Author's Note: I wrote this almost a year ago as one of the sequels in the "Lines in the Sand" universe. Due to a computer crash, it will be a while before I can resurrect the stories that fit between this one and "Lines in the Sand." However, this can stand on its own, without reading the others. This is AU, having been written even before season seven began; I'm only just now getting around to posting it.
Disclaimer: Paramount's toys, not mine.
I hate moving. In the past, I moved to escape situations or when I could no longer face those things that bothered me. And I would keep moving until I found some place where I could feel warm, if only for a little while. Then it would be time to pack up again, time to run away, and search out something new.
I hated every minute of it.
Ironic, isn't it? Running away is something I'm truly good at; it takes a special talent to turn away from those things that get under your skin and eat away at the soft epidermis like sulfuric acid.
Doesn't change the fact that I hate moving.
Tom sees it differently; he says it's a new start for us, a new beginning where everything is fresh, without the recriminations or horrors of the past.
I hope he's right and I'm wrong. Wouldn't be the first time and certainly, it won't be the last.
I lift the box and dump it on the table with a resounding thunk.
"B'Elanna," Tom says reproachfully from the other end of the room where he is carefully wrapping dishes in towels and socks.
"Sorry," I answer. "It's heavy."
"Be careful. You might break something."
"If you drop things like that, something's going to break."
"I'm being careful."
"I heard you drop it, B'Elanna. You're going to break something."
We stand there, staring at each other. It was his idea to move, even though I resisted. He wins though because for once he wants something badly enough that I don't have the heart - or the energy - to fight him. I admit, living in a one-bedroom apartment gets cramped on occasion, especially when we've been going at each other non-stop. Since moving to this apartment on High Street six months ago, I've spent more time outside exploring San Francisco than I did in the two years I was at the Academy; there isn't enough room in the apartment for my temper, Tom and me.
"I hate moving," I repeat for the nth time.
"Come on, B'Elanna," Tom cajoles. "Think about all of the extra room." He stands up, stretches and then looks for the sealer to close the box. "And the garden," he says. "Don't forget the garden."
"I'm not forgetting," I tell him. "I'm telling you how I feel. There's nothing wrong with that. I hate moving. And I never liked dirt, so don't think I'm going to start planting flowers now."
He seals his box shut and then heaves it up onto the table with little effort.
"I've arranged for the transporter," he says smoothly changing the subject the way we do when we're trying to avoid talking about the pink elephant seated in the room with us. "We can have it beginning at nine tomorrow morning. I had to bribe the landlord with most of our replicator rations, so we may be a little hungry for the next couple days."
I turn back to look at what remains in our tiny living room. We don't have much, just the basics in furniture - durable Starfleet-issue - and a few knick-knacks. We haven't spent a whole lot of time decorating since moving in; Tom's been busy with the house plans and I, well, I fluctuate back and forth over the question of what to do with my life.
The issue is long-term planning. I never thought for a single second where I wanted to be in five years, ten years or even fifteen. I grew up and went to Starfleet Academy. I thought I would graduate and then someone would point me in the appropriate direction.
Since coming back, I've spent time getting to know San Francisco all over again, and getting used to the fact that my feet are on solid ground. I'm still amazed that there is no longer the need to tighten my leg muscles and slightly bend at the knees to brace myself for an impending landing or explosion.
I've drawn up some diagrams for a new shuttle and I've even come up with some modifications to the replicator systems, but with no urgency to innovate, I don't actually implement anything at all.
Tom, on the other hand, is inspired. So many nights, I would curl up on the sofa, eyes glazing over as I stared at the television, and he would be hunched over his blueprints, scratching and erasing.
Occasionally, he would call me over.
"Look at this, B'Elanna," he would say. "What do you think about putting the dining room here?"
Sometimes, he would nudge me in the shoulder, pointing out a new detail he added, like the window seat tucked beneath the bay window in the master bedroom.
And I would tell him the plans looked fine. Tom even managed to slip four bedrooms into the final blueprint with a sly aside, "We may need the extra space." I didn't answer.
Having children, well, that wasn't something I considered when I as younger. Even when Tom and I got married, we never talked about it. I always got the feeling that Tom would want children because he's an overgrown child himself, but I never saw myself in a maternal role. But he brings it up discreetly and gently when I'm in a good mood, and his enthusiasm for the idea and his boyish charm slowly eat away at my reluctance; it's the type of idea you get used to the more you hear it.
I slump down on the sofa to watch Tom pack the remaining dishes. He is elbow-deep in box, his red sleeves rolled up. His face is flushed, his hair ruffled. He pauses for a moment and looks across the distance at me.
"I'm sorry," I tell him.
"Don't be," he says. "I know you're tired."
I sigh. Sometimes it really bothers me that Tom is so nice, so understanding. I want him to rage at me, maybe drive some of the energy back into my body.
I'm tired of being the angry one.
"Harry's coming over tonight," Tom says. "He's bringing us dinner."
"That's nice of him. He didn't have to," I say. "Did you ask him?"
Tom looks over his shoulder at me. "He offered."
"You asked," I say without anger.
"You haven't been feeling well, B'Elanna, and I know this move has been hard on you."
"He's shipping out tomorrow, that's not fair. I could have taken care of dinner."
"Harry wants to see us, so this was the perfect opportunity. Who knows when we'll see each other again?"
I know Tom misses the camaraderie we enjoyed on Voyager and sometimes I feel that he resents my presence. I hear him occasionally saying, "Sorry, not tonight. B'Elanna's not feeling well" and immediately, guilt squeezes my heart.
I want to be able to tell him, "It's all right, Tom, go out with your friends," but my own selfishness prevents me from saying anything.
I suppose I should be grateful; when we were on Voyager, Tom would look for any excuse to be somewhere else, to be with someone else. There was always a holodeck scenario for him, always a new shuttle to pilot or toy to modify. In those days, I never came first with him. We'd have our little conversations, get everything out in the open and after a few months, we'd be find ourselves right back where we started.
But this Tom - the kind, caring, attentive, sympathetic Tom - the one whom I wanted so desperately on Voyager, it's almost as if he's a stranger, someone new I have to get used to.
"You feeling okay?" Tom asks. His voice is soft, low, caressing and somehow irksome at the same time; I hate that he sees my weakness. And I hate that I can't help myself.
"Yeah, I'm just tired of boxes," I tell him. "I'm going to start in the bedroom, okay?"
The bedroom is not very big, maybe five meters by five meters - just big enough for the bed and a small dresser. There is certainly not enough room for both Tom and I to move around in here. I squeeze between the bed and the closet, taking stock of our clothing inventory. Tom's Starfleet uniforms are neatly pressed and ready-to-wear - if and when he decides to go back to Starfleet.
Flying is in his blood and Starfleet offers so many opportunities for him in that regard. I know he's itching to go back, but he stays behind because of me.
Because I don't know what I want to do yet and he's reluctant to leave me.
I know why.
He doesn't trust me.
He thinks I'll hurt myself again.
I want to tell him that he is wrong, but he won't listen; he's stubborn that way, single-minded and utterly unresponsive to what I think is the problem. He's defined our issues - our marriage - in his own head and it's impossible for me to change his mind, to change our relationship.
And I'm too tired to fight him.
My own clothes are few. A dress or two, several pairs of comfortable pants, a sweater and some loose tops. Fashion has never been something I've been particularly interested in, so with the exception of nightwear, I never indulged in the latest styles.
The suitcase is under the bed and I pull it out and put it on top of the bed. I throw the clothes carelessly in, with the exception of Tom's uniforms. These I fold precisely, according to mandated Starfleet procedures.
When he goes, I want to make it as easy for him as possible.
I look at the dresser, survey the few items on top of it. Hairbrush, comb, a watch, some hair clips, nothing particularly of value. There is the holoimage of the two of us taken soon after we moved to this apartment. We're sitting on a bench on Academy grounds, his arm around my shoulders, my head leaning back against his cheek. Someone - Harry, I think - was saying something to make us laugh and in the last instant of the image, Tom's fingers squeeze my shoulder tightly.
I throw these
few items into the suitcase and then go back out to get another
"Need to pack the bedding," I tell Tom. He nods and turns his attention back to his box.
I roll the comforter up and then the sheets, followed by the extra blankets and sheets from the closet. I lean forward, resting my elbows on top of the box, covering my eyes with my hands. The box juts uncomfortably into my ribcage, but I don't move.
I don't have enough fingers to count the times I have packed or helped someone else pack.
I remember, as a small girl, helping my father prepare for a business trip and feeling so proud of myself for being so good. And then, I helped him pack so he could walk out of my life.
He never looked back. I sat on the doorstep, hugging my knees to my chest, watching Daddy go, but he never turned around. He carried that suitcase to the waiting shuttle. I remember standing up and waving with both hands, but he never even looked out the window at me.
When I received admission to the Academy, that was joyful packing. I was leaving behind the life on Kessik IV I hated and more importantly, I was getting away from my mother.
When I was asked to leave the Academy, after two years, I took very little - just my clothing and the one picture of my father I owned.
I had nothing when I came on Voyager and when I left, I didn't have time to take anything with me. Tom saved what possessions I had, brought them back to San Francisco and kept them safe for the day we would be reunited.
I close my eyes. I worry about him, worry that he won't have a purpose once we settle into the new house. And I'm afraid he will resent me for holding him back.
"Hey," Tom's arms snake around my waist. "Are you sure you feel all right?"
"I'm just thinking," I tell him.
"That's nice. You want to tell me more?"
"About your career."
"There's no rush."
"If you want to fly, Tom, you should. Do what you like."
"I told you, I want to take a break," his voice has a deliberate edge to it. "Why is this coming up now?"
His lips are very close to my cheek, his breath warm against my jaw.
"I figured you'd want something to do now that you're finished designing the house."
"I'm not going anywhere," he says firmly. "So stop trying to send me away."
I twist around, leaning almost backwards over the box, my arms going around his neck.
"I just want you to be happy," I tell him. He lifts me slightly so I'm standing straight against him. Tom tucks a strand of hair behind my ear and traces the edge of my jaw with his thumb.
"I am," he says. "Don't worry."
He kisses me, deeply, his hands cupping my face, as is his habit. I reciprocate, feeling a sudden warmth rush through me. Tom's arms encircle me, drawing me closer to him, until there is barely room for air to flow between us. We stand like that for a few minutes until we hear the door chime.
"Harry," Tom says. He kisses me, holds my hand for a brief second and then goes to answer the door. I take a moment to catch my breath, and then follow him.
I always have a vision of Harry as an eager ensign and even though he has finally received his well-deserved promotion to lieutenant, I cannot reconcile the two versions of Harry.
"Harry, come in," Tom says heartily. "B'Elanna and I were just finishing up here."
"It looks like a plasma storm went through the place," Harry says, cautiously stepping over boxes and assorted items scattered on the floor. "Hi B'Elanna."
"I brought dinner," Harry holds up a bag. "Chinese food. Sound okay?"
"Sounds terrific," Tom looks at me. "That okay with you, B'Elanna?"
I nod, "Thanks, Harry."
"Moving is never easy," Harry says. "You've got the apartment transporter scheduled?"
"First thing in the morning," Tom says. "A little early for my tastes, but sometimes you have to compromise. We have to be through with it by lunchtime."
"The house looks great. You did a wonderful job designing it, Tom."
"Thanks," Tom says. "Hey, you want to sit down? I'll clear a place for you."
I move mechanically to the table and deposit the boxes we put there earlier back onto the floor. There are some towels draped over the backs of the chairs and I toss them to the side.
"We're excited about getting some space," Tom says casually.
"Of course you'll have plenty of room for guests," Harry says. "I'll need a place to stay when I come back for shore leave."
"You're always welcome."
I take the food out of Harry's bag and he, in typical Harry-fashion, also brought plates, cups, forks and knives. I'm impressed. Some things, like Harry's punctuality and reliability, never change.
"You excited about your new assignment?" Tom asks. He indicates a chair for Harry and then sits opposite him. I settle down into the third chair. "Full lieutenant, that's impressive."
"I may even outrank you one day," Harry grins. "If you don't go back."
"Don't count on it."
"You thinking about going back?"
"Maybe," Tom says casually, his eyes not meeting mine. "We need to get settled in first. Too many things have happened in the last few years. I think I really just want to enjoy this time right now. There's plenty of time to go back to Starfleet."
"Don't wait too long," Harry says. "You know about these new maverick pilots who are rewriting the book on flying, don't you?"
"No, actually, I haven't heard anything. What is the story on these guys?"
"Starfleet Academy has added a twelve-month intensive pilot training camp," Harry says. "Only the best of the best are accepted."
"That sound familiar. I remember there was a program similar to that for graduates," Tom says. "You're saying it's now offered as part of the regular curriculum?"
"Appears so. Libby's younger brother enrolled. He's walking on air."
"So don't wait too long, Tom, or you'll be eating their warp signatures."
"That's not a pretty picture."
The two of them share a laugh as I spoon chicken lo mein onto their plates. At some point, Tom squeezes my knee gently.
"What about you, B'Elanna?" Harry asks. "I know Tom's kept you busy with this move."
"You could say that," I tell him.
"For Starfleet you mean? No," I shake my head. "I don't think I could. Too many rules and regulations."
"And that's all right," Tom is quick to say. "Starfleet isn't everything or for everyone."
Tom's expression is soft, melting and misting as he gazes at me. I hang my head, hating that he makes excuses for me. He says these things like "B'Elanna needs a break," because he can't tell the truth. He can't tell people, "My wife has some psychological issues. Her father left her, you see, so she's been scarred for life. She hates her Klingon blood and on some days, she hates her human blood too. She lost all of her Maquis friends and then she assimilated people during a crazy foray onto a Borg Cube last year. And then, she was imprisoned by Starfleet, caught a rare type of flu and nearly died. So she's not quite together, if you know what I mean."
But no, Tom says things like, "B'Elanna is exploring her options" or "we decided we needed to enjoy this time together."
"If you don't watch out, your skills won't be up to par," Harry says.
"Harry," Tom says. "Look, you know B'Elanna's been through a lot. Don't push it, okay? She'll go back if and when she decides to. Now is not the right time."
Abruptly I get up from the table, nearly knocking over my chair in my haste to leave the table.
I don't look at them as I toss my plate into the disposal and head into the bedroom. I throw myself on the bed, face first.
It isn't long before Tom is sitting on the edge of the bed, his hand rubbing my back. He doesn't speak and for his understanding silence, I'm grateful.
After a while, he pulls the comforter out of the box, lays it over me and leaves. I hear him talking in a low voice to Harry and only catch the phrase, "B'Elanna needs me," and then a few seconds later, Harry says, "I'll see you soon."
I don't move when Tom comes back into the bedroom. He undresses and then eases into bed with me. He drapes his arm loosely across my back, his chin nestling close to my shoulder.
"Good night, B'Elanna," he whispers.
Moving day dawns bright and sunny. I blink sleep away and stumble into the kitchen. Tom has breakfast ready - peanut-butter toast and coffee. He's dressed and by the looks of things, he's been up for quite a while organizing our possessions.
"Good morning," he holds out a cup of coffee.
"You should have woken me up," I tell him reproachfully.
"You were tired," he says. "Long day yesterday."
"You don't need to coddle me. I can take care of myself."
Tom's level gaze meets mine and he nods.
"I know," he says.
I fold myself into the one chair remaining. "You've started transporting things already."
"Thought I'd get started seeing as we have to be done by noon," he stands behind me, squeezes my right shoulder and brushes his lips against my cheek.
"I would have helped."
"There's still plenty to be done, B'Elanna, don't worry. And just think, when we get to the new house, there will be a lot of unpacking. I'm counting on you to get the decorating done."
"Decorating. Sounds like fun."
"I know it's not your thing," he hesitates.
"That's fine," I cut him off. "I'll take care of it. Don't worry."
"Fine," he says. "I'm going to take some more of these boxes down."
I finish eating by the time Tom makes a second trip with the boxes.
"I'll get the bedding," I say. "It was stupid of me to have tried to pack it yesterday."
"That's all right."
The box with the sheets in it is still in the bedroom, wedged between the dresser and the foot of the bed. I roll the comforter up and stuff it in. I sit on top of the pile, hoping to condense its bulk when Tom walks in.
"You look cute," he says.
"I can't get it to fit."
"Let me do it."
"I can do it, Tom, just give me a second."
"Really, B'Elanna," he extends his hand. "I can get it done in a second."
He pulls me to my feet and then expertly pushes down the comforter and pillows and seals the box in one smooth motion.
"See?" he says.
I stand there, boxed in by Tom, the bed and the wall. My chest constricts and nausea bubbles up in my throat. I press my hands against my stomach, swallowing the bile threatening to spill out.
Tom hefts up the box and tosses a casual, "You'll get the rest, right?" over his shoulder.
"Yes," I mumble. I turn to empty the dresser and as I open the top drawer, I catch sight of myself in the mirror. I see a rather peaked face staring back, brown eyes large, Klingon ridges prominent, and soft brown hair nestling against my cheekbones. I tuck strands of hair back behind my ears and continue to empty the drawers.
My mother's voice, her face, always there in the echoes of my mind, taunts me.
"Burden," she hisses. "Can't even pack a simple box. I knew you wouldn't amount to much. No honor, none. You are a disgrace. You bear no honor to our name. Didn't I tell you?"
I grab the top of the dresser, holding on as if it were my only connection to this world.
"I'm trying," I answer her. "Don't think I'm not. Some days are easier than others."
"No Klingon would be like this," she says. "No Klingon would show such weakness."
"I don't mean to."
"You've turned out to be everything I thought you would be. A failure. Nothing more, nothing less."
I stare at my reflection in the mirror, my eyelids growing heavy with exhaustion.
"You all done in here?" Tom asks. I jerk back to face him, nearly tripping over the bed. "Whoa! I didn't mean to scare you."
"No, you just caught me by surprise," I tell him. "I was lost in my own thoughts."
"I can't see what's so interesting about my boxers," he removes the garment from my clenched fingers.
"I -" I pause. The last thing I want Tom to know is that my mother makes occasional forays into my head to remind me of her own special kind of love for me. "I was thinking that it would be nice to have some space. You are right about that."
"Good," Tom's fingers curl around mine. "I'm glad to hear it."
He seals this last box and carries it out. I take another look around; we'll set the transporter to take care of the furniture from here.
I do a last minute check to make sure nothing is left behind and then meet Tom by the transporter. The last few boxes dematerialize in a shimmer of light.
"Let's go," he says.
Outside, the day is comfortably warm, with just a hint of breeze. Tom's hand, firm against the small of my back, guides me towards the waiting shuttle taxi. I settle back against the black seats, feeling enormously relieved that one ordeal is over. Tom gives the pilot directions to our new place and then he sits back, his arm draped comfortably over my shoulders.
Since our reunion, Tom has been openly affectionate, showing his emotion in a way he never did before. It scared me, in the beginning, when he would cling to me, not only in sleep, but also during waking hours. His fingers would find mine somehow or his arm would curl me into a breath-stopping embrace.
I asked him about it once, saying, "You weren't like this before." His eyes, intense and steady, met mine and he replied, "I never lost you before."
The ride to the new place takes over an hour. We had to buy our land quite a bit outside of the city, given steep housing and land prices; Tom's inheritance from his father and our collective back pay could go only so far and I had no assets of my own, so we had to compromise. No ocean view and our neighbors are within earshot.
As we disembark from the shuttle, Tom pays the pilot while I survey our new home.
It is a two-story structure with a white stucco finish and red-tiled roof; there are plenty of windows to let in the light.
The lawn is small and our landscaping is limited to some dark green shrubbery up against the house and neatly trimmed grass. There are plenty of trees, redwoods that are centuries old. I have a vision of stringing up a hammock between the trees and settling down with the latest Klingon bodice-ripper novel.
"Well?" Tom looks at me expectantly. "Shall we go in?"
"Yes," I take his hand and he leads me up the cobbled pathway to the front door. He enters the passcode and the heavy wooden door swings open.
"Wait," Tom grins.
"No," I say.
"Come on, B'Elanna. It's tradition."
"I refuse," I tell him.
"B'Elanna," he gives me that rakish look of his, the one he knows I can't resist. I succumb and put my arms around his neck as he lifts me easily off the ground. He carries me across the threshold into the main foyer and then gently puts me down. I touch his cheek lightly, and then take a look around.
Our boxes are haphazardly scattered around, depending on the approximations Tom entered into the transporter. I wouldn't be surprised if we lost a box or two.
The house, despite four bedrooms, is fairly small. The living room and dining room are merged into one long room, with a tiny kitchen and breakfast area to the right of the dining room. A family room finishes off the front of the house. The master bedroom is directly behind the family room and the other three rooms are upstairs. I walk into the kitchen, which opens onto the patio, which is just the right size for a table and four chairs. The pool is tiny and kidney-shaped, not quite the 25-meter pool Tom hoped for, but a pool nonetheless.
"I love it like this," I tell Tom. "Why do we need furniture? Just spread a blanket on the floor and we'll be fine. It'll be like camping."
"I think after a few nights on the floor, you may change your tune," he says. "We really ought to consider having a housewarming party."
"Who would we invite?" I ask. Most of our friends were on Voyager and they, with the exception of Neelix and the Doctor, have now dispersed to various parts of the galaxy - Janeway, Tuvok, Harry and Seven on new assignments, Chakotay back on Alonius Prime with the rest of the Maquis. "We don't know anyone."
"You could invite your father."
I clear my throat, stunned that Tom would even suggest the possibility. It's true that I have been contemplating contacting my father since we returned to the Alpha Quadrant and more recently, since Tom and I settled in San Francisco.
"I don't know," I say finally. The curiosity is there to know what became of the man who gave me life; yet there is also fear. Perhaps, my father doesn't want to see me. After all, he had so many opportunities to contact me and he never did.
"Think about it," Tom says. "No rush."
Tom begins opening kitchen cabinets, drawers, doors, as if to verify all of these things work. I remain at the patio door, staring out at the dark line of trees framing our property. I press my hand against the glass and pull it away. Five fingers with distinct lines cloud onto the glass and then slowly fade into a smudge. Once, when I was maybe four years old, my father dipped my hands into red paint and pressed my palms against heavy paper.
"So I can remember when you were small," he explained as he rubbed my hands with soapy waters. He had framed my handprints in gold and now, almost thirty years later, I wonder what became of those prints.
"Let's do it."
"What?" he closes the cabinet door slowly and then turns to lean back against the counter. He folds his arms casually across his chest. "Do what, B'Elanna?"
"I'd like that." I can't quite get the words out right, but I know Tom and I know that he understands me even when we fail to communicate; silently, we seem to have reached a point where we can feel what doesn't need to be said.
"You want to invite your father?"
"Are you sure?"
"Well," I pause for a moment. "Tom, I have to know."
Tom nods. "Then we'll do that. We'll invite him."
I knit my fingers together and then look up at Tom. "Do you think he'll come?"
"I hope he does."
"If he says no."
"He won't. How could he?"
"He did once already."
"You don't know the whole story, B'Elanna. Maybe it's time to find out."
I can only bite my lip in response.
It's amazing how easily and comfortably we settle into our new life. Tom spends most of his time arranging and re-arranging furniture; I leave it to him to decide where everything will go. I'm more interested in enhancing our replicator to work more efficiently.
In the evenings, Tom usually takes a swim while I sit on the side of the pool, my legs dangling in the cool water. Other times, I lounge in the hammock Tom strung up for me.
I haven't felt peace like this before, at least not in recent memory. The tranquility of our setting appeases my temper and I find myself oddly fascinated by the hallmarks of nature, like the budding of leaves or the soft green growth of new flowers. I enjoy walking barefoot, feeling grass wiggle between my toes, and if it's quiet enough, I can hear birds.
When it's warm enough, we eat outdoors, sometimes in comfortable silence. And of course, there is always the television, and we cuddle together on the sofa, watching episodes from twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
The shows that amuse us the most are the science fiction space programs.
"The design of that starship," Tom says one evening. "It would never get off the ground, let alone go to warp."
"It looks sleek though," I comment. "It resembles something you would design."
"Are you saying that I'm an impractical designer?"
"No," I answer. "The curves and lines of the design, they remind me of that Camaro you used to work on back on Voyager."
"Ah, the Camaro," Tom's expression is wistful as his arm tightens around my shoulders. "I miss that."
"You know there are public holodecks in town. Maybe you should go."
"There's too much to do around the house. No time."
"We were busy on Voyager too."
"Yes, but when things were slow, there was nothing else to do."
"You don't feel like revisiting Fair Haven? What about Captain Proton?"
"Not the same without Harry."
I focus back on the television show; some aliens have boarded the starship and the captain is making valiant protests to save her crew. In anger, the head alien - a despicably ugly character with a startling resemblance to Medusa - hits the captain across the face, knocking her off her feet.
"Have you heard from Harry?" I ask.
"Just the one communication I told you about earlier. He likes his new ship, says he misses us. That's all."
"How about the others?"
I pull my knees up onto the sofa and hug them to my chest. Tom glances at me.
"I miss them," I tell him. "I didn't think I would but I do. I even miss Neelix and the Doctor."
"Believe me, the Doctor is very happy at the Academy." Tom rolls his eyes. "I hear his class on fauna and flora indigenous to the Delta Quadrant is extremely popular."
On the television, the captain's crew was valiantly firing off shots at the alien intruders; the intruders die spectacularly, annihilated into neat piles of black ash.
"Score one for the good guys," Tom says with obvious satisfaction. "Have you talked to your father?"
"When are you going to do that?"
"When I'm ready."
"I thought you were ready." His voice is low, controlled. It's almost as he's clenching his teeth, holding anger back.
"Don't push me."
"You said a couple weeks back you wanted to talk to him."
"I changed my mind." Tom's arm feels heavy across my shoulders and suddenly, I just want to get away. I shrug away from him, leaning against the armrest so that we are no longer touching.
"When were you planning to tell me this?"
"It's not a big deal."
"I think it is-"
"You can't possibly understand," I tell him. "What if I call and he doesn't want to talk to me? I- I don't think I could take that."
"How would you know if you don't try?" Tom gets up and stalks off into the kitchen. "That's the worst part, B'Elanna. You don't even try anymore."
"Damn it, Tom," I say. I follow him; he is replicating another mug of beer. He sips off the foam first before turning to look at me.
"I don't know how much longer I can do this," he says in a low voice. "It gets hard, B'Elanna, really hard. I don't know what you want from me, but I'm trying."
"I didn't say I wanted anything from you at all."
He sighs. "You never do. That's the problem."
"I don't want to fight."
"I don't either, but things have to change. You won't talk about the Borg, and that's fine. You won't talk about what happened on Alonius and that's fine also. But somewhere along the line, you have to talk."
"There isn't anything to say."
"I think you have a lot to say and if you don't share with me, who will you share with?"
"Don't push me." I lean back into the right angle where the edges of the counter meet. Tom is already halfway through his beer, his cheeks ruddy, and I get the feeling that despite my warning, Tom's only warming up now.
"Why?" he asks, proving me exactly right.
"I don't want to risk anything."
"Risk what? Yet another argument? And that would be different how?" Tom demands. "It's boring, B'Elanna, watching you self-destruct."
"I'm sorry you're bored, Tom, but that's not what's going on."
"You misunderstood me. That's not what I meant," Tom says. He puts his glass down on the counter and crosses his arms against his chest. "B'Elanna, if something's wrong, I want to know about it."
"Things have been, no, they are fine."
Tom sighs and finishes off the rest of his beer. He slams the empty mug back into the replicator and it disappears in a poof. In the background, I can hear the television. By the sounds of it, the alien invaders have taken over the ship and the crew is making its last stand.
"I don't expect you to stick around," I tell Tom in a low voice. He stares back at me and his face is suddenly out of focus. I blink and I see my husband clearly. To my surprise, his lower lip is quivering.
"Is that your answer for everything?" his tone is soft, contemplative and even sad.
"Isn't it true? You can't wait to get out of here."
"Now that's not true."
I grip the edge of the counter tightly. Tom's angry face blurs in front of me as I feel the ground give way beneath my feet.
Tom's voice echoes from a distance. I let go off the counter and sink to the floor. Spots cloud my vision and in the background, I hear the angry voices on the television mixed in with my mother's taunting. Tom is next to me, his hands on my shoulders. I lean into him, resting my forehead against his chest.
"B'Elanna," he says in a brittle voice. "Let's get you to bed."
"I can stand."
Despite my protests, Tom wraps his arm around me and lifts me to my feet.
"Come on," his voice is gentle. "You just need some rest."
I barely remember his hands tucking the sheets around me and I don't remember him coming to bed either. When I wake the next morning, the sun plays across the sheets, blanketing me in its warmth. Tom lies on his stomach, his body turned slightly towards me, his face flat against the pillow. I lean over and kiss him on the cheek. His eyes fly open.
"Good morning," I say.
"How do you feel?"
"B'Elanna, I want you to see the Doctor. Please, for me." He reaches up and twirls a strand of my hair around his finger. "I don't know why you fainted yesterday, but it worries me. So please, do this for me."
He wraps his arms around me, spooning his body around mine so that his chin rests on top of my shoulder. His breath is warm against my bare skin and I know that I can't ever deny him anything.
"I will," I promise. "Today."
The Doctor is ecstatic to see us.
"Mr. Paris, Lieutenant Torres," he says.
"No more lieutenant, remember?" I remind him as I sit up on the biobed.
"Sorry, force of habit," the Doctor answer. He is beaming, looking as radiant as a hologram possibly can. I take a closer look.
"You've made some modifications to your program," I note.
"Actually Dr. Zimmerman did," the Doctor answer. He pulls out a tricorder. "We're getting along splendidly. In fact, we plan to write a paper next month on the use of Borg nanoprobes as an alternative delivery system into the blood stream."
"I thought you did that already," Tom says.
"That was another paper on the effectiveness of nanoprobes in repairing damage on a cellular level," the Doctor heaves a giant sigh, his photonic matrix blinking out for a second in his excitement. "Very well received, if I say so myself."
"That's good to hear," Tom says.
"I imagine you've moved into the new house," the Doctor says. "I'm sure you're very happy."
"It is nice. You should come out and see it. B'Elanna has done a very nice job."
"Not me, him," I point the finger. "Tom's responsible for all of it."
"Well, you helped," Tom says edgily.
"So what brings you in today?" the Doctor says. "It's always nice to see familiar faces."
"B'Elanna hasn't been well," Tom says before I can open my mouth. "She nearly fainted last night."
"Fatigue, right?" Tom asks.
"Yes," I nod. "But that was because of the move. There was a lot to do to get ready and then the unpacking, it's more strenuous than I thought it would be."
"I'll run some tests," the Doctor says efficiently. "I'm sure it's nothing serious. Your vital signs check out fine, though I am still detecting some residual traces of the Ghasa virus."
"But nothing serious, right?" Tom asks. "She's over that, right?"
"Calm, Mr. Paris," the Doctor says. He studies his tricorder intently and then slaps it close. "Nothing wrong with you, Lieutenant, that a little rest and relaxation won't take care of."
I am relieved but Tom still looks concerned.
"You're sure?" Tom persists.
"Just chronic bad temper and stress," the Doctor says. "You may want to work on that, B'Elanna. It's not good for the baby."
"The what?" I ask.
"The baby," the Doctor says. "You're pregnant. Congratulations."
Tom and I stare at the Doctor.
"You're sure?" I ask finally.
"Positively. I'm never wrong," the Doctor says with pride. "This is wonderful news, isn't it?"
We're both silent and finally, Tom musters out, "Yes, of course."
"When?" I ask.
"Seven months from now," the Doctor says. "So far everything looks fine."
He looks expectantly at the two of us, his smile stretching from earlobe to earlobe. The last time I saw the Doctor this happy, I had just added another octave to his singing subroutines.
"Well?" he asks.
Tom's hand grabs mine, his fingernails scrapping against my skin.
"It's just a surprise," Tom says. "But everything is going well?"
The Doctor says, "Right now, yes. Of course I'll want you to come back here for regular check-ups."
"She'll be here," Tom says quickly. "I'll make sure of it."
"Good," the Doctor nods. "I'm so happy for you both. Now if you'll excuse me, I have a student waiting for me."
"Thanks for seeing us," Tom calls after the Doctor's retreating figure.
I remain seated on the biobed, feeling violently ill to my stomach. Tom stands in front of me, his hands on my shoulders, his forehead grazing mine.
"I know we didn't plan this," he says softly. "It may not even be the right time for us-"
"It's all right, Tom," I say. "It's just unexpected."
"And not necessarily a pleasant one, I know," he says.
"No," I tell him. "You're wrong. I- I'm happy."
Tom doesn't look convinced. "We'll work through this. Together." He weaves his fingers in with mine. "I promise."
Tom helps me off of the table, his arm lingering around my waist a little longer than necessary. I'm asleep in the taxi shuttle even before it takes off, my head on Tom's shoulder, his hand clutching at mine.
It is nearly dark when we arrive home and there is a bit of a chill in the air.
Tom turns on the light while I go to check the messages.
"Anything?" Tom asks as I bring up the console.
"No," I say. There are no messages at all. Not from Captain, Neelix, no one at all. For the first time in months I'm so aware of our isolation, so aware of what we have left behind. And I know Tom feels it too.
"Not even from Harry?" Tom asks, the disappointment audible in his voice.
"No," I say softly.
Tom's disappointment is obvious and I reach out to touch his cheek lightly. He draws me close, burying his head against my hair.
"You miss them," I whisper.
"It's okay, Tom, if you want to go back."
"I won't go without you."
We hold each other as the last hint of daylight fades into blackness. I run my hands through Tom's hair gently as he presses his lips against the curve of my neck.
"I don't want to be the one holding you back," I tell him hesitantly.
"We have other responsibilities now, B'Elanna. This isn't the right time."
"You know what Harry said about skills not being up to par. If you don't do something now, it might be too late."
"I won't leave you."
He steps back away from me, his hands cupping my face. He leans in, his eyes intensely serious.
"I won't leave you," he repeats. "A career doesn't mean that much to me, B'Elanna. Do you believe me? You've got to stop trying to send me away. I know what you're doing and it's not going to work. You're stuck with me, B'Elanna. I hate to break it to you."
His confidence buoys mine and I wrap my arms around his neck.
"Are you happy?" I whisper.
"Why do you ask?"
"Because we haven't done any of this the right way. Nothing we've done, from the beginning, has been planned. We could be making a mistake, a terrible mistake."
"Are you afraid that something is going to happen to us?"
"No, not exactly."
"I won't leave you," he repeats. "Not you, not the baby. I promise. Not for anything."
He pulls me towards him and I rest my head on his chest, feeling the comforting beat of his heart against my cheek. His hand moves gently up and down my back.
"I am happy," he says quietly. "Don't doubt that, but I do wonder about you."
The house is now completely dark and our few furnishings are shadows against the walls, shapeless blobs with the capacity to take on monstrous proportions and haunt dreams. I can hear sounds, crickets, wind, birds - all of these sounds that were foreign to us on Voyager. And the scent, here in this house, it is uniquely ours, his and mine. I pull away from Tom.
"Tom?" I whisper.
"What is it?"
He pulls back a bit, his hands moving to my cheeks. His eyes search mine and I nod again, biting my lip.
"Yes," I tell him. "Really."
My father arrives precisely on time. I only have a faded memory of a tall man, energetic, with dark hair and bright eyes. The man standing in front of me is not so tall, not so young. His hair is streaked with gray, his eyes tired and lined with age. He wrings his hands nervously in front of him, even as Tom invites him in.
"Mr. Torres," Tom says formally, his tongue tripping over the awkwardness of the situation.
"Hi," I say. My father's eyes scan me from head to toe.
"B'Elanna," he says.
"I'm, I'm glad you came," the words flow out in a rush, my practiced welcome speech flying out of my head. "This is my, um, this is Tom Paris."
"Nice to meet you," Tom grips my father's hand firmly. I stand to the side, heat rising in my cheeks, as my father surveys me from head to toe.
"John Torres. Nice to meet you," my father says. "You look good, B'Elanna. So grown up. Healthy."
"Would you like to have a seat?" Tom asks, indicating the living room. "We're still getting settled, so I hope you excuse the mess."
"It's a nice place," my father comments.
"Tom designed it," I say.
He - Father - sits on the sofa, his knees together, hands folded on his lap. Tom and I sit together, trying desperately not to knock knees. I'm afraid we both look like teenagers on a first date.
"You did a good job," Father says again. "With the house, that is."
"Thanks," I say. "Tom did it all."
The familiar argument sounds tired and forced. I stare down at the backs of my hands.
"So what do you do?" Tom asks.
"Um, I'm in Mexico," Father answers. "Art dealer. Antiquities, mostly. Pottery."
"We appreciate you making the trip," Tom says. "B'Elanna has been thinking about you a lot."
"Not as often as I've thought about her."
My father's brown eyes are intense, watering with emotion.
"I got your letter, Little Bee," he says. "The one you sent eight years ago. I still have it."
I nod, unable to verbalize a meaningful response.
"I wanted to write back but there was nowhere to send the letter," he says. "No one knew if you were alive and I, I regretted not having seen you."
I nod and Tom takes my hand, caressing it with his.
"I hope you'll forgive me, B'Elanna, for all of it."
"I want to," the words slip out even before I think them. Tom squeezes my hand encouragingly.
"I wrote to you a million times in my head," my father pulls a PADD out of his jacket pocket. "I wrote once or twice, but never sent the letter, even after I heard of Voyager's return. I was afraid you wouldn't remember me."
"I always remembered you," I say. "My mother made sure that I remembered you. For every birthday and holiday you missed-"
"B'Elanna," Tom says firmly.
"I want to know," I say. "Why did you go?"
work out between your mother and me. There were so many things stacked against
us, so many prejudices and cultural issues. We didn't have the
strength to stay together."
"You promised me you'd come back," I insist.
"I know," Father says. "I couldn't. I had a new life, I moved to Mexico, started my own business and, well, it's not a good excuse, but it's a long way to Kessik from there."
"You could have written," I say.
"B'Elanna," Tom squeezes my knee.
"Did you really hate me that much?" I whisper.
My father stares
down at his hands, his shoulders drooping inward. I cover my face with my hands
as Tom's arm winds its way around my shoulders, pulling me
in for a hug.
"Never," my father's voice is barely audible. "B'Elanna, I hope you didn't think that. I, I just couldn't. I never meant to leave you. I kept planning trips to see you but they just never happened. Unfortunately, the rift between your mother and I, I couldn't come, B'Elanna, Little Bee. I couldn't come."
We sit there in silence, none of us looking at each other. Finally, Tom clears his throat.
"Something to eat? You came a long way," Tom says.
"That would be nice," my father is quick to respond.
"This way," Tom points the way into the kitchen. "Coming, B'Elanna?"
I nod. "Give me a moment."
I take one, two, three, four, five deep breaths and then follow the men into the kitchen. Tom is already setting out the sandwiches we replicated earlier in anticipation of my father's visit.
"Coffee? Juice? Tea?" Tom asks.
"Raktajino, actually," my father requests.
I perch myself on a stool at the counter as my father sits at the table. Tom replicates the raktajino and places it in front of my father.
"I wouldn't have guessed you as a raktajino man," Tom comments.
"There are many things about the Klingon culture I admire," my father responds. "Your mother, B'Elanna, was a fabulous cook. She managed to season gagh to perfection. Eating her food was an experience for the taste buds. It was almost like being on the homeworld."
"She didn't cook much after you left," I say. "I hated gagh, blood pie, heart of targ. My stomach turned just looking at the food."
My father bites into the sandwich and looks up at us. "This is good, very good."
"B'Elanna's recipe," Tom says. "From the Delta Quadrant. There's a bit of leola root in there, and some other vegetables native to that quadrant."
"You must have gotten the culinary bug from your mother," my father says.
"No," I say more forcefully than I intend. "No, I'm sorry, I don't really cook. Tom is being kind. The recipe belongs to Neelix; he was on Voyager with us."
"One of the few recipes we could tolerate," Tom jokes. "You needed to have a lining made out of lead to stomach some of his concoctions."
"Aren't you going to eat?" my father asks.
"I'm not hungry," I tell him. "Maybe later."
"Try something," Tom hands me a plate of crackers. "Please."
Because Tom's asking, I agree.
My father finishes his sandwiches and pushes back his chair. He turns to look at the pool.
"Very nice," he says. "Must be refreshing on a hot evening."
"We like it. I've dreamt about this for years," Tom stands by the door. "Would you like to go outside?"
"That would be nice."
I watch them circle the pool, occasionally stopping. Tom gestures a couple times and I figure he is showing my father the bird's nest in the triangular space between the slope of the roof and the chimney. They come in, both of them looking more relaxed.
"You have a nice yard," my father says.
"I'm glad you liked it," I tell him. "It's nice to be able to spend time in the fresh air after so many years cooped on a starship."
"Do you plan to go back to Starfleet?" my father asks. "Either of you?"
"I may," Tom says carefully. "But not now. B'Elanna is still contemplating her options."
"I didn't graduate," I say. "I got kicked out of the Academy."
My father's expression doesn't change.
"I wasn't aware of that," he says evenly.
"But it's still an option," Tom puts in hastily.
"I would have to enlist," I go on. "I wouldn't necessarily get the opportunities I had on Voyager."
"Surely your experience would speak for itself," my father points out.
"That's what I tell B'Elanna," Tom says. "But it's her decision."
"I'm sure you'll do what works best for the two of you," Father says. "Whatever you do, talk first. Include each other in everything. I think that's where I failed your mother, B'Elanna. I thought I knew what was best for the two of us and unfortunately, I wasn't always right. I should have considered her more than I did."
"We try," my voice cracks as I look at Tom. We both know that communication, expressing ourselves, is certainly an area we need to focus more on. Tom is trying, almost too desperately, but I know that there are things I need to tell him. I weave my fingers in with Tom's, keeping my gaze steady on my father's face. "I am naive enough to think that, that maybe we can make it work."
There is silence and Tom's fingers are hot and sweaty; my father looks slightly off to the side.
"There are only two options," I plunge ahead, not caring or thinking about the words that seem to fall from my lips. "Either he'll love me enough to stay or he'll leave because I'm not good enough."
Again, that silence. My father sighs heavily, runs a hand through his hair, and then drops his head slightly, so that he is concentrating on the floor. Tom releases my hand and walks to the sliding glass door, pressing his palm up against the glass, his eyes focused on something in the distance.
"That's not what happened," my father speaks finally. "You have to believe that, B'Elanna. There are things that... things that you can't explain to a child-"
"I'm not a child."
"At the time you were. Your mother and I had problems. Some days, we couldn't stand to talk to each other and the day I left, I had every intention of coming back. I did love your mother, B'Elanna. It was just easier to love her when I wasn't with her."
"Why?" I demand. "What did she do to make you leave?"
"She didn't do anything. We had different expectations. I couldn't live up to hers and she couldn't live up to mine. It was very difficult then... Little Bee. We weren't accepting enough. You have to compromise. You have to be able to think with your heart and put aside what you want, just for a bit. I couldn't do that"
"I hated you."
Tom turns around.
"B'Elanna," he says.
"It's all right," my father says. "I deserve that."
My father looks
so sad in that moment, almost like a deflated balloon. His shoulders are rounded,
bowed in, and he seems especially interested in a spot
on the floor. The contrast between the man I see before me and the one I remember swinging me up in his arms and tossing me into the air is perceptible.
I look over at Tom and then at my father; both of them are eyeing me and I realize that for the first time what I chose to do really does matter. Anger is hard to hold onto and I know, with certainty, that if I take that first step, I won't regret it.
I cross the distance between my father and me. It feels so natural to wrap my arms around him and to bury my head beneath the sharp lines of his chin. He holds me close.
"Daddy?" I whisper.
We left the windows open to let the breeze in. Tom sleeps, his breathing even in the darkness of the room. I sit on the window seat, staring into the backyard and the shadowy black outlines of trees framing the property. The moon is full-faced tonight, its craters and mountains tan splotches upon its surface. I pull my knees to my chest and lean my chin on top of my folded hands.
I can make out the fuzzy shadows of deer straying close to the house, their hungry lips eating away at the shrubbery. Tom, amazingly protective of his landscaping, will be furious in the morning.
Tom's voice is soft as he approaches. I shift to make room for him on the seat and he settles behind me, wrapping his arms around me, his hands low on my stomach.
"Hi," I say.
"Been up long?"
"An hour maybe."
His lips brush the top of my head and then he rests his chin on my shoulder for a second before leaning back again.
"That went well, didn't it?" Tom asks. "With your father?"
Before my father left, I told him, haltingly, that I was pregnant. He looked at me, his eyes bright with an emotion that I could finally acknowledge, and congratulated us. And in an equally nervous voice, he asked if possibly he could visit when the baby was born.
"I would like that," I answered.
Tom clears his throat and his arms tighten around me.
"I was thinking that tomorrow I might take a trip to the Academy," he says.
"You know that pilot program Harry was talking about? I'm sure they need instructors."
"No one is better than you, Tom."
"You only say that because you're legally obliged to adore and flatter me."
"Perhaps," I twist around to kiss his cheek. "But it's true."
"I'm glad, Tom."
"It would mean long days, if it works out."
"But it would also mean I could stay here, with you."
"I'm not like your father, B'Elanna."
Before today, I would have agreed with that sentiment whole-heartedly, but I see my father now clearly and not through the prism-vision of a devastated five-year old. He is human, flesh and blood, and in his confused way, I do believe he never meant to abandon me. His intentions and emotions, those were always real; I know that now. I squeeze Tom's hand gently.
"It's all right if you are, Tom," I tell him.
I lean my head back against his shoulder and we sit in absolute stillness, comfortable in those things that no longer need to be said because intuitively, we already know.
~ the end ~
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