Title: A Message from Kes
Author: Julie Evans
Email: Juli17@aol.com
Series: VOY
Date Posted: 07/07/00
Codes: P/T, Kes
Rating: PG13

Summary: Tom and B‘Elanna‘s reactions to the brief and enigmatic visit by Kes. Set right after the conclusion of the episode "Fury." Disclaimer: Star Trek and its characters are the property of Viacom/Paramount. I am borrowing them for fun only not profit. Archive: Okay to archive to the ASC, PT Collective archive, PTFever archive, and BLTS. All others please ask author for permission. Notes: I‘ll say immediately that I didn‘t care much for the episode "Fury," or for what I saw as the character assassination of Kes. It seemed senseless, especially since the writers of the episode didn‘t bother to explain the salient points, like what exactly happened to Kes after she "evolved" that made her so bitter and vengeful? Why did she blame Janeway for the choices she‘d made herself? How was it possible for her to go from homicidally enraged back to sweet old Kes after a short pep talk from Janeway? I‘m not going to try and explain any of that since I don‘t feel like I even got a reasonable clue from the episode. Another thing that bothered me was how little we got in the way of reactions to Kes‘s sudden reappearance, except momentary surprise. No elation that a dear friend had returned, no dismay that she looked pretty damned awful, virtually no emotion except for Neelix‘s brief moments in the final transporter room scene. I wondered about some of those reactions that we didn‘t see, from this crew who basically considered Kes part of their family. This story has a narrow focus on just two of those reactions, those of Tom and B‘Elanna.

"A Message from Kes"
by Julie Evans

B‘Elanna knows that Tom is in his quarters, since she asked the computer for his location not five minutes earlier. As she steps almost noiselessly through his door she expects to find him on the couch watching the television, or possibly in bed asleep, though 2200 hours is a little early. But it has been a very stressful day. What she doesn‘t expect is to see him sitting on the farthest side of the room, staring out his window at the passing stars. Though he usually sits in a very open stance, his right leg is pulled up to his chest and one wrist hangs loosely over his knee. She can see that he has something clutched in his hand, though not what it is in the low illumination. She takes a couple of steps forward, and realizes that he is still unaware of her presence. Soft jazz is playing in the background, the kind of music she knows can signify either a pensive or a romantic mood. She can guess which at the moment. Between that and his intense focus as he stares out at the stars, he obviously didn‘t hear her enter. He shifts slightly on the smaller couch—the loveseat is how he referred to it recently when he added it to his decor. And they used it for just that purpose once, with the light of the stars falling on them through the window. Even from across the room she can feel that his mood is far more somber now than it was that night.

She is about to step forward again, to say his name and alert him to her presence, when she hears a telltale click. Her gaze flies to the object in his hand as a voice begins to speak over the low music. "Tom."

B‘Elanna recognizes Kes‘s soft throaty voice with a start, and she realizes the object in Tom‘s hand is a small personal audio recorder. If you‘re listening to this, I‘m gone. I knew it would be soon. B‘Elanna stands frozen, astonished that in the quick, chaotic circumstances of her reappearance and departure, Kes has somehow managed to leave Tom a message.

*I know you‘re probably feeling sad. I‘m feeling a little sad too, leaving everyone on Voyager. For the past three years you‘ve been my friends...my family. I love you all dearly, and there‘s nothing I wouldn‘t do for any of you. I will miss you all terribly--* B‘Elanna is still comprehending that this is Kes speaking from over two and a half years ago, before she left Voyager for the first time, and it takes her a moment to realize that the voice has stopped. She looks up from her fixed gaze on the recorder to find Tom staring at her. "B‘Elanna." He says her name in what she thinks of as his "soft" voice, and it comes out low and husky. "I didn‘t hear the announcer." B‘Elanna stiffens just a little. His tone isn‘t unwelcoming, just surprised. She entered his quarters using his pass code, partly because she is worried about him, and, if she is honest, partly because she is annoyed. She hasn‘t heard from him since breakfast, when they made plans to have dinner together. The events of the day obviously changed those plans. But it is the fact that Tom hasn‘t tried to contact her at all in the aftermath of those disturbing events, and probably wouldn‘t have if she wasn‘t now standing here in his quarters, that makes her muscles tense. "I didn‘t use the announcer."

Tom‘s only reply to her curt words is a soft, innocuous, "oh." "I didn‘t know you were busy..." Busy listening to an old recorded message from Kes, a message B‘Elanna realizes now that she never knew existed.

"I‘m not busy," Tom says quickly. The recorder is still dangling in his hand, though his attention is focused on her. "I thought you were still working in engineering. Neelix said he took dinner there for you and some of your staff."

She‘d been supervising the repairs on deck eleven all afternoon and hadn‘t had the opportunity to talk to Tom, who‘d been busy most of the day too. But she had asked Neelix to let Tom know that she‘d be working through dinner. "I never said I‘d be working all night. And I left you a message."

"You did?" Tom asks, glancing at the computer console on his desk. "Nearly two hours ago," she adds. Usually she calls him directly on the comm link, but if she is on duty and has little privacy, she just leaves a message for him on his personal database.

He looks at her now, his expression sheepish. "I forgot to check my messages when I came in." His smile is apologetic. "I‘m sorry. I got so preoccupied with my thoughts I guess I didn‘t realize how much time was passing. It‘s been a...strange day."

His smile slips away, and she nods. She‘d figured he would be disturbed. Everyone is still unnerved by what happened, and by how fast it happened, so fast that it hardly seems real. No one knows what to make of it, despite Janeway‘s upbeat announcement once it was all over. Even Neelix wasn‘t able to muster more than a weak unconvincing smile when he delivered her dinner in engineering, and tried to reassure her and her staff that there had been nothing particularly unusual about Kes‘s unexpected visit.

"I am sorry, B‘Elanna," Tom repeats, in his soft voice again. "I didn‘t mean to ignore you."

"I know." She sighs inwardly. He never does. But when his mind is on something, he sometimes retreats so completely into himself that there isn‘t room for anyone else, not even for her. She isn‘t angry exactly, since she knows she‘s done the very same thing to him in the past. She just wishes he would start really letting her in more often. "I‘m glad you‘re here," Tom tells her, as if he‘s reading her thoughts. His voice is completely earnest, and he kicks his leg down and stretches his arm across the small couch in an open invitation. She accepts it for the sincere gesture it is and moves to join him. As she sits next to him he leans forward and kisses her lightly on the mouth, and his arm slips down to rest over her shoulders. "What was the message that I should have called up?"

She can‘t help a small smile at his distinctly remorseful tone. "I just wondered if you wanted company tonight."

"Yes," he says immediately, and he smiles back, though his is a little strained. "I do."

"I guess you‘re still upset about what happened," B‘Elanna says quietly.

He shrugs a little, and his expression is both troubled and bewildered.

"Mostly, I‘m completely confused."

B‘Elanna is too, but she wants to reassure him, even though she knows it is empty reassurance in the face of so few real facts. "The captain said that Kes needed our help, and that we gave it to her. And Neelix said she‘s just fine, and she‘s happy to be on her way home now. So everything worked out okay."

"The captain said." Tom repeats the words sharply, and B‘Elanna can hear the skepticism in his voice. "There was more to it than that, B‘Elanna. You didn‘t see her."

Tom‘s expression is somber, and B‘Elanna drops a hand gently on his thigh, though he doesn‘t seem to notice it. "She was...old." He shakes his head. "No, more than that. She looked worn out. Beaten. And her eyes were so...lifeless."

She‘d heard something like that. It doesn‘t make much sense to her that Kes appeared old and tired. When Kes evolved early, B‘Elanna assumed that she‘d moved on to some sort of spiritual existence. She‘d been able to push Voyager across ten thousand light years, after all. It is a shock now to realize how little any of them understood what was happening to Kes then, Kes apparently least of all. "I always thought she became incorporeal."

Tom frowns, and shrugs again. "I didn‘t really think much about it, but I guess I assumed that too. Maybe she could—can be either, or both. I know I just imagined, wherever and whatever she was, that she was happy. That she was still Kes, flitting around the galaxy seeing everything as if it was for the first time, with that combination of curiosity and wonder she always had." The wistful smile that crossed his face briefly as he spoke fades, and he looks at B‘Elanna regretfully. "I made a lot of assumptions, maybe just to reassure myself." "We all made the same ones," B‘Elanna reminds him. They‘d all been encouraged, or maybe lulled by Kes‘s own enthusiasm, by her sanguine acceptance of what was happening to her. Not that anyone could have changed anything, even if they‘d had some inkling that it wouldn‘t work out the way Kes had seemed to expect. "It obviously didn‘t turn out like she anticipated either."

"No," Tom agrees softly. "No. It couldn‘t have. I remember how much Kes wanted to move on to her new existence. She was so happy about it. And I was happy for her, even though I knew I‘d miss her. That we would all miss her. It was enough to know that she was going forward, to some wonderful new existence. At least that‘s what she thought." He frowns, his expression genuinely mystified. "How could she—how could we have been so wrong?"

B‘Elanna can only answer with blunt honesty. "I don‘t know." She doesn‘t guess anyone really knows.

Tom‘s sigh is audible. "Instead she came onboard before we had a chance to bring her shuttle in, and blew out every bulkhead on deck eleven..." His voice trails off at his own implication. "Didn‘t Tuvok say something about that being caused by her neurogenic energy?" B‘Elanna asks. She doesn‘t wait for an answer. "I‘m sure it was unintentional, something Kes probably couldn‘t control. She had problems with that before. I‘m sure she wasn‘t trying to hurt us, or Voyager. She just needed...our help."

She hates how inadequate that sounds, and how easily Tom picks up on it. "It was a strange way to ask for help," he says, a little sadly. B‘Elanna knows that it was an odd way to ask for help, invading the ship and trying to get to the warp core. She‘d had to evacuate engineering so quickly on the captain‘s orders that she still has no idea what Kes wanted with the warp core. And neither Janeway nor Tuvok bothered to enlighten her afterwards. But for Tom‘s sake, and maybe for her own, she‘d rather see it in the best possible light. "There must have been a reason we don‘t understand."

"Maybe," Tom agrees quietly, though he doesn‘t sound completely convinced. Instead his voice is frustrated. "I just wish I knew what could have happened to her after she left Voyager to make her look that way, and to act that way."

B‘Elanna squeezes Tom‘s thigh, her fingers kneading lightly, in an instinctive gesture of comfort. "We‘ll probably never know. This all happened so fast. I‘m not sure Kes even had time to tell Neelix or the captain where she‘s been for the past two and half years." A strangely contemplative look crosses Tom‘s face. "The captain knew something though."

B‘Elanna stares at him, surprised. "She did?" "She said as much to Tuvok when Kes hailed us. She said, ‚I‘d almost forgotten,‘ like she knew this was going to happen someday." B‘Elanna frowns. One more part of the puzzle that doesn‘t make any sense. "Well, maybe Kes knew what was going to happen to her, and warned Captain Janeway. Kes was always a little prescient." "Kes knew she‘d end up like that..." Tom murmurs, disbelieving. He shakes his head. "God, I hope not."

Even though it seems the only explanation, it is hard for B‘Elanna to imagine Kes knowing at any point in the past that this was coming. Why would she have been so happy in the first place about her transformation if she knew it was going to lead to this? Had she somehow forgotten what she knew? Or maybe it was one of those timeline convergences, like the time Kes experienced an alternate version of her own future, and Voyager‘s. B‘Elanna recalls the ambiguous warning Kes gave Janeway after that experience, and how Janeway diverted Voyager‘s course enough to avoid exactly repeating that alternate future. How much worse was that future for Kes, if she was willing to give it up for this one? And why couldn‘t Kes change this future too, if at some point she knew what would happen? None of it makes any real sense...

B‘Elanna shakes her head abruptly, as if it will clear the frustration of her circling thoughts. She remembers once again how much she hates temporal mechanics, maybe even more than Captain Janeway does. It is all so enigmatic and contradictory. She realizes that Tom is very silent, and she sees that he is staring pensively at the small recorder still in his hand, obviously engrossed in his thoughts. He senses her gaze on him, and looks up slowly. "The night Kes left Voyager, I found this on my desk. It‘s a farewell message. I listened to it...three times I think. Then I put it away in my bottom desk drawer."

B‘Elanna‘s eyebrows arch with deliberate meaning, which elicits a wry smile from Tom, as she hoped it would. She knows that bottom drawer, the jumbled repository for all the bits and pieces of his life on Voyager that he isn‘t ready to recycle or throw away. She‘s caught a glimpse or two of its contents, and she is always amazed that he can find anything in that mess. She‘s teased him about it before. "It was pretty buried," Tom admits readily, untroubled by his disorderly storage habits. Then his expression sobers. "Especially since I‘d all but forgotten about it, until today."

"I am sorry this happened, Tom," B‘Elanna says gently. Her fingers massage his thigh again. "I know you...cared a lot about Kes." "She was a good friend," Tom says quietly. "To all of us." B‘Elanna nods in agreement. She considered Kes a friend, a good friend. But she knows that the friendship between Kes and Tom was a special one. She rests her head on Tom‘s shoulder, and they sit that way for several moments until he pushes a small pad on the recorder, restarting the message from Kes.

*Tom. If you‘re listening to this, I‘m gone. I knew it would be soon. I know you‘re probably feeling sad. I‘m feeling a little sad too, leaving everyone on Voyager. For the past three years you‘ve been my friends...my family. I love you all dearly, and there‘s nothing I wouldn‘t do for any of you. I will miss you all terribly. But I didn‘t want to leave without saying some things to you personally.* B‘Elanna can practically hear the smile that one could always sense lurking in Kes‘s soft-spoken voice, and the aura of serenity that always surrounded her comes through even on an audio recorder. There is also warm, gentle affection, directed at Tom.

*Tom, I know I‘ll miss you as much as I‘ll miss anyone. You‘ve listened to me when I needed someone to listen, offered me advice and tried to cheer me when I‘ve felt down, and you‘ve always respected my feelings. In short, you‘ve been a friend, a wonderful friend, and I thank you for that. You have a warm heart, and a generous soul, and you‘ve show both to me in countless ways, more times than you can know.* Those last few words have a strangely wistful quality, but B‘Elanna has no time to dwell on it. Kes makes a sudden, amused sound, almost a chuckle, and speaks again, the affection still clear in her voice. *You also talk too much when you‘re nervous, you make light of your feelings rather than admit how strongly you feel them, and you sometimes react before you think. I know that‘s caused you to make mistakes in your life. We all make those. But mistakes don‘t define your life; what you learn from them and how you live with them does.* There is the smallest pause, before Kes continues, her voice taking on an earnest tone. *What I do know most of all about you, Tom, is that you are a good man. I saw that from the very beginning, even when you tried to hide behind cynicism and humor. You never fooled me. No matter what‘s happened in your past, or what does happen in the future, I hope you‘ve learned that about yourself.* "Kes always did try to see the best in people," Tom murmurs, a small self-depreciating smile lifting his lips as he shakes his head slightly. "Kes always had a gift for seeing exactly what was there," B‘Elanna corrects him, right before Kes begins to speak again. *She knows that about you too, Tom. Believe me, she does. She just needs a little more time to figure it out.* B‘Elanna realizes with a start that Kes is talking about her. *She is a warm, caring, and thoroughly remarkable person, Tom, though, like you, she can‘t always see that in herself. But don‘t give up on her yet. It will happen for you two. I know.* The way Kes says "I know" sounds so...certain, as if she really had known exactly what was coming. B‘Elanna stares at Tom as he presses his thumb to the recorder, shutting it off. "Like you said, Kes always was a little prescient," Tom remarks. "Though at one point I‘d decided that she had to be wrong about us."

"You had?" B‘Elanna asks.

Tom nods. "The second time I listened to this was right after we argued in your quarters, on the Day of Honor."

B‘Elanna knows immediately which Day of Honor he means. The Day of Honor, as she‘s come to think of it, the one that started out so badly and got much worse, but that ultimately changed both of their lives.

"I listened to this because I was trying to convince myself that Kes was right about us." Tom shakes his head, though there is a small smile on his face. "That she knew something I didn‘t, even while I was starting to feel sure that I would never get anywhere with you." She remembers how eager he‘d been about designing that Day of Honor holoprogram with her, and how sharply she‘d cut him off when he‘d asked her about it in her quarters. And how her temper had escalated until she‘d told him that she didn‘t want him around. He‘d said that if she wanted to be alone it was fine with him, and he‘d stalked out of her quarters without looking back. She‘d sensed then with self-contrition that she was pretty close to succeeding at pushing him out of her life for good. But events had transpired to force the issue between them. "But Kes was right after all," Tom says softly, sounding almost amused.

"A few hours later, we...made up."

B‘Elanna rolls her eyes a little at his loose interpretation of their near- death revelations in space, though she can‘t help returning Tom‘s whimsical smile. That is one way of looking at it. "So Kes knew it would happen for us, even if we didn‘t." B‘Elanna agrees with Tom‘s assessment, though she thinks it‘s interesting that Kes saw it that way back then, when B‘Elanna saw something entirely different. "It‘s strange. Part of the reason I resisted you a little at first—" "A little?" Tom squeaks those words, his expression one of deliberate astonishment. "You mean while you were systematically tearing my heart into little pieces?"

"Right," B‘Elanna says, giving him a skeptical look at that exaggeration, though a small complacent part of her knows that there is a certain truth in his words. And she likes the fact that he can still be oddly sentimental about what he refers to as their "courtship" period. "Anyway," she continues, "part of that reason was Kes."

Tom stares at her for several seconds, completely nonplussed. "It was?"

"When she broke up with Neelix I half expected you to go after her." "You did?" Tom asks, in the same surprised voice. His lips quirk a little at the corners, and he shakes his head with bemusement. "I‘d already set my sights elsewhere, B‘Elanna, even though I wasn‘t getting much encouragement."

"I know. But Kes was unavailable when you first started asking me out.

Then she suddenly was available—"

"B‘Elanna," Tom says her name slowly, his voice almost accusing. " I wasn‘t pursuing you because I couldn‘t have Kes. I never saw you as second choice. Ever."

"I know," B‘Elanna says again. And she does, now. She also knows that it was one more insecurity that gave her an excuse to avoid facing her own feelings, or trusting Tom‘s.

"I never made any kind of move on Kes after she and Neelix split up," he points out a little defensively.

"No, you didn‘t," B‘Elanna agrees. "Not then. But I knew you‘d felt differently about her once. In those first months on Voyager even I could see that you were...a different person around her. You weren‘t such a pig." She smiles a little as she says that, because she knows how much of Tom‘s attitude was a deliberate act back then. And that Kes was one of the few people who could get past that act. "With Kes, you let down your defenses. You always treated her with gentleness and deference."

"I can‘t take any credit for that," Tom says, so quickly that B‘Elanna knows he means it. "That was how Kes treated me. She was almost the only one who did, for quite a while, and not because I particularly deserved it." He smiles a little ruefully. "Kes was that way with everyone, and I was just reacting to it."

B‘Elanna had responded to that gentleness in Kes more than once in those early months, surprising even herself. It had been almost impossible not to respond to Kes in kind. "Maybe that‘s what I mean. I could see that she brought out the best in you. While you and I seemed to bring out the worst in each other in those days." "Maybe," Tom concedes, and then his voice softens. "But not all the time."

"No," B‘Elanna agrees. She recalls the Vidiian caves, where she first saw the gentleness in Tom that he kept hidden beneath his deliberately brash demeanor. And they‘d worked very amicably together on the Warp Ten project not long after that, the first time she‘d realized that he had a truly quick mind. ‚Not all the time," she echoes his words, meeting his resolute gaze. "But we did clash a lot. And I used to think that if Kes hadn‘t been with Neelix, she and you would have made a good couple. Your personalities...meshed perfectly." Tom looks at B‘Elanna thoughtfully. "I guess I never thought of it like that. I loved Kes, but you know that even back then it was never really that way."

B‘Elanna nods at his easy disavowal. Tom told her once about his early infatuation with Kes, a feeling that he‘d later recognized for what it was, gratitude mixed with genuine affection, but the affection of a close friend. "I know. I‘ve wondered sometimes if it wouldn‘t have become more, if the circumstances had been different." "You mean if Neelix hadn‘t been with Kes in the beginning, or if you hadn‘t been around for some reason?" Tom shrugs, looking genuinely unconcerned. "Who knows? If the circumstances had been different anywhere along the line, maybe something would have happened between Kes and me, and maybe it would have been good in its own way. But they weren‘t, and it didn‘t." He rubs her shoulder lightly. "And I realized about the time you first started turning down my sailing invitations that perfect wasn‘t what I wanted at all. You know me. I‘ve always preferred a challenge."

B‘Elanna can‘t help snorting at his roguish grin. "Well, our relationship has certainly been that."

She means that as a joke, but Tom sobers a little at her comment. "I know our relationship hasn‘t always been smooth or easy. We may always be a little rough around the edges..." his lips quirk a little. "But I like it that way. Believe me, B‘Elanna, I‘m exactly where I want to be." B‘Elanna smiles. She knows it, but it‘s nice to hear him say it. "So am I."

"Even if we didn‘t merge perfectly?" he asks. "And if we mix together more like..."

"Matter and antimatter?" B‘Elanna supplies archly at Tom‘s slight hesitation.

Tom chuckles appreciatively. His fingers are drawing feathery random patterns on her shoulder. "I guess we can be pretty combustible." "Umm hmmm..." B‘Elanna agrees with a murmur, and a coy smile. Her fingers trace their own small patterns on his thigh. "Besides, Kes knew where I wanted to be, maybe before I was even sure. She never showed any interest in me after she broke up with Neelix."

She has never thought much about it, but B‘Elanna wonders now if Kes really had been disinterested, or if the nascent feelings Kes had sensed between Tom and herself had kept Kes from actively pursuing Tom. It isn‘t the kind of selfless thing B‘Elanna imagines most people would do, but Kes had never been most people. She shakes her head wryly at that thought. "I used to wish I was more like her." She barely realizes she spoke the thought out loud until Tom answers her. "I know." His voice is gentle, and his gaze is shrewd. Sometimes he knows her very well. "But you have found peace with yourself, B‘Elanna."

"Yes," she says, and the word is a simple affirmation. She spent so much of her life consumed by the rage inside her that was slowly eating away at her soul, and burning everyone who tried to get close to her. She‘s finally learned to overcome that deep-seated anger and resentment, and to appreciate who she is and all that she has. As Tom says, she‘s found a measure of inner peace. And Kes, who was the epitome of tranquility and self-contentment, moved in the opposite direction, if the way she‘d appeared today was any indication. It is ironic, to say the least.

"Kes isn‘t the only person who‘s ever had a positive influence on me, B‘Elanna," Tom says quietly, interrupting her ruminations. His expression is candid, without a shred of design. "And not the most positive influence. Even when you thought I really was a pig, and I thought you were pretty hostile, I still admired your integrity, and honesty, and courage." His mouth twists a little. "God knows those hadn‘t been my strong points for a quite a long time. Even when we were barely friends, I always hoped some of that would rub off on me. I hope some of it has rubbed off on me."

B‘Elanna‘s gaze holds his. Tom‘s soul baring tends to come in small moments, much as hers does, which doesn‘t make those moments any less genuine. He shifts a little under her penetrating stare, but he doesn‘t look away or try to allay his discomfort with a glib remark. She is more than willing to let him off the hook. "So I‘ve had a positive influence on you?" she asks skeptically, her voice teasing. "You can‘t see it?" Tom asks dryly, matching her tone. He gives her a patented smirk. "I guess you‘ll have to stick around and keep working on me then."

"You mean because it‘s a never-ending job?" B‘Elanna replies smartly.

Tom‘s grin is impudent. "You‘ll get me to grow up one of these days." "Not completely, I‘ll wager," B‘Elanna says, without regret. The little boy in him does have its charms.

The small recorder, all but forgotten in their conversation, slips in Tom‘s loosened grip. He catches it before it falls and his grin fades, as if he abruptly realizes that their lighthearted repartee is at odds with the situation.

"Is there more?" B‘Elanna asks after several silent moments, though she knows there must be.

Tom nods and flicks the recorder back on, and Kes‘s voice is there again.

*You‘re probably thinking that it will be hard, and you‘re right. B‘Elanna is not an easy person. But then, you are not an easy person either, Tom.* B‘Elanna hears that thread of affectionate amusement in Kes‘s voice, underscored by Kes‘s uncanny perception, and it‘s impossible to be offended by her good-natured critique.

*But if you really have to work for something, that makes it all the more valuable when you obtain it, doesn‘t it?* B‘Elanna smiles as Tom‘s eyes meet hers.

*I hope you do take that chance, Tom. On yourself, and on B‘Elanna. I‘m glad I took a chance starting a whole new life for myself on Voyager. Whatever happens, however things turn out in the end, just remember that you never actually lose anything you gain. It stays a part of you, and all the moments are yours to keep. Just as I know that wherever I am going now, all the moments I‘ve spent on Voyager are part of me now and will stay with me.* There is another brief pause, and the faintly nostalgic tone in Kes‘s voice shifts into eagerness.

*Where I am going exactly, I don‘t know. But that‘s part of the adventure, isn‘t it? Going into the unknown, exploring new horizons, as your Starfleet represents. I do know that it will be something wonderful and exciting. I can feel it. The mystery of it frightened me a little at first, but I know that I want this now, and I‘m happy about it. So don‘t feel sad for me, Tom. This is a good thing.* B‘Elanna‘s hand slips over Tom‘s where he holds the recorder tightly. She doesn‘t have to see the bitter smile twisting his mouth to know how he is feeling listening to Kes‘s confident pronouncement. *We probably won‘t meet again. But I‘ll always consider everyone on Voyager my dearest friends, and you are especially one of those, Tom. Wherever I am, I‘ll always be thinking of you, and hoping that you‘ll find everything in your life that you want, and that you deserve.* There is a final, meaningful pause, before Kes utters her parting words, her voice low and husky with emotion.

Goodbye, Tom. Be happy.

Tom and B‘Elanna sit in silence for several minutes after Kes‘s voice has faded away. They stare together out at the stars, toward open space where Kes disappeared once. Now twice.

"It‘s a nice message," B‘Elanna says finally, her voice gentle. "Kes obviously cared a lot about you." Maybe more than B‘Elanna had realized, but she‘s not bothered by it.

"I know," Tom says simply. "She considered you a close friend, too, you know. She wanted the best for all of us." "She still does, Tom."

Tom nods once at B‘Elanna‘s quiet comment, and attempts a smile that doesn‘t quite reach his eyes.

"You said you listened to her message three times," she recalls, hoping to redirect his thoughts. "When was the third time?" Tom‘s tense expression relaxes just a little. "The morning after we made love for the first time."

B‘Elanna‘s eyebrows rise at that. The first time they‘d made love had been after that psychotic hologram had tried to tear her heart out. A night that had more than made up for a completely horrendous day. She smiles slowly at the memory as Tom‘s gaze holds hers. "I was still in quite a daze that morning." Tom‘s lips twitch with wry amusement. "While I was dressing for my shift I remembered the message Kes had left me. I listened to it again, and I realized that Kes had been right after all. I confess I even felt pretty smug about it." B‘Elanna gives Tom a mock incredulous look. "You, Tom? Smug?" Tom grins immodestly. "Yeah, well..." He shrugs, and his grin fades a little. "I felt smug about life in general though. For me, and for Kes. Which is probably why I tossed the recorder in my drawer and forgot about it. It felt like a chapter had closed, and that both Kes and I—all of us—had moved on. That our lives had moved forward, maybe in completely different directions, but in the right directions." His expression is grim now. "At least I thought that was the case for Kes too. But she was obviously wrong about that." "She wasn‘t wrong about you, or about us," B‘Elanna points out. "Maybe she wasn‘t wrong about herself either. Maybe it was just a harder road than she expected. And she‘ll still get there." Tom‘s response is slow but fervent. "I hope so." "That was Kes on the recorder, Tom. Do you believe she‘s really changed deep inside?"

Tom shakes his head slightly. "I don‘t want to." "Then don‘t." B‘Elanna says it as if it is just that easy. "So she lost her way for awhile." Her gaze on Tom is sharp, though her voice is mild. "If anyone can understand that concept, you can." From Tom‘s look she knows that he does, all too well. And he is far from alone. "So can I. But Kes is going home now. She‘ll find herself again, Tom, and she‘ll be happy again."
"I do want to believe that—"

"Believe it. Or I‘ll break both your legs."
The words come out sharply, part frustrated demand and part pointed humor, and Tom looks at B‘Elanna in momentary surprise. Then he lets out a small laugh. "Well, when you put it that way, I guess I don‘t have a choice."

"Nope," she agrees.

Tom glances toward the window again, at the stars passing by. "Then I‘ll believe that Kes is out there somewhere now, on her way home, moving on this time to something that will be as wonderful as she expected."

B‘Elanna hopes he will believe it. And she hopes very much that it will be true for Kes.

Tom turns from his perusal of the stars, and squeezes her shoulder.

"Thanks, B‘Elanna."

For being here. He doesn‘t say the words, but he doesn‘t have to.

B‘Elanna brushes her lips lightly against his cheek. "You‘re welcome." "I know I got preoccupied with this..." Tom places the small recorder on the arm of the couch before returning his attention back to her. "But I would have found you before the evening was over." She accepts his assertion, because there is nothing in his steadfast gaze to belie it. "I‘m here now."

"Are you staying?" he asks. His voice is casual, but his expression is intent.

B‘Elanna knows that he means overnight. She has an early call in the morning, and though she can make do easily in his quarters, when she has an early call she usually chooses to return to her own quarters for convenience sake. On the other hand, her quarters are also a little colder and a little lonelier when he isn‘t there, and she has a feeling they will seem even more so tonight, after this disquieting day. She knows she could easily convince him to come there with her, as had been her original intention. But she has the sense that he is soothed by his surroundings right now, and she doesn‘t see the point in changing them. That decided, she finally gives him a long, contemplative look, as if she is seriously considering her options. "Maybe." Tom‘s eyebrows rise. "Maybe?"

B‘Elanna can move very quickly, and she does so now. In the space of a second she‘s crawled on top of him and is straddling him. His eyes widen as she speaks. "On one condition."

Tom presses his lips together, unsuccessfully trying not to smile.

"What‘s that?"

"That we don‘t waste this starlight."

Tom could mention that the starlight certainly isn‘t going anywhere. That it will be there day and night, available to shine on them for as long as they remain on Voyager. If he thinks something so prosaic, or is about to say it, it is cut off by B‘Elanna‘s hands cupping his face firmly, and her mouth descending hard on his. He doesn‘t protest. Instead he grasps her hips and returns her kiss, accepting her condition wholeheartedly.


An hour later B‘Elanna is asleep next to Tom, wearing one of his t-shirts she sometimes borrows when she spends the night, with one arm draped over his stomach, one leg tangled between his, and her head resting on his chest. He can hear the soft rush of her breathing, and feels the warmth of it fluttering across his skin as he edges toward sleep. He is comfortable, and pleasantly sated from their lovemaking, first with vigor under the starlight, then in a more leisurely manner in his bed, but his thoughts keep him from drifting off completely. He is glad B‘Elanna decided to stay. He needs to feel her warm body next to his right now, to be able to hold her. Or maybe for her to hold him. To know that they are the same, after seeing Kes again so completely and inexplicably changed. It helps quell the feeling that the universe has shifted on him into some crazy place where what he believed was certain and unchangeable could be nothing more than an illusion.

He‘d always believed Kes‘s self-possession was one of those unchangeable things, that the serenity which seemed to come from deep inside her and touched everyone she met was nothing less than a part of her soul. He‘d never considered for even a second that anything could take that away from her, because it was her. But he‘d also once assumed that she would live out her normal Ocampan lifespan on Voyager, probably become a doctor herself, maybe even have a family. He‘d never thought about the specifics, but it had seemed far more likely than her abrupt evolution. An evolution that was supposed to lead to something better. He can‘t help wondering now how different it might have been for Kes if she‘d lived out her full life on Voyager before she‘d moved on to her next existence. B‘Elanna shifts against him, and Tom automatically brushes a hand over her shoulder, and his fingers tangle with the silky edge of her hair. By the end of the night she‘ll be in the position she always sleeps in, curled up on her side, and he‘ll be spooned around her. For now she is comfortable again, and his hand slips down to rest lightly at her waist. He ponders drowsily how ironic it is that B‘Elanna once envied the inner peace Kes had exuded. He knows better than anyone how hard B‘Elanna has fought her own demons, and beaten them down. She‘s no less quick- tempered, or stubborn, and the intense passion with which she approaches everything is certainly unabated. But the anger that once simmered below the surface, always threatening to explode, that had sometimes made him feel so helpless—that she has vanquished through her own sheer determination. She is still B‘Elanna, yet she has changed her life, and he is proud of her for doing it. He also knows deep down that he isn‘t quite keeping up with her, though she never reproaches him for it. She seems willing to wait for him to slowly catch up, to banish the demons still buried inside him that he has yet to completely face down.

He hopes B‘Elanna is right about Kes; that she has only lost her way temporarily. He caught B‘Elanna‘s knowing look on him when she said that earlier. He had lost his way, for a long time, about as completely as anyone could. After the grief he‘s known and caused, if he can find his way again, and start to rebuild his life, then certainly Kes can find her way too.

He recalls sleepily what Neelix said in the mess hall earlier when several of the crew present at dinner had asked about Kes. Neelix told them that Kes was having some "difficulties" adjusting to her new life, but that she was just fine and was going home. Though Neelix was trying to reassure everyone, Tom didn‘t miss the sorrow lurking behind Neelix‘s eyes. Tom knows that Kes wasn‘t fine at all, but he also saw Neelix nod his head in conviction, determined to believe that Kes would be fine. Better than fine. Good. At peace with herself. Happy....

The clarity of his thoughts are blurring with encroaching sleep, the progression of them giving way to separate, disordered images. The image of Kes that he‘s been unable to banish from his mind all day—Kes with that defeated, empty look on her face—doesn‘t automatically jump into his head as he begins to drift off. The images that come are older, indelible, those moments Kes spoke of that stay forever. They are images of Kes as she was on Voyager, the way he knows her and remembers her. Kes, during her first days on the ship, looking at everything around her with open wonder and delight. Kes smiling indulgently as Neelix hovers protectively over her. Kes watching the doctor perform a procedure in sickbay with rapt attention. Kes in deep conversation with Tuvok, her open devotion to what he is saying making even the remote Vulcan look relaxed. Kes giving B‘Elanna a tour of the flower beds in hydroponics (how amazed he‘d been back then to see the irascible newly appointed chief engineer express a genuine fondness for flowers, though he hadn‘t dared to act on that knowledge for a long time). Kes talking to him in that soft, husky voice of hers, her eyes seeing right through him, measuring him but not judging him. Kes, laughing, smiling, surrounded by her friends... The images coalesce and fade as Tom slips deeper toward the netherworld of sleep, his body snug with B‘Elanna‘s, and a final cognizant thought surfaces before he gives way completely. His lips part, and if he actually murmurs them out loud, the whispered words fade quickly into the silence of the room. But the words don‘t matter, only the message—from a friend, from one heart reaching out to another, to wherever she is now, and to wherever she is going, wishing for her the same parting wish she‘d bequeathed to him. "Be happy, Kes."


The end