"You can have the bed," Anna says, handing me a pair of flannel pajamas. "I'll bunk out on the sofa."
"Are you sure?" I ask. "I can sleep out there."
"I wouldn't feel right about it," Anna answers. "Uh, clean towels in this drawer and there's an extra blanket in the closet. It gets cold here at night - amazingly cold, sometimes, and the heat generators cannot compensate. I know how cold you get, so I just want you to be prepared."
"I'm sure I'll be fine."
"You'll let me know if you need anything?"
"Don't be shy, please."
"I won't be."
Anna leaves the room, closing the door behind her. I strip off my clothes, shivering slightly as I hurriedly pull on the pajamas. The pajamas are blue.
Blue, like Tom's pajamas.
I sit on the edge of the bed, hunched over as an unfamiliar ache invades my stomach, spreading up through my ribcage.
I didn't think I'd miss him.
Didn't think I'd need him.
I hate it when I'm wrong.
Those blue pajamas. The first time I saw him wearing them, Tom was half-asleep, and he rolled over sleepily when I curled up on the bed next to him.
"B'Elanna?" he whispered.
"Didn't think you were coming."
"Got off early," I whispered. I touched his cheek with my fingers, and then let my fingers run down his jaw, neck, shoulder. "I see you weren't expecting me."
He pulled my head down, his lips grazing my forehead and then more, hungrily, my lips.
"I'm glad you're here."
I started unbuttoning his shirt. "Nice color. New?"
"Replicated them yesterday. The other ones were... unusable."
Unusable because I had ripped them, unwittingly, in a moment of aggressive passion. Had leaped on him, bitten his neck, ignored his "B'Elanna!" before pushing him down onto the bed, unwilling to wait a moment more.
"I like them," I leaned over, planting a line of kisses down his chest. His fingers tangled in my hair, his big hand splayed on my back. "Nice choice."
He grunted as my fingers moved beneath the elastic waistband.
I like what's under them better," I whispered. Tom groaned, his grip on
my upper arm tightening as my fingers moved gradually
I jump at the sound of Anna's voice.
"Are you okay?" she asks, coming in. "Sorry to bother you, but I wanted to know if you needed a glass of milk or something else before bed."
"No," I answer hoarsely.
Anna stares down at me, her gray-blue eyes large with concern.
"You look sick," she says.
I straighten and lean back to turn down the comforter.
"You'll get used to it," Anna says for the millionth time. "I promise. You forget about old allegiances, old relationships - you build new ones."
"I don't intend to," I tell her furiously. "I'm not planning to stay here."
"Don't fight it, B'Elanna, it just makes things worse."
I scoot under the covers, rolling over onto my side purposely to avoid looking at Anna. She sighs audibly.
doesn't know how lucky he is," she says quietly. "You're throwing
yourself away on Tom Paris, B'Elanna. Herid, he adores you, and he would take care of you."
"I don't need anyone to take care of me," my temper flares up and I sit up. "And I'm not interested in Herid Jessup or anyone else for that matter. I've made a commitment, Anna, and I intend to honor that commitment."
"You make it sound like a business arrangement."
"I don't expect you to understand," I tell her. "You don't know Tom and you don't know anything about what we've - I've - been through in the last seven years. You, Herid, the others, you wouldn't say things like that if you knew."
Anna sits on the side of the bed, covering my hand with hers.
"Look, I only want what's best for you and I'm sorry we keep covering the same ground over and over. I want you to understand that I'm only looking out for you."
"Then you'll help me get out of here," I say softly. Anna looks off into the distance.
"There are some things you just have to accept," she says. "You think your Tom Paris can protect you when people find out you were a former Maquis fighter? I take that back. You are Maquis, you always will be. In the Federation's eyes, that will never change."
"Is that enough for you?"
Anna shakes her head.
"No," she says softly. "I just accepted it because... because I don't have any other options."
"I thought so," I roll over onto my back. "Anna, you have to help me. It's good to see everyone here again. I never thought that I would any of you, but my life has changed, diverged from yours, and I can't live like a prisoner. I know what you say about having freedom here, but that's not true."
"The Federation will hunt you down if you ever leave here."
"That doesn't matter."
pats my hand. "Think about it, B'Elanna. Seriously. And whatever
you decide, I will support you. You helped me once when I needed a friend, and I'll do the same for you."
Anna gets up and leaves, softly shutting the door behind her.
I stretch out, letting the tension ease from my tight muscles. I roll over, stare out at the silhouette of trees visible through the windows.
A chill hangs in the air, working its way beneath my skin and down to the bones.
The bed is large.
I have slept alone before, but not like this, never like this.
It was always something. His shift, my shift. Away missions, petty arguments, differing plans or sometimes, too tired to even think about making the trip to the other's quarters.
But I knew, always knew, that he would be back, that I would be back.
I wrap my arms around the other pillow, knowing that cotton and feathers are poor substitutes for a warm body.
It's amazing where you find yourself when you're looking for comfort.
I'll be honest; I never willingly seek comfort. Hell, I love to suffer. If I could, I would hold everything inside of me, letting problems fester until acidity burned through my stomach lining.
It's easier to be quiet than to let someone else in.
So I end up here, on the holodeck, mourning a man whom I never really knew.
I could make a list about my father, a list of adjectives, and that wouldn't help.
Authoritative. Stern. Cold. Unforgiving. Aggressive. Dedicated. Proud. Arrogant.
My heart wants to believe that he did love me, did care for me; Janeway said that he did.
And now, I will never know.
I didn't really think, when I picked the program. My fingers punched in the code absently and I was here, suddenly, on the beaches of St. Thomas, Virgin Islands - B'Elanna's one and only attempt at creating a holodeck fantasy world for the two of us.
Oh God, B'Elanna.
We've been in this situation before. Back when she and Harry were missing, yeah, I ached for them then. I had spent hours just staring out of the windows, wondering where in space were B'Elanna Torres and Harry Kim. And even when I knew I should give up, when the Captain and Chakotay had all but given up, I couldn't.
I knew they were out there.
Stories, even ones staring Tom Paris, have happy endings. I imagine I'm going to ride off into the sunset, with B'Elanna of course, and we'll have our beautiful castle up on a mountain. Night will bleed into day, sun melting and fading with each passing moment; and we would be there, to admire it all.
Of course, that's the story I tell myself.
And some days, I believe that "happily ever after" will happen.
It's just a matter of believing and caring enough.
I'm sitting about five or six meters from the water, my pant cuffs rolled up past the ankle, my boots and socks to the side.
The doors swish open behind me but I don't turn.
"Interesting," Harry says. "I thought I'd find you here, but didn't quite think I'd find you at the beach."
"I wanted to be somewhere warm."
"Is that right?" Harry drags a lawn chair over to me. "This is B'Elanna's program, isn't it?"
"Yeah, how do you know?"
"She showed it to me when she was designing it. She needed help with some of the parameters," he says. "It's a great program, really authentic."
"Take your shoes off," I say. "It's okay to get sand between your toes."
"I'm going on duty in twenty minutes."
I pull my knees up my chest, wrapping my arms around my legs. Harry places a light hand on my shoulder. A slight squeeze and then he pulls his hand away.
"You okay? You walked off the Bridge, almost as if you'd seen a ghost."
"I suppose the Captain told you."
"She told all of us. Are you all right?"
"This isn't the time to be brave, Tom."
I release my legs, stretch them in front of me, and lean back on my hands. The wind is soft, warm, a breath upon my sweaty skin.
"It's okay to feel something," Harry continues. "Your father is dead."
"You don't have to tell me, I know."
"What do you want?"
"Maybe some emotion?" Harry asks. "Maybe some indication that you care beneath all of that bravado? Are you even alive in there?"
I hold out my hand. "Take my pulse."
"I don't know why I try," Harry says. "You're my friend and I care about you, care about what happens to you, even if you don't."
I pick up a handful of sand and let it flow between my fingers.
"I appreciate it, Harry. Really. I just can't talk about it right now."
"The way you left, Tom, I wasn't sure that you were going to be okay."
"I'm fine," I repeat. "Everything is fine."
Harry gets up. I only look up when I sense Harry is really leaving.
"What is it?"
"I don't know what to say because I don't know what to feel."
"That's all right."
"What do you do when your father dies?"
"I don't know."
"It's not real, Harry. In some ways, I feel like we're still in the Delta Quadrant and that opportunities to talk to him still exist."
"It's only been an hour, Tom. Let it sink in."
"I don't want it to sink in!" I slam my fist into the palm of my right hand. "Harry, it wasn't supposed to happen like this."
"Hey!" Harry's back at my side, his wide face etched with concern. His hair lops crazily over his brow, like it always does when he is stressed. He gives me a hand and I pull myself up.
"It's okay, Tom."
"There were things I wanted to say," I say. "Things I wanted to know."
The sun is a horizontal sliver in the distance, its golden hues running into lavender and periwinkle. The waves lap gently at the beach, each time inching closer to where we stand.
"High tide," I say.
"Looks like it."
More silence; Harry shifts from foot to foot.
"What?" I turn to face him.
"You're a mess," Harry observes. "I hope you don't plan to track sand all over the ship. Commander Chakotay had the carpets cleaned."
I laugh. So like Harry to be so fastidious, so anally neat and conscientious. As it is, he is already inspecting his uniform for traces of sand.
"Wasn't planning on it," I say.
"I'm due on the Bridge," he says. "If you need to talk, I'm here for you."
His voice is so earnest, so filled with care and a drop of anxiety, that I can't help but feel a bit of tenderness for my friend; he means well even if I don't want to be comforted.
"I appreciate that."
With Harry gone, I sit myself on the edge of the lawn chair.
Memories blur together, fading and phasing into each other, colliding into a patchwork of crazy images. My father taking me to the aerospace museum, my father teaching me to how to ride a bicycle, my father helping me with homework, my father talking about Starfleet...
I cover my face with my hands and inhale deeply. My shoulders hunch up and then lower as I exhale.
"It's all right, Tom," I say out loud. "It's all right.
Part VI ****
I lie in bed, my eyes closed against the sunlight streaming mercilessly into the room. I hear Anna in the other room, moving around, but I don't have the effort to leave my warm bed. I curl up tighter into a ball, wrapping myself around the pillow.
I don't know what I'm waiting for.
Seems like I'm perpetually waiting.
Waiting for my father who never came back.
Waiting for my mother to love me back.
Waiting for Chakotay to look at me the way I would sometimes catch him looking at Seska, and then later, Janeway.
Waiting for Tom to care for me the way I cared for him.
Waiting to be a priority for someone, anyone.
When I asked Tom to marry me, I was issuing a challenge. For three years, I had let him do the things he wanted to do, let him spend hours in that Fair Haven program or the Captain Proton program or working on that damned car of his.
Once, he asked me to come to Fair Haven with him and he even brought the costume: a maroon calico-patterned dress, complete with corset, parasol and petticoats. He sat on the edge of the bed as I yanked on the stiff black boots that completed the outfit.
"How do I fasten these?" I demanded, staring down at the metal buckles.
"With this," Tom handed me a thin metal object with a hook at the end of it. "It's called a buttonhook."
I struggled for a bit and then hurled the contraption across the room.
"I'm an engineer," I said crossly. "Not some fashion model from the 1800s."
"Humor me." Tom retrieved the buttonhook. "Here, let me do those for you."
He expertly fastened my boots and then helped me to my feet.
"You look cute," Tom said. He brushed my hair behind my ears and then kissed me lightly.
"This better be worth it," I told him. "The shoes hurt."
"You'll love it."
walked down to the holosuite together and I was profoundly annoyed by my hoop
skirts knocking against the corridor walls. In fact, there was barely enough
room in the turbolift for Tom, me
and the skirt.
"For what it's worth, thank you," Tom reached over and grabbed my hand, squeezing it tightly.
"Thank you for what?"
"For coming with me," he hesitated. "I know you wanted to work on that new shielding alignment project, and this puts you off schedule. So, thank you."
I admit; I saw the genius in Fair Haven, saw the carefully crafted details from the smell of freshly turned earth to the buttons on Miss Molly's dress, and I could see, from the energy in his step, that Tom was perfectly and wonderfully at ease here. He grabbed my arm, pulling me in all directions, gesturing wildly, and his voice would rise and fall in excitement every time he noticed something, like the geraniums blooming outside the church or the rank smell of fermenting hops.
There was a sparkle in his eyes, a joy that I had not noticed before. And when he was staring at the bartender, Michael Sullivan, I suddenly became aware of Tom's sense of accomplishment, his proprietary feelings towards this particular program. With each gulp of beer, Tom seemed to be proclaiming, with body language and facial expressions, "I made this, this is mine."
And even when the music started and Tom led me out onto the narrow dance floor, his arms securely around my waist, I got the feeling that it didn't matter who Tom was dancing with that night; I could be Miss Molly and he wouldn't know the difference.
We spent the night, or part of it, in Fair Haven, at the hotel above Michael Sullivan's bar. Tom undressed me with an expertise that both thrilled and shocked me; his cool fingertips ran down my spinal cord as he slowly pushed the dress off of my shoulders. I stood there, in petticoats and boots, feeling woefully unclothed. My mind flashed back to the image of Tom fastening my stiff, black leather boots expertly, and more importantly, the skill with which he wielded that confounded buttonhook.
"Have you done this before?" my voice trembled in anticipation of his response. Tom's fingers, working the strings of the corset loose, stopped.
"What are you talking about?" he asked. His voice sounded distant, very far away, and it made me wonder if I really wanted to hear his answer.
A few moments more and then he released my body from the offending garment. I took in a deep breath, and then Tom's hands were against my stomach and then moving up to breasts and finally, he turned me around so that I was facing him.
"Isn't this perfect?" he whispered and then his lips claimed mine.
Tom loved me that night, I'm sure of it.
I didn't go back to Fair Haven after that one time, but Tom, Harry and the Captain continued to go. Other crewmembers, including Seven, would visit from time to time, but Tom never asked me again and I never volunteered.
Sometimes, when Tom was working on the Camaro, I'd sit on a lopsided stool and watch him. He would talk about concepts I dimly understood - catalytic converter, fuel gauges - while my eyes would glaze over. Sometimes, we would cuddle in the back of the car and invariably, his eyes would meet mine, our lips would glue together, and our bodies would join; and just like so many times before, we would not talk. There were only brief words, phrases - "More," "Harder," "That's right," "Please."
As for the Captain Proton simulation, he only asked me to come once. I reviewed the storyline for that day and got dressed. On my way to the holodeck though, I caught a glimpse of Jenny and Megan Delaney, both dressed in form fitting black leather; their outfits left nothing, from curves to the length of leg, to imagination. They were laughing and talking about a previous Captain Proton adventure where Jenny's character had had Captain Proton.
"He does kiss wonderfully, doesn't he?" Jenny giggled.
"Tom, you mean? Or Harry?" Megan asked.
"Tom, of course," Jenny replied as the two of them entered the turbolift.
I didn't need to know more. I went back to my quarters, put my uniform back on and headed to Engineering.
Tom never asked why I didn't come and painfully, it occurred to me that he had not missed me.
Had not missed me because he had enjoyed the company of the leather encased Delaney Twins.
Lest it seem like Tom and I were completely at odds with each other, we did have our good times, truly we did. It would be wrong to say otherwise.
I think our moments of true synergy were on the Delta Flyer; Tom loved that little ship, truly did, and it was an enormous sacrifice for him to give it up during our little trip over to the Borg cube. When it came to the Flyer, it was always, "B'Elanna, what do you think about...?" or "B'Elanna, is it possible...?"
And when he forgot about dinner because he was busy saving the world in the Captain Proton universe, I bit my lip, blinked several times, and then put my tray away, knowing that that this episode of forgetfulness symbolized Tom's nature - unreliable and single-minded. Sometimes, he would remember that he had stood me up and would arrive bearing roses; other times, he would crawl into bed with me, pleading in that soft, seductive voice of his until I gave in.
The times when he did not remember, that was what wounded the most. I would lie in bed, wondering if he was coming, or I would throw myself into the most terrible of romance novels because I could not face going out, knowing that the crew would look at me knowingly and say in their soft, pitying tones: "Tom forgot... again."
There wasn't a moment when I didn't love Tom. And it didn't necessarily bother me when I knew he was being insensitive or remote, cutting himself off from me and hiding what he should have been sharing.
Maybe I should have said something, but I was so afraid of losing Tom, so afraid that one cross word from me would send him back into the arms of the Delaney twins or some holographic beauty, that I kept my jealousy from ever taking verbal form.
So I said nothing and hoped, desperately, that he would see me, love me, the way I did him.
The intensity of my feelings for him scared me on occasion, sometimes knocking me right off of my feet, and forcing me to turn away from him; I knew it was wrong to shut him out, but I couldn't help myself.
And when he would pilot the Delta Flyer, or walk the streets of Fair Haven, there was this expression on his face - one of utter contentment - and I never saw him look at me quite the same way.
One night, maybe a day or two before I left for the Borg cube, I watched Tom sleep. He was on his side, his body facing mine, face flushed slightly. His hair was rumpled and the top two buttons of his shirt had come undone. I smoothed away the hair from his brow, feeling a slight dampness on my palm and then very gently, buttoned up his shirt. I leaned over and kissed his cheek lightly.
"I love you," I whispered.
I said those words even though I knew he wouldn't say them back to me.
I didn't know what he would say when I proposed, didn't know if he would agree; I saw the doubt in his eyes and wondered if I had been wrong all along. Maybe this was all a game to Tom. Maybe it was just sex and I, I just happened to be convenient.
But he said yes.
That moment, that singular moment, changed everything. We were stuck with each other; he with my engines and schematics, and I with his Fair Haven program.
In sickness and health, in richer or poorer, 'til the Federation do us part.
The sunlight presses against my eyelids and I reluctantly open them, finally ready to face the day. I roll onto my back, and a second later, Anna comes in.
"Good morning," she says cheerfully. "I brought you a sweater; it's cold today."
"Yes, thank you."
"No need to thank me, B'Elanna," Anna says. "We'll be here a long time and the gratitude routine will get repetitious after a while."
"No need to apologize. Listen, I'm going to go down to the meeting hall and get some breakfast. You can join us there when you're ready. Shower is through that door, if you need to. I'll warn you though, the hot water tends to run cold after more than five or six minutes."
"I won't need more time than that."
"All right. I'll see you in a bit."
I sit up, swing my legs over to the side of the bed and walk to the windows; already, the colony is bustling with activity. There is purpose and energy to movements, a briskness and a lightness of step that perplexes and satisfies me both.
I let the curtain fall and pick up the clothes Anna left for me on the dresser. The shower is small, barely big enough to turn around in, but the pressure feels good against my skin and the water warms me.
When I last saw Tom, he was fighting with a Starfleet security guard; he wanted to see me, that much I could understand. And I watched as they dragged him unceremoniously out of the room, but not before I caught the last words he had for me.
I love you, he mouthed.
The water turns tepid, just as Anna predicted. I linger beneath the cooling water for only a moment more before turning off the shower.
I love you, he said.
I wrap myself in a towel.
It's amazing how three one-syllable words can make all of those things - those little irritants - that bothered me about Tom disappear.
I had always suspected, but had never been sure.
And now, now I know.
Go to Part V
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