Title: The Parting
Author: Julie Evans
Date posted: 8/11/00
Summary: Scene additions to the episode "Unimatrix Zero, Part One."
Archive: Okay to archive to the ASC, PT Collective Archive, and BLTS. All others please ask author for permission.
Notes: Though I stayed within the timeframe established in the episode "Unimatrix Zero: Part One" as closely as possible, that timeframe was conveniently vague in places. So I took available liberties and inserted my own scenes where the opportunities presented themselves. Based on Tom's strong reaction in the episode's engineering scene, I also surmised that there might have been more intense interaction between Tom and B'Elanna over her upcoming assimilation than just the brief moments we saw between them on the Delta Flyer. So the following is my interpretation of that missing scene and others.
by Julie Evans
Voyager, Holodeck One, 1906 hours:
Tom was a several minutes late to holodeck one, but it was mostly intentional. True, it had taken him a little longer than expected to dig his Big Daddy-O shirt out of his closet, but B'Elanna had requested that he wear it. He'd also figured that B'Elanna would want to get to holodeck one first, since it was her program. Besides, if he actually showed up early, she'd think there was something wrong with him and she'd probably send him to sickbay for a check up.
He smiled a little at that thought, and since B'Elanna wasn't in the corridor waiting for him, he checked the holodeck monitor. Sure enough a program was in progress in holodeck one. He pressed the entry pad and nothing happened. His smile widened as he realized that the privacy lock was engaged. He punched in his access code and a moment later the holodeck door opened.
As he stepped into the program, he wasn't the least bit surprised to find himself on a beach. He'd expected that from the attire B'Elanna had requested, and in light of the fact that they'd started revisiting some of her beach programs again. This one was a long, wide, white sand beach, flanked by two bluffs, and lined with scattered stands of palm and date trees. Near the shore the water was a clear, light aquamarine, deepening to a brilliant sapphire blue further out. He could see a few offshore patches of brown beneath the clear surface, most likely underwater reefs. A prime snorkeling spot, which was probably part of B'Elanna's plan. He'd first introduced her to snorkeling in the Tahiti program and she'd loved it.
He took several steps toward the surf that splashed gently onto the sand. Even though the sun in the cloudless blue sky was low over one bluff, probably only an hour or two from setting, it was very warm, and humid. Several gulls flew by overhead, their squawking punctuating the lower level background clamor of the surf.
He glanced away from the water at the only incongruous thing on the deserted beach, a yellow blanket spread out on the sand about twenty meters from where he stood. A large picnic basket, which no doubt contained their dinner, had been placed right in the middle. At one edge of the blanket was a small pile of black rubber with something bright green poking out. The snorkel gear.
Tom could think of only one thing that was missing from the inviting scene. B'Elanna.
There was a soft rustle behind him and he turned around. As if his thought had summoned her, she was there, walking toward him from the direction of the trees. She walked at her naturally brisk pace, not slowed down by the sand even as her bare feet sank slightly with each step. She came to a stop a half meter in front of him.
He looked her up and down, from her bare legs, to the sleeveless dress that hugged her curves and molded itself around her thighs in the light breeze, to the gardenia tucked into one side of her hair, and back. He refocused again on the tropical flower print of the dress. *That* dress.
He should have known. It had almost taken his breath away the first time he'd seen it, and it still did. He gave her an impish grin. "You look positively...tropical."
"I think that was my line," B'Elanna said, a ghost of a smile playing around her lips. "You're word was--"
"Smashing," Tom finished. He'd hardly forgotten. "And it's still true."
She smiled openly and perused his loud shirt, the same one he'd worn that day, years ago now. "You're looking pretty smashing
He liked how she drawled that word; the way she rolled it off her tongue slowly as if she was savoring it. Even though she'd never held his demotion against him in any way, she seemed as pleased as he was that he'd been reinstated, maybe even more so. His eyes narrowed on her thoughtfully. With the events of the day that had followed his reinstatement on the bridge--mostly unpleasant events--they hadn't had a chance to really talk yet. "When did you find out about my reinstatement?"
B'Elanna shrugged and walked the few meters to the edge of the surf, letting the water splash over her feet. "The captain called me in engineering this morning before I started my shift to let me know, so I could be on the bridge." She turned and gave him an amused look as he splashed his feet into the water next to her. "Did you think I've been hiding it from you for weeks, Tom?"
He shook his head. "No." He knew B'Elanna could certainly keep a secret, but he also knew the captain's style. She'd probably decided during her first cup of coffee this morning that the time was right to reinstate him. She tended to make quick decisions. But it had still been completely unexpected. "Well, I was really surprised."
"I noticed." B'Elanna's grin was downright playful. "You're very cute when you're completely dumbstruck."
Tom rolled his eyes. "Gee, thanks."
"You're welcome. And...congratulations." B'Elanna spoke with warm sincerity. "You deserve it."
Tom smiled. He still hadn't quite gotten used to it yet. "I suppose I must."
B'Elanna looked at him oddly. "The captain doesn't exactly hand out pips at the drop of a padd, Tom."
"True," Tom agreed. That was an understatement. "Six years and Harry's still an ensign."
"So you think Harry was serious on the bridge?" B'Elanna asked.
Tom knew she was referring to Harry's comment about not seeing a box on *his* chair. At lunch Harry had treated Tom to pizza in honor of his reinstatement. Though Harry hadn't mentioned anything further about his own long awaited promotion, Tom knew Harry had been
hoping for it for some time, and working for it. "He was serious. And he deserves a promotion."
"He does," B'Elanna agreed. "And he'll get it, Tom." She cuffed him gently on the chin, and gave him an admonishing look. "You don't feel guilty, do you?"
"No," Tom said. "Not exactly."
"The captain can be pretty stingy with promotions," B'Elanna pointed out again. "So far everyone who started out an ensign in the Delta quadrant is still an ensign."
"They don't all run their own department though," Tom said. And after six years as chief engineer B'Elanna deserved a promotion also, though he knew she cared less about rank than anyone. "You should be a lieutenant commander by now yourself."
B'Elanna looked at him, surprised. Then her lips twitched. "Why, Tom...that would put me a rank above you again."
Tom grinned. "I've always found the woman on top very arousing, B'Elanna."
B'Elanna snorted at his roguish comeback. "Well then, before we start planning promotion parties for everyone else, why don't we celebrate your reinstatement first."
"Okay," Tom said, more than willing to start celebrating with her. He looked around the beach again, and down at the cool water lapping at his ankles. It was refreshing given the humidity of the air around them. "So...where are we?"
"You don't recognize it?" B'Elanna asked, as if he should.
Tom shook his head. He knew they'd never been to this beach before, though he was sure it was Earth, and he had a good idea of the region. "The Caribbean?"
B'Elanna nodded silently, obviously not planning on making it easy for him.
"But not an island we've been to before," he said. Aruba had had the thatched beach cottage where they'd once spent several pleasant and creative hours. There was no beach cottage here. His lips curved upward slightly. "A new addition to the beach tour then..."
B'Elanna nodded again in confirmation. "And I don't know how I ever missed *this* one."
There was a gleam in her eyes that Tom didn't quite understand, and his eyes narrowed suspiciously, but she didn't say anything further. She was going to make him guess. He frowned contemplatively at the stunning white beach. Not Cuba, he surmised, since he'd been to several of the beaches there with a diving group during his second year in the Academy, and this didn't look like any of them. He'd also spent a couple of weeks in Jamaica once, during one of the periods of his life he'd really like to forget. It wasn't a place he'd cared for, considering. He didn't think this was Jamaica.
"I'll give you a clue," B'Elanna said, with a sigh of impatience. He'd figured that if he pondered silently long enough he'd transcend her patience threshold. "The name is an oxymoron."
"An oxymoron..." Tom echoed in confusion. Several names flitted through his mind, as he tried to figure out what she meant by that--
His mouth dropped open, and then closed again as B'Elanna's eyebrows rose at his belated comprehension. His lips curved into a slow acknowledging smile. "That's very funny, B'Elanna."
She smiled smugly at his sardonic tone. "You are many things, Thomas Eugene Paris." She tugged a little at the open collar of his shirt. "But you have to admit that a saint certainly isn't one of them."
Tom grinned impudently back. "Hey, I don't know about that. Don't you think I've had my moments?"
B'Elanna gave him an arch look, and hooked her finger in the top buttonhole of his shirt. "I suppose you've had your *occasional* moments," she admitted softly. She pulled the button out in one deft maneuver. "But you have to admit you do have far more wicked moments..."
"Wicked moments?" Tom echoed innocently. "Me?"
"You are a wicked man, Tom Paris," she assured him unequivocally as she popped another button free. Her nails scraped lightly over his bared skin of his chest. "Lucky for you I like all the wicked...things that you do to me."
"That I do to you?" he murmured as his mouth descended slowly toward hers. "What about all those wicked things you do to *me*?"
B'Elanna's eyes glittered. "I'm very fond of those also," she conceded readily as his lips brushed hers. "I suppose an island called Saint B'Elanna would be an oxymoron too..."
Tom chuckled. "Oh, I don't know," he murmured, his breath mingling with hers. "If it had a volcano right in the middle of it--"
She cut him off by nipping sharply at his lower lip, and the low sound she made in her throat was perhaps a growl of rebuke or suppressed laughter, or both. Then her tongue darted out to tangle with his. He opened his mouth wider to encourage her, and their kiss quickly built in intensity--
Until B'Elanna jumped back suddenly. Tom's hands had been sliding their way up her hips, and he reflexively grabbed her around the waist to stop her from falling, though her footing was stable enough. She was looking curiously down at the water and he followed her gaze.
They'd drifted into slightly deeper water, and it swirled around her knees, dampening the bottom edge of her dress. Below that, clearly visible through the crystal water, several silvery fish swam around her feet. She shifted her feet slightly, kicking up small puffs of fine- grained sand, and the fish scattered. But several moments later they were back again.
B'Elanna was staring down at the fish, mesmerized. Tom watched as one of them nibbled at her toes while another nibbled at her ankle, as if testing her nutritional potential, despite the fact that they had no visible teeth.
"I think they want to eat me," B'Elanna said, her voice tinged with amusement.
Tom's head shot up again at her offhand observation. With great effort, he refrained from speaking. She must have felt his gaze on her because she looked up, and then burst into genuine throaty laughter.
"It's killing you not to say it, isn't it?" B'Elanna managed, after a moment.
Tom gave her a sly grin.
Her gaze on him was expectant, almost challenging. "So, say it."
He obliged her. "They aren't the only ones who want to eat you."
"Are you saying that you want to bite my toes, Tom?" B'Elanna asked, her voice silky.
He leaned toward her again. "Your toes, your ankles, your knees, your thighs..."
Her voice was husky now. "You must be very hungry."
"Very hungry," he murmured in agreement. He kissed her bare shoulder, his tongue tasting her warm skin.
"I did bring dinner, you know." She nodded her head toward the basket sitting on the blanket in the sand. "Bread, cheese, pate, a nice bottle of...Merlot...umm..." her voice faded into a soft growl as he nibbled at her neck. "But nothing that won't keep."
"So we can eat it later," Tom said, nuzzling the soft sensitive spot below her ear.
B'Elanna sucked in a sharp breath. "Uh huh..."
Tom pushed the narrow straps of her dress aside and bared her
shoulders. Then he raised his head and looked at her curiously. "Are you wearing anything under this dress, B'Elanna?" he asked softly.
"Like a bathing suit?" Her smile was slow and seductive. "Why would I need one of those? All I need is my snorkeling gear."
The thought of her snorkeling naked immediately interfered with his blood flow. He certainly wouldn't be paying much attention to the colorful fish. "We can save the nude snorkeling for later too."
"Okay," she said amiably. Her arms wound around his neck. "And right now?"
"I think we should get back to doing some of those wicked things we like to do to each other," he said before his mouth closed firmly over hers.
They stumbled several steps out of the water, their lips locked together, and a thought flashed in a still coherent corner of Tom's mind, a realization that his life had recently become almost charmed. His relationship with B'Elanna, his position and his friends on Voyager, his reinstatement to lieutenant, the possibility of returning to the Alpha quadrant to find a genuinely warm welcome from his family after all that had gone wrong between them--everything in his life was going amazingly well. And everything on Voyager was going equally
As B'Elanna dragged him down to the wet sand with her, determined to have her way with him, he couldn't help the complacent sense of satisfaction that enveloped him. He could imagine few ways his life could be any better. And he could hardly foresee anything that could burst his bubble right now, with this whole night ahead of him, and the prospect of more equally satisfying days and nights stretching out before him.
He was a very contented man indeed.
Voyager, B'Elanna Torres quarters. 1626 hours:
So much for contentment, Tom reflected sourly. And so much for his charmed life. He could hardly believe that less that two days ago he'd smugly decided that nothing could touch him, or B'Elanna, or anyone on Voyager. He was pretty sure fate was laughing long and hard at him for his presumption. Really hard.
He was staring out at the stars. Not the star streaks of warp speed (though at the moment he wished more than anything that they were moving at high warp away from this place), but at the stars fixed in position due to Voyager's slow down to quarter impulse as they
prepared to implement...The Plan. He'd started thinking of it that way, with no small amount of sarcasm, in capital letters. The Plan.
The Plan was a misnomer, because it was no more than a vague set of probabilities, with a dozen different contingencies. Nobody knew for sure how it would pan out. There was so little of it to define that the senior officer's briefing twenty minutes ago had been over almost before it had begun. There was only one real certainty inherent in The Plan, the certainty that made the whole thing completely insane as far as he was concerned. Well, there were two certain outcomes in The Plan, but the other one he really didn't care about at all.
He been staring out the window for several minutes now while
B'Elanna had been sitting at her desk relaying orders to Joe Carey, Sue Nicoletti, and several others on her engineering staff over the comm link, telling them what they needed to attend to during her absence. As if she was just going off on any old away mission, and would be back to follow up on their progress in a day or two.
At the briefing Janeway had told B'Elanna and Tuvok to take this time to prepare their departments for their departures and take care of any personal business. And she'd released Tom from bridge duty to assist B'Elanna with the preflight check of the Delta Flyer. He'd caught the captain's look when she'd given him that order, and he knew she hadn't sent him with B'Elanna just because he was the person most familiar with the Delta Flyer's systems. She'd sent him with B'Elanna so they could say goodbye. He'd seen the flash of compassion in her gaze, though no trace of guilt or apology. With the captain everything was always secondary to the success of the current mission. He'd expected as much from her, and he didn't really hold it against her, but that didn't mean he had to feel grateful to her for small favors either.
Tom's annoyed frown faded as he realized that B'Elanna was no longer talking over the comm link. He turned around to find her standing several meters away silently watching him, and he noticed that she didn't look entirely grateful for small favors either. In fact she looked defensive.
"We're not going to fight about this, are we?"
He walked toward her, and shrugged his shoulders casually. "No, of course not. What's to fight about? You're getting assimilated, and it's not like I have anything to say about it. Want something to eat?"
She frowned at him as he bypassed her and gestured toward the
replicator. "No. I'm not hungry."
Neither was he. "No last meal then," he said a little sarcastically as he turned back to her, recalling one of those westerns they'd watched on the television. He pushed that uncomfortable analogy away and
plunged on. "Okay. Well, I guess you don't need to pack anything either, since the Borg will thoughtfully be providing you with all the latest in armored fashion accessories. Heck, you won't even need a hairbrush--"
"Stop it, Tom!" B'Elanna hissed. "Don't be like this."
"Well, pardon me for being upset--"
"I'm sorry you're upset," B'Elanna said, her voice taking on an edge of sarcasm too. "But this isn't about *your* life, Tom, it's about mine."
"Oh. Right. Your life. Which doesn't affect me at all."
"I didn't say that," B'Elanna snapped. She glared at him and then looked down at her clenched fists. She deliberately unclenched them, and took a deep breath. "I know you don't want me to go, Tom. But it's not your choice."
Her voice had lowered, and he could tell she was trying to be
conciliatory. He softened his own voice, though not with as good of intentions. "I just wish the fact that I don't want you to go meant anything to you at all, B'Elanna."
B'Elanna looked momentarily startled, and then she gave him an
irritated look. "That's not fair, Tom, and you know it. This isn't about what I want to do, it's about what I have to do."
"Have to?" Tom echoed. "This whole thing is crazy, B'Elanna."
B'Elanna shrugged. "We've done crazy things before. This isn't the first time I've taken a risk. You've taken plenty yourself. That's part of the business of Starfleet, isn't it?"
Tom stared at her. "I can't believe you're throwing Starfleet at me, B'Elanna."
"Why? Because you like to pretend Starfleet and all its implied heroism doesn't meant anything to you?"
Tom rolled his eyes. He knew that heroic mystique was why legions of teenagers wanted to be in Starfleet. It was part of the reason he'd joined, his father notwithstanding, though at times like this he questioned his sanity. He'd grown a little more cynical about Starfleet over the years though, and he certainly knew B'Elanna's position. "There's a fine line between a hero and a fool, you know."
B'Elanna's eyes narrowed at that. "Maybe so. But as far as Starfleet is concerned that line is simply whether you succeed at some crazy plan against impossible odds, or you fail." Her cynicism confirmed, she added frankly, "I don't plan to fail."
"You might not have a say in that, B'Elanna," Tom said sharply.
B'Elanna continued as if she hadn't heard him, her voice earnest. "This is also about something else, Tom. It's about principles, and doing the right thing. You should know something about that. I seem to recall that you acted on your principles on the Monean world. You were willing to risk everything, including your life, for the greater good, and to help those who couldn't help themselves."
"And I failed," Tom couldn't help pointing out almost gladly. As if that would change her mind.
"You didn't fail yourself, Tom," B'Elanna said simply. "Or me. And you don't know if you failed the Moneans. Maybe the example you set will make a difference."
Tom frowned. At any other time he would take satisfaction in her interpretation. He had before. Now he just shook his head. "Somehow this comparison isn't comforting me, B'Elanna."
"The drones who might be liberated deserve our help," B'Elanna said determinedly, not backing down a bit from her position. "But even more, all the Borg's future victims deserve it too, if we can stop them from becoming victims. You took a risk for the Moneans, and you've taken risks for everyone on Voyager. This isn't any different."
"It is different," Tom said somberly. "There's already too high a price to pay. You're letting yourself get assimilated."
"We might get to the central plexus."
Tom managed not to snort. Instead he just said bluntly, "There's no way, B'Elanna." Gods knew he would wish to the last second that they'd find a way, but they wouldn't.
B'Elanna knew it too. "Maybe not, but the virus--"
"It's experimental. Even the doctor doesn't know for sure how, or if it will work. And even if it does, you still have to go through the assimilation process. Do you know what that means?" He'd gotten to the subject that struck terror in him and made his blood run cold, and Tom didn't even pause for a breath. He pressed on without heed, his voice rising. "I know physical pain doesn't really bother you, but they're going to violate your body, and stick tubes and implants in you. They're going to *mutilate* you, B'Elanna! Have you thought about that?"
B'Elanna flinched slightly, and Tom thought he saw a flash of
apprehension in her eyes before she suppressed it. She backed away a step, her expression suddenly remote, and he immediately regretted his outburst. "B'Elanna--"
"I have thought about it." Her voice was clipped and flat. "And you don't have to support me, Tom, but it's my decision. I won't change it."
Tom cursed himself as she stalked off toward the bedroom, amazingly without ordering him out of her quarters. What the hell had he been thinking? That somehow he could stop her. When he knew better, and when he really didn't have the right to even try.
He sat down heavily on the couch, and rested his head in his hands. He'd rather she'd screamed at him than looked at him like that. It was a theme with him and B'Elanna sometimes, hurling well-aimed barbs at each other in anger or fear, words that they later regretted. Usually they apologized and then made love, which undid most of the damage. There wasn't time for that right now, but he couldn't let her leave on this note. And she was leaving. He could hear her approaching, her steps heavy and purposeful.
"B'Elanna, I'm sorry."
She was about to pass by the couch, and though he was staring down at the floor, he heard her footsteps stop at his almost whispered words. It was more than he'd expected, or probably deserved.
"You're right, you don't need my permission. I want to beg you not to do this, but it is your decision, not mine. I don't know what I was thinking. Just that I'm scared for you. I don't want to think about you being...hurt, and I don't want to lose you. But I don't want you to leave angry with me. I shouldn't have said anything, and you have every right to throw a few heavy objects at my head if you want. Or rip out my liver or some other major organ. Just don't leave without--"
He hadn't looked up during his nonstop monologue, but he looked up now to find her standing in front of him.
"You're babbling. Take a breath."
Tom took a breath. He *had* been babbling, and she seemed slightly amused by it, and not all that angry with him. "I am sorry," he repeated softly. "And you'll be okay over there. It's only going to be temporary, and then you'll be yourself again--"
"I know what to expect, Tom, and I'm okay with it."
She sounded unconcerned, and she'd never admit to being even a little afraid, but he suspected that deep down she wasn't as completely unaffected as she appeared. He hated knowing that. "It will be fine, B'Elanna..."
She smiled a little at his turnaround, and his attempt to reassure her. Or himself. "I know."
Before he could speak again she surprised him by dropping onto his lap and straddling him. Her move wasn't overtly sexual, though she'd straddled him dozens of times with that intention. She cupped his face with her hands, whether in her own attempt at comfort or to force his attention he wasn't sure. Maybe both. "I'm sorry, too," she said quietly. "You are part of my life, Tom. I should have said something to you first, but it was a spontaneous reaction. I knew the captain and Tuvok would have a better chance if I came along. I'm the one who helped the doctor modify the virus, and I'm the best one to make sure nothing goes wrong with the delivery."
Besides what was already going to go wrong by deliberate design, Tom thought, though he didn't say it. "I guess that makes sense," he replied instead, trying to sound like he believed it. Of course, that all depended on the neural suppressants protecting her, and the virus actually working the way the doctor *hoped* it would--
"It will work, Tom," B'Elanna said, sensing his doubt.
She spoke with more brash confidence than the facts supported, but that was B'Elanna, never one to concede the obstacles. He'd always
admired that courage in her, even when it scared him senseless. He put an encouraging note into his voice even though it took a lot of effort, because he knew that was what she wanted. And deserved. "I suppose it is the best shot to deliver a real blow to the Borg."
B'Elanna nodded resolutely. "Exactly. We can't let an opportunity like this pass. Almost every culture in this part of the quadrant has been decimated by the Borg. And it's only a matter of time before they go back to the Alpha quadrant and attack the Federation again. This could just stop them in their tracks."
"It could," he agreed, trying to sound as optimistic as she did.
"And you have a part in this too, Tom. When it's over, we'll all have had a hand in crippling the Borg." Her voice was filled with satisfaction at that expectation.
He nodded. "I'll do my part." Then he sighed, and looked at her solemnly. "And I will support you, B'Elanna, even if I don't like this plan. I'll always support you."
"Thank you," she said, her voice as sincere as his. "That does mean a lot to me, Tom."
"But I will also worry about you every second," he added almost defiantly, as if daring her to try and stop him. "Whether you like it or not."
Her lips quirked. "I suppose I can live with it."
"So I'm totally forgiven?"
B'Elanna's eyebrows rose. "Of course. Don't I always forgive you?"
Tom smiled a little at that. "I count on it."
"And you forgive me for not...taking your feelings into account?" B'Elanna asked softly.
He knew that wasn't deliberate on B'Elanna's part. It was just part of her personality. She knew so little fear that she didn't think twice about putting her life on the line. And to be fair she saw the winning only; she never considered the possibility that she might lose. It was the Klingon in her, fearless and confident. He couldn't begrudge her what was simply part of her. "I do." Then he added, "Though if I had known you'd volunteer, I would have beaten you to it--"
"So I could stay here and worry about you?" B'Elanna shook her head firmly. "Forget it. Besides, no offense, Tom, but as versatile as your talents are, you're not an engineer."
"No, I suppose not," he agreed with uncharacteristic mildness. He wanted to make some witty return, the kind of droll reply he'd usually come up with about his many and varied talents, but he just didn't have the heart for it. Instead he looked at her silently for several moments, filled with the sudden urge to memorize every centimeter of her face.
B'Elanna didn't flinch under his scrutiny. Her gaze on him was as intent and unwavering. "We still have a few minutes before we have to report to the Delta Flyer, Tom," she said, her voice soft and husky.
He understood what she was saying. What she was offering. She didn't wait for him to reply, since she had no doubt of his acceptance. Instead her mouth moved toward his, and her hands pulled at the waistband of his pants.
They made love without preamble, quickly but not desperately, though the air between them was heavy with the knowledge of what was to come. They kissed more lingeringly than ardently, roaming their hands over each other's faces, and curling their fingers in each other's hair as if they could hold on to each other that way. They didn't bother to remove their clothing any further than it took to join their bodies together. When Tom reached down to stroke her intimately, she pulled his hand away and wrapped his arms back around her. They moved together, holding each other, merged with each other, seeking
reassurance more than pleasure, giving comfort more than passion.
As his release came, gently, Tom shuddered and pressed his face against B'Elanna's throat. "I love you," he murmured against her warm silky skin, his voice breaking just slightly, and so low he wasn't sure she even heard him.
If she heard she didn't answer in words, she simply wrapped her arms tighter around him, holding him and stroking his back as his tremors subsided.
Voyager, Shuttlebay, 1712 hours:
They'd been working together in the Delta Flyer for the past fifteen minutes now, in silence for the most part. Tom periodically gave her a brief system update, nothing more than a sentence or two at a time. Though his voice was calm enough, B'Elanna could sense his disquiet, and the tension building between them again, almost as if they hadn't had their bodies buried in each other less than half an hour ago. She knew Tom had resigned himself to the mission, and they both knew that it had to be done; moreover, that it was the right thing to do. But as the moment got closer, the knowledge of the risk she was taking, and of the position he would be in, waiting helplessly on Voyager as the events unfolded as expected--or they didn't--inevitably began to strain the conversation between them.
When she reached over to check another status monitor she could smell his scent on her. There hadn't been time to shower and change after they'd made love; there'd barely been time to readjust their clothing quickly in the bathroom. She didn't mind--in fact, she was glad that her Klingon genes gave her a particularly strong sense of smell. As she initiated the final diagnostic on the shield generator he spoke again.
"Watch the starboard plasma injectors. They tend to run a little hot at high impulse."
She followed the progress of the diagnostic. "I'll keep an eye on it."
"And the warp matrix is out of alignment."
She raised her head at that, and looked at the warp drive systems monitor. "By .03 microns." Her lips quirked, and her tone was deliberately light. "Since when are you so meticulous?"
"Since you volunteered for this insane mission." The words came out fervent, perhaps unintentionally, and Tom paused. "You know..." he chuckled a little, though it sounded half-hearted and a little forced to her ears. "I could sabotage the helm. You'd never make it out the launch doors."
She knew he wasn't serious. He was trying to deal with his heightening anxiety, but she heard the small edge of desperation that had crept into his voice. She strove to keep the mood light between them. "Then I'd have to put you on report. You might lose that new pip of yours."
She expected him to laugh at her teasing comment, though under the circumstances it might ring hollow, or to make some dry comment about his reinstatement. She didn't expect him to suddenly be standing right next to her, murmuring in her ear with earnest conviction, "It'd be a small price to pay."
He moved away before she could even react. The smile that briefly turned up her lips was spontaneous. She had no doubt that she was more important to him than his rank, but she couldn't help being touched by the--almost--offer. Then her smile faded, because she knew he'd been completely serious, at least in his heart. He'd make that tradeoff in a second if he could, because he really was afraid for her. She pressed her lips together, forcing down her emotions, and drew a silent, heavy breath. Then she turned around.
He was watching at her intently.
He shrugged his shoulders nonchalantly, but the wobbly edge of the wry smile that didn't quite materialize undid the gesture. "I had to try one more time to get you to reconsider."
"I can't," she said quietly, her voice almost a whisper.
He nodded. "I know." He looked at her for several seconds, then turned away. "The impulse buffers are recalibrated."
She turned too and checked the final reading on the shield generator diagnostic. The shields were functioning at one hundred percent. Her final systems check. This was it. She looked at Tom.
"I guess that's it," he said, echoing her thought. "She should hold together until--" He stood up abruptly. "She's ready."
B'Elanna nodded mutely as his fingers brushed over the seat he'd just vacated, in an almost affectionate gesture that she suspected was an unconscious one, before he moved toward her. She was willing to grasp at any subject before he left, before she didn't see him for...a while. "I'm sorry about the Delta Flyer, Tom."
Tom stopped in front of B'Elanna and shrugged almost dismissively. "She's just a ship." He smiled faintly, with perhaps a twinge of regret. "Though a good one..."
B'Elanna attempted a humorous tone. "I know she's your baby--"
"*She's* not my baby, B'Elanna," Tom corrected her, with deliberate emphasis. Even though "baby" wasn't an endearment B'Elanna had ever been kindly inclined toward, she was strangely unoffended by Tom's insinuation. He patted the console next to her, and his lips quirked. "We're just friends, remember?"
B'Elanna smiled at his reference. "I remember."
"Besides the Delta Flyer can be rebuilt," Tom added softly. "All I care about now is that she does her job for as long as she's needed to protect you, and the captain and Tuvok."
B'Elanna knew he meant that. In the senior officer's briefing he hadn't even blinked when he'd realized that the Delta Flyer was going to be sacrificed, though everyone in the briefing room had looked directly at him. He'd just started outlining the best ways to enhance the shield integrity of the Delta Flyer. She'd known then how upset he was that she had volunteered for this mission.
Tom spoke quietly into the sudden silence between them. "You should let the captain know you're ready."
"Right." B'Elanna turned quickly in her seat and hit the comm channel. Her voice was firm and all business when she spoke. "Torres to bridge."
Janeway's voice came through the link immediately. *Go ahead.*
"The Delta Flyer is ready for launch."
*On my way.*
The channel closed and B'Elanna almost wished for a brief moment that she was in Janeway's position on the bridge, where there wasn't a difficult goodbye to be said between two people who didn't want to say it to each other. She rose from her chair and turned around.
B'Elanna stood face to face with Tom, and for several moments she didn't know what to say. "I hope you're not preparing a long speech, Tom," she finally said lightly, wanting to break the tension. "The captain and Tuvok will be here any minute."
Her attempt at levity came out flat, and Tom just shook his head. "B'Elanna..."
"Sorry," she said quickly. "You must be rubbing off on me."
Her wry comment prompted a small if wan smile from him. Then his smile faded and he shook his head. "No long speech. Just two words."
She was sure he'd still like to say "Don't go." But he wouldn't. Then she recalled his most common admonition to her whenever she did something that made him even a little nervous. He'd said the words to her at least a dozen times. "Be careful," she guessed.
He gave her an ironic look and she realized that there wouldn't be much point in that admonition, since there was no being careful this time. This mission was the very definition of recklessness. He pressed his lips tightly together for a moment, obviously trying to clamp down his own emotions. When he finally spoke his eyes blue boring into hers were serious, intent, almost pleading. "Come back."
The two words hung there between them for several moments.
B'Elanna could feel her own emotions pushing close to the surface again and she knew that if tried to speak right now, or if she hugged him, they might break. She wasn't going to make this any harder than it already was, for him, or for herself. At least she told herself it was better that way for both of them. She reached up and touched his face, brushing her fingers across his cheek, and letting her fingertips come to rest against his lips, intent on keeping the contact brief.
Tom beat her at her own game, catching her hand tightly in his as she started to pull it away. He pressed his lips to her palm for a fleeting moment, then dropped her hand as hastily as he'd captured it and strode quickly out of the Delta Flyer, almost as if he was being chased.
She stood staring at the door for several moments after it slid closed, still feeling the ghost of his kiss tingling on her palm. She curled her hand slowly into a fist.
They hadn't said goodbye after all. Because this wasn't goodbye, B'Elanna reminded herself. She wasn't going to let him go that easily. She would be back. She'd told him as much already.
She turned abruptly and moved to her station to await the arrival of Janeway and Tuvok. She started the preflight sequence, concentrating all her attention on the minute details of the task at hand, on what she had to do now, and effectively pushing every other thought and
Borg armored cube, 1802 hours:
The three figures strode quickly along a corridor lined with the gray metal tangle of Borg machinery, surrounded by the monotonous hum of it, bathed in the low, harsh light that permeated everything. B'Elanna walked behind Janeway, with Tuvok bringing up the rear. They'd passed several Borg drones, some in alcoves, some roaming freely, and so far their presence had been ignored.
They turned a corner and B'Elanna's gaze was on the small scanner in her hand, but part of her mind was back on Voyager. Two days ago life had been as normal as got in the Delta quadrant, and just about as good as she considered it could be. She'd been putting the finishing touches on a successful warp core refit, she'd beaten Chakotay at three games of derata over a late lunch in the mess hall, she'd sipped wine with Tom on the St. Thomas beach, their bodies sweaty from sex and streaked with wet sand--
"Down this corridor," B'Elanna said, her almost nostalgic thoughts immediately dismissed.
Janeway turned in the direction B'Elanna indicated, and they moved together toward the central plexus. It was a ridiculous thought, and entirely foreign to her engineer's rationality, but B'Elanna actually entertained the brief hope that they would make it to the plexus without interference. She envisioned her smug smile when she told Tom that he'd worried for nothing.
That implausible thought was quickly squelched. As if their most recent choice of direction had telegraphed their intentions, several Borg turned the corridor behind them, approaching with deliberate intent. B'Elanna wasted no time raising her phaser rifle and firing, and she heard Janeway and Tuvok firing also. Several Borg immediately fell back, but the ones who appeared from behind those fallen Borg kept coming right through the phaser onslaught.
Janeway and Tuvok reacted to B'Elanna's shout by turning away. They weren't going to stop the Borg with phaser fire. They jogged down another corridor until Janeway came to an abrupt halt as a forcefield glimmered into existence in front of them.
"We'll have to take the long way around," Janeway said, almost prosaically.
They turned again and took only a few quick steps before another forcefield blocked their way.
They were trapped.
As she turned B'Elanna glanced at Tuvok, and the Vulcan's face was completely composed. A stray thought crossed her mind as she raised her rifle again. She wondered if Vulcans felt any fear, even deep down, a fear they don't acknowledge. B'Elanna felt certain the captain didn't. She'd seen Chakotay face down Cardassians without blinking, Tom fly into anomalies with little hope of ever coming back out again, but she'd never seen anyone as fearless as Janeway. Not even Klingons.
B'Elanna turned the rifle expertly in her hands to use as a battering weapon, and at that moment she caught Tom's scent on her again. It was an extraneous thing to notice at a time like this, but somehow she was comforted by that direct evidence of *her* life. She didn't need to pretend resistance to giving up that life, because she would fight to the end to keep it. She was incapable of anything else.
An almost soothing sense of outrage gripped her as she smashed the first Borg who came at her in the face with her rifle. Another one came as quickly and she shoved her rifle in its stomach with a loud grunt. She felt the next one behind her before she even turned around. She swung viciously again, pivoting as she did. They were on all sides of her now, and she was forced to retreat several steps.
She found herself backed against the wall, surrounded by Borg. They pushed relentlessly into her, so close and strong that she couldn't lift the rifle again. It was pressed into her abdomen, useless now. Several Borg hands held her immobile, except the hand that began to move toward her neck.
The doctor had warned them that the assimilation would be real, and that they would lose all sense of their individual selves, temporarily if everything worked right. B'Elanna felt a moment of sheer uncontrolled panic at the sight of the needle-sharp end of the tubule coming at her, before her Klingon side asserted itself. She welcomed the strength it gave her as implacable fury quickly overcame the brief surge of panic, and she struggled, unwilling to surrender even though she was
physically powerless against the overwhelming odds. When the hand gripped her throat and the tubule pierced her skin, she cried out, refusing to submit. She heard her mother's voice ringing in her ears, telling her she that was strong, that she was Klingon. She would never willingly submit...
A fog washed over her, paralyzing her muscles, chilling her blood, and clouding her vision. Even as her body quickly weakened her mind fought to the last to hold on--to herself, to her life, to everyone who was part of her. She wouldn't give up--
The images she clung to were mere flashes through her mind, one close upon the other; her mother, lighting Klingon incense with an expression that was fierce yet composed; her father, laughing and raising her high in his arms as she squealed with delight; Chakotay, inviting her to focus her passion in a fight for a cause; Harry calling her "Maquis" with that affectionate, crooked grin on his face; Janeway, promising her that she would get a fair shot at being chief engineer on Voyager; Neelix, offering to be her pressure valve whenever she needed to blow off steam; Tuvok, assuring her impassively that he could help her learn to control her anger though meditation; Tom, telling her that she was beautiful, matching her temper shout for shout, teasing her to coax a smile, stroking her skin into fevered arousal, his blue eyes looking at her with concern, anger, laughter, desire, love...
The images, clear and distinct, all came and went in a second. Despite her determination to hold on to them, the images slipped away,
smothered by the merciless fog that covered her like a white blanket. As she succumbed, a final few words echoed through her mind, words spoken once in a soft, wistful voice, filled with tenderness and affection..."I'm glad the last thing I'll see is you"...
B'Elanna Torres slumped, unconscious and unknowing, her individual past irrelevant and her stolen future meaningless to the Borg drones who held her easily, keeping her inert and primed body from hitting the hard floor.
Voyager, Tom Paris's quarters, 2356 hours:
Tom loved to look at the stars. From the helm, from the mess hall, from the observation windows, or from his quarters--it didn't matter where he was, he loved to look at them, to imagine what was out there waiting for him, beckoning him. But right now he didn't want to think about what was out there.
It had been okay at the helm while he was working, steering the ship and keeping himself occupied checking the monitors over and over. He could focus his mind on navigation. But here in his quarters seeing the stars out his window just reminded him that she was out
He preferred to think of it that way, rather than face the fact that she wasn't really out there at all. Because she wasn't really B'Elanna anymore. She was Borg.
Every time he thought that, every time he envisioned her with tubes sticking out of her neck, with her hair gone and with that blank lifeless gaze on her face, his gut clenched. He tried not to think about it. Sometimes he managed to succeed at it for an entire three minutes. And he tried to console himself remembering that B'Elanna knew what was coming. She was ready for it. Prepared. She was strong. She could handle it.
If only he could handle it as well.
On the bridge he'd hoped right up until that very last second that he wouldn't hear the doctor's words, the ones they all knew were coming-- that the away team's lifesigns were destabilizing. He'd listened desperately for an unexpected transmission to break in, to hear Janeway's voice instead saying that they'd delivered the virus and could Voyager please beam them back aboard now (wouldn't B'Elanna
chastise him for all his anxiety then, and wouldn't he cherish every affectionate gibe she could manage to dish out). In his briefly concocted fantasy he'd conveniently ignored the triple-shielded Borg defenses, and the fact that Voyager could barely maintain its own defenses or position, and the sheer impossibility of the away team ever getting past the Borg drones to the central plexus. He'd *wanted* it to happen anyway.
So much for momentary self-delusion. Instead, everything had gone according to The Plan, and Voyager had moved away--limped away-- leaving the away team behind. And as Voyager had gotten completely clear, ignored by the Borg cube, Chakotay had uttered those horrible words, "Now we wait." Waiting was not Tom's strength, even under the best of circumstances. And under these circumstances it was already almost unbearable, despite the fact that not even six hours had passed yet.
So Tom concentrated on keeping his gaze averted from his window as he rummaged in his dresser for his blue sweatshirt, the one that matched the sweatpants he'd pulled on when he'd stepped out of the shower. After emergency repairs on the bridge had been completed, he'd stopped in the mess hall for a late dinner, where the mood had been somber, and almost everyone in the place had avoided meeting his eyes. He'd eaten quickly and with little appetite, and had fended off Harry's well-meaning offer of company. He'd preferred to retire to his quarters, wanting no more than some way to blank his mind and ease his tight muscles, thinking that maybe a shower would do it.
When he'd started pulling off his uniform her scent had hit him, clinging still to his clothing and his skin. It had given him one of those jolts that was half-pain and half-pleasure, a reminder that she was gone, but in some ways still here. He'd hesitated for just a brief moment before tossing his uniform into the refresher and stepping into shower, and letting the hot spray of water wash off the rest of her scent. He could smell B'Elanna everywhere on the ship anyway; in engineering, in the mess hall, in the shuttlebay, in the observation lounge, in Jeffries tube 12A where they'd once had an assignation, and certainly in his own quarters. The doctor would disagree that Tom's very human sense of smell was really that sensitive, and maybe some of it was only memories mixed with imagination, but it was still true.
He needed no memory or imagination to smell her on his sheets though. She'd slept there last night. He looked at the bed that he'd only haphazardly made this morning. It was nearly midnight, ship's time, it had been a horrendous day, and he should be trying to get some sleep. But he knew that wasn't going to happen. He couldn't crawl between those sheets right now, with her scent surrounding him. He wasn't ready to face that just yet. Maybe tomorrow night he'd take solace in it. Or the next night. Or however many nights it might be until this would all be over. If it would be--
He squashed that thought and shut down the direction where his mind had wandered. He looked away from the bed as he pulled his blue sweatshirt over his head, and his eyes caught the red flash of the message indicator on his desktop console. He'd noticed it blinking when he'd first come in, and had deliberately walked right past it. He didn't know if he was ready for that either, because he knew the message was from B'Elanna. He wasn't sure how she'd managed to leave it, but she'd managed, probably while he was in her bathroom readjusting his clothing right before they'd gone to prepare the Delta Flyer for its final mission.
He walked slowly toward the desk, wondering what message she could have left for him. He was afraid it was something like, "If I don't come back..."
He shook his head. B'Elanna didn't think like that. She had all expectation that this mission would be a success, and she'd never concede the worst possibility. He sat down in his desk chair, and pressed the message retrieval button before he could change his mind.
B'Elanna's face didn't appear on the screen, and her voice didn't puncture the silence of his quarters, which was probably a good thing for his shaky peace of mind at the moment. Instead a handful of words appeared on his monitor.
*I left something for you in file BT1643A. Love, B.*
Tom stared at the screen, bemused, and a small, genuine smile lifted his lips and lit his face for a brief moment. B'Elanna always signed off her written messages--which tended to be brief and to the point--with the initial B, as if using her whole name was a waste of time and energy. But he couldn't recall her ever prefacing that initial with the word "Love" before, no matter how personal the message. He liked it. A lot.
"Computer, display file BT1643A."
The computer complied, and a diagram appeared on the screen. A diagram of the Delta Flyer, with several modifications that B'Elanna and he had discussed a month or so ago, when he'd told her he was thinking about refitting the Flyer. She had changed the file
designation, and at the top of the diagram, where he'd included the name "Delta Flyer" in the same bold red script he'd used on the shuttle itself, the wording was slightly changed. It now read "Delta Flyer II."
At the bottom of the screen B'Elanna had also added a postscript, the words in small black letters. *We'll finish the redesign together when I get back. Don't even think I'll let you do it without me.*
Tom stared at the screen for several moments, then he closed the file. That was it, the entirety of the message she'd left for him. His shoulders that had been hunched as he'd leaned over his monitor relaxed a little as he focused on the pertinent words in her message.
*When I get back.*
Whether she helped rebuild the Delta Flyer, or just contributed to the design--hell, whether the Delta Flyer was even rebuilt--that was all secondary to him. And he had no interest in doing anything until she got back. It might be days, or even weeks, but she would be back. He clung to the conviction. However long it took, she *would* be back.
Tom stood restlessly. Though he felt surprisingly soothed by
B'Elanna's message, he knew that he still wasn't going to be able to sleep. He doubted he could concentrate on a book, and nothing as mindless as the television was going to distract him. He needed to do something purposeful to occupy his mind right now, he decided, and he strode out of his quarters without looking back.
Five minutes later Tom entered sickbay, catching the doctor by
"Mister Paris?" the doctor said with disbelief as he looked up from the monitor he was currently studying.
"Hey, Doc," Tom greeted him easily.
"What can I do for you, Mister Paris? You don't appear ill, and I assume you're not here to volunteer for an extra duty shift."
Despite the doctor's acerbic tone, his gaze on Tom was curious. Tom stopped next to the doctor and glanced at the monitor. His heart skipped a small beat when he saw the data displayed there, but he kept his voice level. "I'm not very tired tonight. Believe it or not, I thought maybe you could use my help with..." he looked back at the doctor. "Something."
The doctor's gaze was suddenly sympathetic. "I can give you something to help you sleep--"
"No, it's okay," Tom said quickly. "I know it's not a good idea to rely on sedatives to sleep." And he also knew from experience that they didn't always stop the dreams.
"To rely on them, no, but under the circumstances--" The doctor paused, and then continued, his voice mildly admonishing. "Using them on occasion is not detrimental to your health, Mister Paris."
Tom shrugged. "Maybe another time, if I can't sleep. Right now I would rather pass the time doing something useful." His glance strayed involuntarily to the monitor again. "What are you working on?"
The doctor saw the direction of Tom's gaze and turned off the monitor. "I was just finished with that--"
"I recognize the virus, Doc," Tom said quietly. And the fact that the doctor was running various scenarios on how the virus might react, or how it might mutate, and how it could either succeed or fail depending on a dozen different variables.
The doctor nodded, looking uncomfortable. "It's an untested process, so it's best to be aware of any possible deviations. Unlikely as those are," he added quickly, stressing the word "unlikely." "I have no doubt the virus will work exactly as intended."
Despite the doctor's arrogantly confident tone now, Tom had already heard the doctor express his doubts in engineering, and at the senior officers briefing. He also knew that the doctor was trying to reassure him, even comfort him, as amazing as that seemed. Tom couldn't very well do anything but go along with it. "I'm sure it will, Doc," he said heartily. "And they'll all be back in no time."
His cheerful tone was clearly overkill, because the doctor gave him a sharp look. Tom hastily returned to the original subject. "In the meantime there must be something I can help you with here."
The doctor took some moments to answer, as if he was considering several options. Then he picked up a padd and when he spoke again his voice was almost gentle. "I am about to catalogue the drug inventory to verify that I have everything I need in sufficient supply to quickly and effectively reverse the assimilations when the captain, Commander Tuvok, and Lieutenant Torres return."
"Oh." Tom's voice sounded a little faint even to himself. He wasn't sure he wanted to think about the specifics of that procedure right now. On the other hand, maybe that was exactly why he'd made a beeline for sickbay, even if he hadn't realized it. He caught the doctor's watchful gaze on him and he picked up the other padd lying on the desk. "Let's go."
Tom was already halfway across the room when the doctor spoke.
Tom's eyebrows rose at the doctor's form of address. Though he'd pretty much lost any pleasure in his reinstatement right now, he had to suppress his inadvertent smile at the doctor's recognition of his restored rank before he turned around.
The doctor approached Tom, his eyes narrowed and his expression stern. "As your doctor I will not condone a lack of sleep indefinitely. And a reliance on stimulants--via coffee or pharmaceutical means--is far less beneficial for your body than the occasional sedative."
Tom nodded. "I know, Doc. I'm sure tomorrow night I'll be able to..." No, he wasn't really sure of that. He said instead, "If I can't sleep I'll come to you, and I'll take whatever you prescribe."
The doctor accepted Tom's unusually meek reply with equanimity, and waved imperiously in the direction of the drug supply room. "After you then, Lieutenant," he said. "There is a lot of work to do before they return, and since you obviously intend to be underfoot, you might as well start making yourself, as you say--useful."
Tom intended to do exactly that. And, if he could help it, he intended to be right here waiting for B'Elanna when she got back.
the end (for now)