Summary: Two bodies in relative motion excite resistance when they come together. Two wills clashing create another kind of friction. Somewhere between animosity and arousal is the place where they meet.
Characters: Paris, Janeway, Chakotay, Kim, Stadi
Disclaimer: Paramount/CBS own the rights to the Voyager universe and its characters, which I am borrowing without permission or intent to profit.
Warning: This story contains mentions of rape, prison trauma, post-traumatic stress syndrome and panic disorder.
Points of failure
They begin on the bridge.
Stadi nods politely to the ensign at tactical, murmuring “As you were,” when he straightens to attention, and leads Tom directly to the helm.
She ducks to her knees under the conn station, tapping into a panel on its underside and taking out an optronic coupler. Tom crouches beside her, avid eyes assessing the helm layout, taking note of the controls. On the navigation console there’s a gravitational resonance scan of the region surrounding the Badlands. The image flickers and fuzzes.
“Can you monitor the nav console?” Stadi glances at him. “The sensors have been misaligned since Voyager’s test flight.”
“Sure.” Tom detaches a tricorder from under the conn and rises, bracing a hand on the hood of the console.
Stadi activates the optronic coupler and Tom watches the readouts as she painstakingly adjusts optronic relays one by one. “Any better?” she asks.
Tom checks the screen, then his tricorder. “I’m detecting a power variance in the navigational computer pathways. Seems to be interfering with sensor resolution.”
Stadi gives a faint huff and scrambles out from under the console. “Can you localise the problem?”
He shakes his head. “The readings are inconsistent.”
“It’s interrupting the optronic interface,” she notes, angling her neck to look at his tricorder screen. “We’ll have to go over every part of the navigational array to find the fail point.”
“Could be a problem with those bio-neural gel packs you were bragging about yesterday,” Tom suggests.
“If that’s so, we’ll still have to – Captain!” Stadi cuts herself off, eyes switching over Tom’s shoulder as the ready room door opens.
“Good morning, Lieutenant.”
The now-familiar, husky voice curls desire along Tom’s spine and he feels his heart double-thump. Schooling his face, he turns, adopting the at ease position.
“Captain,” he nods.
“Mr Paris.” Janeway’s tone cools noticeably and he flushes hot in contrast.
Veronica Stadi’s attention switches silently between Tom and the captain.
Janeway tilts her head a little. “Did I hear you suggesting there’s an issue with the gel packs?”
“It’s just a theory, ma’am – uh, Captain,” he corrects himself quickly.
“On what basis?”
“Lieutenant Stadi tells me the gel packs are interconnected throughout all ship’s systems, and since we haven’t been able to pinpoint where the optronic failures originate, it seems like a logical step to check them out.”
Janeway lifts an eyebrow. “Mr Paris, the last time I checked, your speciality was flight control, not cutting-edge computer technology. Starfleet’s best engineers designed and tested the bio-neural systems. Are you suggesting they overlooked something?”
Tom meets her gaze evenly. “I’m suggesting Veronica and I get down to navigational control so we can rule out my theory. That is, if you’re still planning to leave for the Badlands on schedule. Ma’am.”
Beside him, Stadi draws an audible breath.
Janeway’s eyes are steely. “Permission granted,” she grinds out, and stalks past them toward the turbolift.
Tom’s shoulders sag as the ‘lift doors close, and he finally meets Veronica’s raised eyebrows. He waits for her to say something – maybe ask him why the captain is so keen to bust his balls, or why even prison didn’t beat the smart mouth out of him – but evidently she doesn’t feel the need.
Must be nice to be able to read people’s minds.
“Lead the way, Lieutenant,” he says with a sweeping gesture.
As he follows Stadi into the turbolift he catches the faintest gleam of a smile on her lips. “Deck twelve,” she orders, and Tom faces front as the ‘lift glides downward.
It only takes about a deck and a half for Tom to regret skating on the edge of disrespect with the captain.
By the time Stadi leads him onto deck twelve, hands him a coil spanner and puts him to work isolating sections of the nav computer for testing, he’s cursing his lack of impulse control and debating whether he should front up and offer Janeway a formal apology, or do his best to stay the hell out of her sight until the mission is over.
“She likes roses.”
Tom nearly drops the spanner. “What?”
Veronica smirks at him over the gel pack she’s testing. “If you’re looking to get back in Captain Janeway’s good graces, you can’t go wrong with flowers.”
He doesn’t know where to look. “I’m not sure that’s the most appropriate way to redeem myself to my commanding officer,” he says finally. “Or to say thanks to the woman who busted me out of jail.”
“Is that all she is to you?” Stadi asks mildly, extracting a neural fibre from the gel pack.
Tom puts down his tools. “Veronica, I don’t know what you’re –”
“Tom,” she interrupts him, “let me tell you something about Betazoids. We don’t just casually read minds; in fact, we understand that non-telepathic species value their privacy, so we try to block out other people’s thoughts. But certain impulses, certain strong emotions – those are harder to ignore.”
“Don’t look so scared,” she smirks. “We’re also really good at keeping secrets. Which is something Captain Janeway knows.”
“Why are you telling me this?”
“Because,” Veronica replaces the gel pack and moves around the console to face him, “I want you to know that you can trust me. You don’t need to keep your guard up around me.”
Tom looks down at the computer panel. “It’s kind of a habit now,” he mutters.
“Survival protocol. I understand.” Stadi’s voice is kind. “You might be surprised to know that you’re not the only person on this ship who’s spent some time incarcerated.”
“What?” Tom stares. “You?”
“What happened? If you don’t mind me asking …”
“I don’t mind.” Stadi motions him over to a seat. “About a year ago, hostilities broke out again on Proxcinia, and a Starfleet convoy was sent to provide medical aid. I was piloting a shuttle out of the USS Florence, carrying three doctors, two field medics and a cargo crate of medical supplies. As we approached the planet we took heavy fire from the surface. I transported the crew and cargo to the triage centre but couldn’t make it out before the shuttle crash-landed in the Merah Desert. When I regained consciousness I discovered that I’d been taken hostage by insurgents.”
“The Florence couldn’t beam you out?”
Veronica shakes her head briefly. “The Raicin – that’s what the insurgents called themselves – they held me in a shielded internment camp. It took the Florence two days to find me and another twenty-four hours to mount a rescue. In those three days, Tom, I saw things … experienced things … that will never leave me.”
Her eyes meet his, and Tom’s chest hurts at the look in them.
“Why did they take you?” he asks. “What did they want?”
“They were so angry, so full of hatred at the injustices they believed they’d suffered at the government’s hands. My best guess is they wanted someone to punish.” She links her fingers deliberately, focusing on the movement. “I guess you can imagine what it’s like to be on the receiving end of that kind of punishment.”
Tom thinks about his first weeks in prison, when they’d housed him in the same wing as two Maquis captives who’d been told he’d traded information for leniency; and then a few months back, when he’d shared a work detail with a sociopathic Verillian, who held a grudge against Starfleet and had enjoyed taking it out on a certain admiral’s son. He thinks about sly elbows stabbing and shoulders shoving him in the corridors, and of how quickly he’d learned to always keep a wall at his back in the common rooms, and the way they always seemed to be able to get to him after lights out.
“Yeah,” he says, reaching for her hand and squeezing it lightly, “I guess I can.”