A Case of Need, part VII
She didn't know how long she had been watching him.
There was something curiously endearing about a grown man, sprawled across a sofa, eating popcorn and watching animated figures run across the screen.
B'Elanna Torres didn't understand why the coyote continued to chase after the roadrunner after so many failures. Tom had tried to explain it to her, but she had held up a hand, not really paying attention to what he was saying, and Tom had given up.
But now as she watched Tom, she wanted him to explain it all over again to her. The coyote ran off the screen and another cartoon came on, this one featuring disproportionate figured animals and humans, all of their antics eliciting laughter from Tom.
B'Elanna crossed the distance to the sofa, stopping at Tom's side; her husband was intent on the television and didn't notice when she leaned in to kiss him on the cheek. He did look up at her second kiss, a gentle, longer one on his jawbone.
"What was that for?" he asked as B'Elanna settled down next to him.
"For taking care of me even when you didn't know who I was."
Tom offered her a smile, but then she punched him in the arm.
"What was that for?"
"For flirting with your customers," B'Elanna answered.
"I was a victim of mind control," Tom protested.
"Uh huh," B'Elanna said teasingly as she helped herself to some of his popcorn. B'Elanna snuggled up to him, reveling in the feel of his cheek against hers. "Likely story, Lieutenant."
"Really," Tom protested. "It didn't mean anything."
"Shhh," B'Elanna pointed to the television. "I want to see this." Tom shook his head in amusement, knowing that B'Elanna didn't care for cartoons as much as he did.
Tom looked at her strangely, but said nothing. For a few minutes, they watched as the little human dropped various objects on top of a dancing donkey. It was, in B'Elanna's opinion, faintly ridiculous, but she enjoyed spending this quiet time with Tom.
"Did you have a good day?" Tom asked when the commercials came on. B'Elanna winced at the sight of an apron-clad woman singing and dancing as she scrubbed the kitchen floor.
"It was all right. There's a lot of work, more than I expected, in Engineering," B'Elanna answered.
"You will take it easy?"
"Of course," B'Elanna said, knowing that she couldn't possibly slow down, not now. Finally, she had managed to get the transporters properly aligned and then in the morning, she planned to look at the inverse transducers and the warp coil buffers. She shifted her position, finally settling against the opposite armrest, and Tom lifted her feet, rubbing them lightly.
"It certainly beats working at the Power Distribution Facility," she said. "I think if I had spent another couple months there monitoring fluctuations, I may have gone crazy. At least this challenges me and keeps me engaged. That work was simply tedious, boring."
Tom didn't answer; his attention was back on the television now that another episode of a cartoon was on.
"Which one is this?" B'Elanna indicated the television, but her husband did not respond. She punched Tom lightly in the arm and he looked at her.
"What did you do that for?" he asked.
"I was talking to you. Didn't you hear me?"
"Sorry," Tom said ruefully.
"Don't worry about it. What's this one about?" she asked.
"Nothing important. I'll turn it off."
"You don't have to."
"No, I want to," Tom answered. He pressed the power button on the remote and then looked back at B'Elanna. "We have a lot to catch up on, don't we?"
"Yeah," B'Elanna answered. She leaned her head against the back of the sofa. Tom looked at her sympathetically, taking her hand in his. He caressed her fingers and then played idly with the gold band, newly replaced on her finger. The Quarrans had finally given them back their personal possessions and for that, both Tom and B'Elanna were grateful. Before getting the rings back, Tom had offered to replicate new bands and B'Elanna had agreed, but had not voiced her feelings that the new rings couldn't possibly take the place of the ones they had lost. Thankfully, it had not been necessary.
"Tired?" he asked.
"You looked tired... down there."
"It's okay to say it, Tom."
Tom's hands moved expertly up her calves. B'Elanna sighed in contentment; she hadn't realized until this very moment how sore her muscles were from all the day's activities in Engineering.
"Quarra. You can say Quarra."
"I wasn't avoiding the word," he objected. "Does that feel better?"
"Yes. Thank you," B'Elanna said sincerely.
"I was worried about you when you disappeared. I don't know if I told you. When the investigators came by and told me you were missing, I was frantic with worry."
"I can't explain it really. Like you said earlier, I didn't even know who you were but somewhere, in the back of my mind, I knew I cared-"
"Cared?" B'Elanna asked softly.
Tom went on, seemingly not hearing B'Elanna.
"When the investigators asked me questions, all I could think was that I should have gone with you."
Tom sighed. "Sweet had nothing to do with it. What if something had really happened to you? What if it hadn't been Chakotay? God, B'Elanna, what if? I would have felt responsible, regardless."
"Don't think that way."
"I can't help it."
B'Elanna closed her eyes. She remembered her experience in emotions rather than events. She recalled sitting on the bed in her small apartment, staring at the door, and waiting. Simply waiting. She hadn't felt that intensely alone since, well, since before the Maquis.
"What are you thinking about?"
"Thinking how lucky we are that Chakotay and the others found us," she said lightly. Tom reached over to intertwine his fingers with hers.
"We lost time," he said quietly. "Three weeks. Three weeks of our lives."
"Something like that."
"If it had been longer, I would have missed - I would have missed the baby."
B'Elanna looked down at their intertwined hands and shivered.
"Cold?" Tom asked and because she could feel a lump forming in her throat, B'Elanna nodded. Tom got up.
"Let me get you a blanket," he said.
B'Elanna leaned her head against the back of the couch, watching Tom as he rummaged through the drawers. Like her, he had the occasional moment of fogginess, where he couldn't quite remember something. To remember so much yet to have those moments of blankness frustrated both of them to no end. Finally, Tom found the blanket and held it up to show her. B'Elanna smiled back at him.
"Crazy, isn't it?" he asked, but didn't say much more; B'Elanna knew exactly what he meant.
"It'll get better," she told him gently.
Tom laid the blanket gently across her legs and then knelt down next to her.
"I read your logs," she said. Tom looked at her in surprise. "When I was trying to find out about us... you."
"Anything interesting?" his tone was light, but strained.
"I-" B'Elanna stopped. She felt guilty again now, but she wanted to tell Tom about what she had done. "I'm sorry, Tom, I shouldn't have."
He sighed and then closed his eyes.
"No, no. It's all right."
"I- I didn't believe what they were telling me. I really did believe I was waiting for the baby alone, thinking that the father had left me. And then Neelix, he said - he said I was married. To you. I- I had a hard time believing that. I mean, I could only wonder then what someone like you who could have anyone at all would want with me-"
"Don't ever say that." Tom grabbed her hands in his. "B'Elanna, it's all right. I don't mind that you read through my logs. Whatever makes you remember, whatever makes you comfortable. That's what I want."
B'Elanna ran a hand through her hair. All around her, she could see the little signs that signified the life she and Tom were building together, from his toaster to his television, her bat'leths and engineering tools, and of course, the crib in the corner. She felt warm here, safe, even when her schedule conflicted with Tom's and she ended up sleeping alone. Even then, she could put her hand on his pillow and know that he would be next to her the following night.
"I hated being alone," B'Elanna said very softly. "It was dark, Tom. Cold, dark, miserable. That's what I remember. Everything was gray. And the steam. Remember all of the steam coming up through the ducts in the sidewalks?"
"I remember that too. It rained a lot, didn't it?"
"A lot," she laughed. "The first day I stepped off the transport, I think I got soaked to the skin. I ended up in the Infirmary my first day on the job. And don't look at me like that; it wasn't serious, Tom. Really."
Tom squeezed her hand.
"I'm sorry you were alone," he said.
"You- you made me feel less alone," B'Elanna told him.
Tom laughed. "The first time I talked to you, you didn't want anything to do with me."
"When you were nice to me, I was suspicious."
"I got that impression," Tom said dryly. "Loud and clear. Some things never change."
B'Elanna laughed. "You were... you were the Tom Paris who always kept me off guard. The way you used to be."
"What do you mean by that?"
"The way you were when I first came onboard Voyager," B'Elanna said, feeling increasingly flustered. "When I doubted your motivations, you know, when you were nice to me."
"I don't like how that makes me feel, B'Elanna, to hear you say that after all of these years."
"No, I mean, when you would stay when everyone else left. When you put up with my bad moods because no one else would. I couldn't understand because no one else cared enough to do that. You never- you were like that on Quarra, Tom," B'Elanna said earnestly. "Very sweet. And kind, very kind. And I had to keep reminding myself that I couldn't fall for you."
"So you didn't fall victim to my charm again?" this time Tom's voice held a hint of humor. "I suppose all of the good ones are worth chasing after. Maybe in time, I would have convinced you."
"Maybe," B'Elanna said. "But I was pretty determined not to get involved with anyone. Even someone as charming as you."
Tom was quiet for a moment, his expression pensive.
"What is it?" she asked.
"You would have been alone," he said. "I didn't think about it. Or you might have found someone else..."
"Tom," B'Elanna said. "Please. We can't think like that."
Tom got up from his place on the floor and started to pace in front of the sofa. B'Elanna watched him, not speaking. This wasn't the Tom she knew, this was someone else entirely, and she wasn't sure how to deal with this man, this changed Tom.
After a moment, Tom paused and looked back down at B'Elanna. She held out a hand to him and he took it and she pulled him down onto the sofa with her.
"Tom," she whispered. "What is it?"
"I'm just realizing all of the things I never thought of before," he said. He pulled B'Elanna close to him, so that her head rested against his chest. His arm snaked around her body and rested on her stomach. "I didn't realize how much I have to lose now."
B'Elanna placed her hand against Tom's chest lightly, feeling so secure in his arms around her.
"I know," she whispered. "I know."
The next morning, B'Elanna woke to Tom's singing in the sonic shower. She stretched out lazily, her hands over her head as she listened to his nonsense lyrics. She could only imagine what lullabies he would come up with when their baby was born. Nothing terribly intelligent, she was sure, and then she smiled.
A few minutes later, Tom came out, dressed in his uniform, his hair neatly combed.
"Hi," he said. His tone was warm, almost caressing.
"Hi," B'Elanna answered. She held out a hand and he came to sit on the edge of the bed, taking a second to lean over and kiss her on the cheek.
"Better than I have in weeks," she said sincerely. "It's good to be back, isn't it?"
"It is," Tom said. He brushed a strand of hair away from her cheek. "Are you hungry? I'll make some toast but then I'm due for my shift on the Bridge."
A few years ago, B'Elanna would have bristled at his offer of breakfast; the old B'Elanna was fiercely independent, didn't want or need anyone to do anything for her. Now, with a calmness that grew out of maturity and a sense of belonging, B'Elanna understood the implications better. Tom wasn't insinuating she couldn't take care of herself, he simply liked doing things for her. And to her surprise, B'Elanna actually enjoyed his solicitous care.
How far we've come, she thought.
"B'Elanna?" Tom queried. "Toast or something else?"
"Toast sounds good, thank you," B'Elanna said. She smiled. "You always know exactly what I want, don't you?"
"I try to keep you happy."
"And you do a very good job of it. Thank you."
"No, thank you." Tom leaned in for another kiss and then got up. "Full day?"
"Oh yes. I'm meeting Carey and Seven at 0900 for a level one primary diagnostic. Who knows what the Doctor did to this ship while we were gone?"
"Do you really want to find out?" Tom teased as he popped a couple pieces of bread into the toaster.
"You're probably right. Ignorance is probably better at this point." B'Elanna curled up on the bed, pulling the blanket up over her shoulders. "Tom?"
"What is it?"
"Are you - are you feeling all right?" she kept her tone even, hoping that a note of concern did not creep though. Tom seemed like his usual self this morning and certainly, he seemed to have vanquished the dark mood which had haunted him last night. Still, B'Elanna knew that Tom had a habit of shutting her out just when he needed her the most. He was trying and she gave him credit for that. But still, she knew, sometimes she would have to push him, just a little bit.
"I'm fine," he told her. "Don't look at me like that, B'Elanna. I mean it."
"I wouldn't say that. Anxiety comes with the job, you know?"
"You don't have to tell me."
"I was thinking, Tom."
"About whether Voyager is the best place to raise our baby."
"What are you saying?"
"It's just a thought."
"We've had this conversation before, B'Elanna. What other options do we have?"
"I guess I'm just concerned about what kind of life our daughter is going to have," B'Elanna said wistfully.
"I've told you before that our baby is going to have a great life." Tom flashed a smile at B'Elanna, the one that said he knew that he was irresistible. B'Elanna couldn't help but grin back at him. "Trust me on this one, B'Elanna, okay?"
"If you insist."
The toast popped up and Tom expertly spread peanut butter. B'Elanna threw off the covers and padded over to him. Tom grabbed her around her waist and kissed her.
"We're going to be fine," he told her. B'Elanna touched his cheek lightly.
"I know," she whispered back, almost believing him.
"Your breakfast," Tom nodded towards the plate on the table. He pulled out a chair for B'Elanna. She grinned at his courtesy and a flush rose in his cheeks. "Do you have time to meet me for lunch today?" Tom asked.
"I think so. I have to see the Doctor sometime today for a routine check-up, but I think I can get away for a few minutes, provided Seven doesn't continue her efficiency monitoring."
Tom laughed. "I don't pass muster with her here and I certainly didn't on Quarra."
"I think 'erratic' is the word she uses in conjunction with your name," B'Elanna said contemplatively. "But I suppose your inconsistency keeps things interesting."
"Interesting," Tom said. "You once told me that 'interesting' wasn't enough for you."
"Does that mean you changed your mind?"
"Maybe." B'Elanna offered a smile back at her husband. She ate in silence as Tom sat down on the couch to put on his shoes. The toast finished, B'Elanna pushed her plate away and turned her chair so that she was facing Tom.
"You know what you said last night? About having so much to lose?"
"I- I never realized how much-" B'Elanna paused. Tom looked at her in concern.
"What's the matter?" Tom asked. "Is something bothering you?"
B'Elanna swallowed hard and rested her chin on the palm of her hand.
"B'Elanna? What is it?"
"I hate to use a cliche, but you don't know what you're missing until it's gone."
"I know that feeling," Tom answered. "Anything in particular?"
"No, nothing specific really. It's just I never wanted to need anyone. When I was growing up, I did my best to push everyone away. I ran away to the Academy and I didn't 'need' anyone there either and see what happened to me. I suppose if I hadn't found the Maquis, I'd still be running. Or maybe not. Who knows?" she was rambling now but didn't care. "When I came on board Voyager, I certainly didn't want any of you."
"You don't have to tell me that," Tom said. "I know. I was there, remember?" He rounded around the table so that he was directly facing B'Elanna. "I remember the way you were, B'Elanna, and I know how you are now. A lot has happened, a lot of changes. And I - I don't think there's anything wrong with confessing to wanting people who care about you."
B'Elanna reached across the table and grabbed Tom's hand, remembering that night in the restaurant when she had nearly cried and he had comforted her. And she remembered what Tom had recorded in his logs. "I didn't want to need her," he had said. Somehow, that cocky pilot, the one with the ready quip and disarming smile, somehow he had become the man she had married.
"I remember how you were," she whispered. "And I know how you are now." And she held on to his hand, squeezing it, trying to make sure that he was indeed here and that he wasn't going anywhere. After a moment, she let go. Tom looked at her in concern.
"You're going to be all right?" he asked.
"I'll be fine," she told him.
"Yes. I'll see you at lunch," she said lightly. Tom nodded.
"At lunch then."
B'Elanna settled back in her chair after Tom left, her hand resting on her belly. After a few minutes, she roused herself to get ready for work.
Engineering needed her.
~ the end ~
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