Lines in the Sand, part I

By Seema

Characters and places belong to Paramount. It's definitely infringement, but no profit intended.

Thanks to Kim and Julie for their help. Also thanks to DangerMom, Geordi and Maude for their help also.


Seven has news.

Whether it's good or otherwise, she won't say.

Only thing we can deduce is that it's important enough for her to convince Janeway to call a staff meeting, but we can tell the Captain is equally in the dark.

Seven's sphinx-like expression gives nothing away as she stands at the front of the room, intent on the tricorder in her hand.

Damn, she is good at torture; must run in Borg genetics. B'Elanna, since her return from the Borg, seems to have inherited this particular talent also.

"Come on, Seven," I cajole. "What's going on?"

Seven rewards me with a thin-lipped smile. We could make a list of all of Seven's faults, but indiscretion isn't one of them.

B'Elanna leans over the table and exchanges a less than mysterious look with Chakotay.

Wherever Seven's concerned, B'Elanna is ready to rumble; while Chakotay may not come out and say anything, he usually takes B'Elanna's back, though in a much nicer and gentlemanly way.

Me, I'm ready to give Seven the benefit of the doubt; she's been playing nicely these days, sharing when appropriate and not talking back. In fact, just the other day, she joined Harry and I in a Captain Proton adventure and actually went along with the storyline. Amazing; Seven is rapidly becoming the eighth wonder of the universe.

"All right, Seven," Janeway is reclining, staring up at Seven from beneath her eyelashes. "What's going on?"

Seven does her little head tilt, almost annoyed by Janeway's little admonishment.

"Curiosity killed the cat," I offer up.

"There is no cat on Voyager," Seven retorts.

"Tom," Janeway turns her chair to skewer me with a penetrating glare. "Go ahead, Seven."

Seven nods and brings up the viewscreen. There is Voyager represented by a Starfleet emblem, and around it, nothing but blackness. A second later, the computer pops up curved vectors.

"What are we looking at?" Janeway asks.

"Our projected course and velocity," Seven answers. "If we continue on this trajectory, I estimate we will reach the Alpha Quadrant in approximately seventeen days, eight hours and thirty-two minutes."

"How many seconds?" I ask insolently, earning myself a punch in the shoulder from B'Elanna.

"The Alpha Quadrant," Janeway says, pointedly ignoring me. "Are you saying it just sneaked up on us?"

"No," Seven says. "We omitted one crucial variable in our calculations. I discovered the error and corrected it."

We all lean back in our chairs as if on cue except for Janeway; she is out of her chair and across the room faster than I thought possible. If we could have bottled that kind of speed seven years ago, the Maquis would have made it back in time to continue their guerilla war against the Cardassians and I would still be cooling my feet in New Zealand, not having spent enough time "rethinking my mistakes."

"How long have we been making this mistake?" Janeway asks in a low voice. I sense that a certain helmsman is about to face the wrath of Janeway, formerly of Borg.

"For the last five months," Seven says.

Ah, that explains it all. Mistakes made during the crazy period when Janeway, Tuvok and Torres were on the Borg cube are automatically forgiven. Or so I hope.

"You're positive?" Janeway asks. "You're not making a mistake?"

After four years, Janeway still hasn't learned; you never ask a Borg if she has made a mistake, but I don't blame her. We've been let down so many times in the past that this particular revelation is almost anticlimactic.

"My calculations are accurate," Seven says. "There is no error."

Again, that odd silence falls over the group. My eyes scan them all. Chakotay is unreadable, but that is no surprise. A photon torpedo could explode three feet from him and he wouldn't blink. Next to him, Harry looks as he is going to be sick; I don't blame him, I feel the same.

It's odd to feel this way. After seven years meandering and exploring the Delta Quadrant, we are going home. The Alpha Quadrant is a sacred mantra on the lost ship Voyager; it's what keeps the warp core going, the replicators humming and the holodecks running. Hell, it's what keeps us going. The Alpha Quadrant is our raison d'être; without it, we would probably be chopped liver for some Delta Quadrant species.

But being obsessive about returning home and actually getting home - now those are two very different things.
We talk about the Alpha Quadrant loudly, hoping to hide whatever truths we left behind; now it's the day of reckoning and there's much to confess, much to face.

That speaking for myself, of course; I wouldn't be so presumptuous to speak for the rest of Voyager.
It just feels strange, that's all I can say. To finally attain something that seemed so far away… I guess I never really thought we would actually get home.

"Let's double check," Janeway says. "I don't want to take a chance of telling the crew yet; we've had too many disappointments already."

True. Who knows? We could always run into the Caretaker again or maybe discover some rare nebular phenomenon that has to be explored before we could possibly return home and that could possibly fling us somewhere else, say the Epsilon Quadrant (wherever that might be).

You can never count the Delta Quadrant out; she's a harsh mistress and unfortunately for us, a deadly and manipulative one also.

"Keep this quiet for now," Janeway says, sweeping her eyes over all of us. If there is one thing none of us are good at, it's keeping secrets. Twenty holodeck rations say that everyone on Voyager will know, to the second, how far we are from home within thirty minutes.

Conventional wisdom also puts money on Harry to be the one to spill the beans first.

"Remember," Janeway puts a motherly finger to her lips. "Dismissed."

We spill out of the room, but Chakotay remains behind to talk with Janeway. I often wonder what the two of them talk about. I'm sure some of it is business, but even the most scintillating of conversationalists - which Chakotay is certainly not - would get bored of discussing Voyager day after day.

After all, much as I adore B'Elanna, I get tired of her engines real fast.

"Hey," I say, grabbing B'Elanna by the upper arm.

"What?" she glares at me. I recognize the flash in her eyes and let go. I back away so that I'm up against the corridor wall, making sure there is enough distance between us so I can duck if she lunges at me.
For the life of me, I can't think of what I did wrong this time. My mind quickly scrolls through all possibilities. I haven't been late for a meal in at least a week, I barely have spent any time in Fair Haven and I did not watch the latest episode of "Bonanza" without her.

"Something you want to tell me?" I ask easily.

The tension eases visibly out of B'Elanna's shoulders as she looks quickly up and down the corridor.

"You startled me."

Now that's a bunch of, well, crap. Mostly because B'Elanna has the finely tuned instincts of a saber toothed tiger. She can smell blood and fear a kilometer away and she pounces when you least expect it. I don't try to surprise her because she has the uncanny ability to detect when I'm hiding something, whether it's good or bad.

"You're upset," I say.

"No," she shoots back. "Not upset. You're making a big deal of nothing, Tom."

"You just bit my head off and while you're still chewing on my cranium, I want to know what got you so riled up."

B'Elanna actually smiles.

"Sorry," she says sincerely.


She starts walking and I trot along behind her.

"I'm just thinking about everything that needs to be done before we get back to the Alpha Quadrant."

"Like what?"

"I don't know. I told you I was thinking about it."

"If it's the warp core, you can get a new one in the Alpha Quadrant," I tell her. "I hear they actually manufacture them. You don't need to hold it together with bubble gum and spit anymore."

"Huh?" she pauses. "Bubble gum and spit?"

I offer her a cheeky smile.

"I want to make sure that Voyager looks good when we get home, that's all. I want to make sure the Starfleet engineers can't find anything wrong," B'Elanna answers.

Ah, it's that bit of vulnerability showing through. No matter how many times I tell her, B'Elanna never believes in herself enough. She has her moments of self-realization, but never enough for me and certainly never enough for her.

"You've done a great job," I pull her close to me. "Don't worry about a thing, okay?"

If we had endearments, silly names to call each other, this would be the ideal moment to do that. But both of us - and B'Elanna especially - shrink from silly nicknames. No, I take that back. B'Elanna is allowed to call me "pig," but only in when we are rutting in the heat of passion.

I take it as a compliment.

"You just don't get it, Tom," she says in a low voice.

"Get what?"

"If you have to ask…" B'Elanna says. She pulls away. "I've got to go. I've got work to do."

I stare after her, wondering what exactly is going on in that head of hers. I could run after her and prod her for more information, but I know better than to do that; since her return from the Borg cube, she has been a little colder, more stand-offish. Sometimes, when I touch her, I feel her muscles tense and I pull back.

I don't doubt her love for me; that has never been in question. I do worry about her though because sometimes I think she is walking a plank and any second now, she's going to jump.

What frightens me most is that I won't be there to catch her.


He means well and I know that.

There are so many things involved in being with someone, in loving that person so completely. So many things and yet, I feel capable of none of it.

There are books written on relationships. The titles are not mysterious in any way, all of them giving away the plot before I even turn the holo-PADD on. I have already worked my way through "101 Ways to Love Your Lover," "Open Your Heart and Start Living" and "The Power of Honesty."

None of them help. I'm still hollow inside.

It's odd. Give me some schematics, and I can interpret them and make a pile of circuits work. A blueprint on how to love someone correctly is not something I have been able to follow; instead, I find myself muddled constantly, caught off guard by him and constantly wondering how long can I keep this pretense up?

I say "pretense" only because that's how I view this relationship.

I want a schematic on Tom Paris; I want someone to write it down for me, to tell me how best to approach this man in my life. I need the guidance because when I look into those baby blues, I'm hopelessly lost. I hate that he has that effect on me and I hate not being able to put him off-balance the way he does me.

I love Tom Paris. I love him like I have never loved before and I doubt that that fact will ever change.

He doesn't tell me that he loves me as often I tell him, but it doesn't bother me. I feel his love in the way he always cups my jaw before leaning in for a kiss. I see the quickness in his step when he sees me and the way his lips curve up when my hand surreptitiously brushes his when I think no one is looking.

I worry that his love for me will vanish if and when I ever tell him what I have yet to tell anyone. I fear that he will look at me with that same disgust that was in his eyes when I was still Borg.

I don't tell him that I saw his initial reaction because I know it disturbs him greatly that he reacted so violently; I don't tell him that he is one of the reasons why I can't confess the crimes that plague my every waking hour.
I know I'm not strong enough to see us through what lies ahead. Tom will protest, say that he is strong enough to hold us together, but he doesn't know everything yet.

I love him in ways that are completely unexpected. If at some point in my younger years, if I had been asked to draw up a list of my ideal man, very few of Tom's traits would have been on that list. About the only thing my list and Tom have in common is the fact that he is not Klingon. Indeed, the list of Tom's faults is longer than my arm.

He's late.

He's forgetful.

He breaks rules more often than he follows them.

He spends more time in the holodeck than with me.

He drinks too much beer while watching television.

He leaves his socks lying around.

Yet Tom has grabbed a hold of my hearts and won't let go. When I see him, everything stops just like that. He only has to smile at me and I forget who I am, where I am, everything.

And I'm keenly aware that when we are in a room together, no matter how many people are around us, I am the only one he sees.

But I'm also a realist and know that at some point I have to stop pretending.

When he knows the truth, Tom is going to leave. He won't stay with me.

No one ever does.


Word travels fast on the good ship Voyager. It's amazing sometimes. Gossips evidently know things about B'Elanna and me even before we know it ourselves. Sometimes, I hear stories about our fights, each tale more fantastic than the last. We throw things, apparently, and call each other terrible, unmentionable-in-public-type names.

I find this all a bit humorous, for the very idea of B'Elanna and I constantly at each other's throats is a bit ludicrous.
B'Elanna has only thrown something - a vase - at me once before.

As for calling each other names? Nah, never happened, unless you count "pig" as a name.

But I digress.

Entering the messhall, I find Neelix bubbling with something resembling joy. He has accosted poor Tuvok who did indeed leave what little sense of humor he had on the Borg cube.

"We have not yet confirmed this news," Tuvok says patiently as I swing into the seat directly opposite him. "You must be calm, Mr. Neelix, and not spread false hope through the crew."

"Can't I just tell one person?" Neelix is positively glowing. Makes me wonder who he has back in the Alpha Quadrant keeping his dinner warm.

"No," Tuvok says.

Neelix's face falls but I could have predicted Tuvok's answer; you ask a stupid question, you get a stupid answer - especially when you ask a Vulcan.

"Are you excited, Mr. Paris?" Neelix asks me.

"Excited isn't the word for it," I said. "I'm positively overjoyed."

Tuvok arches an eyebrow at me.

"You are exaggerating your emotion," he says. Always the one for the understatement, always pointing out the obvious. Yes, I'm anxious to get home, yes, I'm exhausted after seven years in the Delta Quadrant.
What I want most is to stay in one place for some time, sit out in the sun and drink lemonade. It sounds simplistic, but after going up against a million different aliens and escaping by the skin of our teeth each time, I want nothing more than to relax, stretch and feel the tension ease from my muscles.

For once, I don't want to wonder who is around the next nebula or who is hiding in the next star system. I don't want to figure out how best to dodge torpedoes that far surpass Voyager's technology and I certainly don't want to run into the Borg again.

I wonder what the others want. I have no doubt that Harry will continue in Starfleet; he is much too eager not to purse his career. Chakotay, who knows? I can never read the man. Sometimes he is almost as enigmatic as Seven, showing little or no emotion.

Tuvok will stay; it would be logical for him to. He would never dream of retiring to Vulcan to peruse ancient texts. I do suspect that first stop on Tuvok's tour of the Alpha Quadrant will be Vulcan to resolve his Pon Farr; there is no way in hell meditation can replace a soft body curled up against you.

Janeway is married to Starfleet; more importantly, Voyager is her ship. She won't give it up without a fight and I honestly would hate to be the admiral who comes between the Captain and her ship.

But then again, that's what B'Elanna would call a worst-case scenario. Retiring Voyager isn't a done deal. Only in my twisted, most demented moments, do I imagine this ship as a heap of scrap metal in the shipyards of Planetia Utopia.

And speaking of B'Elanna, I do not know what she will do once we return home. There are times when she allows herself to indulge in my flights of fancy, seeing and feeling the same as I do; other times, she fixes me with a penetrating gaze as if admonishing me to be real.

I don't know what she wants from me, honestly.

There are times when I wonder what we are still doing together. Her, me, B'Elanna, Tom, Torres, Paris. It's a bizarre thing, no matter how you look at it. We disassociate freely, face off with impunity and never, and I mean never, ask for forgiveness.

She doesn't need me; this much I have figured out.

"Well, I'm excited," Neelix declares.

"You're coming back to the Alpha Quadrant with us?" I ask in surprise.

"There is no reason for me to stay here, is there?" Neelix asks. "I would love to see the Alpha Quadrant. What do you think, Mr. Vulcan?"

Tuvok gives Neelix a look of pained tolerance. Neelix grins, his reptilian skin stretching as his lips curve up.
"Your decision on whether to stay here or accompany us to the Alpha Quadrant is not a concern to me," Tuvok says.

My jaw drops; damn he is cold.

Neelix looks disappointed. He shuffles his feet, bends his head slightly so that he is no longer looking Tuvok in the eye.

"It will not be long before we are there," Neelix says. "I imagine the crew will be just as excited as I am."

"You are not to share this information," Tuvok lectures sternly.

"Everyone already knows," I point out.

Tuvok nails me to the wall with one of his glares.

"That is not an excuse, Lieutenant," he says. I fully expect him to ask him if everyone else on this ship decided to jump out an airlock, would I do so also? Instead Tuvok pushes his chair back and gets up from the table; his back is ramrod straight, a new posture courtesy of the Borg.

I sit there in the middle of the mess hall, surrounded by so many, but feeling so alone.

Eager to go home? I don't know. Disappointment seems to follow us at every turn so I don't want to get my hopes up.

There's more involved in going home than just arriving in the Alpha Quadrant and saying, "Hi honey, I'm home!"
There will need to be a period of adjustment - I know this - and none of it will be easy.
Those whom we left behind aren't the same people now. Seven years has a curious way of changing people, of getting beneath the skin and tinkering with emotions and opinions. There are the superficial changes like crow's feet or gray hair and then there are the other changes, the deep personality traits hidden deep within. Those are the ones you can't predict, the ones that are harder to get used to.

And then there is something else: I'm not the same man I used to be.
I'm only afraid that they - the ambiguous they we are always talking about - will see and understand the changes in me.

Each time I take a step through the corridors of Voyager, I'm very much aware that this might be the last time I put my foot down in this exact location. I notice things more than I have before; everything is in focus, clear and sharp. No longer do I take Voyager for granted; each day that passes is one day closer to the Alpha Quadrant, one day less on Voyager.

I don't know where my sentimentality comes from.

Tom says I'm softer, more gentle, since my sojourn on the Borg cube. I think he is trying to be nice, trying so hard to make up for his initial reaction when he saw me for the first time in full Borg regalia.
He was frightened, understandably frightened.

In my lucid, non-Borg moments, I too felt a tinge of fear running through the parts of me that still belonged wholly to B'Elanna Torres.

But whether Tom is trying to be nice is irrelevant - there, you see? I did it again. I can't help myself; some parts of my brain were so completely absorbed into the Collective, I find myself curiously alone at times, longing for the cacophony of voices. At other times, I want to flee, run from the memory of constant shrieking in my head.

And then I wake and realize that it was all a nightmare, that I no longer sleep standing up. Realize that I can relax beneath a sonic shower and not wonder when my joints will be oiled again.

These are things I do not share with Tom; instead, these are mine and mine alone.

I do not mean to push him away; it just happens. Sometimes, I find myself staring at Tuvok or Janeway and there's this look in their eyes and I know, just as they know this about me, that they are remembering something too.

The three of us have never sat down to talk about the time we spent on the Borg cube - there just hasn't been the time.

And now, with the Alpha Quadrant in arm's reach, I doubt we will ever talk about it.

Does it matter?

Maybe it does. I don't know. Maybe in ten, twenty, thirty years I will know the answers, but right now, I'm just counting my steps. Measuring each moment, hoarding them because I don't know what lies ahead and more than any specific instant on the Borg cube, this frightens me.


It has been weeks since I have worked on the Camaro. I'd been staying away from the holodeck since B'Elanna's return, working on putting her back together, putting us back together.

But now, dressed in my grease-stained monkey suit, I lay beneath the car, running a rag over its engine parts.
I love this feeling of making things work. Especially something that I could so easily have the computer fix in a few minutes.

The holodeck doors slide open.

"Tom? You in here?"


I slide out from beneath the car, wiping my hands on the rag.

"You are a mess," Harry observes.

Of course Harry is standing there in his neatly pressed Starfleet uniform, nary a stain to be seen. I'm impressed. If he doesn't get his promotion in the Alpha Quadrant, I'm going to nominate him for the "Best Dressed" award.

"Hello to you too," I say. "Coming off the Bridge?"
"Yeah. You know, Tom, before we get back home, you really ought to consider spending some time on the Bridge."
"No thanks. I get enough time as it is on the helm."
"You don't want the command experience? It would help with your career."

My career. I had never thought of Starfleet as a career before; in fact, it was merely something my father did and something for me to try when nothing else worked out.

Until Janeway extended her hand to me, I had always thought of Starfleet as a bunch of foggy old men in starched uniforms drinking Earl Grey, and spouting philosophy in the best tradition of Aristotle and pontificating endlessly, each one hoping to be the next Cicero.

And now?

Well, don't ask me now what I think. I haven't got the faintest clue. I vacillate daily, shifting from foot to foot, thought to thought, wondering what the galaxy holds for me.

"Not interested," I answer airily because I don't have anything better to say.

Damn if Harry looks disappointed. He's a good friend; he cares more about my future in Starfleet than I do.

"B'Elanna's looking for you," Harry says.



"Is she mad?"

"No," Harry shakes his head.

"So she's just looking for me?"


Harry walks around the car, very careful not to get any grease on his uniform. He touches the chrome lightly with his fingers.

"Nice," he says. "You ever drive one of these? I mean in real life, not on a holodeck."

"Once. At that antique car museum."


"Yeah. I kept stalling though. On the other hand, the Mustang, now that's the car to drive."

"Do you like driving better than flying?"

"Nothing is like flying," I tell him. "You see where you are driving and you react accordingly. It's very manual, very visual. Flying, now that's more instinctive, more from the heart than driving is."

"I'd like to try driving again," Harry says.

"We'll go again sometime, just don't hit a burrito stand again."

"Don't put the burrito stand in a place where I'm going to hit it," Harry retorts.

Harry takes another look at the car, "I'm going to miss this."

"Miss the car?"

"No. This. You, me, the holodeck."

"There are holodecks in the Alpha Quadrant. I hear that's where they were invented."

"Haven't you thought about what going home means? They could split us up, you know."

"The possibility has occurred to me."

"Doesn't that frighten you?"

`Frighten' isn't quite the right word for the emotion I experience whenever I think of the possibility of the 150 people on Voyager dispersing to various parts of the Alpha Quadrant.

A counselor - and we could sorely use one on Voyager - would term my feelings about our return to the Alpha Quadrant as "separation anxiety."

I have this crazy fantasy that we will write to each other daily, share dirty jokes and trade barbs over the comm system. Once a year, we will reunion talk about the good ol' days on Voyager and then we will reminisce about the Malon until they are larger than life and we come out looking like heroes every time.

"It is a possibility," I say. "Depends what people want to do with themselves."

"I'd like to stay," Harry leans against the car; I'm impressed by his daring - he might get a speck of dust on himself.

"On Voyager or Starfleet?"

"Voyager, preferably, but the ship could be decommissioned when we return. Who knows if Intrepid-class vessels even exist anymore?"

"So you'd take your chances again in the great black beyond?"

"Yeah," a slow smile spreads across my friend's face.

"You'd do it again?"

"Yeah," he says. "In a heartbeat. Wouldn't you?"

Now there's the question of the day.

I don't know.

I would think by now I would have acquired the ability to know what I, Tom Paris, would want.

Maybe I'm waiting for someone else to tell me what he or she wants.

I joined Starfleet because my father wanted it.

I ended up on Voyager because Janeway wanted me.

And now, with all my options in front of me, I still can't figure out what I want.

"For the chance to be a punching bag for the Hirogen again?" I shake my head.

"When you put it that way," Harry grins. "No, but really, Tom, don't you know?"

"Actually, I'm going to wait and see," I answer, picking up the rag again. "Did you say B'Elanna was looking for me?"

"I'm here," B'Elanna says from behind Harry. She is leaning against the doorjamb, her arms folded across her chest; she is smiling though.

"Took you long enough, Maquis," Harry says, turning towards B'Elanna.

"You didn't ask the computer?" I ask.

"And take all the fun out of searching for you?" she shakes her head. "There are only a few places you would be, Tom, and I can pretty much eliminate the lower decks."

"She's so smart," I tell Harry. B'Elanna offers me a grin, a crooked mixture of arrogance and pride.

"I've got to go," Harry says. "I'm beat."

He is out of the holodeck so fast that we feel a breeze in his wake. B'Elanna tips her head towards Harry's departing figure.

"Am I interrupting something?" she asks as I slide back underneath the car.

"No," I say. "We were just talking."

B'Elanna pulls out a wobbly stool from beneath the tool bench and perches on it precariously.

"You really need to fix this in the program," she says. "It's not safe."

"It's for authenticity," I argue back as grease lands on my cheek. "Aw, shoot!"

B'Elanna is immediately at my side, "What is it?"

"Nothing," I slide back out. She kneels by my side and dabs at the grease with a rag. Damn, I love this woman.

"You were looking for me," I say.

"Hmmm… just thinking about you."


"Yeah," she offers me a shy smile. I wrinkle my brow.

"What's going on?"

"Just thinking about going home."

"You excited?"

"Don't know. I like it out here."

"You've said that before."

"Wouldn't you like to stay out here?" she leans forward, balancing her weight on her palms. "Think about it, Tom. You, me, and wide-open spaces. There is so much to discover, so much to do. We could make a life out here, you and me."

Her cheeks flush as the words fall from her lip. She is animated in a way I haven't seen since her return from the Borg cube. In fact, she is downright giddy - not typically an emotion I get from her.

I sit up and take one of her hands in mine. Her fingers are slender, long - the type that are perfect for piano playing. Her nails are rough, grooved and occasionally blue at the base. She is looking at me, almost pleading with me to agree with her proposal.

"So you want to leave Voyager and stay in the Delta Quadrant," I say. I want to comprehend completely.

"Yeah," she says. "No reason to go home. Hell, it's not even home to me, it's just another place to be. You know, somewhere else for me to be miserable. I might as well stay here."

"You don't mean any of that," I tell her.

"I do," she says defiantly. "Tom, don't you think about what's going to happen when we get home?"

Hmm… now that she has postulated the question, I have to be honest. I'm not very good at lying and B'Elanna has a hunter's instinct; she smells fear and she pounces without a second thought. I've been prey enough to suit my tastes, so I confess everything.

"Depends what you mean," I tell her. "I think about a normal life, a house, a family…"

Her face is shadowed, guarded. I have learned, over the past four years, that there are some places I'm not allowed and as such, I don't ask B'Elanna. When she is good and ready, she will let me in.

"I don't," she admits. "I don't want walls. I just want to fly, be free."

"You can do that in the Alpha Quadrant."

"How?" she asks pointedly. "You think Starfleet is going to let me onto another one of their precious ships? They probably don't even want me on this one."

"We'll find a way," I caress her hand between mine. She shakes her head.

"Tom, you can't fix everything."

She gets to her feet and is out of the holodeck. I sigh, drop my head, and after a minute, slide back beneath the car.


I'm an emotional train wreck; every time I think I'm back on my feet, something else derails me and pushes me hopelessly off track.

I want to help myself, Kahless, I do. I look at people who cringe when they see me come and I hear the fury in my voice and I see the impact; I can't help it. I just steamroll through others, knocking them off their feet only because I'm so out of control myself.

I don't want people to know that inside, I feel like blood pie gone sour, quivering and shaking. I think to reveal my insecurities would take away something that belongs to me and more than anything, I don't want to be found out to be anything less than B'Elanna Torres, chief engineer extraordinaire and Klingon warrior.

Actually, that last thing - B'Elanna the Klingon warrior - is my mother's fantasy; I think she wanted to believe that I would do battle in her honor and bring glory to her name.

Or something like that, I don't even know anymore. Don't know if I want to know.

I wake up at night, sweating, sometimes even on the verge of tears.

I didn't use to be like this.

I worry, as we get closer to the Alpha Quadrant, that I will collapse in a boneless heap on the floor, unable to stand under the weight of my own wayward emotions.

"Feelings aren't wrong or right," Tom says over and over. "They just are. If you feel something, you have to verbalize it. What you feel is what you feel and no one should condemn you for that."

He's right, I know that, but like so much else, actually putting what I feel into words is hard and instead, I hold it all in - a sure recipe for a chronic case of ulcers.

The truth is, I'm better with actions than with words. I'm not a poet, never have been, but give me a pile of circuits and I will make something out of nothing.

When I'm down in Engineering, I think that if I switch this circuit with that one, the warp core will sputter and we'll be stranded here in the Delta Quadrant. Other times, I think that I can send wrong sensor readings to the helm and put us off-track so that we continue to stay out here, searching fruitlessly for a way home.

I see Tom as a victim of my insecurity. I hold onto him as if he is the only one who can save me from drowning. The irrational fear persists though: nothing lasts forever and no one, and I mean no one, ever sticks around B'Elanna Torres for very long.

Tom looks at me sometimes, a bit confused, wondering what is going on in my head; I wish I could tell him but I don't know myself.

We cling to each other out of habit. We turn to each other because that's what we're used to.
Habits, however, cannot withstand the scrutiny that will come once we return home. There will be investigations, I know, and none of us will emerge unscathed.

Somehow, I have to hold on to Tom, make sure he doesn't leave me, make sure that I won't be alone.

I can't help it; the tears swell just behind my eyes, bubbling up in my throat. I can only swallow hard and blink my eyes back into focus. I think about losing Tom because I'm in sickbay and I can still see evidence of the frantic hours he and the Doctor spent de-assimilating the others and me.

"Are you going to take long?" the Doctor's voice is in my ear.

"Give me a second," I say. "The diagnostic picked up some corrupt recursive algorithms."

My tone was sharper than I wanted it to be, but he has interrupted my pity party; after all this time, everyone should know that when I'm feeling sorry for myself, they are not invited to ride along on the B'Elanna Torres emotional roller-coaster.

Not for the first time, the Doctor suggests counseling. He stands there, smug little hologram, arms crossed against his chest, saying in his self-righteous baritone tinged with melodrama, "I know a great holodeck program that is guaranteed to work wonders. I've used it many times to help others who are in the pit of despair."

"I'm not in the pit of despair," I tell him. "Far from it."

"I know the signs," he says. "You're suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome."

"And how would you know?"

"The classic signs are all there," the Doctor says. "Avoidance, that's one of the symptoms."


"You refuse, for instance, to talk about the things which trouble you. You will not talk about how you feel about the decimation of the Maquis, your relationship with your fa-"

"That is no one's business!" I flare back. At this moment, I want to jab his holographic self with something metallic, anything to disrupt that photonic matrix of his. Then we'll talk trauma.

"You haven't talked about your Borg experience."

My fingers curl into fists involuntarily.

"Have you talked to Mr. Paris about what happened?" he asks. "About your time on the Cube?"

"What I talk about with Tom is none of your business," I answer hotly. My fingers curl and uncurl uncontrollably. There is nothing nearby to smash, nothing to disrupt except for the EMH Mark I holographic doctor in front of me and Kahless help me, but we do need him.

"Do you have trouble sleeping at night?" the Doctor persists.

I refuse to tell him about my nightmares; those belong to me alone. I cannot tell him of dreams tinged in eerie green glow or how sometimes I can hear the heavy metallic thud of footsteps behind me. I don't tell him how I wake up in the middle of the night, my heart pounding and light sweat coating my brow. Most of all, I cannot tell him how it feels to know you have assimilated someone.

Yes, that's right. For three months of my life, I was Borg, lived as Borg, thought as Borg, and yes, as Borg, I assimilated others.

I don't know the number of assimilations I participated in; I was unconsciously following the Borg directive: just do it. In the echoes of my mind, I think there must have been thousands of assimilations; I look at Janeway and Tuvok and I know they are wondering the same. How many how many how many... it is a vicious taunt that plays in continuous rhythm through my mind.

"Lieutenant? Do you have trouble sleeping at night?" the Doctor is now grasping my forearm, making it difficult for me to continue working.

"No," I answer flatly.

His brow crinkles in a display of serious thought.

"I don't want to talk about this," I say.

"You see? Classic avoidance. You refuse to talk about what you feel."

I shut my tool kit with a resounding snap, "I choose not to discuss certain things with certain people. Is that all right with you?"

"We just want to help you, B'Elanna."

"Then stay out of my way," I answer.

The Doctor looks perplexed and for a moment, I let myself feel sorry for him and then, I get my furious B'Elanna face back on and stomp out of sickbay.

He doesn't know, he can't possibly know, that around every corner there is a Borg drone and that in the shadows, when I'm alone, I hear the screams.

I hear the screams and I cannot make them stop.


She avoids me. Janeway, that is. She averts her eyes and says very little to me. In fact, I notice she talks mostly to Chakotay and occasionally to her protégé, Seven of Nine.

Even Harry notes it and says he thinks the Captain's behavior is odd.

"She's been like this since they got back," he says as we sit in the black and white world of Captain Proton.

"Who? The Captain?" I ask carefully, tightening the laces on my boots.

"Yeah," Harry leans forward, flicks imaginary dust off of his khaki pants.

"It was a ...difficult mission," I answer.

"It's more than that," Harry says. "Tom, did something happen between you and the Captain?"

I freeze. Harry, good-natured Harry, but still perceptive in ways that I never suspect.
I have not even told B'Elanna about my feelings about Janeway, how I feel that our Captain deliberately endangered the crew of Voyager when she chose to be assimilated by the Borg. I know that Harry has some idea of the anger that boiled within me during the time Janeway, B'Elanna and Tuvok were gone - the period of anxiety and turmoil - but I have never verbalized my feelings. Only once did I say something and that was to the Captain directly; she accepted my condemnation of her activities with something close to neutrality and then, in her gravelly voice, dismissed me with the admonishment that she was the captain.

In the two months since they have been back, talk of the Borg is strictly taboo; Janeway walks around with a pained, tight-lipped smile, Tuvok says less than ever and B'Elanna… well, who even knows what's going on with B'Elanna?

At night, she sits curled in an armchair, a blanket around her shoulders, staring blankly into space. Sometimes, she lies next to me, submitting to my caresses until finally, even I give up.

And then other times, I never see her; she vanishes somewhere into the bowels of Voyager, working tirelessly at problems that exist only in her mind.

"I get the feeling the Captain doesn't like you," Harry continues.

I offer Harry a semblance of a smile, "I think you're right."

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