The Hardest Thing
Lt. B'Elanna Torres stalked into sickbay, scowled at the doctor as she pushed by him, walked over to the biobed in the middle of the room, and promptly threw a data PADD at the doctor's only patient.
"Tom Paris! The next time you choose to go and get yourself killed on an AWAY mission, you bloody well consider yourself single again because I'm NOT PUTTING UP WITH THIS ANY MORE!"
Ensign Tom Paris looked up at his beautiful lover, cocked his head to the side and smiled softly. "Hi, B'Elanna."
Her eyes narrowed, first glancing at the monitors over the biobed to make sure he was all right, before quickly bending down and planting a ferocious kiss upon his lips. Before she eased back, she could taste his blood from where her teeth had ground into his lip and she shook her head. "What am I going to do with you?"
"Nurse me back to health?"
She snorted. "Nurse yourself back to health, helmboy. You landed yourself in sickbay, you get yourself back out. What the hell happened anyway? Chakotay said something about infected fruit?"
Tom shrugged, "Can't really say. The tricorder said the food was edible, well within our normal paramaters, so I volunteered to test some of it."
"Would you love me as anything else? Anyway, next thing I know my fever is spiking way off the scale.. Chakotay is yelling for an emergency medical transport, I passed out.. woke up here, and then you were yelling at me." He grinned and shrugged. "Doc still hasn't told me what I had. But he did a pretty damned good job of curing it. I feel great!"
"Mr. Paris..." The doctor moved to cut in.
"Give me a sec, Doc. B'Elanna, I'm fine. Go back to your engines, and meet me for dinner tonight?" He gave her his best puppy dog look. "My quarters, 20:00 hours? Please?"
"Insufferable moron," B'Elanna muttered as she stalked over to the doors, pausing as she reached the corridor. "20:00 hours, on YOUR rations."
Tom's sincere smile of joy warmed B'Elanna's heart, and she grinned, shaking her head as she headed back to Engineering.
"Mr. Paris, had you had the afore thought to listen to me while I tried to interrupt you, you would have landed yourself in a rather less akward position."
Tom scowled, "Doc, what are you on about now?"
"Mr. Paris, Tom, you won't be making your dinner date tonight. I am afraid I cannot think of a more gentle way of telling you this, but I was unable to purge this infection from your system."
Tom paused. "Exactly what are you trying to tell me here? Are you saying I'm dying?"
The doctor sighed. "Unfortunately, Mr. Paris, that is exactly what I am trying to tell you. And I'm afraid that you are going to infect more members of this crew within the next 48 hours. I must keep you in quarrantine until the disease has run its course."
"I don't think so, Doc! If I'm dying I'll be damned if I'm going to draw my last breath in Sickbay!"
"You are not listening to me. I have monitored the advancement of this disease in your blood stream. At this rate, you will become infectious 24hrs after your original contamination. Which gives you approximately 18 hours before your quarantine will be enforced. In the interest of crew safety, I suggest that you do not wait until then."
Tom's entire body was numb, his face set to not betray the anguish wracking through him. Slowly he nodded. "Have you told the Captain?"
The doctor nodded. "I could not keep this matter from Captain Janeway. It affects the entire crew, I'm afraid."
Another nod. "I want to speak with her."
"It's safe for the moment. I will contact the Captain and ask her to meet with you here."
Tom turned his head away from the holograph, and began a careful visual exploration of the roof of sickbay. Slowly, his mind began working out what he was about to do, and remained oblivious of the single tear tracking its way down his cheek.
"Captain, this is not a demand. This is my final request." Tom turned his vivid blue eyes to meet his Captain's stare as he waited anxiously for her response.
"I will authorize what you are asking, Tom. I don't agree with it, but it is your decision. Doctor, you are sure that this infection is not commucable until tomorrow morning?"
"Yes, Captain. But I still do not concur with your decision to allow this.. escapade."
"Aknowledged. However, I do believe that Tom is entitled to spend his last days the way he wishes."
"If it is your orders, then Mr. Paris, I release you to your quarters until 09:00. I expect you to report to quarantine promptly. I do not wish to have to establish a forced medical quarantine upon you."
"Understood." Tom sat up, and slid off the biobed. "I will voluntarily report for quarantine. All I ask for is this last night." He walked to the doors, his teeth grinding against the pain slowly squeezing at his heart.
He turned slowly to face his Captain.. his friend. "If there were any other way..."
"I know, Captain."
"Then God speed, Tom. Voyager just won't be the same without you."
He set the table, his heart heavy as he lit two candles, knowing that this would be their final dinner. He emptied his ration account, replicating a fine bottle of a red wine he knew B'Elanna loved, grilled chicken placed over leaves of romaine lettuce, surrounded in roast potatoes, carrot slices, and tomatoe, gently covered in a fine layer of parmesean cheese. A look at the chronomitor told him that it was 19:55, time for the final touch. "Computer, dim lights to 1/4, and begin playing Paris Selection Classics 7.2 at one sixth normal volume."
Immediately, the whisper of music wafted throughout his quarters, the melodious tones of Bach gentling the once silent room. His door chimed, and he smiled sadly. "Come in."
B'Elanna stepped through the door, dressed in a very soft red satin dress that stopped mid thigh. Her smile was gentle, her eyes wide with awe as she took in the time and effort Tom had placed in this romantic gesture. She caught sight of him, sillouetted by the candles in front of him. Dressed in a pale white shirt, over what appeared to be snug black trousers, he took her breath away. His vibrant blue eyes caught the candle light, sparkling as they filled with love at the sight of her.
Needing to break the sexual tension that was building rapidly between them, B'Elanna let the doors shut behind her, before she cocked her head to the side and grinned. "Paris, when I said I was going to leave you, I didn't really mean it. You don't have to win me back."
His smile was sad, but genuine. "I'm not trying to win you, B'Elanna, I'm trying to treasure you."
She blushed deeply, but her eyes glinted with pleasure. "What did I do to deserve this?" Her arm gestured to encompass the food and the candle light, as he pulled her chair out for her in a romantic gesture that lived through all time.
"You deserve this all of the time, B'Elanna, for just being you."
"What's gotten into you tonight? That fruit must have infected your brain more than your body."
His eyes flashed something unreadable, as he shrugged, and B'Elanna frowned. "Why is it so hard to believe I want to cherish you once in a while? Eat now, before it gets cold."
She shook her head and smiled at him. If they lived to be a hundred she would never be able to figure him out. They ate their dinner in a comfortable silence, Tom rarely taking his eyes off the woman who had captured his heart, and his essence. He realized now, too late, that without B'Elanna, he was nothing.
Silently, he took their empty plates back to be recycled, and kneeled down beside her. His heart ached as he drank in the scent of her, the scent that made every nerve in his body stand at attention, every emotion in his soul collide in a vast display of brilliant colors that he knew shone in his eyes.
Words were never necessary between them, they communicated on a level only their souls could understand, and only lovers could comprehend. Her hand slid into his and in a fluid like motion they rose and made their way to the bedroom. There would be no breaking of things tonight, not bones or otherwise, there would be no rapid rush of love making where reaching their fulfillment was their only goal. Tonight, as Tom lowered B'Elanna to his bed, there would be only gentle kisses; he would worship her body with his mouth and hands, he would memorize every inch of her, engrain her into his mind and soul so that no force could ever rip her image from him, he would enter her slowly, torturing them both, loving the exquisite look of agony that would cross her face as they joined completely. Tom would take that image with him, the image of B'Elanna with all her guards down, with nothing standing between them except love, and the trust that in the morning he would shatter, into the night, where she would be his only comfort. Now he loved her, and with languidly slow movements they reached not an earth shattering conclusion, but one of mutual love and satisfaction that touched them both to the deepest regions of their hearts and minds, and seared some part of one to the other, for eternity.
08:45. The computer alarm did not wake B'Elanna. Captain Janeway had told her to take a rest day, so spending the whole of the night before making love with Tom had been simple, and so very right. Tom, on the other hand, was dressed in his oldest pair of jeans, and a black turtle neck, an old duffle bag packed with his most personal belongings slung over his shoulder. He gazed down upon his sleeping love, tears blurring what would be his final moments with the most important part of his life.
He bit back his cry of agony as he slipped silently from what had been his quarters, his heart feeling as though it were ripping a bit further out of his chest with every step he took away from her. In one hand he clutched his duffle bag, in the other he held to his chest a holo image of B'Elanna and himself on the holodeck in the middle of a waterfight, laughing lightly as Harry had finally convinced them to be recorded. He couldn't bring himself to look at it, not now; later, when there was nothing but darkness surrounding him, then he would look down, and remember what it had been like to have once been loved utterly and completely.
He didn't bother wiping the tears from his cheek, the cheek that still bore the mark of B'Elanna's bite, scarred permanently, but lovingly so, as he stepped through the doors to the shuttle bay. The Captain was not present, as Tom had requested. They had said their goodbyes yesterday, and he refused to go through the agony of facing his friends' pain, any of his friends. He had asked Janeway to explain to Harry, but he had left a personal message for B'Elanna. When she awoke, with that slightly confused and touselled look she bore each morning, she would find his bedside cold and call out for him, but he would not be there.
Tom stepped up into the shuttle, started preflight checks. No, he would not be there, he would be light years away from Voyager, rapidly losing coherence as the disease began infecting him deeper, so he would never hear her screaming sobs as she found the small piece of paper he left for her.
"Ensign Tom Paris requesting permission to exit Shuttlebay."
Janeway's sad voice came over the comm, she had kept her end of their deal, she was not physically present, but she would be the one to see off the man who had become her dear friend. "Permission granted, Ensign."
Janeway who would later go to find B'Elanna, wrapped in a ball in Tom's quarters, holding on tightly to the pillow that still bore her lover's scent. B'Elanna's eyes would be blank, but the pain would be written across her face, and would shine in the tears that refused to stop falling as she is wrapped in her Captain's warm embrace.
Tom smiled as his eyes filled with tears once more, "See you on the other side, Kathryn."
Kathryn who would cry with B'Elanna, comfort her when the young klingon's voice broke as she repeated nothing but, "he said he'd never leave me.. he promised he'd never leave me.. he promised.. he promised... he promised and he left too!", and watch the once feisty Chief Engineer waste away to nothing once her heart's reason for living was gone from her life, forever.
What Kathryn Janeway would never know would be the words upon that piece of paper left by a sobbing man to the woman he was about to leave behind. B'Elanna would never forget those words, however, words that burned into her mind, words that ate away at her heart and soul until there was nothing left. Tom Paris's goodbye was meant only for the eyes of B'Elanna Torres; she would never repeat what was written in his most vulnerable of moments, but years later, when the crew of Voyager placed B'Elanna's body in a federation space capsule and sent her out to rest in the eternity of space, a now older and very much wiser Kathryn Janeway placed a yellowed and aged piece of paper, stained with the tears of broken hearts upon the now silent chest of the shattered woman, and knew that somehow, somewhere, their spirits would meet once more. Though space is vast and seemingly endless, Tom Paris and B'Elanna Torres would never be kept apart.