She always knows how to show off her best side. It looks casual, but I know it is practiced and all for my benefit. And after all these years, she still manages to surprise me.
I take in the shimmering red material of her bathing suit and then my eyes drop down to her waist where a gold tissue shawl is wrapped around her.
"This isn't what I expected," I tell her as sand squishes up between my toes.
"I told you to come prepared for the sun," she replies.
"But this," I wave my hand to indicate our surroundings. B'Elanna is an engineer first and foremost; her devotion is to engines, not to holodeck program design. Her programs, in general, are very straight-forward, rarely without complication and intrigue. But this, this beach with its lightly swaying palm trees, white sand, and the crash of waves on the shore, is unusual for B'Elanna; it is softer, more romantic than anything I've seen her produce before.
"Are you surprised?" she asks coyly.
"Very much so," I admit. I look around, my hands akimbo on my hips. "This is great, B'Elanna. Did Harry help you?"
Her nostrils flare slightly as she shakes her head.
"No, I did it all," she says. "Took a long time, but I got it just the way I imagined it."
"It's the Virgin Islands," I realize.
She nods, heat rising in her cheeks, "Do you like it? I got it from those pictures in your personal database."
"You did this for me?"
"Don't get carried away, Tom. You deserve a vacation, somewhere nice to relax after all you have been through."
"I appreciate it," I say.
"Who is the girl?" she asks. "The one in the pictures?"
I try to recall the name. Mary, Marie, Miriam. Sweet girl, nice smile, great legs.
"Miriam," I say. "She was a classmate of mine at the Academy. Her idea to go to the Virgin Islands."
"You look very happy together."
Jealousy? B'Elanna? I shake my head. Doesn't suit her at all. But it surprises me, yes, that B'Elanna could feel threatened by someone whose last name I can't even remember.
"We broke up when we came back," I say. "Bad idea in the first place."
B'Elanna looks relieved and I wonder how much of my past is going to come back to haunt us.
B'Elanna covers the distance between us in quick strides and then pushes me down onto one of the lawn chairs.
"I'm sorry," I tell her.
"Don't be sorry," she says as she straddles my hips, her hands on my shoulder, her mouth tantalizingly close to mine.
"I shouldn't have pushed you away. You were right."
"It's all right, Tom. Really, it is."
"It seemed so real… you understand, right?"
"I understand about the Memorial, Tom. You don't have to explain," her breath flutters over my skin. I inhale deeply, sucking in her scent. My hands move to the small of her back as she settles herself down on my upper thighs.
"I really thought I was responsible for the deaths of those people, for starting the whole thing. I just couldn't explain, B'Elanna, and I'm sorry about that."
Her hand moves up my neck, to my cheek, and finally, her fingers are in my hair. My breath catches in my throat.
"I appreciate this," I say hoarsely.
She kisses me, "You're welcome."
I tighten my grip on her as she leans into me, her head neatly resting on my shoulder, her hand now back down to the nape of my neck.
This is how it should be, I muse as I trail my fingers through her hair. I feel the silky strands against my skin, her steady breathing as her chest rises and falls against mine.
"Do you think we did the right thing by not shutting down the Memorial?" I ask.
B'Elanna lifts her head and looks me squarely in the eye. She puts a finger to my lips and smiles seductively as she rearranges her limbs across my body.
"Let's not talk about that," she whispers. Her lips brush my jaw bone, my neck, my shoulder…
"B'Elanna," I say, trying to shift her weight. She looks at me again and then her lips meet mine.
In between kisses, she gasps out, "Let me in, Tom. Please."
I wake with a shudder, my heart racing. I sit up, leaning back on my palms.
It was all so real, the dream that is. I look over to the side of the bed knowing that B'Elanna is not there and it has been twenty-four days since B'Elanna slept here.
Oh yes. B'Elanna doesn't live here anymore. She moved, left no forwarding address.
I calm myself, trying to recall some of Tuvok's meditation exercises. One, breathe, two, breathe, three, breathe, four…
"Computer, time," my mouth is dry and gritty. The glass of water, always by my bedside, is empty. Oh yes, B'Elanna is the one who fills it, B'Elanna who never forgets little things like this.
"The time is 0213 hours," the computer voice informs me.
I lay back, my hands behind my neck. I wonder what B'Elanna is doing right now. I try not to think of the possibility that scares me the most: the thought that she might actually participate in an assimilation.
Tuvok. I smile at the thought that the Vulcan might be imparting his meditation techniques on the Borg – a species which certainly does not need such measures to maintain their equanimity; if they were any more calm, they would be catatonic.
Janeway, I have no doubt, is trying her best to antagonize the Borg Queen; that is, if Janeway remembers who she is, who she was.
I shiver, roll over on to my side and grab the other pillow, hugging it close to me.
"I can't believe how into this holodeck program you are," she speaks quietly, but her tone is that of restrained fury; I know when I'm licked. B'Elanna, for all her attributes, lacks the gene for humor and fun. Her seriousness, while well-matched with my frivolity, tends to cloud our relationship at time; which is why I tend to act out my holodeck capers without her.
But I should have known, should have known I was in trouble even before I walked into her quarters. The atmosphere is positively calm, and B'Elanna is unusually tranquil. For other people, this would be good; for me, it's a sign of bad things to come.
At least she is not yelling. Her voice levels are carefully modulated as she enunciates with pinpoint clarity. Forgiveness is a real possibility here.
"This is the best thing Harry and I have ever done," I say. "It's a real village with real characters. Do you know how complicated it was to write?"
"I know," she says. "Writing it ate up all your free time. I've hardly seen you in the last two weeks, Tom. I hate it when you do this. You find something new and amusing and you leave me out of it."
"I am sorry, B'Elanna. You're welcome to come to Fair Haven tonight." I might as well have mentioned another trip to Grethor; the look she gives me is positively crippling.
"At least see what it's about," I plead. "Even the Captain comes."
"I have other things to do," she says as she starts piling up the PADDs scattered on the table. "There are a million things that need to be done in Engineering…"
"But are they things you need to do?" I ask.
She whips her head up so fast that I'm afraid she might have cracked a neck vertebra.
"I take my responsibilities on this ship very seriously, Tom," she says.
"As do I. All I'm asking is that you spend some time with me in Fair Haven. I think you would like it."
"I don't know," she purses her lips in what I jokingly refer to as her "school ma'rm expression."
"Come on, B'Elanna," I pull her close to me and I take it as a good sign that she doesn't pull away. Amazingly enough, she is soft and relaxed. I lift her chin and kiss her.
"Tom, you can't always weasel your way out of situations like this," she murmurs. I push her up against the table; she sits on the edge and the PADDs clatter to the floor. "Tom, look what you did."
My hands are everywhere, my lips against hers.
"We'll clean up later," I whisper.
I wake, the blankets are tangled up in my legs. Perspiration beads on my forehead, shoulders and back. I sniff the air and decide I need a shower. I push the covers aside and strip my clothes off as I make my way into the sonic shower. I active it, letting the pulsating beam massage every cell of my body. In my dreams – the "when we return to the Alpha Quadrant dreams" – I long for a real shower, a water shoulder. I love the pressure of water against my skin, brushing away the grime, relaxing me through and through. Of course that is a luxury on starships and starbases, but once back on Earth, it is the first thing I want.
"I've been thinking about what we should do once we get back to the Alpha Quadrant," I tell B'Elanna one evening at dinner. "We can get a house in San Francisco. It's a great city."
"I hated it," she says. "Everyone is Starfleet there. Too many rules."
"We can get something outside of the city."
"That's provided we don't get sent to separate penal colonies."
"I don't expect that to happen."
B'Elanna stirs her food with her fork and then put it down.
"So you expect this to be a… long-term thing?"
After all this time, I cannot believe she would ask such a question. Doesn't she know? Doesn't she feel like I feel?
"I just assumed…" I mutter.
She reaches across the table to cover my hand with hers.
"A house in San Francisco with a real water shower…" she says quietly. "It sounds like a plan."
The sonic shower turns itself off with a slight squeal and whimper. I reach for my uniform.
"The time is 0532 hours."
Sleep is not an option; B'Elanna, temptress that she is, will be back to haunt me again. Night after night, she is there in my mind, and during the day, she is never far from my thoughts.
Even the holodeck cannot remove the gnawing in my stomach; I cannot swallow because I think of B'Elanna who cannot eat now.
Dressed and with my hair fairly tamed, I walk down the corridors of Voyager. At this time, it is fairly quiet. All faces are familiar, but are not the ones I would share my deepest thoughts and feelings with.
The mess hall is softly illuminated; only about four or five people are there, sipping warm beverages and talking in low voices. I turn on my foot and head towards the Bridge.
Everything is calm on the Bridge as I survey it with what I hope is a professional, competent look. No one really takes note of my presence and I notice with a bit of trepidation that Chakotay is not here and neither is Kim.
Back in the turbolift, I lean against the curved wall.
I don't know where I'm going or who I'm looking for. It sounds crazy, but it's true. It's not like I can open a door on Voyager and erupt into space and find all the answers there, so I've got to do my seeking here.
Quiet perturbs me. It reaches within me and stirs up emotions that something is not quite right. And the answer to what's wrong with Voyager is so obvious that it does not merit mentioning; it is unspoken but universal.
The cargo bay is dark except for the green glow above the Borg alcoves. I find a seat on a crate and watch them – Seven and the children – regenerating. I wonder if Janeway, Tuvok and B'Elanna will sleep standing up when they return.
For my own selfish reasons, I certainly hope not.
At precisely 0700 hours, the former Borg drones awaken and step out of their alcoves, fully awake and ready to attack – or rather, face – the new day.
"Lieutenant Paris," Seven says.
"Good morning, Seven," I inject a note of cheerfulness into my voice; no one wants to see a sourpuss first thing in the morning. Seven turns to the children and in that weird unspoken connection they posses, the children filter out of the cargo bay.
"Is something wrong, Lieutenant?" Seven asks.
"I couldn't sleep," I say.
"You should see the Doctor," Seven says firmly.
"I'm afraid of dreaming."
She arches an eyebrow at me, questioning without words.
"I think about B'Elanna all the time. I can't help myself. I'm worried about her," I feel silly telling all this to Seven, but for once she appears approachable and concerned. "It goes beyond worry, Seven. I can't put a word on it or a description of what it's like, but it plagues me."
"Do you feel the same for the others? For Captain Janeway? Commander Tuvok?"
"Yes, of course. I am worried about them."
"But not in the same way as Lieutenant Torres."
"No," I admit. "I love B'Elanna, Seven. I can't help myself, but I do. And it makes me crazy that she is somewhere I can't protect her."
"What makes you think B'Elanna needs protecting?" the voice comes from behind. I whirl around to see Chakotay, his face drawn, bags beneath his eyes.
"We have a job to do, Tom, and that's to get the Captain and the others back as soon as possible," Chakotay says. "I promise, B'Elanna will be back."
B'Elanna said the same thing the day she left. "I intend to come back," she said.
I swallow hard. Chakotay looks at Seven and she instinctively knows the answer to his question.
"No," she says. "They were not at Unimatrix Zero last night."
"Keep trying," Chakotay says. "They're bound to make contact soon."
He hopes, I hope, she hopes; we all hope. If we chant it all at once, all together, all day, maybe it will work. Hope turns to reality and we all live happily ever after.
"If not?" I can't help but ask. What if they did not accomplish their mission? What if they did not spread the virus? What if… fill in the blank yourself – the possibilities are endless and none are good.
"Then we attack," Chakotay says grimly. "I intend to get them all back. Alive."
Terrific. Voyager versus the Borg cube and even on a good day, I would put my money on the cube.
The choice is not good: leola root stew or leola root burgers. I do not question Neelix, only allow him to load my place with both options.
"Sorry," he says. "We're running short on rations lately and leola is all I have."
I lean forward, "If you don't fix that, you will have a mutiny soon."
"I know," Neelix looks sad, a bit downtrodden. His facial expression mimics that of everyone else on board. Apparently frowns are cheap but smiles are available at a premium.
I take my plate and sit down with Harry who is picking at his leola root concoctions.
"Interesting," he says.
"You're too kind," I say, wrinkling my nose. It smells foul, to be completely honest.
"I can't eat this stuff," Harry's fork clatters to his plate. "I try but I can't."
"I know the feeling," but I make an attempt at it. In general, my stomach churns and flips whenever I look or smell at food. The Doctor assures me that the nausea will pass but I doubt it. Anxiety is eating me up inside.
"What do you think of Chakotay's plan to attack the Borg?" Harry asks. I put my fork down. Harry asks a good question but I don't have a good answer to give him. To tell the truth, I cannot tell how serious Chakotay is about attacking the Borg; it seems crazy to me.
Crazy or not, Janeway would hate the idea; of that I'm positive, but she left Voyager in Chakotay's care so I suppose she trusts him to make the right decisions.
At least he's made a decision about the carpets. All carpets ship-wide are in the process of being cleaned. The cleaning solution smells almost as bad as leola root and so many emerge from the newly treated areas looking rather green in the face.
"I have no opinion," I say neutrally and this is true. I only want one thing and that's B'Elanna. How we get her back is of no consequence to me. Whatever the means, as long as they justify the ends, it does not matter to me. Heartless, but true.
"Come on, Tom, you've got to have an opinion," Harry leans forward, pushes his plate aside. "It has been thirty-seven days. You've got to come up with something."
"You mean a better plan than Chakotay's? I actually liked the Captain's plan. That was good but doesn't look like it's working, does it?" I ask.
Harry is silent for a moment and then his brown eyes meet mine.
"I would really like to see the Alpha Quadrant again," he says.
"I know the feeling," I answer. And there is only one way that I'm going home again.
With B'Elanna. There is no other option.
Day forty-three. Harry is depressed. I tell him to join the club; he isn't amused. Our holodeck time has gone woefully unused. Instead, we sit against the yellow-grided walls, our legs spread out in front of us.
"Remember when we went through that dead space?" I say. "At least this time, we get to see other planets, even talk to other species."
"Yeah, I guess."
Silence. Moment after moment. We're getting good at these pregnant pauses. I speak and then ten minutes later he responds. It's great, superficial type of stuff. We're too scared to talk about what we're feeling. Don't ask if you don't want to know and to be honest, who really cares? Just answer you're fine and move on. No one wants a song-and-dance about how you really feel. As Seven would say, feelings and emotions are rapidly becoming irrelevant.
Ennui, in its best form, is still debilitating.
"I have this great idea for another Captain Proton adventure," Harry says.
"Yeah," he doesn't extrapolate and I don't ask for clarification. I figure if he is enthused about the story, he will go ahead and program it. Do now if you are going to do it all and then tell someone about it later. That's Voyager's latest motto. Do what you like because no one really cares. You can ask all you want, explain until your throat is hoarse, but then you discover that no one is really listening.
"Sensors picked up a planet with dilithium reserves," I say. "Close to the surface too, minimal work required to extract it. I volunteered to be part of the away mission."
"Terrific," Harry says. "Extra dilithium, always good."
"Yeah," I say.
"I really enjoyed our last stop at Caligula," Harry says. "Picked up some things to take back to the Alpha Quadrant. Souvenirs."
"Don't you have enough of those already?"
"Just something to remember this place."
"Believe me," I say. "I'm never going to forget the Delta Quadrant."
I close my eyes and tip my head back.
Lately, I've been designing that house in San Francisco in my head. I have placed all the rooms and then started furnishing it. I even have plans for terraforming the land to my exact specifications. The only thing missing is B'Elanna and these days, I'm having a hard time of visualizing her anywhere. Two months ago, a future without B'Elanna was unthinkable, but now it is turning into a grim reality.
"Yeah," I say. "Fine."
"Okay, just checking."
I hear Harry getting to his feet and I open my eyes.
"Where are you going?" I ask.
"I have a lunch date with Megan," he says. "She chewed me out royally the last time I was late."
"Don't be late then," I say callously.
"Hey," Harry holds up his hands. "You asked me to meet you here and what do we do? We just sit here. Tom, you've got to snap out of it. We're all under pressure here but you can't just let yourself go like this."
"That sounds like a challenge," I say, standing up.
"Well, maybe it is. Don't you think about anyone other than yourself? You've got to stop feeling sorry for yourself."
"I'm not feeling sorry for myself," I snap.
"Yes, you are, and it's not fair to the others. It's especially not fair to the Commander."
"Don't bring Chakotay into this," I say. "If you have a problem with me, deal with me."
"We all have a problem with you, Tom, and the problem is that you are vanishing on us. You are somewhere the rest of us can't follow. We understand why, but you're not letting us help."
"I don't need help. I just need…" I cannot finish the sentence.
"It's all right, Tom," Harry lays a comforting hand on my shoulder. "It will be all right. Don't worry."
Easier said than done and probably not too much of a stretch for Harry, perpetually optimistic guy that he is.
"Enjoy your lunch with Megan," I say. "I'm going to sit here for a while."
"All right," Harry says. The doors swoosh closed behind him, leaving me alone in my black-and-yellow box of misery.
What I don't understand about my relationship with B'Elanna, now that I have the time to mull things over, is the reset button. Sometimes, I think that we have settled too much, that some days are tumultuous and passionate and then nothing. Extreme nothing, and we pass as mere acquaintances rather than as lovers. And then something happens, something life-threatening, and we snap back together until the next lull. It's almost as if we drift apart, courtesy of this button that one of us is constantly pressing.
If I could, I would reset us back to that moment before B'Elanna left. I would have pleaded more, would have told her I loved her, would have done a million things differently. And this time if I could reset it all, I would not have let her go.
Sure, she would have hated me, despised me, but she would be here and safe. I could take a cold shoulder for a week or two. It would be better than this waiting game.
I think about Seven's constant refrain. The Doctor, the Doctor, the Doctor… it's been weeks since I last was in sickbay. Occasionally, the Doctor pops up in a variety of places on Voyager, usually in search of the never-sleeping Chakotay, but in general, the Doctor confines himself to sickbay.
I exit the holodeck and within minutes, I'm in the presence of the Doctor himself. He is tinkering, which is not unusual, since the sickbay is empty.
"Ah, Mr. Paris," the Doctor says gleefully.
"What are you doing?" I ask.
"Enhancing my drawing subroutine. I am attempting to refine it in order to capture exactly the visual acuity and detail of some of the great masters. For example, T'Lok of Vulcan could draw the veins of a flower petal in such detail, it looked like a holoimage."
"I have seen some of T'Lok's work."
"I did not know you were a fan of art, Mr. Paris."
"It was a required course at the Academy," I say. "`Alien Species History through Art' or something to that extent."
"Sounds fascinating. I will have to see if it's offered once we return to the Alpha Quadrant."
"I'm sure you will enjoy it."
The Doctor leans back in his chair, props his feet up on the desk, and eyes me keenly.
"Do you need something, Mr. Paris?"
"Actually, I wanted to see if you needed some help. I'm off duty, so I thought I'd lend you some of my skills," I smile.
"It has been slow," he admits. "But I could use your help in replicating some medicines."
"Sure," I say. "Anything in particular?"
"Camezin, Alathrop, Mernazin, Capioze," the Doctor recites. Tension tightens my shoulder muscles, extends through my neck, and finally culminates in a pounding headache. Amazing what a simple string of obscure medical drugs can do to an individual.
"Anti-assimilation drugs," I state flatly.
"Very good, Mr. Paris," the Doctor beams. "I want a full supply on hand for when the Captain, Tuvok and Torres return."
"I'll get right on it," I promise. "Are the formulas available in the database?"
"Of course. And you'll find that I created the formula for Capioze myself," he grins from ear to ear. "With help from Seven, of course."
"Of course," I say.
I head towards the computer and call up the formulas for the drugs mentioned. I do not know them well, except for the purpose they serve. The words "documented side-effects" catch my eyes. I frown; I do not recall Seven suffering from any complications due to these drugs, but then again, she has mastered the art of hiding anything and everything from us. In that sense, she and B'Elanna are so similar.
I read through the fields as fast as I can. Side effects could possibly include headaches, nausea, dizziness, fainting, elevated white blood cell count, liver failure, sensitivity to light, irregular heartbeat, vertigo, mental lapses or death.
I begin to replicate the drugs.
Go to part III
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