by Margaret Berger (MaisieRita@aol.com)
(Voy, Owen Paris, PG, 1/1)
Summary: This is the prequel to a story I posted about a year and a half ago, called "Closing In." That story was a view of Tom and Owen's reunion after Voyager spent 12 years in the DQ, told from Owen's perspective.
Disclaimer: Owen and Tom Paris are the property of Paramount. Mariel Paris is too, but since TPTB haven't seen fit to give her a first name, I took the liberty myself. :)
Warning: Sap warning? Maybe a little. Not bad, really, as these things go.
Feedback: Pretty, pretty please.
Thanks to Bridget for beta-ing!
I look up from my desk, which is covered with more padds than I can easily count. I'm right in the middle of a resource allocation study, trying to figure out a way to get another two starships to patrol the DMZ without compromising our security in the Neutral Zone. It takes me a minute for my eyes to focus on Commander Klenman standing just inside the door to my office. I blink to clear my vision and make a mental note to get my eyes checked. Again.
When she sees I've managed the tricky feat of focusing, Klenman smiles politely and says, "Admiral Wolfe is here to see you, sir."
I rub my hands tiredly across my eyes. I've been at this for six hours now, and any visitor would be a welcome distraction, even Gerald Wolfe. A good officer and a fine man, but one who can't quite overcome his background in clinical psychology. He's always analyzing everything I say. I nod my head, indicating that Klenman should send Wolfe in, and rise to greet him as he enters, shaking his hand across my desk. "What brings you to these hallowed halls, Jerry?" Gerald Wolfe is famous for managing to avoid 'Fleet Headquarters, going so far as to maintain his permanent office on his family's farm in Idaho. I haven't seen him here in over four years.
"I came to talk to you," he says, direct as usual.
"You could have called. I may be a technological dinosaur, but I *do* know how to use the comm system."
A quick grin flashes across his face. "I wanted to see you in person."
"Uh oh. You're here to observe me, right? Don has finally convinced you that I ought to be committed."
He chuckles and settles comfortably into one of my visitors' chairs. "Not yet. I'm just here to sound you out on something."
"All right." Since he's obviously in for the long haul, I sink back into my own chair, and absentmindedly begin to clean up some of the mess covering my desk.
"Kathryn Janeway," Jerry says.
I can't help smiling at the mention of my favorite protege. "What about her? Isn't she leaving for the Badlands soon?"
"Yes, as soon as Voyager is deemed spaceworthy, which should be in a few days." He steeples his fingers together and peers at me over the top. "She wants to bring an observer with her on the mission, someone who's familiar with the territory out there, who might be able to help her track down the Maquis ship."
I'm vaguely familiar with the particulars of Kathryn's mission. Something about one of her security officers going missing while undercover on a Maquis vessel. "Sounds prudent. Who does she have in mind?"
"Your son Tom."
It's only due to years of training that I manage to keep my face impassive and my tone even. "Really?"
"Yes. The ship she's after is the Liberty." At my blank expression he elucidates, "Chakotay's ship."
Comprehension dawns. The former lieutenant commander is nowhere near the only Starfleet officer who resigned his commission to join the Maquis, but to the best of my knowledge he's the only one with a tattoo. More to the point, he was also the leader of Tom's Maquis cell. "I see." I study Jerry as he studies me. "Surely you haven't come to ask my permission, have you?"
"No. I've already contacted the Rehab Commission to arrange terms. Once that's settled, Janeway will go make the pitch to Tom."
"Forgive me for being blunt, Jerry, but if you've already decided to go ahead with this, why are you here?"
He shrugs. "Consider it a courtesy call. I didn't want you to hear about it from someone else, after the fact."
"Kathryn would have told me."
"Maybe. She was a bit diffident about calling you, actually. She was afraid you might think she was doing Tom a favor simply because he was your son, rather than because he was the best man for the job."
"The only man for the job, you mean. Unless you have any other former members of Chakotay's crew available."
"Actually, we do, but we believe Tom's our best chance." Jerry colors slightly, which is unusual. "The others appear to be more committed to the cause."
"Less likely to sell Chakotay out, you mean."
"Don't apologize. I know perfectly well that Tom only joined the Maquis for the money. There's a reasonable chance he'd give them up for a good enough offer."
He nods slowly, not quite meeting my eyes. "That was our assessment, too."
"So what *is* the deal?"
"Not much. The Rehab Commission won't release any of the Maquis from prison before they're fully eligible for parole, so we're kind of limited in what we can offer. We're proposing a two-week furlough while Voyager is in the Badlands, plus a good word or three at Tom's first parole hearing."
"Which is when?"
He frowns at me in disapproval of my studiously deliberate ignorance. "Six months. Do you think he'll do it?"
"I have no idea."
"They say he has no love lost for Starfleet, and I can't say I blame him. Still, it's going to make it a tough sell."
I nod noncommittally. "It might. I don't really know."
"Well, how is he holding up in Auckland? Do you think a two- week vacation would be enough to entice him to work with us?"
"Honestly, Jerry, I don't have any idea. I haven't spoken to him."
<Get out of my house.
My voice is steady. "A year and a half, give or take."
<Don't. Just get out.
Ever the counselor, Jerry's voice shows only polite curiosity as he probes. "A year and a half?"
<How could you do something so stupid and selfish? So arrogant and thoughtless?
"Since the day he lost his commission. We . . .argued."
<You've disgraced yourself, and me as well. I don't know how I'm going to show my face at Headquarters.
<You expect me to feel sorry for you?
<I expect you to show some remorse!
<Whether you like it or not, I'm still a Paris. We don't show emotion, remember? Not even to each other.
"Fought, really. Badly. We always fight badly. Tom can be incredibly cruel sometimes. Especially to me."
"Why do you think that is?"
"Because I'm a cold, heartless son of a bitch. His words, not mine."
<You dare blame this on *me*?
<Maybe if you'd told me it was okay to make a mistake every once in a while . . .
"He knows exactly what to say to get me angry."
"You think he does it on purpose?"
"Absolutely." As I do it to him . . .
<You are a *coward*.
<I'm exactly what you made me, Admiral.
"I hit him."
For once, Jerry is silent. The only sign he's even heard me is the slight widening of his eyes.
"I never raised a hand to my son before that night. Not once. But I was so angry at him . . . I don't think I've ever been that angry." I've never admitted this to anyone, not even Mariel. "I slapped him across the face."
Jerry's voice is quiet and surprisingly sympathetic. "What did he do?"
"Nothing. He just stood there and stared at me." I remember that instant, Tom standing there with all his earlier fury suddenly drained, replaced in his eyes by a terrible hurt. He just kept staring at me as if he couldn't quite believe I'd actually hit him. And even though my fingers were still stinging, I couldn't quite believe it either.
"I don't suppose you apologized."
"No." I sigh as the pain of those next few minutes comes back to wound me again. "I threw him out."
<Get out of my house.
<Don't. Just get out.
"Packed his bags in ten minutes and walked out the front door. Swore he'd never come back. I haven't spoken to him since." I stare blindly at the picture on my desk of a gorgeous ten-year-old boy, flanked by his two beautiful teenage sisters. "I really tried to be a good father, Jerry. I only wanted good things for him."
"So talk to him."
I shake my head. "I can't."
"I can't forgive him for what he did. He'll take one look at me and know it."
"But he's your son."
"That doesn't make it all right. He lied, Jerry. To *me*. I can forgive a lot of things, but I can't forgive the lie."
He cocks his head to the side, examining me, then chuckles ruefully. "Damn, you're more stubborn than I remember. And I remember you as awfully damn stubborn."
"Should I be flattered?"
"No. Owen, this isn't some random cadet, here. This is your *son*, the only one you have, in case you've forgotten. You love him. I can see it in your eyes and hear it in your voice. If you don't talk to him now, you may never get another chance."
"Don't get melodramatic on me, Jerry. He'll only be gone for two weeks."
"I'm not being melodramatic." He exhales heavily. "Listen. If all goes well, in six months Tom will be out of prison. If he performs well on this mission, the Rehab Commission will not only grant his parole, they'll most likely cut it down to four or five months. After that he'll be free to leave Earth, and I guarantee you, he *will* leave. He'll be an ex-con on a planet where crime is virtually unheard of, with no job and no prospects of getting one that he'll enjoy. No one will hire him as a pilot, Owen. You know that as well as I do. I'll bet you twenty credits that he'll be out of the system within a week of getting the subdermal chip removed."
Jerry's brutal assessment of Tom's future leaves me chilled, and I respond sullenly, "He won't leave his mother and his sisters."
"According to his psych profile, he will."
"Read it yourself. You've got the clearance for it." He pauses, looking at me thoughtfully. "You really should read it, Owen. You might learn something about him."
"It's pathetic, isn't it?" I whisper. "To think that I'd be reduced to reading psychiatric reports about my own son just to figure out how his mind works?" I stare again at the picture on my desk, contrasting the grinning youthful face captured in the image with the older and very bitter countenance that's frozen in my memory. "It's true, though. I remember the boy, but I don't know the man."
"So get to know him. You know where he is. Get on a shuttle and go talk to him."
"He won't want to see me, Jerry. I told you I couldn't forgive him, but he won't forgive me, either." I drop my voice to a whisper. "I said terrible things to him. You can't imagine."
"He won't believe I mean it. He'll think I'm just trying to get him to go on the mission. Then he'll refuse for sure."
Jerry rests back in his chair and shakes his head. "My god. Was it always this difficult between the two of you?"
"Not when he was ten. But later . . . yes, it was always this difficult. I still don't understand why."
Mercifully, Jerry doesn't offer me platitudes about Oedipal complexes or any other psychiatric mumbo-jumbo. He simply shrugs and says, "You should talk to him. I'm not saying it will make everything all right. It may be too late for that. But at least it will clear the air."
"Maybe," I agree, reluctantly. "Maybe when he comes back."
=^= =^= =^= =^= =^= =^= =^= =^= =^= =^= =^=
<Maybe when he comes back.
*If* he comes back.
What the hell was I thinking? You think you'll always have more time; you never think it's going to be too late to set things right, you never think it's going to be your last chance . . . you just never think about those things. Humans are habitually shortsighted, to an alarming degree, and I am no exception.
<If you don't talk to him now, you may never get another chance.
<Don't get melodramatic on me, Jerry. He'll only be gone for two weeks.
God. I shut my eyes and try to block out my own voice from my memory. It amazes me sometimes that I could have risen to the rank I hold and yet still be so monumentally stupid. Maybe Mariel's right, and it really *is* simply the Paris name . . .
<Maybe when he gets back.
If he comes back.
<Last recorded contact was yesterday at 0430 hours.
<. . . massive subspace disruption . . .
<. . . fragmentary debris . . .
Dear god. How will I tell Mariel?
I have no recollection of how I got here. The last I remember, I was standing in my office, staring at the screen where Don Sullivan's face had just winked out of existence. Somehow, I've obviously made it home, but whether it was via groundcar, aircar, or even a site-to-site transport, I have no idea. I move quickly and silently through the house, through the kitchen and up the staircase in the back that leads to Mariel's studio. It's a great location, filled with floor-to-ceiling windows and plenty of natural light. Several paintings, in various stages of completion, line the walls. Normally I'd take the time to study one or more of them, but today I don't even see them as I pass by.
"Owen?" She looks up with a surprised smile, pushes a stray tendril of hair out of her eyes, and accidentally smears her forehead with blue paint. "It's the middle of the day! What are you doing home?"
I don't answer and I see her eyes darken as she takes in my appearance. If I look as half as awful as I feel, I look pretty awful.
"What's wrong? What's happened?"
I see unfamiliar panic start to cross her face, and wish I didn't have to tell her what I've heard. I'd give anything to spare her the paralyzing fear that gripped me the instant Don's face appeared on the comm, wearing an expression similar to the one I'm probably wearing now. But as much as I wish this were a bad dream, it's not, and she needs to know. "Voyager's disappeared," I tell her, as gently as possible. "They lost contact with her yesterday."
Mariel stares at me mutely for a second, then very carefully places her paintbrush on the easel and comes around towards me, methodically wiping her hands on her smock. Her voice is unnaturally calm when she speaks. "What do you mean, disappeared? Starships don't just disappear."
"This one did. There's no trace of her."
She processes it slowly. "What about the Maquis ship they were looking for?"
"It's still missing." My stomach is churning. I haven't felt this ill in years, not since the day of Tom's accident. "The speculation is that whatever destroyed the Liberty destroyed Voyager too."
She gazes at me blankly, carefully composed. "I thought you said they didn't know what happened to the Maquis ship."
"They don't. It's just speculation."
"Speculation?!?" The hysteria she's been suppressing starts to show itself. "What are you saying, Owen, that Tom's disappeared and that they're *speculating* that he's dead?"
"No one's saying they're dead. Not for sure. They've already mounted a search and rescue mission."
She waits for more information, and when none is forthcoming, she demands it. "But?"
I can't quite meet her eyes. "Headquarters isn't optimistic about the odds. A starship is not some little Maquis runabout. Unless it's cloaked, it's almost impossible to hide a starship from a sophisticated sensor sweep, even in the plasma storms. Even if Voyager had been destroyed, you'd expect to find significant debris."
"But you just said Voyager vanished without a trace."
"I don't understand."
I summarize the alarmingly long explanation I got from Don. "They've found energy signatures that indicate there was a massive subspace disruption in the region."
She frowns impatiently. "What does that mean?"
"It could indicate that a displacement wave hit the ship, or that she was torn apart at the subatomic level, or even that she was sucked into a subspace fissure. They haven't gathered much evidence one way or the other, yet. The ships involved with the search are staying away from the center of the plasma storms. Understandably, they're being a bit cautious."
"Cautious." The panic in her eyes is beginning to give way to the cold fury I knew would come. "How many ships did they send?" she demands.
I shrink back from her furious glare. "It's all we can spare. The Cardassians-"
"Don't talk to me about the Cardassians! I'm sick of hearing about the Cardassians and the DMZ and strategic resource allocation. Tom is still your son, in case you've forgotten. You have to *do* something."
I take an involuntary step backwards. Klingons in battle-heat have nothing on Mariel when she's angry, which is -- fortunately -- infrequently. "What would you like me to do?"
"I don't know! Get more ships out there, for one thing."
"We can't. Mariel, you have to understand-"
"I understand that your son is missing and you're standing there telling me you can't spare any more of your precious ships to look for him."
I flinch back from the disdain in her voice and instinctively defend myself and the 'Fleet. "It's not my decision-"
"The hell it isn't! All those admirals, all those medals, all that service to the Federation and Starfleet . . . you're a goddamn *Paris*. Why don't you use it for once?"
"It doesn't work that way."
"Of course it does. You're practically Starfleet royalty, Owen. They'll do whatever you want, if you'd just ask."
"But you won't ask," she spits at me. "Because he lied, because he joined the Maquis. You're ashamed of him, *embarassed* by him, so you won't ask."
I shake my head. "That's not why-"
She slaps me across the face just as I'd slapped Tom, but with more reason. "Tom was right about you. You are a heartless son of a bitch. Your own son, and you don't care enough to try to help him . . ." I suppose it's the genuine grief on my face that finally gets through to her, because she stops ranting and starts sobbing, collapsing into my arms. I catch her, vaguely aware in some small part of my mind that she's getting paint all over my uniform, but unconcerned about it. "I don't care," she mumbles finally, her face pressed into my chest and her voice muffled. "I don't care what he's done. He's still my son, Owen."
"I know," I whisper softly. "He's my son, too."
I feel her shake against me, and we stand there wrapped together for a while. Mariel's the one who pulls away first. She's always been the stronger one in this marriage, the one I look to for support when my own strength runs out. It's our own little secret: the great and powerful Owen Paris is nothing without his wife to lean on.
It only takes one deep breath for Mariel to regain complete control of her emotions. It's a skill I've always envied, and one I've given up hope of ever mastering. "He's okay," she says, looking up with silent apology in her eyes. "I'm sure of it."
She looks so confident I have to ask, "How do you know?"
"I'd feel it if he weren't. I love him too much not to know."
I blink hard and look down at the floor, and Mariel's arms are back around me in an instant. This time she's the one trying to stop *my* shaking and I hold on to her for dear life. "He knows, Owen," she whispers. "I promise you, he knows."
"I was going to tell him," I answer, and it's almost a sob except that Paris men don't cry.
"You'll get another chance," she says softly, "when he gets back."
I hold her a little tighter and pray to God to she's right.
Loved it? Hated it? MaisieRita@aol.com