“Ye saw, then?” Jamie stated, more than asked.
Claire paused, then nodded. “I did.” Seeing his jaw clench, she sat forward. “What happened?”
A long moment passed as he regarded the sickbay carpet’s navy surface under the stark lighting. Then he spoke. “The Borg. I was captured during an away mission to one of the Borg pods. We were cornered, there was an explosion, and when I came to, I was strapped down to a table in an assimilation chamber.”
Claire felt her heart catch. Assimilation was a horrific process, one she’d read about in her studies and one with which she had become very familiar during the war. The Borg used it as a way to incorporate minds and bodies into their collective; they inserted devices into the skin and pathologically connected each victim’s mind to their own–anesthesia be damned. Being cyborgs themselves, the Borg had perfected the cruel methods to create a hive-mind, collective consciousness harboring hateful, destructive beliefs. Namely that their conquering and assimilation of diverse cultures was a justified step towards the evolution of life. They did not exist as individuals, but rather a singular entity.
Fortunately—or unfortunately—the Federation had had an inside take on the Borg; one of its most decorated officers, Jean-Luc Picard, had been successfully rehabilitated from full assimilation. He’d experienced the hive collective, the pain, and the terror. The horrors reported had given the Federation an intimate understanding of the Borg, given them a chance to fight back; ultimately, Picard’s understanding of the Borg was what had allowed the Federation their victory in the War. Still, Claire felt a pain in her chest at the thought, and her gut clenched in fear for the young man that had been Jamie.
“You were assimilated?”
“Very nearly,” Jamie corrected. “It was my father that found me—but no’ before the Borg had laid waste to the skin on my back. Carved me up in search of implant sites for their wee invisible machines.”
“I’m so sorry.” Claire rubbed her temples. Christ, her head hurt. “I’ve seen many assimilated, even helped a few recover. Most don’t,” she said quietly.
“Aye.” His eyes were trained on her carefully. “I don’t tell many people.”
Through the pounding pressure behind her eyes, Claire focused on him, cocking her head. “Then, why tell me?”
A softness invaded his features just then. “Because ye don’t look at me like a different person. Some people, when they know, that’s all they see: a victim.”
Claire smiled. “I understand. I’ve met plenty of assimilation survivors who had a similar story. In fact, my uncle and I used to know an admiral.”
Claire raised an eyebrow. “Yes.”
“I’ve watched all of his holo-interviews, searching for some kind of–peace, mebbe.” Jamie closed his eyes briefly. Claire took the moment to close her eyes, too, against the harsh light of sickbay.
“Peace about your experience?”
“Aye, and the war.”
“Any luck?” Claire asked drily, thinking back on her own interactions with Admiral Picard as a young teenager at her uncle’s honorary parties. He was very quiet, though not unkind. Extremely kind, if she remembered correctly.
“He’s a very tight-lipped man when it comes to the Borg, Sassenach.” Jamie chuckled softly. “And peace is not so simple. Ye ken that, though.”
Claire hummed, thinking back on her own years of searching for peace after the war. The hurt and devastation she’d seen on her own ship and the great scale of loss at the hands of the Borg had taken their toll on her. She’d needed months on Earth in the company of her uncle’s old friend, Dusty, to recoup. She knew many with similar stories.
“I do,” she responded quietly.
Just then, the soft beeping of the regenerator went off.
“Looks like you’re done cooking, soldier.”
She stood to shut off the regenerator and everything in her vision immediately flashed to white. She felt a wave of nausea overcome her, forcing her to fall back into her chair. At some point, her hands had flown to her head, and she felt her nails digging into her scalp, desperately gripping against the pain. Christ.
“Doctor? Claire, what’s wrong?” came the concerned voice of Jamie and rustling sounds as he tried to get up.
She thrust out a hand. “You have to shut it off first.”
Returning her hand to her head, she tried to slow her breathing. The pressure in her head felt unbearable, but she forced herself to breathe through the pain. The white in her vision was now a cavernous black, with splotchy flashes of color dancing behind shut eyelids. Suddenly, it occurred to her she may have a concussion, or something much more serious. She’d almost completely forgotten about the explosion back on Alpha Onias III which had knocked her out.
She felt Jamie kneel in front of her. “What do ye need?”
“10 cc’s hydrocortilene. Top drawer,” she bit out, pointing in the general direction of the shelving which contained the medication. Jamie’s footsteps exploded in her head like hammer blows as he went to fetch some. Soon, he was back and, after a moment’s hesitation, a soft hiss at her neck along with the tiniest of pin-pricks told her relief would be coming.
Within seconds, her breathing was less terse, and she relaxed her grip on her skull. She chanced opening her eyes and found Jamie kneeling beside her, prepping another dose of the painkiller, should she need it. But almost immediately, the pressure behind her sinuses and eyes had disappeared. The drug was already repairing her head trauma.
“I’m alright,” Claire told him. Placing a hand on her chest, she noted her heart was still racing. Wordlessly, she scanned herself with the tricorder he offered her; it confirmed what she already suspected: concussion. However, it also reported elevated heart rate and adrenaline, along with cooler temperature.
“Claire, ye’re shaking.”
At Jamie’s words, she glanced down—indeed, she was. She stared at her hands, not immediately recognizing them as her own. “I’m in shock.”
Her mind was sluggish, and she searched for the next step only to come up empty. A nagging panic sat at the base of her skull, and a small voice whispered fear into her thoughts. Her friend resurrecting from the dead. The explosion. Jamie’s injury. The hazardous flight through the Neutral Zone. She had felt so powerless, careening out of control the entire mission. They could have all been killed and it would have been on her watch.
“It’s alright, a nighean ,” Jamie’s voice cut through her panic like a lifeline.
Looking up at him, she forced herself to focus on his eyes, mesmerizing in their intensity even if they were dark with worry and exhaustion. Try as she might, words were difficult to form—her breath was too shallow.
“We almost died,” she managed. “It almost happened again…” she whispered, trailing off as she remembered the helplessness she’d experienced as a nurse six years ago, discovering her commanding officer crushed under that cave, the fear of those trainees crackling like sparks in the air. It had almost been the same on Alpha Onias III.
Confusion furrowed Jamie’s brow, until something clicked. Then, he spoke. “We didna--and what happened on Betazed, ye couldna have anticipated, lass.”
As she struggled to convince her mind of that solid fact, she hardly registered Jamie’s arms around her. Then, unconsciously her body melted against him, gratefully wrapping her arms around his solid form.
After a few minutes of begging her lungs to work for her, her breathing slowed, her heart was beating at a normal pace, and having someone to cling to had helped the tremors in her body subside. Vaguely, she registered the fact that Jamie was speaking, though the words were unfamiliar to her. Whatever they were, they were calming.
Pulling away and extricating herself from Jamie’s arms, she looked at him. An unspeakable tenderness lay there, something she wasn’t prepared to see and it made her heart jump. His face was open to her, his jaw set in concern. While his skin had returned to its normal palor with the removal of the disguise and the accelerated healing of his gash, his eyes remained dark circles and he looked gaunt—but this did nothing to conceal how handsome he was. She felt herself transported back to the bar on the wharf, marveling at this stranger’s presence.
Feeling herself blush, she stood slowly. Jamie did as well, and for a moment, there was silence.
“Are ye alright, Sassenach?”
“Yes,” she said, her voice cracking a bit. She cleared her throat. “Thank you. Lieutenant.”
He laughed in a tone she couldn’t quite decipher. “Ye’re welcome, Doctor.” A beat. “I’ll see ye tomorrow for the briefing,” he said softly, as he pulled a shirt gingerly over his torso.
“Of course,” Claire said. Then, helping him lift his bag gently onto his shoulder, careful to not irritate his back, she gave Jamie a soft smile. “Take it easy. I want bed rest for tomorrow, at least. Then report to me in a couple of days for a check-up.”
“I’ll try, ken?”
He chuckled tiredly. “Aye. Ye, as well.”
He gave her a small salute and left. As the doors slid shut behind him, Claire let out a long breath. A sense of calm had definitely descended on her, but so too had something else. Something rooted deep within her about Jamie, a cluster of butterflies in her stomach. A sensation she hadn’t felt in a long time.
With a sigh and a deep stretch, Claire began gathering her things. Joe would be arriving any moment to relieve her of duty. Then she would head straight to her quarters for a long, scalding bath and bed.