Inertia

Summary: Tom goes through his mother’s things after her death and finds a letter.

 

Characters: Paris, Julia Paris, Janeway

Codes: Janeway/J Paris, Janeway/Paris, Janeway/O Paris (referenced)

 

Disclaimer: Paramount/CBS own the rights to the Voyager universe and its characters, which I am borrowing without permission or intent to profit.

Note: This is a WIP and will eventually form part of a series... I just had to get this first chapter down, because I was dared to.

Not beta-canon compliant (ie forget the Relaunch novels). Also, the rating will go up in future chapters.

Rated T

Chapter 1: She'll leave the smell of the sea in your bed

The padd lies face-down on the wooden floor, over in the corner of the room where it skidded earlier today after he threw it away from him. It might still be activated, those damning, incendiary sentence fragments still blazing from the small screen. He can’t tell from here.

why I stayed with your father… an adulterer … I did something far worse …

He doesn’t want to read those words again; wants to scour them from his memory and ignore whatever other unwelcome confessions the padd is sure to hold. And yet, he finds himself drawn here, back to the scene of the crime.

Her crime.

But this is his duty and his responsibility, and over the past decade or so, Tom’s come to learn quite a bit about those things.

He closes the heavy door behind him. Moira’s kids will keep Miral entertained for the next hour or so. Then he’ll take her to B’Elanna’s – it’s her weekend, according to their scrupulously careful negotiations – and Tom will go back, alone, to the row house in the Mission that the real estate agent had called spacious and well-appointed and he and B’Elanna had, for a while, called home. That he now calls empty.

Or he could go straight to the nearest bar. God knows he could use a drink.

And he’s stalling. Maybe it won’t be that bad. The few snatched sentences he caught when he switched on the padd; maybe they’re the worst of it.

Maybe after a lifetime as the perfect Starfleet daughter, wife, mother and widow, Julia Paris deserves a chance to tell someone her secrets, even posthumously, and it seems he is that someone. The letter is addressed to him and it’s his duty to read it, whether he wants to or not.

Tom picks up the padd, lowers himself into the heirloom chair at his mother’s desk and begins to read.

 

~*~


From Julia Hartford Paris to my son, Thomas Eugene Paris, to be delivered in the event of my death.

Hello, Tom. You’re probably wondering why I’ve singled you out as the recipient of my last words. I suppose it’s because I’ve said everything I need to say to your sisters, but you … there are so many things I should have told you while I was alive.

Maybe you already know some of them: that I regret the part I played in your relationship with your father … that I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you when you left Starfleet … that I wish I could have stopped you from taking the devil’s deal that landed you in the Delta quadrant.

I regret that most of all, even though it got you out of that rehabilitation centre. Even though I know you would say it saved your life. I’m sure you’re wondering why, and I will tell you. I’ll get to it. There are other things you need to know first.

You are so intelligent, Tom, so much smarter than the rest of us – did you know that? Did you know how high you scored on all the tests? No, of course you didn’t; I wouldn’t let them tell you. Maybe if I had, you’d have understood why Owen was so hard on you. He expected so much of you. I tried to shield you from that. Maybe that was wrong. Maybe I didn’t try hard enough.

You were a quiet boy, and so sensitive, attuned to what was going on around you even when you were too young to understand it. We forgot you were there sometimes, watching and listening, absorbing all our frustrations and joys and anger without the tools to interpret them. No wonder you spent so much time in your room when every time you ventured out of it, we confused and disappointed you.

When you were fifteen or sixteen you asked me why I stayed married to Owen. You wouldn’t tell me why you were asking me that question, but I assumed that your difficult relationship with your father coloured your perception of him as a husband. I remember that I told you there was no question of me leaving him. I told you it was because I loved him.

You looked so sad, and at the time I thought it was out of concern for me. You adored me, or so I assumed, and you worried that I was suffering under Owen’s tyranny. I believed my own interpretation of that conversation for years.

How smug I was.

I know now that you weren’t asking out of concern for me. You asked because you wanted to understand where my priorities lay, and you interpreted my answer not as the wisdom of adulthood, but as evidence of my wilful blindness to inconvenient truth. If I could pretend Owen was a fit husband, I could not be trusted to protect you from his failures as a parent.

I’m sorry I failed you, Tom. I’m sorry I was every bit as weak as he was.

It wasn’t until years later that I understood your reason for asking me why I stayed with your father. You believed he was an adulterer, and in a way you were right. What you don’t know is that I did something far worse.

I fell in love with his lover.

Owen had always played around, even when we were courting. In the first few years of our marriage we experimented – swinging, sex clubs – oh, I can feel you cringing from my grave, Tom! But I grew tired of it quite quickly, and once I was pregnant with Moira I didn’t want to look outside my marriage anymore. I lost interest in sex altogether, to be honest. Your father had always had a high sex drive, so I gave him my blessing to satisfy himself elsewhere. I had only three stipulations. He was to make sure that nobody’s feelings got involved, that he kept his lovers away from the house, and that he never let you or your sisters find out.

When I discovered that he’d broken all three of my rules, I was livid.

Do you remember, Tom? Do you remember when you were five years old and you crept into Owen’s study and hid under the desk? Do you remember him coming into the room with a woman? You didn’t understand at the time, although something made you stay quiet until they’d finished. But that night as I was putting you to bed, you asked me why that woman was letting your dad hurt her. You said she didn’t run away; she just kept saying the F-word and telling him ‘harder’.

I confronted Owen, of course, and he promised never to break that rule again, and as far as I know he didn’t. But then there was the incident with Moira’s friend from the academy. He was so stupid … he took her to luxury hotels and gave her Betazoid jewellery, and she was so young – no, not that young, thankfully – and she fell for him. She got it into her head that he was going to leave me and marry her, and when she realised that wasn’t going to happen she made a terrible fuss.

She confessed to Moira, who threatened to report your father to the Starfleet Board of Inquiry. A captain caught having an affair with a cadet? He’d have been dishonourably discharged, the Paris family name sullied for generations. Moira, and later you, would have borne the shame throughout your Starfleet careers.

I had to clean up that mess, too; luckily the Hartford name holds as much sway with Starfleet as the Paris dynasty. The girl was persuaded to keep her mouth shut and quietly transferred to a campus off-world. I was so angry I told Owen to leave. He’d been offered command of a ship, a posting he’d been dithering over because it meant he’d be away from you and your sisters for a year. I made him take it.

That ship was the Al Batani, and I guess you know what happened on that mission. Or maybe you don’t. Maybe he never told you.

Maybe she never did, either. Maybe you should ask her.

There are a lot of things you’ll want to ask her after I tell you the rest, but some questions are better left unanswered.

When the Al Batani returned from the Cardassian border, your father and Kathryn Janeway were bonded in a way that only those who’ve shared a horrific trauma are bonded. Oh, not like that; up until their capture I believe their relationship was that of mentor and student, and in any case, she was clinging to that boy she intended to marry. After he and Edward died she was different. Remember when you used to watch your Uncle Cole use a whetstone to sharpen that Klingon dagger he had? Kathryn was like that knife. Stripped of everything that had softened and blunted her, honed to vicious perfection. Utterly beautiful, and utterly cruel.

You’re wondering how I know that, of course. The truth is, I didn’t know her very well back then. She was just the daughter of a family friend, a minor member of another Starfleet dynastic line. There was nothing particularly interesting about her except her tragic story.

Nothing, that is, until I met her at some stuffy admirals’ ball. She was there with Gretchen, wearing her dead father’s medals under her lieutenant’s pips. I remembered her from Edward’s funeral two or three years earlier, of course. She’d been pale as milk then and almost catatonic; I remembered that mostly because before that she was just a quiet, studious child, all freckles and elbows, and now there was nothing childlike about her. She was radiant. I was pulled to her like a magnet, and I wasn’t the only one. She and Gretchen were surrounded by stuffy old admirals reminiscing about Edward. I watched her for quite a while. Kathryn was perfectly polite and deferential, but her mask slipped for just a moment and I saw how tired she was and how much her feet hurt and how badly she wanted to loosen her collar, and before I’d formed the vaguest of intentions I found myself across that room, making her excuses and leading her away from the ballroom.

We stopped in the corridor beside the cloakroom. She turned to me, said “Mrs Paris, I can’t thank you enough for coming to my rescue”, laid her hand on my arm and gave me the most brilliant, crooked smile.

Have you ever fallen in love at first sight, Tom? I had never felt anything like it. Gravity up-ends itself, your stomach twists into a Moebius loop, your heart tries to lurch out of your chest. I noticed the most ridiculous things so clearly in that moment, like the slight discolouration of her second pip and the hair that had come loose from her chignon and was sticking to her cheek, and the creases in her lips, as unique as fingerprints. Is it any wonder I lost my equilibrium?

I kissed her right there in the corridor without so much as a please may I, just hooked my hand around the back of her neck to hold her still and leaned in. She didn’t move at first, and I could tell her eyes were wide open – shock, probably – but I gave everything I had to that kiss. She made a little gasping sound that parted her lips, and I took advantage, and then my other arm was around her waist and I felt the sweep of her eyelashes on my cheek. I started to pull her closer, but she tore her mouth away and put her hands on my shoulders to halt me.

I could see in her eyes that she was composing polite rejections and discarding them immediately. I was waiting for her to rebuff me, expecting it, but she looked so pretty with that flush on her cheeks that I couldn’t help cupping her face in my hand, brushing my thumb across her bottom lip.

That was the moment that everything changed. Something clicked and shifted in her eyes; she narrowed them at me, and then she tilted her head so that my thumb slid just inside her mouth and was caught between her teeth. She curled her tongue around it, then pulled back.

“There’s a library in the basement,” she said. Her voice was low and rumbling, like a purr. “It should be deserted at this hour.”

I looked at her, waiting. What was she telling me this for?

“I have the entry code,” she said, and dipped her head to suck lightly at the inside of my wrist. “Would you like to visit the stacks with me, Mrs Paris? We’ll have to be very, very quiet.”

I wasn’t sure I remembered how to breathe. My whole body was throbbing, pounding really, but as it turned out, I could still speak. I said, “My name is Julia,” and she smiled at me, a different kind of smile, and led me down to that library.

I’ll spare you further details.

We met, from then on, as frequently as we were able, and wherever we could find a private space and a stretch of an hour or two. I could have spent days on end wrapped up in her. I’d have given up eating and sleeping just to prolong our time together.

Nobody has ever done to me what Kathryn Janeway did. Oh, I’m not talking about what we did in bed; she was a skilled lover, but it was her focus and curiosity that made her so, more than her techniques. I mean that she turned me inside out, upended my tidy, compartmentalised little life, and made me want her with the kind of fierceness you usually see in oversexed teenagers, not middle-aged women who really should know better.

I was obsessed with her.

And then one afternoon as she was getting dressed, she mentioned that she’d just made lieutenant commander. She had been offered the post of first officer on a ship that was leaving for the Beta quadrant. She would be gone for two years.

I felt my heart breaking. You think I’m being dramatic? I actually thought my heart was cracking, shattering into dust and leaving nothing but a gaping wound in my chest. I could barely breathe, but I begged her not to go. And she looked at me with sympathy and said, “I think this has run its course, Julia, don’t you?”

I didn’t see her again for almost three years, in the powder room at a New York restaurant, purely by chance. She looked softer, happier; her skin was lightly tanned and there were golden sun-streaks in her ponytail, and the freckles scattered across her nose had darkened. She was wearing a shift dress and a pair of high-heeled sandals and her legs were bare.

“Julia,” she exclaimed when she saw me staring at her in the mirror over the sink, and she smiled at me; a meaningless, public smile. “How lovely to see you.”

I wanted to smile back at her and say something polite and vacuous. I opened my mouth and choked out, “God, Kathryn. I’ve missed you so much.”

That wiped the smile from her face. She glanced around quickly to make sure we were alone, then moved closer, softening her voice. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I never meant –”

I cut her off, smothering her words with my lips and clamping my arms around her. She struggled, but I held tighter, knowing that she could easily break my hold if she wanted to. Knowing she could probably break my arm in a dozen different ways without even raising a sweat.

She let me kiss her for a few moments, accepting my tongue when I pushed at her lips, even letting me rub her breasts and clutch at her ass. But she was so passive where she had always been such an intense and inventive lover, and eventually the wrongness of it washed over me and could no longer be ignored. I let my hands drop to my sides and my head hang, ashamed.

“Julia …” Kathryn’s voice was gentle, “You know it’s over, don’t you?”

Wordlessly, I nodded.

“I’m seeing someone,” she said. “I think it’s serious. And I don’t want … complication. You understand?”

I couldn’t even look at her. After a moment I heard the heels of her sandals clicking away from me on the tiled floor. She opened the door and paused.

“I really am sorry,” she said before she left.

The next time I saw her was on the newsvids when the story broke about Voyager’s disappearance.

By then, I’d known for three years that she’d slept with Owen. I don’t know when it started or when it ended, but I do know that he, too, was in love with her. Still was, I think, when he died. She has that effect on people.

Do you understand what I’m telling you, Tom? You must know her well by now, especially if she’s learned more from Owen’s command style than Edward’s. Her father always preached distance between captain and crew, but yours was her mentor, and he ruled with charm. How did Kathryn rule you? Was she a cold Starfleet martinet – she certainly could be, if she chose to – or did you all fall a little bit in love with her, out there in the Delta?

Maybe more than a little bit for some of you.

If only there was some way I could warn you about her. But I’ve seen the way you look at her, and I’m afraid it’s too late.

Well. I had intended my final words to be an imparting of wisdom and love to my only son, but I’ve kept this inside for so long … maybe I just felt the need to confess. I’m not counting on absolution; I don’t even know if I feel better for telling it.

Maybe I think you have the right to know who she is, and what she’s done to our family. A cautionary tale, and one I hope will save you from making the same mistakes as your father and I did. But then, you probably don’t need me to warn you. You’re a better husband and a better man than Owen, and a much better parent than either of us.

Remember that, won’t you? Take care of your family. Be good to B’Elanna, and give Miral all the love you have, without the strings and constraints we placed on you.

I do love you, Tom. Be happy.

Your mother,
Julia Hartford Paris

 

~*~


Tom sits in that antique chair, staring with blurred eyes at the padd for so long that Moira comes looking for him.

“What have you been doing?” she asks, exasperated. “B’Elanna just commed to find out why you’re so late dropping Miral to her place. Why isn’t your combadge activated?”

“Sorry,” he says absently. His back is kinked from sitting hunched in that chair; it cracks painfully as three-year-old Miral charges into the study and flings herself into his lap. “Oof,” Tom comments, and ruffles her hair. “Ready to go see your mom?”

Miral loudly expresses her approval, and Tom stands to hoist her onto his hip.

His sister’s eye is on the padd he slips into his jacket pocket. “What’s that? Something important?”

“Just a letter from Mom,” Tom says lightly. “Thanks for keeping an eye on Miral. See you next week, okay?”

“Okay.” Moira leans up to peck him on the cheek, and he gives her a one-armed hug in return. She follows Tom and Miral down the long hallway and waves them off in their hovercar, and Tom fixes his eyes on the road, and his thoughts firmly away from the padd and onto the tense conversation he’s no doubt about to have with his soon-to-be-ex-wife.

But B’Elanna is clearly doing her best to rein in her temper; she invites him in for coffee – Tom declines – and restrains herself to exaggeratedly confirming the time and date she’ll return their daughter, and Tom kisses Miral and awkwardly nods to B’Elanna, and then he gets back into his hovercar and starts driving aimlessly, letting muscle memory guide him while his thoughts skip and race and stutter.

When the daze clears and Tom looks up to discover that his hovercar is parked in front of an address he’s never visited but has nonetheless memorised, maybe he should feel a little bit surprised.

He doesn’t. No matter how far he tries to go or how long he stays away from her, turning up at Kathryn Janeway’s door is inevitable.

 

~*~


(To be continued … eventually)

 . Index .

© 2021 by Mia Cooper