Starburst

Summary: Nick Locarno's life has been defined by avoiding consequences, but he can't outrun them forever.

Characters: Nicholas Locarno, Wesley Crusher, Jean Hajar

Codes: Locarno/Crusher, Locarno/Hajar

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

Note: A Christmas gift for @rikerssexblouse.

 

Rated M

2367

“Boys! Breakfast!”

Wesley goes taut in the middle of the whimper I’ve drawn out of him. “Nick,” he half-whispers, half-groans. “Your mom. She’s coming…”

“Not before you do,” I hiss, following up with a curl of my tongue around his ear and another full-hipped thrust. He buries his face in the pillow and arches his spine helplessly.

“Nicholas, are you awake?”

“Be right down, Mom.” I can hear the hoarse note in my voice. Wes shifts restlessly and I clamp an arm across his thigh to pin him down. “She won’t come in,” I murmur. My hand moves over his abdomen and I grin triumphantly as he thrusts into my curled fist.

Wes gives that unmistakable high-pitched, muffled cry and I follow quickly, pressing my face into the back of his neck where the skin is petal-soft and smells of cut grass. I like to bite him there, leave my mark where it can be seen above the collar of his uniform. Like a brand. He blushes furiously when I do it, protests, but I think he likes it.

“Nick, get off me,” he pleads, wriggling out from under my weight. I flop back on the pillows and watch as he rushes around collecting pants and socks and a horrifically ugly sweater.

He’d folded it all neatly after we unpacked last night, laid out ready for the morning, but I kicked the pile of clothing deliberately before I pushed him onto the bed.

“Would you get up already?”

“What’s the rush?” I let my gaze wander lazily over his narrow chest and lean hips. “I’m enjoying the view.”

“Fine, I’ll take first shower then.”

I hear the bathroom lock click and the shower start up, and sigh, dragging myself out of bed. Mom has some kind of wholesome family outing planned for today, Christmas Eve; I wasn’t really listening when she was talking last night. Too busy creeping my socked foot up under Wesley’s trouser leg under the dining table, just to see him blush.

Wes emerges from the shower on a waft of scented steam, fully dressed. “Your turn. I’ll wait for you downstairs.”

I snake out an arm and grab him as he tries to pass me, pulling him full-length against me. “Kiss me first.”

That shy smile, the downward sweep of long eyelashes; it makes me want to be tender with him, even when my instinct is to tease. I kiss him lightly, no tongue or teeth, enjoying the hesitant looping of his arms around me, but just as I feel him start to relax I push him away. It wouldn’t do to let him get too comfortable.

“See you downstairs,” I toss casually over my shoulder, knowing he’s watching me as I amble naked into the bathroom.

Wes is perched at the kitchen counter by the time I lope downstairs, complimenting my mom on her collection of Terellian antiques and calling my dad ‘sir’. Less than twenty-four hours he’s been in my house, and they both already want to adopt him.

Finally,” my mother huffs when I drop into a chair. “The pancakes were getting cold. Honestly, Nicholas, if you can’t even be bothered to show up on time for breakfast –”

“These are delicious, Mrs Locarno,” Wes pipes up, treating my mom to a full wide smile. “I can’t remember the last time I had real food. I mean, the replicated stuff just doesn’t taste the same.”

“I couldn’t agree more, Wesley,” Mom twitters, thoroughly distracted, and I press my foot lightly to Wesley’s beneath the table, grateful.

He’s so good, and I’m such an asshole to him. Even when we’re in the afterglow, wrapped around each other, and I feel closer to him than I’ve ever allowed myself to feel, I can’t help that scornful note creeping into my voice. The campus counsellor used to tell me I pushed people away so they wouldn’t reject me first – all my parents’ fault, obviously – but no matter how mean I am to Wesley Crusher, he just never seems to get the message that I’m no good.

Later, after we’ve made the rounds of the neighbours’ and eaten our body weight in fruit pies, we sit around the fireplace while Dad drones on about his latest crop splicing experiments. Wes keeps up a steady stream of intelligent questions. I’m so bored my jaw cracks each time I yawn.

I watch him through half-lidded eyes. His hair is still as neat as the moment he emerged from the shower, his eyes clear and intelligent, his pants knife-creased. Perfect. Nothing like me, in my crumpled shirt and scuffed shoes. I catch sight of my mother’s eyes darting between us, taking our measure. She’s probably thinking the same thing I am.

Irritated, I push up to my feet. “I’m getting a drink. Anyone?”

“I’d love a Vulcan spiced tea,” Wes offers.

I roll my eyes. “No, Aunt Nellie, I mean a drink. Scotch? Bourbon?”

“Oh, uh, no thanks.”

“Suit yourself.”

Ignoring the disapproving looks from both parents, I grab the first bottle I see in the credenza and walk out of the living room and up the stairs without looking back.

Half an hour later, I’m slouched on my bed swigging from the bottle’s neck when Wesley appears in the doorway. He’s pouting.

“That was rude, Nick.”

“Sorry.” My tone makes it clear I’m not sorry at all. I pat the bed invitingly. “C’mere and let me make it up to you.”

He frowns. “I think maybe I should just transport back to the dorm.”

I shrug. “Stay or go, doesn’t matter to me.”

Wesley starts methodically packing his belongings into his duffel. I watch in silence, fury building like a thunderhead. When he finishes packing and starts tidying the clothes I’ve left strewn about, I explode.

“Fuck you, Crusher.”

He stops, wide-eyed and hurt.

“I invite you into my home, and this is how you thank me? You want to run back to be alone with your books, fine. Don’t expect to keep your place on the squad next year.”

Finally, a flash of anger. “You’d kick me off Nova Squad because you’re pissed I don’t want to hang out watching you be rude to your parents for three days? That’s kind of pathetic, Nick.”

“Cadet First Class Locarno,” I correct him.

Real anger now. “Screw you,” Wesley snaps, “sir.”

We glare at each other, Wes almost vibrating with righteous indignation, me sprawled on the bed gripping my half-empty bottle of Scotch. Then my lips twitch.

Wesley’s eyes change and he smirks, I can’t stifle a snort, and we’re laughing. His shoulders lose their rigid tension. “You really are an asshole, Nick,” he manages between guffaws.

“Yeah, but you love me anyway.” It just slips out, and I shift on the bed to hide my discomfort. Wes comes and sits on the edge of the bed.

“I’ll stay if you want me to,” he says.

I can’t help smiling. “Only if you’ll have a drink with me.”

Grinning, he takes the bottle and puts it to his lips, and when he splutters slightly at the burn I reach out and pull him down into my arms.

 


2368

My mom hasn’t spoken to me since the incident. That’s how she refers to it, according to my cousin Tom. Although it’s probably capitalised. The Incident. As if everyone is supposed to gloss over the facts because they’re just too sordid. Like no Locarno ever did anything dishonest.

Maybe no Locarno ever did, or maybe I’m just the first one to ever get caught out.

It’s not only my mother who’d prefer to pretend I don’t exist. Dad, my aunts and uncles, most of my cousins; Tom’s the only one who’ll give me the time of day. As for my former squadmates – Hajar, Sito, Crusher – they’re too busy trying to redeem themselves in the eyes of the Academy to remember my name. Not that I blame them.

It makes me ache. So much sometimes that I don’t stop drinking until it doesn’t ache anymore.

But there’s a danger zone between hurting and numb, and some nights it lasts longer than others. Those are the nights when I’m most likely to do something stupid, like show up at my parents’ house and lean on the door chime until someone, usually the neighbours, calls security. Or send a messy, rambling, blubbering audio message to Josh Albert’s father telling him how sorry I am that I killed his son. Or drunk-dial an old flame and try to sweet-talk them into a few hours of mindless sex. It doesn’t matter who, as long as there’s a faint chance they might not turn me away.

Like tonight.

I must be more soused than I thought, though, because when the com finally connects and I see the furrowed, suspicious face of Wesley Crusher, it gives me a jolt. I’d intended to call Kelly, the girl I took to my high school graduation. Or was it Shelley?

I guess maybe I meant to call Wes all along.

“What do you want, Nick?” he asks warily.

“Come and have a drink with me.”

He sighs. “I can’t leave campus. I have a paper due in a week.”

“You’re on campus?” My tone is derisive. “It’s fucking Christmas, Wesley. Why aren’t you swanning it on the Enterprise?”

“Because I didn’t want to be there,” he answers with exaggerated patience. “Besides, they’re on the far side of the quadrant. It’s a two-month round trip and I can’t afford to miss any classes.”

“You’re a fucking barrel of laughs these days. Come on, one hour. You can get away for that long.”

“I really can’t.”

I’m on the verge of cutting him off in disgust. But then I think about the lonely stretch of hours between now and dawn, about the fact that I’m getting low on credit chips and the guy who runs this bar no longer allows me a tab. “Please,” I ask him, quietly. “Just one drink.”

He hesitates. “All right,” he says on a sigh, leaning in to close the com channel. “One drink.”

I feel relieved and grateful, and stupid for feeling that way. This is the kid who used to practically worship me, and now I’m begging him to spend an hour with me in a low-rent bar … The familiar bitterness rises in my gut, turning the cheap bourbon into bile. Fuck him. He owes me. They all do.

Still, I find myself lurching into the washroom and splashing some water on my face, slicking my hair back and hoping Wes won’t pick up the stench of alcohol leaching from my pores.

I still look good. I wake up clear-eyed no matter how big a bender I’ve emerged from; my skin shows no sign of blotching and the slight softening around my waistline could easily be attributed to reduced physical exercise rather than bloat. Sure, maybe my hands shake sometimes, but not so as anyone would notice.

And I never have a problem getting laid. Wesley Crusher should be so lucky.

By the time I make my way back to the bar, Wes is standing just inside the doorway in one of his trademark ugly sweaters, looking annoyed and uncomfortable. “Hey,” I offer casually, like I didn’t beg him to come ten minutes ago.

“You look like shit, Nick.”

So much for nobody noticing.

“Screw you too, Crusher. You gonna buy me a drink?”

Tight-lipped, he follows me to the bar. I ask for two whiskeys – from the top shelf – and Wes sighs loudly as the bartender holds out a credit scanner.

“So why did you want me to come?” Wesley asks. I’ve already downed half my drink; his sits untouched on the counter.

I shrug. “Maybe I just wanted to see if your dress sense has improved. I see it hasn’t.”

“Nick.”

“What.”

“How are you doing?” he asks, his voice quiet. “I’ve been worried about you, since … you know.”

“Since I took the fall and got kicked out on my ass?”

He looks away. “Yeah.”

“Well, don’t be. I was the squadron leader. It was my mistake to own.”

“I miss Josh,” he says softly, then raises his eyes to me. “And I miss you.”

I want to laugh, toss off a joke, but tears are burning in the back of my throat and I can’t do it. I can’t. “I miss you too,” rips out of me.

He puts his hand on mine, on top of the bar, and it’s too intimate. Nobody’s touched me like they give two shits about me in months. I yank my hand out from under his and pick up my glass, throw the rest of the whiskey down my throat.

I can feel him looking at me, and it’s making me squirm. “You gonna drink that?” I demand.

“No.”

“Good.” I pull his untouched glass toward me and slug the whole thing back in one. When I meet his eyes again, his are dark with condemnation. It’s what I expect, and it’s a relief.

“Where are you living these days?” he asks me.

“I move around a lot.” That’s Locarno-speak for ‘I skip out on a lot of hotel bills and I’ve worn out my welcome with every friend I ever had’. But he doesn’t need to know that. There’s only so much disgust I can take, even though I’m used to it.

“What about your parents?”

“What about them?” I glare at him.

“It’s Christmas, Nick,” he says quietly. “I know you have a difficult relationship with them, but they’re still your parents. They love you.”

“Yeah? Maybe you should tell them that.” I signal for another drink, but the bartender shakes his head, jerking a thumb toward the door. “Asshole,” I mutter.

Wes is already sliding off his stool. “Let’s go.”

It’s not like I have a choice; I grab my jacket from the coat stand and shrug it on, following him into the street. We reach the corner and he turns to me, and I know before his lips shape the words that he’s about to tell me goodbye.

I can’t stand it. So I shove him up against the wall of the nearest building and grind my hips into his. “So, are we gonna fuck or what?” I breathe into his ear.

“Nick, get off me,” he hisses, but I lean in and bruise his lips with a kiss. He flinches.

Wes never did like it rough. I ease back a little and feel his response in the tentative way he clutches at my hips. Encouraged, I nibble at his lower lip, my tongue sliding into his mouth.

“C’mon, Wes,” I murmur, moving my mouth to his ear. “My place is just around the corner. What do you say?” I run my tongue down the length of his neck. “You know nobody drills you like I do. It’s why you came, isn’t it? You just can’t resist me.”

A pause, and then he shoves me away hard and steps back out my reach. His cheeks are flushed but the heat in his eyes is anger, not desire. “Fuck you, Nick,” he spits. “I came because I thought you needed a friend, but you don’t want that. And I don’t want you.”

“Sure you do.” I grab for him again, but he bats my hand away.

“Don’t ever call me again,” he says.

I laugh out loud, turning away so he’ll know I’m not watching him leave. He’ll be back. I know he will.

He can’t resist me.



2370

I don’t even remember where I was last Christmas. Probably drunk in a hole somewhere, or sleeping off a three-day bender. To be honest, I don’t remember much of last year at all. I hit rock bottom, and it’s been a long hard slog to claw my way out of it.

I’m not kidding myself that I’m there yet, either. I don’t drink anymore; even if I could stand the idea of going through withdrawal again, I’d lose my job if I ever turned back to alcohol. That’s right – I have a job. It’s not test piloting or helming the flagship for Starfleet, but it’s flying. I’m second pilot on a little cargo ship, flying milk runs between Earth and Vulcan.

It’s not much – it’s not what I thought I was destined for – but I’ve learned to be grateful for the second chances I’ve been given.

And this is one of them, I remind myself as I trudge up the steps to my family home. I can hear the same old tinny carols my mother plays every year and through the window I glimpse the tree, trimmed to within an inch of its life. Juggling a box of gifts in one arm, I press the door chime.

My dad answers the door and before I can stammer out a greeting, I’m wrapped in his wiry arms, hugged so hard I lose my breath. At least, that’s what I blame for the tears that are suddenly clogging my throat. When he releases me he slaps me on the back a few times and says gruffly, “Welcome home, Nicholas.”

It’s the most attention he’s paid me since he taught me to fish when I was a kid, and for a minute I’m resentful. But my addiction counsellor has been brutal lately about all the bitterness I’ve stored up over the years, and so I smile at him and let it go.

My mom isn’t quite so forgiving, but I’ve steeled myself to bear her sighs and honey-coated jibes. And in fact it’s not as bad as I feared. Maybe it helps that she’s not the only one in the extended family with a prodigal son anymore. I can’t help wondering if Aunt Julia still attends the weekly book club, and if she does, whether Mom gives her back the same saccharine pity she took for over a year on my behalf. I guess at least I’m not in prison for Christmas.

They’re both trying so hard. Conversation over dinner is painfully stilted, topics avoided like land mines. My mom seems to think the only safe subject is which of my school friends are married or having children. That is, until she realises I couldn’t care less, and we lapse into a tense silence.

I leave after the pie – boysenberry, my favourite; she’s cooked it specially – kiss them both on the cheek and promise not to be a stranger. As the icy night air rushes into my lungs I’m almost trembling with the worst whiskey craving I’ve had since I went cold turkey.

Desperate to keep from stumbling back into bars and bad habits, I duck into the first late-night café I find. Hands wrapped around a mug of coffee, shaking despite the sweat rolling down my spine, I hunch into a corner booth and try to remember all the reasons I’m not the man I used to be.

“Nick? Nick Locarno, is that really you?”

The woman standing at my table is slender, impeccably dressed, dark hair twisted behind her head, lips red and shining. I blink at her.

“It’s me,” she says. “Jean Hajar … well, Jean Stafford now.”

“Hajar,” I repeat, focusing. “Holy fuck, you look amazing.”

Amusement chases pride across her flawless face. “What are you doing here?”

I search for a socially acceptable answer and come up blank. “I don’t know,” I confess. “I just needed …”

As I trail off, Jean tilts her head. “Are you okay?”

Shit. Here come the tears again. I duck my head and breathe harshly through my nose. When I finally have control of myself again, Jean is sitting opposite me in the booth, her hand on my wrist.

“You look rough, Nick,” she says, but her tone is sympathetic.

“Yeah,” I manage. “It’s been a tough couple of years.”

“What have you been up to?” She sits back, taking her hand away from my arm, polite interest on her face.

“You really want to know?” I find myself asking, and at her shrug: “I’ve been screwing over everyone who ever gave a shit about me, fucking anything that moves and trying to drink myself to death.”

“Oh,” she says, mouth twitching. “Same old Nick, huh.”

“Fuck you, Hajar,” I answer, but there’s no real heat in it. Unaccountably, I start to relax. “What about you? You’re married now?” I nod toward the sparkling jewel on her finger.

She holds up her hand, fingers splayed, admiring the ring as though it’s a well-practiced motion. “Going on a year now. Jack and I met on my first posting.”

“You’re still in Starfleet then?”

A flicker of displeasure crosses her brow. “No, it wasn’t for me. I’m a party planner now.”

“Sounds thrilling,” I deadpan.

She looks irritated. “Fuck you, Locarno.”

“Any time, any place.”

It’s a knee-jerk reply, no different to the way we’d played off each other back in Nova Squad. But the moment the words leave my mouth, something changes. Her teeth dig into that red lower lip. The air between us hums with static. And I stop admiring her as a beautifully put together woman, the way you’d admire a work of art, and start wondering what she looks like under that tailored suit.

I watch her long lashes sweep downward. “You say that,” she drawls, “but do you mean it?”

“Why don’t you come back to my hotel,” I husk back at her, “and we’ll find out.”

Inside my dingy hotel room, I push her up against the wall. I’m possessed by an urge to mess up her pale-blue suit, tangle up her hair; to leave grubby marks on her that won’t scrub off for days. I wonder what her husband is like. If he’d notice. If she loves him.

I leave teeth-marks in the creamy skin of her throat and she moans. “Nick, oh God…”

It’s not right.

I try to brush the intrusive, insistent voice away, to focus on Jean’s gasps and sighs, to keep up the frantic momentum, but it’s no good. I can feel myself wilting. My hands fall away from her body and she opens her eyes.

“What is it?”

“I can’t do this, Wes.” My fingers brush her jaw. “I’m sorry.”

She plants the heels of both hands on my chest and shoves. “Get the fuck off me.”

“Jean –”

“Screw you, Locarno.” She shimmies back into her skirt, misbuttons her blouse in her fury. “I just wanted a few minutes to escape. The least you could do is pretend you wanted to be with me.”

“What?”

“You said his name.” She puffs hair out of murderous eyes.

“Whose name?”

“Wesley.” Tossing her head, she shoulders her way past me. “He’s dead, you know. Like Sito. Like Albert.”

My universe tilts, loses its centre. “What did you say?”

“They’re both dead. Presumed, anyway.” She picks up her purse, slinging it over one shoulder. “I guess you wouldn’t have heard, since you’ve spent the past two years drowning in a bottle.”

My legs won’t hold me; I sit down on the arm of the couch so hard it jars my tailbone. “What happened?”

“Jaxa went on a suicide mission. Missing, presumed dead. Or captured by the Cardassians, which is probably worse.” Jean’s voice is calmer now. “And Wes – nobody knows what happened to him. He disappeared on a planet near the Cardassian border.” She pauses. “Well, maybe somebody knows. It’s not in his file.”

I stare at her. There’s a fog creeping into my brain, a hum in my ears.

“We’re the only ones left,” she says. “Why do you think I left Starfleet? I don’t want to die.”

There’s some kind of wetness on my face; I touch a finger to it and realise I’m crying.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” Jean says. “What are you going to do with your life, Nick?”

“I don’t know,” I answer in a voice that doesn’t sound anything like me. “I don’t know.”

“Figure it out.” She turns her back on me, opens the door, pauses to toss over her shoulder, “Merry fucking Christmas, Locarno. It’s been real.”

Silence blankets the room like a fresh snowfall, deadening all sound but the ringing in my ears. I think about Wesley’s face the first time we nailed the Kolvoord starburst on the sim, the way his eyes lit up like fire. The same way he looked when I made him come. Like I’d shown him heaven.

I wonder if that’s where he is now. I wonder if it’s worth living in a world where he’s dead, and I’ll never see him again.

I wonder if I have the strength to make it to the nearest bar.

I push up on rubbery legs. There’s a chip in my pocket, enough credit on it to drink until I pass out. With any luck I won’t wake up –

And then this feeling takes hold of me. It starts in my gut, a slow-burning coal of warmth and contentment, eases its way into my chest and bursts out through my limbs like a star going nova. I’ve never felt anything like it. Not even flying comes close. Not even love. Somehow, beyond all logic, I know it’s him. Wesley.

Wherever he is, he’s not dead. I know it. I feel it.

I’m going to be okay; I know that now. And one day he’ll be back.

He never could resist me, after all.

© 2021 by Mia Cooper