Lines in the Sand: The Darkest Hour, part VIII

by Seema

It is a position not unfamiliar to me; cheek in mud, ankle throbbing and cold biting down to the bone. I pull myself along the ground on my elbows. My stomach growls; I haven't eaten since breakfast, and even then, given my short fuse with Chakotay, I hadn't eaten much.

The sliver of moon, visible earlier, has now disappeared behind the ever-shifting clouds.
I am now convinced that something has happened to Jessup; there is no way he would have left me here.

I haul myself to a sitting position and check the tricorder; I'm headed in the right direction. In the distance, I hear the howls of wild animals, the chirp of insects and the whistle of wind through the leaves. The wind is sharp, biting, and I can't stop shivering. I get to my feet, trying hard not to put weight on the hurt ankle, and hobble forward, leaning on trees for support. I trip and land face down in a puddle.

I don't have enough spirit to get to my feet. I can't feel my fingers and my knees are sore from the falls. I curl into a fetal position on the ground in an attempt to get warm and it's then, I hear the footsteps. I push myself up.

"Tom?" I whisper.

"Hi," he says in that low purr of his. He kneels next to me. "What have you gotten yourself into now, B'Elanna?"

"You got my message," I say.

"Of course I did. I came right away."

"I knew you'd come."

"No, you didn't. You didn't think I would, but you wanted to try anyway. If I didn't show up, it would prove that you were right, that Chakotay was right," Tom sighs heavily. He places his palms on his thighs, but makes no move to help me out of my cold and wet misery.

"I never know with you, Tom. Sometimes you make me feel like I'm the only person in your entire world and other times, I'm like a statue you put up on a mantel, someone you take down on occasion to dust. I never know where I stand with you."

"Don't doubt me. Not now, B'Elanna. Believe me when I tell you that I would never leave you."

His face is in shadows and he does nothing to help me up, but I do not care.

"How long have I been here?" I ask.

"A few days."

"Feels longer than that."

"You've been under a lot of stress."

"Do you know what's going on?"

Tom shakes his head. "Sorry, no. I'm in the dark, just like you."

"I want this to be over."

"I know."

I reach out a hand but he doesn't take it.

"I've missed you," I tell him. "There are things, things I haven't told you."

"It's all right. I know."

"No, you don't. Now that you're here, we can have some time. Alone."

"That sounds nice."

"We didn't have a proper honeymoon. Maybe now?"

"A terrific idea," Tom's voice is enthusiastic. "I've already thought of something."

"What is it?"

"Chicago, 1940s."


"In one of those old grand hotels. Think of it, B'Elanna. High ceiling lobbies with brilliant red carpet. Curving staircases with finely carved walnut banisters. When you come down the stairs, all eyes will be on you."

"What will I be wearing?"

"Something red. It's already designed for you. You just need to put it on."

"Sounds lovely. What else?"

"There will be a band. Big band, to be precise. We will swing the night away."


"A style of dancing. Don't worry, I'll teach you. You'll love it."

"What about my ankle?"

"You think we'd let a silly ankle injury get in the way of our honeymoon? You forget whom you're talking to B'Elanna. I'm Tom Paris, medical assistant extraordinaire."

"You're a nurse."

I can hear the smile in his voice. "It's all semantics, B'Elanna."

"I like our honeymoon already. Tell me about our room."

"It will be on the top floor so we'll have a view of the city. There will be a fireplace and we'll keep it lit all night."

"That sounds wonderful."

"And the bed, it will be a canopy bed, big enough to spread out."

"That sounds cozy."

"Feather pillows, B'Elanna, and a soft comforter."

"I do like it."


"Yes, really."

"That's what I was thinking," Tom says in that soft voice that I love so much. "But then I thought maybe you'd want to do something else."

I am surprised, pleasantly. I am used to Tom making the arrangements, deciding what we're going to do; occasionally, I will choose a program on the holodeck, but for the most part, he makes the decisions and I go along with him.

"Like what?" I ask.

"Well," Tom says. "We could take a shuttle and see if we can't find a nice M-class planet somewhere. One with a long strip of unspoiled beach and plenty of warm sun."

"I like that."

"I thought you might. And the water, it would be a perfect twenty-two degrees."

"You've thought of everything."

"Including a room on the water," Tom says sotto voce. "Doors open right to the beach. There's plenty of fresh air. Plus, it's quiet and secluded. The ideal spot for two people who haven't had a lot time to spend together."

"That's sweet."

"You deserve this vacation, B'Elanna. I know things haven't been easy for you lately and I know you've been under a lot of stress. This vacation would be exactly what you - we - need."

I pull myself upright, leaning sideways against the tree. Tom's face is blurry and I wish there were more light, something more than the eerie halo of the moon.

"I've been studying star maps, B'Elanna, and I think I've found the perfect spot," Tom goes on, his voice filled with enthusiasm.

"When do we leave?"

"You just need to get to your feet, B'Elanna. If you just get up, we can go. I've already packed our bags."

"I'm trying, Tom, really, I am."

He sighs, heavily. I know that sigh, the one that says he's irritated with me, the one he breathes when I'm being particularly difficult or obtuse.

"I'm sorry," I tell him. "Sorry for everything."

"It's all right. Don't worry. We'll get you out of here."

"You'll have to help me. I can't walk."

"I forgot the medkit. I'll have to go back and get it," Tom stands up. I reach out, reach for his leg.

"Don't leave me," I say. "I'm so cold, so tired, don't leave me here."

"I'll be right back."

"No," I try to grab a handful of the black material of his pants in my hand and come away with nothing.

He is gone.

"Tom?" I call. And then louder, "Tom! Tom!"

I get to my feet and I see a shadow disappearing into the trees. I hop in that direction.

"Tom," I say.

The shadowy figure pauses only for a moment.

"Get up, B'Elanna," the figure with Tom's face and voice says. "Don't give up, not this time, not ever."

And then he is gone.



Janeway's voice is a bucket of cold water, almost like your parents intruding on you and your date on Lover's Lane. I jerk back and turn my chair to face the Captain.

"Yes?" I ask.

"It's Harry," she says. I take a look at the small view screen; Harry smiles back at me, wearing
his very best "I'm in command now" expression.

"Hi," I say to my friend.

"How are you?"

"Stir crazy. You know how it is to spend prolonged time on the Delta Flyer."

"Don't remind me," Harry laughs. "Replicators down, sonic showers offline, dirty dishes in the recycler..."

"Harry, what's going on?" Janeway interrupts, evidently not appreciating the trip down memory lane.

"We received a transmission. Morse code," he says. "From B'Elanna."

"B'Elanna?" I look at Janeway. "Are you sure? She doesn't know Morse code."

Hell, B'Elanna only visited the monochromatic world of Captain Proton that one time to encourage me to take a stand for the Moneans. I considered that one of our good periods, when we were actually making time for each other and were making an effort to compromise; but even then, B'Elanna had no use for role-playing games. I could tell from the slight sneer of her lips, the
flared nostrils, that she clearly resented the time I spent on the holodeck and especially, she mocked the idea of dressing up as an archaic hero from the comic books.

I'd given her the story line once, along with a role, given her a time to meet, but she had placed the PADD aside, promising to look at it a future time; she never showed up and I never asked.

But I've learned, many times over the past seven years, not to underestimate B'Elanna Torres.

"Positive," Harry says. "It's her. Short, sweet, to the point."

"What does the message say?" Janeway asks.

"She and Chakotay are fine," Harry says. "They are on Alonius Prime."

Janeway, Tuvok and I exchange looks; lady luck is certainly shining on us today.

"And we're only a few hours away," I note.

"This is indeed good news," Tuvok says in typical Vulcan neutrality.

"Anything else, Harry?" Janeway asks.

"Seven has been analyzing the logs from Starbase 87," Harry says. "I think she has something to share with you."

A second later, Seven's aquiline features appear on the viewscreen.

"I have been working to decipher the origin of the Maquis release order," she says.

"It's not important," I say. "We've found B'Elanna, Chakotay and the others."

"Mr. Paris," Janeway says in a warning tone that I know oh too well. Sometimes, my father would speak to me in that voice and I would cringe, hearing only the tone, not the words. He could sing a song using that tone and I would still believe myself to be in for dire punishment.

"Sorry," I answer automatically.

"I used a recursive algorithm to trace the path of the original message," Seven says.

"We already know that," I say. "It came from the console of a dead man. So what?"

"Mr. Paris, some patience would benefit you greatly," Tuvok says.

Seven's sigh is audible as she glares at us.

"That is what someone intended for us to believe," Seven says. "The encryption code identifying that particular workstation was forged. That much is obvious. I have found the original workstation."

"How?" I ask. "I was working on that and it seemed to be an absolute dead end."

"The solution is simple, Lieutenant," Seven says. "I simply traced the route of the release order. When a message is rerouted through the system, it is necessary to route the message through many different hosts. In a normal circumstance, the packet of information would have gone a direct route. However, in this case, the message did not follow the proper protocols," Seven pauses. "The message was intentionally sent through different hosts, with the instructions to mask its presence at the previous host when it arrived at the new host. However, each time the message arrived at its destination, the systems automatically sent a notification back to the previous routing machine."

"Like letting that machine know that it had arrived at the next destination?" I ask.

"Very parental, if you ask me," Harry scoffs.

"That's Starfleet for you," I add in.

Seven ignores Harry and me and continues on her dissertation.

"Due to the randomly changing source addresses, each delivery notification failed," Seven continues. "I simply collected all of those failed notices, noted the addresses and composed an algorithm that simply predicted the possible routing of this message, given the address encryptions on the failure notifications. In this way, I was able to reconstruct the original trail."

"Good work, Seven," Janeway says.

"What did you find?" Tuvok asks.

"The release order came from Admiral Paris."

I lean back in my chair.

"What are you saying, Seven?" Janeway's voice is sharp.

"I do not believe translation is necessary. Admiral Paris ordered the release of the Maquis prisoners and for their removal to Alonius Prime."

"How?" I ask. "Why?"

"I did ask him to help," Janeway muses.

I'm still in shock. My father, not known for his technological aptitude, had somehow managed to route an order in such a way as to appear to come from someone else. The question begs to be
asked: why the subterfuge?

"You asked him to intercede with the Federation," Tuvok points out. "You did not ask him to release the Maquis, correct?"

"I asked him to make sure that the Maquis were treated fairly and honorably, given their service on Voyager. You are sure this message originated from Admiral Paris?" Janeway asks.

"I have retrieved all of Admiral Paris' logs," Seven responds, visibly insulted that Janeway would doubt her work. "It was cleverly done, but the binary signature of his logs are identical to those of the release logs. The Admiral neglected to match that particular signature to that of Lieutenant Sullivan's logs. In addition, I have found correspondence from Lieutenant Sullivan in Admiral Paris' system."

I'm still unable to speak, unable to digest what Seven is saying. Somehow, my proud, upstanding, morally uptight father is linked to this whole sorry mess.
And I thought the Delta Quadrant was peculiar.

"How was this possible?" Tuvok asks.

"It appears that Admiral Paris used a simple client-server protocol to log on to Lieutenant Sullivan's workstation," Seven continues. "With his security clearance, he was able to feed it the proper protocols in order to reroute the message. He disabled Lieutenant Sullivan's host machine so he could impersonate that machine's identification number to send the message. Leaving the lieutenant's machine online would have made the subsequent forgery impossible to send."

I sit back in my chair, absolutely stunned. As a child, you understand your parents to be simple people. It is difficult to understand that they might have had a life before you and it's even more difficult to see them as individuals with their own skills and personalities. You don't see things about your parents because you are so engrossed in your own life, your wants and needs.

And when something - something like this - comes up, you can only wonder if you ever knew your parent. It's only now that I realize that my father may have been someone more than the strict, authoritative Starfleet "yes" man. And in a way, it hurts, hurts so much that he is dead and there could have been so much more for me to discover about him.

I inhale deeply.

"Is there anything else?" Janeway asks crisply.

"Just the logs, Captain," Harry says. "We thought, um, that Tom would like to, um, go through them. We noticed some personal logs, including a message for Tom."

Janeway looks over at me. "Okay with you, Lieutenant?"

"Fine." There's a desert in my mouth, the Sahara, to be exact. I swallow hard, but there is no saliva for moisture.

"Uploading to the Delta Flyer now," Seven says. While my console is busy, I take the time to escape to the replicator and get a glass of water. I gulp it down, trying to block out Tuvok and Janeway's conversation. Seven inserts her own two cents every now and then, her precise words tight and inflexible in the narrow confines of the Delta Flyer. There is no room for anything with Seven, no emotion, no judgement, no error. You get what you see with her and nothing more.

She could easily walk over a corpse and not feel a shiver up her spine.

I take a deep breath and head back to my seat.

"Admiral McArthur has been trying to contact you. He's getting impatient," Harry says. "And you also have some confidential messages from Starfleet Headquarters. I'm transmitting them to you now."

"Thank you," Janeway says. Her tone implies that Admiral McArthur deserves nothing less than her complete and total ignorance. If only the rest of us could be so lucky. Anything else, Harry?"

"Not right now."

"Keep us informed. Delta Flyer out."

Harry and Seven disappear from our viewscreens. Janeway and Tuvok are both profoundly quiet, their silence telling. I imagine they are waiting for me to speak, maybe for me to reveal something about my father and his odd connection to the Maquis. But the truth is, I don't have any idea.

The last time I saw my father was right after the hearing about Caldik Prime. He looked at me, his gaze steely and uncaring. We stood in the hallway, right after it had been announced that my Starfleet career was over, and even though we were only a meter apart, it might as well have been a thousand light years. My father was wearing his dress uniform as if he felt the need to be formal and dignified at the unceremonious departure of his only son from Starfleet.

"Say something," I implored. For once in my life, I wanted my father to be soft; I didn't want a hero, I wanted a father.

He looked right through me. Honestly. His gaze went through skin, bones, heart, lungs, and right out the other side.

"I never expected this of you, Tom," my father said. "What you did, it was a disgrace to the Paris name."

"It was an accident!" I nearly screamed the words. People in the hallway stopped and stared, but I didn't care. I wanted everyone to know that I hadn't meant Caldik Prime to happen; I only wanted to try something new. Did they really think I meant for people to die? Did everyone who had ever come in contact with me think so little of me?

"You disappoint me," my father said.

You disappoint me. Not "You disappointed me and now you're forgiven," but no, the words were coolly stated in the present tense. You disappoint me.

With that, my father turned away from me and walked out of my life, the heels of his shiny black
Starfleet boots echoing with each step.

"Tom, I can take over," Janeway says kindly.

"Thanks," I get up from my seat. I appreciate her offer because I do want to read my father's last words in private. Maybe there is something there I can salvage.

I'd hate for my last memory of my father to be that encounter in the hallway.
Janeway puts her hand on my arm.

"Something wrong, Tom?" she asks.

I think she knows. I offer a weak semblance of a smile.

"You're wrong," she says. "Trust me on this one."

"I hope you're right."

"I know I am. I saw him, Tom, and I talked to him."

"I would hate for him to have died thinking I'm a disappointment."

"He didn't. You've got to believe me. I wouldn't lie to you, Tom. Not about this."
"But about other things?" I tease her because a lump is forming in my throat. Another bit of kindness from her and I will probably start bawling right there.

And that's one thing I learned from my father: Paris men don't cry.


The heat is oppressive. I roll over onto my back and stare up into red-tinged sky. The orange clouds are raining, misting in hues of pinks and mandarins. I get to my feet. Around me, the trees are singed, the tops of them burned off. All around me, lava flows.

I take a step back; amazingly, my ankle is completely healed.

"B'Elanna Miral puqbe!"

I turn. A heavy set Klingon faces me, holding up a bat'leth.

"Daughter of Miral, defend yourself!" he yells.

"Who are you?"

"You know who I am."


"Very good."

"Where am I?"

"You've been here before."

I look around and recognize the flowing rivers of blood and lava. The heat wraps itself around me, making it difficult to even breathe. Under my feet, the ground heaves and I realize that the solid feeling of earth is gone, replaced by metal grid flooring.

"gre'thor," I say. "Why did you bring me here? I have redeemed my mother's honor."

"Who says we brought you here for your mother?"

"Then why did you bring me here?"

"Defend yourself!" Kortar twirls the bat'leth with amazing skill. He lunges toward me, but I duck out of his way.

"Who is it?" I pant. "Please, tell me! Is it my mother? Did I not do everything required?"

"Your mother? Ha!"

The voice comes from behind me; I turn. It's a Cardassian boy, his facial ridges still soft and forming.

"Do you remember me, B'Elanna Torres?" he taunts. "You who deprived my mother of her pride and joy? You who are responsible for the tears my mother sheds each night? Do you remember me as my mother surely remembers you?"

"What are you doing here?"

"You killed me without thinking twice," the boy continues. "Do you think of me at night? Do I haunt your dreams? Do I disturb your sleep?"

"Go away!" I scream. "Go!"

"Defend yourself!" the Cardassian raises a disrupter, but his hand is sliced off with a clean sweep of the bat'leth. The Klingon laughs as the Cardassian screams, as blood drips from the stub of his arm.

"Thank you," I say. "I think."

From my last visit to gre'thor, I know that death here is possible. At least then, I knew what I was dying for; at this moment, I am completely baffled.

"You are not finished, daughter of Miral," the Klingon growls. "You have dishonored your family name. You are no warrior."

"I am a warrior!"

"quv Hutlh HoHbogh tlhIngan 'ach qabDaj 'angbe'bogh!"

My mind stumbles over the words as I mentally translate: A Klingon does not kill without showing his face.

"That's not true!" I scream. "I never did that!"

"Do you remember this?"

A second later we are transported to a forest, lush and green. The Cardassians are camped around a fire and a second later, an explosive tears the reptilian humanoids apart at the cellular level.

"What do you say now, daughter of Miral?" Kortar taunts.

"They would have killed us! If we didn't strike first, if we didn't hit them hard first, they would have taken us! The Cardassians showed us no mercy!"

"You say that even as you struck down a defenseless boy!"

"He was not defenseless! He would have killed my friends! nIteb Qob qaD jup 'e' chaw'be' SuvwI'!"

Kortar's fat lips turn up into a sneer.

"Well said, daughter of Miral. A warrior does not let a friend face danger alone. So you call yourself a warrior now, do you? Have you achieved the honor necessary? I doubt it!" he snarls.

"You know I did! I would have died for my mother!"

"And what about them?" Kortar waves his arm and all of a sudden, there are hundreds of humanoids surrounding us. All of them wear the armor of the Borg, but their faces, their faces are their own. They are all holding their hands out to me, their voices rising and falling as one.

"B'Elanna Torres!" they chant my name. "Remember us?"

"Who are they?" I look desperately at Kortar. Sweat runs down my back as I survey the group surrounding me. I turn around, nearly making myself dizzy.

"We were individuals," the crowd chants.

"I didn't have control over my actions! I tried not to!" I scream at Kortar. He shrugs and holds up the bat'leth again.

"B'Elanna, daughter of Miral, defend yourself!"

"No!" I scream. I drop to my knees. There are more people here now and some of them are wearing
Starfleet uniforms. A few of them are holding glasses.

"Here's to B'Elanna Torres," one Starfleet officer holds up a glass. "She talks about honor but does not know the meaning of the word."

"Hear, hear!" another voice chimes in. "She has left a trail of blood in her wake and thinks nothing of it."

"Why are you doing this to me?" I yell.

A familiar figure rises up from the mists, standing much taller than her 1.5 meters. Her straggly gray hair hangs past her shoulders, her eyes narrow, and she takes a few strides towards me.

"Grandmother!" I scream.

"muHlIj DawIvpu', vaj yISuv!" my grandmother says severely. "You have made your choice, now you must deal with the consequences of your actions. Can you do that, B'Elanna? For me?"

"I accept what I have done, Grandmother," I say.

"Have you?" the Starfleet chorus chants as one. "B'Elanna Torres, Maquis rebel, Borg drone, engineer, daughter, lover..."

"Or do you believe what you want to believe?" my grandmother's question is soft, tender - much like she was, despite that tough Klingon exterior. There were times when my mother was my only comfort, the only one who truly loved me. But now, dressed all in black against the backdrop of flames, she looks menacing.

"may'meyDajvo' Haw'be' tlhIngan," Kortar says. He drops his bloody bat'leth and extends his

hand. "A Klingon doesn't postpone a matter of honor. B'Elanna Torres, will you let us help you?"
I take his hand and pull myself up. New faces have appeared in the crowd. Chakotay, Janeway, Neelix, Tuvok, Harry, Tom and Seven. They are all leering at me. Tuvok is shaking his head.

"If only you would meditate," he says.

"If only you would listen to me," Chakotay says.

"I can help you, B'Elanna," Neelix comments.

"You push me away," Tom says.

Seven shrugs. "This discussion is irrelevant. You are irrelevant."

"I'm your friend," Harry puts in.

I turn to Kortar.

"Make them stop," I tell him. "Please."

The Borgified individuals surge towards me, a wave of blinking lights and body armor, their tubules extended in pre-assimilation mode. I back away. Kortar spins his bat'leth.

"Defend yourself!"

"Stop saying that!"

"Defend yourself!"

"I can't! I'm tired! I don't want to do this anymore! Please!" I brace myself against the railing. On the other side, the rivers of lava flow; foul smelling steam drifts up to sting my nostrils. I lean over the railing. All I have to do is sit on it and release my grip.

"What are you doing?" Tom screams as I heave myself up.

"There is only one B'Elanna Torres!" Janeway insists.

"Redeem your honor!" Kortar bellows. Beneath me, the railing is unpleasantly warm.

"How? I don't know!"

""QaghmeylIj tIchID, yIyoH ," my grandmother puts in. "Admit your mistakes!"

"Ask!" Tuvok adds.

"Ask what?" I look from face to face frantically. "What do you want of me?"

"B'Elanna Torres cannot be redeemed. She is a violent personality, prone to mood swings and temper tantrums," Seven says clinically. "She refuses to accept help and will not ask for forgiveness to salve her own burning conscience. She cannot be saved."

"meQtaHbogh qachDaq Suv qoH neH," Kortar adds. "Only a fool would fight in a burning house. You must accept this, daughter of Miral."

"You don't need to fight it, B'Elanna," Tom yells. "Not anymore!"

"Ask!" Neelix pleads.

The Cardassian boy advances towards me.

"B'Elanna Torres is ruthless. She assimilates without conscience. She kills without thought. She cannot be forgiven," Seven continues.

"Hear, hear!" Chakotay leers at me.

"No! That's not true!" I scream back. "It's not! Please!"

"Please what?" Tom asks.

"You!" I point my finger at Tom. "You never tell me what you want and you never show that you need me! Tell me, please, what do you want? What do you all want?"

"Lanna, it's not what we want," Janeway says in a soft voice. "What do you want? What do you need?"

It is quiet, save for the splash of meteorites into the flames below. Everyone drops their weapons, eyes trained on me. Perspiration drips from my forehead and my throat is parched. I survey them all, from the small children fingering their Borg implants to the haughty officers, blood still staining their Starfleet uniforms, circa 2371.

"Say it!" Kortar breaks the silence.

"Please!" Tom pleads.

"Forgive me," I whisper. "Please... forgive me."

They all start laughing, advancing to me.

"Forgiveness, I want your forgiveness," I continue. "From all of you, please."

All of them, with their blood expressions and detached expressions, grin wickedly at me. My sweaty palms slip. I scream, but manage to hold on with my legs. I pull myself upright.

"Why should we forgive you?" Chakotay asks.

"I never meant..." I start and then pause. Their eyes glow red at me, their teeth shining in the golden-red glow that is gre'thor. "My actions were - are - inexcusable."

"You killed me!" the Cardassian boy accuses.

"Here's to B'Elanna Torres!" the Starfleet officers hold up their glasses to me.

"I'm asking now! Please forgive me!" I scream, but the mob of the dead advances steadily, their eyes bright with revenge and hate.

"I meant to raise a warrior," my grandmother says mournfully. "Never has there been dishonor
such as this in my house."

"Murderer!" the half-assimilated drones yell.

"Murder, the unlawful killing of another human being with malice afterthought," Tuvok says coolly.

I hold up my hands, which are now dripping with blood.

"Killer!" the Cardassian boy reappears, his hand now reattached to his body.

"To deprive any living thing of life in any manner," Tuvok says.

"What do you want me to do?" I look at Tom, Harry, Seven, Neelix, all of them, wanting just a hint of what is needed of me.

"There is only one B'Elanna Torres!" Janeway yells.

"What do I do?" I implore Kortar.

He advances towards me, his bat'leth in one hand, a mek'leth in the other.

"There is only one option now for B'Elanna Miral puqbe," Kortar says menacingly.

My grip loosens on the rail.

"B'Elanna!" Tom screams.

"Murderer!" the Starfleet officers chant.

I let myself fall.


We land the shuttle on Alonius Prime instead of beaming down because the dampening field makes transporters unreliable.

The Maquis settlement is quiet, rather gray in appearance and architecture, and for a moment, I wonder if anyone actually lives here because it is so devoid of personality.

The land is fairly flat, brown, the few weeds swaying in the wind. In the distance, I see a line of tall trees, nearly black against the gray horizon.

"Quiet, isn't it?" I ask.

"I wonder..." Janeway bites her lip.

"You are considering the possibility that the Maquis have been removed," Tuvok states.

But Tuvok's statement is discounted when a familiar figure comes out of a building and walks towards us.

"Chakotay," Janeway breathes. I look at her curiously. There has been speculation about her relationship with the first officer for years and I have always been one to doubt that their feelings for each other are anything more than platonic. But, as B'Elanna is so often fond of pointing out to me, I have been wrong before.

There are a few others following Chakotay and we quicken our step towards them.

"Captain," Chakotay says. "Commander, Lieutenant."

There is a formality in his tone that I have not heard in a long time.

"How are you?" Janeway stops just short of putting her hand on Chakotay's chest. Instead, she puts it behind her back, a rather silly way of covering up what she really wanted to do. I look at the people behind Chakotay, recognizing some of them from my short stint with the Maquis.

"We're good," Chakotay says.

I look around, still not seeing B'Elanna. Ayala, Chell, Gerron, McKenzie, Tabor, they are all here and they are excited to see us.

"Tom Paris."

I turn to face Herid Jessup.

There are some people, no matter how many years pass, whom you would recognize in a heartbeat; Jessup is one of those. I see that broad Ktarian face, his large eyes and wide lips, and that familiar sense of dislike bubbles up in my throat.

We never got along. I guess that would be an understatement, or rather, the universal truth, of my time with the Maquis. But with Jessup, the animosity was particularly strong. Once, he happened to sit by me when we were eating and he said, "Just because your father got you back into the Academy doesn't mean you have any pull here."

"I didn't say that I did," I told him.

"Just checking."

"Believe me, I have no illusions. And for your information, what happened at the Academy is irrelevant. I'm not welcome in Starfleet anymore so my Academy past shouldn't matter."

"As long as we're clear."

"We're clear," I told Jessup.

I did know that Jessup and B'Elanna were involved at that time, though I thought the feelings were largely on his end, not hers. She tended not to notice him except for when he happened to be glued to her side and even then, she was short-tempered and irritated with him. It was, I noted then, not a relationship made in heaven.

"I'm glad you're here," Jessup says to me. I look at him curiously. Things have changed, yes, but as far I know, there hasn't been a blizzard in hell for millennia. For a moment, my jealousy radar goes online, wondering if maybe in the space of five short days, B'Elanna and Herid have rekindled their soggy relationship. I dismiss the thought, knowing that the two of them getting back together is like setting a flame to green wood, all smoke and no spark.

"Good to see you too, Jessup," I say heartily, injecting false enthusiasm into my voice. "You
haven't changed a bit."

"Nor have you," Jessup looks me up and down. "Gained a little weight, have you?"

I glare at him. "That must be a record for you, Herid. You waited all of three minutes before insulting me. I'm impressed. Now where's B'Elanna?"

Jessup's face drops its mask of scorn and takes on expression of extreme concern.

"What's wrong?" I ask in alarm.

"B'Elanna's sick," Jessup says. He takes my arm. "She's been out for the last twenty-eight hours."

"What do you mean?"

"Come with me. You have medical training, right?"


Jessup walks a step ahead of me, probably so we don't have to engage in meaningless conversation. It doesn't matter to me; after all this time, I still have nothing to say to these Maquis. Their expressions of scorn still remain even after all of these years. I can only pray that B'Elanna does not feel the same.

In the Infirmary, I find B'Elanna lying on a biobed, covered up to mid-chest with an insulted blanket. I touch her cheek, which is pink with fever.

"She's burning up," I say. "What happened?"

"We went to the generator complex to send the signal to Voyager and she broke her ankle. I came back to get help and when Chakotay and I went back, we found her lying passed out on the ground. We don't know what happened."

I grab a tricorder and quickly evaluate B'Elanna. She is running an unusually high fever, and her neural activity is rapid, neurons firing at an incredibly fast rate. Light perspiration coats her face. I pick up her hand and note the large red welt, which covers most of her forearm.

"What is this?" I ask.

"She was bitten by a bug," Jessup says. "Looks like an allergic reaction of some kind."

I turn my attention back to the tricorder. I have seen these readings before, somewhere...

"I need something to bring down the fever," I say. Jessup nods. He points to a cabinet.

"We've tried everything we know," he says. I open the cabinet and survey the drugs available. Most of them are standard antibiotics and a couple that have been deemed ineffective. I turn to look at Jessup and he shrugs.

"Apparently the health of the Maquis is inconsequential to the Federation," I note with a trace of bitterness.

"We've never seen anything like this before," Jessup continues. I quickly take B'Elanna's readings once again. In some ways, they remind of the time when B'Elanna decided to vacation in gre'thor to lift her mother's dishonor.

We had almost lost her then and later when we were in my quarters, B'Elanna had told me that she had been prepared to die for her mother.

"How can you say that?" I argued with her.

"It's the Klingon way, Tom. Dishonor, of any kind, it stays with you. I didn't want to be responsible for that, not for my mother's dishonor."

"So what about you? What if you had died?"

"It would not have mattered to me."

"I want to understand, B'Elanna, but sometimes I just can't," I told her. "I almost lost you today and it scares me to think that we might not have been sitting here, having this conversation."

"I'm sorry you feel that way," B'Elanna said. "But you have to understand. Sometimes, I have to do things for me, for my culture, and I can't always do or be what you want."

She got up from the sofa and went into the bedroom while I sat there, head in hands, wondering what I was going to do with my headstrong lover. More importantly, I wondered what I would do without her.

She was already under the covers when I came in and I could tell by her rapid breathing that she was pretending to sleep. I slipped in beside B'Elanna, wrapping my arms around her

"You're right, B'Elanna," I whispered to her. "It's not always about me. I wish it could be, but I have to accept that you make your own decisions and I don't necessarily have a say in them. I just want you to know that... that I do care about what happens to you and I don't, I really don't want to have to do this again."

She was silent for a moment and then rolled over onto her back so that she was looking directly at me.

"Thank you," she said. She cupped my cheek in her warm palm. "But don't hold me to promises I won't be able to keep."

"Tom?" Jessup's tone is urgent. He hovers over B'Elanna, an expression of acute dismay crossing his face. "Can't you do anything?"

"I'm going to transmit these readings to Voyager," I say. "The Doctor will be able to help."

I take B'Elanna's hot hand in mine and then lean over to brush my lips over those Klingon ridges she despises so much. I'm very aware of Jessup's eyes on us and I look up at him, still
clutching B'Elanna's hand to my chest.

"You hurt her, I'll hunt you down," Jessup says evenly.

"I don't doubt it," I tell him. "I'll be back."

Jessup holds up a hand. "Give me the tricorder. You stay with B'Elanna."

We look at each other with a bit of suspicion but then I relent. Whatever Jessup feels for me, he has never harbored any ill will towards B'Elanna, even though she did not treat him well. Like me, he only wants her to get well.

"I never thought I'd say this," he says. "But I'm glad you're here."

Jessup leaves. I pull up the lone chair in the Infirmary to B'Elanna's bio-bed. She is absolutely still.

"B'Elanna," I say. "I'm here."

I lift her hand to my lips.

"Please," I whisper. "I don't want to have to beg."

Her only response is a raspy breath. It's not the answer I was hoping for, but for now, it will have to do.

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