His Hand At Death

The crew of Voyager faced one another in somber silence as they ever so gently prepared the body of their fallen crewmate for burial in space. First, however, would be the goodbyes, as the body is lain out upon a softly decored table, in a dress uniform, the doctor having done what he could with the mask death had placed upon the still face.

Short clips of conversation could be clearly heard travelling from one group to another, little things, but enough to put together most of what had happened.

"Neither of them could hold him."

"I saw it too. The mudslide started, he yelled, and was gone before any of us could react."

"I know what possessed him to dive into that cave, but even he had to know the doctor could only do so much. The damage done by the mud.. lack of oxygen... it would have been too great for any doctor to have repaired." 

"Still, you know Tom. Once he got the idea in his head to dive into the slide....."

"There was no stopping him." 

All eyes turned to look sadly at the unnaturally still form of Ensign Tom Paris as they dropped their voices even further.

"Stupid stubborn heroics. He was never going to learn was he? Now he's learned, and it's too late."

"I do not understand. Ensign Paris did what was in his capabilities to..."

"Quiet.. here comes Janeway."

Janeway's presence went unnoticed by the subject of the crew's discussion. Tom's eyes remained blank and unfocussed as the room went quiet upon Janeway's entrance. Her eyes were redrimmed, two strands of hair breaking loose from their style and ruining her look of strict control. She leaned slightly more so towards Chakotay than normal, and she was very tired. The last day and a half had taken such a toll on the normally quite vibrant woman that her crew all drew in one elongated breath of shock at her now drained appearance. They knew that Janeway loved her crew as her children, but they had no clue how much she had cared for her fallen comrade.

She walked directly over to where Tom's unmoving form rested, and she placed her hand against the cool, colorless flesh of his cheek, sighing softly as she received no reaction. No matter what her mind told her, she couldn't bring herself to stop trying, this was Tom, so vital and alive, he couldn't be... no, she refused to continue with the thought.

Instead, she leaned forward and whispered into his ear, an ear that heard nothing of the words, but she still hoped that somehow, somewhere, the meaning reached him. "You can leave her with us, Tom. We'll take care of her; I swear."

Of course, there was no reaction from the ensign, and Janeway forced herelf to resign her disapointed reaction to merely pressing to the side a stray lock of Tom's hair, and she drew in a deep breath, turning to face the remainder of her crew.

"People, I know as well as any of you what this loss means to Voyager. Right now everyone including myself is wondering what life will be like now, who's going to take over professionally, but more importantly, how we're going to deal with the sudden hole that's formed in many of our hearts. All we can do is go on, go forward. Our friend would not want us to mourn, but rather share our feelings, and slowly begin the healing process. It may take a long time to recover, but rest assured, each and every one of us will heal. The funeral will be at 09:00 tomorrow, viewing will last for the hour, and once beta shift has had a chance to pay their respects, we will move to the mess hall or back to duty. Tomorrow will be a down day for the funeral, only minimal crew required and the volunteer basis has already been filled. I wish things had been different, but we must go on. I promised Tom we would care for B'Elanna, and that's what we're going to do."

Janeway knew that her speach was rather out of character, but she had lost one of her children today, and she'd be damned if she were going to conform to protocol. Once again she moved to sit down beside Tom's quiet form. He had neither moved, nor spoken since she had entered the room, not that she had expected any more from him.

He and B'Elanna had been trapped in that mudslide for over twelve hours, it should have just been B'Elanna trapped, but as soon as her body had been struck by the deadly flow, Tom had dived forth, riding the waves of mud towards his lover and best friend. Together they had landed in a cave that filled not slowly enough with the mud, rapidly cutting the off the oxygen flow to the two. But together they had convinced themelves they both would make it through, even while they were gasping for their last breaths, they hung onto the belief that Voyager would yet again come through in the eleventh hour and they would wake up in sickbay with the doctor clucking his disapointment towards them.

Tom had wrapped his arms around B'Elanna's weakening form, fighting himself to stay conscious as long as humanly possible, praying to a diety he wasn't sure he believed in, and offering up his own life on the express condition that B'Elanna be allowed to live. Tom had never believed in the gods rumoured to exist, but for one brief moment in time he had convinced even his emotionally damaged heart that B'Elanna's life was too pure for any diety to take from the realm of the living.

She had lost consciousness before Tom, and he had held her quietly, ignoring his own weakness as he slowly began to breath his own precious air into her lungs. In less time than they needed however, he too ran out of air, having not even enough to keep him awake, and very peacefully his head began to droop, his lips being ripped from hers as gravity dragged him away, his arms sliding away from her, and finally the two were left alone and unconcious in the tiny cave. When Voyager found them not more than forty minutes later, B'Elanna's body had been curled into a tiny ball upon Tom's lap, their lips having turned blue from lack of oxygen, their entire bodies numb, and their bio-scans registering absolutely nothing.

The doctor, however, was the galaxy's greatest miracle worker, and for what seemed likek forever slaved over their rapidly cooling bodies until a spark of electromagnetic energy flickered on his monitor. Dropping everything, the doctor fanned that spark until it flared once more into life, and at least something had been saved from that day. Even Voyager's doctor, however, couldn't bring back the dead, and one half of the purest relationship seen yet by Voyager met with a very permanent demise. So, today, funeral arrangements had begun, and grief became once again too friendly with Voyager's crew.

Finally, movement from the corner caught the attention of all crewmembers present. Janeway turned to face Tom once more, her hand rising behind him in a gesture of protectiveness. Tom rose to his feet, his very first movement since entering the viewing earlier that evening, and moved to stand next to B'Elanna's body.

His eyes were red rimmed from the endless tears he had shed since awakening the evening before, and discovering that while the doctor had managed to save Tom's life, his reason for living had been too far gone by the time Voyager had gotten to them. He had been existing in a somewhat shell shocked state since Janeway had spoken to him of what had transpired while he had been unconcious. In the last fourteen hours he had heard few words since Janeway's gentle, "Tom, I'm sorry, but the doctor was unable to revive B'Elanna. I know how much she meant to you, and if there is anything..." If there is anything... his mind screamed those words back at him, because there was nothing, nothing anyone could do for him or B'Elanna short of Q, and he was no where to be found. He had seen nothing since the doctor had led him to B'Elanna's body, and his mind finally registered that there was no life left in the cold, stiff biomaterial remains that existed once her soul had vacated. He had felt nothing but the overwhelming pain of loss since that very same moment, and suddenly he wondered if this is what it felt like to be in hell. 

Somewhere during the silent hours his body had spent trying to come to terms with what his mind was screaming, Tom found himself wondering if he really were dead in actuality and this was his punishment for the life he had led. Eternal torment. What could be worse than living without B'Elanna? The agony, the confusion, the horror, it was all in return for those three innocent lives he had taken during his youth, as if he hadn't suffered enough in his own mind. Yes, he was definately in hell.

Now, he stood over her body, staring down at the closed eyes, and bloodless lips. His finger trailed across those cold lips slowly as the last thing that needed to be said came to his mind.

"I'm sorry," he whispered brokenly to the forever silent body that he knew perhaps better than his own. "I'm so sorry, B'Ela."

It hadn't taken long to figure out that if it hadn't been for him, B'Elanna would be alive right now. If Tom hadn't played the hero, hadn't dove into that mudslide, hadn't insisted upon sharing the danger with the woman he had loved, the cave would have supported her for the twelve hours neccessary and beyond. The oxygen ran out because there had been two of them sharing the cave's limited resources, so in effect, he had killed his B'Elanna.

He left her there now, lying cold upon the table for all their friends and make shift family to come gawk over how good or bad she may look in the wake of death. B'Elanna had hated being the center of attention, hated people staring at her, but what could he do about it now? He never even looked back, knowing that his lover was no longer inside that body.

He sighed as he walked rather stiltedly down the corridors. Tom Paris strikes again. Ladies beware, fall in love with this man, and you'll wind up on a cold slab in the morgue. He strode away from the gathering of people come to care for them both, and a numbing callous rapidly began to build over his heart. What was there left now to say? Ooops?

He sighed again, and entered his quarters. Take care, B'Elanna. And he realized then, as his entire world turned cold and unfeeling, the part that made up everything good inside him had died with her. Suddenly, everything seemed so clear, and he no longer cared.