Disclaimer: Star Trek and its characters are the property of Paramount/Viacom. I am just borrowing them for fun, not profit.
Synopsis: A "missing moments/coda" to the episode "Night". P/T, rated PG.
Notes: This is my effort to make sense of the fight scene between Tom and B‘Elanna in "Night". I wasn‘t too happy to see them immediately at each other‘s throats again as the fifth season starts, but I lean toward the interpretation that the fight scene was intended in part to foreshadow the events coming up in "Extreme Risk." This is, as always, only my interpretation of what might be going on in the heads of our favorite Lieutenants. Others may have their own, equally valid, interpretations.
"After the Night" by Julie Evans (Juli17@aol.com)
As they watched, the tiny iridescent shimmers of the transporter effect disappeared until only empty space remained. Neelix had been beamed to Sickbay within seconds of Tom‘s emergency request, and now Voyager‘s pilot found he had nothing left to stare at, except B‘Elanna. He turned his head slowly, almost reluctantly, and met her gaze. His anger had subsided as he‘d watched Neelix clutching his chest and fighting for breath, and now it deflated entirely as he saw the flush of guilt staining B‘Elanna‘s cheeks. The same guilt he was feeling.
What the hell had possessed him to keep going? Neelix had stepped in and tried to mediate, to smooth over the argument between him and B‘Elanna by suggesting a card game. And he hadn‘t even listened, he‘d barely let Neelix finish talking before he‘d lit into B‘Elanna again, refusing to let it drop, intent on venting his frustration at her.
He could see by B‘Elanna‘s expression as they stood now looking at each other mutely that she was realizing the same thing he was, how close they had come this time to saying something that would be hard to take back, and how their last harsh words had superseded the heat of the moment and had danced perilously close to a larger meaning.
**I‘m really tired of these games.**
**Well, then don‘t play them.**
The deeper implications of those words hung in the air between them, and B‘Elanna crossed her arms tightly over her chest, an action Tom had come to recognize as a gesture of self protection, an effort to shield herself from whatever turmoil was surrounding her.
"B‘Elanna, I didn‘t mean...I‘m sorry..." Tom‘s voice trailed off.
B‘Elanna shook her head. "It wasn‘t just you...I mean, we‘re both frustrated with being stuck in this void, like everyone else." She paused for a moment. "I‘m sure that‘s all it is." Her lips quirked as if she was trying to smile, but couldn‘t quite do it. "I‘m sorry, too."
Maybe it was just the growing frustration, the growing boredom that they had all been experiencing lately that had put him and B‘Elanna practically at each other‘s throats just now. Tom hoped that was all it was, and that he was imagining the forced note of conviction in B‘Elanna‘s voice. He managed a small smile. "I can‘t believe we almost gave Neelix a heart attack."
Tom regretted his attempt at levity almost immediately, as B‘Elanna gave him a look of alarm.
"B‘Elanna, Neelix didn‘t have a heart attack," he said quickly. He raised his hand in an automatic gesture, intending to touch her shoulder comfortingly, but something stopped him, some sense of the distance still between them, and he slapped his hand lightly against his commbadge instead. He spoke as soon as he heard the channel click open. "Doc, how is Neelix?"
"He‘s been here all of three minutes, Mr. Paris." The doctor‘s voice was as usual, annoyed. "I‘m still evaluating him, however I can assure you that he will be fine, and it‘s nothing more serious than any of the other psychological reactions to stress the rest of the crew have been experiencing recently. Including, apparently, you and Lieutenant Torres. And since you‘re so concerned about Mr. Neelix, perhaps next time you two might want to relieve your own stress in a more private location."
"Ooo-kay, Doc," Tom replied, feeling defensive at the chastisement in the doctor‘s voice. "Thanks, and sorry I bothered you."
Tom looked at B‘Elanna as the channel clicked closed without so much as a goodbye from the doctor. "See, Neelix is fine, except for having to endure the doctor‘s company," he said, noting the look of relief that had crossed her face, mixed with remorse. "Neelix just overreacted a little to the situation, like we‘ve all been doing lately."
B‘Elanna nodded slowly, and a heavy silence fell between them for several moments, both realizing that overreaction was becoming something of a habit between them lately.
In their effort to end the uncomfortable silence they spoke over each other, then stopped abruptly. Quick, fleeting smiles passed between them and for a moment the tension lessened.
"Well, I have a couple of things I want to check in Engineering," B‘Elanna finally said quietly.
"At three fifteen in the morning?" Tom asked, knowing B‘Elanna had just made that decision. "I thought you said the warp core was at peak efficiency."
B‘Elanna shrugged. "It is. But I‘m not tired. I might as well go down there, and maybe I‘ll eventually get sleepy..."
Tom understood B‘Elanna‘s underlying evasion. After the way their tempers had just about hit the boiling point, she didn‘t want to take a chance on them flaring up at each other again. He felt a vague sense of regret, but he decided that maybe she was right. "Okay. I guess I‘d better try and get some sleep since my shift starts at 0900." Another eight hours of staring at a pitch black screen. At nothing. The thought of it already jangled his nerves.
B‘Elanna read his expression and gave him a small sympathetic smile. Tom knew she was finding it as hard as he to feel a sense of satisfaction in her job these days, with nothing to challenge them. Her hands dropped to her sides, then she turned on her heel. He fell into step beside her as they walked across the room, then stepped through the door simultaneously as it opened.
B‘Elanna looked up and their eyes met as they stepped into the corridor. Tom had the urge to reach out, but he hesitated, too aware of the tension from their heated exchange that still seemed to linger the air around them. He was surprised to feel B‘Elanna‘s hand touch his, her fingers brushing down his palm. The tips of their fingers curled and held for a moment. Then she pulled her hand away and stepped back. The moment had passed.
"Goodnight, Tom." Her voice was a soft murmur and she turned around before he could reply and strode down the corridor and around the corner, moving with a speed that always amazed him.
Tom closed his hand, his fingers rubbing against his palm where B‘Elanna‘s hand had touched him. He quickly dismissed the sudden, unbidden feeling that watching B‘Elanna walk away was some kind of larger omen. And even though she wasn‘t there any longer, he whispered quietly, "Goodnight, B‘Elanna."
"Personal log, Stardate...hell, what does it matter. Tom Paris reporting."
We‘re still in the void. Gee, there‘s some news. Two more years of this. I really wonder if we‘ll all make it through with our sanity intact. If B‘Elanna and I will make it through."
We‘ve had fights before. But tonight there was a moment when it became more than just a typical argument, when it felt like we were about to cross some sort of irreversible barrier, take some permanent step away from each other. Luckily Neelix decided to have an anxiety attack before it got to that point. I guess we should thank him for that."
Dammit. It‘s this void, it‘s making everyone anxious and irritable. Lately B‘Elanna and I haven‘t been able to carry on a conversation without ending up in an argument. But what‘s scary, what I don‘t really want to admit, is that deep down I get a feeling that the tension between us may be something more. It‘s like B‘Elanna is slowly pulling away."
Maybe I‘m imagining it. But it‘s been a chore lately to spend time together, to find anything that we want to do together. B‘Elanna is so obsessed with that Day of Honor program. I know I‘m the one who prodded her to try it in the first place, and who helped her design it. I thought it would help her accept her Klingon side, but I don‘t understand why a year later she‘s suddenly decided she has to conquer the thing in forty seven different ways. I tried it with her once, and once was more than enough for me. Those pain sticks hurt. I know B‘Elanna has a high tolerance for pain but how she can do that over and over...."
I prefer my Captain Proton program, which of course B‘Elanna just scoffs at. Maybe it is a little cheesy, but it‘s fun. There certainly hasn‘t been a lot of that for anyone since we entered this void. And B‘Elanna used to want to have fun. Even if we didn‘t always make the same first choice, like skiing versus going to the beach, at least we could compromise and enjoy each other‘s choices. And it‘s not like there aren‘t definite...merits to being with B‘Elanna on a deserted beach. But she hasn‘t wanted to open one of her beach programs in weeks."
And even if our holodeck interests aren‘t exactly the same, we could always find other common ground. It used to be more than enough to close the door, here or in B‘Elanna‘s quarters, and just be with each other. Even after a fight. Especially after a fight. But lately that doesn‘t seem to be enough any more, not for B‘Elanna. After our argument tonight she managed to think of something to take care of in Engineering instead of coming back here, like she would have done a few weeks ago. Though I guess I really didn‘t try very hard to convince her to come."
I never realized how hard it is to keep a relationship going. Though truthfully I never put much effort into any other relationship, before B‘Elanna. None of them ever meant this much to me. Sometimes I get completely frustrated, like tonight, and I just want to chuck it and avoid all the trouble. But then I realize what I‘d be throwing away, and it‘s like a splash of cold water in my face. Sometimes it scares the hell out of me how important B‘Elanna has become in my life. More important than anything else."
Tomorrow. We can resolve this then, find some way to face being in this void without taking our frustration out on each other. There has to be a way. B‘Elanna‘s working a later shift, but after she‘s off, we‘ll work it out. Somehow. We have to. Because, gods, I don‘t want to lose her."
End personal log."
Tom flopped back on his bed, still fully clothed, not even bothering to pull the covers down. He frowned at the ceiling. He muttered a terse "computer, lights 1% illumination", and continued to frown at the dark shadows on the ceiling after the computer complied. He felt restless, with too much to think about, yet too weary to deal with it right now. He knew he wasn‘t going to be able to sleep. Again. He steeled himself to just lay there, and spend the rest of the night staring at the ceiling in a catatonic stupor, until his alarm went off.
A few minutes later, he fell into a troubled asleep.
B‘Elanna walked straight to her bed and dropped onto it with a soft groan. She‘d bypassed her dresser, not bothering to pull out a gown, or a t-shirt, to sleep in. She remained in her uniform, laying on her bed and staring up at the ceiling, with not even enough interest to pull the covers down. She ordered the computer to turn out the lights, and stared up at the darkened ceiling. She‘d wasted two hours doing virtually nothing in Engineering except yawning, but despite the fact that she needed it, she didn‘t expect to fall asleep. She‘d had trouble doing so lately. And she didn‘t want to think about why, about how this void was affecting her. If it was the void. She didn‘t want to think about the fact that lately she couldn‘t seem to find any satisfaction, not just in her work, but in anything, not even in the things she enjoyed. Used to enjoy. She especially didn‘t want to think about what it was doing to her and Tom‘s relationship. Or about what had happened between her and Tom tonight, and how it had ignited the urge again that had been building inside her recently. To pull away, to retreat, even if the risk was losing everything. Even if the risk was losing Tom.
No. She didn‘t want to face that. It was the void. Nothing more. If they could just find a way to get Voyager back among the stars, that would surely make her feel better. It would make everyone feel better. That had to be all it was, this empty feeling inside her, this new sense of isolation. Just the stress of having nothing purposeful to do. If they could escape this void, everything would surely return to normal. Including her and Tom.
She sighed. What were the chance of crossing this void in under two years? But even if she and Tom hadn‘t jumped at the chance to completely reconcile tonight, instead choosing to go separate ways with their own troubled thoughts, that didn‘t mean they wouldn‘t. Tomorrow. They‘d find some way to cope with being in this void, to overcome their differences. They had to. Gods, she didn‘t want to lose him.
B‘Elanna pushed her disturbing thoughts away, almost welcoming the return of the numbness that had recently begun to descend on her unannounced, like a heavy blanket. She was sure she would just lay here, wide awake, unable to sleep, staring at the ceiling for the rest of the night. But at least she could say she‘d tried if the doctor asked her, as he‘d been wont to do to lately.
A few minutes later, she fell into a restless sleep.
Three days later:
"Harry, what do you see out there?"
"I see a densely packed region of thousands of star systems. It looks pretty lively."
"Full speed ahead."
Tom had barely registered the conversation taking place behind him as he stared at the viewscreen before him, awash with the twinkling lights of those thousands of star systems, many shining from within the cotton candy-like pink and purple iridescent gas filaments of nebulas. He‘d been staring fixedly since he‘d seen the first star a couple of minutes ago, even though the doctor had suggested he was imagining things. And as they‘d left the void, and the galaxy had reappeared in all its glory before them, he‘d felt a sense of awe wash over him. After two months of utter blackness, he realized anew the incredible beauty of the stars.
"It‘s like daylight after a long night."
Tom couldn‘t agree more with B‘Elanna‘s quietly murmured assessment. He‘d felt her presence behind him even before she‘d first spoken a few minutes earlier, but he‘d been too busy piloting Voyager out of the void then to turn around. Since the night aliens had appeared two days ago, and the Voyager crew had suddenly found themselves faced with a renewed sense of purpose and a chance of escaping the void, everything had been so hectic that he and B‘Elanna had barely had a moment to speak to each other. The last real conversation they‘d engaged in had been the brief, almost painful one in the Mess hall three nights ago after Neelix had been beamed to Sickbay.
Tom had automatically set course at the captain‘s full speed ahead request, and now he tore his eyes away from the almost mesmerizing display on the viewscreen, and looked at B‘Elanna. She was standing a few centimeters behind him, and her own gaze was still fixed on the viewscreen. Her mouth was parted slightly, curved in a small smile, a smile of open genuine pleasure at the sight before her. He hadn‘t seen a smile like that on her face in weeks, and for just a moment it made his heart ache.
B‘Elanna looked at him then, her smile intact, and he returned it. She was close enough to touch him and she did, her hand dropping lightly to his shoulder. For a long moment they looked at each other, not listening to the voices behind them speaking in louder than normal tones, a cacophony of happy, relieved exclamations about the panorama spread before them, the star strewn path now waiting to be crossed. They shared instead their own silent moment of satisfaction that Voyager had escaped the void without any adverse effects, and the hope that they too had managed the same floated between them.
The doctor had moved toward the captain‘s chair and had begun pontificating on the resurgence of positive feelings the crew could be expected to experience now that Voyager was back among the stars. Tom heard it in some part of his mind, but by the time the doctor began a dissertation on the existential effects of being consigned to a void, real or imagined, he had tuned the doctor out completely, his attention focused only on B‘Elanna. He was grateful no one was listening when he spoke quietly to her. "Dinner tonight?"
B‘Elanna looked at him for a long moment, the smile still ghosting her lips. She nodded slowly.
Tom‘s hand closed over hers before she could slip it off his shoulder, and he linked his fingers lightly with hers. "I‘ll cancel my holodeck time, if you‘ll cancel yours, and we can "picnic" in the upper observation lounge instead, and dine under the stars."
B‘Elanna glanced at the vista that nearly burst through the viewscreen, then back at Tom. She gave him another pure smile, and it lit up her face. "I‘d like that."
Tom released her reluctantly as she disengaged her fingers from his. At the last moment he grabbed her hand again and pressed his lips to her palm briefly, not so much a kiss as a touch, a warm meeting of skin, a renewal of simple intimacy. He smiled as she stared down at him nonplused, then glanced behind her to see if anyone was watching. The doctor had managed to trap the rest of the bridge crew into an attentive, albeit reluctant, audience. "1900 hours?"
B‘Elanna looked at him again and nodded, pulling her hand firmly from his grasp this time. He grinned unrepentantly as she gave him a mildly admonishing look before moving away. He watched her make a quick, strategic escape, walking along the upper bridge to avoid the doctor, who being a hologram apparently never had to take a breath between sentences.
Tom turned back toward the front viewscreen, a broad smile still on his face. At least for the moment, everything seemed right again with the Universe. With the void behind them he was sure he and B‘Elanna would find a way to work past the stress they‘d both been feeling, and he pushed away again the nagging sense that for B‘Elanna it had been something more. At least she was willing to forgo another round with the pain sticks. And he didn‘t care at all about canceling his holodeck time tonight as Captain Proton. After the night, the endless darkness that had been Voyager‘s constant companion for the past two months, he‘d much rather look at the stars. And at B‘Elanna. And he didn‘t want to think, he could no longer even imagine, how empty his life would be without either.