Characters & places
belong to Paramount. I would never dream of ownership…
Thanks to Kat Hughes for her absolutely brilliant and extraordinary beta reading.
Thanks to Kat Hughes for her absolutely brilliant and extraordinary beta reading.
The mess hall was nearly empty; two ensigns, their heads bent in quiet conversation, sat in the furthest corner from the chief engineer.
B'Elanna Torres barely noticed the couple; instead she focused her attention on her food. For once, Neelix had done well; the banana pancakes were light and fluffy, coated with butter and covered with maple syrup. Putting a bite of pancake into her mouth, she felt the smooth surface against her tongue. She closed her eyes; this felt good. Felt really good. More to the point, she hadn't felt this good in who knew how long.
Quantify it, B'Elanna. Think back. When did this, this mood, seize me? When did every part of me go numb?
Or did it happen so gradually that I never even noticed what was happening to me? Never even noticed until I lay bleeding on the holodeck, wanting and needing more?
Her eyes flew open and she nearly choked on the food in her mouth.
"Tom," she swallowed hard, the heat rising in her cheeks. She hadn't expected Tom, and now that he was here, she could not think of anything she could possibly to say to him now.
But Tom, being Tom, made it so easy for her. He placed a hand gently on her shoulder and she steeled herself so she wouldn't flinch from the brief contact.
"Are you okay?" Tom asked in concern.
"Just hungry," she said, indicating the pancakes. "I must have looked pretty silly, huh?"
"No," Tom pulled out the chair opposite hers. "You looked relaxed."
"Relaxed?" B'Elanna asked.
"Very much," Tom grinned at her. She returned his look with a smile, the first real smile he had seen from her in weeks. Tom was relieved; he had gotten heartily sick of B'Elanna's thin-lipped, slight upward curve of lip that had passed so lately as a smile.
"They're good," B'Elanna admitted. Her brown eyes sparkled back at him, filling him with hope.
"I didn't know you liked banana pancakes," he said casually.
"I do," she did not offer any more explanation than that; instead, she concentrated on cutting the remaining pancake into tiny pieces with the edge of her fork.
"Can I have a taste?" he asked. B'Elanna nodded, spearing a piece onto the end of her fork. Tom leaned forward and she popped the pancake into his mouth. Tom chewed thoughtfully.
"Pretty good," he said. "You sure Neelix made these?"
"Just for me."
"He has a soft spot for you, Torres."
"I'm beginning to sense that, though I don't know why."
"Can I list the reasons why?" he asked, his blue eyes twinkling at her.
B'Elanna pursed her lips together; she understood what he was trying to do, but she had not reached the point where she wanted to feel good yet.
What she wanted was time.
Time to think.
Tom did not expect B'Elanna to open up to him yet and her pensive expression showed he was correct in that supposition.
I shouldn't be surprised, he thought. Lately, she seems to just get nauseous in my presence.
B'Elanna leaned back in her chair, "Tom…"
"It's late and you have an early shift tomorrow…"
"I'd rather be here with you," he countered.
"That's a change," B'Elanna said sharply. Tom felt a pang of guilt; if he hadn't spent so much time in the holodeck working on the Camero or acting out Captain Proton scenarios, he would have realized the extent of B'Elanna's self-destruction.
But he also knew, with perfect clarity, that B'Elanna had planned well; she had obscured her motives and had always had the appropriate explanations for her numerous injuries.
And in the end, Tom had turned away, hurt by her coldness and silence, but longing all the same for her as he always would.
"No, it's the truth. It always has been. It just took me a long time to realize it," Tom said finally.
B'Elanna contemplated Tom Paris in a thoughtful glance. He did look sincere, even with the corners of his mouth perpetually turned up into a mischievous grin
"Tom," B'Elanna hesitated. She wanted to open up to him, to tell him what was going on inside of her. Instead, she pressed her lips into a thin, straight line, trying to ignore the turmoil twisting her stomach. She pushed her plate away even though she had not finished eating; nausea bubbled up inside of her.
I'm falling, falling… Don't look down, B'Elanna, and it will be okay. Keep falling, and when I slam into the ground, it will be so fast, I won't feel a thing. And isn't that what I want? What I've always wanted?
Tom's eyes focused on B'Elanna, noting her sudden paleness and the way her nose furrowed ever so slightly. He had begun to notice these subtle things about her, but he would never dream of telling B'Elanna how well he could read her moods; she would hate that.
Of course, he thought to himself, you haven't exactly been on the ball lately, have you?
He wanted to give a valid reason for not noticing B'Elanna's grief over the demise of the Maquis. He had wanted to think that B'Elanna was strong enough to cope with the loss and more importantly, that he, Tom Paris, was all that B'Elanna Torres needed.
He had been wrong.
Tom bit down on his lip. Already he could see B'Elanna's shoulders slumping, the life draining from her eyes and cheeks.
"I'm sorry," Tom said quietly. "I should have paid more attention."
"I don't know what you're talking about," she said in the dull voice he had come to expect from her in the last month.
Tom leaned forward, his forearms resting lightly on the table, his fingers reaching for B'Elanna's right hand. To his relief, she did not pull away as he covered her hand with his.
"You hurting yourself," he said. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry you..."
Tom could not finish the sentence because it felt mechanical to say those words as if he was simply going through the motions. What bothered him most was that he could not comprehend why B'Elanna had wanted to hurt herself. Now that she sat in front of him, healed, he could hardly believe that his love for her had not been enough to keep the demons away.
"You have nothing to apologize for," B'Elanna said shortly.
"I do," Tom answered earnestly. "I should have seen what was happening to you and I didn't. I'm sorry about that. I should have realized that the Maquis-"
"Don't," B'Elanna said softly. "I don't want to talk about it."
"Why not? You have to, B'Elanna. You have to face what happened."
"I have, Tom, okay? I know what happened. My friends are dead and I'm not. That's what happened."
"You could have come to me," he said. He did not mean to whine, but he had to.
"You wouldn't have understood."
Tom pressed his palm against the table, trying to ignore the compulsion to fist his hand and drive it into the nearest bulkhead. His jaw ached with tension as he tried to keep his expression smooth and serene; he could tell he was failing miserably at this effort.
"You could have tried to talk to me instead of hurting yourself. My God, B'Elanna, you could have killed yourself! Orbital skydiving without the holodeck safeties on? Testing for microfissures? Were you out of your mind?"
B'Elanna put down her fork and withdrew her other hand from beneath Tom's.
"I did what I had to do," she said in a low voice. Pain she could understand and pain she could trust. She could hold pain to herself, nurture it, and thrive on it. And more importantly, she could feel pain. She could feel it in every single cell of her body, and when she hurt or bled the emptiness within almost dissipated to the point where she was no longer aware of how far she had pushed her grief.
She did not consciously choose pain; it chose her. Her days, over the past few weeks, had passed in a curious numbness. There were times when she felt that her arms and legs were simply heavy blocks attached to a cold, unfeeling torso. B'Elanna would lie in bed, staring straight up at the ceiling, not knowing if she had the ability to think or feel anymore.
Even Tom, whom B'Elanna had always been able to count on to make her feel something – be it love, anger or lust – did not stir anything inside of her. And because he expected it and she did not want to disappoint him, B'Elanna would crawl into bed next to Tom and his arms would automatically snake around her slender body, pulling her tightly against him. She would lay there, stiff and unfeeling. When Tom reached for her, she would move as if in a trance, going through the motions. And Tom, somehow, never noticed, though once he did ask, "Are you tired tonight, B'Elanna?" and she responded in a dull voice, "No more than any other night" and she had let him continue.
Even then, B'Elanna had thought, it will get better. I just don't know how or when.
The answers had come to her when they stopped for shore leave at the planet of Mirelle.
It was, in B'Elanna's jaded view, another planet, another delay on the journey home.
Captain Janeway, however, had seen the opportunity for some shore leave on the class M planet. Tom, as expected, had been hugely enthusiastic to go.
"I'm itching for some fresh air," he had told B'Elanna and Harry. "And wide open spaces."
Harry had nodded in agreement, "It does get claustrophobic after a while."
B'Elanna had wanted to stay behind and finish some minor projects in Engineering, but Tom had cajoled her into accompanying him down to the surface; she had given in for no other reason than she wanted him to stop pestering her.
On their way to the transporter room, Tom and Harry had chatted together while B'Elanna followed, her mind in that dark place where thoughts didn't quite come together. Tom only turned once, flashing a smile back at her. She mechanically returned the smile without injecting any kind of emotion into the curve of her lips.
On the surface, Harry had mentioned some famous cliffs worth stopping by.
"I hear the view is fabulous," Harry had said, his face lighting up in earnest anticipation. Tom had grinned.
"Why not?" he said. "How about it, B'Elanna?"
She had nodded, not really hearing the question, but understanding Tom wanted an answer. They had taken a transport out to the cliffs in question.
It had seemed to B'Elanna that the scene was indeed spectacular, that there was innate beauty here in the jagged edges of rock over verdant fields, but again, she had been unable to bring herself to appreciate the view as Tom and Harry did.
"Wow," Harry had breathed. "It's lovely. Better than what the database described."
"It is," Tom had agreed. "What do you think, B'Elanna?"
He had looked at her expectantly, but B'Elanna's mouth felt dry. She took a step closer to the edge and then another. Her boots crunched against the gravel and a few stones skittered off the edge of the cliffs.
"B'Elanna," Tom had warned. "I don't know how stable it is…"
But she wasn't listening; instead she wondered what it would feel like to spread her arms out straight and then to slowly lean forward, forward, forward, until she was falling. Logic told her that she would slam into the side of the cliff but her mind, already racing, assured her that she would fly.
B'Elanna leaned forward.
Her foot slipped slightly, more gravel plunging to the ground below. Tom reached forward and grabbed her around the waist, pulling her gently back towards him. His hands rested on her a bit longer than she would have liked and she squirmed out of his embrace.
"Sorry," she mumbled wearily.
Tom had looked at her in concern; she had seen that expression on his face many times since she had told him about the death of her Maquis friends. In a reflexive motion, she touched his cheek gently.
I don't feel anything at all for this man, she had thought, pulling her hand away in shock.
"Come on," Harry had sensed the tension between his two friends and immediately broke in with a suggestion. "Let's go into town."
They had gone into a bar located in the center of town. Tom and Harry were having a great time, observing the locals and making their own comments about the area, but B'Elanna's gaze was fixed ahead, but she did not really absorb the scenery around her.
In the bar, a rank-smelling establishment, B'Elanna sat with her back to the window, Harry and Tom facing her.
"That game looks a lot like darts," Tom observed, twisting around in his seat.
"Want to see if we can join?" Harry asked.
"Let's," Tom had agreed. "B'Elanna?"
She shook her head. Tom and Harry rose while B'Elanna leaned back against her rickety wooden chair. Her mind wandered idly back to a project she wanted to get started on once they returned to Voyager; but to her amazement, she didn't care about the project. Seven can do it, she thought defiantly. Why do I have to do everything?
She did not hear the fight break out and when questioned about the incident later, B'Elanna Torres would not even remember the moment when a wooden object of some kind hit her in the head. She did remember sinking to the ground, her breathing staggered. She remembered pressing her fingers to her aching head.
"B'Elanna?" Tom had appeared above her, a hazy vision. She had looked down at her hand, now red and sticky with blood.
And then, the familiar tingle of the transporter removed her from the scene.
Later on, when Janeway asked Tom, Harry and B'Elanna about the fight, B'Elanna had wandered towards the window, not realizing that she was turning her back on the Captain.
Despite the Doctor's fine work, her head still ached painfully. And it was then that B'Elanna came to her epiphany.
People would come and go.
Pain was hers.
Pain was loyal.
Pain would never leave.
And when she turned to face the others, she felt a curious power surge through her. For the first time in several weeks, she wanted to laugh hysterically, to tell them – Janeway, Paris, Kim – what she had discovered. Instead, she clasped her hands to her chest, mindful of her new secret.
After the meeting with Janeway, Torres had excused herself and went directly to the holodeck, where she activated a Klingon battle scenario. It was a program designed for novices and she left, bruised but victorious. But even this victory meant nothing because the bruises faded and the pain dissipated.
She had spent the next week designing a new program, one that would be worthy of Kahless himself. The first time she fought her new creation, she staggered out in a condition Seven would call "slightly damaged."
Again, it was not enough.
She had gone back that very night and this time, she disengaged the safety protocols. B'Elanna Torres had stood in the midst of a ruined temple, her bat'leth to her chest. Her perceptions had been heightened by excitement and she could smell blood in the air.
Her opponent, a warrior she had named M'Kel, had burst out from a grove of gnarled trees. B'Elanna growled in anticipation as M'Kel swung his bat'leth at her. She had retaliated, the blade swinging as if it were an extension of her body. B'Elanna's dual hearts beat faster as she felt the first jab from M'Kel's weapon in her shoulder.
Despite the pain tingling within, B'Elanna had rushed at M'Kel, aiming for his abdomen. He had deflected her expertly and with what seemed to be a casual sweep of his arm, he knocked her down. B'Elanna scrambled to her feet.
"I will not be defeated so easily," she had growled. "Not by one as dishonorable as yourself."
M'Kel's nostrils had flared and he rushed at her, not giving her the chance to retrieve her bat'leth. B'Elanna lashed out at him. They circled each other, their eyes wide and breathing heavy.
It was B'Elanna who had made the first move; she threw her mek'leth at him, but M'Kel neatly dodged the weapon and it embedded itself within a tree trunk.
Unarmed, B'Elanna crouched warily, her eyes focused on M'Kel. She lunged towards him, hoping to tackle him, but again, he had swatted her aside. B'Elanna rolled across the cobbled floor, ignoring the pain in her shoulder, and staggered to her feet.
M'Kel had roared in approval and moved towards her, giving off an expert display of his skills with the bat'leth. As he came close, B'Elanna kicked out her leg, landing the blow in his stomach. M'Kel had wavered a bit, but her own momentum from that action landed B'Elanna back on the ground.
As M'Kel stood above her, his mek'leth raised above her chest, B'Elanna's eyes met his in understanding.
"You are worthy," she had breathed. And then in the next moment, she had rolled to the side and the ceremonial dagger plunged instead into her arm. B'Elanna, with unexpected energy, had jumped to her feet. With a cry, she had grabbed her fallen bat'leth and hurled into the warrior's chest. He fell with a cry and B'Elanna stood over him and with an all too easy action, she wrenched the weapon out of his torso.
She barely noticed the throbbing in her arm; instead she acknowledged it as a new friend.
B'Elanna had asked Tom to help her heal the injuries to her shoulder and arm, having persuaded him that she had had an accident in engineering.
And when Tom lay sleeping beside her, B'Elanna had gotten up from bed and examined the healing edges of her wound. She touched the puffy skin lightly but only a small vestige of pain still remained.
She turned to look at Tom, lying carelessly across the bed. His face was turned towards her, his right leg and arm very much crossing the line into her side. She shuddered at the thought of going back to bed.
Instead, she changed into her workout clothes and went back to the holodeck.
As she faced M'Kel, her hearts beat against her chest and when she growled at him, she could feel the adrenaline surging through her.
Maybe this time, she could persuade herself that she was alive. And if she was alive, she could feel love. Feel the love that used to consume her when Tom was near, to feel her love reach out to him. But it did not matter what she did or how much pain she inflicted; it was never enough and no matter what she did, she knew that there would never be enough pain to fill the void within.
Even the Delta Flyer – the ambitious shuttle project Tom had proposed – did not stir any excitement within her. The process of building the shuttle had seemed robotic to B'Elanna, as if she built shuttles every day. Even Tom's enthusiasm for the project did not rub off and she found herself closing off from her crewmates, unable to tell them how little she cared for the project.
Only Chakotay understood the swirl of emotions within.
Only Chakotay knew what it felt like to have one's friends completely decimated in one fell swoop.
And only Chakotay could reach her.
B'Elanna had been angry when Chakotay had pushed her into the holodeck, angry because he had invaded her privacy and furious because he was forcing her to face these events that haunted almost every waking moment of her life.
But then she had realized, Chakotay understood the loss; he understood the grief she felt and more importantly, he could feel it in ways she never could.
And then she had confessed to Chakotay, expressing out-loud for the first time the thoughts that had filled her mind since she had learned of the massacre.
"You don't understand," she had said. "It's not just the pain. I don't feel anything - not about my dead friends, not about Tom...you...my job...."
The confession was cathartic and instantly, B'Elanna felt a weight lifted from her mind.
When she had begged Chakotay to let her go aboard the Delta Flyer, she had been struck by the uncertainty in his eyes.
"I can do this," she had pleaded with him. And when he agreed, she had felt relieved.
I'm not past redemption, she had thought as she rushed onto the Flyer. And as her gaze had settled on Tom who was sitting in the pilot's seat, she felt hope.
Oh Tom, she had thought. I'm so sorry. How can I even start to tell you how I feel? About you? About Voyager? About everything? I have to, but I don't know how.
And for the first time, in too long, B'Elanna began to think about how things had ever got this far, how she'd ever let them get this far, how they'd even begun…
"B'Elanna," Tom's voice broke into her thoughts; she jerked her head back, almost surprised to be sitting in the mess hall opposite the object of her thoughts. "Where are you, B'Elanna?"
"Here," she said automatically. "In the mess hall. On Voyager."
"No really," he said. "Where are you?"
B'Elanna's eyes drifted to the other end of the mess hall; the two ensigns, arms wrapped around each other, were heading for the door. B'Elanna sighed.
Tom twisted around, trying to follow B'Elanna's gaze.
"Gordan and Malovick," he said. "I wondered how long it would take them to get together."
B'Elanna said nothing. What could she say to Tom? She supposed she could start with honesty.
Something along the lines of "Tom, there was a time in the last month when I didn't love you and I cringed when you touched me. There is still a part of me that doesn't feel for you like I should and it scares me, because I don't know how to tell you that. And I don't want you to think of Gordan and Malovick and then think of us with regret, because that's not what I want. I just don't know where to start with you and I know I have to. I just can't and I want you to understand that."
But the words remained caught in her throat, so she remained silent, hoping that Tom could come to his own conclusions.
"You okay?" he asked.
Stop asking me that, she thought in anger. I'm not worth your care.
"I want to be here for you," Tom said. "I want you to tell me what's going on. Don't push me away."
The gentleness in his tone tugged at her heart.
"I'm just thinking, that's all," B'Elanna whispered hoarsely.
"Thinking? About what?" Tom knew he was pushing again but this time, he did not intend to give up. He cursed himself again for turning a blind eye to B'Elanna's numerous injuries, for accepting her half-hearted excuses about the reasons for her bruises, broken bones and cuts.
He had even tended to some of the injuries himself when B'Elanna had begged him, saying that she was too embarrassed to go see the doctor "because you know what they think about you and me. Every time you or I see the doctor, they talk and I'm tired of it."
"Thinking about…" she hesitated. She really did not want to talk about the events of the last few weeks but she felt she owed it to Tom to be truthful. This one time, anyway. "About the Maquis."
"Is it helping?"
"I don't know," B'Elanna lifted her chin defiantly. "I should have known, shouldn't I? I lose everyone I care about."
"That's not true."
"It is," B'Elanna's face crumpled for a moment and then she regained her composure. "My father… he didn't want me."
She shrugged her shoulders, but Tom could tell that she was only feigning disinterest; B'Elanna truly did care what her father had thought about her.
Tom bent his head; it always came back to Mark Torres. One day, he thought, I will find the man and I will make him see what he did to a little girl…
"The Maquis were all I had," B'Elanna said softly. "My family."
Tom raised his eyes to meet hers.
"There are people here on Voyager who care about you," he offered gently.
B'Elanna got up from her chair and walked over to the window. She leaned against the wall, her forehead resting against her knuckles. Tom came up behind her, wrapping his arms around her. She did not resist his embrace.
"B'Elanna?" he whispered, his lips close to her ear. "I'm here now, B'Elanna. I'm here now."
She leaned back, her stiff muscles relaxing as she settled against him.
"I feel empty," she said, her voice echoing loudly in her own ears. She focused on the stars flashing past the windows. Even now, off-duty, she could sense the slight trembling of her beloved engines and the ever so slight fluctuations in power.
"I know," Tom replied.
"I don't want it to be true," B'Elanna said.
"In what way?"
"The message… it was lie," she said it uncertainly. "I dream about that at night, you know. I lie in bed and I think about what it must have been like. Sometimes, I'm there, in my head, and I'm thinking about how scared I am. And I wasn't even there. And then I think, it would have been different if I had been there. Maybe I could have done something. Something, anything. Anything at all."
B'Elanna turned to face Tom. She wondered what he was thinking. His blue eyes met her darker ones and she saw only love reflecting back at her.
She reached up to cup his jaw with her hand.
"I have nightmares," she continued as she drew her hand back. "I wake up with a targ sitting on my chest. I can't breathe because I'm so scared."
"And other times, I just lie there, as stiff and quiet as I can. If it's dark, I can pretend I'm dead."
Tom drew his breath in sharply. B'Elanna bent her head because she could not bear to meet his eyes.
"I want to be dead, Tom," she said in a low voice. "It would be easier being dead than being this."
"No," Tom said. "No, it's not like that. It takes courage to live, B'Elanna. You've got to believe me."
"Living hurts," she whispered. Tom caught B'Elanna's arm.
"You hurt yourself," he told her roughly. B'Elanna glared at him. She could feel her blood boiling. How dare he! She pushed him away and stalked off. She had barely reached the mess hall door when she realized that Tom wasn't following her.
B'Elanna stiffened when she realized that yes, she wanted Tom to follow her.
No, she thought. I want Tom. I want him.
She turned abruptly to face him; he was standing with his back towards her, staring out at the stars.
"Tom?" she called out uncertainly.
She imagined entire solar systems forming and dying in the awkward silence hanging between them.
Tom Paris turned slowly, "I will help you live, B'Elanna, but I won't have anything to do with you dying."
B'Elanna fisted her right hand and covered it with her left; she stood there, both hands pressed against her chest.
"Are you offering me a choice?" she asked, her lips curving up slightly into a dull reflection of her usual smile.
"Not me," Tom said. "You. Your choice. Your decision."
"I don't know if I can do this, Tom," she choked.
"I know you can."
B'Elanna took another step towards Tom; it was evident to her that he would not come to her.
"It gets cold," she said. "When you are alone."
"Don't like the cold, B'Elanna?"
"I hate the cold. You know that."
"Even worse than being alone?"
"I've always been alone."
"Do you like being alone?"
B'Elanna shook her head.
"No," she gasped out the word. "I hate it."
In that moment, Tom had crossed the gap between them and engulfed B'Elanna in his arms.
B'Elanna trembled, before allowing herself to go boneless. Her shoulders shuddered with the intensity of her sobs, but Tom supported her, kept her standing.
When she had lifted her head from his shoulder, Tom wiped away the remnants of a tear from its path along her nose.
"I'm sorry about your friends," Tom said gently. "Your family. I'm sorry. I know nothing I can say or do can make it better for you. And I understand that. But I want you to know that you don't have to go through this alone. You don't have to be alone, B'Elanna."
B'Elanna sniffed, "Sometimes you have to do things alone."
"Not this," he said. He held her close for another second and then released her gently. "And not this time."
B'Elanna's fingers touched his cheek gently and then she pulled his face closer to her own. She brushed his lips softly with hers. As she pulled away, Tom leaned down and kissed her forehead, his thumb caressing her jaw gently.
"Not this time," Tom repeated as he looked down at B'Elanna. "Or ever."
She hooked her arm into his, turning her face up towards his.
"Not this time," she promised a second before his lips brushed hers. Gently, at first and then a stronger, more solid pressure. B'Elanna pulled away first and touched Tom's lips gently with her fingers.
"Thank you," she whispered.
"You're welcome," he murmured, catching her hand in his. B'Elanna wrapped her arms around his neck, leaning her shoulder into the crook of his neck.
She did not know how long they stood there in the empty mess hall, but it did not matter; this felt right.
More importantly, she felt peace.
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