"IN THE END"
Written by august (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Ghostwriter (email@example.com)
Disclaimers: Paramount owns all things Voyager. No copyright infringement is intended.
WARNING: This story contains sexual expression between consenting adults. If you are under 18 or are offended by such, please read no further.
Author's notes: About a century ago it seems, Ghostie and I decided to merge out brain-cells and form a love child of a story. To our complete surprise, it was not a glorious J/C story . . . but our secret vice . . . Tom Paris.
We had fun writing, hope you enjoy reading.
~ ~ * ~ ~
There was a dull thud as the ship docked at the station. After thirty five years of travel, it felt like it should have been more, like there should have been light shows and fireworks and a million people cheering our name. That would come, of course, later. For now there was simply a dull thud and it seemed to mock us all.
But we were here, nevertheless. The Alpha Quadrant. Thirty-five years after we first set sail, I come back as Commander Paris, serving under Captain Tuvok. He had been standing with me in the turbolift at the time, we were both making our way down to the cargo bay where, it was rumoured, the President awaited our disembarkment. I looked at him, at that moment. We both jolted as the station clamped down on Voyager and my eyes met his. People say that the Vulcan race are cold and emotionless. In my experience, neither is true. The emotions rage deep within them, but the control is strong. Yet at that moment, when his eyes met mine, I knew that look in his eyes was a dangerous mixture of sadness and regret.
*They should be here.*
I couldn't help the thought. I didn't want it -- I sure as hell didn't need it, but it was there all the same. It felt like at that moment the ghosts of the dead were in that turbolift -- B'Elanna was banging away at some control panel, Chakotay was waiting patiently and Kathryn was leaning against the wall, smiling softly.
And then the moment passed.
"Tuvok." I turned to him, realising I might not get the chance once the reporters swarmed on us. I stopped, and readjusted myself, deciding to do the whole Starfleet thing. "Captain," I began again. "You have . . .Kathryn would have been pleased."
I waited, realising my comment bordered on both insubordination and condescension. But it was the right thing to say. He fixed this gaze on me as the turbo-lift doors slid open.
"After you, Commander." He said steadily. I nodded and slipped past him. Yet as I did, he gripped hold of my shoulder. "She couldn't have done it without you . . . Tom." It was the first time I had ever heard him use my name, and it probably tasted like Leola root in his mouth. But he gave me that in the end, at least.
And with that, we both turned to meet the President of the United Federation of Planets.
~ ~ * ~ ~
I did the last rounds of the ship, that night. We had to stay on-board overnight, while they arranged transports and accommodation. And just to make sure we hadn't picked up any Delta Quadrant virus, I suppose. But I found that I wasn't really in a particular hurry to meet the Federation again. Hell, I was pushing seventy -- they had nothing I needed. Nothing I wanted, after going without so much.
Well maybe a real pool table.
And a real bottle of scotch.
I laughed at the thought of what the headlines would say. 'Delta Quadrant hero longs for bottle of scotch.' That would be something. Would convince the old man that he was right about me, all along. Although I suppose I should stop calling him the old man. I knew long before we arrived here that he would be dead. I just . . . it just felt wrong. Now I'm the old man.
Life has thrown me a few curve balls, here and there. Hell, sometimes it seems like the whole thing is one big curve ball, coming at me straight and heading off to the side. Being lost and found and lost again.
The Delta Quadrant.
The President had said to me as I shook his hand, "Sir, they'll be telling your story for years to come." Sir. Imagine that. Found it hard to think of myself as a Sir. I had somehow never expected life in the Alpha Quadrant to keep moving. For there to be different faces and different uniforms to greet me. I had somehow never expected to be this old.
These are the thoughts that run through my mind as I walk along the corridors. For the first time in I don't know how many years, they weren't bustling with activity. It taken me years to get used to the changes -- to not expect Chakotay to sneak up behind me and drop a thousand padds into my arms or for B'Elanna to growl at me as she walked past in one of our all-too frequent domestic spats. Walking along the empty corridors now, I was glad I didn't have to get used to this.
I stopped outside B'Elanna's quarters. Of course, they weren't her quarters anymore, they belonged to a Lieutenant from the group of Keylor that had joined us after the attack. Poor Carey had been passed over for promotion yet again, as Sappide took the position of chief engineer. He had turned out to be quite a gifted officer, tweaking and tuning the lab in a decidedly Klingon manner. That, combined with the four am calls the command team would get when an 'imperative' decision had to be made which would radically alter ships system, sometimes made it easy to believe that she had never left at it.
I keyed in my code and the doors slid open. It had been a long time since I had been in here -- a few times on damage control with Sappide, but never as before. Not after the attack.
I can say it so rationally nowadays, like it doesn't still tear me apart. Us all apart, I guess. I made my way through her cabin in darkness, hoping I could excuse such an indiscretion if Sappide happened to walk in. The wave of memories I had been holding back flooded me again, and for the first time I didn't close my eyes and push them away. I had earned this, now that we were home. I had earned my night of indulgence after thirty-five years of sublimation.
We had been on shore leave when the ship had been attacked. It was about twelve years into our travel -- early days still. We had arrived at Keylor without incident, and were looking forward to a week of R and R. The Keylorians had held a banquet in our honour and as a result we landed Voyager on the planet. B'Elanna was among the skeleton crew to remain behind that night. Chakotay too, and I mention him now for Kathryn's sake.
Ironically, my most vivid memory from that evening wasn't the sight of Voyager in flames or the reaction of the crew to the disaster...it was the look on that Keylorian's face; the one who first stumbled into the banquet hall looking positively horrified as he approached the table where we had been seated. The moment my eyes locked with his, I knew something had happened; something far beyond 'worse case scenario.'
The rest of that night was a blur. We ran, not even bothering to climb into the waiting transports just outside the building. We ran...all of us...the entire crew...over the hill and down into the valley beyond, which, by then, was lit up like daylight with the inferno. Part of the hull had been completely blown away. It didn't even look like the bridge was still intact. I never heard the cries of those around me...it was like I was deaf. The world spun around me in slow motion while my body moved mechanically.
Flames had engulfed most of Voyager by the time we got down to where she was. Above us, Keylorian service vessels were dropping water and fire retardants, trying desperately to help. We worked side by side with the them for several hours to put out the flames. No one could say for sure what really happened - only that several ships of unknown origin had decided to use our home as target practice. Voyager had landed on a peaceful planet inhabited with a hospitable race of beings; there was no reason to keep shields up. No one had been expecting something like this... The attack had been completely unprovoked; a grim reminder of just how far from home we really were, and how alone. I kept asking myself why, even to this day, but I suppose it's not worth dwelling on. It happened. It's over. Life goes on...unfortunately.
After it all, amongst the burning, and the dead, and the debris -- it was the whimpers of the almost dead that spurred the survivors on. A few of us went inside, once it was safe. An away team onto our own ship, the irony should have killed me. Kathryn was there, only because I don't think anyone had the strength to stop her, even if they wanted to.
And perhaps there are some things that I can't think about, even tonight. It would be superfluous to talk of the dead bodies and the smell of burning flesh that assaulted my nostrils, or how DNA samples were needed to identify some of the victims... To talk of prying open her cabin door to see her crushed underneath the beams. To mention walking past Kathryn in the corridor, noting that she was crying and not thinking anything of it.
The over-riding memory I have of that day is fighting my way off of that ship and collapsing on the grass. Someone brought me over a hot drink, and I lay staring at the clouds and the sky, thinking of my lover and all the things she would never see again.
It had been a hard time, for us all.
"Computer, lights," I said, back in the present, as I came to a stop in the cabin. The worst thing had been the blood on the carpet. We could get rid of the wreckage and even the dead . . . but the blood on the carpet wouldn't come off and was a constant reminder of what we had lost. When there were no more dead to recover, when I became alone with my thoughts, I spent four hours on my hands and knees scrubbing B'Elanna's carpet, trying not to gag at the thought of what I was doing.
Looking down now, I could still see the faint outline. It should have made me feel better, that *something* of her had survived all these years. But I couldn't even be sure if it was really there anymore. In my mind I would always see the blood on the carpet.
I shook my head and closed my eyes. Enough of this. I left her quarters, quietly. I shouldn't have gone there in the first place. Some things are better left in the past. I stood in the corridor, persuading myself to move again. I could have gone back to my cabin -- I probably should have gone back to my cabin, but I owed them all this one last night. One last game of pool in Sandrines.
I headed down to the holodeck.
I never believed that we would have been able to get Voyager moving again, after all of that. I had no right to believe that, because we had always survived -- we were Voyager, that's what we did, we survived. And so, of course, we got moving. The final damage report, as Tuvok put it in a way that made Kathryn wince with pain, was 35 dead. Among them were B'Elanna, Chakotay and Megan Delaney.
We worked like dogs for weeks. In a way I think that it was a blessing, we didn't have time to think about the dead. We didn't even have time to hold a proper service - hell, we didnít even have time to hold a meeting to decide we didn't have time for a proper service. Someone, I never found out who, took care of the bodies. As we were walking toward Engineering in one of our 'mobile meetings', Tuvok and I decided that it would be easiest to hold the caskets in the cargo bay, so that people could have their moments to grieve before they were ejected into space.
I had gone to visit B'Elanna on one of those day/nights when I didn't even know what time it was, I just knew that I needed sleep. I don't know what I expected: to suddenly feel at peace with what had happened, to suddenly be cured of the dull feeling that had crept into my mind . . . either way, it wasn't working. I stood up to leave and then suddenly saw Kathryn across the other side of the room. She was sitting next to Chakotay's casket. I sat back down again, quickly, feeling like an invasive voyeur. I thought that I would just wait for her to leave -- it was the first time I had seen her alone, not hounded by a thousand people requesting a thousand things that we didn't have. I wanted to give her this time alone, at least.
I watched from the corner of my eye. Chakotay's was a closed casket. There wasn't enough of . . . well, it was a closed casket. I watched her, that night, and maybe for the first time really saw her.
"I'm sorry, Chakotay." The words rang out across the cargo bay, and the sadness tugged at me again. She reached out and touched the casket, tentatively, almost like she was afraid it would crumble at her touch. And then she stood and leaned heavily on its lid, staring quietly. "We should have buried them, Tom." She said, and I realised that she had known I was there, all along. "They deserved at least that, don't you think?" Her voice lingered off.
"I think they would have understood," I replied, suddenly exhausted.
"I hope so," she replied, looking at me for the first time. "I hope so."
~ ~ * ~ ~
And oh, standing here now, does that feel like a long time ago. Lifetimes ago. Lifetimes away, maybe. I'm standing outside the holodeck, but I hesitate. I'm not sure if I want to go in. It reminds me so much of the earlier years on Voyager, before families and friends started ingrating themselves into our lives. Before the attack.
I sigh, and let my fingers fly across the console, breathing life into the Sandrine programme. I've always loved that moment of activation -- when things leap to life. But, now, as I step inside, the memory comes back to me in a wave of remorse so strong that I'm forced to reach for the wall to steady me. All of us...here...on the first anniversary of the disaster...Kathryn...
~ ~ * ~ ~
"You all know what night it is." Kathryn's fingers had turned white from gripping her glass, and the whole room seemed to fall apart around us. There was a moment's silence, that belonged to our ghosts. And then she looked up, and her eyes were blazing, there is no other way to describe it. Blazing with determination, and I could almost see the thoughts going through her mind: we *will* survive this.
"To distant friends." She raised her glass, and spoke with a voice that was pushing the words out through a closed throat.
"To distant friends," came the reply, and she smiled. I watched her, as she raised the glass to her lips, but didn't drink. She tilted her head to one side, and just stood in silence for a moment. And then moving quietly, and in a way that didn't leave me with any doubt as to the source of melancholy, she placed the glass on the bar and walked out.
I was still staring at the door about thirty seconds after she'd left Sandrine's. I couldn't breathe and it felt as if my heart had stopped. The pain in her eyes had torn me apart, reopening my own wounds until the blood covered what little of my life had remained unblemished. I'd always found a way to survive; it's part of who I am. But watching the life slowly drain from the one person who had instilled the will to prevail in all of us was almost too much.
Without conscious thought I got up and followed her. Each person I passed on my way out was lost in their own remembered grief. The death shroud had once again spread its folds around Voyager. I couldn't help but wonder how long would it take to unwrap this time, or if we would even be able to....
My heartbeat was the only sound I heard as the turbolift deposited me on the officer's deck. I'd never journeyed to Kathryn Janeway's quarters in the years I'd served on board, but I knew where they were. Within seconds I was outside her door. It opened silently after I signaled for entry, the darkness within enveloping me as I stepped forward. She was there, standing in the middle of the room with her back toward me. The silence in the room was deafening, but my mouth felt like rubber. Did I even have the right to be here?
She turned to face me then, and the look in her eyes told me my presence wasn't a surprise. Tears streamed freely down her face. The look of anguish written there forced a lump to my throat immediately, effectively cutting off any means of voicing my thoughts. Suddenly I was standing in front of her. Which one of us had actually moved I don't know, but before I could think I was wiping the tears from her cheeks, holding her face in my hands as our eyes continued to share the pain of our losses. Her hands reached for mine, covering them in silent admission. That was all we needed.
A heartbeat later our mouths melded together, tongues dancing fiercely even before our lips had touched. She reached around my neck and pulled me closer to her. My arms shifted protectively around her waist as our kiss grew desperate. I was frozen; unable to pull myself from her grasp. I knew what she wanted. I knew what we *both* needed, and for the first time in my life I didn't care about anything else but this very moment. I cursed those who had left us alone, left us to waste away in this vacuum of unforgiving existence. The thought made me sick. I felt her nails digging into the back of my head, as if she were trying to merge with me on some level past the mere physical. I felt my own tears mixing with hers as we swiftly moved across the room. She led the way. I didn't resist.
Her top came off before we'd even fallen onto her bed. Our mouths were still joined, the heat of the moment taking complete control of our responses. She wore nothing underneath, her softness pressing against me as she ripped my shirt off with a strength hidden from casual view. Her nails scored my back as I fumbled with her pants, the pain only fueling the fire that grew inside. I tore my lips from hers and bit her neck gently as I tossed the offending clothing off to the side. She was naked beneath me, her hips thrusting against my still clothed lower body. As my mouth searched her she began to moan; soft sounds of pleasure that my own ears were never meant to hear. I ran my hands down the length of her as my lips found her delicate, rose-tipped peaks. Her body was firm, but far too thin, her ribs protruding almost painfully. She arched against me as I suckled, her hands grasping my head once more. I heard her whispering softly, and even though I couldn't make out the words, I knew they weren't meant for me.
It was happening like something out of a dream, where time stands still; her hands on me, my mouth on her. My pants were undone and discarded at some point, I don't remember when or how. I felt her beneath me then, pulling me down. I tried to hold back, not wanting to crush her fragile form, but she wrapped herself around me tight as if her life depended on this moment. Maybe it did. She ground her hips shamelessly against me, her insistence a silent order. I complied, sliding myself inside her as slowly as my own need would allow. A soft hiss escaped her throat as I did so, her body tensing sharply. I felt tears sting my eyes again as her reaction answered the one question I'd always wondered about: she and Chakotay had never been intimate. Their relationship had seemed so deep, I just assumed they were lovers. I started crying then, both for her and for myself. I was hurting just as deeply, the feel of her reminding me how much I loved and missed B'Elanna. She hugged me tighter, her own voice choked as she pushed her pelvis into mine. It began.
What started as a slow, deliberate rhythm between us quickly raced into a frenzy of moving limbs and tensing muscles. She met me thrust for thrust, both of us sobbing uncontrollably. Her hands grasped my shoulders hard as she slammed herself against me, as if that would somehow drive away the grief that haunted her...haunted us both. Our voices rose and echoed through the room as our bodies responded naturally to the physical stimulation. Then I felt her breath in my ear; she was whispering, and this time I did hear the words. They were words of love and regret, desperate pleas for forgiveness and dark confessions of remorse; a tortured soul begging for liberation from self-imposed sins of the heart. I pulled her tight against me, wanting to protect her and show her that she'd done nothing wrong, hoping with all my heart that Chakotay was listening and would understand.
We were both beyond rational thought as we drove each other into oblivion. I felt her body tense beneath me, her voice rising to a desperate wail. I didn't stop. Shedding tears for my own loss, I pounded into her until she writhed against me and screamed, her body lost to the overpowering waves of pleasure and sorrow. My own release followed quickly, keeping time with the sound of her voice as she called his name over and over. His name...
We were both still crying as our bodies settled, her face buried tightly against my shoulder. We held each other in a strong grip, desperation and anguish making separation too painful. How many minutes, hours...how many days we lay like that, I don't know. An eternity. When we finally parted, she rolled over and curled up into a ball - very much apart from me. I knew she wasn't asleep. I understood.
Getting up, I gathered my clothes from the floor and redressed myself in the darkness, listening to her breathing as I did so. She watched silently. I was facing away from her when I turned my head to the side to catch a glimpse of her form. She didn't move. Nodding sadly in response, I turned...and left.
~ ~ * ~ ~
There's not much else to say, although there should be. There should be a million stories to tell. The dead and the gone deserve more than to be remembered by two or three passing stories. But there it is, all the same.
There was never really a question of Kathryn and I going any further than we did. But that night saved us both, I think. It certainly saved me, brought me back to a place where I could conceive a tomorrow.
I've loved . . . really loved two people in my life. The first -- B'Elanna, my beautiful wife. I saw it coming, and I loved every moment of it. The second was a surprise and it knocked the hell out of me when it came, hard and fast with a desperation that left me breathless. But Kathryn was like that.
We lost her only a few years ago. She had relinquished captaincy to Tuvok when the mind and body started to fade. It was a horrible thing to see. She faded fast, after that -- so long tied up with the ship and the Big Chair that when it was gone . . she lost interest. And that was her way. It was all of our way. They herald us in the media, they give us parades but they don't understand what we did to get here. What we gave up too make it home . . .
But no matter, it already seems like a long time ago. And they tell me there are still pool halls and real scotch in San Francisco. I've had years to practice with the best holo-sharks in the world, and with Kathryn. That should count for something.
~ ~ * ~ ~
august and Ghostwriter