The Thin Line of Stinging
by august
© 1999

Author's Note:  So it’s happened that my Voyager stories are kinda dark. Don’t expect this one to be any different. Janeway/Paris stories are about the only thing I can envisage at the moment. Don’t expect this one to be any different.

Disclaimers: Fanfiction is a way to take back stories from multi-million dollar corporations. Y’all remember that when you’re writing your disclaimers. These are *your* stories.

For Mary W: what’s life like without an occasional surprise?

“Thomas Eugene Paris, you are guilty of insubordination, unauthorised use of a space-craft, reckless endangerment and conduct unbecoming an officer. Do you have anything to say?”

The whir of hands, the shifting of gaze to avoid mine. Disappointment; this disappointment is killing me. A re-enforced sigh, like I could almost read her mind. ‘I expected too much, I expected too much’. It occured to me how intimate this demotion was - how close our bodies were, how quickly our breathing had synched. The things I had only occasionally allowed myself to imagine. But not like this. Never like this.

Disappointment; this disappointment is killing me . . .

“I would have destroyed your shuttle if necessary,” she said, and I had to look away. She told me that she admired my passion but that it did not excuse taking matters into my own hands. I studied her, trying to understand what sort of person believed that passion wasn’t an excuse for irrational actions.

“I would have destroyed your shuttle if necessary,” she had told me, and I wondered how the bridge reacted to her commands. Harry told me she spouted some dogma about losing my rights the minute I took a shuttle. I thought that she had never opened fire on Chakotay, or Seven, for the same thing. I tried not to think about that for too long.

“I would have destroyed your shuttle if necessary.” She intoned, looking straight into my eyes. Wanting me to know that she would have killed me. Wanting to punish me with the realisation that I was expendable, ultimately. That she would be, always, The Captain.

“I would have destroyed your shuttle if necessary.” Captain Kathryn Janeway of the Federation Starship Voyager stated in the official demotion service. There was a certain sadness in her words, and I knew that she would have. I knew that she would have.

Days earlier, I had sat in her ready room. We were drinking tea. The cup felt awkward in my hands. My fingers were too large for the delicate handle, and I felt like it was going to break at any second. The liquid was hot, and I burnt my throat by gulping it too quickly.

But I was drinking tea with Captain Janeway, and we were talking of the sea.

I hadn’t seen her this animated about anything for so long, and it made me . . . homesick. I don’t know what I considered to be home, if I even considered anything to be home. All I knew was that she was a part of it.

She was talking of the sea, and her eyes were flickering. I would have given anything to prolong that conversation. So I lied.

I hated the sea. It seemed cold, cruel and insular. In the rain, it seemed like an insolent child who was constantly demanding more. But for Captain Janeway, I would have pretended to be a mermaid.

I called up ancient texts, long since confined to the recesses of my mind. We talked about it, and she captivated me with her enthusiasm. For a moment, I almost believed that the sea was my first love. Not Jenny Garcia, who I met in sixth grade and became my object of lust for many weeks.

When I left her ready room, I knew I was in trouble. It was all I could do not to bolt to my quarters, where I spent hours poring over the computer, cramming in facts and names I could use in the future conversations that I had stupidly believed we would have.

I don’t know why I took such an interest in the ocean planet. Lord knows, I’ve never been one for causes. Most things I have done in my life have had a damn good ulterior motive. Superficially, maybe I wanted to do the ‘right thing’ once in my life.

But honestly, I think I wanted those arguments in the conference room. I wanted her to be angry with me - to see her eyes flash with anger and betrayal. At least I would know that they were flashing with something.

What I didn’t count on - would never have counted on, was the severity of her reaction. To disappoint was one thing; I had disappointed too many people too many times to let that worry me. But it was not disappointment on her face. It was disgust.

“I would have destroyed your shuttle if necessary.” She had said, without remorse. It made me recoil - it turned my stomach over because she *meant* it. She meant it. For all her double standards and duplicity, she would have killed me for the same mistakes she has made a million times out here.

Disappointment; this disappointment is killing me.

“I hereby reduce you to the rank of ensign, and sentence you to thirty days in the brig.”

When she ripped the pip off my collar, her fingernail grazed my neck. As I strode to the brig, all I could think of was the thin line of stinging, just above where my rank should have been. When my thirty days were up, I thought that there may have been a scar; a thin red line. A different kind of commendation.

There was nothing.

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