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Laid Bare

Chapter Text

"When did it start?"

Lieutenant Taurik sat with both feet on the ground, his hands neatly folded is his lap. His face was arranged into an impassive expression, though she could see some tension in his eyes and in the line of his mouth. He met her eyes easily. "Three days, twelve hours, and nineteen minutes ago."

"Tell me about the circumstances."

Taurik stared into the middle distance, eyes becoming slightly unfocused. "I was walking to my quarters after my duty shift. I was on Deck 19, on my way to the turbolift. Nothing unusual had occurred during my duty shift, or in the days prior."

Deanna had raised the temperature in the room by five degrees to accommodate Taurik, and she was too warm. She resisted the urge to fan herself. "Was anyone with you?"

"I was alone in the sense that I had no companions, but the corridor was occupied."

There was a slight hum as the air scrubbers came on. The gentle circulation of the air took the edge off of the stuffiness. "Were any of the people around you unfamiliar?"

"I recognized everyone by face and knew most by name, though I had never socialized or worked with any of them."

He was outwardly calm. Inwardly there was a roil of emotions with embarrassment as the top note. His emotional radiation was less muted than was usual for a Vulcan. Usually, she could sense their emotional reactions, much to their displeasure, but those reactions were subtle, sometimes barely perceptible. Taurik's emotions were closer to the surface than normal. "What precisely did you--" Feel? No, that was a far too loaded word, under the circumstances. "--experience?"

"A sensation of...fear."

Troi leaned back slightly, giving him as much physical space as possible. "Can you describe the physical sensations?"

"I became tense. I clenched my hands involuntarily. My rate of respiration increased. I felt cold." He looked away, a wave of shame hitting him. She forced herself not to say any of the things that sprung first to her mind. None of her reassurances would be welcome.

"How long did it last?"

"Twenty-two minutes passed between the time it started in the corridor and when the sensations lessened to the point that I once again was in control of myself." He looked around the room, eyes finally coming to rest on a new painting that she had put up recently. It was a landscape, richly colored, with dramatic fauna dominating the foreground while tall mountain peaks stretched off into the distance in the background.

"What techniques did you use to calm yourself?"

"I tried the ashu-mara and parat breathing patterns, and a sharen'vri meditation. All were useful in their way, but none entirely effective. I was able to return to my quarters without drawing attention to myself. Being alone...helped, though it still took some time for the sensations to ebb."

Deanna made note on her PADD to look up both the breathing patterns and the meditation. "How many times has this occurred?"

"Since the first occurrence, it has happened two times more."

Deanna had Beverly's report. Taurik was, as far as medical science could determine, completely healthy. Hormones, neurotransmitters, and brainwave activity were normal. His microbiome was healthy, and there were no structural brain abnormalities. "When did you see Doctor Crusher?"

"After the second instance. She said that consulting you would be wise. I came to agree with her assessment." A very slight untruth that. No, not an untruth, but a partial truth. Combined as it was with a feeling of fondness, Deanna suspected his wife or someone else close to him had had something to do with bringing him around to agreeing with the assessment.

A Vulcan patient with an emotional disorder was always a challenge. The problem, aside from the risk that their condition would be exacerbated by shame, was that all of the first line treatments for mood disorders--cognitive behavioral therapies, awareness and mindfulness, biofeedback-guided meditation--were things that Vulcans practiced from childhood. In practice, this meant that they rarely came in with emotional problems, but when they did, they were neither simple nor easily treated.

Deanna folded her hands in her lap and regarded him. He returned her gaze steadily. She liked Taurik, what little she knew of him. He was smart, and what was more he could think on his feet. Quick thinking had earned him his promotion when he'd saved the lives of three people during an away mission. A few months ago, he had taken an extended leave of absence, and come back accompanied by his new wife, much to the confusion of his colleagues who were unfamiliar with the idiosyncrasies of Vulcan biology.

"Have you had any problems with meditation recently?"

There was a slight stiffening of his shoulders, so subtle that she would have missed it if she hadn't been paying close attention to his body language. "The quantity of my meditative exercises has remained the same, though I believe their quality has decreased somewhat. I find myself...distracted at times."

"Any other trouble with your emotional regulation? Emotions other than fear? Anger? Sadness?"

He said nothing, and his emotional radiation became clouded.

"If I'm going to help you, I need the entire truth," Denna said gently. "And shielding your mind from me blocks me from using one of my primary diagnostic tools."

The static in his mind cleared. "There have been some abnormalities of late."

"Such as?"

He stared at her. She stared right back. You couldn't out awkward silence a Vulcan, but you also couldn't rush them into speaking. While she was waiting, she looked him over again. Taurik was in his uniform, and appropriately groomed. His nails weren't just trimmed, but carefully shaped and possibly even lightly polished. Mr. Mott did nails as well as hair, but Vulcan social mores being what they were, she doubted very much he'd let a stranger touch his hands like that, so he had probably taken the time do tend his hands himself. There was a scuff on his left boot. It was probably nothing, but she filed it away as possible evidence that his attention to detail was slipping.

"I cried last night," Taurik said finally.

Deanna kept the surprise off of her face. "Why?"

"It was like the fear. It came on suddenly, for no reason, and once it started I could not stop."

She chewed the inside of her lip, considering her next sentence carefully. "When was the last time you cried, before that?"

The wave of embarrassment that hit her was almost physically painful. "When I was very young, if you exclude my recent marriage."

"You're referring to pon farr?"

He nodded once, sharply. "But this is not that."

"Anything else?"

"A certain sensation of being raw and exposed. And occasional moments of anger, but they are less intense than the other--" He cleared his throat. "Experiences."

"Have you had trouble sleeping?"

"No."

"How have you been coping with the loss of your brother?"

"I grieve," he admitted. "It would be easier if I had felt him die. Then at least I would have had that sense of finality." Vorik had disappeared with the rest of his crew when his ship had disappeared in the Badlands. He was presumed dead. Ships that were lost in there didn't return. "At times I think I can still sense him at the edges of my perception, and that he must therefore be still alive, but I know that is...unlikely to be true."

"You didn't see any of the counselors after it happened. Have you talked to anyone?"

"There is nothing to talk about. He is dead. I have processed my grief privately, and must now wait for time to dull the pain."

They would come back to that. "Have you experienced any other significant life events recently, positive or negative?"

He hesitated for no more than a second, and said, "Kir'xhan is pregnant."

Deanna nodded. "How are you feeling about that?"

He raised an eyebrow but didn't object to the use of the word. "It is an acceptable circumstance." He was happy, excited, eager even. There was anxiety, such as one would expect from a first-time parent, but nothing that would account for the panic attacks or other problems he was describing.

Deanna pressed on. "You're young to be a father, aren't you?"

"It wasn't planned."

She kept her face and voice neutral. "Oh?"

"The failure rate of our chosen method of birth control is one in sixteen thousand five hundred and eight, so the existence of this child is...improbable. But now that it does exist, both of us are eager to meet it." He was being completely truthful, not lying even to himself, as far as she could tell.

"The Enterprise isn't the safest place to raise a child."

"We are well aware of the dangers. We believe that the advantages outweigh the risks." There was slight concern at the thought, but it was well controlled.

She asked more questions, about his duties (challenging but not excessively so), his fellow officers (he genuinely respected most of them and tolerated the rest), his personal relationships (he was content with both his marriage and his friendships), and his sex life (emphatically none of her business).

Deanna glanced at the chrono. They had already gone five minutes overtime. "Well, I can't say anything jumps out at me as a potential solution. Yet." She checked her schedule on a PADD. "Let's meet again in two days at 1600 hours. In the meantime, you can continue with your duties as normal." If this kept up, she might place him on restricted duty, but for now the benefits of letting him stay at work exceeded the risks. "What I do suggest is that you take care of yourself."

"Counselor?"

"If you experience another attack, fear or crying or anything else, I want you to treat yourself gently. During, or after, whichever seems to work best, try doing something pleasant for yourself. Eat a favorite food. Play a piece of music that you like. Take a nap. Whatever seems appropriate to the circumstances. And try not to get caught up in blaming yourself. This isn't something you're doing wrong."

"It would not be logical for me to blame myself for this."

Very true, Deanna thought, but in her experience, pointing out logic to a Vulcan was not always redundant.

Taurik continued, "I see merit in your advice. I will keep it in mind."

When he was gone, Deanna took a few minutes to review his personnel file, searching for any past events that might be pertinent. He had lived, however, an extraordinarily ordinary life, for an Enterprise officer. He had never been possessed, abducted, tortured, interfaced with an alien computer, de-aged, prematurely aged, caught in a transporter accident, or subject to any of the other myriad of strange happenings that had plagued so many others. Of course he had suffered the usual traumas that were an unavoidable part of deep space exploration, but nothing that his psychological profile suggested might cause this sort of reaction.

New marriage and an unplanned baby on the way. Loss of a close family member within the last five months. Promotion and the increased responsibilities that came with that. It was a lot for anyone to handle.

"Could be a stress reaction," she murmured, but even as she said it she knew she didn't believe it. It didn't fit, not with what she knew of Vulcan psychology, and not with what she knew of Taurik specifically. For some reason, her gut was telling her she had a big problem on her hands. She really hoped it was wrong.

*

Beverly was late. It was hardly unusual--medicine wasn't a specialty that allowed for rigid adherence to a time table--but fifteen minutes late was a bit much. Usually, if there was a major crisis in sickbay, either Deanna would have heard about it by other means, or Beverly would have managed to find ten seconds to contact her and tell her that they needed to reschedule.

When Beverly finally arrived in Deanna's office, she was harried, worried, and deeply upset about something. She went straight to the replicator. "Green tea, iced, just a little sweet."

"Is everything okay?"

Beverly sat down and took a small sip of her tea. "No." She took a deep breath. "Intimate partner violence is uniquely disturbing."

Deanna sat back, slightly stunned. "On the Enterprise?"

"It can't happen here?" Beverly asked with a rueful twist of her lips.

"Well, of course it can happen anywhere." Deanna mentally reorganized her list of patient priorities. She had worked on cases of intimate violence before. It was a messy and ugly and generally awful. "What happened?"

"The patient came in with two broken fingers. I asked him what happened and he said it had been an accident. I pressed--the way the bones were broken suggested a deliberate attack--and, well, Vulcans can lie, but they often aren't very good at it."

"A Vulcan? Not Lieutenant Taurik?" Deanna didn't want it to be him, but it would certainly shed light on things if it were.

"Taurik? No. No, that would certainly go a long way to explaining the panic attacks, but this was Suvoth."

An intimate partner attack between two bonded Vulcans? His hands too. Deanna didn't fully understand the role of hands in Vulcan sexuality--she doubted anyone who wasn't sexually involved with a Vulcan truly did--but she knew that they played an important role in sexual and emotional expression.

"Did you get any details?"

Beverly shook her head. "Suvoth is being mulish. He said it was a personal matter. It was like pulling teeth just to get him to admit that T'Vri was the one who had done it. I asked Selar to talk to him. She'll understand the cultural complications better than I can. We're going to need your help."

"Of course."

"We don't have enough information yet, but as soon as I know more, you and Selar and I should sit down and--"

Beverly's comm badge chirped. "Selar to Doctor Crusher."

Beverly tapped her comm badge. "Go ahead."

"Doctor, you and Counselor Troi should report back to sickbay at your earliest availability. The situation with Suvoth has grown more complex."

From the emotional radiation she was getting as they walked down the corridor, Deanna half expected sickbay to be in chaos, but it was eerily calm when they walked in. Suvoth was on one biobed, absently rubbing his fingers. T'Vri was on another, being examined by Doctor Selar. Two large male nurses were trying to look busy by a computer console, but Deanna was sure they were there as additional security in case any violence occurred.

The room was tense. Suvoth was embarrassed, uncomfortable, and worried. Selar felt out of her depth. But it was T'Vri who caught Deanna's immediate attention. She was...angry. Intensely, unreasonably, overwhelmingly angry. Under the anger, there were other emotions: fear, sadness...and hunger, oddly enough. Deanna had to take a moment to calm herself before she could even consider her next step.

She looked at Suvoth. When he noticed her attention, he immediately stopped massaging his hand, but not before Deanna noticed that it was the first two fingers on his right hand that had been broken. Xenosexuality 351. Touching of the two fingers was called...el'ru'esta? Or ozh'esta? Troi couldn't remember, but she did remember that it was a gesture reserved for a bondmate. This had been an intensely intimate attack.

"Beverly, may I use your office?"

Beverly nodded, her attention on the scans that Selar was running.

Deanna lowered her voice, hopefully low enough that the Vulcans didn't hear her, and said to Beverly, "You should get security down here, discretely. She is barely in control of herself."

Beverly looked up, and nodded again.

Deanna moved to Suvoth. "Can we speak?"

"No."

Deanna said, as gently as she could, "I will make it an order if I have to."

He looked from her to T'Vri and back. "Very well."

As soon as they had gotten to the privacy of Beverly's office, Suvoth said, "She is not herself."

"I believe you," Deanna said. She stood in front of him, further away from him than she would have been with a Betazoid or a Human, and clasped her hands behind her back to show him that she had no intention of touching him . "Tell me what happened."

He stared at her for a long moment, and Deanna, both because she was still somewhat distracted by the waves of anger coming from T'Vri and because he was deliberately trying to shield his mind, had some trouble reading him. "I could sense something was amiss with her," he said at last.

"Through the bond?"

"Yes, but also from simple observation. She was...on edge, I believe, is how it is often described." He rubbed his hands together in a nervous gesture. That was not a good sign.

"This is unusual for her?"

"Very." There was an edge of desperation in him. It was important to him that Deanna believe him.

"You and your wife are very close."

She sensed fondness. "We have known each other since before either of us could walk. She was my sister before she was my wife."

Deanna blinked. There were plenty of places where that wasn't taboo, but she hadn't thought Vulcan was one of them.

"My milk sister," he clarified, seeing her confusion. "Our mothers were close friends. We nursed at the same breasts as infants."

Deanna nodded, and gave him a small smile of encouragement, trying to show him that she didn't want to judge T'Vri harshly. "So she was your childhood bondmate?"

"Yes. She is, has always been, peaceful. Gentle. Calm. This...anger, this rage. It is entirely unlike her."

"Tell me how your fingers were broken."

He looked away for a moment. Deanna sensed embarrassment, hurt. "As I said, I had sensed something was wrong. I returned to our quarters this afternoon and found her working at the computer. I had decided that I would speak to her about the...emotions I was sensing from her. She did not notice me when I came in, or when I said her name, so I touched her shoulder, to get her attention. She...she grabbed my hand, twisted my fingers back. There is a pressure point here--" He gestured to a spot between his first two fingers. "If one knows how to manipulate it, the pain is intense."

T'Vri was a security officer, trained under Worf. She would know how to manipulate it.

"I fell to my knees. My surprise and pain were such that I could not speak. She said--" He stopped.

Deanna waited, but when he did not seem inclined to go further, she pressed. "What did she say?"

"She said, 'Do not touch me ever again.'"

"I'm so sorry," Deanna said softly. Vulcans needed touch. They didn't need quite as much as most humanoids, but they couldn't be psychologically healthy without it. For reasons both cultural and biological, there were a limited number of people that they were able to comfortably touch and be touched by, and to have the person who, above all, met that need suddenly reject them...

"That is when she broke my fingers," he said with a very deliberate, forced calm.

"And you came straight to sickbay?"

"T'Vri suggested that I remove myself from the room. I thought it wise to do as she said."

"But you didn't want to tell anyone what had happened. Why?"

"It was a personal matter, between the two of us. And I did not wish to expose T'Vri to censure."

Deanna decided not to point out the myriad of flaws in his logic. He had just been subject to a terrible attack from the person he trusted most. The last thing he needed was to be criticized for how he had tried to handle it.

"How did T'Vri come to be in sickbay?"

"She came of her own accord. She had sufficiently regained control of herself to recognize that something was wrong, and she sought treatment."

"Do not touch me!"

Deanna went to the door of the office. T'Vri had shoved one of the nurses away from her, and looked ready to attack anyone who came near her. Suvoth was next to Deanna, and she could sense his anxiety, but also his relief. Relieved to learn that it was not just his touch that was unacceptable?

"T'Vri!" Deanna called. "It's going to be okay. No one here is going to touch you without your permission."

T'Vri turned to look at her, and the anger and fear that was coming from her was blinding. Deanna could barely sense anyone else in the room.

"Try to relax," Deanna said gently. Security arrived then. Deanna waved them back. "I know you're hurting."

T'Vri shook her head as if to clear it. Her hands were clenched at her sides.

"Have a seat, please," Deanna said. T'Vri backed up against the biobed, but did not sit.

Deanna was starting to get nauseous from the churn of powerful negative emotions. T'Vri's rage, fueled by an undercurrent of terror, was the worst of it, but next to her Suvoth was both scared for his wife and mortified that the situation had become so public. The security officers were more tense than usual. T'Vri was one of their own. And one of the two guards was a Betazoid. He was projecting his anxiety, and not quietly.

Deanna swallowed and focused on Beverly. She was alert, focused, and while not calm, certainly more calming to Deanna's mind than anyone else in the room.

"What happened?" Deanna asked.

"Doctor Crusher told me to give her a sedative," the nurse who had been attacked said. "She, T'Vri I mean, agreed to the sedative, but when I went to inject her, she shoved me away."

"T'Vri is the sedative still acceptable to you?"

"Yes. Yes, please," she said, and Deanna felt another surge of anxiety from Suvoth, who had only begun to calm himself. A Vulcan who felt so completely overwhelmed by her emotions that she was prepared to accept chemical help in getting them under control was a Vulcan in a very bad place indeed.

"If we toss you the hypo, will you inject yourself?"

She nodded, and Deanna looked at Beverly.

"Sit down first," Beverly said. "I'm giving you something that will take your legs out from under you."

T'Vri looked around the room and sat down. What Deanna sensed from her was something akin to the emotional radiation of a cornered animal. "Please," she said quietly.

Beverly nodded to the nurse, who tossed over the hypo. T'Vri fumbled with it, and injected herself in the forearm. She began to slump almost immediately. The sedative took effect quickly, and within thirty seconds, she had laid back on the biobed, eyes half closed.

"Aduna," she said softly.

"I am here," Suvoth said, stepping closer.

"Ni'droi'ik nar-tor, aduna." The translator in Deanna's ear switched on, supplying, I ask forgiveness, my spouse.

Suvoth stepped closer. "Thrap-fam'es nufau." You are forgiven.

"Ri esta-tor t'nash-ve." Do not touch me.

"Ring nash-ve." I won't.

"Hafau k'nash-ve?" Stay with me?

"Always," Suvoth said. He stopped a meter from the biobed and remained still.

"Deanna," Beverly said, touching her arm. "You're shaking."

Deanna looked at her. With T'Vri sedated and Suvoth now tightly in control of his emotions, the intensity of the room had dialed back down to a manageable level. "I should sit down," Deanna said.

Beverly took her back to her office and led her to a chair, hovering closely.

"I might throw up on you," Deanna warned.

"It would hardly be the first time I've been vomited on. Very unlikely to be the last too." She shrugged. "Professional hazard."

Deanna managed a shaky smile. She had never vomited from intense emotional feedback, but the overwhelming nature of what had just transpired, combined with the strange flavor of Vulcan minds, was making her stomach churn. After a few minutes, her stomach settled, and Beverly put a cup of hot mint tea in her hands. "Feel better?"

"Yes, thank you." Deanna leaned back in her chair and inhaled the smell of the tea.

"T'Vri should sleep for at least six hours," Beverly said. "I doubt Suvoth will leave her side after she asked him to stay."

Deanna hummed thoughtfully and sipped her tea. "Why the strong aversion to touch?"

Beverly shook her head and picked up a PADD. "There's nothing wrong with her as far as I can tell."

"My second mystery of the week," Deanna said. "My second mystery involving a Vulcan."

"Do you think they're related?"

"Possibly. Taurik is primarily having intermittent panic attacks. There was a lot of fear buried under T'Vri's anger, but it didn't feel anything like a panic attack to me, and it seems like what she's experiencing is fairly constant. They could be different manifestations of the same underlying issue, but they could also be completely unrelated. I'll go through Taurik's file again and compare it to T'Vri's. Maybe something will jump out."

*

 

Will was radiating annoyance as he called out for Deanna to enter his office, but both his expression and his emotional radiation softened when he saw that it was her.

"Good morning," she said, taking a seat across from his desk.

"Is it still morning?" He pushed a PADD across his desk, as though he could no longer bear to look at it. "I feel like I've been at this for hours." He gave her a hopeful look. "Please tell me you've got a crisis for me so that I have an excuse to stop working on crew schedules." He was only half joking.

"I'm afraid I might have one," she said, and he frowned, humor leaving him as he took in her serious expression. "The truth is I'm not sure yet, and I need your opinion on whether or not I should take something to Captain Picard."

He leaned back in his chair, gesturing for her to continue.

Deanna crossed her legs and regarded him thoughtfully. Eight years ago, she wouldn't have thought they could be this comfortable with each other, but they had forged a solid friendship. There was no awkwardness from him, no uncomfortable undercurrent to the conversation. Will was calm, focused on her, and ready to help. Deanna relaxed under his open gaze.

"I have two Vulcans, both suffering from some sort of as-yet unidentified emotional disorder. One is suffering, but functional. The other is, by her own request, heavily sedated and confined to quarters." Will's eyebrows rose at that. "Both have no history of mental illness. One has several stressors in his life right now. The other appears to have no major stress factors. There's nothing that I can find to connect the two problems. The only reason I even think they might be related is that they're both Vulcans, suffering from emotional disorders that started around the same time."

"And?"

"And when I'm around them they both have the same, ah, feel." Will gave her a questioning look and she shrugged, unable to explain it to a non-empath.

Will stroked his beard. "Are any other Vulcans having trouble? Or anyone at all for that matter, Vulcan or not?"

Deanna shook her head. "None who have sought help with me or the other counselors. None have been seen by sickbay. But that doesn't necessarily mean that no one else is having problems. Many people would struggle to come forward with something like this, and, well, Vulcans."

Will gave her a little half-smile of understanding and said, "Computer, how many Vulcan crew members on this ship?"

"There are twelve Vulcan crew members aboard the Enterprise."

"Have any of them missed a duty shift in the last...three weeks?"

"Two Vulcan crew members have missed a duty shift during that time period. Lieutenant Commander T'Ul missed her assigned duty shift six days ago--"

"I know about that. She was having ankle surgery," Deanna said. She had reviewed the recent medical records of the Vulcan crew members earlier.

"And Ensign Navin missed his assigned duty shift yesterday."

Deanna raised an eyebrow. "That one I didn't know about."

"What was the reason given for Ensign Navin's missed shift?" Will asked. He picked up a decorative rock from his desk and tossed it from hand to hand.

"Ensign Navin arranged for Ensign Larash to cover his shift. No reason was given."

"Interesting," Will said. "Also against regulations."

Officially, every officer was required to work their duty shift as scheduled unless they prearranged a change with their superior officer. Unofficially, except on the bridge and in a few other critical departments where discipline and security were paramount, as long as there was a warm body doing the work, no one was going to say anything. Swapped shifts were common enough, and only became an issue if it interfered in the functioning of the department. But Will was right, it was technically against regulations.

"Vulcans don't like breaking the rules," Will continued, meditatively turning the rock over in his hands.

"Everyone is an individual, and it's always a mistake to rigidly apply species-wide tendencies to individuals," Deanna said, as much as a reminder for herself as for him. "But in general their psychology is more rule-abiding than not." If he'd broke a regulation, even one that no one cared about very much, he probably had a compelling reason. "I'll ask him about it."

He nodded. "As far as the Captain goes, I think alerting him can wait until we have something more concrete. Let me know how your meeting with Navin goes. Based on that, I'll decide if we need to tell him. If we do, I'll include you in my meeting with him tomorrow."

"Thank you, Will."

"Don't thank me yet," Will said. "You still have to figure out how to approach a Vulcan to ask him if he's having emotional problems."

Deanna winced. He had a point.