Summary: Short. Paris and other ghosts arrive in Indiana. It snows.
Author's note: Ye Gods! J/P! Has the world turned on it's head?
Dedication: B.E - hope you get that net connection soon, dearie.
Credits: Jenn, for being a darling and keeping me afloat with fascinating insights into my depraved and debauched world - which, weirdly enough, is not on display here. Thanks for the beta!
She'd asked for it. But anything less vague, anything less telling would have landed heavily on the blanket of snow that was forming at her feet. It wouldn't have sounded right, ice biting at her bottom lip, warm breath leading vapour trails in the still air, wouldn't have echoed well in the space locked between them. She'd shouted enough. She'd made enough shrewd observations to last her a life time. She liked the way these words left her lips bluntly, no pretence, no hidden meaning, no Freudian interpretation.
'What is it?'
And yes, it was snow. Drifts of the stuff forming against the small house, in peaked mountains of shoddily frozen liquid, clumping, circling, torrents against the small ageing building that would come to lie in oddly symmetrical pyramids against the withered cornerstone. The sky had held promise, once, maybe years ago, she couldn't remember. Now it was just a swirling fluffy grey-white mass that spoke of a vengeance fuelled torment the sloping crystal-rain wouldn't compliment.
Snow, as hard as it always tried, never angered. Set snow could, but then set snow faded and melted. Snow, falling snow, evoked a sense of wonder and calm that she'd never been able to place. Who the hell shouted when snow met their eyelashes? And when your feet stepped in it, imprinting bland footprint on wondrous gloss carpet, was that really the time to discuss, or press or even...
"It's been a while," he said, carefully.
There was still a distance between them. The kind of distance that the snow saw fit only to widen. Maybe it was time, maybe it was the way he was looking at her, the jacket-less shoulders that made him shudder. Maybe it was the way he made her feel sixteen and awkward in a way she'd never been sixteen and awkward.
Most likely it was the reunion, the set of unanswered questions that hung in the cool air between them, and although she knew they had to, she didn't want those questions to crystallise and fall, and spoil the carpet in a way that wouldn't wipe away with spring thaw.
"I wasn't expecting--"
She blinked, the words falling again and making coal imprint on the snow beneath them. Maybe she should have caught them, but the words lacked meaning as soon as they had slipped from her lips, and she had no intention of making conversation.
She took a step forward, and then another, following him deeper into the snow but being careful to keep that distance. Make it easy to see, make it a logistics problem as opposed to an emotional one.
"You weren't expecting what?" he said at last.
It had been a long time, she realised. A long time since she'd seen him, a longer time since she'd seen that look. His features had never been delicate, there was nothing to dwell on, there was a bold line to his nose, strong cheekbones, eyes that had a habit of effortlessly holding your own and a strong jaw, that he clenched when he wasn't quite sure what to say.
Maybe he was mad at her. It was hard for her to tell. Hard for her to see past the snow settling on his light hair, the drops kissing his shoulders.
"I wasn't expecting you to call on me." She smiled, flicking a loose and over long curl back from her face and finding it was shuddering with water, droplets splashed parallel lines to her skin as soon as it was swiftly shifted backwards.
The laugh was mute, but the flickered smile genuine, and his eyes drifted over the cool liquid that paraded, joining and beading, down her throat and towards her clothes.
"I wasn't expecting to call on you," he said. The snow was wetting his hair now, sending it a darker shade. At random intervals pearls of cool water ran down his face. He shivered and then held himself still, rigid in the snow so as not to admit defeat. He would watch her, and then look away, sometimes his eyes went to the sky, but never stayed long enough to take it in.
"Then why?" She asked, sweeping her hair back from her face now and combing the liquid in with it, slicking it back to her head and not, for once, as the snow was taken a little by the short breeze that danced around her, caring how the hell she looked.
Age hadn't harmed him, nor kept him safe as his gaze found her again. It had progressed with him, been friend in hair that greyed a little and stayed mostly. Been enemy in the lines that found his brow, lines that had once arrived in frustration and rejection and now sat as a permanent fixture, testament to the last damn shuttle that just wouldn't pull away to starboard.
"I found your address," he said, as blankly as he could, although failing to wipe his tone of expression, but it was enough that she recognised he clipped his pronunciation.
She closed her eyes, small shudders in her legs as she buckled under the swarming ice pricks that found her calves. "I didn't mean--"
"To shout?" He asked, grinning, and from somewhere he fitted her mental image again. Tom Paris, to Kathryn Janeway, had a shrug of his shoulders that smacked of a man judged and pitied enough in his time to realise others neither needed nor deserve it. "You have quite the pair of lungs, Kathryn. But then, I guess, I already knew that."
He'd never called her Kathryn, and standing, drenched in the snow and probably twice as cold as her, it didn't even register consciously at first. The fact he was there -- that surprised her - the fact that he seemed to look taller to her, the fact that a man of near forty stood in her back garden and cocked his head back to let the snowdrops, delicate prisms, fall on his face surprised her. And they were all things she should have expected.
"I think I had call to shout," she said. Noting the measured pauses between their banter, or really their verbal passing of class notes. Like a game of chess, he considered his move and watched her eyes and ultimately, admitting silence if not checkmate, his eyes tracked to the hills.
"Maybe," the familiar shrug of his shoulders. "I think I had to come out here, I always promised myself I would."
"Indiana?" She put her hands on her hips, a left over Captain gesture that she found she suited and at least gave her control over her shaking hands, the cool liquid dripping over her fingers not the only thing making them tremble. "Thomas Eugene Paris has never been to Indiana."
It was about lunchtime, and she could swear, underneath the water that slowly drifted through her twenty fourth century clothing, she could feel the sun on her back. It still lolled down, snow, the wind affording to catch it at times and whip intimate storms with her hair, bowing to the man in the auburn suit before whisking it around in a frenzied excitement.
"Thomas Eugene Paris has never been to Indiana," he repeated, grinning, snow drops touching the bridge of his nose. "Until today."
"What you expected?" She made the move towards him, trying to remember if she'd ever had cause to shout at him like that, for scaring her, for putting her off guard. What little distance they had between them evaporated quickly, sharp contrast to the setting snow that shackled their feet.
"Pretty much," he nodded to her view. The view from the back windows of the her father's farmstead, that she'd inherited and kept more out of a misguided sense of nostalgia than any kind of practically, was one she'd known her whole life. The view was of a hill and what would be a corn field sloping upon it, with a cluster of big old sycamore trees crowning the crest. The trees stood without leaves in the morning December snow, which concerned itself with piling quickly onto the brittle branches. In the summer it was awash with colour, and she hated to see it so bare, so barren, so very quiet in the midwinter day.
"Ahh, a man of many words today, I see," she said, in what she hoped to be a friendly way, reaching her hand out to brush the snow from his shoulder.
They watched the debris ice fall to the floor and his half grin was back in place. "I had to come I guess. You have a nice house, cute dog." He nodded a beat to himself before looking straight into her eyes, a moment of sheltered vulnerability as he licked his bottom lip and then said, "You have a boyfriend?"
She laughed, almost creasing double. Only Paris, only Tom Paris, the man in possession of charm to sell, bottle and ship to the less fortunate, would pitchfork her with a lovely question like that.
Maybe that's why he thought she'd shouted. As she'd watched him, stood knee deep in comforting sharp straw, surrounded by the wooden walls of an ancient structure and saying things he should have said years ago, maybe more, and confessing things in a verbal tirade so rehearsed it was hard to hear.
That's why she had shouted. And, in part, it was what halted her anger now.
"No," she smiled, carefully, trying to look all good and happy about her life, "spinster extroardinaire in every way. Who needs company when you've got a good book?" she said, leaking false bravado, and if her feet weren't rooted to the cold fused spot she was seriously considering just leaving him there. She rubbed her hands together and blew on them.
He had no right to get her wet.
"You have a dog," he pointed out, smiling easily at her.
"I have a dog," she nodded, "thanks for the reminder. I'm sure Maggy Maloy would be very impressed I forgot her..."
Snow stopped to fall and midday sun began to make the precipitate icing shine where it sat on window ledges and doorways. It glowed all around the two cold acquaintances, who stood shin deep in the stuff and held themselves like people who couldn't quite remember how to carry a conversation, or at least, a conversation with one another.
"Maggy Maloy?" He cocked an eyebrow. "I thought it was Molly Malone?"
"It was." She said, noting the lack of snowfall and the way her sopping clothes hung off her. He smiled and she let out an "Oh," forgetting she was even speaking. "But dear old Maggy passed away and I bought myself a setter - and she'd be very pleased to learn you think she's cute, I think."
He wrinkled his nose a little before turning back to the house. "Too cute. I never liked cute."
"So you're insulting my dog now?" She swaggered, before stepping in front of him and witnessing the curious glint that caught his eye.
When Tom Paris looked serious, light left his face, and skin, taut, looked tense. He clenched his jaw. "I think I should
Indiana had always been so full of ghosts. Tom Paris presented a host of welcome paradoxes. Every time he said something new, she found it hard to remind herself who he was before. Right now, he reminded her of the boy who she knew in grade school, who used to say 'I think I should apologise' before giving her a chaste peck on the cheek and running, as fast as his stubby legs could carry him, for home and lemonade.
But Tom didn't suit the ghosts, he was something very alive on the old white glade landscape.
She could imagine her father standing, leaning on an axe as the snow settled all around him, and her mother, arm linked in his - a vitality in her cheeks that she didn't get from her small apartment in San Francisco. Phoebe was making snow men, and Kathryn was considering booting them down with her newly replicated snow boots. And occasionally they'd sigh, and giggle, and shoot forth friendly banter, things all families did.
That was Indiana. Indiana wasn't Tom Paris in the snow.
It was her turn to shrug. She pointed to a top window, that had once, years ago, been her bedroom. "When I was fourteen I fell out of that window. It was weather like this, snow, and it was the middle of the night - three, four below zero? I was three hours past curfew and I decided, save getting my parents out of their warm comfy beds that I'd climb up the now-dead ivy that once hung there and get in that way--"
His hand brushed her face. She could have sworn it did, and she turned to look at him. He stared back at her, hands by his side.
They remained like that for a moment, maybe two. Enough to make her wonder, enough to make her look at him and consider, like she'd done so many times in her life, if it was feasible that her life meant more than book tours across the local universities, that she actually meant something. Not her title, not Captain Janeway, but Kathryn who stood in the snow because she was too scared to go inside, too scared to ask her parents for help, too scared to give into the very forces that had kept her this alone.
And as he looked back into her eyes, he almost urged her to take that risk.
He was no ghost.
Because feelings she'd had for him, feelings she'd danced around on a ship far from home in the name of practicality and logic, reasserted themselves with ease. More than the mere memory she'd stamped, boxed and stored. And from what he said to her, standing in her out houses, he was remembering the history that she recalled in the snow.
"You're soaked," were his words at last.
Her eyes narrowed. "You spoilt a good narrative."
"You weren't letting me apologise," he cut back in, looking smug and superior as he crossed his arms over his chest and looked at her, standing back a little.
Slowly, as the snow crisped she remembered. She remembered the Christmas parties on Voyager and the looks he would send
her only when he knew she would be watching. His features weren't so expressive now, and his words drifted a little, but he was the same man. And she was having the same feelings, as much good as that accomplished.
"I don't want you to apologise," the snow was settling around them, it was telling in the short syllables they threw at each other.
"I was out of line." he insisted, coolly.
This made her angry, sun shone its rays and snow melted around her, soaking her trouser bottoms through to the skin. For want of better thing to do she blew on her hands and rubbed her knees together.
"Maybe you needed to say it, look, I don't need you here just appearing and standing in front of me because we forgot each other a long time ago, a very long time ago---"
"You're trembling." She hadn't imagined he'd be so cold, his hands found hers and rubbed carefully. She shivered again and shut her eyes.
When she opened them he was bending over her. Bright blue eyes that she never remembered being this close to, buttons in a sea of ice that threatened to drown or save them. Cold water ran down her back and she shivered. "I'm going to get hypothermia," she mumbled.
"Maybe we should--"
"No," she said sharply. The wind blew through and she shuddered, it made snow covered weather vane spin and shake his white coat, the sycamores on the hills moved dangerously under the weight of their hitchhike hoard.
He pulled her into his arms and she clutched, hands by her head, for his top. Without hesitation she buried her head into his damp shirt and he wrapped his arms around her. "I shouldn't have come," he whispered into her wet hair.
"You don't know when to quit, do you?" She asked him. She could hear his breathing, that laboured under the cold, and shuddered her cheek against his glacial cool clothing. She could hear the crack of evaporated ice and she wondered, water in her boots, since when he'd got close enough for him to hug her. Since when had her early established distance had come to this?
It had, after all, been five years apart. Years that were suddenly feeling like short weeks, in a trite schoolgirl way that she didn't want to recognise. Nor did she want to recognise her fingernails in his shirt. He simply wasn't allowed to make her feel this way.
Not for just waltzing back into her life and telling her...
"I have something else to tell you," he said, quiet so as not to wake, it seemed, the sleeping giant that lay under the huge powder white quilt spread out at their feet.
She looked into his eyes, her lips a frown as she wondered, not for the first time, why she spent her time with him, precious, gentle time, wondering consistently, on everything and anything all at once. "With you and confessions I don't want to know."
The snow atop the highest branches of the sycamore shifted in high passing northerly wind and fell with a large and unheard crash to the floor. Maggy Maloy found the catch to the door and bounded out onto the back porch, skidding on the snow she found there. The fourteen year old Janeway fell back into the snow, and got a slight concussion as she picked herself up from her icy crater. And stared up at the window she'd tried to climb into, only to find it locked.
Tom Paris kissed Kathryn Janeway.
Fourteen year old Janeway told Kathryn she'd put on some weight. Fourteen year old Paris, tickled fourteen year old
Janeway's stomach and pushed her into the snow, making impromptu snow angels with the memory.
Maggy Maloy barked.
"Can I apologise now?" he asked.
She positively glistened. "Go right ahead."
He wrapped his arm around her, and led her back into the house, Maggy Maloy skidding figure eights around their feet. "I'm sorry I told you I loved you."
"About time," were the sleepy words she uttered, as she fell into his step, and resolved to stay there, happy even for a promise she couldn't keep.
In the distance, the sun fell behind a cloud and it began to snow. Again.