Tides of the Heart- Part Seven: Appassionato
As soon as Tom dove through the turbolift door and realised that I was inside, I saw him turn white with shock under the flashing lights of the red alert. Despite his training, I think he honestly would have turned and raced back out of the confined space if the doors hadn't instantly slammed shut behind him.
I tried to ignore his obvious panic, concentrating on slamming my hands against the control panel because for the last few minutes the computer had completely failed to respond to my verbal commands.
As my palm slapped against the clear glass, the red alert abruptly ceased and I saw Tom take a deep, relieved breath and move towards the door to exit the lift. It didn't open. He repeated my response to the control panel but with his feet, as he kicked violently at the unyielding door.
Which was when my comm badge chirped and Charis's low, melodic voice sang out into the lift, smugly advising us that he had deliberately trapped us together. I saw the complete horror in Tom's eyes and began to bellow into my comm badge, telling Charis that if he didn't open the doors immediately he wouldn't be able to sit down for a week.
His only reply was to cut communications.
If I had thought Tom's breathing was ragged earlier that morning, it was nothing next to the way he began to almost choke. The room filled with the sound of his tortuous gasps for breath. I stepped forwards towards him and he swung away in panic, pressing his back into the wall as though I was leprous. Realising my mistake, I stopped my advance and retreated instead so that I was pressed against the opposite wall and my action was enough for him to regain enough control of himself to slide a facade of cold indifference onto his face.
"I'm sorry," I told him, and I meant for Charis's stupid irresponsible act, but as I said the words they twisted in my mouth and came out as such a sad, desperate wail that they incorporated everything I had to be sorry about.
Tom stiffened, as though my words offended him, as indeed they must have. How pathetic and useless and inadequate words are to express anything as terrible as the way I had betrayed him.
We stayed like that, frozen statues caught in an endless tableau of guilt and hate, for so long that my calves began to tremble with fatigue. I wanted to slide down the wall and sit on the floor, but although that would make me smaller and less threatening to him, a seated position would also mean that I inevitably would be a little nearer him, invading his need for distance.
He was still as rigid as ice, his eyes fixed firmly on the wall some several centimeters over my head so that he could pretend I wasn't there.
The silence was unbearable.
"I *am* sorry, Tom," I found myself saying, my own eyes fixed at a point near his feet. "I know that isn't enough, that there's nothing I can say or do to make things better between us, but it's still true."
He pretended not to hear me and my words faded to distant echoes, invisible and impotent, before I managed to speak once more.
"Tuvok said you wanted to leave the ship, Tom. I don't understand. Why now? Why after all these years? Please don't leave, Tom. We need you. Voyager needs you."
Like ice-glazed stone his face remained unmoved by my words. Not even a flicker in his frosty eyes suggested that he had heard me. So I said it. I finally said it.
"*I* need you, Tom."
As though I had slapped him, his head suddenly dropped so that he faced me and his eyes darkened with such hatred that I felt myself wither inside. With his eyes alone he flayed my heart. Then a shudder ran through him, and he simply looked away once more, his lips still pursed and silent.
"Aren't you going to say something?" I begged. I was beyond pride perhaps, or maybe I just wanted to hear his scorn and anger so that I could focus on his rage instead of my despair. I had no right to say that I needed him, even if it were true.
And it was.
Suddenly, with blinding clarity, I realised that if he ever *had* left Voyager, I would have followed him. I would have taken my family with me, but I would have followed him. And if my wife had refused to accompany me, I would have simply taken the children and left her behind.
Simply by staying, he had allowed me to pretend that I didn't need him, but it had *never* been true.
And whatever it took, I would never let him leave me. Even if I had to spend the rest of my life following him around the galaxy like a love-sick hound while he continued to deny my existence
"Please, Tom. Talk to me. Say *something*," I begged.
For a long time he still pretended that I was invisible, and then that dark look flashed in his eyes again.
"Fucker," he spat at me, and then he turned his back so that he was facing the wall. I saw him brace his hands and then lean his forehead on the cold metal and I could imagine him closing his eyes and fighting for control of his breathing once more.
I swallowed uncomfortably. I was going to kill Charis for putting Tom through this, I decided. Even so, I finally had the opportunity to put things right between us before Tom left the ship. Maybe right enough that he *wouldn't* leave the ship.
I couldn't afford to hope for anything more than that, but the thought of Tom packing a bag and leaving was more than I could bear.
"Look, I know this is hard, Tom, but Charis is right. We do need to talk about things. We never did, did we? Talk I mean?"
A minute shiver ran down Tom's spine and I saw his muscles rippling under his thin t-shirt, and his knuckles whitened.
It was true. In twenty years we had never spoken about it. Even the divorce was simply signatures on data padds. Except for the terse necessities of orders exchanged on duty and the monosyllabic exchange of conventional pleasantries like "hello" and "goodbye" when he had collected Charis, Tom and I had not spoken a single word to each other in twenty years.
We hadn't spoken since the night I abandoned him in the midst of our lovemaking.
Spirits, how much he must have hated me for all these years. The more so because he never stopped loving me.
"Tom?" I pleaded. "Please say something to me."
"Fucker," he hissed into the wall.
"How about something else?" I asked lightly, teasingly, as though I still had the right to talk to him in that way.
It was my tone of voice that got to him, I think, rather than my words.
He spun around to face me.
"What you don't like that word?" he demanded. "Try this one then, Slut!"
I nearly fell over.
"What?" I asked, too confused to even take offence.
"That's what you call someone who just wants to get laid, isn't it?" he demanded bitterly. "You feeling horny, Tay? Is that what this is about? Your wife's dead and you want a shag so you thought you'd come by for a quick fuck from desperate Tom for old time's sake?"
"Come by? I don't understand. We're just stuck in a fucking turbolift, Tom," I replied. "And you followed *me* in if you remember."
How the hell had "I need you" ended up as "I want to fuck you"? Even if it was the truth, I wondered. Did he really think that the only reason I wanted him was because my wife was dead now? Probably. Why wouldn't he? The last time he had offered me the precious gift of his body I had abandoned him unfulfilled, sobbing as though his heart was breaking as I dressed and hurried from the room, my head too full of worry for my son for my heart to even acknowledge Tom's pain.
"What were you doing on Deck 6, Tay? Checking the paintwork?" he challenged.
I flushed. Since there is nothing on Deck 6 except the holodecs and holodec two hasn't worked for three years, Tom was right. There was *no* reasonable excuse for me being there. There was only the truth.
"I was listening to you playing, Tom, that's all," I admitted shamefully.
He jerked as though slapped and the anger in his eyes was replaced by a look of hurt, humiliation and complete betrayal. I knew what I had done was wrong, a breach of his privacy, but I had no idea he would take it so badly.
"You had no right. NO FUCKING RIGHT!" he screamed at me. "That's private stuff, do you hear me? Private. You had no fucking right to listen to me!"
He was right, of course. I had given up that right twenty years ago.
"I just wanted to be near you," I admitted quietly.
His face shattered under my words. His icy facade melting as his features twisted through emotions so quickly that I barely registered one expression before another replaced it. Bitterness, sorrow, pain, rage, confusion, hatred all skipping over his face in a crazy blur until he bared his teeth at me in such pure animalistic agony that I staggered as the burden of his pain crushed me.
"Shit, shit, shit, shit," he hissed, as though incapable of finding any other word to express his agony, and then he screamed "SHIT!" and swung back to the door and punched it so hard that his scream became a howl of pain.
Then, as though the pain was what he wanted, he continued to strike the metal door panel repeatedly until it was dented and scarred, its white surface smeared with blood from his split knuckles.
I jumped forwards and grabbed his elbow, desperate to stop his self abuse.
"DON'T TOUCH ME!" he screamed, spinning around in furious panic.
I let go apologetically but as soon as I did, he turned and struck the door once more, before staggering slightly from the pain.
"STOP IT!" I yelled at him. "If you need to hit something, hit *me*!"
It was enough to make him turn back to face me once more, his eyes dark with pain and confusion, his lower lip quivering as though he would cry.
"Please, Tom," I begged. "Stop hurting yourself. Hit me if you want to but stop hitting the door. Look at your hand!"
A little dazed, he looked down at his swollen right hand. The skin was ripped and bleeding across his knuckles. He gave a choking sob, as though the pain finally registered once his own eyes witnessed the damage.
I never even saw his left fist swing at me until it connected with my stomach with sickening force. The impact forced all of the air out of my lungs and I doubled over, in as much surprise as pain, as I gasped for breath. He took the opportunity to strike me in the face with his right fist, hard enough to make us both cry out in pain, and suddenly there was so much blood dripping onto the floor that I couldn't tell which was coming from his broken hand, and which was from a deep split in the corner of my mouth.
For an instant the fury in Tom's eyes was replaced by a little fear, and he stiffened defensively, obviously expecting me to strike him back. Perhaps he even wanted me to, because when I opened my arms in submission, indicating that he could strike me with impunity, instead of hitting me again, his face contorted in pain and he backed away.
"Fuck you," he hissed, shaking his head in denial. "It's not that fucking easy, you bastard. This isn't going to happen. I won't let this happen. Do you hear me? DO YOU FUCKING HEAR ME?"
"I hear you," I replied softly, sadly. I understood. He couldn't allow himself to lose control like this in front of me, not even in anger. He couldn't trust himself. And in admitting that, he gave me the opening I needed, and I took it. I moved towards him.
He scuttled backwards in panic, hit the wall, realised he had nowhere to go and came out fighting.
He kicked me, punched me, slapped me. Spirits, he actually bit me at one point. And all the time I did not strike him back, I simply grasped his shoulders to prevent him from putting any weight behind his blows so that as much as he twisted and spat and hissed at me, as he slapped my face and ribs because his hand was too damaged to make a fist, he couldn't truly hurt me.
Well, not to the point of breaking my bones, at least, though my skin turned an interesting dark rainbow under his blows.
He was hyperventilating, his breath coming in such short, sharp gasps that the more he fought, the weaker he was becoming as his lungs failed to replenish the oxygen he was burning with his assault.
I felt his knees giving way, so I sank with him, still holding him as he sobbed for breath and he collapsed against me, his now sodden hair pressed into my chest as my hands finally released their stranglehold on his shoulders and began to caress his back in deep, soothing strokes.
We stayed like that for a long time, too exhausted both physically and emotionally to move away from each other, and all the time my hands offered him what tiny comfort they could offer, while my face burned where his hands had struck me.
Then he stiffened, and I released my embrace so that he could scramble backwards until his back was to the doors again and when he looked at me, his face was sad and a little shamed.
"I'm sorry," he whispered.
"It's okay," I replied carefully, through my split and swollen lips.
It was about an hour later that he broke our mutual silence with a low rueful chuckle.
"What?" I asked.
His miserable blue eyes met mine.
"I thought I'd feel better," he replied.
"Don't you?" I asked.
"Not really," he replied.
"I'm sorry," I said sincerely.
For the first time in twenty years, he looked me straight in the eyes with no attempt to mask his emotions and quietly said, "I know."
We lapsed back into silence again, but this time it was more sorrowful than frigid. I began to doze a little as exhaustion and pain took their toll.
"He's got to let us out soon," Tom suddenly announced. His voice surprisingly loud and clear. "We need food and water and I need to take a piss."
A few minutes later the air shimmered and a tray of refreshments appeared on the floor, as did a Sickbay urinal.
"I knew the little fucker was monitoring us," Tom snarled, but his voice wasn't as angry as I expected. There even seemed to be a tiny vein of amusement deeply tucked away in his tone.
"I don't think he's actually listening to us," I replied with difficulty. My mouth was really starting to hurt. "He probably set the computer up for certain key words like 'food' and 'water.'"
Tom nodded in reluctant agreement.
"Good job I said 'piss' then. I doubt he programmed it for 'urinate'," he replied.
"I guess he knows you too well," I commented lightly.
Tom rewarded me with a reluctant smile and a nod. Then he flushed a little.
"Speaking of which," he mumbled.
My face burned in sympathy, I think, although it was already so hot and swollen it's hard to be sure. I tried to turn so that he had some privacy, but trying to move just made me groan. I gave him an apologetic shrug.
He bit his lip uncertainly, then made a decision, grabbed the urinal and turned his back on me. The moment he placed the urinal back on the floor, it vanished.
My temper snapped.
"The little bastard *is* watching us," I hissed.
"No, he's not," Tom replied with a wry grin. "He just programmed it to be removed as soon as it was used."
"How do you know?" I demanded.
"Because if he was *watching* us, he'd have sent a straw," Tom answered, gesturing towards the water containers.
I ran my fingers tentatively over my swollen mouth. Tom was right. There was no way in hell I was going to be able to drink, and my throat was killing me.
"I'd rather he sent a regenerator," I hissed.
A regenerator appeared next to the tray.
We both chuckled simultaneously, before we remembered we were both supposed to hate each other, or something like that.
I tried to fix my own face, but it was pretty impossible without a mirror and in the end Tom slid over and helped me. Then he insisted that I took a drink before I fixed his hand with the regenerator and then held it in mine to check there was no damage under the surface. I ignored the way he stiffened as I made an unnecessary performance of rubbing each individual finger to check it was okay.
"Good as new," I finally pronounced, reluctantly releasing him.
He made a fist experimentally.
"Are you going to hit me again?" I asked him, half-seriously.
"Should I?" He demanded, and there was no humor in his voice.
I thought about it some, as I took another drink from the water container. Then I met his eyes.
"Yes," I replied honestly. "I think you should."
As I mopped miserably at the new blood on my tunic, I contented myself that noses *always* bled that much when you are punched in the face and that just because my nose was on fire, didn't mean it was necessarily broken.
It was only when Tom gave up nursing his hand, called for another regenerator and proceeded to silently repair the damage that he had done my face that I began to wonder how many regenerators we would have to call for before Charis opened the door. Which made me wonder what would happen if we had a *real* medical emergency, which in turn made me suddenly realise that if I simply called out "Medical Emergency" the probability was that Tom and I would be automatically beamed to Sickbay.
As soon as the thought struck me, I also realised that it wouldn't be long before Tom had the same realization. I was running out of time, and we had resolved nothing yet.
This time, as I ran the regenerator over Tom's hand, I not only held it too long, but I pointedly caressed it, and although he jerked and tried to pull back, I didn't release him.
"Let me go," he hissed.
I let go with my right hand, and he began to relax, which meant I was able to capture his left hand too, so that I held both his hands. "Or what?" I asked, with a soft smile to take away the sting of my words.
He didn't struggle, he just looked at me with helplessness of a wounded animal, and then I saw his eyes flood with tears. I released him so abruptly that he almost fell.
"Spirits, Tom, I'm sorry. That was unforgivable," I apologized, and wondered whether he was going to hit me again as he stood there shaking, his hands now at his sides, spasming in and out of fists.
He sprang for me so suddenly that even had I intended to defend myself I could not have and his body crashed into mine, toppling me backwards into the wall, and then his mouth was on mine, crushing my lips in a fiercely bruising kiss.
I was too stunned to react at first, as I felt his tongue dart savagely into my mouth with a savage violence that stole my breath. He raped me with his tongue as his hands pinned my shoulders to the wall, and his hips ground against my groin until it was pointless for either of us to pretend we didn't want this, need this, and I groaned and relaxed, giving as easily as he was taking.
My hands were on his head, my fingers running through his hair, feeling the perspiration on his scalp as his breath was hot and heavy in my mouth, and I was gasping as my own tongue thrust back with equal savagery as I pulled him tighter into my embrace.
His hands slammed me back against the wall once more and he used the momentum to thrust his body away from me. He threw his right arm up in warning as he backed away, while his left rubbed desperately at his face as though to deny his own mouth's betrayal. His eyes were huge with shock and fear at his own actions, and his evident horror was enough to prevent me from stepping towards him.
He reached the door and slowly sank down until he was sat on the floor, where he folded his knees to his chest and hugged them in misery.
I allowed my own quaking knees to bend and carefully seated myself opposite him. For a long time, neither of us spoke, both too stunned by what had just happened to even deny it.
I had an insane desire to apologise to him for letting him kiss me, but it seemed too odd a thing to say, although, in a way, I knew that I should.
Instead, I told him that I loved him.
I waited for the explosion that never came. Instead he just gave a tortured sigh and said, "I know."
There was no joy in the acknowledgement though.
"It's not enough, Tay. Love's not enough," he whispered bitterly. "If love was enough, you wouldn't have left me."
I digested his words for a moment, forcing myself to ignore the pain in my own heart and address the pain in his.
"You mean that if *I* had loved *you* enough I wouldn't have left you," I eventually replied.
He gave a small sob, half an acknowledgement, half surprise that I should have said it.
"You're right," I told him. "I didn't love you enough. I didn't put you first. I should have."
Tom looked up in surprise, his eyes a little wary, but he was obviously listening now, so I continued.
"No matter what I felt about Charis, I should have put you first. If I had, then between us we could have become strong enough to deal with the responsibility of our child. I should have trusted you, Tom. I should have told you how I felt, what was going on in my head. I should have known that your love for me was enough. That you would have made room for Charis in your heart, if only because he meant so much to me.
"I wronged you, Tom. I agreed to our divorce because I wanted to free you from a responsibility that wasn't yours and that you had no obligation to accept. I should have refused to let you go. I know that now. I understand that you were only testing me. Testing our love. I failed. I failed you, I failed us and I failed our son."
I could barely see Tom for the tears that were stinging and blinding my eyes and when his soft, broken voice replied, "It's okay, Tay, it doesn't matter any more, anyway. It's over," the desolation in his voice almost choked me.
"It doesn't have to be over, Tom. I love you. I know what love is now. Love is when just the idea of someone leaving your life makes you feel as though your heart is being ripped out of your body. That's how I feel about you, Tom. If you leave this ship, I will follow you. There's nowhere you can go, nowhere you can hide, that I won't be there."
Instead of being moved, Tom laughed. It was a bitter and horrible sound in that tiny room.
"You'd leave Charis and Anika for me?" he mocked. "I don't think so."
"You're wrong, Tom. I would. I'd miss them. I'd grieve for them, but I *would* leave them. They're adults now. My love for them is eternal, but my responsibility to them is over. Now my responsibility is to you." I told him calmly.
"I don't want you," Tom spat.
"Yes you do," I told him. "I don't deserve you, I know that, but I know that you *do* want me."
"Ah," he chuckled sarcastically. "You're right. I do. But you know something? I learnt something twenty years ago. It doesn't matter what I want. It's always been about what *you* want, hasn't it? What I want is *irrelevant*."
I flinched as his barb hit home.
"Spirits, Tom..." I began.
"Fuck your Spirits, Tay and fuck you."
I closed my eyes and prayed for divine intervention, prayed for someone or something to give me words that could sway him, but all I could come up with was "I love you, Tom."
"IT'S NOT ENOUGH!" he screamed. "Do you really, honestly think I can turn back the clock, Tay? Do you think I can pretend you never left me? That you never married *her*? How the fuck am I supposed to pretend none of it ever happened and go back to where we left off?"
"You can't," I admitted.
"I wish I could," he whispered, then he buried his face in his hands and sobbed.
I sat there as he cried, thinking if only I could turn back time, take back the pain, undo the wrongs, return to that moment when the comm badge sounded and make a different choice, take a different step, walk a different path.
And that's when I realised my mistake.
I *couldn't* turn back the clock to that moment. I could never expect to recapture that happiness I had turned my back on. Tom could *never* conveniently forget the last twenty years and turn back to that one moment in time.
No one can go backwards.
All we can do is move on to new beginnings.
"I want us to start again, Tom," I told him.
"I TOLD you, I can't forget what happened," he spat.
"You're not listening to me, Tom," I replied calmly. "I want us to start again completely. As though *none* of it ever happened. As though we are strangers meeting for the first time."
"You're crazy," Tom protested.
"Maybe," I admitted. "But you said you wanted to leave Voyager."
"I do," he said, although his voice wavered a little.
"So are you planning to spend the *rest* of your life on your own? Or have you decided it's time to find someone else?"
"I don't know. Maybe," he said.
"So, if you find this someone else, you will accept that they have had lovers before you, and that they have a past, and that they have made mistakes, but you will give them a chance anyway?" I demanded.
"I guess," Tom admitted, looking confused.
"And when you find that hypothetical lover, will you judge them by their past, or by how they treat you?" I asked.
"What are you trying to say?"
"Give me one week, Tom. That's all I'm asking for, and I know I don't deserve it, but I'm asking anyway. Give me one small week. For just seven days, pretend that *I* am that new person you have met. Give me a chance to start over with you as though we have just met, for the very first time. Pretend you don't know me. That I never hurt you. You can do that, can't you? Give me just one more week of your life?"
"Can I?" he asked, a little hysterically. "Is it that fucking easy?"
"Of course it's not easy, Tom. Nothing worth having ever is."
"Are you worth having?" he spat.
"Give me seven days and find out," I replied gently.
He didn't reply, he just curled up tighter and closed his eyes. I stayed silent as long as I could, until I thought I might explode with tension, and then I couldn't bear it any longer.
"Tom?" I asked hesitantly.
"I'm thinking, okay?" he snapped back petulantly.
And that's when my heart began to soar, because if he was willing to at least consider my proposal, then I knew that it was only a matter of time before he said yes.
I struck the final nail in his coffin.
"Of course, I will understand if you are too scared to try," I murmured sympathetically.
His eyes flew open in outrage.
"I'm not scared of you, you bastard," he snarled.
"So that's a yes?" I asked pleasantly.
"It won't work," he replied.
"That's not your problem, is it? It's mine. All I'm asking for is a chance," I replied mildly.
"And if it doesn't work, what then? You'll let me leave and keep the fuck out of my life?" he demanded.
"No, Tom. I told you. I'll follow you wherever you go, whether it works or not," I replied.
"What if I say I'll give you your seven days *if* you agree that I can leave afterwards on my own?" he asked.
I pretended to think about it.
"I suppose we'd just have to give it a miss, and I'll go pack my bags," I replied.
Tom ducked his head, but not before I saw a tiny reluctant smile on his face. You see, I *can* learn. I don't *always* fail tests.
"Okay," he muttered.
I whooped, leapt forwards and grabbed him in my arms.
He hit me.
"What was *that* for?" I demanded, as the blood started to pour down my face again.
The patent, Tom Paris smirk came out in full bloom.
"What do you expect? Grabbing hold of a complete stranger like that?"
And before I could even react, he spoke again, to the computer this time.