Breathe by Lady Shadow

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Catharsis

The prison planet was well behind them. Tuvok knew the exact measurement in AUs and standard kilometers. He could pinpoint the exact location on a star map. He knew how long it had been since they'd left Ludrian space to the exact second.

He should have felt better. He should have felt calmer. He should not have felt like something was looming over his shoulder. He should not have felt.

His logic had been sound. It was no conceit to suggest that he was stronger mentally than the volatile Mr. Paris. He was in control of his body's responses. He was in control of his emotions.

Why did he feel like he was being pulled apart?

An unexpected contact on his left arm made him jump. He swiftly repressed the reaction and disguised it by turning towards the unwelcome invader. The commander seemed not to have noticed his initial reaction and angled his body into Tuvok's space with a pad in hand.

Tuvok stepped back, ostensibly to give him more room.

“Did you see this new security program?” Chakotay asked, offering the pad up for inspection. Tuvok privately felt that this was no excuse to come marching over to his console and invade his private space and touch him. He reached out and gingerly plucked the pad out of the commander's hands, not giving away for an instant how nervous and crowded he felt. How angry he was that he did feel nervous and crowded. How confused he was that he was angry.

“I have not yet had an opportunity to examine this,” Tuvok announced. He concentrated on the data displayed before him, automatically processed the lines of code into something coherent. “Is this Mr. Paris' work?” he asked, even though he knew it was. Lieutenant Paris had a very distinctive coding style.

“Yes. I've had him helping Gerron with it. Do you think it has merit?”

“It will require further study before such a distinction can be made. I will look into it this afternoon.”

The commander smiled and touched him again – a pat on the shoulder this time. Tuvok had to restrain himself from hitting the man's hand away. Did no one on this ship respect personal space?!

Tom Paris approached him a moment later. He stayed on one side of the console and made no attempt to reach out and touch the vulcan.

“Commander Tuvok?”

Tuvok looked up from the pad and gave the pilot his full attention. “Yes, lieutenant?”

“I was wondering if you had some time to go over some things with me. Maybe this evening?” He made a blanket gesture towards the pad and Tuvok glanced back down at it.

“Perhaps the holodeck?” he suggested.

Tom waved a hand dismissively. “It's not quite to that point yet. I was thinking maybe a conference room.”

Tuvok lifted an eyebrow. The lieutenant should be well aware that all the conference rooms were occupied for bi-monthly section meetings tonight and tomorrow. “The conference rooms are reserved, Mr. Paris.”

Tom made a typically expressive human gesture comprised of snapping his fingers and waving an index finger towards Tuvok. Over the years, Tuvok had come to associate this gesture with 'you're right,' and merely waited.

“What about my quarters?” Tom suggested finally. “I'll even bribe you with a nice replicated meal.”

Tuvok found the concept to be somewhat disquieting and didn't know why he was concerned about being in another's 'territory.' He straightened his shoulders and asked, “Would mine suffice?”

Tom shrugged easily. “Sure. Dinner's still on me. 1800 sound good?”

“That would be acceptable.”

“See ya then! Thanks, sir.” Tom tapped the console lightly and eased around it to the turbo lift. Tuvok watched him go out of the corner of his eye.

~*STV*~

The candles were lit. The room was comfortably warm. Tuvok settled on his cushion in the far corner of his quarters and closed his eyes.

Tight like a virgin-

His eyes snapped open and he drew in several near-frantic breaths through his nose. This was, in a word, ridiculous. He would never see that man again, and every second they were hurdling further and further from that place.

Why did it seem to get worse every time he closed his eyes? He shifted on the cushion and recalled his long ago lessons from childhood. He, like so many of his peers, had been conflicted, filled with warring emotions that seemed to run too deep to tame. He had been successful then. He would be successful now.

I will purge this emotion by accepting it. I will allow it to pass through me.

Agony! His body jolted forward and he felt those clammy hands gripping his hips, jagged nails digging into his skin-

“NO!”

It took a moment to realize that he'd cried out. He curled forward and dropped his forehead to the floor, his arms coming up to cover his head. His breath came in harsh pants and his hands curled to dig at the thin carpet.

He felt... he felt... he felt.

The door chimed and he jumped, crying out in startlement. His heart thundered and he stared wide-eyed at the door as if that man was going to walk in....

Lieutenant Paris' familiar voice broke the strange panic building in his chest and he felt suddenly drained.

“Come,” he called hoarsely.

The door opened with a muted whoosh and Paris seemed to glow for a moment, backlit by the corridor lights.

“Whoa!” Tom pulled at the neck of his jacket. “Turning your quarters into a little piece of home, huh, Tuvok?”

Tuvok swallowed hard, forced his throat to open up and rose to his feet. “I find this temperature to be optimal for meditation,” he explained, like he had to explain himself. Paris's blue eyes darted over him and Tuvok had the unnerving feeling that he knew. He knew, and somehow that didn't bother Tuvok as much as it should have.

“Mr. Paris, perhaps we could reschedule our meeting for the day after tomorrow, when the conference rooms will be free. I find that I am not feeling entirely well tonight.”

Paris gave him a patient look. “Cut the crap, Tuvok. We both know I didn't come here to talk holoprograms.”

Tuvok felt his lips purse and he drew away in instinctive defensiveness. “I am afraid that I do not quite follow.”

“Tuvok... if you were anyone else - anyone else -I would send you to... well, you. Or maybe Chakotay.”

Tuvok's heartbeat seemed to thump in triplets. His eyes narrowed.

Tom sighed. “But I get not wanting anyone to know. I really do. So... I'm all you've got, then.”

“I appreciate the sentiment, Mr. Paris, however-”

“It's not going to work, Tuvok.” Tom crossed his arms over his chest, but his expression was gentle... understanding.

“Excuse me?”

“Trying to meditate it out. Bottling it up. Just hoping that it will go away once you've put enough space between him and you. It's not going to fix itself.”

“Mr. Paris. Your attempts at comfort are laudable. They are, however, misdirected. I am quite well.”

Tom took a few steps closer to him and he automatically stepped back.

“Is that why you just about jump out of your skin anytime someone touches you?” Paris asked softly. He advanced again and Tuvok took another shuffled step backwards, aware that he was running out of room and already feeling trapped.

“I do not-”

“It will get worse, Tuvok. No one else has noticed yet, but they will. If you don't want to talk to me... go talk to the holodoc. Let me develop a program for you so you can do it yourself. But you've got to get this out, or it will start to decay inside of you. It will eat at your insides, pull you apart.”

“How would you know?” Tuvok snarled, heat boiling out of his chest to claw at his throat. Mechanically, he recognized that it was anger. No, it was fear.

Paris looked tired. “Like I said... I've out lapped you a few times in experience, Tuvok. I know it doesn't make it better, hearing that from me. I'm not saying that I know how to fix it. But I understand in a way most people will never understand, and I'm not going to let you fall apart right in front of me.”

There was silence for many long seconds. Tom looked utterly defeated, stood there with his arms away from his sides, wrists out. Tuvok realized that he was vulnerable, that the pilot had just opened up to him in a way he'd probably never opened himself to anyone. For one horrible second he wanted to pounce and tear that vulnerability out. He wanted to make Tom Paris bleed. For that horrible second, he blamed the human for everything – not just what had happened in the Ludrian jail, but everything.

Tuvok recognized the viciousness in himself and was shocked at it. Vulcan emotions ran so deep and strong that they had to be controlled or they spelled disaster. He hadn't realized that he had gotten so far out of control over such a short period of time. If Paris was right and it just got worse...

He bowed his head in acceptance, and for a moment he thought he was going to drown under it. It didn't feel better at all to accept it, he felt like he was suddenly standing at the edge of a cliff and staring across an endless ocean, knowing that he had to cross it and that he would have to swim the whole way.

“What do you propose?” he choked out, because if he didn't speak he was afraid he would be overwhelmed and never be able to again.

“A little unconventional therapy,” Tom answered. The man was obviously trying to keep his voice light and Tuvok clung to it like a safety line.

“I wasn't aware that you were a qualified therapist.”

Paris' lips twisted in a shallow smile. “I defy the man who says you have no sense of humor.”

Tuvok appreciated the attempt at levity, but said nothing. He eased around Paris and lowered himself slowly to the couch. After some hesitation, Tom sat at the other edge of the couch and Tuvok tried not to betray how irritated he was with the proximity.

“And what, in all of your wisdom, would you suggest we do now, Mr. Paris?” Tuvok inquired. He didn't look at his guest and kept his hands on his knees. If they were a little tighter than they needed to be, Tom didn't notice or mention it if he did.

“We're just going to sit here,” Tom said. His breath left his lungs in a sigh. “And you're going to tell me when you've had enough of me being here.” He gave the vulcan a weak smile.

“You are attempting to... acclimate me to physical proximity?” Tuvok guessed.

“You're a smart guy.”

Tuvok had to admit that it was a decent suggestion, but somehow knowing what was going on made him feel less at ease rather than more. Was this how Kes felt when he was pushing her to open her psychic abilities?

After a few minutes of tense silence, Tom drew a datapad out of his jacket and started to read aloud. “Call me Ishmael...”

~*STV*~

Tuvok arrived at the staff meeting a full thirty minutes early. He chose the seat at the end, furthest from the door and took out a datapad. He'd now undergone three of lieutenant Paris' 'unconventional therapy' sessions and was exhausted. Despite his best efforts to the contrary, things seemed to be getting still worse rather than better. On the second night, he allowed Paris to sit marginally closer to him, but was consumed for the entire hour by his presence.

He didn't exactly feel threatened by Tom Paris, but he was acutely aware of the space surrounding his own body. Anyone else in that space made him immediately uncomfortable. Last night he'd tried to force it himself, sitting less than a hand span from the pilot while the man read. He couldn't even hear the words over the pounding of his own heart and was forced to abandon the couch altogether a few minutes later. Paris' didn't even break his cadence while he gave Tuvok time to get himself together.

Now, less than twelve hours later, he was being subjected to a roomful of bodies. He eyed the chair next to him with some annoyance, knowing that the First Officer would probably take it. Since the Caretaker incident, his and Chakotay's relationship had been... strained. Tuvok believed that the First Officer was operating under the false assumption that Tuvok begrudged him the position. As Tuvok did not (normally) indulge in such as things as regret or bitterness, it was a patently false assumption, but it remained regardless. He had done his utmost best to put the commander's fears to rest with little success.

Tuvok was always a man who preferred his own space, but now that he wanted companionship less than usual, the commander apparently decided to make good on Tuvok's overtures. He knew, logically, that to do anything to dissuade the man would be deleterious to their future working relationship. He knew, logically, that the situation would be much improved once he overcame this pesky aversion to social contact.

What he knew logically didn't do him a lot of good lately.

He stared blankly at the pad in front of him, not seeing a word, but hoping that he would appear preoccupied and no one would think him any more approachable than usual.

The door opened and Tuvok's pulse quickened, but he maintained his occupied farce and didn't look up. The chair next to him shifted and he glanced up briefly, expecting to see commander Chakotay. Tom Paris was a strangely... welcome sight. Paris gave him a slight smile, little more than a twitch of the lips, and turned his attention to his own pad.

“You're certainly here early, Mr. Paris,” the commander greeted a moment later. The door closed behind him and he made his way to the chair opposite Tuvok.

“Well, stranger things have been known to happen,” Paris said dismissively, waving one hand in a flighty gesture.

“Not much stranger,” Chakotay returned. His voice was almost affectionate, and Tuvok noticed a mellowing of his attitude towards the pilot as well. Something about it made him feel... strange, almost possessive. His hands tightened on the pad, and he casually hid them in his lap before anyone could notice.

Tom engaged Chakotay's attention, keeping the commander from trying to draw Tuvok into conversation, and the rest of the bridge crew trickled in over the next few minutes. Harry immediately claimed the seat next to Tom and started up an animated conversation until the captain arrived and called the meeting to order.

Tuvok did his best to pay attention, but once his own report was delivered, he found his attention wandering.

Chakotay caught his eye. Smiled at him. Tuvok was suddenly frozen in rabbit-like terror and averted his gaze. Decades of conditioning kept his face clear of expression, but his hands tightened in his lap. A moment later, Paris' hand slowly covered his, hidden by the table and the twisted position of the pilot's chair. A part of Tuvok expected that he would be nervous at the contact, but he felt himself calming down and turned his hand over to curl his fingers around the pilot's.

The meeting passed without further incident and Tom remained in his seat and talked with Harry until Tuvok reluctantly released his hand.

~*STV*~

He was actually pacing – pacing- by the time Paris made it to his quarters, an hour later.

“I am sorry,” he said tightly as soon as the pilot made it through the door.

“For?” Tom asked quizzically. He moved straight for the couch, making no attempt to force contact or conversation on Tuvok if he didn't want it. The way Tom treated him enraged him – not because he didn't appreciate it, but because he needed it. He needed to be treated like... a wounded animal.

“The meeting. Your hand.”

Paris shrugged easily. “I gave it to you.”

“But I needed it!” He realized he was shouting, and the realization knocked some of the rage out of him. He felt thoroughly overwhelmed, felt like he was drowning and that Thomas Paris was the only thing that was holding him above water. He wondered with a sort of horror if he would end up dragging the pilot under with him.

“There's nothing wrong with needing some reassurance, Tuvok,” Tom said softly. His voice was earnest the way it normally wasn't; the other man usually tried so hard to keep his tone light.

“I can't control myself, and I don't understand. The commander just... he just smiled and I...” He took a slow breath. “I thought I was going to faint.”

Tuvok buried his hands in his short hair and pulled at it. “I should not be falling apart this way. My wounds have all healed, I will never see that man again! I have decades of training, I have been tortured and interrogated and made to play the role of a betrayer and I have never lost my control. Tell me why this is happening!” He rounded on Tom with a desperate look, wanting to beg the pilot to just take it all away, make it all better. Give him the answer.

“The wounds on the body are easy to heal,” Tom answered slowly. “Maybe that's what makes it all worse.” He shrugged slightly and his shoulders slumped when he let them fall. “A few minutes with a regenerator and all the physical evidence is gone, but the mental wounds are a lot more stubborn.”

Tuvok wasn't convinced. Paris leaned forward on his knees and fiddled with his own hands. “Correct me if I'm wrong, because I've never actually confirmed this with a vulcan,” he glanced up at Tuvok to make sure the man was paying attention. “I've been told that it's not that vulcans don't have emotions, just that they're so strong you have to control them or they're wild.”

Tuvok sat slowly in his desk chair. “That is accurate. We were a... very violent people before we learned to control our emotions.”

“Well, then considering the law of equal and opposite reactions, doesn't it make sense that when you do lose control, it goes everywhere? Since you've been repressing them for so long...”

Whereas nothing had been able to make Tuvok feel better for weeks, that simple statement did. It was logical, he could process it, understand it. By understanding it, he could accept it. Acceptance was the first step to control. His relief felt like a physical burden pulled off his shoulders.

“That is... an acceptable explanation, Mr. Paris. Furthermore, the bond I share with my wife has... long since been severed. Vulcan mates support each other in emotional control.”

Tom smiled weakly. “We'll get you through this, Tuvok. Promise.” He stood and moved slowly and casually towards the seated Vulcan. Tuvok felt his pulse jump like it always did, but when the pilot offered his hand, Tuvok accepted it. Tom sat at his feet, his arm draped across Tuvok's knees. Somehow, being up higher made Tuvok feel better, more in command of the situation.

Tom rested his head gently on Tuvok's knees and Tuvok reached out hesitantly to comb his fingers through the pilot's blond hair. For the first time in weeks, he felt like he was in control, and there was a sort of peace across the troubled waters of his mind.

End Notes:
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