Kind Words Soften the Hurt
S1-A1-Ep. 1: Spectrophobia
Location: USS Poseidon; Deck 5, Gymnasium - Main Level
Timeline: Docked at Starbase 47
Gregory Paladin was in the gymnasium working out a particular bad bit of stress from a few nightmares that had been plaguing him. Since that moment seeing his doppelganger on the main viewscreen - for what else or who else could it of been? - he had been experiencing bad flashbacks to the shuttle accident that killed his family. Canaan had by now departed the USS Poseidon for other ventures, their love affair never truly blossoming beyond what it had, and without his support Gregory found himself somewhat more vulnerable than he had been before.
Sweat glistened off his bare chest as he continued his push-ups off to the side of the main mat in the gym. There were a few other crew here, each and every one keeping to themselves as they worked their particular routines; two were jogging around the perimeter of the gym, a second was working on some workout equipment provided on the side, and Gregory was the third person just off to the center doing his exercises. He wore his work-out shorts, keeping anything else necessary in his duffel bag kept near the lockers. His mind entirely focused on the exercise of choice at the moment, switching from push-ups then to doing squats as he worked hard to forget the recent nightmare that had woken him from his sleep.
Waking up in a sweat, she realized she was dreaming again about Pavan's death. This time she got up and went straight to the gym and started to do a workout. She wasn't there long before she noticed the Commodore was there. Slowly, Neteri walked slowly towards him. "Hello Commodore, what brings you to the gym," she said smiling.
Gregory was taken aback by Neteri's arrival, interrupted as he was doing squats. He hadn't noticed her at first until the shadow of her person fell over his perspective, and only then did he actually remember where he was. Startled slightly, he performed a curl kick and came straight to his feet. His expression softened almost immediately as he looked at Neteri and recognized her.
"Lieutenant Commander!" greeted Gregory, a bit jovially. "How are you doing this fine morning? Couldn't sleep either, I take it?"
He gave a chuckle before reaching down to his towel, bringing it to wipe across his forehead. "I'm just here trying to escape some nightmares is all," Gregory said in response to Neteri's original question. "Having a few of them lately."
Neteri smiled warmly, "So am I. This past mission has brought up old ghosts and I have taken to doing exercises in order to relax. Sometimes it does not work for some reason. I guess it is something we all must learn to deal with. Er...um....I don't like to pry but you seem uncomfortable and bothered...... it's your emotions sir. They are projecting and well, I can sense them like before in the awards ceremony. Is there something you care to speak on? I am no counselor but I am a good listener," she said softly.
Gregory looked at Neteri seriously then, halting mid wipe across his chest as he eyed her suspiciously. He squinted, as if recalling information, and then gently shook his head as he gazed at her with a more standoffish look.
"I don't recall ever knowing you could sense feelings," the Commodore cautiously said. "What is this about?"
Sitting down on the gym floor, she looked into his eyes, "Commodore forgive me please......I thought you knew I was Betazoid," feeling ashamed at the moment. But it did bother her enough to risk it. "Sir I mean no disrespect sir. You see when you called me a hero, well I didn't feel like a hero. I was doing my job as a Starfleet Officer and a CAG officer. It was your dream for the Poseidon to be a flying school to teach cadets how to do their jobs and you did that. You didn't fail us, if anything we failed you and the Federation. In my eyes, you are the hero for getting all of us ready for what happened out there. If you hadn't taught us, we all might be dead now," Neteri said softly.
The Commodore was stricken with guilt upon hearing her explanation. He made a mental note to never jump the gun like that again, nodding to her explanation as he followed her to the floor to sit across from her. He watched her as she spoke, carefully considering each word when she finished. Gently, he rubbed a hand across his cheek, sighing as he looked away.
"You're all heroes, Neteri," he said using her first name. "I'm sorry about forgetting your Betazed heritage. A lot has been going on lately. But I thank you for your kind words, though I don't think I deserve them."
He then looked at her, seriousness across his expression.
"You all worked damn hard to achieve what you have," the Commodore said, his voice terse but gentle. "You especially, out there in the cold black. Without your fighter wing we'd all be dead. And don't shy away from that, because it's true. It's also true we'd be dead if a lot of other people hadn't done their jobs, like Freya for example, but they did, and they did them well. Don't take that triumph away from you. All I did was provide the place for you to make something of yourself, I didn't make the hero you became."
Neteri moved a little closer to the Commodore and put her hand on his shoulder. "Commodore, no need to feel guilty. You are a visionary and a credit to Starfleet. Don't sell yourself short ever! You did something that should make you very proud of yourself. Starfleet gave you the Poseidon as a teaching platform where young cadets could finish their training with hands on training by seasoned Senior Officers. Well sir, you proved it worked. You gave Starfleet something to be proud of, and you too. Your belief in the Senior Officers, that they could be instructors for these cadets, proved you had confidence in us and that it would work. Sir you gave me self confidence that I could teach my pilots, and also helped smooth my own rough edges. I in turn gave my pilots that self confidence in themselves. Yes Freya did an exceptional job and so did Lt. Cmdr. Karn Karn, and Cmdr. Shakira, and Lieutenant Hibiki Zh'kallas, Lieutenant Commander Nivora T'vek, and finally Lt. Cmdr. T'Pris, all of them did awesome jobs but so did their cadets. The real hero of this was you, and you proved it could be done. Commodore, when Pavan was killed, I felt his emotions just before he died. Surprise, shock, anger, and guilt. Yes, guilt. Guilt because he couldn't keep his promise to me. We were supposed to marry, and he felt guilty that he was going to die. I never told Cmdr. Shakira this during our sessions. So Commodore, you see I too know about guilt. However, you should not feel guilty about your dream vision, it was a success. If I had the power, I would put you in for the Distinguished Service Medal, because you earned it!" she said as a tear rolled down her cheek.
There was a soft silence that began between the two. Neteri, her hand on the Commodore's shoulder, a tear glistening down her cheek. Gregory, his face expressionless for the first time, his mind blank for the first time in forever. The Commodore was speechless by what the Lt. Commander had just sad. As she had spoken, his mind had brought back flashbacks of that day; the battle, the carnage, the fight for the lower decks, and the fight outside the ship. He remembered then the faces of the cadets. Some were scared, as any rational person would be, but most...most were professional, resolute, even the scared ones going about their task as if their life depended on it. They were a credit to their teachers, the Seasoned Officers who trained them both Senior and Junior. They were a mirror into the face of a program still in its infancy, but showing promise and capability. All of it started with him; the Commodore with a dream after he failed Command, wanting to prove himself, wanting to better others and help them achieve what he never did.
It was then that memories of another time erupted in Gregory's mind. His wife and children, his son and daughter. Their happy faces as they saw his uniform, understood his job for the first time. Their ambitions to follow him. Then, the shuttle explosion. Their screams. Death. All at once the Commodore jolted back from Neteri's touch, a demon that had been hidden for weeks now resurfacing as he glared at her with wild, animal eyes. It was only brief, only a few seconds, his mind regaining control from his relapse. He was breathing hard, and sweating. In just a second he had risen from sitting to crouched, as if he had intended to run or was afraid of something. As he calmed, realizing what had happened, he carefully sat where he stood.
"I'm sorry about that," He said, carefully considering his words. "I uh....well...."
There was really nothing to say about what had transpired. Neteri was comforting and reassuring him and had done nothing wrong. Gregory had acted as if her touch just then had been like lava, jolting away as if he wanted to avoid her until the end of time. It was inexcusable. He could brush it off and, like so many times before, promise to "see them later". That never worked, and it always damaged relations with other people. After Canaan, Gregory had come to realize the true value of facing his demons instead of running way; admitting his faults, admitting what happens when the PTSD erupts, accepting himself and moving on. As he gazed down with a look of guilt at his actions, he couldn't help but miss Canaan, couldn't help but miss his touch and comfort.
But he wasn't here anymore. He wouldn't be for a long time. It was effectively over between them, and now Gregory had to find his own way. Carefully, he gazed up at Neteri apologetically.
"I have episodes sometimes," Gregory said, softly. "The nightmares are from my post traumatic stress disorder, from the Dominion War. And....."
His lips quivered a bit, eyes downcast briefly before gazing back up as he tried to reply.
"And my wife and kids, they died horribly in a shuttle explosion," Gregory finished. He was quiet for a moment, the visage of his doppleganger in his mind clearly; laughing, taunting, lunging to attack on that shuttle pad after killing his family. Gregory's body briefly shivered. Then he remembered the reason why he started the program in the first place, and a look of guilt overcame him. Softly, he spoke again.
"Neteri, I started this program with good intentions, but my motivations weren't all good," he began, eyes looking to hers. "I can't....reveal everything, but needless to say there's a man out there who wants me dead. Wants me dead so he can....I don't know, I guess assume my identity? When I first started this program I did so under the memory of my children, because I wanted others to have their dreams achieved where both mine and my deceased children ended. It was shortly into setting things up that I saw an opportunity involved, something to get back at someone who did bad things to me. That encounter with those ships, while surprising, had been anticipated by me and several other people."
Gregory let those words sink in, the implications. He gave a cautious look to Neteri, careful with his words.
"I am not innocent of what happened to those cadets that died, those crew," Gregory said, a quiver in his voice. "I had believed that by seeing this through I'd find the person who ruined my life, and I did. And it cost me part of my soul. I may have started this, I may even deserve to take credit, but I do not deserve a medal for what happened during that battle. Every night since then I have had nightmares, and so much damn guilt."
A tear streamed down the side of his cheek as he carefully wiped at it, looking down as if ashamed.
"Starfleet told me I did nothing wrong, I did my job, almost word for word what you told me. I don't believe that anymore. That battle was a wake-up call for me, a reminder about consequences and what this ship should really be about. But those people that died?" He glared at Neteri somberly then. "Those deaths are on me. And I'm not even allowed to tell a damn soul about it. Because what I agreed to do back then, what started all this Academy training, cost me greatly."
Neteri sat there listening to the Commodore and felt what he felt. She felt his hurt and pain and it was staggering. The loss of his family, the Dominion War, and the mention of a person who wanted to hurt him, maybe even kill him, and the guilt that riddled his mind was overpowering. Choosing her words carefully, she again rested her hand on his shoulder and with kindness and softness she spoke to him. "Commodore, the war was devastating for everyone. I was on a mission with my group when a Breen ship came out of nowhere and destroyed ⅔'s of my flight in front of my eyes. I got back to my ship only to find it in pieces. My friends, my grandparent's, cousins, and more, are gone. I came to find out later that I was the target. I had a price on my head because I shot up a shuttle that was carrying the Cardassian Ambassador. I still have my own demons about that which keep me awake at night. Starfleet said that I was following my orders but I argued that point and summarily got demoted. Commodore, you suffer the same PTSD like I do. It is nothing to be ashamed about. We all have our own demons and crosses to bear, but to dwell on it does more damage than good. From time to time I have my episodes and it is hard for me to pull myself back from the hurt and all the emotions I go through. But, you know what, I thank myself for being alive and knowing that I can beat the odds. There are a lot of things that don't get put into my jacket by Starfleet. I just hope I survive long enough to get married one day," she said solemnly.
Neteri didn't want to let him in on the fact that she was still hunted and for that she too felt a little guilty for hiding the truth. "Commodore, I think we have a lot of things in common. Our pasts, and now our present problems. Would it help if maybe we could….talk about them in a different setting? I am not trying to be in any way other than professional by suggesting it. Talking about it to a friend or someone who understands how you feel could be beneficial," she added. "Believe me sir, what gets said would be held in the strictest confidence between us," she said softly.
Gregory eyed her suspiciously, though it was clear he had taken on a joking expression with the curl of his lips.
"You're not a secret one of the Counselor types, are you?" he asked, his voice also hinting at the relaxed nature he now took in.
That made Neteri laugh slightly. "No Commodore, I am no secrete counselor. Only a friend who also has been through hell and back," she said smiling warmly.
Gregory found himself chuckling along with her laugh, nodding briefly before giving her a once-over approvingly - professionally, of course. He stood and gestured towards the exit nonchalantly, giving her a smile.
"Alright Neteri, lead the way."
Commodore Gregory Paladin
Lt. Cmdr. Neteri "Ikran" Shannon