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.
“All right then,” Stadi mutters, chin stuck out in determination as she punches yet another sequence into the holodeck control panel, “try this one. Computer, load program Sulu tango five, variant omega one. Activate.”
Tom tries to tone down his ear-to-ear grin. Tonight is his first time flying in two years and he’s having the time of his life, even if it is just a simulation. Veronica’s been throwing him into sims with ever-increasing levels of difficulty and he’s aced every one so far. That it’s the first time he’s seen the serene Betazoid rattled is just the cherry on top.
The silver hologrid shimmers away, morphing into the interior of a Zola-class attack fighter. It’s identical to the one-man craft Chakotay assigned him to on that first solo mission in the Maquis; the mission that had been cut short when Tom was captured by Starfleet.
His grin fades.
“Run program,” says Stadi, and Tom clears his mind of everything but flying.
A few hours of dodging simulated Romulan warbirds and Breen destroyers have left him exhilarated and buzzing with adrenaline, and Tom figures sleep is a long way in his future. The last thing he wants is to be alone and restless. He knows his own mind well enough to know that’s when the demons come.
Stadi escorts him along Voyager’s corridors and through the airlock, but before she has the chance to bid him goodnight, Tom gives her his best winsome smile and asks, “Aren’t you going to see me to my door?”
She rolls her eyes, but when he offers his elbow she loops a hand through it and they walk slowly through the habitat ring. He keeps the banter light and inconsequential and she laughs softly at all the right moments. But then they’re at his quarters, and Tom can’t quite suppress a surge of anxiety.
“Come on, V,” he cajoles, “it’s not even 2200. Come have a drink with me.”
“I shouldn’t –”
“You’re off duty,” he interrupts, and quickly keys in his entry code, catching her hand to tug her over the threshold. “One drink.”
“I’ll have synthehol.”
Tom gives her a dark look. “Two tumblers of your finest Connemara,” he says to the replicator.
~That beverage is not on file.~
“Then just give me something that resembles whiskey.”
Two glasses of amber liquid shimmer into existence. Tom picks them up, sniffs one and nods.
“I’m not drinking that,” Veronica says firmly, waving her glass away.
“More for me,” Tom shrugs, and tips the contents into his tumbler.
“Is that really a good idea?”
It doesn’t matter how mild her tone; Tom can’t stop himself from firing up.
“Don’t worry, Stadi, your life isn’t in my hands,” he drawls with heavy sarcasm. “Nobody’s ever going to let me near the helm again for real.”
He tosses the contents of the glass down his throat and turns his back on her.
After a moment during which Tom’s neck tenses so tight he has to deliberately roll his head and shake out his arms, he feels Stadi’s gentle hand on his shoulder.
“That isn’t what I meant,” she says, “but for what it’s worth, Tom, I wouldn’t hesitate to trust my safety to your piloting.”
He goes still, eyes blurring, biting down on his lip in an effort to stave off the ache in his throat.
“Thanks,” he manages eventually.
She squeezes his arm, then lets go, moving briskly to the couch and crossing her legs. “Now,” she says, holding his eyes, “why don’t you put that glass down, come over here and we can have a proper conversation without any fighting or flirting?”
“How long had you been stationed at Caldik Prime before the event?”
Tom shifts in his seat. “Couple of weeks. The Exeter was on patrol along the Neutral Zone. We stopped in the Caldik system for shore leave.”
“The Exeter … you were the chief helmsman, right?”
“So you were on leave when it happened?”
“No,” he clips out. “I was on duty.”
There’s a silence, during which Tom fidgets with his hands and glares at nothing.
“I can see you don’t want to talk about it,” says Veronica. “But I think you need to.”
Tom huffs out a laugh. “And shatter any illusions you still have of me?”
“What makes you think I have any illusions about you at all?”
He looks up in time to register the subtle quirk at the corners of her mouth, and manages a grin in response. “You really want to hear this, huh?”
Veronica toes off her boots and curls her legs beneath her, settling into the couch cushions. “Enough stalling, Tom. I’m listening.”
“Okay,” he mutters, standing abruptly to pace the room. “You know what happened, right? I mean, how the star destabilised.”
“A Romulan destroyer with a damaged singularity drive accidentally strayed across the border and into the Caldik system. No life signs were detected aboard and gravitational fluctuations in the ship’s core repulsed all attempts to tractor it. The vessel drifted into the star’s corona where it exploded, generating a quantum radiation burst that threatened all life on the only populated planet in the system.”
“Yeah,” Tom says. “That about covers it.”
“And then …”
“And then,” he sighs, “all Starfleet personnel in the area and any civilians with medical, engineering or piloting skills were mobilised to help evacuate the inhabitants. There were three other Starfleet ships within range as well as a couple of civilian cargo vessels. Our chief science officer estimated the solar radiation would reach toxic levels in the planet’s atmosphere within nine hours, and we had to evacuate three hundred thousand people across six settlements.”
“Timing was tight. I remember.”
Tom stops pacing to look at her. “How come you were there, anyway?”
“I was a fourth-year cadet,” she replies. “We were on a training exercise nearby, in Sector 002.”
“Navigating the electromagnetic distortions in the Bassen Rift? I remember that one.”
“Right, and given the scale of potential disaster, my squadron was diverted to Caldik to assist with the evacuation.” Veronica pauses, then prompts, “So, you had all hands mobilised, and reinforcements coming in from all directions, civilians too … must’ve been a coordination nightmare.”
“I guess so. I was a little busy scrambling to find something to fly … All the Exeter’s shuttles were in play and I had a crateful of radiation suits and hyronalin to fly down to the surface for the evacuees who were still waiting.” He pauses to let out a slow breath. “And then the USS Bonchune arrived, carrying six of the brand new Starfleet runabouts and only five active pilots. I was on that spare runabout so fast I practically left scorch marks.”
Stadi leans forward to catch his eyes.
“Had you been drinking when you took the helm?”
“Yeah.” Tom rubs a hand over his face. “The night before the quantum implosion was a crewmate’s birthday. We went to this little dive bar on the planet. I stayed out too late … drank more than I remembered. When the call for pilots went out a couple hours later, it didn’t even occur to me to stop at sickbay for a detox. I thought I was fine …”
He stares unseeingly at the carpet, recalling how he’d been looking forward to cashing in his bragging rights over flying the Danube-class runabouts, fresh out of the fleet yards at Utopia Planitia. But he hadn’t just wanted to fly the runabout. He’d wanted to make it do things the designers didn’t believe it could.
“On my second run down to the planet,” he continues in a voice so quiet Veronica leans in to hear him, “I told myself I was testing the runabout’s capabilities in case of an emergency. I threw that ship around like I was flying a strike fighter. There was so much traffic going back and forth from the surface and I was dodging and weaving through it, telling myself I could handle it. That I was the best pilot to come out of Starfleet Academy in a generation, and that this was what I was born for.”
Tom glances up fearfully, but there’s only empathy in Veronica’s dark eyes.
“I was just approaching the stratosphere when a shuttle coming from Caldik’s orbital station veered slightly off course. I was screwing around with the plasma intake, trying to boost thruster power … I was far too close, going much too fast, and I clipped the shuttle …” he pauses to scrub at his forehead. “The runabout was okay – the impact hit my forward deflector; I barely felt it – but the shuttle … it went into a flat spin. The pilot couldn’t pull up. They skidded off the atmosphere and broke up. Three people died.”
He looks directly at her and speaks the names that had haunted him for three months before he finally broke down and confessed; the names that still haunt him.
“Lieutenant Ek’Lar V’Chaan, chief pilot assigned to Caldik Station. Dr T’Prya, medical officer on the USS Shelton. And Crewman Kate Clark, assistant engineer on the Exeter.”
“You knew her?” Stadi’s eyes are big and full of pity.
“Yeah, I knew her.” Tom drops onto the couch beside Stadi. “It was her first mission; she’d never been out of the solar system before. She wanted to work her way into the academy and eventually become chief engineer on a starship. She was twenty-two years old.”
“Thing is,” he tips his head back, “I could’ve gotten away with it. Everything was so crazy that day that nobody was monitoring flight controls or coordinating personnel shifts. To be honest, it’s a miracle that was the only accident.”
“Nobody questioned you?”
“Not until the formal inquiry a week or so later. By then I felt as though it was too late to come clean … I hadn’t slept, was still in shock, and we were being hailed as heroes for saving all those colonists … So I told the board of inquiry that my thrusters stalled because of a freak plasma surge in the exhaust manifolds and I lost control. I suggested there was a flaw in the runabout’s engine design. They pulled the Danube-class off the production line and took them apart.”
He shakes his head briefly.
“They didn’t find any flaws, of course. I figured they’d be coming for me with more questions, so I decided to beat them to the punch. I confessed.”
Veronica folds her fingers into Tom’s.
“It was too late to charge me with anything – no evidence – so they wrote it up as pilot error and gave me Starfleet’s quickest and quietest discharge. I guess they kept it on the down low out of respect for my father, or maybe so they didn’t tarnish the whole heroic evacuation thing.”
“Maybe they did it because they could see you were suffering.”
Tom huffs a humourless laugh. “You have a much higher opinion of Starfleet than I do, V.”
“Maybe I’ve had better role models.”
“Can’t argue with that,” he says wryly. “My dad sure wasn’t interested in my side of the story. Not that I deserved his support. I left San Francisco before he could disown me, and two days later I was in Paris wondering how quickly I could drink myself to death.”
“And then …”
“And then I kept on living, despite my best efforts. About a year later Chakotay found me and recruited me into his cell.”
“Did he know what you’d – what had happened?”
“You mean, did he know I’d killed three innocent people? I don’t know. He was ‘fleet, but he resigned before the story came out. Maybe he just saw how desperate I was and figured I had no place else to go.”
“But he must have trusted you. He brought you home and gave you a ship to fly.”
He did more than trust me. Tom’s face twists involuntarily and he turns to hide his expression from Stadi. “A lot of good it did him,” he chokes out.
He senses the catch in her breath, realises she’s picking up the conflict, the turmoil inside him, and tries to shore up his emotional shields. Eyes closed, breathing slow and evenly, he channels his agitation into something he can direct and control. When he turns back to Veronica a few moments later, there’s a silky undertone to his voice.
“You’re good at that, V,” he drawls. He turns his hand over, sliding his fingers between hers and playing with them lightly. “I guess I have to revise my first impression of you.”
There’s a tiny crinkle between her brows as she studies him. “What impression?”
“That you’re not like other Betazoids.”
“You mean that other Betazoids are warm and sensual?”
Tom slides his other hand along the back of the couch. Veronica leans toward him fractionally and he mirrors the movement, letting his gaze drift to her lips.
“But I’m not?” There’s the slightest clip at the end of her speech, as if she’s reaching for an extra breath.
“You tell me.” Tom’s voice dips as his fingers toy with the collar of her uniform. “Better yet, show me.”
He leans in unhurriedly, giving her time to pull away, but she doesn’t move. Their lips brush softly. She tilts her head, lets him slide the tip of his tongue along her lower lip, opens to him and chases him as he retreats. Tom's hand cradles her head, holding her lightly in place as he kisses her, slow and lush, with lips and teeth and tongue.
Then Veronica giggles.
Tom pulls back, wide-eyed and not a little insulted. “What?”
“I’m sorry.” She covers her mouth with her hand, but it doesn’t stop the grin. “I don’t mean to laugh at you … It’s just,” she shakes her head helplessly, “you’re lovely, Tom. And under different circumstances, maybe …”
“I get it. You don’t need an ex-con hanging around, messing with your bright future.” Despite his words, he’s not really upset.
“No, that’s not it.” Veronica sobers. “It’s just that I make it a rule not to fall for people who are emotionally unavailable.”
Tom frowns at her. “I’m not involved with anyone.”
“If you say so,” she says wryly. “But that isn’t what I meant. Your life is about to change in ways you have no way to predict, and it’s up to you to decide what you make of it.”
“That’s deep, V.”
“I’m a very profound person.” Smirking, she extricates herself and stands, hopping on each foot as she pulls on her boots.
“Where are you going?”
“To bed. Alone,” Stadi adds, grinning pointedly, then bends to press a kiss to his cheek. “Goodnight, Tom.”
“See you in the morning, Lieutenant.”
Alone, but no longer lonely, Tom shifts to lie on the couch, head pillowed on his folded hands, and drifts into sleep.