The Edge of Darkness
Standing in the corridor, Paris decides he has no idea why his feet him have led him to this place; can make neither heads nor tails of how he came to hover in front of this particular door.
It appears to him that almost everything in the universe has been jarred loose, thrown from orbit. The one obvious truth- shining clearly in is his mind- being that it's been a fucking shit week.
He's so sick of flying through this void- so bloody tired of hearing everyone bitch and moan about their predicament- he almost wants to open up one of his wrists, just to have something else to do. He's even reached a point where he's now coming to loathe the sound of everyone's voices. Neelix. The Doc. God, even Harry.
To say nothing of Chakotay. All signs pointing to the likelihood of the good Commander getting punched in the jaw if he asks for one more pointless status report at the beginning of Tom's shift.
Gee, sir. I was rather planning on flying us into a star today, but it appears we're fresh out.
He seethes, beginning to pace in a small circle, his arms twisting in anxious movements as his restless thoughts swirl on.
Yet, for all his tumult and confusion, his legs do not to lead him away from this corridor; this threshold he now seems tethered to, like an agitated animal, caged and on display, as his internal monologue of grievances continues on its course.
To add to the utter joy it has been, traveling through this starless chunk of space with what is, all things considered, a very small group of people, he's now had an argument with B'Elanna. A fight that was, quelle surprise, about absolutely nothing, as far as he can tell.
Of course, this last unfortunate fact is a normal, expected part of his life. Or, more to the point, a part of normal life when in a relationship with a half-Klingon.
The problem is, he can't cope with 'normal life' right now. Not when nothing else is normal.
Not when the stars are gone, and he presently loathes the sight of everyone.
Not when the one person- the one person he doesn't hate, maybe couldn't hate - refuses to come to the bridge. Refuses to leave her quarters.
Refuses to save him from the very narrow ledge he's about to mentally jump from, careening down, into the dark, outstretched arms of insanity.
His chaotic dance of thought and movement comes to an immediate halt when the doors to Janeway's quarters slide open without warning, their occupant charging out with an uncharacteristic utterance and an expression that should be enough to give even an ex-con a moment of pause.
"Mister Paris," she says, pulling up short in front of him. "I wasn't expecting. . . I didn't realize it was you."
Tom has no idea who else she expected to be standing in combined upset and indecision outside her door; is too preoccupied with his own emotions to make the normal connections that would otherwise take him about a millisecond, having seen Chakotay's sullen expression an hour earlier, in the mess hall.
"Were you just pacing out here?" she asks, after he says nothing in explanation of his presence, her brief surprise now slipping back into her previous, undisguised agitation.
"Yes," he replies, his tone matching her own.
"I'm sure whatever it is you need, the Commander or Tuvok can take care of it-"
"No. They can't, " Tom's retorts rings out, far too loudly, as he marches past his Captain and into her quarters.
"Mister Paris," she warns, once she follows on his heels. "I can see that you're upset about something. But I am really not in the mood for this, and the hour is late. So if you don't mind-"
"I do mind," Tom replies. Even as some part of his brain finally begins to tell his mouth that this is his Captain, and right now he is being profoundly and epically stupid.
"I beg your pardon?"
"I had a fight with B'Elanna," he announces. Apropos of nothing. And at this, Janeway sighs, sinking down, onto her couch, with an expressionless face and unreadable eyes.
"I'm sorry," she offers. But something about the way she says it is hollow, devoid of her usual warmth. "I'm afraid, however, I'm not presently in a position to offer you guidance."
"That's not-" Tom begins, but then shakes his head, "I didn't come here to talk about B'Elanna. I mean, I assume at some point she'll speak to me again and everything will be fine- until it isn't. But that's not why. . . It's not that I came here to. . . "
"Tom," Janeway interrupts harshly. "Spit out what it is you need ."
"You're not on the bridge," he blurts, as if in reply to her question. "Nothing's right, and you're not on the bridge."
Janeway's back goes straight. Preparing, Tom can only assume, to decimate him for coming here, into her personal space, and openly questioning her public absence.
Still, he decides that this- being on the receiving end of Janeway's anger- is tolerable, even attractive, compared to everything else that awaits him outside her quarters. And so he slumps down on the couch next to her, waiting for her to deliver whatever speech she must be winding up to give.
Tom's surprised when she only looks at him with puzzlement. A listless kind of curiosity that carries no words as she watches him with a creased brow.
"Nothing's right," Tom repeats, bending forward with his face in his hands when Janeway's silence stretches. "I haven't seen you in two weeks, and nothing's right."
"I've been taking some time to think," she states softly, and without inflection. "Letting the crew grow more comfortable with the idea of my absence."
"More comfortable?" he asks, straining, for just a moment, to see her in the dim light of the room. "I don't think that's possible."
"You underestimate yourself."
"No," he shakes his head, his palms now pressed against his eyelids, forcing patterns to appear there that will displace the darkness. "Some voids are just harder to deal with than others."
"You miss B'Elanna," she says, a little pointedly, and he thinks this is her way of trying to end the conversation, bringing them around to a topic she knows he doesn't want to talk about. "She'll come around."
"It's not B'Elanna," he whispers, as something - no doubt, the retreating voice of sanity- screams in his head to stop. He ignores it. "It's you. First the stars disappeared. And then you did."
"Tom," she begins, in a tone that somewhere bespeaks a kind of weariness he's never heard from her before. "What is it that you need from me? Why are you here?"
The coupled questions are simultaneously simple and expansive. And while Tom considers them in silence, he begins to realize how all of this, everything he's said, must sound to the woman next to him.
And then, quite understandably, he begins to panic.
"I should go," he says, standing up from the couch suddenly. "You're right, it's late. I'm sorry I interrupted your evening."
He sprints across the room, but hesitates in front of the door.
One second. Then two.
His time in limbo ticks away, and part of him wonders what it means that she's sitting in silence, watching as he doesn't leave.
"Why are you here, Tom?"
Though she repeats the question with the same emotionless fatigue, the words make him jump. Because they're coming from just behind him, and he realizes that she's now moved to stand near him, rather than simply waiting for him to exit. As no doubt he would have. Eventually.
"What is you need from me?"
She draws even closer, and the recognition that she's invading his space registers as something like a live electrical current being thrown into the well of his disquiet.
The hot charge of panic shoots quickly through his veins, clouding his vision and galvanizing his feet, which belatedly move, stumbling toward the door of Janeway's quarters.
He's stopped by the weight of her hand on his arm, the feeling of fingertips suddenly digging into his bicep. It isn't a comforting touch, nor a desperate one. But he thinks there's something unyielding about it, even demanding.
Though it would take little effort twist his arm away, flee out of the exit that is mere centimeters from him, he doesn't. Stands frozen in the dim room, suffocated by the nearness of this woman and the fear that fills his lungs with every breath.
He isn't sure- will never be sure- whether he turned of his own volition, or she pulled on his arm enough to angle his gaze to hers. But turn he does, his eyes now meeting hers, his vision locking on grey irises that seem to disappear against expanding pools of black, from which no light reflects.
"What is you need from me?"
This time it's a harsh whisper, and Paris watches intently as Janeway's lips part to repeat the question one final time. Feels the burn of the desperation churning in his belly, the sandpaper texture of the panic-laced breaths pulled into his throat from deep within his chest.
And then, out of a blind impulse he will never fully understand, he does the worst thing he can do. The thing he has thought about doing for the last four years, if only in snatched moments of imagination he was careful to shake off.
He kisses her. He kisses his Captain. Lips pressing to hers tightly as he closes his eyes to block out the blackness staring at them from the other side of her viewport.
The part of his brain that's capable of thought registers surprise as her lips immediately part in response to his, her body pushing against him. His hands, thus far idle at his sides, quickly wrap around her. Feverishly touching, clinging.
Restless movements that seem disconnected from thought and intent.
He doesn't realize they've been moving until his legs brushes against a table. He looks down to judge the space around them just as Janeway tugs at him, swiftly and efficiently pulling him flush against her body, which is now upright against a wall.
At some point, her fingers make contact with the hairs just above his navel, nails dragging across skin with enough force to mark their path. His throat contracts in response, his mouth pulling back slightly from the base of her neck as he says her name.
"Don't call me that."
His mind freezes when he hears her insistent, if hushed, warning; thinks for a moment that he's spoken her title rather than her first name. But then plays the utterance back in his mind, and he knows with certainty he said what he'd intended.
"You don't want me to use your name?" he asks in confusion, pulling back father to see her face. "I'm pretty sure this isn't the place for titles."
"Don't call me. . . anything," she says, her hands already pulling at his body, the remnants of his clothes that remain in the way.
But Tom no longer feels her breath against him, the course of her hands over his skin. Because all he can see is the darkness of her pupils and the grey that has disappeared entirely.
The eyes that are as joyless and when he first came into her quarters.
His breath catches in his chest. He pushes abruptly back from her. Observes in further horror as her face registers confusion while her eyes remain the same.
And then it finds him again. The overwhelming panic. But this time it's different; thicker and coating everything. His feet weighed down in the bog of it as he stumbles backward, away from Janeway's partially naked body.
"Tom?" she questions. Her pale chest, heaving slightly, the only sign of emotional disturbance.
"My god," he mutters. "I can't. This isn't. . . my god."
"Tom," she repeats, now with force, as twin, near-obsidian spheres dominate his vision.
He doesn't acknowledge her voice as he makes his way to the doorway, grabbing frantically at clothing as he realizes his state of dress. What the sight of him stumbling from her quarters like this would cause. Who it would hurt.
Fear. Desperation. It's all he feels as he tugs on his shoes, Janeway's voice filling his ears.
"Tom, what's wrong?"
He looks at her once- only once- before making it out the door. And by this time she's moved from the wall, toward the center of the room, her arms crossing over her bare chest as she stares at him.
All Tom sees is the pale silhouette of her flesh against the window. Dark eyes set in a drawn face and the void looming behind her.
And it's then- looking at her as he takes the last step in escaping this airless room- that he understands. That he knows.
This starless space isn't the only thing that's killing all of them. It's her. It's this thing that's consuming her.
The darkness is pulling the whole ship into it. And it's doing so from within.
In the corridor, her door hisses shut behind him. He takes one shaky breath, and then another. Sucks the oxygen as deeply into his chest as he is able.
When he moves again, his steps stretching out one in front of the other, his pace is slower than his desire to flee would, on its own, demand.
His legs are rapidly steadying. But he no longer knows for sure where the ledge begins and ends.