Synopsis: This is a P/T Collective Archivist‘s Challenge story, answering the question "Just why was Tom so claustrophobic about the stasis chamber in the episode "One"? Rated PG.
Disclaimer: Star Trek and its characters are the property of Viacom/Paramount and I am just borrowing them for fun, no profit intended.
Note: There are no actual dark closets or basements in this story -and no child abuse- but my interpretation of what might have caused Tom‘s selective claustrophobia does include an instance of childhood trauma. Mild angst alert. Of course Jeri Taylor will likely have the last word on this subject when "Pathways" comes out, but in the meantime here‘s my best shot.
"Walls" by Julie Evans (feedback toJuli17@aol.com)
Personal log, Stardate 27243.4, Admiral Owen Paris reporting.
Today was the launch party for the USS Yeager, before we leave Earth at 0700 tomorrow on a four month mission to...well, I‘ve already covered that ground, haven‘t I? Suffice to say again that I am looking forward to my sabbatical from the Academy, and a chance at commanding a starship again—however briefly—something my status as an admiral now grants me.
The send off was enjoyable, marred only briefly by Tom‘s escapade in the torpedo bay. No doubt his older cousin, Ryan, and Commander Pershin‘s son, Andrew, were the main instigators. But it was young Tom who managed to get himself locked into an empty torpedo tube. The boys called Commander Pershin when they couldn‘t figure out how to undo the tube‘s latch. The Commander apologized to me later about the fact that it took him quite a few minutes to get down to the torpedo bay and release Tom, since the boys hadn‘t informed him of the reason they required his assistance. I dismissed the Commander‘s apology, since he couldn‘t have known, and Tom could have survived for half an hour longer in the confines of the torpedo tube, so no real harm was done. I did note that the Commander might want to reconsider the lack of discipline his own son had displayed.
I turned Ryan over to his mother, my sister-in-law, who can discipline her children quite effectively. As for Tom, he made a foolish error in judgment, but he‘s not too young to learn the consequences of his actions. His panic at the situation was completely out of proportion to the actual danger, but the terror he felt no doubt taught him a valuable lesson. Next time he won‘t wander into areas where he‘s been told not to go, or allow older boys to needle him into accepting a dare. And he won‘t expect sympathy for disobeying me. He‘s no longer a baby needing comfort, and being swayed by his tears, as I steadfastly was not today, will only keep him from developing the strong backbone and self discipline that will make him a fine Starfleet officer in the Paris tradition someday. That‘s if his mother doesn‘t coddle him too much, as I have asked her not to do while I am gone.
Under the circumstances, I told Tom I would not mete out any further punishment. His own shame at his misdeed and over his inability to control his fear in front of others will no doubt have an effect on him, and he will try that much harder next time not to repeat his mistakes. I told him he can think about that for a while, and that I still expected that one day he would make me, and the Paris name, proud.
I‘ll certainly be thinking of Tom, and of my girls, and of my wife, while I complete this mission. I will miss them all, but I will satisfy myself with the pictures and letters they will send, and comfort myself knowing that they will be together until I‘m home again.
End personal log.
October 22, 2345, My Thoughts.
Today, after nearly five months in space, Owen came home, to our great happiness. He hugged me tightly, letting me know how much he has missed me. Then he twirled the girls around, eliciting excited squeals, and solemnly shook Tom‘s hand, inquiring if his son had looked after all his favorite girls for him. In fact we prospered quite well, and during the family dinner tonight all the children told their father of their accomplishments over the summer, and at school so far this year. Then they listened with delight as Owen told them about the planets he‘d visited, and the aliens he‘d met. Tom was especially fascinated, the excited light never leaving his eyes as his father relayed each adventure.
The only uncomfortable moment of the whole evening happened when we were putting Tom to bed. Owen saw the nightlight on Tom‘s dresser and frowned. He wasn‘t even particularly impressed that our good friend Parvon Thayer made it for Tom, a tiny exact replica of the USS Yeager, as Tom eagerly informed him. Owen simply gave me that look, the one that meant he thought I was coddling Tom too much again, a regular complaint even as I often argue back that he is too hard on his son. Sometimes Owen doesn‘t seem to know the difference between a boy who‘s not yet four years old, and the grown cadets he strictly instills the mores and rules of Starfleet life into at the Academy. But he loves his children, and they love him.
Tom recognized the look in his father‘s face, of course. The look of disappointment. He immediately said "I‘m too big for a nightlight anyway, Daddy," and was rewarded by Owen‘s approving nod. Owen switched off the light and placed the little ship back on the dresser. He smiled at his son, then told Tom that it was a pretty good likeness of the Yeager after all, so maybe he could keep it on the dresser, "to remind you that you‘ll be the captain of a ship just like it someday, Tom. But you don‘t need the light on. You‘re a brave boy, and there‘s nothing to be afraid of. Remember that." After that little speech, Owen patted Tom‘s hand affectionately and left the room. I quickly hugged my son goodnight, and kissed his cheek softly as I always do, then brushed his golden curls off his forehead. "I‘m fine, Mommy," he reassured me in a child‘s whisper, though his blue eyes were suspiciously bright. "The dreams are gone."
I left Tom there, closing the door behind me. He is a brave boy, in that Owen is right. Maybe trying to be braver than should be reasonably expected of a little boy. In my many letters to Owen I only mentioned Tom‘s nightmares once. For the first month after Owen left they came almost every night. Tom would cry out for me, saying that the walls were closing in on him, and he‘d beg me not to leave him alone. I knew it was because of the incident in the torpedo tube. I had waking nightmares myself of what might have happened if Tom had been in that torpedo bay alone, or if the other boys hadn‘t been able to summon help. Owen dismissed my fears that night before he left, telling me it would never have happened, reminding me of the reality of the situation, that Tom was never in any actual danger. I know he was trying to comfort me in his way. And I must force myself to stop thinking of Tom trapped in there for nearly fifteen minutes, surrounded by soundproof metal and darkness, afraid that no one was going to save him.
Owen dismissed my concerns about Tom‘s nightmares, also. In his reply to my letter he said the dreams would fade naturally. That it was better for Tom to deal with them face to face, conquer his fear all on his own. I knew he meant without my interference. The nightmares did fade, after I gave Tom the nightlight. He could see there were no walls closing in on him, and when he had the nightmares, more and more infrequently, he calmed himself when he woke and saw the familiar surroundings of his room. "The walls are gone, Mommy, when I wake up. I can see them not there." That was the way he said it.
Owen didn‘t say anything about the nightlight when we returned to our room tonight. In silence we sometimes agree to disagree. About many things, including the children, though we both want what‘s best for them. Maybe love lets us see things differently, yet not condemn each other for it. And tonight after we made love, a little desperately after months of being apart, he just held me. I know how Owen feels about me, and about our children, though he doesn‘t say the words often. He said them tonight before he fell asleep with his arms around me. I lay awake for awhile, cradled contentedly against his chest, listening for small noises, for indications that the children were awake or restless after the excitement of the evening. And I listened for sounds that Tom was awake, that the nightmare had come again. But I didn‘t hear anything. I still don‘t.
I got out of bed a while ago to write this, and I find I‘m getting drowsy now. The house is quiet and it seems I‘m the only one awake. God willing from the welcome silence, Tom is sleeping peacefully. Maybe the nightmare has worked itself out, and it won‘t come back. One small, childhood trauma consigned to the past. One of those things that loomed so large when it happened, yet Tom probably won‘t even remember it when he gets older. In the end it probably won‘t have any lasting effect at all. At least I hope not.
The nightmare wasn‘t gone. It had been gone, for a long time. Since two months before his birthday. That was the last time it had happened, and he had been brave. He had made it go away. But tonight, three weeks before his fourth birthday, it came back. It was the same as always. He was enclosed in darkness, alone, held in by the walls. The darkness surrounded him, pressed against his face and body, reaching with cloying fingers into his mouth and nose until he couldn‘t breathe. The darkness he couldn‘t escape because of the walls. His small hands shot out and pushed against them, but they were unyielding, unmoving, no matter how hard he pushed. They wanted him here, trapped. They wanted him to die and he knew as he frantically gulped air that he would. Even if he didn‘t know exactly what dying was, he knew what it meant. That he would never see his mother again. Or his father. Not his sisters, or his friends at school, not even his dog, Winnie. Or his room, filled with his toys, and planes and ships. Or the beach he could see from his window, where he and his sisters played in the summer. He would be alone, in the darkness, trapped behind the wall that separated him for everything and everyone he loved. He sobbed at the thought, pushing again uselessly at the wall that wanted to keep him, wishing there was someone out there to save him, to move the wall away. Someone, please...
He screamed for his mother.
Then young Tom woke up, to utter and complete darkness. In the near distance outside his window the Pacific Ocean was a dark blanket of blackness, nearly indistinguishable from the moonless night sky, with only the echoing roar of its surf revealing its presence. In San Francisco the city lights would allow some scant light to filter into the room, but his father‘s name and position gave his family the opportunity to live on the ocean‘s edge, with its sandy coves and heavy waves so beckoning in the daylight, but its immense void seeming to swallow up the world at night.
Tom sat up and gulped in air as he stared into the darkness, his breath catching painfully on the sobs he tried to suppress. In his mind he called out "Mommy!" but he stolidly bit his lip to keep from saying it out loud. He threw his hands out, expecting and fearing that the wall would stop him, and touched only air. It gave him some comfort, and his heart pounding against his ribs and echoing in his eardrums began to slow its frantic pace. There are no walls, he told himself, as he moved his hands in freely in front of him. There were no walls, even if he couldn‘t see that they weren‘t there. He could see if he turned the nightlight on, but he knew he couldn‘t do that, as much as he wanted to. He couldn‘t let his daddy be disappointed in him. He had to be brave, he had to act like a Paris and make his daddy proud. Still he was scared.
Tom clutched his blankets to his neck and looked hard into the darkness. If he tried, really tried, he was sure he would be able to see that there were no walls around him trying to close him in, like in the torpedo tube. Yes, he was sure he could just see the faint outline of his dresser, and of his desk, and the square outline of the window where he imagined he could see the faintest light peeking through the edge of the drawn shade. He looked up, where his model of the Enterprise was suspended from the ceiling. He thought he could see it. And in the corner where the stuffed animals sat in a contented pile. His daddy said they didn‘t belong in bed with him, but his mommy said they watched over him anyway. He was sure he could see them sitting there, watching him now. No walls. He reached out his hands once more, just to be sure. No walls.
Tom stared into the darkness for a little while longer, until he was sure the walls weren‘t coming back, that his family was nearby, and that he was safe. At least for tonight. Finally he fell asleep, his hands still clutching his blankets, his breathing soft and even, and the dried tear tracks on his cheeks invisible in the darkness. The next morning, before anyone saw, he would was them away. No one would know he cried, that he‘d had the nightmare again. And maybe it wouldn‘t come anymore, not ever.
The nightmare did return, but only on rare occasions as Tom got older. When he woke with his heart pounding and his breathing shallow, he recovered quickly, realizing it was a dream. He never failed to lift his hands, always encountering empty air. It was simply an old habit, since reason told him that the walls that trapped him in his dream were of course not real. By the time he entered the Academy he hadn‘t had the nightmare in years. If someone had asked the young cadet about the incident in the torpedo tube when he was a young child, he would have shrugged, saying he really didn‘t remember it, except from his mother‘s recounting. No doubt he had been frightened, he‘d been only three years old after all. And he had some shadowy memories of a recurring nightmare when he was a child, of being trapped by walls, all alone. Probably caused by the torpedo tube incident, but the nightmare was long in the past now also. It had been nothing more than a minor childhood trauma, all but forgotten, except for a few vague memories.
Even those vague memories all but disappeared in the wake of the new nightmare that took over his life, both waking and sleeping, in the aftermath of Caldik Prime. The innocent bad dream of his boyhood, of being left utterly alone and cut off from his family, became harsh reality as he tried numbly slogged through the ashes of his ruined life. The only time the old childhood trauma unconsciously surfaced was in those very infrequent times when he found himself in some very small space where he couldn‘t stretch his arms without touching something solid, a situation his mind blindly protested. It was a simple enough matter to avoid such situations. He no longer knew where this selective claustrophobia had originated, but it was a minor inconvenience and he wasn‘t motivated to dwell on what the strange sense of outside walls closing in on him might mean, since he was too busy erecting a different, invisible kind of wall between himself and the rest of the Universe.
After Tom found himself on Voyager, where he slowly began to rebuild his life and regain his self respect, and started to reach out to others again, those childhood memories and nightmares remained buried in his mind. The occasional twinge of discomfort he felt on occasion while crawling through the tight confines of the Jeffries tubes was easily alleviated by focusing on the easy, open escape at either end, and those brief, isolated moments jogged no memory. It was too deeply buried, by time and the avalanche of other, emotionally tumultuous events in his life, and the odds seemed against it ever resurfacing again....
There were walls around him. He couldn‘t see them, but he could feel them. Their solidness pressed against his palms. He was trapped inside them. He was alone. His hands pressed back against the walls, feeling their weight, pushing desperately to move them. He gritted his teeth and groaned with the effort, pushing again with all the strength he could muster. Panic washed over him, pounded in his blood, choked him, the mind blanking terror stealing the very breath out of his lungs. There was no air to breathe. The walls kept it all out. If someone didn‘t move the walls he was going to die here. Alone, completely alone.
Escape. He‘d done it before. Call for help. Someone had helped him...but each time the walls were back, and he was alone again fighting to breathe. Fighting to get out.
He pushed again, frantically, to no avail. The walls would not let go. His breath was coming in tortured gasps as he tried to take in more air. But the walls were surrounding him so closely now that they pressed against his body, holding him down so that there was no escape, shutting him away from everything, and everyone he cared about. B‘Elanna....
He woke then with a start, disoriented. And realized that it wasn‘t the walls pressing against him, holding him down. It was a body pressed closely against him, arms around him, holding him, cradling him, then stroking his cheek with soothing fingers, repeating his name softly, urgently. A warm, familiar body. B‘Elanna.
Tom‘s eyes flew open. In the dim 1% illumination of his quarters, which allowed him to find the bathroom in the middle of the night without tripping should he be in need, he could just make out the lines of the furniture in his bedroom. And B‘Elanna next to him, holding him, all but wrapped protectively around him, crooning his name. He tried to say something but his breath was still caught in his throat, coming in shallow gasps.
"Shhh...Tom. You were dreaming." Her hand stroked his cheek again, then brushed a lock of damp hair off his perspiration drenched forehead. Her dark eyes were filled with concern.
Dreaming. Of course. A dream he knew, that seemed familiar. He‘d dreamed it before, long ago...or more recently? He couldn‘t remember...
"It‘s all right, Tom." B‘Elanna leaned forward and pressed a soft, reassuring kiss along his jawline, while her hand slid down to rest over his heart, where it was still thumping madly against his chest. "It‘s all right. I‘m here."
B‘Elanna was here. Tom wrapped his arms around her and hugged her tightly to him, wishing for an irrational moment that he could absorb her into him, and never let her go. His grip slackened when she pushed against him.
"Tom, you don‘t have to choke me. I‘m not going anywhere." Her lips curved in a hesitant smile, her eyes still alight with concern. She pressed cool fingers to his cheek again. "Are you okay?"
Tom nodded slowly. His breathing was steady enough now that he could trust himself to speak. "I‘m okay." He rubbed a hand across his face, feeling the sheen of perspiration there, then through his hair. "It was just a bad dream." He released a shuddering sigh. "I think it‘s a dream I used to have a long time ago. I‘d forgotten..."
B‘Elanna‘s dark eyes held Tom‘s gaze as his voice trailed off. She slid her arm from around his shoulders and slipped her fingers into his hair. She stroked the damp curls he had just ruffled, rhythmically massaging his scalp with her fingertips. "Want to talk about it?"
What he wanted to do was kiss B‘Elanna‘s slightly parted lips, and make love to her until he completely lost himself in her. He wanted to dismiss the dream, the fears that had precipitated it, the whole weird half memories of the past month of being closed up in a stasis chamber, that now tangled with the far older, faded memories of nightmares, of being trapped behind walls, desperate for someone to let him out. He wanted to pretend that none of it was there, bury it again somewhere deep, as he‘d learn to do early in his life. But he‘d buried so much in that deep hole inside him that there was very little room left. And B‘Elanna was watching him, waiting, willing to listen. If he was willing to talk to her.
"When I was three I was locked in an empty torpedo tube. My older cousin and his friend dared me to get in, then they couldn‘t figure out how to unlock it..." Tom relayed the stark details of the incident as his mother had relayed it to him. "I don‘t really remember the incident, but I had nightmares for months afterwards..." He told her about those also, from the images that had suddenly returned after all these years, of the walls he couldn‘t escape, the feeling of despair knowing he couldn‘t get to his family, the knowledge that he was going to die there all alone...
B‘Elanna said nothing while he recounted his childhood experience, she just stroked his hair with gentle fingers while her eyes never left his.
"I can barely remember that nightmare any more, just vague impressions, but I think it was the same dream I had tonight." Tom shook his head. "Though it seems even more familiar now, like I dreamed it more recently." He frowned. "I don‘t know..."
"It might explain what Seven said today, about you getting out of your stasis chamber four times," B‘Elanna suggested softly. "If you were having this dream, remembering what it was like being trapped in that torpedo tube as a child..."
Tom nodded. "Maybe." He remembered Seven‘s comment. He been shocked to find out he‘d left the stasis chamber at all, let alone four times. He didn‘t remember any of it. B‘Elanna had been equally surprised, and obviously concerned, but he‘d purposely avoided bringing the subject up earlier this evening because he couldn‘t remember leaving the chamber, or figure out what prompted him to act so strangely several times. Until now. "It does make sense."
"I kind of wondered why you felt so claustrophobic about getting into the stasis chambers," B‘Elanna said curiously. "You‘ve never seemed bothered by the turbolift, even when it occasionally malfunctions, or by crawling through the close quarters of the Jeffries tubes. Not to mention that you actually like being in an EVA suit." She shuddered slightly herself at the last observation.
Tom knew she was remembering the incident on the Day of Honor, that had nearly resulted in both their deaths. She hadn‘t been keen on EVA assignments before, and after that experience he was sure that she wouldn‘t volunteer for any in the future if she could help it. He brushed her hair behind her ear, his palm lingering for a moment against her cheek as he did so. "EVA suits don‘t feel constricting to me, when I‘m surrounded by space I feel sort of...free." He shrugged as she gave him a doubtful look. "And I was never sure why only certain types of close quarters made me nervous. I didn‘t dwell on it, maybe I didn‘t really want to know, or remember. After so many years, and after everything that happened later..."
B‘Elanna looked at him solemnly. "There are some...traumas, some bad memories, that never go away, no matter how much you wish they would, no matter how deep you try to bury them."
Tom knew only too well how personally B‘Elanna understood that fact. "I know. It‘s funny that I can‘t remember the incident, but I can tell you how my father and mother reacted." His mouth twisted in grim amusement. "My father would have told me I was Paris, and had no business having nightmares about something so trivial, and my mother would have comforted me when my father wasn‘t looking."
"I would hope so," B‘Elanna said hotly. "For god‘s sake, Tom, an experience like that isn‘t trivial to a three year old."
"No, I guess it wasn‘t. Obviously it scared the hell out of me at the time, if I haven‘t gotten over it yet." Tom fingers teased back the strands of her hair that had fallen against her cheek again. "And the worst part of that nightmare was always that I was so alone." His fingers curved to cup her face. "B‘Elanna," Tom‘s eyes locked with hers, "I don‘t ever want to be alone again."
"You don‘t ever have to be alone again, Tom," B‘Elanna said, her voice husky and sincere, and her eyes dark with emotion.
Tom pulled her face closer and brushed his thumb across her lips right before they touched his. They kissed fully, lingeringly, drinking in reassurance from each other. Then Tom pulled B‘Elanna tight against his chest.
"So you‘re feeling better?" B‘Elanna asked softly, her breath tickling the soft golden hairs on his chest as she snuggled against him.
Tom smiled as she wriggled against him, making herself comfortable . He shifted a little and pulled her closer, his hand trailing down her spine. "Oh, definitely."
B‘Elanna chuckled softly. "Me, too. I think we‘d better get some sleep though, like the doctor ordered, given how much radiation damage we have to repair over the next few days."
The doctor had insisted everyone resume a normal waking and sleeping pattern right away to counteract the effect of stasis, knowing that without his intervention the crew would have followed their usual course of working double and triple shifts until every last repair was done. If that had been the case B‘Elanna certainly wouldn‘t be here right now. "I‘m glad you‘re here, B‘Elanna. But I am sorry I woke you."
"It‘s okay, Tom. I didn‘t mind."
He knew she meant that. His fingers tangled in her hair. "I still hope I never have to get in another stasis chamber, but somehow I don‘t think I‘ll have that nightmare again. I think maybe those walls are finally gone."
B‘Elanna raised her head slightly and looked at him.
"If they come back, you won‘t be alone."
Tom pressed his lips softly against her brow ridges.
They looked at each other for a long moment, then B‘Elanna smiled softly and let her head drop to his chest again. Her arms slid around him and she nestled her head under his chin. Tom wrapped his arms tightly around her. He lay there for a long time, staring into the near dark, holding her, feeling her heart beat steadily against his, listening to her breathing become slow and regular as she fell asleep. His own eyes closed then, and he felt a peaceful lassitude wash over him.
"I love you, B‘Elanna." Tom‘s voice was no more than a faint whisper as drowsiness began to overtake him. "And you won‘t ever have to be alone again either." His features relaxed, and his breathing slowed as he fell into a deep dreamless sleep, but his arms stayed locked tightly around her, as if he defied anyone, human, Vulcan, Klingon, hologram, or otherwise, to pry them apart.