Head Games

The assassin moved with a fluid grace as he walked down the hall. His expression was cold and closed...as usual. Those he passed gave him a wide berth. There was a quiet menace about the man. His green eyes seemed to watch everything about him without truly seeing any of it.

Coldly disregarding the attention his entrance garnered, Tatakai entered the infirmary. He didn't want to be there...and saying so was putting it mildly. But there was no getting around it. Commander Maxwell had made his "request" quite specific. Nor had the implications of what would happen should he choose to ignore the "request" been lost on him. So on silent feet he walked through the pseudo-halls of the infirmary, towards the back were the private rooms were.

The infirmary was relatively empty, and those beds that were occupied were curtained off from prying eyes. Having been the object of everyone's attention from the moment he entered, Tatakai barely noticed when another set of eyes followed his movements.

* * *

Unseen, Jordana leaned up against a corridor wall, arms crossed over her chest, eyes narrowed in consideration as she watched the young man disappear down the aisle that lead to the psych office. She took a slow deep breath, still feeling a twinge in her side from the protest of still healing ribs. Her hand unconsciously moved to massage her hip where she could still imagine the pain from the now-healed bruise...

~I can't believe he actually showed up here~ she thought to herself. She adjusted her position, seeming to melt into the shadows as he passed by her, then moved so she could see him actually pass through the door. ~Maybe he really does want help deep down...well we will see...if he doesn't..well, hopefully we won't have to cross that bridge.~

She was about to leave, when a thought occurred to her. Maybe she should just stick around for a bit....just to make sure he left the new psychologist in one piece.

* * *

Tatakai's fingers didn't tremble as he went to toggle the door's chime, he would never allow himself such a show of weakness. Besides, though he wasn't thrilled with being there, he had nothing to fear. The doctor would play her head games and he would answer only what was strictly necessary. Nothing would be accomplished, but that was beside the point.

Pressing the switch he waited. After a couple heart beats the door slid open and a soft female contralto bid him enter. With a firm step he did so and heard the door snick shut behind him. The room was not large. There was a comfortable looking couch pushed against one wall, a couple chairs wedged in the corner. A third chair sat before a clean, functional desk. And behind the desk was a petite woman with deliberately messy mane of layered light brown hair. She raised her grey eyes from whatever she had been reading and smiled warmly at him.

Frowning, he let his cold gaze encompass the room. The woman smoothly rose from her seat, her serene smile still in place as she purposefully moved from behind the desk. "Ensign Tatakai," she greeted him as she deliberately walked towards the young man. A few paces from the assassin the woman extends her hand. The young man just coldly glances at the offered hand and ignored it, instead he returned his steady gaze to the doctor.

"Hello," she said smoothly. "I'm Dr. Liaden McGilvray." The doctor wasn't phased by the ensign's cool response, and instead simply gestured to the pair of seats in the corner. "Please have a seat."

Barely looking at the woman Tatakai moved over to the chairs that the doctor had been indicated. Though the chairs where almost identical he chose the one with less padding. Sitting stiffly, he stared blankly at the air before him. He could hear the woman walking over to join him but he refused to look at her. Out of the corner of his eye, though, he saw the slightly intrigued expression she wore.

The woman fluidly took the chair facing him. He noted that face was composed as she folded her hands on her knee. When she spoke, her voice was calm and inviting. "So tell me Ensign...do you know why you're here?"

The assassin remained motionless. The blank gaze that seemed to be his only expression coolly regarded the woman. He barely thought about his answer. "I'm here because Commander Maxwell told me to be," he stated the obvious.

From the expression on the psychiatrist's face his answer didn't surprise her in the least. "Quite right. And do you know why he felt you needed to meet with me?" She wasn't about to let him get off that easily.

He refused to show any reaction but Tatakai was getting heartily tired of people trying to get answers out of him when he didn't have the first clue what they were talking about. Conveying his displeasure with an icy glare he said in a voice to match, "No."

Liaden lost some of her cheer at that simple response, then the smile was back as she said, "I don't suppose you care if I tell you, eh?" The man shrugged indifferently. Faced with that she pressed on. "He's concerned about your behaviour." With anyone else she would have expected them to get defensive, but the blank look he gave her worried her more then any harsh words he might have uttered.

Cautiously, she began to see a pattern emerging from his reactions. The ensign refused to volunteer any information. In fact, he only seemed to respond when she asked a question. Filing that tidbit of information away she tried to ask something that -would- get a response.

"Can you tell me why the Commander would be worried?"

The ensign's expression was still blank, but the slight crease between his brows denoted that she had at least gotten his attention. Smile disappearing form her face she tried again. "Does the Commander have any reason to be concerned about your behavour, Ensign?"

"No." While she could have predicated that reply what she saw in his face gave her pause. The cold mask he wore was equally mixed with a pain only he knew the cause of. She doubted that he would enlighten her.

Keeping her voice calm, the psychiatrist followed in the same vein. "Then why would the Commander send you to me, and tell me that he was concerned?"

"I wouldn't know."

"And if I asked you to speculate?"

"Speculation is a waste of time."

Quickly squelching her exasperation, Liaden smiled at her reluctant visitor. "So waste my time then. You were told to talk to me for twenty minutes anyway." Leaning forward in her chair she used every bit of body language she knew to show her interest in Tatakai and his response. Not that that seemed to have any effect.

Once more the assassin's face darkened. "I can't tell you what I don't know."

This was getting tiring. Careful not to let any of the exasperation show through in her voice she pressed her patient a little. "Take an eduacated guess. A hypothesis. Why do you think the Commander is worried?"

The assassin met the question with stony silence and a cold, closed expression.

~Somehow that doesn't surprise me~ she thought to herself as she quietly regarded the man before her. ~But it was worth a try.~

Time for a change of topic. With luck, the ensign might be more inclined to answer her. "So, Ensign. If you weren't here, and could have your time as your own, where would you be?"

The question took him aback. It wasn't something that he had expected! It certainly couldn't hurt to answer. "My quarters," came the emotionless reply. "Or the gym."

Well that was an interesting response. Liaden leaned a little more forward in her chair, her body language proclaiming her curiosity. "Why?"

Tatakai gave a small, dismissive shrug. "It's were I would be most productive." He let the simple statement, that was both blunt and cryptic, hang in the air between them.

Liaden smiled a little to herself as she settled comfortably in her chair. "Ah...quite admirable." She took advantage of the opening her had given her. "I haven't had a chance to get to the gym yet," she commented casually. "What are the facilities like?"

"Adequate."

~And thus we hit another dead end~ she thought to herself philosophically. She would just have to find an opening elsewhere. Gently clasping her fingers in her lap she looked at the young man with the cold green eyes. What could she say that would get him to talk without making him feel threatened? Something of no apparent consequence perhaps? That gave her an idea. "I imagine the ensigns' quarters are different from my own. What are your's like?"

"Cramped," was the terse replay. "But I've stayed in worse." ~Why did I say that~ the assassin wondered. Of course it was true enough but the nosy psychologist didn't need to know that....

Liaden tried not to let her excitement show through. The tight lipped recruit had finally given her something to work with! But her dark grey eyes lightened, announcing her curiosity. "Really? What were they like?"

He didn't want to think about it...didn't want to remember. But he couldn't stop it. The memories came regardless. Filthy little hovels that not even the most destitute beggar would inhabit... And yet all he could do was deny the doctor any evidence of how her simple question effected him. So in an impassive voice he replied, "Shacks...holes in the wall."

"Were they clean or dirty?"

Just the thought of the filth...no...he refused to give in to memories.

"Dirty."

Liaden pressed in a new direction. "Were there bugs?"

"Yes."

"And what did you do about them?"

"Ignored them."

"Ahh," the doctor commented understandingly. "Did you have to share those quarters?"

"Yes." Again his thoughts shied away from examining the memories to closely. He recalled all to vividly of the way many of the Assassin Masters he had been apprenticed to liked to spend their time in between assignments. But then Cho...His wonderful Cho...The silver haired man with the face and body of a young god had shown him that he mattered, that he had a choice. Had shown him that another's touch could bring joy, rather then pain...

"What did the others do about the bugs?"

Yes, thinking about the bugs was preferable! "Nothing."

Liaden's lips quirk a little. "What did the bugs do about the others?"

And how was he supposed to respond to -that-? He looked hard at the woman, wondering if she was quite with it mentally.

Continuing boldly the doctor knew that she might be treading on very thin ice...given the ensign's responses so far. "If they are the bugs I'm thinking about the strongest insects would have killed off the weak ones."

Ah...so -that's- what she had been talking about! Even as realization dawned on him he had to suppress a shudder. Weak destroyed by the strong..... Curtly he nodded, acknowledging that the woman was right in her guess, as his face once more became dark and unreadable.

The moment before, her stoic visitor had seemed almost human, if untalkative. But now he had closed himself off again. Had she hit a little too close to home? Her own expression darkened a little in thought, remembering her own source of information on those bugs. So far this line of questioning had produced better results then any of her other attempts so she decided to continue with it. "What percentage did you lose?"

Narrowing his eyes he looked hard at the woman. "I didn't keep track....of the bugs."

Liaden would have laughed aloud if she'd been alone. Even if he was fighting her every step of the way, the young man had provided her with another opportunity and she seized on it immediately. "And the people?"

At no time did the young man look away from her. But the dark expression became distant, as though his thoughts were elsewhere. "They didn't matter," was the quiet answer.

Startled and yet unsurprised she pressed her advantage. "Why didn't they matter?"

Cold green eyes darkened. "If they didn't survive--" The words were quickly cut off as the assassin seemed to stare some indeterminate point between them.

Now she had to proceed slowly...if she did things just right she might gain herself a peek inside the workings of his thoughts. Remaining very still, but conveying her attentiveness silently, she gently prompted her visitor. "If they didn't survive...?"

"Their problem...not mine."

And yet another dead end was reached! If only she could turn it around. Then a thought struck her. "But you survived." It wasn't really a question and thus she hadn't really expected to get a reaction. So she was elated when she was treated to a dark glare from the ensign. Her eyes cleared a little as she continued. "Obviously." She smiled with a small amount of self-directed humor. "So would you consider yourself a survivor?"

"Yes."

"Why?"

"Anything less is Weakness."

~Well! That's a start!~ Liaden considered her next question carefully. She hadn't missed the fact that, to him, weakness was a proper noun. "And weakness is...?"

"To be avoided...scorned."

"Why?"

Tatakai's expression darkened once more as his thoughts focused on what was a core concept of his being. He had to make her understand! "To be Weak is to be NOTHING," the cold voice intoned. Where there had been a lack of any emotional inflection there was now a very obvious, and barely suppressed, combination of rage and hatred. But he didn't notice the change in himself as he mind focused on the concept of Weakness.

Seeing this sudden change in the young man before her, the psychologist made another mental note. She wondered what was behind this feeling that seemed to have such great significance to the ensign. In a habitual movement she cocked her head to the side as she asked, "Why?"

With an almost single-mindedness he turn his cold green eyes on her. That heartless gaze fixing her in place. "Weakness is to be used...exploited...and then discarded." He curled his lips around the words as though they were something distasteful. But every fiber of his being spoke of his firm conviction to the truth of those words.

~He's a study in contrast~ Liaden silently observed.

Left with that statement the doctor decided to push things a little further. This was leading somewhere important, she was sure. So she sat quietly under that harsh gaze, unaffected by that anger the young man fairly radiated. "By whom?" she queried.

"By me," were the crisp words that fell from the ensign's lips.

She couldn't say that she was surprised by the answer, but she needed more. He had alluded to others before, perhaps if she could get him talking about them that would give her a way to get him to open up a little... It was worth a shot.

"Only by you?" she probed delicately. But the only response she got was a silent shrug. Once more she was getting nowhere fast! ~Damn it!~ It was important that she not lose his attention. "Do you often see weakness?"

"Yes."

As always her visitor was a man of few words. Her next question could possibly have a bad effect on him. But she couldn't bring herself to back down, not when there was a chance that she might be able to help the dark soul before her. "Where do you perceive weakness?"

The expression that, while not animated, had been -present- the moment before had gone cold and distant as his eyes seemed to focus on the thin air between them. The detached quality to his expression alerted her to the fact that he was trying to come to terms with something...or hide something.

Tatakai felt as though he had been submerged in a thick ooze. Everything around him seemed somehow--detached--as though nothing around him actually affect the assassin. The woman's question was an abstract one. And he didn't -really- have to answer it. But it related to that burning core of his being...that -need- that motivated his actions. He wanted to tell her..to describe the hunger that was within him. But, no. Even if he had been able to put the feeling into words, she was one of THEM. She had been trying to play head games with him the moment he had walked in the office and was not to be trusted. So when he found himself answering her query he was rather surprised to say the least!

"Everywhere."

It was like -he- wasn't the one who had spoken. Instead he was nothing more then an observer of his own actions.

Giving a mental sigh of relief the psychologist had to acknowledge that it could have gone much worse. But still she was left to wonder. So, her curiosity prompted her continue courting disaster. "Can you describe the weakness you see?" But the question was only greeted by a shake of his rumpled light brown hair. With an air of resignation she tried again. "Do you often see weakness?"

"Yes."

At least he said something... "In whom do you see weakness?"

She could almost predict the cold glare he favoured her with as well as the heartless words that followed. "In you." She didn't so much as blink. ~You don't blame a wounded animal for striking out at those trying to help.~ "Do you see weakness in anyone else?" she wanted to know.

"Yes."

Now...according to what she had been able to acquire from the rumour mill, ensign Tatakai had formed a kind of...attachment to his roommate. That was how it had been described to her. No one sheh ahd talked to had provided her with specifics and she wondered if there were any available. She had no way to tell what their relationship was, and her visitor hadn't exactly been volunteering the information! So what she planned may very well backfire on her, but she was running out of ideas as to how to get the man before her to react.

Taking a calming breath she pressed forward with her words. "In your partner, Ensign Lindemann?" As she watched she did indeed get a reaction.

The assassin's face became pinched as though he were in pain. A war of emotions raged across his chiseled features. Pain, fear, protectiveness, affection, lust and desire were all there to be seen before the cold mask descended once more. But even then his eyes betrayed him as they snapped with the intensity of his own thoughts.

~Khamryn...Beautiful...frail...weak... No! Not weak! Never that. Mine. He's mine! And I must protect him! Why? Feelings are weak...~

As his thoughts ran around in his head like a mouse trapped in the bottom of a barrel his mouth opened. "Don't you -dare- talk about him in that manner."

Though he didn't raise his voice and the tone was as cold as ever, Liaden noticed that he was almost fuming at her. Her eyes flicked down to his hands which were unconsciously clenching and unclenching in his lap. Well...she had gotten an interesting reaction indeed, but now it was time for a tactical retreat...so to speak. Letting that line of questioning drop she redirected the young man's attention by asking, "What about the Commander? Is he weak?"

The barely suppressed fire that had fueled his words seemed to drain out of the assassin. Once more his voice was an emotionless void. "No."

"He as no weaknesses whatsoever?" This was an odd change. And the psychologist wasn't entirely sure where it was going but was willing to follow it at least a little ways. Just as long as it didn't appear her visitor was going to become violent. Green eyes regarded her dispassionately. She wasn't sure what this meant. It had become so very hard to read the ensign's expression. It felt almost like he was treating her as a dense child.

"He can't be weak....if he was he would have been disposed of."

Well...that was hardly the response she had been expecting! "By whom?"

"-He- would decide who was to handle a termination."

The emphasis he placed in his response caught her attention. Her memory was trying to connect it to something at the back of her mind. It was almost as though the ensign was speaking in code. But whatever it was that she couldn't quite put her finger on would wait. At the moment she had a new mystery to deal with. Looking carefully at Tatakai she asked, "Who is -he-?"

It was almost instantaneous. The cold expression lost it's neutrality as the ensign displayed a decidedly pained look. "The Old Man...." The words were barely above a whisper. But it wasn't like he was trying to hush them. Rather it was as though he just didn't have the strength to be any louder.

There was pattern forming. She could see it, but wasn't sure of it...yet. The psychologist ached for the young man that was sitting before her. She could see that he was trapped, fighting... something. It was obvious that Tatakai was waging an internal war. Could she help him? Was she making it worse?

She reluctantly pushed these thoughts to the back on her mind. Until she had more information there was little she could do. "Tell me about him." It wasn't a question and she was ready to rephrase it as such if she didn't get a response....

"I..." Whatever else the ensign might have said faded out as his green eyes glazed over with a pain that had no foundation in the here and now. He leaned his head back against the wall, his eyes sliding closed. In his lap his fists clench tightly, so that they are white knuckled and did not release.

~shitshitshit~ Liaden fought against the urge to reach out to her visitor. She dug her own nails into her palm, the sharp sting helping her to remain focused. Though Tatakai was obviously in some kind of distress she waited to see if her silence would let him work through whatever had a hold on him.

But the young man didn't respond; in fact he seemed aware of nothing. He didn't make a sound or move, save for his hands. The fists were still tightly clenched, so tense that they began to shake perceivably.

In the voice one might use when talking to a frightened child or a skittish animal, she called to her visitor. "Tatakai?"

Slowly the hands uncurled. She didn't miss the bloody gouges on both his palms. She cursed at herself mentally again. Two eyes cracked open as he moved his head to look at her. Those bottomless green eyes were blank and without feeling. Liaden's breath caught in her throat as a thought occurred to her. ~My god....he looks like a zombie.~

She was becoming worried, and repeated her query, allowing some of her concern to seep into her voice. "Tatakai?"

The young man just blinked at her and waited silently.

Now it was beginning to make sense. She had seen enough brainwashing cases to understand what had just occurred. The ensign must have run afoul of a compulsion set in his subconscious. A compulsion to protect this "Old Man" perhaps? Maybe...but she had the feeling that it went much deeper then that.

Well...now she had a working theory. It was time to put it to the test. "Ensign Tatakai. I want you to repeat the last thing you said to me."

"The Commander...He can't be weak..."

"Indeed."

~Interesting.~ And there was her proof. Looking at her watch she saw that they were already five minutes over the 20min session that had been scheduled. "Thank you Ensign. You're free to go."

With a curt nod, the assassin rose from his chair and walked soundlessly out of the room. As the door closed behind the young man, Liaden rose and walked over to her desk. Taking out a light pen and an e-pad she began to make her preliminary report.

"So, what are you going to say, eh?" she asked herself, falling back into her chair and raking a hand through her hair. Staring out at the wall across from her she mentally reviewed their interview. The first and most obvious fact obtained was that conditioning has occurred. Secondly, recalling what she had heard and read about his.altercation with Jordana Sevayin, a -sympathetic- telepath, there was obviously a 'path involved in that conditioning. A telepath would have to be involved in breaking down the programming, but she was sure the Commander could find someone suitable for working with her on that.

She frowned at the wall. "Cruel." Given his reaction to her question about Khamryn Lindemann, sex and desire had been involved in the acquisition of his loyalty. Whatever he felt for his partner was probably helping the breakdown of his conditioning, but the locks set on his mind would invariably hurt any relationship they could form. "Bastards." She narrowed her eyes, stubbornly. She -would- see him healed.

Dropping that train of thought angrily, Liaden clinically refocused on her analysis. She allowed her memory to make the connection that it had been trying for since Tatakai had mentioned the Old Man.

"Crime syndicate. Assasin."

The conditioning made obvious, if terrible, sense in that light. It was part of his role as a slave of the Family, the Old Man. "Curious." If Tatakai was able to actually mention the Old Man... Someone else had headed his programming. Someone -else-, connected to the Family, that he has been given a deep need to protect... She would have to talk to Commander Maxwell about getting her hands on -all- of the young man's files. He represented a very deep puzzle, a mystery that she was intellectually eager to solve. More importantly than that, though, these people had left him psychologically maimed, emotionally wounded, carrying soul deep pain. She would never walk away from that.

[fin]