Lines in the Sand IV, part II
B'Elanna's chest rises and falls in an even cadence. Her cheeks are tinged pink, warm with fever, and her eyes are slightly open.
I note that her elbow joint is stiffening, possibly as a result of the insect bite. I grab a tricorder and note with dismay that indeed, she has arthritis in that joint now.
At least she won't be so quick with that bat'leth.
But by the same token, she'll be slower when she puts her arms around me.
You never realize how much you want - need - someone until you face the very real possibility of losing that person. You always take the person you love for granted, never even telling her that you love her, until it's almost too late.
I didn't know.
I didn't realize.
But I suppose that's another trait I get from my father.
I'd like to think he wasn't a cold, self-centered, self-serving bastard, but my father never gave me any indication to think otherwise. When he was home, he'd lock himself in his study, coming out only long enough for meals. He seemed intent on avoiding my sisters and me at all costs; he would ask about our day in the most general of terms and not really seeming to listen to anything we had to say. When we misbehaved, like most parents, he would stand in front of us, clearly detailing our infractions, and the tone of his voice would make us shiver with fear.
My father never hit me.
I want to make that clear.
He never even raised his voice to me.
Instead, he would talk at me in this evenly modulated voice and he would speak in grammatically correct sentences, complete with clipped accents and a sharp edge. Every conversation with him ended the same way.
"How do you think you're going to get into Starfleet Academy if you keep going like this?" he would say. "If you keep getting in trouble, you'll never make anything of yourself."
And yeah, that point belonged to him - I give him that much. There were nights when I would lie in bed and stare up at the ceiling, wondering what would happen to me if I failed math or history again.
So I learned, in my father's presence, to be brief, brilliant and gone; I would make my escape before he could push me further or ask me questions that would delve deeper into some issue I wanted to avoid.
The year I turned sixteen, my father spotted the first strands of gray in his hair. By the time I graduated from high school, his hair turned completely white; I'd like to think that some of my antics were responsible for this change of pigmentation, but that might be giving me - and not genetics - a bit more credit than necessary.
I rebelled for a very simple reason.
My father wanted a Starfleet boy; that much was evident. He stood over my shoulder as I typed up my Academy application and he even found (bribed?) colleagues to supply references. Never hurt to have an Admiral as a father.
I never told my father I didn't want to go to the Academy. That I would go was assumed and so every conversation with him was on that topic. I suppose I was so grateful that my father even wanted to talk to me that I clung to that topic of Starfleet Academy and hoped one day, I would make him proud so we could talk of other things.
The day I left for the Academy was my father's proudest moment. His eyes glittered with an emotion I found unfamiliar and unsettling and he even wrapped his arms around me in a suffocating hug, nearly crushing my ribs in the process.
"Make me proud," he said.
Well, we know how that story turned out.
That one time I got expelled, yeah, I expected Daddy to get me back in. And he did. Through clenched teeth, he explained to the dean that I did not mean to cheat on that Mechanics of Thermodynamics exam; rather, I'd given into stress and the temptation of "borrowing" an answer or two from Elizabeth Nagol was overwhelming.
I sat there the entire time with this artificial expression of contrition - one that I had practiced many times in the mirror - slapped on my face.
So back into the Academy I went, and this time, made it through without any serious mishaps. I graduated and my father attended, in full dress uniform. I even have a holoimage of this great moment in Tom Paris' life - my father, his arm around my shoulder, grinning broadly, and me, looking very much like I'd rather be shooting pool at Sandrine's.
"Well done," my father said that day. "I'm proud of you, Tom."
"Thank you, sir."
"Keep it up."
this promise to my father in the mess that went down in history as Caldik Prime.
I think everyone needs a Caldik Prime to their credit. Without the body count, of course. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger.
At the very least, surviving something like that makes you care a hell of a lot less.
I remember the day of my hearing, sitting in front of the tribunal, without really seeing the three JAGs at all. I really did believe these proceedings were a mere formality; once again, my father would get me out of this one. He was seated in the back row, and I had to restrain myself from twisting around to see him. I knew what I'd get if I turned - classic Paris steely glare.
Damn, we were blessed with baby blues, and maybe God meant for us to attract the opposite sex with them, but my father, he just drilled right through me with those eyes of his; I swear I could feel that gaze in my intestines, liver, spleen. You name it, his disappointment in me become a part of my internal organs. There was nothing I could do to escape the anger in his eyes or in his voice, no matter how dangerously calm he sounded.
At the time, I speculated that maybe it was a godsend that there were three Starfleet security officers assigned to me, otherwise my father would have made good use of that largely ceremonial phaser he wore at his waist.
So yes, when the discharge came, I was shocked. Knocked speechless, really. For once in my life, there was no joke at the tip of my tongue, no easy quip ready to fly out. Just utter silence.
All eyes were on me as I rose and when I turned, I noted that my father, always so proud, was sitting in the back row, his head cradled in his hands.
I became real good at running away. Hell, if I had to list my talents in order, flying would certainly come first but escapism would be a close second. The moment the tough got going, so did my feet. I marked the exits as I was walking in the door and I made sure I was never too cornered in that I couldn't find a way out.
And that's how I ran smack into the Maquis. I'd exhausted all options and there they were.
I secretly admired the Maquis; they stood for everything my father was against. There was also something so damn sexy about them, something so Robin Hood-esque, something so daring and adventurous, that I couldn't resist; my blood churned with excitement and that familiar rush of adrenaline settled into my limbs.
Finding the Maquis had been easy; there were many that were sympathetic to their cause. You just had to talk to the right people, so it only took me a few months to turn up on the Maquis' front door step.
Where I met B'Elanna. She'd been spunky even then, though I would never dare tell her now that "spunky" was the first word that came to mind when we met. Then, she had been undernourished, skinny, her eyes too large for her face and those wild short Klingon curls flying every which way.
God, how things change.
I look down at B'Elanna now. Nine years ago, we could not even look at each other without animosity. In fact, during my early days in the Maquis, I'd stay away from B'Elanna, convinced that she would do me in if she could. And now, I can't even imagine what my life will be like if she doesn't wake up.
And to make one thing really clear: I'm not going to impale myself on something sharp if something happens to B'Elanna. Physical suffering is not my style; rather, psychological torture, that's what I like. Dark, smoky bars, lots of nameless women, and synthale overflowing my glass - now that's the true path to self-torment.
God, I'm a sick bastard; I'm already thinking my anguish through, already trying to protect myself in case the unacceptable and unbelievable happens.
I don't want to be without her.
And I want her to damn well get out of that bed, get to her feet, so I can grab her by the shoulders and shake some sense into that stubborn Klingon head of hers. More importantly, I want to yell at her and ask her what the hell was she thinking when she scared me half out of my mind?
it's real important you wake up," I whisper into B'Elanna's ear. "Because
I've got a bone to pick with you, B'Elanna. So wake up, so I can tell you just
how angry I am with you because you're - damn, you know, B'Elanna, I can't stay
angry with you for very long. You always have this way of making me come around.
Sure, I'm afraid you're going to filet my insides with that bat'leth of yours
like that time when I created that Klingon holodeck program for you? I love
it when you get that angry. So damn you. Just wake up so - I miss you. Please.
B'Elanna. For me.
For once in your life, listen to me."
But still, there is no response and face it, I've been as eloquent as I possibly can be. There is a fine line between Cicero and mushy stuff, believe me, and I've got to walk it, because otherwise B'Elanna will either accuse me of being distant or pandering. If I'm not walking the line, I lose out.
I hope B'Elanna appreciates the effort.
I release her hand when Janeway and Chakotay enter.
"How is she?" Chakotay asks.
"Not good," I shake my head. "I've done everything I know and nothing's worked."
"What is the cause?" Janeway questions.
"The readings I took, they are anomalous. I've sent Jessup to download the EMH. Maybe he can help."
"I know. He came to ask Tuvok for help," Janeway says. She circles B'Elanna, eyeing my wife with a proprietary glance that shocks even me. "Is she dying?"
Damn, I didn't know Janeway could be that cold, that insensitive. And then I look up, note that the Captain has turned slightly away from B'Elanna, even though her fingers still linger on my wife's forearm. Janeway tips her head away from us, sniffles a bit, and then turns back to face us.
"Well?" she asks briskly, as if this past moment, this slight display of tearful emotion, had never happened.
I cannot speak so I merely nod my head.
Janeway sets her jaw; I've seen that look before. The Captain learns only from the best and apparently, my father was her tutor in this area.
"That's not an acceptable outcome," she says firmly.
I look at the Captain. For the first time in months, we are in complete agreement.
We leave Tom in the Infirmary and cross to the quarters that Chakotay shares with another Maquis member. Outside, a thin ribbon of chill runs through the air, sharp enough to burrow right beneath my skin. I shiver slightly, bowing my shoulders in a bit. Chakotay glances at me.
"Are you all right?" he asks.
"Cold. I'd think, at the very least, the Federation could have installed climate control."
"I like it."
"You would. I suppose you enjoy being back in nature. Have you built a bathtub yet?" I regret the words immediately. Chakotay stops and puts his hand on my forearm.
"No," he says. "I- there isn't anyone who would appreciate it here."
For a moment, I fancy that Chakotay is coming back to me, that he is slowly thawing and our relationship will be back to normal.
"But... everything else," I say. Chakotay reaches to cup his cool hand around my neck, drawing me closer. "Everything else is fine, right?"
"I wouldn't want it any other way," he says. He rubs his thumb against my cheek and then releases me. "Don't worry about us, Kathryn. We'll be fine."
"You... you aren't coming with us?"
"Coming where?" Chakotay looks surprised.
"I'm getting you out of here."
"I don't know if I want to go."
"Don't be ridiculous."
"Where do I go, Kathryn? What do I do? Here, at least, we can have our own lives, without carrying our past into our future. I don't want to explain why I did what I did over and over again. Now that the Federation is shaking hands with the Cardassians, we don't even have a convenient excuse."
"You don't need excuses, Chakotay."
"If we didn't, would we be standing here right now having this conversation?" Chakotay asks. "By all that's right, we ought to be wining and dining at Starfleet Headquarters, not standing in the middle of some godforsaken tundra, grasping at straws."
I eye him.
"So that's what this is all about to you, is it?" I ask. "Grasping at straws? You don't think there is something going on?"
I believe there is a conspiracy. There's no doubt in my mind about that. Starbases
don't just blow up for no reason," he tells me. "I don't know if I
want to be the one tilting at
"Is that why you wouldn't give me the information I wanted?"
We stand there, barely centimeters apart, and not for the first time in our long partnership, we are light years away in thoughts and emotions. This time though, I don't sense we'll come to an agreement. In so many ways, we've returned to that moment seven years ago when I was staring at Chakotay, Maquis rebel, with obvious distaste and distrust.
Wind whips brown, brittle leaves around our feet. I shiver again, not certain whether from the cold or in shock over Chakotay's obvious detachment.
Chakotay sighs deeply.
"Let's go inside," he says. "It's better to talk out of the wind."
"You can't hide from me," I tell him. "I find it hard to believe that you did not know about corrupt Starfleet officers. I think knowledge of such a plot would be information the Maquis would have thrived on. In fact, I'm surprised you didn't use it for your own gain."
"Inside," Chakotay says sharply. He starts walking, head bowed down against the wind. I follow him.
"You've never lied to me before!" I yell after him. "Why now?"
Chakotay enters the house and stands just inside the doorway, waiting for me.
"Come in," he says. "Come on, Kathryn."
I take the steps two at a time and pass Chakotay without a glance.
"I didn't lie to you."
"Then what just happened? You told me, to my face, without blinking, how you didn't know a thing about a Starfleet extortion scheme and now you admit it?"
"You think it's going to help our case?"
"I think it's related. Admiral Paris made a point of mentioning it to me. It could explain a lot of things. Chakotay," my voice softens. I look around and note the gray-furniture, the lack of personal effects, and the out-dated replicator unit on the far wall. "We've been through a lot together. Some of it good, some bad - very bad. This is no different."
"You have a career, Kathryn," he sits down on the sofa, and leans forward, resting his weight on his thigh. I take the armchair directly opposite him; the straight back lacks cushion and cool metal sends a shiver through my spine.
"Such as it is," I scoff. "McArthur is looking for me. Once he finds out where I am, even that Dauntless commission will evaporate."
I realize that Chakotay has no idea that Starfleet has reassigned me. I explain quickly and he looks faintly amused.
"Starfleet acknowledges your many violations of the Prime Directive and instead of putting you in front of a tribunal, they decide to ship you to the far corners of the quadrant?" Chakotay asks. "And you want me to go back to Starfleet? That's ridiculous. Or maybe you don't think so?"
"I know what it looks likes and I'm asking for your help. Please, Chakotay. I'm begging." I offer him what I hope looks like a smile. He shrugs.
"If you go to Starfleet with this information, you understand your career could be over," he says very softly.
"It's a risk I'm willing to take."
"You don't have to be right."
"I won't ignore my duty to my crew."
"We're not your problem anymore."
"Don't say that," I say. "Remember what we talked about? When we sensed division among our crew? You were with me then, Chakotay, arguing that Starfleet and Maquis work together. Why not now?"
"Because the stakes are higher now. You could jeopardize your career."
"I can take care of myself."
I get up from my chair and kneel next to him, taking his hand in mine.
"If what you says happens and I get discharged, I can think of worse places to spend my exile than here," I tell him softly. "With you."
His eyes widen and he sits back, still clutching at my hand. It is almost as if I've given him the permission he has been desperately seeking; no matter the distance between us, Chakotay is still looking out for my welfare and I cannot fault him for that.
"I'll tell you," he says.
Tuvok and Jessup burst into the room. I look at them questioningly, still holding B'Elanna's hand in mine.
"Well?" I ask.
"We are downloading the EMH now," Tuvok says. He covers the distance from the door to the only console in the room in about three steps.
"What?" I ask.
"The Doctor says that these symptoms are similar to those recorded when Lieutenant Torres went to gre'thor."
"Terrific," I stand up. "Great, B'Elanna. Thanks."
Jessup looks at me, "What are you talking about?"
"She- damn," I slam my palm against the biobed. Jessup grabs my arm.
"Paris!" Jessup exclaims. "Look, I don't know what's going on, but she's sick and you're not helping!"
"This is exactly like something B'Elanna would do!" I yell back. "Probably some misguided sense of honor and she decided to go back to gre'thor for some unfinished business. Damn! She- she knows how I feel about that but did it anyway."
"What are you talking about? What's gre'thor?"
"Klingon hell. She went last year in a controlled environment to redeem her mother's honor. It was frightening, to say the least. I almost lost her." I lean forward on the biobed, my fingers just barely touching B'Elanna's leg. "I almost lost her. I know the effects from the Borg cube were traumatic and I knew she had unresolved issues - God, I should have listened."
"Please state the nature of the-"
I look up at the EMH, who at this moment in my life, is the sweetest hologram I've ever seen. And yeah, I'm including all of those stupid holographic girlfriends I created in an attempt to experience something that was physically satisfying, but mentally disappointing.
"Mr. Paris," the Doctor says. "How is Lieutenant Torres?"
I show him the readings from my tricorder.
"Your results are slightly more elevated than mine," the Doctor admits. "Her condition is extremely critical."
"Do something then," I snap. "Don't tell us what we already know."
"Calm down, Mr. Paris." The Doctor rapidly takes inventory. "You didn't tell me that the facilities were so primitive."
"There are supplies on the Delta Flyer," I point out. "Basics, that is."
"I will retrieve them," Tuvok says, probably glad to get out of this room. I don't blame him; if it weren't for B'Elanna lying there on the biobed, there'd be flames in my wake too.
The infirmary, given my experiences on Voyager, is not exactly my favorite place to be.
"I am aware of what is available on the Delta Flyer," the Doctor hovers over B'Elanna. "Please retrieve them for me."
"You can help her, can't you?" Jessup asks quietly.
"I will do my best, Mister...? Who are you?"
"Jessup. Herid Jessup."
"Pleased to meet you, sir. Now, if you will kindly step out of my way..." the Doctor does a rather slick sidestep move which makes me think that he practices such steps when no one is looking. "Mr. Paris, you too."
I oblige, nearly bumping into Jessup. He glares at me. I shrug.
"Hmm, I'm reading increased neural activity," the Doctor says. "There is some cellular deterioration and I'm detecting signs of some kind of virus. Mr. Paris, please upload this scan to the Delta Flyer's medical database. See if you can find a match."
"Right," I take the PADD with the relevant information and nearly fly out of the Infirmary. I'm half way to the Delta Flyer before I realize that that annoying little toad, Jessup, is on my heels.
"What do you want?" I ask him.
"I thought I'd help out."
We pause long enough to nod at Tuvok, who walks past us briskly with the medkit from the Delta Flyer over his shoulder.
"Help out?" I ask, clenching my teeth. "What do you mean?"
"B'Elanna means a lot to me. If there is anything I can do for her-"
"Haven't you done enough?" I query.
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"You left her there. Maybe if you hadn't taken so long-"
"I explained that! I intended to go right back, but I-" he pauses. "I- I didn't realize. I stopped to help the others move some equipment-"
"You knew B'Elanna was hurt and you still took your time?" I'm nearly yelling at this point. I resume walking and head towards the Delta Flyer. Once inside, I bump my head on the low ceiling and I curse colorfully. Not for the first time, I make a mental note to raise the ceiling height in my next shuttle design. I slide into the chair previously occupied by the captain, swivel around, and adjust the knobs on the side to compensate for my greater height.
"You're right, Tom."
You're still here?" I don't turn around as I punch the buttons on the console.
The Delta Flyer's medical database is not as comprehensive as Voyager's, due
to the small storage capacity, but the information is useful and the Doctor
does his best to keep it updated.
Jessup, uninvited, slips into the pilot's seat. He turns around so he is facing me.
"You don't deserve her," he says.
"That's your opinion."
"You were a rotten excuse of a Maquis; my opinion of you as a person is even less complimentary."
"Believe me," I laugh. "I've been insulted by others in higher positions with much more flair. I'm sorry you don't think I deserve B'Elanna and maybe I don't, but it's really none of your business, is it?"
"I care about her."
"So do I."
"You have a funny way of showing it."
"And on what basis are you drawing that conclusion? Aw hell, you know what? I don't owe you any explanations," I tell him. "I'm not having this conversation with you."
I watch the small monitor as it runs through the comparison algorithms. The search is relatively slow, but then time is all a matter of perspective. When you're defending the galaxy against the machinations of cybernetic creatures, a few hours seemingly melt into minutes. Of course, then there's the brig; believe me, thirty days in that insanity-inducing chamber feels longer than our entire stint in the Delta Quadrant.
Hovering over B'Elanna, like I've done so many times, now that's a lifetime of waiting right there. Waiting for her wounds to heal, waiting for those brown eyes to open and waiting for those full lips to turn up into that smile reserved especially for me.
"You want to explain what happened when you betrayed us?" Jessup asks.
I look at him in annoyance and surprise, completely amazed that he has yet to stop talking. There's nothing worse than someone continuing a conversation you don't particularly want to have.
Especially when the other person tosses around scary words like "betrayed."
"That's a bit harsh, isn't it?" I ask lightly.
"I'm calling it what it is," Jessup says. "It was a betrayal, clear and simple. Why did you even join up if you were going to surrender at the first opportunity?"
"What is this? A trial? I didn't do anything wrong."
"We trusted you."
"Ha! You never trusted me, none of you," I tell him. "Maybe Chakotay, but only on a good day after a few raktajinos. The rest of you hated me, so don't try to pretend my time in the Maquis was fuzzy and warm."
"You volunteered for a mission and we trusted you to fulfill that mission," Jessup presses on doggedly.
"I carried out the mission." I sigh and punch a few keys. A data appears on my small viewscreen.
"You didn't come back."
"I was captured. I bet no one told you that," I say. "Starfleet. The way I saw it, Herid, I had a choice. I could either let us get captured or we could all die. Do you understand now? I surrendered willingly so that the mission would not be jeopardized."
"Hardly. I saved your comrades' lives. Apparently, they didn't think much of the gesture, since I seem to still have this stain on my reputation. I'm glad to know that my time in Auckland really did mean something."
"Your father didn't help you out of that mess? I'm sure he could have saved you from the penal colony if you were worth saving."
I take a deep breath. Low blow indeed. No, my father did not help. In fact, I'm sure he read of my arrest with thin-lipped silence and not once did he visit or send me a message. I'm sure if my father had had his way, he would have erased Thomas Eugene Paris from the family tree neatly printed on parchment and framed in his office.
In a way, I was glad for his distance; I wouldn't have known what to say if he had come. Though, there have been times when I have wondered - wondered if just one visit from him could have made all of the difference in our relationship.
There's no point dwelling on questions when you know the answers you desperately seek are no longer available.
"No," I say very quietly just as the console beeps at me, signaling completion. "Here's everything we have about the Ghasa virus."
Jessup's face is very pale as he leans over my shoulder to read the console.
"Damn," he says in a low voice. "You think this is what B'Elanna has?"
"Looks like it," I say. "Back... back when I was in the Maquis, there was a Bolian who died, right? She had symptoms just like B'Elanna does now."
"Janie," Jessup nods. "She was the first one. Others got sick, but we managed to get them medical treatment, so they were okay."
"Did you suspect that B'Elanna had Ghasa?"
"No," Jessup says. "I had no reason to suspect it. They told us that they had eradicated it."
"The Federation. When they told us that they were resettling us here, we asked specifically about Ghasa because that's the reason why we abandoned this as a base of operations in '71." Jessup gets out of his chair, nearly tripping over the slight step. "They told us that the virus had been eliminated and we didn't have to worry about it."
"They were wrong," I say grimly. I get up. "Either that, or the Federation lied. I'd like to believe the former, but current events lead me to believe that it's probably the latter. We better go; gotta get this information to the Doctor."
I brush past Jessup, and then, as I step out into the chill of the afternoon air, I turn to look back at the Ktarian. His rigid posture would make a dance teacher proud.
"Hey!" I call. "You coming?"
He falls into step next to me.
"How long have you been here?" I ask. A feeble attempt at small talk, but it's better than walking in shoulder-to-shoulder silence. Plus, it's also a chance to make sort of friends with a guy who is still in love with my wife. At the very least, I can figure out what his dastardly motives are. One thing's for sure: I'm not letting him out of my range of vision.
"Two, three years. Somewhere in there."
"A long time."
"No cases of the virus before B'Elanna?"
"No, but then we never really had cause to leave the settlement," Jessup says. He shivers slightly and bows his head against the increasingly sharp wind. "Sure, we'd venture out a bit, but mostly we stayed within the boundaries."
"But you never questioned the Federation authorities?"
"How? We asked certain things and they gave us answers. How were we to know that they were lying to us?"
"That's your problem," I tell him as we mount the stairs to the Infirmary. "You're too trusting."
"Well, you've got the opposite problem," Jessup shoots back. "You don't trust anyone."
I narrow my eyes at him and for a split second, I feel a primal need to lunge at the man, grab him by the throat and squeeze. The Doctor intercedes, effectively placing himself between my violent tendencies and Herid Jessup.
"Ghasa," I say. "Everything you need to know is on the data PADD."
I am familiar with that virus," the Doctor says. "In fact, according
to the database, the
disease has a sixty percent mortality-"
"Doctor," I say, grabbing his arm anxiously. "Look at B'Elanna."
I point. B'Elanna's veins, blue and raised, are visible beneath her now largely translucent skin.
"The first symptom of death," Jessup mutters. "Before the bleeding..."
I whirl on him.
"Shut up!" I exclaim. "Just shut up."
"She's going to die," Jessup says morbidly, his eyes fixed on B'Elanna. "We must face it."
"No need to plan the funeral so fast, Mr. Jessup. I can stabilize her," the Doctor says quickly.
He moves to B'Elanna's side. "Mr. Paris, please, get me the hypospray - yes, that's the one. Thank you."
I cross the room to hand the Doctor the hypospray and my fingers brush B'Elanna's cheek lightly; her skin burns me. I lean down and whisper into her ear, "You can't die on me, B'Elanna. Not now."
I straighten up and look over at Jessup whose resigned facial expression makes me want to punch him. And then I notice his quivering lower lip and even though I don't want to, I feel sorry for the guy.
I look back at the Doctor and it bothers me that he isn't humming, something he does every time he works on a patient. I swallow hard.
"Can you help her?" I ask softly. The Doctor does not look up and for a moment, I think he didn't hear me and then I realize the truth; he doesn't know.
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