride trying to keep her anxious speculation from running ahead of her knowledge.

The meld had failed safe, whatever that meant.

N'Livek met her at the entrance as she had indicated she would, and took her up to the third floor, and into a small sitting room. T'Lin sat and said nothing. She stared at N'Livek, waiting.

The healer seated herself, and said, "Healers meld with patients for various reasons. Ideally such melds are done in calm, controlled settings, with full informed consent on both sides, but there are times when circumstances are not ideal. Veral had to perform what is called a rapid-response meld earlier today. As the name suggests, those are done quickly, with limited information, and always carry an element of risk for both patient and healer."

She paused here, and folded her hands, then continued, "There are people in this galaxy who will go to great lengths to hide what they know from telepaths. There are various ways to do this, most of which are not relevant to this conversation. Many, including the ones used here on Vulcan, are not harmful to those who would touch the mind, but there are…snares that can be set in the mind, and which not only prevent a telepath from gaining access to the mind, but also attack them in the process."

T'Lin sucked in a breath between clenched teeth. N'Livek ignored the lapse. "As healers we are aware of this. Our training addresses it, and we build fail safes into our minds to account for the possibility. The mind your husband attempted to touch included one of these traps, one so…vicious that it is illegal throughout the Federation. Fortunately, his training immediately caused him to initiate one of these fail-safe procedures, and he protected himself. In doing so, he went deep within his own mind, losing any connection to the things outside of himself. Protocol dictates that in these cases we move the affected healer to a safe location and wait an hour to see if they revive on their own."

The word 'protocol' eased her tension more than anything else had. This was not shocking or unknown. There were systems in place to deal with it. She took a breath, and relaxed.

"As I said, this particular mental attack is vicious. It is unsurprising that Veral remains withdrawn, but it would be best if he were to emerge from himself relatively soon. There may be some minor injuries to his mind that need tending. Another healer needs to examine him."

"You cannot examine him as he is?" T'Lin asked, speaking for the first time since she had arrived. She was pleased to find that her voice did not shake at all.

"We can, but right now he is injured and suspicious. Another mind attempting to contact his, even one that is not entirely unknown to him as a colleague, could be seen as potentially hostile, and drive him further into himself. There are ways around this, but…a bondmate is ideal in this scenario, and since we have one available to us, you are the logical choice to meld with him, and assure him that it is safe for him to emerge."

"What--what if he does not respond to me either? What if I drive him further into himself?"

N'Livek raised an eyebrow. "If that happens there are other things that can be done, but--" Her eyes softened into something like amusement. "I have heard the way the timber of Veral's voice changes when he talks about you. The strength of the bond between you is clear. I think it extremely unlikely that he will not welcome you into his mind, once he recognizes you."

T'Lin set that observation aside to meditate on later. "What do I need to do?"

N'Livek rose and gestured for T'Lin to follow. They went to a small room, where Veral was lying face up on a biobed, one specifically designed to facilitate melding. T'Lin had been on one many times herself, as the healers had slowly re-integrated the traumatic memories that her mind had tried to lock away before they caused her brain to destroy parts of itself. The bed had a seat at the head of it, where the healer sat.

The lights had been dimmed, and the room was warm. N'Livek affixed a cortical monitor just under T'Lin's ear. "You will be left alone with him, and no one will disturb you unless there are signs of distress. All you need to do is enter his mind, and once there, to assure him that he is safe, and he can emerge from the mental fortress that he has taken refuge in. And you may indeed find yourself in some sort of fortress. People create various mental constructs to assist them in these cases. I do not know what he has constructed for himself, but it will be something that makes him feel safe and secure. Do not be surprised if he does not at once agree to leave. He was violently attacked and may need time to trust that the threat is indeed gone. Gentle persuasion will work better than fervent argument. Do you have any questions?"

"No." Something occurred to her. "Yes. Is it safe? This attack, there is no chance if he emerges from his…fortress, he will be harmed?"

N'Livek raised an eyebrow and gave T'Lin an approving nod. "A prudent question. It is safe. This has been verified both through brain scans, and through a light meld--one which did not attempt to reach his core self, but would have been able to detect if the attack was on going. There is no reason to suspect that he is in any danger."

She paused to see if T'Lin would ask any follow up questions, and when she did not, she pointed to a small door in the corner of the room. "I highly recommend that you use the toilet before you begin. This meld may last longer than you are accustomed to, and while body processes slow in a meld, they do continue. It is unpleasant to emerge from a meld only to realize you need desperately to empty your bladder." There was a wry note in her voice that said she spoke from experience.

When she was alone, T'Lin took her advice, and used the toilet. She also sat down and took several minutes to meditate and fully clear and calm her mind. If her purpose here was to convince Veral it was safe to emerge from the fortress in his mind, being anxious herself would not help. When she felt sufficiently calm, she sat down and looked at Veral. She studied his face in the dim light, tracing his features with her fingers. He did not appear to be in any distress. His face was calm, his eyes closed, his lips slightly parted. His breathing was slow and steady. She put her hand on his side and felt the rapid hum of his heart, using it to further ground herself.

Taking a deep breath, she placed her fingers onto the meld points. For a moment, there was no response from his mind, and then all at once she sank into him, and found herself in front of Veral's home in Shi'kahr.
Chapter 2 by sixbeforelunch
It was much as she remembered it, but instead of being surrounded by the city as in reality, nothing but flat, dry desert stretched out in every direction. She found the main gate, and saw a sehlat pacing there, blocking any approach. The sehlat was badly injured. It was missing most of one ear, one of its fangs was snapped clear in half, and it limped as it walked.

It stopped when it saw her, sniffed the air, and stepped closer to her. It circled around her, body language alert but not alarmed. She slowly stretched out a hand, and touched its head, and it pressed up close to her and gave a happy grunt. "If you represent the part of my husband's mind which protected him from harm, I am grateful to you," she said, and stepped toward the gate.

The sehlat moved in front of her. T'Lin paused and waited. It sniffed her all over, as if being absolutely certain that she was who she seemed to be. Finally, convinced, it moved aside, and let her in.

The courtyard was empty, as was the entrance to the house. She stepped through the privacy doors, into the family area, and went up the stairs, toward the suite of rooms that Veral and his immediate family occupied. As she turned the corner, she felt a hand on her arm, and was yanked into the suite. Veral shut the door behind them.

"You will be safe here."

When her surprise passed, T'Lin looked around. She had been in this very room before, and it was much the same as she had seen it, but larger than in reality. She wondered if he had constructed it from childhood memories.

She turned to Veral, seeing him finally, and found that there was a livid dark copper bruise ringing one eye, and, worse, bruises in the shape of fingers circling his neck. She knew she was seeing a representation of what had been done to him, and her chest ached with anger and hurt. "They tried to kill you."

"We are safe here," Veral said again, and T'Lin recalled her purpose.

"Yes, we are. But it is time to leave now."

"No!" The surge of fear that came from him was intense. "We must stay here, where it is safe."

She sat down on the pillows that surrounded the sunken fire pot, and after a moment, Veral joined her. She coaxed him to lie down and put his head in her lap. "Will you tell me what happened?"

"DT6 is at 308 and increasing at 6 milligrams per second," the nurse announced. Veral checked the display above the bed again. The R-wave pattern had not changed.

"Administer four milligrams of nevaset," Veral ordered.

There was a pause as the medicine was administered, and then, "DT6 is continuing to rise at 2 milligrams per second. Currently at 326."

The R-wave pattern precluded more nevaset. "I am going to try a dvolau-nohv."

"Rapid-response," called the nurse.

"Rapid-response acknowledged," called another healer from across the room, affirming that she could step in in the event that things went badly.

The nurse affixed a cortical monitor to Veral.

"All clear," Veral said.

"All clear," the nurse said to confirm that no one else was touching the patient.

Veral found the meld points. A dvolau-nohv, a set meld, was relatively easy, as these things went. He just needed to convince the brain to reset the R-wave. It should only take a moment.

He slipped through the first layer of the patient's mind, opened his own, and--

The attack came hard and fast, a sandstorm that threatened to engulf him.

He pulled back, into his own mind, but the attacker followed.

Run.

He ran, through the layers of his mind, down and down, deeper and deeper, to the safe place. The storm followed him, raging, a malignant, angry, intentional thing, that wanted to strip the flesh from his bones.

He closed the gate, and all at once the storm ceased. It was then that the realized what had happened. A telepathic trap. He had never been exposed to one in earnest. During his training at Gol, the adepts had simulated such attacks, and he had spent so many hours that they could be counted weeks in meditation creating a safe place in his mind to go if one ever attacked. He had almost resented the training at the time, as it took time away from the things that could actually help people, but he was grateful for it now.

The storm was gone. There was silence. He waited several long moments, and when there was no indication of further danger, he opened the gate.

That was when the second attack came.

The blow to the side of his head, momentarily stunning him. A shadowy figure, not another mind, not a person, but real enough in this mind-world. Fingers around his neck. The mental construct began to dissolve. He clung to it. He had to keep the construct. He could not be pulled from this safe space, not allow his reality to be dissolved. The shadow was strong. He tried to twist away from it, but it held him firm, choking him. He couldn't breathe. Was that a mental illusion, or was this telepathic assault instructing his body to stop breathing?

The sehlat came, the form of his own protector, and knocked the shadow away. Veral scrambled away from the ensuing fight, into the house, into the innermost of the inner rooms, and closed the door.

"I want to hurt the person who did that to you," T'Lin said. This deep in his mind, there was no sense in hiding anything from him.

Veral sat up. "With a DT6 of 326 and rising and an R-wave that unstable, the dvolau was her only chance. She is almost certainly dead." Despite everything, he felt a twinge of regret at not being able to save the patient.

"Healer N'Livek tells me the danger is now gone," T'Lin said. "I believe her."

Veral had thought the same, and nearly died. He trusted both N'Livek and T'Lin, but he was unconvinced.

T'Lin took his hand. "Will you show me this place that you have created to keep you safe?"

Veral licked his lips. "This room is the safest."

"But the entire place is safe?"

"Yes. I modeled it on my home in Shi'kahr. A childhood home is a good choice for these constructs, assuming your childhood was generally a pleasant one." She glimpsed his memory of the lecture where he had been taught the basics of how to construct this place as he spoke.

"N'Livek said you might have created a fortress for yourself."

"That is another thing that people do. It is an individual choice."

She looked around, astonished by the level of detail in the space. Like being in the holosuite, it was hard to believe she was not physically here. She could feel the cushions underneath her, smell the desert air, hear a soft wind in the distance. "I have created mental constructs, but I was never taught anything like this."

"Most people do not need to create it because most people meld only with those they call pi'maat. Healers meld often, for many reasons, with minds well and unwell. There is an inherent risk in that. It takes a great deal of time and energy and a certain innate talent for the mental arts to be able to build this--" He gestured around him. "--in the mind. In general, it is only healers who are taught, because we are the only ones who make telepathic contact so indiscriminately." She sensed exasperation from him. "With the exception of Starfleet officers, who will meld with anything that they even suspect might have a consciousness ten minutes after meeting it, and then are surprised when they are diagnosed with three different neurological diseases before they reach the end of their first century."

"Starfleet officers are outliers and should always be accounted for in the data analysis," T'Lin said, directly quoting one of her instructors.

Veral was in total agreement with the assessment.

"Show me the rest of your construct," T'Lin said again.

Veral raised an eyebrow. She was trying to ease him out of the room, and he knew it. He looked at the door, then back at her. "How is the sehlat?"

"Injured," T'Lin said. "As you are." She touched the ring of bruises around his neck. "N'Livek said you need treatment."

"I will heal on my own. If I stay here, where it is safe, my mind will heal."

"How long do you plan to stay?"

"Until I am sure it is safe to emerge."

"How will you be sure it is safe?"

Veral had no answer for that. "I will show you the rest of the construct," he said. "But I am not ready to leave it."

T'Lin inclined her head. "We will go nowhere until you are."

The rest of it was much the same, a detailed replica of Veral's family home. She spotted some differences from the house she knew, but she was not certain if that was because Veral had deliberately made changes, was remembering it from an earlier time, or her lack of familiarity with it was causing her to misremember certain things.

"All three," Veral said. There was no barrier between thoughts and words here. Indeed, neither of them was truly speaking at all. It was all thought, some that their minds were interpreting as speech in this construct. Mindspaces were interesting things.

T'Lin stepped close to a painting. She could see flecks of gold in the paint. "Why so detailed?"

Veral stepped up next to her. "The more detailed the construct, the more protective it is."

"I would have thought that maintaining it would take concentration and energy away from one's ability to fight, or shield."

"It can be counterintuitive at first because many mental constructs do require energy to maintain in the moment, but this sort of construct, once properly built, needs only routine maintenance. It is like a physical wall. One does not need to expend all of the energy one used to build it while the arrows are hitting it because the work has already been done." He gestured to the painting. "Details such as this are one way of ensuring that the construction is solid."

"It took a long time to create?"

"Hours upon hours of intense meditation." And then an adept would come in, tear it all down in a moment, and tell him to build it again.

They went out into the courtyard. The sehlat was still pacing in front of the gate. T'Lin gestured to it. "You created that as well."

"In a sense." Veral watched it pacing, frowning at the limp. "It is a way to focus my mind's protective instincts and abilities, and to allow them to act autonomously while I protect my core self."

"Fascinating," T'Lin murmured. She had had telepathic training, but she felt like a child playing at blocks while Veral was a master architect.

Veral was quick to assure her. "Your abilities and training are perfectly adequate for your path in life and the risks you are likely to face. There is no reason for you to know how to do this anymore than there is a reason for me to know how to repair a warp core. Division of labor is fundamental to almost all known complex cultures." He thought about the small but real risk that she might be telepathically assaulted someday. "That said, if you ever wish to learn some additional ways to protect yourself, I will teach you." He would teach her how to fight back, in ways easier and more effective than the methods he was allowed to use. Veral's training was harder because it was designed to be non-violent. As a healer, he assumed the risk of his melds. If anyone attacked T'Lin, she was under no obligation to give any consideration to her attacker.

"I have been trained in mental as well as physical self-defense."

Only the arts that the schools are allowed to teach, Veral thought.

"No, my parents taught me some things as well, messier than the methods learned at school, but effective if I were ever fighting for my life."

Good, Veral thought, with no sympathy for any hypothetical attacker.

T'Lin raised an eyebrow. "I am still committed to the path of non-violence. I hope that, even in a survival situation, I would choose the path of least harm."

She cut off a flood of other thoughts about pacifism and non-violence as a way of life. She was at risk of getting wildly off the topic. It happened often when she and Veral communicated. He was so easy and so interesting to converse with that their conversations often wandered into various topics without either of them being aware of how far afield they had gotten from their starting point.

Sometimes the wandering was both metaphorical and literal. Once, they had gone for a walk together, and gotten so lost in a discussion of the history and myth surrounding the War of the Seven Stones that they had gone eleven point six kilometers before realizing how far they had gotten from home.

"I also enjoy our wandering," Veral said. "We can converse here."

T'Lin was unimpressed. "We cannot stay here, and you know it."

She took a step toward the gate, and Veral took a step back. She turned to him and inclined her head in thought. "Fear is an interesting thing. It told you to run before you even knew what you were running from. Trusting that instinct probably saved your life. But outside of a survival situation, fear must be controlled, lest it become maladaptive."

"And yet it is one of the hardest emotions to tame, because it is so fundamental to survival."

"You have tamed it before, many times." When Veral did not reply, T'Lin asked, "Do you truly believe that there is still a threat lurking?"

Veral looked at the sehlat. If that part of his mind was at relative rest, then no. There was no threat remaining.

Unless it was buried so deep that none of his techniques could find it.

"Doubts are fractal," T'Lin said gently. "No matter how closely you examine them, they never fully resolve. At a certain point you must accept the most likely explanation and move on."

Veral sighed. "The inherent uncertainty of life exhausts me."

She stepped closer to him. "You would prefer that we existed knowing all that was to come? A life pre-planned and without the possibility for deviation?"

"No…I just wish we existed within certain secure parameters."

An understandable desire. However. "The universe has not provided any parameters for our existence beyond the most fundamental physics."

Veral knew that all too well.

T'Lin held out her hand to him. Veral looked at it. She waited. She could feel him working through his fear, and said nothing, trusting him to take the logical action in the end. Finally, he took it, and the construct dissolved.
Chapter 3 by sixbeforelunch

She blinked as she emerged from the meld. Veral was staring up at her, thoughtful. He sat up slowly and touched his temple. Before T'Lin could say anything, N'Livek entered, and began scanning him with a tricorder. T'Lin stood and stepped back, letting her do her work.

"What is your full legal name?" N'Livek asked.

"Xkasha L'gar Veral, cha'Skan, of the House of Ayriya, of the Clan of Masutra."

"Where are you?"

"In the Hospital in Klan-ne." He glanced around. "I was unconscious when I was brought to this room, but logically I assume I am in the department of telepathic neurology on the third floor."

"What is the date?"

"The 3rd of K'ri'lior in the year 14,806."

"What is the primary biofeedback focal point of the mesiofrontal cortex?"

"The qui'lari."

N'Livek looked back at T'Lin. "Do you sense anything out of the ordinary from him?"

He was unsettled, but under the circumstances, that was understandable. He felt otherwise as he usually did. "No."

N'Livek placed a hand on his face and initiated a brief meld. She dropped her hand. "Acceptable."

N'Livek tapped at the tricorder, looked at Veral, and then at T'Lin. "I have sent you my personal comm code. If he later exhibits signs of confusion, becomes disoriented, develops dizziness or a severe headache, or begins vomiting, call me immediately." She turned back to Veral. "Are you able to speak to law enforcement? The V'Shar sent someone from telepathic crimes."

"I am."

Unlike most of the fictional detectives she enjoyed, the officer from the telepathic crimes unit had no immediately evident eccentricities or affectations. He introduced himself as Setek, and he was an ordinary looking man, dressed in a V'Shar uniform, who spoke Golic with a Go'an accent.

Setek looked at T'Lin with a slightly raised eyebrow, and Veral said, "This is she who is my wife. In matters such as this, she and I are as one."

Setek nodded and took a seat. "Do you desire a representative from the Healer's Guild be present during this conversation?"

"No."

"Describe what happened."

Veral did, in extensive, technical detail.

"Had you any prior knowledge of or acquaintance with this patient?"

"No. I never saw her before she came into my emergency department."

"Do you have any reason to think the attack was directed at you personally?"

"No. I have no enemies that I am aware of, and I do not see how it could have been arranged that I would be the one to treat her when there were three other healers present at the time."

Setek made notes on a PADD.

"Did she die?" Veral asked.

Setek looked up. "Yes."

Veral said nothing, but T'Lin felt his disappointment.

"Evidence suggests that you are correct," Setek said. "You were not the target of this attack, only an unintended second victim of her murder."

"Murder?" But T'Lin's momentary excitement ebbed immediately when she recalled that this was not a mystery novel written for her enjoyment. A real person was dead.

Setek nodded. "The R-wave that was recorded in conjunction with the rapid rise of DT6 and what happened to you when you tried to correct the issue suggests a d'tau containing a khei-fen."

T'Lin did not know what that was. Veral did, and the anger that flared up in him was stronger than anything she had ever sensed from him. His face was unexpressive and his voice flat when he said, "Setting a d'tau requires healer's training."

Setek inclined his head. "Not all who go to Gol keep their oath."

Veral got his anger under control. "She must have had some idea what was happening to her. She was conscious when she came in. If she had told us, we could have taken precautions. We could have saved her."

Also, you would not have had your brain scrambled, T'Lin said, through their bond. If that is a consideration for you at all.

Veral did not look at her but acknowledged her point with a light touch to the bond.

Setek put his PADD away. "I cannot say with certainty, but there is evidence that she may have been one of the victims of the recently dissolved violence ring. She certainly fits the profile."

T'Lin knew that profile all too well. Trauma in the family, social isolation, often neuroatypical. Everything that had made Pel such an attractive victim.

Setek continued, "If so, she may have allowed fear to prevent her from speaking."

"Fear of what?" T'Lin asked. "The perpetrators were all apprehended or exiled themselves off-world."

"To the best of our knowledge, that is true of those who orchestrated and led the affair. The investigation is ongoing, however, and we are still finding those, like this woman likely was, who are in the gray space between victim and perpetrator. In any case, even if she no longer had a reason for caution…even among the students of cthia, sometimes fear persists even when the reason for it is gone." Setek stood. "Have you any questions for me?"

Veral shook his head, and Setek nodded and left.

It took some time to get out of the hospital. A representative from the Healer's Guild had come. She spent thirteen minutes talking about Veral's rights in this circumstance, and the services available to him. Then the hospital administrator wanted to meet with him, told him an independent investigation would be launched, and asked if he wished to lodge a complaint against any of the policies or procedures at the hospital, which he did not. It was reassuring to see that the matter was being taken seriously, but T'Lin just wanted to go home, and she could feel how tired Veral was.

When they finally got free, they beamed directly home. T'Lin thought Veral might go to lie down, but instead he went out into the garden, to a secluded spot that he liked, and sank into a deep meditation. T'Lin went elsewhere in the garden, and settled onto a patch of soft yellow ifari. The weather was very fine, bright and cloudless, warm but not oppressively hot. A gentle breeze rustled the vegetation. She sat for some time, doing her best to clear her mind of other concerns and only be present in the moment, until a step not far away roused her.

T'Reya touched a small bronze sculpture that T'Lin knew had been made by Xhil and sighed in a way that indicated she was not aware of T'Lin's presence. Another time, T'Lin would have slipped away and left her, but this day, something compelled her to speak.

"You're afraid."

T'Reya turned around slowly.

"You want him, but you will not let yourself have him. You are letting your fear control you."

T'Reya raised an eyebrow, a silent warning. She was not the sort to stand on ceremony, but she was still an honored foremother. T'Lin dropped her eyes respectfully, but still said, "I do not know what you fear, but I think you are doing yourself a disservice by allowing your desire for safety to deprive you of something you so clearly want." She glanced up, and added, "T'sai."

The side of T'Reya's mouth flicked at the belated honorific. "You think yourself very wise, child."

"No," T'Lin said, honestly. "Only someone who has suffered too much to fail to grasp at every logical chance to make my life easier and more pleasant."

"Life is so simple as that? You, with your perfect logic, see that I would be best served by bonding with Xhil, and I ought to bend to your clear thinking regardless of my own life experiences and preferences."

T'Lin looked away, her certainty faltering under T'Reya's sardonic gaze. "I mean no disrespect, t'sai. Only…" She looked back and met T'Reya's eyes. "You are afraid." She was being very disrespectful by stating such things so bluntly, but still she managed to hold T'Reya's gaze.

"Fear is at once a protector and a jailer," T'Reya said. "I know that as well as you. When it comes to Xhil, my concerns are not yours to involve yourself in."

"Yes, t'sai."

"I had two bad marriages," T'Reya said. T'Lin hid her surprise. T'Reya rarely spoke about her past. "One arranged by my parents, another entered into of my own volition. Each one diminished me. I am not eager to make a third poor bonding that might make what time I have left harder and less pleasant."

T'Lin dropped her eyes, chastened. "I ask pardon, t'sai."

"I grant it. You mean well, but do not presume to know what someone else needs. Our fears, such as they are, are something we must battle privately."

"Yes, t'sai."

T'Reya stood quietly for some time, and then said, softly, "Nam-tor ri ret na'fan-kitok fa tu dakh pthak." There is no room for anything else until you cast out fear. T'Reya touched her finger to her chin in thought. "You are not entirely wrong." She walked away.

Dakh pthak. Cast out fear. It was one of the first disciplines one learned, and one of the hardest to master. Perhaps the hardest.

The thought at first that the sound behind her was T'Reya returning, but it was Veral, finished with his meditation, and feeling much more at peace. T'Lin held out a hand. He took it and pulled her to her feet.

T'Lin touched his cheek. "You are settled."

"I am."

He took his hand and they walked together to the bench near the telescope. It was daylight, too bright for an optical telescope to be of any use, but it was a place they both enjoyed. When they were seated, T'Lin asked, "What is a d'tau?"

"A telepathic command that can be hidden under the conscious processes and set to re-emerge hours, days, even years in the future. Invaluable for certain conditions, but they are one of the skills that healers learn which have the ability to be very dangerous. Those of us who keep to our oaths use them sparingly, and always register what we have done with the ethics oversight committee when we set one."

"Suvin and Pel…"

Veral caught her meaning. "Were carefully screened by pediatric mind-healers. There is no chance that anything is lurking in them. This woman…well, I ought not to speculate. Perhaps she did not know what had been done to her, but based on my brief impression of her mind, I think she did. I think she was willing to die rather than speak. It's quite…unfortunate."

T'Lin was less forgiving. "She was willing to risk your life as well."

"Yes," Veral said, without even the faint anger of self-protection. He twined his fingers with hers. "Thank you, for earlier. Thank you for guiding me back to logic."

"As you have done many times for me," T'Lin said, resting her head on his shoulder.

With due respect to her age and experience, T'Reya was incorrect. Not all fears needed to be battled privately.

end

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