Inner Landscape R
Author: Annie M
Code: P/T, C, Crew
Summary: Set during and between early-mid season six episodes, B'Elanna, Tom and Chakotay try to come to terms with the issues and unsettled conflicts standing between them....
Okay to archive at ASC, ASCEM, BLTS and PTF. All others, please ask for permission first.
Author's Note: I think it's a bit of a shame that this story took so long to incubate and write, as some of the story does cover ground that various authors have already explored this year. However, the idea for this had been tricking at me since about September/October 99.
I knew I wanted to do certain things and include certain characters, but the outline didn't start to shape itself fully until around Christmas time--after I'd seen a few season six episodes (thanks, Elaine!).
This story is a sort of companion piece to some of those earlier episodes. Think of it as my attempt to bring some measure of continuity to the Paris-Torres relationship and to some of the characters they interact with. In so doing, I've also attempted to write
the characters as close to canon as possible and added my own interpretations where I felt it necessary. Needles to say, it's littered with spoilers pre "Equinox" and beyond.
Naturally, I hope that this story is still of some relevance and that you will enjoy it on one level or another. And of course, I'd like to hear from you whatever you think. ;-)
My thanks and gratitude goes to DangerMom, for being such a great editor and beta. She persistently asked questions, made suggestions and corrections, and offered just enough praise to keep me going when I was filled with self-doubts.
Thanks also to PJ in NH and D'Alaire, for being so supportive and encouraging. You're all wonderful to put up with me. And D'A, I'm really sorry about the... you know what. :-)
Special thanks go to Jim Wright for providing episode transcripts, and to his review site, "Delta Blues," without which this story would not have been completed.
Small excerpts have been taken and reshaped for my use from David Sunfellow's "Hopping Stone Vision." Copyright 1995.
A simple thank you will also have to suffice the Voyager writing staff, as I've pilfered moments of dialogue from various episodes to aid me in this story.
Disclaimer: Paramount/Viacom etc own the rights to the characters and the ship. I'm just playing in the holes they keep digging--literally!
Written December 99 - April 2000 (with many stops along the way).
Dedication: This one's for Trilly. May your soul find peace.Featured at the Best of Trek site - June 2000_____________________________________________________________________
Inner Landscape by Annie M
The amount of blood on the console disturbed him. He twisted around slowly, the pain in his chest restricting his movements. He brought a hand up to wipe blood away from his eyes and waited a moment for his vision to clear again. So much blood. Where had it come from? He strained to look over his shoulder to the right, recognising the legs of a crewman who appeared to be lying face down towards the aft compartment. He gritted his teeth against the pain and forced himself out of the chair. There was no need to perform a diagnostic to know that this shuttle had flown for the last time.
Staggering forward weakly, head spinning in sudden pain, he lost his balance and fell against his companion's legs. He caught his breath, pulling himself up to a kneeling position. Then he tried to clear away some of the smoking debris of console, relays and metal fragments that had exploded as the shuttle had crash-landed on the planet's surface. Or did that happen before? He shook his head to clear his mind and bent over double with a fresh wave of pain from the sudden movement.
A hand on his shoulder pressed him back against the floor.
"I thought you said you could handle this!" a voice admonished from above. He looked up at the sound but his vision swam bloody red before him, blurring its shape.
"They're all dead," the voice came again.
Chapter One - Signals or Signs
Chakotay looked over the five crewmen standing at attention in his office. They looked tired and worn down by life. Their eyes were dulled with pain or half-closed in an effort not to show fear, loathing or resentment.
He understood those looks. He'd seen it so many times in his own past, and being confronted with it after so long had actually caused a knot of tension in the small of his back. Many of his Maquis crew had worn those expressions during the conflict with the Federation and
Cardassia; wore them again when they had realised that Voyager was their only realistic hope of survival in the Delta Quadrant.
And these five--Marla Gilmore, Noah Lessing, James Morrow, Brian Sofin and Angelo Tassoni--had a long journey ahead of them, in every sense.
Fate and two captains had allowed their flight from the Equinox and the price of their unsuccessful treachery was to remain among the living. Serving out their time aboard Voyager as humble crewmen in the bowels of the ship; working unsociable hours; chaperoned by security as they "enjoyed" the holodecks--treated like serfs among esteemed gentry.
Who said the classless society was dead?
"At ease, crewmen."
To their credit they remained impassive as Chakotay read out their duty assignment rotations and instructed them on where to find their personal quarters. They seemed to accept that it would not be easy for them here; were as accepting as five people who had escaped a death sentence could be.
It was not difficult for Chakotay to feel a sense of compassion for these wretched souls, especially Noah Lessing. The captain's actions of a few days ago were forever burned into Chakotay's psyche; would she have let Noah die? Should he have called her bluff? The small
knot in his back raced up to his shoulders and he shifted uncomfortably.
"I want you all to understand," Chakotay said, continuing the small group's induction. "I want you to become a successful part of this crew, but I wont kid you; you all have a lot of hard work to do and an entire ship's respect to earn. Don't think you can't advance here, you can, but it will take time, dedication and patience.
"Captain Janeway runs a good ship, a Starfleet ship. She won't tolerate crewman who think the Prime Directive is irrelevant, just because we're on the other side of the galaxy." Chakotay knew that would sting and felt a twinge of guilt for having to repeat something these five, more than any others on board, were more than aware of. All the more reason to say it, he reminded himself.
"If you find you're having any difficulties adapting to life on Voyager, please come and see me. I run an 'open door' policy as well as being the acting counselor for the crew. Anything you tell me will be held in the strictest confidence, unless of course, it affects the safety of the ship or crew," he tried to finish with a smile. "Counselling sessions can either be on a one-to-one basis or in group sessions. If you feel you'd like to participate," Chakotay gave himself a sympathetic pause,
in the hope that they would at least think about it, before continuing. "Schedules for those sessions will appear in your weekly duty rosters. Any questions?"
They stood mutely until Chakotay dismissed them from his office, their blank expressions giving nothing away as they filed out. It irritated Chakotay on some level that not even Marla Gilmore or
Noah Lessing had taken this opportunity to speak up. He considered it briefly and concluded that they were all too humiliated from their recent actions as Equinox crew to feel that anything they had to say, at this time, would be met with sympathy.
Thoughts of his own captain's actions surfaced in his mind's eye. She had acted like a hurricane in her obsession to see Ransom brought to justice; whipping aside any that stood against her. Chakotay's jaw tightened at the memory. He fought to remind himself of his position and his responsibilities. The fact that Janeway had conveniently forgotten his role as first officer, by confining him to quarters after the "attempted murder" of Lessing, seemed of no consequence to her at the time. And she had been politely contrite and remorseful once events had concluded to Voyager's benefit, but Chakotay wondered if he would ever really have that woman's confidence or trust. If he ever had it to begin with.
Would she ever have his again?
Chakotay sighed and scratched at the back of his head, sat down at his desk and began reading through department head reports; Tuvok's dry and witless efficiency reports were at the top of a large pile of data PADDs.
Security morale had suffered during their battle with the Equinox and what had later been dubbed the "Ankari aliens," but according to Tuvok's logs, Lt. Ayala had submitted a plan that might reduce the loss of sensitive and critical hardware from leaving the ship in the future. Ayala's plan was to rotate security encryptions within a cloaked field, utilising some of the cloaking technology they had wrestled from the Voth scientists, Gegen and Vir. It was an ambitious undertaking and even Tuvok had added his own words of cautious enthusiasm to the proposal. The commander continued to read, going over again the basic proposal from Ayala and making a mental note to schedule a meeting with Tuvok's security team and Engineering to investigate the
feasibility of such an idea.
In the midst of his new enthusiasm it struck him. He'd been an outcast too, was surrounded daily by others who had, at one time or another, felt the sting of isolation. He sighed again, his eyes searching his small office for signs of inspiration, knowledge, or calm; they finally settled on his medicine wheel. Chakotay tried to focus his breathing as he stared at the circular patch work, adorned with stones. After several minutes of deep breathing he finally conceded that exploring his "inner landscape" was not as easy as it used to be.
He opened his eyes and saw a short glass being filled with an amber coloured liquid; the taste of it hit the back of his throat before the smell of the alcohol had a chance to finish its trip up to his nostrils. Bourbon; Miridian bourbon, the good stuff. Not easy to find in the DMZ, but that was the point.
"Will you help us?"
The liquid heat on ice burned a nice trail down his throat. "Sure," was his casual reply.
"Yuri!" Sparks flew out of another of the ship's consoles and the small vessel pitched steeply to port as a final volley of Cardassian phaser fire punched through their defences. Chakotay spun around from his chair on the Bridge of the Liberty. "Yuri, I need you to find a way through this mess and bring help. The colonists on Selka are sympathetic to the cause, take the shuttle and go. We'll be sitting ducks if we don't get out of here--"
"I'll go," B'Elanna Torres stated, already up from her seat at the conn and heading to the door as the ship lurched again. "I'm the best pilot you've got on this ship, and the only one with a chance of getting through the debris field."
Chakotay winced at the truth of her words, hating the thought of handing this mercenary their lives once more. "I'm talking to Yuri."
Tuvok, injured from an earlier explosion, was cradled in a young man's lap. He reached up and pulled at the man's tunic, getting his attention. "What is it, Tuvok?" he asked gently, being careful
of the Vulcan's head wound.
"She is correct," the Vulcan intoned in a raspy breath. "Logical... choice," he managed before he
slipped back into unconsciousness.
"Let her go, Chakotay," he said from his position at Tuvok's side, after a moment of hesitation. "But I warn you, Torres, if you betray us, I'll hunt you down and make you wish you'd never been born."
B'Elanna laughed bitterly and gave the man a cold, lifeless gaze. "And all this time, I thought you hated me, Paris," was her tart reply as she turned away and strutted through the Bridge doors.
"I can't pull rank for you, son. Not this time." Admiral Owen Paris sat across from his only son, separated by the hum of a Federation detention centre force field. "You can't keep throwing your life away like this and expect me to keep picking up the pieces. You're a man now, Tom, and I expect you to act like one."
"I've been acting like one, Admiral, but I guess you missed that huh?"
"You've been acting like a suicidal fool! An immature child who thinks that responsibility is only something that other people practise. Damn it, boy! You're breaking your mother's heart."
"You're the one who breaks hearts; Mom, my sisters... guess I learned a lot from you," he said bitterly.
The older man shook his head at his son and stood up. "I've made terrible mistakes in my life too, Tom, but I can admit to them, face them. Can you honestly say the same thing?"
Blue eyes bolted open and Tom Paris gasped for breath as he awakened from his dream, his sheets twisted around him like some sort of medical restraint. He fought viciously against the fabric's resistance and sat up, breathing hard as the images he had experienced began to fade. The faint illumination of the cabin helped to calm him and he brought a hand up to rub at his eyes and scalp. His body was damp with sweat, his tee shirt plastered to his chest. He drew in a deep shaky breath to try and slow his heartbeat and glanced around to check his surroundings.
His bed, his cabin. The chronometer read 0645. He was alone. Faint traces of perfume permeated his senses: B'Elanna. She was flying solo on an away mission this morning, he reminded himself, and then grimaced as images of her role in his dream were replayed. That was enough to shoot him out of his bed and into the bathroom.
Pulling out his sink he proceeded to wash his face, grateful that the water was so cold. His heart was still hammering, and he took a few more deep breaths before he finally straightened and looked at himself in the mirror. Another sigh, this time in relief; he looked okay, he told himself, just a couple of circles under his eyes. They'd be gone in a couple of hours he knew, no permanent damage.
He turned to his shower and hit the sonic setting, slipping out of his briefs and the damp tee shirt. He stepped quickly into the cubicle and did what he always did with bad dreams; ignored them, told himself they had no meaning. None.
"She scares me sometimes: B'Elanna. She scared me almost out of my own skin today. Since the accident she had in the shuttle, she's become obsessed with... I don't know... reconciling herself with her mother? Going back to Gre'thor? Obsessed with all these Klingon rituals. She's scaring me... I didn't know what to do. I wanted to help her, but sometimes it's so difficult to get through to B'Elanna... and she won't let me in. She'd rather talk things through with Chakotay
and... damn it, that bothers the hell out of me sometimes!
"Why does she always turn to him? If she's worried or frightened why is his name the first one to her lips? 'Chakotay says I should jump, so I'm jumping this high today.' Okay, that's not fair, he's a good friend to her but why can't it be me; I'm the guy who loves her!
"Maybe she still doesn't trust me enough, or perhaps she knows that I still don't trust her with everything. I don't know... I want to be with her, I want her to be with me... I don't know. I just don't know anymore. Maybe it scares her, this letting go, this whole 'sharing yourself with somebody thing,'... maybe it scares me too.
"I know it does. Computer, end personal log."
"God, I was shaking so hard after we got her back. The Doctor wanted to keep B'Elanna in Sickbay for the night, just to be sure there were no complications following the effects of her 'near death' experience. There was so much to take in; B'Elanna whispering the words, 'I'm alive' when she first regained consciousness; B'Elanna embracing the captain so warmly and after, holding me to her so tightly and crying against my chest; her tears of joy reducing me to a cry baby. I don't know how long it's been since we held each other so tightly and for so long. We've never cried together before, I know that much.
"I got back here to my quarters about fifteen minutes ago. I went to the replicator to get something to drink and I ended up standing at the unit for a full minute not knowing what I wanted or how to go about getting it. Then the shaking started. My lips started to tremble, my hands started to shake, I could feel my heart start to pound against my ribs like it was trying to beat its way right out of me. My head started to spin and the next thing I knew I was sliding down against the wall and every bone in my body was rattling and shuddering. With the little strength I had left, all I could do was roll onto my stomach and lay there until it stopped. I was so scared."
Chapter Two - Degrees in Misunderstanding
A small white nylon ball travelled through the air at speed, the backspin on its downward arc sending it too close to the net for Tom to reach without stretching his whole body diagonally across the table to return the shot. Harry Kim easily anticipated the return and sent a swift forehand drive back across before Tom could recover his position. The point was his.
"That's 10 - 6," Harry called out in triumph, "another point and this game, excuse me," he drawled confidently, "this set and match will be mine!"
"Don't get too cocky, Harry. You haven't won yet," Tom returned.
"Just a matter of time, buddy," Harry said, as he set himself to serve again. "Ready?"
Tom took up his position at the other end of the ping-pong table, feet bouncing in readiness. "Come on."
Harry delivered a perfect serve, the small ball bouncing just over the net at an angle of about 85 degrees and spinning back on itself away from Tom, but Tom was quick and he flicked his wrist to send the ball back with a backhand swish. Harry met the return easily and drove it back with force, playing with a grace and ease that made his opponent seem cumbersome by comparison. Tom wasn't about to give up so easily though and fought to stay in the rally, scampering around the table in an effort to keep up with Harry's blistering offensive. The rally was one of the longest they had managed throughout the entire match but Harry knew he had the upper hand. His shot selection and ability to spin and arc the ball kept Tom on the defensive; only a lucky shot was going to give him another chance to get back into the game.
Harry finally saw his moment to kill the game outright as Tom was forced to play from well behind the table, after he'd repeatedly been forced back from Harry's earlier pressure. Harry picked his spot and smashed the ball back across the net at an acute angle; it hit its mark and fizzed away leaving Tom lunging at empty air. The momentum of his dive sent him crashing to the floor of the holographic sporting arena.
"Yes!" Harry yelled in triumph. "11 - 6 and 3 sets to 1." He danced around the table to Tom's sprawled position on the floor then demonstrated a celebratory shuffle as his friend eyed him warily.
"It's not good to gloat over the loser, Harry. A guy could get hurt," Tom managed between heaving breaths.
"Hey," Harry said, still bouncing around, "I learned from the master, 'When you win, let it show.' That is a correct quote, isn't it, Tom?" He offered his hand to Tom in a belated show of sportsmanship and helped his friend off the floor.
"You really are turning into a monster," Tom breathed, as he regained his footing.
"Pretty soon, I'll have the ladies falling at my feet too," Harry couldn't resist adding as he flexed his biceps with a grin.
"Holodeck babes already flock around you, Harry, what more stimulus could you want?"
Harry's face fell and he gave his friend a long hard stare. "Don't be such a sore loser, Tom. I was kidding."
"Sorry," Tom said, rubbing at his neck. "What do I owe you now anyway, another week'srations?"
Harry clenched his jaw and ran a hand through his thick hair, hanging limp and wild with perspiration. He knew enough about Tom to know that his friend did not really mean that remark, but it still stung. Stung enough to remind him that sometimes his best friend could be cruel without even realising it; and then cover it up with a joke or by changing the subject -- deflecting any real chance of a serious confrontation. One of Tom's defensive mechanisms Harry knew;
brought into play when his friend was feeling unsettled in some way or other. Harry wondered how he had learned to deal with Tom's irritating habits so well. His triumphant mood turned sour with his thoughts as he walked back to the table to retrieve his paddle.
"Yeah, a week's worth," he finally answered. "You can pay me when you actually have some credits to spare." he said, moving off in the direction of the holodeck exit. "Computer, end program and save."
"C'mon, Harry, don't go all moody on me. I said I was sorry, okay. Let's go get changed and then go for a snack in the mess hall."
"I can't, I'm commanding the Bridge tonight."
"Right, I forgot. Bucking for Chakotay's job or Tuvok's?" Tom asked in an attempt to make a joke.
"B'Elanna's," Harry said evenly, turning to give Tom a controlled expression of seriousness.
"That's not funny, or healthy, Harry, especially if you say that again in public."
"Sure, we'll keep this to ourselves," Harry said, winking conspiratorially at Tom, trying to force himself into a better mood. "I'll see you later," Harry finished and spun away, exiting the holodeck.
Tom stood alone in the grey and yellow chamber for several minutes, wishing he were somewhere or someone else; someone who didn't hurt his friends or hide so much of what he was really feeling. Even from himself.
B'Elanna was humming to herself as she sat at the edge of her bed removing her boots. The tune was disjointed and yet melodic in its own way as she continued to hum and whistle, getting up to move around her cabin with a kind of lazy feline grace, discarding her uniform jacket and turtleneck in the process.
She'd returned to duty two weeks ago and although she felt changed and a little calmer on the inside, thanks to her epiphany in Gre'thor, her engineering staff were well aware that she had lost none of her vehemence when it came to the pursuit of achieving maximum efficiency to Voyager's systems.
Although she still yelled and barked out orders, still growled when Seven attempted to "enhance" her systems without authorisation, her crew noticed that B'Elanna seemed to have developed a slightly more tolerant attitude towards it all. She'd actually let Seven finish a sentence before calmly responding with a, "It's a good idea, Seven, but that would fry the secondaries and crash the comm system."
And she'd smile too, not that her subordinates had never seen her smile from time to time, but the expression of self possession behind this more frequent display was something new and unexpected.
She'd been heard laughing out loud at some of Ashmore's ribald gossip, where before, there might have been a small smirk. She'd started to take the time to discuss and explain procedures she'd normally leave to Vorik or Joe Carey. In short, B'Elanna had become... approachable.
Naturally, the cause of their chief engineer's more relaxed attitude was the subject of a secret (on a ship this small?) betting pool, with Susan Nicoletti holding the book; taking bets on anything from alien possession to pregnancy. Somehow, their boss remained completely ignorant of this fact or she was choosing to ignore it. That too had become the subject of great debate.
B'Elanna did not hear her door chime, or the soft hiss of her cabin opening, as she continued to sing to herself, completely wrapped up in her own thoughts as she waded through her closet and clothing shelves, in search of something comfortable to wear for the evening. She was unaware of his silent stare, the small smile that tugged persistently at the corners of his mouth or his wistful sigh when she started to tug down her trousers, offering him a very nice view of the red panties that covered her shapely bottom. He'd never get enough of looking at her; bared or fully clothed.
B'Elanna shut another draw on high note and turned to see him standing just inside her sleep area. "Hey!" she said, offering him a chagrined expression for being caught so thoroughly unawares. "I didn't hear you come in," she said, approaching him seductively. Tom moved a step towards her and accepted her warm quick kiss.
"Hi," was all he said, as he held her warmly to him. B'Elanna pulled back from his embrace and gave Tom a questioning stare.
"I thought you and Harry were playing table tennis this evening?"
"We did." B'Elanna quirked a smile then pushed herself away from Tom.
"Already? What time is it? Computer, Time?" Tom went back to watching her move around her quarters as she hurriedly pulled off her tank top and slipped into a black sweater vest and matching skirt, which she discarded before she had even hiked it up to her thighs.
:::The time is now 2120 hours.:::
"What's the rush?" Tom asked, seating himself on her bed, as he watched her grab her uniform pants, stepping into each leg as if she were already late for a duty shift.
"I'm seeing Tuvok, this evening, remember? Meditation," she reminded him lightly as she moved to her bed, dropped to her knees and bent over, flailing her right had under her bed, as she sought out her recently discarded boots. "I didn't realise it was so late. I was supposed to be there five minutes ago, and you know how Vulcan Tuvok can get about time-keeping."
"So, you'll be back in an hour?" Tom questioned hopefully.
"I'm not sure," she said, sitting down with Tom, her back turned at angle away from him as she raised a leg to put a boot on. "Chakotay's asked me to stop by after, to go over some things with
"How do I look?" B'Elanna asked, raising herself off the bed to give Tom a quick look at her mix and match ensemble.
"Beautiful," he answered honestly, giving her a slow smile, which she missed completely as she stepped between his open thighs to give his blond head a brief kiss.
"Will I see you later?" B'Elanna asked already heading for the doors.
Tom shrugged, but she missed that too. "Sure," he answered.
:::Tuvok to Lieutenant Torres:::
"I'm on my way, Tuvok."
:::Miss Torres, may I remind you that our session should have begun at 2115.:::
"I know, I'm sorry," B'Elanna paused briefly, "I was caught up in... deconstructing the origins of my rage." She grinned back at Tom. They could both imagine how high Tuvok's eyebrows had jumped in response.
:::That is an admirable use of my guidance, Lieutenant. However, there is much more to learn and the time--:::
"I know, I coming!" she growled back.
:::Very well. Tuvok out.:::
"Deconstructing the origins of your rage?" Tom couldn't help the small chuckle.
"It keeps him off my back, and it's really not... too bad... sometimes. I've got to run." She was heading to the cabin doors again, when she stopped and turned back. Tom was still sitting on her bed, watching her. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine," Tom answered, giving her a quick grin. "Get going."
Tom stayed seated for a few minutes after B'Elanna's departure. Eventually he got up, picked up his lover's strewn garments and placed the soiled items in her refresher unit, then folded her discarded skirt neatly and returned it to its drawer. He had wanted to talk to B'Elanna, felt a need to touch base with her; assure himself of his own validity somehow. How had that happened? he wondered. How had his confidence left him and why was he feeling so melancholy over the last few weeks?
He still flew Voyager with unparalleled confidence, annoyed the Doctor every chance he got, livened up Bridge duty and staff meetings with his peculiar mixture of innate charm, casual humour and inspired suggestions. Yet, Tom Paris was less than fine. On his own, away from the watching eyes of his senior officers, away from duty and reports and the EMH's prudent gaze; Tom Paris was experiencing
He thought back to earlier that evening and his game of table tennis with Harry. He had not meant to bring up Harry's unfortunate taste in holo-women, didn't even care that he'd lost the match, but for a moment, he'd taken pleasure in seeing Harry's jubilant face fall and had revelled in his friend's minor humiliation.
It was time to stop thinking and analysing, Tom thought, as he headed out of B'Elanna's quarters. He had an away mission to prepare for the following day, getting some work done on the Delta Flyer would definitely take his mind off his sullen mood.
"Any progress with the enhanced security measures Ayala suggested?"
"We've been working on it, Chakotay. Vorik and Nicoletti are in charge of the project."
"I hear you've let Seven in on it too," the commander grinned, giving B'Elanna a display of his dimples. The chief engineer shrugged her shoulders as she settled herself back against the couch.
They were in Chakotay's quarters where they had been discussing crew scheduling for the next week, Engineering operations and the status of any research projects, such as Ayala's hypothesis for cloaking the security fields around sensitive areas of the ship.
B'Elanna drew her legs up under her as she dropped the PADD she was looking at into her lap. She fixed Chakotay with a knowing stare and feinted her own version of "the look." "Seven's the expert on nanoprobe technology," she conceded, "and I thought we could use that knowledge to perfect a working theory."
Chakotay smiled again, "I'm glad to see you two are finally developing a proper working relationship." B'Elanna snorted. "I mean it," he said seriously. "Seven has a lot to offer your department and I'm glad you're starting to acknowledge that."
"So long as she knows who's in charge down there, I won't break any bones," she offered.
"You promise?" Chakotay asked with a slight smile, as he poured two more cups of coffee.
B'Elanna smirked as she leaned forward to pick up her refreshed mug. She took a sip and settled back against the couch again.
"How are your meditation sessions going?" Chakotay asked as he drank from his own mug. He sat across from her in his armchair, the symbols of his people adorning the upholstery, which in turn served to give the commander an aura of calm and contemplation. B'Elanna wondered if he still used his Akoonah as much as he used to.
"Not too bad," she said with a shrug. Her sessions with Tuvok were going better than she'd like to admit. She'd been resistant to them at first, even if Chakotay had practically ordered her to seek assistance from Tuvok with controlling her temper. At first B'Elanna had used the sessions to poke fun at the Vulcan; his clothing, his seriousness,
his entire personality. After a time she'd realised that the aged Tuvok could see through her feeble attempts to distract him from his task and had reluctantly begun to immerse herself into his teachings and exercises. Under Tuvok's tutelage B'Elanna had begun to realise and
acknowledge (to herself anyway) how much she had resented her Klingon heritage and how unfair she had been to her mother. It could not have been easy for Miral to raise her on her own and in an environment bereft of any substantive Klingon culture, she recognised.
Since her recent experience in Gre'thor B'Elanna had started to meditate on a daily basis. It was something she could do anywhere; thirty seconds of deep breathing followed by another minute to clear her mind of anger, rage or rancour. Focusing instead on the inner light of her own flame, concentrating on its source -- picturing the wild flames burning down to a flicker. The exercise was one of several Tuvok had introduced her to, but she found this particular one to be relatively satisfactory, even if she'd probably never master it.
Sometimes, Tom was with her when she practised, but he only watched and smiled in quiet support.
"Getting anything out of it?" Chakotay asked, noticing B'Elanna's reflective gaze as she sat, coffee cup in hand, paused as if to drink but not moving; except for her eyelids, which fluttered briefly. "B'Elanna?"
She looked up quickly, her gaze brought back to the present. She gave Chakotay a small smile and nodded her head.
"Good," he said, sounding satisfied. He already knew Torres was benefiting from her training with Tuvok. The Vulcan had been reporting on her progress on a monthly basis. It was against
regulations to go into any detail about each class, considering the personal nature of the instruction, as Tuvok was always at pains to point out, but he had agreed to keep the commander informed of B'Elanna's general progress. "How are those Equinox crew members working out in Engineering, any problems?" Chakotay asked, changing the subject. B'Elanna sat up straighter and returned her mug to the table.
"No problems. Gilmore's a good engineer, certainly better than manifold relay duty, but she doesn't complain. She's quiet, hardworking. Tassoni's been working with Chell in recycling," B'Elanna gave her commander a pointed look. "So you know he's probably better informed of all the gossip on board than anything else."
Chakotay rolled his eyes. "True."
"They do the work, as ordered, and pretty much keep to themselves, according to Carey. I haven't seen too much of them personally," B'Elanna admitted. "I guess it must be weird for them to be taking orders from us; having to start over again."
Chakotay agreed, "We all had our problems when we came aboard, if you remember, B'Elanna." She shook her head in understanding. It had taken her years to feel like she really belonged on this ship, with this crew, abiding by Federation standards and principles, but she'd adapted. "It seems like another life now," she confessed. There was a long moment of silence between them as they reminisced on the past. "We're not the same people anymore are we?"
"We've all changed," he acknowledged. Their companionable silence descended again as they both became lost in their own thoughts.
"Do you still go on Vision Quests?" B'Elanna asked eventually.
Chakotay smiled and he wondered why she wanted to know. His spirituality had intrigued her years ago, when they had first met, but she had eventually found it incompatible to her then very practical and impatient nature. He stretched out his legs and leaned back further into his chair. "Yes, I do."
"Do you think..." she began, then paused, lifting her legs to cross them both under her as she repositioned her self against the cushions. "Do you think... I could try another Vision Quest, Chakotay?"
"You want to?" he questioned lightly.
"I've been thinking about it a lot recently and--yes, I'd like to try again."
"I hope you're not expecting any quick solutions or answers, B'Elanna. Remember, the Vision Quest doesn't work that way, it may take time to fully understand what you see. It may not even work for you at all, even if something happened the last time you tried it."
"I know," she answered. "I think I'm a little more prepared for it now than I was before," she concluded with a tiny grin.
"All right," Chakotay said at last. "I'll schedule some time for us and we can try. Do you remember what you'll need?"
She nodded, "A couple of personal items--"
"That doesn't mean part of the warp core," he couldn't help teasing.
"You're as bad as, Tom," she laughed. "I don't spend all of my time down there," she admonished lightly.
"I can only guess where you spend the rest of your time, Lieutenant," he smirked.
"I keep forgetting what a dirty mind you have, Chakotay," she said, throwing the PADD at him.
The imagizer crackled with static as Buster Kincaid and Captain Proton tried desperately to clean up the image. Their monochrome Bridge had taken several glancing hits from Chaotica's death ray but Proton's little rocket ship was equipped to repel its charges--for now.
"We need to get this transmission up, Buster!" Proton called through gum flexing cheeks.
"Try it now," Buster called from underneath a panel in the floor.
"It's working!" Proton yelled back in excitement.
:::Captain Proton, can you hear me? Captain Proton, this is Earth's president calling, come in.:::
"We hear you, Mr. President, but this transmission may not hold out for long, Chaotica's launching an all out assault on my ship. Have the Earth defence forces been able to shut down his mining operation in Africa?"
:::I'm afraid not, Captain. In fact... the Pan-African government are welcoming Chaotica with open arms, which means there is nothing I can do about it.:::
"What!" Proton exclaimed.
:::I'm afraid it's true. Queen B'Elanna, her Royal Highness and spiritual leader of the Pan-African and Middle Eastern nations has declared a truce with the evil menace. Chaotica's no longer attacking their borders.:::
There was a dramatic pause before the president resumed. :::I'm sorry to report, Captain, that Dr. Chaotica and his forces, including those led by Queen B'Elanna are now mobilising against the rest of world. We need your help!:::
Proton could hardly believe his ears. "Buster, get up here!" He then turned his attention back to the imagizer.
"Mr. President, Queen B'Elanna gave me her word, she'd never do business with a snake like Chaotica."
:::Oh, wouldn't I?::: The imagizer crackled and spat. The image of Earth's president was replaced by Queen B'Elanna, the dark exotic beauty, from the dark exotic continent.
"Say it aint so, toots," Proton implored. Somewhere in this scenario the heated rhythm of African
drums could be heard in the background.
:::Chaotica can do so much more for my people than yours can, Proton::: she hissed. :::I don't need your promises of a better tomorrow, when I can have it all... today.:::
"He's using you, your majesty. He'll crush you and your people like so many ants. It's what he does!" Buster lamented, coming to stand next to his captain.
The driving cadences of the drums were speeding up and their volume increased in intensity and pitch.
:::Not this time, Kincaid. After all, would Chaotica really want to kill his bride?::: Demonic laughter filled the screen and reverberated around the rocket ship. Proton gaped, open mouthed and slack jawed, as the image of the galaxy's most odious sloth slithered forward to take his place at his wife's side.
:::You're a fool, Proton,::: were Chaotica's first words. He bent to take his lady's hand and kissed it delicately. :::I could not resist such an intoxicating flower as the beauteous Queen B'Elanna. With her at my side we shall rule the galaxy and all of Earth!:::
The evil maniac raised his head to look directly at Captain Proton through the imagizer. The hideous grin and the trademark goatee should have been unmistakable, but for a second Proton was confused. Chaotica did not wear a tattoo, certainly not a huge one plastered on to his forehead where his skullcap should have been, and what was with those pointy ears?
The drums pounded on relentlessly and the maniacal laughter of Chaotica and Queen B'Elanna were so thick with sarcasm it was like standing in a fog of sound. It was deafening, maddening. What were Chakotay and Tuvok doing in this scenario? They'd never expressed an interest in his Captain Proton holodeck adventures before, neither had B'Elanna, come to think of it.
And with the realisation that he was dreaming the drums stopped.
Tom opened his eyes to total and utter darkness. All was quiet, except for the sound of his own breathing. His senses returned to him slowly and he took a deep breath. What is with all of these weird dreams I'm having lately? he wondered. He was about to turn over when he realised there was a warm body pressed against his back and an arm, a soft gentle weight, had slithered up inside his tee-shirt, resting against his chest; his own large hand covering it from the outside.
He'd gone to bed alone the previous night, late too. He had no memory of B'Elanna crawling into bed with him, yet here she was, all softness and curves, pressing intimately against him. He turned slowly, not wishing to wake her, extricating her hand gently from under his shirt as he did so. She gave a little grunt in protest but obliged his movements, turning onto her stomach and burying her head deep into her pillow.
"Computer, 5% illumination." Tom's command was barely above a whisper. The computer complied and Tom turned onto his side to stare at the sleeping form of his lover. He could see that she was in one of his tee shirts, and he smiled at that. Tom had always found it quite erotic that she liked to wear his clothes to bed. They were all too large for her but that never stopped him from reacting to seeing her in them. It made him feel connected to her.
Or was it that it seemed she was connected to him?
That thought made him feel restless again and snatches of his dream flashed before his eyes; Chaotica looking like some fused version of Chakotay and Tuvok, B'Elanna laughing derisively at him--B'Elanna spitting his name as a curse and turning to leave the Bridge of the Liberty, furious scorn etched in every feature.
Tom rolled onto his back and rubbed at his tired eyes, he could feel a headache coming on. Easing himself out of bed he walked on unsteady feet towards his replicator, ordering a glass of water and an analgesic through his medical account. He brought them with him as he flopped down into his couch, knocked back the pills with the water then let his head fall back against the chair and closed his eyes.
"Tom?" He must have slept for a while because when he opened his eyes again, B'Elanna was kneeling between his spread thighs, her hands resting lightly on either side of his hips.
"Are you okay?" B'Elanna asked him gently. "I woke up alone--cold," she pouted.
"Headache," he mumbled, blinking to see her still at his feet. "What time is it?"
"After 0400. Come back to bed," she encouraged, raising herself to stand between his legs, offering her hands to him. Tom sighed heavily with the effort of standing again and let B'Elanna lead him back to his bed.
Once they had settled comfortably under the covers, B'Elanna, wrapping herself over his torso like a sheet, asked; "Still have a headache?"
Tom answered with a shake of his head. "I'm sorry I was so late back, last night. We never got a chance to talk," B'Elanna apologised.
"It's okay," Tom replied, stroking her arm as it lay resting against his chest, her fingertips lightly stroking his neck. "How was your class with Tuvok?"
"Once he'd stopped lecturing me on time-keeping, it went pretty well. He thinks I might be ready to try a deeper level of meditation soon."
"That's great, B'Elanna."
"Don't get too excited, Tom. I think Tuvok's use of the word 'soon' could mean anything from a year to a decade," she harrumphed. Tom chuckled. "What did you get up to last night?" she asked as her fingers moved up to play with the hairs at Tom's nape. He shifted his head into her touch, his arm, caressing her back, moved to her ribs to push her higher against him.
"Worked on the Flyer a bit. The structural integrity field waveguides could do with a little enhancement," he replied easily.
"There's a backup generator in Engineering we could modify for the Flyer if you want."
"Yeah, I know. It's already been installed," Tom said with a small grin.
"Was that an authorised use of equipment, Ensign?" B'Elanna teased.
"It will be, Lieutenant," he answered, knowing B'Elanna would make the necessary requisition in the logs when her shift began in a few hours.
"I should file a report," she said, pulling at his hair, "have Chakotay kick your ass for that little stunt." Tom groaned audibly at the mention of the commander's name. "Oh, that reminds me," B'Elanna went on. "I asked Chakotay to take me on a Vision Quest."
Tom's hands stilled against her skin. "A Vision Quest? What for? You're already meditating with Tuvok."
"I know, but I want to explore this... this... side of me a little more," B'Elanna tried to explain as she raised herself to look at Tom.
"Look, B'Elanna," Tom breathed, adjusting his position to sit up against the pillows. "I know that the meditation with Tuvok has been helping, and that finding your mother, on that Klingon barge, was a really good thing, but how is a Vision Quest, with you wandering around some forest with Chakotay, going to help you?"
B'Elanna pulled away completely from Tom's embrace and sat up beside him. "It's another way to channel emotions, Tom," her voice grated with irritation.
"You mean, it's another thing you can do without me," his voice was sarcastic.
"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" she shouted, no trace of her meditative control in evidence.
Tom shook his head and raked his hand fiercely through his tousled hair. "I said I'd learn Klingon with you; learn the rituals, the language. You said fine, but have we done any of that? No. Instead you want to run off to Chakotay and Tuvok and spend god knows how many hours in a damn trance!"
"What?" Where the hell was this coming from? B'Elanna could feel her anger boiling up inside of her.
"What's the last thing we did together, B'Elanna? Name one!" he challenged. "And I don't mean sex either."
B'Elanna sprang out of the bed, cursing invectives that would make a full Klingon blush. She stood at the bottom of the bed, her whole body trembling with rage, she willed it back down; imagined the flame as it burned brightly, focused on it, counted down from 100. Willing the flame to a flicker.
Tom sat still and couldn't help but be impressed by B'Elanna's control, he was certain that she would have hit him, thrown something at him by now, not in arousal but in an unfettered rage.
87, 86, 85, 84....
Her nostrils flared and she exhaled deeply, her eyes were closed as she continued to focus on damping down the flames. 73, 72, 71, 70....
Tom could feel his own breathing returning to normal as he watched B'Elanna perform her calming ritual. What right did he have to tell how to spend her time? Hadn't he pushed her away enough in the past so that he could hide in the holodecks, immerse himself in fantasy--remain in control.
50, 49, 48, 47....
Concentrate on the flame, let it surround you, feel its power. Know that you are its master. Control the flame, Lieutenant, control your anger. 29, 28, 27, 26....
"B'Elanna?" Tom called. She was so still, only her eyelids fluttered and her nostrils continued to flare with the intake of each deep breath.
11, 10, 9, 8....
And when you have vanquished the flames, control will be yours, Lieutenant Torres. 3, 2, 1....
B'Elanna's eyes snapped open, and Tom felt liked he'd been caught in the beam of a solar flare. "B'Elanna...?"
"I don't want to fight with you, Tom," her voice was clear, carrying an edge of ice. "But if you want to talk to me about what's bothering you, I'll listen," the brittle delivery was a whisper. This was a new voice for B'Elanna, it was measured, controlled but it hinted too of possible detonation.
Tom slipped his feet out from under the covers to sit facing away from B'Elanna's blank stare. He scrunched his toes into the carpet, wishing he'd never started this. "I miss you sometimes," he said softly, staring at his feet in the dim light. B'Elanna didn't respond and the silence around them became more palpable with each passing second. Tom felt the bed dip slightly and knew that B'Elanna had come back to sit on the opposite side, well out of reach.
They sat there like that, backs to each other, in the deafening stillness. Tom could feel the chill of the cabin's night air against his bare legs and arms, wondered if B'Elanna was shivering.
"I don't remember," B'Elanna said at last, her voice quiet and reflective. Tom turned his head slightly, waiting. "I don't remember what we last did together." She turned to face him, pulling a leg up under her as she did so. "I'm not trying to shut you out," she paused then and took another deep breath, exhaled slowly. "I thought I was... finding ways... to let you in." Tom shook his head, not understanding her logic, still unwilling to turn towards her fully.
"Let me in...?" Tom felt the bed ripple with movement as B'Elanna crawled up to kneel behind him. She put a tentative hand to his broad back, and at her touch Tom lowered his head.
"I'm not trying to shut you out, Tom." The whisper of her voice tickled his neck.
His voice, when he found it, was low and ragged. "I know." Tom twisted his body to face B'Elanna and he opened his mouth to say more, found he couldn't; gazed instead at this woman's eyes, heavy lidded and remorseful.
Their breathing shuddered in quaking gasps as they spontaneously reached out to each other, holding on together tightly, B'Elanna burying her head into his collarbone, as Tom bent to submerge his face in her hair.
In the short time that was left of Voyager's night they lay together, silently, clutching infrequently at a hand or a torso. B'Elanna did eventually drift back to sleep until the alarm call. Tom caught some sleep too, but for a long time his eyes remained open.
Chapter Three - A Small Diversion
"I had my reservations about that little ship, but once Tom convinced me of its worth; manoeuvrability, multi-phasic shielding, optronic weapons array; I could see the benefits of having it aboard. That and the fact we trash enough of our own shuttles, having another as back-up made sense. I did tell him to check out its neurogenic interface link before hooking himself up to it though. I'd remembered horror stories from the Academy, where those sorts of experiments had gone disastrously wrong--'Brains turned to Swiss cheese,' I think was the expression.
"It's good to see him smiling again. His eyes really lit up when he was talking about that ship, about its potential, its grace. He was like a kid I used to know on Kessik, after opening his birthday presents--Andrew... Andrew something or other. I do remember having to beat the crap out of him a few times, but I did go to a couple of his parties. Mother would drag me there, and I'd watch while he ripped open his presents and whooped with glee--listen to me, I'm starting to sound like Tom now. What the hell was I talking about?
"Computer, stop recording and play back last section of personal log."
:::... He was like a kid I used to know on Kessik after opening his birthday presents--:::
"Computer, forward to the end of that section and resume recording."
:::Voice activation is ready to resume.:::
"Tom.... Well, he seems happier now that he's found himself a new toy. The other night, when we... fought... he was so... I don't know. He said he missed me; that we don't do enough together. I guess some of that's true but we hardly have time for anything around here. He was so busy working shifts on the Bridge and in Sickbay and I have to be in Engineering. I wanted to make it up to him but wouldn't you know it, the Doctor decides he's going to get himself an imagination, and who's the one who has to clean up his stupid mess?
"I admit, monitoring his daydreams was entertaining at first, but seeing what he'd thought up in that mess hall scenario was the limit! Does he really think I'd act like that? Naturally, Tom thought it was pretty funny, even after I told him what he was doing in it. He seemed to think it was harmless fun, just the Doc's idea of being needed.
"And now, Tom's wrapped up in that ship.... It's probably silly but sometimes, I wonder what Tom daydreams about."
"He's been working flat-out on that ship for the past few nights. I'd suggested we go and visit one of his sailing programs, like Lake Como, but he said he really wanted to work on the ship--Alice. That's what he's calling it now. Apparently, she was some girl who managed to repel his charms at the Academy, so Harry says. I wonder why he'd choose a name like that; for someone who'd
"I saw Tom briefly, this evening, he looked tired but happy. I'm not sure what I made of his 'flight suit,' far too baggy around his butt for my tastes.
"He wants me to come and take a look the ship tomorrow night--it's about time! I barely see him at all these days. I'm cancelling my lesson with Tuvok to go. Who knows, maybe we can find away to test out some of the... propulsion systems while I'm down there. God, I hope that stupid suit is easy to get off, it's been too damn long since I've had him."
"...Smart move, B'Elanna! What was I thinking? I stupidly thought he wouldn't get carried away this time! First he gets all protective of that damned ship's upholstery--upholstery for crying out loud! Shit, I knew something was wrong when I goosed him right there in the chair and he didn't even react. There I was, trying to put a few moves on him and he just sits there, going on and on about how 'Alice wont let me sleep,' and 'Alice doesn't like that.' And that voice--yeah right, I'll just bet it came with the ship!
"Damn right I'm jealous, but it is just a ship, isn't it?"
"Need an extra hand?"
Joe Carey looked up at the chief engineer from his diagnostic board. Gamma shift had been on duty for about an hour and all systems were within tolerable parameters, as much as a lone starship, thousands of light-years from the nearest starbase could be. Six years of improvisation and ripping pages out of the engineering protocol handbook had kept Carey sharp. He'd always been a good engineer and serving with Chief Torres had made him a better one. Not as instinctive as the chief, but no less able to handle emergencies. Now, looking at his superior's shifting feet, and her hand whipping back stray hairs that didn't exist from her face Carey sensed another type of emergency.
"You have great timing, Chief," he greeted cheerfully. "An artificial gravity plate suffered some buckling on deck 15 tonight. No damage done. I'm running an analysis of it now. It's showing stress fractures consistent with buckling, but I'm at a loss to know why it happened. Any theories?"
B'Elanna gave Carey a brief, knowing look followed by a grateful smile. The man knew her moods too well. "Move over." Carey happily obliged, shifting his chair across slightly to allow her access to the board.
Carey watched B'Elanna as she worked, both of them hunched over their panels, tossing theory after speculation in their dry professional discourse. Whatever was bothering her, she was keeping it to herself, not that Carey needed to ask. He already had a strong feeling that B'Elanna and Tom Paris must have had some sort of disagreement--he'd witnessed it often enough. They'd fight, she'd hang out in Engineering until either her temper cooled or Tom came down to apologise. It seemed to be the nature of their relationship.
:::Paris to Torres:::
This was new, thought Carey, Tom must have changed his tactics. "I'm going to go check on Ashmore," he said standing up from his chair and moving away quickly.
B'Elanna silently thanked Carey's retreating back as she swivelled her chair into a corner, it wasn't much but the small alcove offered a little privacy. "Torres here." She was still in a prickly mood.
:::I need a few parts for Alice, can you slide them through for me?:::
The nerve of that man.... "What do you need?" she heard herself say, despite the urge to tell him to go to hell.
:::Umm... Well, there's a few: 30 meters of EPS conduit; a tactical data module; a broad band sensor matrix; some power cells--:::
"Are you serious?" B'Elanna hissed.
:::C'mon, B'Elanna, I know we have them lying around one of the cargo bays.::
"No way, Tom. You're little shuttle jaunt will have to wait, there is no way I can authorise all of the parts without good cause."
:::This is a good cause,::: he managed to whine over the comm.
"Look," B'Elanna managed through her rising temper, "you know as well as I do that those parts are for emergencies."
:::B'Elanna, I need those parts!::: His tone changed from whining to desperation.
"Then you'd better take it up with Commander Chakotay, because I'm not giving you authorisation, got it?"
:::Damn it, B'Elanna, Alice needs--:::
"Did you hear me?" she shouted. A few heads turned from various stations around her department. B'Elanna shut her comm badge off in fury and sat staring at the walls around her, trying to remember what number came after 99 in what was fast becoming her habitual
"Computer, begin recording of personal log, Chakotay-gamma-zero."
"I caught up with B'Elanna as she was getting into the turbolift from Engineering. I was on my way down to see her anyway, so I stepped back to allow her to board. 'Deck 5,' she'd called out. The Doctor released Paris to his own quarters today so it was no surprise that she was heading there.
"We made small talk at first as the lift ascended, and at the time I wasn't sure how to ask her about what the Captain had told me: Tom physically attacking her.
"Tom and I have had our differences over the years but I can't deny I respect him, not only as a pilot but as a man. Tom's a complex individual, and although I know he prefers to wear an arrogant facade around me--and by the spirits, that really pushes my belief in pacifism to its limits--but I've seen him when he's quiet and alone. I know he watches people; gages their reactions, their tolerance. I'd seen him comfort Harry after the encounter with species 8472; worry about Tuvok on the Bridge, when he and the Captain had mind-melded to defeat an alien parasite that might have killed him; I was also aware of how many times he'd helped Neelix with some crew morale booster, when the rest of us had almost given up on hope itself.
"Sometimes I really like him, but I don't pretend to understand him. Our paths, since the Maquis, have been very different and I've often wondered why he betrayed us back then. That question hangs between us like unfinished business; maybe that's my pride talking. And it wasn't as if he was the only one back then to have betrayed us... me. Seska.... It's always difficult to think about her without feeling like the most naive son-of-a-bitch ever born.... Tuvok I forgave a long time ago, he was only doing his job, but Tom Paris? What did he ever gain from us--the Maquis?
"So there I was, in a turbolift with my dear old friend and all I could do was think about Tom Paris; ex-mercenary, ex-Fleet, ex-drunk.
"I was about to open my mouth and ask her the burning question that I'd left the Bridge for when I realised the answer for myself.
"I'd seen B'Elanna kick lumps out of men and women who had so much as looked at her the wrong way. And there she was before me, showing me a 'get well' card that Naomi Wildman had made, smiling to herself and biting her lip, dropping her head in a self-conscious gesture I'd recognise anywhere. She was excited, happy, nervous but relaxed, and it all showed in that
wonderfully crooked smile.
"Would B'Elanna really leave her duty station in the middle of Beta shift to be with a physically abusive mate?
"The lift finally stopped at deck 5 and B'Elanna got out, her stride was strong, proud and purposeful, not even offering me a backward glance.
"She'd answered my question.
"I think I'll visit them later, maybe I can intuit more. Computer, end personal log."
"How's he doing?" Commander Chakotay asked as B'Elanna allowed him access into Tom Paris' quarters. Since reading the Doctor's final report, the commander had felt an even stronger urge to visit the helmsman. He also carried with him a sense of guilt, for not insisting that the EMH had run a full scan on the alien shuttle's neurogenic interface once they had procured it from Abaddon.
"The Doctor says he'll make a full recovery, he's sleeping now," B'Elanna replied with a satisfied grin.
"How are you doing?"
"Better," she said, moving to take a seat on the couch. Chakotay sat down with B'Elanna but couldn't resist craning his neck to check on Tom's inert form on the bed, which was visible through the partition.
"How long has he been out?" he asked, head still turned away to look at the pilot.
"Couple of hours."
"Does he remember anything?" Chakotay asked, turning back to give B'Elanna a sympathetic look. She nodded and turned her eyes down even as she leaned forward to rest her elbows onto her thighs, her hands clasped in prayer under her chin.
Chakotay frowned, not knowing what "everything" might implicate for B'Elanna or Tom. "He wasn't in control of his actions, B'Elanna. He's not to blame."
She gave a short laugh. "Oh, I know that, Chakotay. It wasn't his fault." Chakotay cocked his head at her, expecting more, detecting an undercurrent in his friend's voice. B'Elanna stared back at him for a moment. "What?"
"So everything's okay between you two?"
"We'll manage," she said, dropping her gaze to her lap.
Chakotay felt suddenly a little uncomfortable and wondered if he should press her about the vagueness of her answer. B'Elanna was a big girl, Chakotay assured himself, and she'd probably only bite his head off for prying. Yet that did not stop the feeling of protectiveness he'd always felt for her from rising; half-Klingon or not. Besides, he was well aware that sometimes this woman wasn't always able to see past her own self-reliance and confide in those she trusted most, whether that be Tom or himself. He shifted in his seat and moved to stand. "If you ever need to talk...." He left the invitation hanging, she'd know where to reach him if she needed to.
B'Elanna followed him back to the cabin doors, acknowledging his words with a slight smile and a nod of her head.
As Chakotay stepped out into the corridor beyond, he turned, paused to speak again. "Do you still want to go on that Vision Quest?" He watched her eyes dart from side to side. She was either considering backing out or weighing up an alternative. He gave her that minute to formulate her reply.
"Yes." The answer, when it came was firm and strong, lacking any of the hesitation Chakotay was sure it would be laced with.
"Good," he replied. "How does next Thursday sound, 2200 hours?" He could see B'Elanna's mind wonder off into another world of calculations as she carefully thought about his proposal. "You're on Alpha shift next week, B'Elanna, it shouldn't be that big a problem to figure," he baited.
B'Elanna caught his stare and gave him a dirty look of her own in return. "Next week sounds fine," she approved, in an almost grateful tone.
"All right then. I'll see you later and... tell sleeping beauty," he gestured with his head over B'Elanna's shoulder, "we'll expect him on the Bridge again when the Doctor clears him for duty--in uniform."
"You really are annoying sometimes, you know that?"
The commander briefly flashed her his dimples, then turned and headed towards the turbolift.
When B'Elanna returned to her charge for the afternoon, she found him struggling to sit up in bed. "Don't even think about getting up, Tom," she ordered as she approached him.
"I thought I heard voices," he replied, ignoring her command as he moved the comforter aside.
"You just missed Chakotay--Where are you going?"
"I need to use the bathroom, B'Elanna, is that okay?" Tom asked sarcastically, as he made his way there, hoping she wasn't going to keep her promise to the doctor and break his legs for this small but needy journey.
Tom could feel B'Elanna's eyes following him across the room, knew her hands were on her hips in a mock gesture of extreme displeasure.
"Are you hungry?" he heard her call out after he had disappeared from view.
"I guess I could eat something," Tom replied over the sound of running water.
When he returned from the bathroom a few minutes later, B'Elanna was carrying a tray of food in for him and the aroma was unmistakable.
"Get into bed," she ordered before he could comment on her choice. Tom gave her a dirty look and shook his head. He proceeded to make a show of straightening the bed linen before eventually raising one leg to slip under the covers and then the other. He took his time fluffing his pillows before leaning back into a comfortable enough position to eat in. If B'Elanna wanted to wait on him, he'd milk it for everything he was worth--he knew it wouldn't be for very long.
"What's on the menu, Nurse Torres?" He knew he was stretching her patience now but she was treating him worse than a child.
"Call me that again, flyboy, and I'll break your jaw."
Milking time was over.
Tom gave her an impudent grin, which somehow communicated itself to her as both a sufficient chastisement and a provocation.
As B'Elanna placed the tray across his lap, Tom moved over slightly to give her room enough to sit with him. "Hot, plain tomato soup, just the way you like it," she grinned, picking up the spoon.
"You're going to feed me too?" Tom couldn't help asking.
"May I?" she asked, nonplussed by Tom's shocked reaction to her wanting to.
He nodded his head, genuinely at a loss for words. B'Elanna wanted to feed him. Apart from sharing pizzas and cheese sticks; normally a prelude to their lovemaking, she'd never initiated this sort of thing. She was being so... protective of him; it was sobering. It was liberating. It was scary.
"What did Chakotay want?" he asked, as B'Elanna raised a spoonful of soup to his mouth.
"He wanted to see how you were doing." Tom tasted the soup; it was warm and rich.
"Checking up on me?" He licked his lips as B'Elanna dipped the spoon back into the bowl.
"Making sure you were okay," she countered, noticing the hostility in his voice. She raised the spoon again and this time Tom's mouth accepted the broth without comment.
Chakotay was one of B'Elanna's oldest friends but the commander also had the ability to make Tom feel inadequate sometimes, always coming out with some wise or witty rejoinders at his expense in their presence; sending him looks that seemed to say that Tom was still that drunken miscreant he'd picked up in the DMZ all those years before. It didn't seem to matter that Tom had saved his life more than once. He always got the feeling that Chakotay tolerated him like a pebble in a shoe: deal with the discomfort until there was an opportunity to shake the irritant out.
B'Elanna's faith in Chakotay unnerved him too because she trusted him so blindly, and on some level that hurt Tom more than anything else could.
Tom avoided her gaze as he spied a bread roll on the tray, he picked it up and broke it in two, dunking a piece in the soup and offering it to B'Elanna with a grateful smile. She paused in her feeding of him and closed her teeth over the bread, biting down softly, her lips caressing the edges of Tom's fingers. She chewed silently and swallowed.
They watched each other intently and fed each other in a hush. Tom continued to break the rolls into small pieces, occasionally helping himself to some and sucking away the soup from his fingers when he did so.
With the last of the soup B'Elanna withdrew the spoon from Tom's mouth slowly and put it back on the tray, which was moved to the floor soon after. Tom picked up the napkin in his lap to wipe his mouth, but she stopped him, drew his hand to hers, and moved her head forwards, leaning in until her lips were millimetres away from Tom's.
B'Elanna licked her own lips and because of their close proximity the action of that movement meant her tongue brushed his mouth. She repeated the action, moving closer to Tom in small increments, keeping her gaze steady as she did so. Tom felt his breathing catch and he opened his mouth wider to accept her advances. His own tongue darted out to lick at the remains of breadcrumbs just above B'Elanna's upper lip, tasted the soup on her lower lip and then they were kissing; deep, long, open mouthed, tongue twisting, watery kisses. Tom pulled her against him, his hands tangling in her hair as he grasped her at the base of her skull. B'Elanna put her hands on Tom's shoulders for balance, her fingers gripping against the material of his tee-shirt, and for the first time in a long time his quarters were filled with the sounds of their desperate groans and impassioned murmurs.
Chapter Four - A Day of....
Tom Paris returned to full duty two days later. B'Elanna's tender ministrations had worked wonders on him, and he had smirked through the EMH's lecture for returning him to duty 24 hours earlier than his original prognosis. For some reason the EMH had actually thought Tom had managed to rest completely during the last 48 hours.
"I see Lieutenant Torres succeeded in keeping you off your feet, Mr. Paris," the EMH had commented.
Well she had, except it wasn't in the way the doctor would have sanctioned.
"Something like that, Doc."
It felt good to be back at the conn, fully able to flex his hands over the surface of his board again; make instinctive manoeuvres; plot trajectories. This was flying. This is what he wanted to do everyday of his life, if he could: Pilot a starship into the unknown.
He'd wondered, during his recuperation, when B'Elanna had left him alone long enough--her engines were never short of her attention for any great length of time-- and again now, if that was the reason he'd been so easily enticed by "Alice." Was it the thrill of the unknown? The challenge of attempting something no one else had managed? Everything about that little ship had played up to his fantasies of being needed; of being worthy. She, "Alice," had trusted him and placed her own salvation in his hands.
And he'd failed.
Tom mentally shook his head clear of the thought. He'd been used and manipulated by her, she... it wasn't real. It was just a ship, "a collection of circuits and relays," as B'Elanna had said. The neurogenic interface had caused the hallucinations....
He closed his eyes briefly, trying to detect some trace of "Alice" through the cortical suppressant the Doctor had administered in sickbay. Nothing... the female entity he'd called Alice was no more, if she ever was.
Was it all an hallucination? Was it really her... that ship, or me? Didn't I want it as much as she did?
He'd never felt so needed.
"It's what I'd always dreamed of," he remembered telling B'Elanna, during those last desperate moments aboard "Alice." And ultimately their goal, he knew, if they had accomplished it, would have led to his destruction. He would never have survived the particle fountain.
Death was not an event he'd seriously contemplated, no matter how empty, hopeless or painful his life had been in the past--and it had been all of those. He did recognise of course that in his past, he'd been living on a knife-edge; booze, stimulants and casual sex could kill you in other, slower ways....
He'd moved on since then; he was trying to.
Maybe he'd never catch the feeling of his first flight again, and perhaps he'd never be credited with any records for breaking the warp 10 threshold. But he could pilot any vessel made for flight better than anyone he had ever known or met. He'd never have any doubts about that.
His old love for the sea would never be forgotten, and he had on occasion wondered what it would have been like to pursue that particular ambition. The deep-sea ocean research vessels they were probably developing now, in the Alpha Quadrant, would have intrigued him. Being at a real helm, in the nautical sense, was something he could still dream about, even after six years in
the Delta Quadrant; especially since his contact with the Moneans, regardless of how that had ended.
"Captain, I'm receiving a Mayday from the Delta Flyer."
Harry Kim's urgent exclamation brought Tom back to the here and now. His fingers flew over his board, searching sensors for any possible dangers closing in on the shuttle.
"Let's hear it," Janeway commanded.
Neelix's panicked voice came over the comm, shrieking about Tuvok collapsing and some sort of download that had evidently taken place. It took several minutes for the captain and Commander Chakotay to assuage the Talaxian's urgent babbling.
"Tom, set a course for the Delta Flyer," the captain urged. "Warp 8."
"I'm already on it," Tom responded, as he sent Voyager into warp.
Thirty-six hours after Voyager had rendezvoused with the Delta Flyer and Tuvok had been transported to Sickbay for medical treatment, Neelix finally made an appearance in the mess hall. In his absence Ensigns Brooks and Powell, and Lieutenant Baxter had volunteered for kitchen duty. They made good officers, but the general crew consensus on their culinary talents was that they'd spent either far too much of the journey without replicator rations; or they'd been born without taste buds. By mid-morning of Neelix's second day in Sickbay, where he was keeping a devoted vigil with the injured Tuvok, most of the junior crew were ready to file a protest to the captain concerning malnutrition and in some cases food poisoning.
When Neelix returned to the galley to prepare his first luncheon in four days he was greeted by an eruption of cheers, whistles and applause. He turned to the expectant and hungry faces of the crew, truly bewildered that they were welcoming him back with such fervour. He bowed to them graciously, his whiskers oscillating against his cheeks in a Talaxian blush, before reminding them
all that Tuvok was the one who needed their support now. The sixteen gathered crewmembers nodded in chivalrous agreement, and Neelix, satisfied, turned his attention to selecting vegetables for the stew he was going to prepare.
Three hours later the mess hall had returned to relative normalcy as Neelix served lunch. Various members of the crew wandered in and out while others sat in small groups or alone, eating, chatting or just sharing a beverage. At one table at the back of the mess near an
observation window, B'Elanna Torres, Joe Carey and Susan Nicoletti sat talking. Their empty dishes were piled together at a vacant table to Joe's right as they now concentrated on the half-dozen data PADDs before them.
B'Elanna sipped at her glass of Angurian juice as she scrolled down to the next item on her PADD. They were working on the Engineering crew's monthly evaluation and duty shift assignments, where recommendations for further training or greater responsibility would be
discussed before they were sent onto Commander Chakotay for final approval.
"She's smart," Carey said, answering B'Elanna's unfinished question. "She's been working on the manifold relays for Gamma shift, but she's a hell of a lot more talented than that. I think she could do with some more responsibility."
"Agreed. What do you suggest, Joe?"
"I was thinking maybe she could either work on the structural integrity fields or the propulsion injector systems."
"Sue?" B'Elanna prompted.
"I agree she's a good engineer, wasn't she acting chief on the Equinox?" Joe and B'Elanna nodded mutely as Susan's fingers pulled at her ear lobe. "Anyway, my feelings are that it's a little too soon to be giving her access to key systems."
B'Elanna considered her statement. "You've been working with her, do you think she poses a danger to the ship?"
"No, not really, Chief, but you know what they tried to do to us."
B'Elanna remembered all too well, and not just Gilmore's role either. If there was a hell of any kind, she hoped that Max Burke was rotting in it--slowly.
"She was following orders, Sue," Carey offered, "they were desperate and alone. I'm not defending what they did over there but don't you think she deserves a chance to start over?"
Nicoletti rolled her dark eyes in disgust.
"Did you know she still won't use the turbolifts if she can avoid them?" Carey went on. "When I've asked her about her time on the Equinox her hands start to shake and she breaks out into a sweat, did you know that?"
"She could have said 'no', she could have refused to help in those terrible experiments," Sue responded indignantly, ignoring Carey's subtle entreaty for compassionate understanding.
"I got the feeling that 'no' was not an option for them under Captain Ransom," he continued in his role as devil's advocate. "Have you ever refused to do something Captain Janeway ordered?" Joe enquired softly.
"Of course not! She's the Captain," Sue responded hotly. "It just doesn't sit well with me: having these... killers, these... butchers running around the ship," she confessed. Joe Carey gave her long look, unable to think of anything else that might soften her views.
"Did you two have this conversation about me, six years ago?" B'Elanna Torres, former Maquis and perhaps a still wanted criminal by the Federation, questioned. Her tone was one of subtle humour but her smile was devoid of its usual warmth.
Carey's pale blue eyes flashed a look across to his commanding officer, his expression one of remembrance and regret. He offered B'Elanna a twisted little smile and nodded slowly.
"Chief, I never--"
"Sue, it's the same thing isn't it?" B'Elanna interrupted her. "When the Maquis came aboard, you all thought we were going to slit your throats in your sleep, assassinate the captain and Tuvok and take Voyager for ourselves, right?"
Sue opened her mouth but no words came out as she nervously pulled her fingers through her short dark-brown hair.
"You filed a protest against my instatement as Chief Engineer didn't you?" B'Elanna asserted coolly.
Sue was struck dumb. She'd always had an impetuousness of thought and deed, and that specific instant wasn't her first or last foray into making life difficult for others. Many months later she had regretted her decision against Torres' promotion, but she'd never discussed it openly and the only person who knew of her actions was Pete Durst and he'd been dead for a long time now, thanks to the Vidiians. He wouldn't have said anything about it, it wasn't his style, besides, the poor guy had probably never had the chance....
Bad habits, Sue reminded herself, you have a lot of bad habits.
"It's ancient history, Sue. Don't worry about it," B'Elanna assured her. "All I'm saying is, if you could give me the opportunity to start over, why not the crew from the Equinox. Don't they deserve another chance too?"
Chapter Five - Into the Long Night
"The golden age of jazz, Harry. Louis Armstrong; Duke Ellington; Nina Simone; John Coltrane; George Michael. They were the trend setters of their day," Tom enthused as his quarters resonated to the sound of Billie Holiday's impassioned rendition of "Strange Fruit."
Harry Kim looked at his friend dubiously the odd syncopation of this singer's vocal rendition was certainly unique to his ears. "And you think Tuvok wants to listen to this?"
"The new, improved, Tuvok wants to listen to this."
"You call that poor guy--afraid of his own shadow--improved?"
"All right, all right maybe not improved," Tom admitted, "but certainly with a better sense of humour and a greater sense of musical appreciation," he maintained with a satisfied smile, before instructing the computer to download a copy of his jazz database to Tuvok's quarters.
"Why don't you play some classical music?" Harry asked. The term modern Jazz was definitely not his idea of how a musical piece should sound, all of that crazy improvisation and meaningless chords....
Tom screwed his face in disgust. "Classical? Come on, Harry, feel the vibes man." Harry shook his head in a dismissive fashion and strolled over to take a seat on the couch.
"Does B'Elanna get into this kind of... music?"
"B'Elanna loves music, she can sing too you know," Tom said proudly.
"What are you grinning at?"
"I'm picturing B'Elanna singing." Harry closed his eyes for a moment in an effort to do just that. "Nah," he concluded, "I can't see it."
"Yeah, well, there's a lot about her you don't see, Harry."
"That's one mental image I don't need!" Harry laughed.
"Why do we put up with you?" Tom asked in feint annoyance.
"Because," Harry stated matter-of-factly, "nobody else would give either of you two the time of day, not that I blamed them," he continued impudently. "Besides, who else can appreciate your not so brilliant knowledge of twentieth century trivia? And by the way, George Michael was not a great jazz artist, he was a popular singer/songwriter about forty years after the so-called 'golden age' of jazz."
Tom furrowed his brow in thought. "Are you sure?"
"Cross reference his name with the years of his recordings--do the research, Tom."
"No wonder you're never out of rations," Tom surmised.
"I research everything," Harry said, waving his arm in a generous display. "You never know when you might come across important but archaic information," he added, while spearing Tom with a look of intent.
Tom pursed his lips as he felt his skin crawl in an irrational reaction to Harry's glance. He felt as if he'd been photographed with the EMH's holo-imager: exposed right down to his subatomic atoms. That look reminded him of the accusing and disgusted expressions he'd seen on so many faces in his dreams.
He backed away and turned towards his bedroom. "I'm going to take a shower, you going to hang around?"
"Nah," Harry said, rising. "I'm going to Sandrine's, maybe shoot a few games of pool. Dinner with B'Elanna?" he questioned solicitously.
Harry chuckled, "You are so domesticated."
"Shut up," Tom groused.
"If you two can tear yourselves away from the seclusion of your cabin, why don't we meet up on the holodeck later."
"Maybe," Tom offered.
"Domesticated," Harry reiterated with a smile, as he headed out of the cabin.
This is just what I need, B'Elanna thought as she relaxed against the cushions she and Tom had piled onto the floor of his living room area. They had eaten a replicated dinner (B'Elanna's credits, of course) of Parmesan chicken, with a green vinaigrette salad and a good bottle of Prakal II Chardonnay. Their conversation had been filled with the events of their day; duty assignments, Tuvok's illness. B'Elanna had also told Tom of her conversation with Carey and Nicoletti.
"Did she really file a protest against you?" Tom had asked as they sat together at his dining table. He had dressed casually in dark slacks, and an open necked white shirt made out of a silk like material; B'Elanna had bought it as a gift for him a some weeks previous, while Voyager had traded with a Delta Quadrant species known as the Yyisstyk.
"I played a hunch," B'Elanna answered, her mouth quirking with mischief as she sipped at her glass of wine. Tom had shaken his head in amusement, forking the last of his chicken into his mouth.
"You never know what you'll find out about ancient history," he said between bites.
After their meal they gathered cushions and pillows from his bedroom when Tom suggested they relax on his floor at the foot of his couch. Ten minutes later, B'Elanna, wearing a lavender coloured sleeveless mid-thigh dress, had grumbled she was getting cold and so Tom had gone in search of his quilt, to take the chill off her bare armed form.
He returned with the comforter and eased himself down behind B'Elanna so that she was sitting between his spread legs, her back resting against his chest. Gathering the quilt around them, Tom sank back against the cushions, pulling B'Elanna with him so that they were comfortably reclined.
"Computer," Tom called, "reduce standard illumination to 5% and display Paris image mood-lighting Beta 018."
"What's this?" B'Elanna enquired, twisting to look up at the pilot, as the ambient lighting dimmed then began to shimmer.
"Ssshh," he said gently, "look up." B'Elanna relaxed back against him and looked to the ceiling of his quarters. Displayed above them was a vast star field. Constellations of various descriptions; nebulae; galaxies, quasars and planets of various magnitudes glowed and undulated above them, rotating slowly at 360 degrees.
Tom had created his own private planetarium.
"It's beautiful," B'Elanna breathed in awe. "It's wonderful," she said, grinning in amazement at her lover's ingenuity and imagination. "How did you ever get holographic equipment in here?"
"Harry helped me restore a couple of old holographic projectors that were in Recycling, Chell said it was okay. Do you like it?"
"I'm not complaining--it's just so...." B'Elanna was lost for words. Tom could do such really sweet and romantic things for her that it made her heart beat triple time. She turned in the circle of his arms, and still grinning like a Cheshire cat she wrapped her arms around his neck. "I love it," she whispered against his cheek. "Thank you."
They kissed once, softly and deeply, before B'Elanna turned back to stare at the stars; stars made even more beautiful because she knew them. The celestial body represented above them was of the Beta Quadrant; where she had been born on Kessik IV, and of the Klingon Empire, the maternal home of her forebears.
Tom kissed the top of B'Elanna's head and directed the computer to add a little "mood" music to their evening, selected the hauntingly beautiful "Pavane Pour Une Infante Defunte" by Ravel, and requesting that it play continuously until directed otherwise.
"Do you know which one is Kessik?" Tom asked after a several minutes. B'Elanna shifted against his back, as she cocked her head at an angle, trying to distinguish one small dot from another.
"That one." She pulled her hand out of Tom's grasp and over the warmth of the quilt to point to a small green speck diagonally to their left. "And you see over there...," B'Elanna pointed excitedly to a cluster of stars with a brownish looking planet at its zenith. Tom's eyes followed the direction of B'Elanna's outstretched arm.
"... Qo'noS," they identified in unison.
This is just what I need, B'Elanna thought as she sighed and gave her body over to the comforting frame of Tom Paris. One of his hands moved gently away from her waist, and travelled in a sensuous pattern towards her stomach, then lower, stroking at her hip and thigh; moving the fabric of her dress up and down. The friction of it glided softly between the quilt cover and his palm. B'Elanna ran her nails delicately over the back of his hand, still at her waist, dragging her nails lightly back and forth against his skin.
"When did you and Harry find the time to work on this?" B'Elanna asked.
"It's been ready for a little while now," Tom admitted. "Since before... you know," he finished weakly.
"That ship?" She could feel Tom nodding behind her, feel his chest stiffen slightly behind her back and his fingers on her thigh, momentarily stopped their caress before resuming in a kneading pattern against her hip. "Why didn't you show it to me before?" she questioned, her gaze fixed on the heavens above, her mind gauging Tom's responses through his touch as well as his words.
"You were busy," he said simply.
B'Elanna felt a stab of guilt at the truth of that. Since her experience in Gre'thor she knew that there were things about her life and her attitude to it that needed changing. She loved Tom, but had always been reticent in expressing that emotion in public. Not that she needed to send a ship-wide message on the subject or anything, but she knew she was sometimes too cool to him in public. She'd brush his hand away if he wanted to hold it in the mess hall, or in the corridors; stand rigidly with her arms crossed, if he visited her in Engineering, when all she really wanted to do was touch him, lick him and smother him in bites and kisses.
After Gre'thor that had changed, at least a little. She'd been trying to show him physically--or was she showing the ship?--that she cared about him, didn't mind his public caresses, and on occasion she'd actually initiated the contact.
But for all of her efforts it seemed she'd still found a way to keep Tom at a distance; her lessons with Tuvok, extra shifts in Engineering whether she needed to be there or not, discussing projects with Chakotay or just bending his ear when she needed to talk....
Thinking about Chakotay now reminded her of their last argument, when Tom had accused her of not spending enough time with him. She hadn't even noticed that; had assumed Tom was busy too, with Harry or the Flyer, the Doctor or playing on the holodeck with his "muscle cars," or programming something for somebody--he got enough requests.
Tom had always made time for her, been patient with her, no matter what. He let her scream and yell when she felt she'd been countermanded by Chakotay; had her authority usurped by Seven; been reprimanded by Tuvok. He'd been there when her own control of her life--how she chose to live or die--had been seemingly dismissed by Captain Janeway. Tom had waited for her to come to him in almost every aspect of their relationship, how often had she done the same?
She'd promised him they'd read the Klingon scrolls and take steps towards enhancing their knowledge of Klingon customs together. Instead she'd been immersing herself in the art of self-exploration with Tuvok, giving Tom only a limited account of her experiences with him. Tom brought her flowers, created programs they could share, hid small gifts for her in her quarters, encouraged her in everything she did, even when she knew it scared him to do it.
B'Elanna, when she had thought about it at all, always considered their relationship one of equals; two strong willed individuals pulling together, sharing pain, joy, longings and dreams, but it wasn't equal: Tom shared and she accepted. She'd only been giving on her own terms, sharing in her own time. B'Elanna had recently woken up to that fact and now she was trying to change that too.
In the rush of her musings, B'Elanna knew it was time to go further.
She could feel Tom relaxing again, his deep and even breathing tickling at her scalp, his fingers continuing their exploration of her lower body.
"Tom?" she whispered into the semi-darkness.
"Umm." B'Elanna hoped he wasn't falling asleep.
"There's something I've been wanting to ask you...."
"What?" he replied, shifting his bottom against the floor.
"I know that I haven't spent as much time with you as I should have, and that I've let myself get distracted by things...," B'Elanna went on, realising that she was starting to babble but unable to stop herself. "You know I've been thinking a lot about my mother and what my experience on the barge really meant. And Tuvok's mediation lessons have helped but I've been wanting to go a little further... you know, really get a good look inside myself. Anyway, I was talking to Chakotay about it again and I thought it would be a good idea to do it, go on a Vision Quest--find my guide again, with his help." B'Elanna could feel Tom's body returning to the tense state of a few
minutes before. He pushed her away from him so that he could sit up properly.
Tom's tone was bitter when he finally commented, "I thought we'd already discussed this, B'Elanna," referring to the last time this particular topic had come up. "You're going on a Vision Quest with Chakotay. So, what, exactly are you asking me? It's certainly not permission."
"I don't need your permission--damn it, Tom, let me finish!" B'Elanna yelled, twisting entirely away from him and rising to her feet like a cat that had been scolded.
"Sure," was Tom's indifferent response as he turned his head away from his lover's angry gaze, looking instead at the quilt, which had been discarded in B'Elanna's hasty ascent and was bunched up over his left ankle.
B'Elanna took a deep breath, trying to steady herself. "I wanted to ask you to come with me... share it."
Tom's head came up in surprise. His eyes met B'Elanna's intense stare, which was totally focused on his reactions. He ran a hand through his hair, and from somewhere deep inside of him a derisive laugh erupted.
This was not the reaction B'Elanna had been hoping for.
Tom shook his head warily and slowly got up off the floor. "You expect me to spill the contents of my mind with Chakotay?"
"No, Tom," B'Elanna said impatiently. "It doesn't work like that. Chakotay wouldn't be sharing the vision, he'd only be helping me to find--"
"Tom, I'm not asking you to go on this Vision Quest, I just want you with me," B'Elanna tried to explain through her rising anger. "I thought you wanted to share all of this with me." Tom's flat-out refusal was starting to confuse the hell out of her.
"B'Elanna, why is it every time you want to explore your 'deepest feelings' Chakotay has to be involved?" He was being sarcastic and B'Elanna knew it.
"This isn't about Chakotay," B'Elanna shot back.
"Oh no?" Tom said, taking a step towards her. "Who was the first person you wanted to talk to about your barge adventure?" He moved in closer still. "Where do you spend hours, talking about 'projects and crew evaluations'?" His voice was cold, calculating, accusing. "Who do you go to first for advice, B'Elanna, about anything?"
"He's my friend, Tom," B'Elanna answered in a defensive whisper.
"Yeah," he said derisively, "and I'm your lover." Tom moved closer to put his hands on B'Elanna's shoulders, but she shrugged them off and turned away from him, hurt, angry and confused.
"I don't understand what you want from me sometimes, Tom."
"I want you to love me, B'Elanna!"
She whirled around in astonishment at Tom's outburst. "I do love you, you know that!"
"Then why don't you trust me?"
"You don't trust me enough to talk to me about things."
"No! You don't. I'm the guy you talk to after you've seen Chakotay."
"Tom, were friends, of course I'll talk to him about things, sometimes."
"All the time, B'Elanna!"
"What are you saying? That I shouldn't talk to him, see him, is that what you're saying to me?"
Tom's own anger and confusion about Chakotay's role in B'Elanna's life was swiftly turning to regret and confusion. "No," he whispered hoarsely.
"Then what?" she pleaded. Tom stood before her, his head slumped forward on to his chest, like a man defeated by life. His hands twitched against his thighs, opening and closing convulsively. "What, Tom?" B'Elanna prompted, her own voice still resonating with anger and confusion in equal measure.
He finally looked at her, his expressive blue eyes roving pensively over her face. His mouth opened, but then his eyes narrowed, and whatever he had meant to say came out as, "I just don't think 'Mr. Tattoo' has all the answers."
B'Elanna opened her mouth, her face a picture of disgust. She had an urge to hit Tom really hard, drive her elbow into his sternum or something; kick his ass all over the room. Instead she bit her lower lip, hard enough to draw blood, dug her nails into her fisted palms, shook her head in repugnance and left, almost smashing his door console as she punched out the controls for cancelling the privacy lockout.