Title: Passing Time
Author: Julie Evans
Codes: P, P/T, Marika
Date posted: 01/10/00 (reposted 01/11/00)
Summary: The last night before Voyager leaves the Markonian space station Tom finds himself with unwanted time on his hands. A coda to "Survival Instinct."
Disclaimer: Star Trek and its characters are the property of
Viacom/Paramount. I am only borrowing them for fun, not profit.
Notes: I wrote most of this story in rough form very shortly after "Survival Instinct" aired. After "Barge of the Dead," I once again felt unsure where Tom and B'Elanna's relationship stood, since every time their relationship seems to hit a comfortable stride (end of fifth season) something happens that implies there is still plenty of emotional distance separating them. I wasn't sure where to go with this story, so it's languished on my hard drive since then, until I decided I'd better either finish it or delete it. I decided to finish it, however it turned out. And that is why it's coming so long after the episode aired. Okay to archive to the ASC, PTC Archive, PTF Archive, and the BLTS. All others please ask the author for permission.
by Julie Evans
B'Elanna Torres walked across the bedroom of her quarters, the satiny sleeveless dress she was wearing clinging to every curve of her body, from where the scooped neck dipped at the shadowy hollow of her breasts to where it ended two centimeters above her knees. The dress was teal, or maybe aquamarine, or some other shade of blue and green. The color of the shimmery material transmuted, rippling from shade to shade in the soft light as she moved. One fact was incontrovertible. The dress hugged her small lithe body in all the right places.
"It fits perfectly," Tom said, feeling a little dry-mouthed at the sight of her, which was nothing unusual.
B'Elanna shimmied a little in front of him, and grazed her hands down her hips, smoothing the dress. She smiled. "It does fit rather well, doesn't it?"
"Hmmm," Tom murmured as he looked at her appreciatively from his perch on the edge of her bed, where he'd been waiting for several minutes for her to come out of her bathroom in the new dress.
"Definitely worth the wait," he added, grinning at her. "Too bad we can't go to the station, but I can find something in the holodeck files that will be a decent replacement."
B'Elanna cocked an eyebrow as she lifted her foot behind her and adjusted the strap on her high-heeled black sandals. Then she
straightened and looked at him again. Tom really liked the way she could move in and out of a near-contortionist position so gracefully. "I planned on dinner and dancing on the station tonight, Tom."
"I know." Tom gave her a sincerely apologetic look. "I didn't expect to lose the rest of my shore leave." The confinement to quarters had lasted only a few hours, but Captain Janeway had informed Harry and him that, under the circumstances, they weren't welcome back on the station during the rest of Voyager's stay. "I'm sorry about the change in plans."
B'Elanna kicked her foot up on the bed. "I haven't lost my shore leave privileges," she said, as she ran one hand slowly up her leg, smoothing the sheer black silk stockings she was wearing.
Tom watched her hand caressing her shapely calf and thigh. "I know..." Then his eyes darted up to her face as he realized what she was implying. "You're not thinking about going to the station without me?"
B'Elanna slung her foot back off the bed, missing gouging him in the thigh with her heel by mere millimeters. She shook her head. "No, Tom. I *am* going to the station without you."
Tom's mouth fell open. "B'Elanna..."
"I've really been looking forward to getting shore leave tonight," she said, running her fingers through her hair, and mussing the waves a little. "I *planned* on going with you--"
"I know that was the plan--"
"But you got in a fight and the captain revoked your shore leave privileges," B'Elanna finished for him. "I know. And now you expect me to stay here with you."
Tom looked confused. "Well...yes."
B'Elanna moved over to her bedside table. "I've spent most of the past few days giving various alien races tours of engineering. I've barely seen the station."
"It's just like any other station, B'Elanna," Tom said quickly. "It's nothing special. I was down there several times--"
"Exactly." B'Elanna pulled a hair comb out of her drawer. "All I've seen is the warehouse level where Joe and I picked up spare parts, and the shopping promenade where you and I spent..." she closed the drawer with a small thump and looked at him. "What...two hours, of which you spent an hour and a half at one kiosk bartering for a bunch of personal vid-sim attachments?"
"I also got you that dress," Tom said, a little sullenly.
B'Elanna looked down at the dress and smiled. "And I like it." She leaned over and kissed his cheek. "Thanks. But my point is, I've willingly spent most of my time on Voyager this week, since I knew I would get to spend the last evening on the station." She pushed her hair up off one side of her face and fastened it back with the comb. "Just because you got in a fight and lost your shore leave privileges doesn't mean I should have to give up mine."
"Harry and I won the fight," Tom reminded her smugly. That should count for something.
She flashed him a quick, equally smug smile. "I know." She said it as if she'd expected nothing less. She shook her head once, to see if the comb was secure. "Which is why I'm not *that* mad at you. But it doesn't mean you deserve a reward either."
Tom had run out of arguments. Maybe she had a point, but that didn't make him feel any happier about it. He sighed heavily.
"And don't pout about it," B'Elanna admonished him. "It won't work." She dropped her hands to her hips and stood in front of him. "So how do I look? Okay?"
Tom wondered whether she would still leave if he said "no." He wiggled two fingers, motioning her to him instead. She leaned over and he readjusted the comb slightly, tucking a loose strand of hair back into the tiny gold teeth. Not that she didn't look fine with that one silky strand of hair lying against her cheek. It made her look even more appealing in fact, something he wasn't exactly in favor of under the circumstances. But he couldn't do anything about the general state of her appearance right now, except admit it. "You look beautiful," he said softly, and a little despondently.
She smiled again and pressed a brief kiss against his lips, apparently his consolation prize. "Thanks."
A trace of her perfume wafted across his nostrils as she moved past him. "Who are you going to the station with?" he asked, trying to resolve himself to her departure without him, and hoping she wasn't going with certain of her Engineering cohorts, specifically those who were male.
"With Megan and Jenny, Sue Nicoletti, Janice...and some others," B'Elanna said over her shoulder as she walked toward her closet.
"You mean you're going out with the girls, B'Elanna?"
Apparently he'd sounded a touch sarcastic, because B'Elanna turned around and speared him with a sharp look. "Yeah, Paris. I am."
"Okay," Tom said mildly, backtracking. "So, where are you going?"
"To see some sort of art performance at one of the nightclubs," B'Elanna said amiably, her surprisingly mellow mood immediately back in place. She'd turned to the closet and was pulling out her black silk wrap. "It's a place Jenny and Sue picked out."
"An 'art performance' in a nightclub?" Tom asked incredulously. What sort of "art performance" took place in a nightclub? Unless it was some kind of exotic dancing... "B'Elanna--"
"Jenny said it involves wrestling in a large basin of paint, or something like that," B'Elanna said, draping the shawl over her shoulders.
"Wrestling in paint?" Tom relaxed a little. It sounded ludicrous, but it was better than his first thought.
"I guess the 'art' part has to do with how they spread the paint on each other," B'Elanna added.
Tom snorted. "I'd think that would wreak hell on their clothing," he said dryly.
"No doubt," B'Elanna agreed. "I guess that's why they do it naked."
Tom jerked up into a straighter position. "Naked?"
B'Elanna was standing in front of him again and she smirked at him. "Don't worry, Tom. You won't be missing anything. They're all male."
"Male?" Tom said, his voice almost a squeak. Great, B'Elanna was going to go watch naked males wrestle and paint each other. Now he felt *so* much better. "Is that all they do?"
This time her only reaction to his sarcasm was a brief shrug, though her lips quirked a little. "From what I've heard. Though Jenny said they do have an audience participation segment."
Tom had a sudden vision of B'Elanna wrestling, naked, in front of a cheering crowd, with paint all over her. He was appalled at the thought...and also aroused. The vision faded and he caught her looking at him with a carefully deadpan expression. Dammit, she was playing with him now. He glared at her, but he asked anyway. "You're not planning to..."
She gave him an innocent smile. "Since this is the male show, only the men in the audience can participate, not the women."
"You're an evil woman," Tom muttered crossly.
B'Elanna grinned unrepentantly. "I know." She dipped two fingers into the low neckline of her dress, and pulled a small narrow tube of lipstick from the shadowy valley between her breasts. He knew that method of storage was standard for her when she went out, since she balked at carrying any kind of "bag," unless it was filled with tools. And lipstick was the only makeup she ever wore. Still, he sure hoped she wasn't going to use that particular maneuver in front of anyone else tonight.
"Look at it this way, Tom," B'Elanna said. She paused a moment, long enough to trace the deep red lipstick over her lower lip. "Think of it as a scientific study, or an information-gathering mission." She outlined her upper lip carefully. It still amazed him to watch her do that so perfectly without a mirror. "If it turns out to be an...intriguing past-time, we can always recreate it on the holodeck." She pressed her lips together, smacked them lightly, and grinned wickedly. "Just you and me."
That was a titillating thought--and he was really annoyed that she'd chosen to wear that particular lipstick. He loved that one. It made her lips look...wet. "I guess I don't have much choice," he groused.
"True," B'Elanna agreed. "And I've got to go. I’m supposed to meet everyone in the transporter room in five minutes. If Seven shows up on time."
"Seven is going?" Tom asked, astounded.
B'Elanna shrugged. "Maybe. Megan told Seven it was a social experience she shouldn't miss." She snorted. "I don't know about that, but the captain encouraged Seven to come along, though I think she just wants Seven to think about something else besides that whole...about everything that's happened the last couple of days."
Tom was surprised that B'Elanna sounded almost sympathetic, or at least there was no condemnation of Seven in her voice. Everyone knew about the ex-drones that Seven been interlinked with by now, and what had happened to them because of that link Seven had forced between them. Though some of the crew thought Seven had gotten a well-deserved comeuppance, others felt sympathetic that her past had come back to haunt her. There weren't many on this crew who could say they didn't have a moment or two that still haunted them in their own pasts. He frowned, then purposely refocused his attention. "Wait a minute. Did you say that the captain is going too?"
"Last I heard she was considering it," B'Elanna said. She reached over and ruffled his hair while he was still trying to comprehend the idea of Captain Janeway watching a bunch of naked men wrestle and paint each other. "See you later."
"Yeah," Tom muttered. He sat on the bed looking woeful and dejected as she walked to the door, but she didn't even look back. Finally, he gave up. "B'Elanna..."
She turned around at the door, giving him a questioning look.
"Have a good time."
He'd managed to say it with a modest amount of actual sincerity, if with a mournful edge, and she smiled. "I will."
She slipped out the door, but a moment later she stuck her head back in. "Hey, if you're still around when I get back, maybe you can help me take this dress...off."
He couldn't help returning her suggestive smile. She winked at him, and disappeared into the corridor. His smile faded slowly as the door closed and he thought of the evening in front of him, with no B'Elanna and no shore leave. Harry wasn't even available since he'd volunteered for duty tonight.
He sighed heavily. This wasn't how he'd planned it. But it wouldn't do him much good to sit in B'Elanna's empty quarters all evening. It was just a reminder that she wasn't here. As he started to stand, his commbadge beeped.
"Ah, Mister Paris."
Tom groaned at the sound of the doctor's annoyingly cheerful voice. "I understand that you're one of the few who will not be joining in any of the various shore leave excursions this evening. A pity..." the doctor's voice held not the tiniest trace of sympathy, "but I could use you in sickbay for a couple of hours."
"I'm not on duty, Doc--"
"You have some better way to pass the time, Mister Paris?"
Tom could hear the sarcasm in the doctor's tone. "Maybe."
"Oh, really?" the doctor asked, clearly skeptical.
So he didn't have anything better to do. In fact, sparring with the doctor would probably keep his mind off what he was missing tonight.
"Don’t forget that you still need eight more hours of sickbay duty this week to meet your shift requirement, Mister Paris," the doctor reminded him.
There was that too. Tom sighed again. "Sure, why not, Doc?" he said, surrendering to the inevitable. "I'll be there in five minutes."
Tom walked into the mess hall a little over two hours later. He'd completed updating all the charts the doctor had assigned him, and had decided two hours was as long as he could take sickbay for the moment. He'd made a hasty retreat despite the doctor's assurance that there were no end of additional tasks he could find for Tom to do. Hanging aimlessly around the mess hall for the next few hours had seemed the more attractive option to the doctor's continued acerbic company.
The mess hall was nearly deserted. The captain had closed off Voyager to any more visiting aliens in preparation for departure the next morning, an action that must have sent Tuvok into the Vulcan equivalent of ecstatics after his continual protests about security breaches. He no doubt took the announcement with his usual expressionless equanimity, but Tom was sure that, deep inside, Tuvok was doing backflips across the bridge.
Tom noticed Neelix was nowhere in sight as he helped himself to a cup of coffee. Then he remembered that Neelix was babysitting Naomi tonight while Sam Wildman was on shore leave. In fact, of the half dozen or so crewmembers in the mess hall, he noticed that none were female. He wondered briefly if the entire female crew complement had gone on shore leave together to see that so-called "art performance."
Tom snorted disgustedly, and took his cup of coffee to an empty table. He waved in acknowledgement to a small group gathered several tables over, but he didn't feel like joining in their card game. He felt like moping.
He'd barely taken two sips of his coffee before his determined wallow in self-pity was cut short.
"Good evening, Tom."
Tom looked up to see Chakotay standing by his table, along with the Bajoran woman who had been part of Seven's Collective unimatrix. Marika Wilkara.
"I don't know if you've met Marika…"
Tom shook his head at Chakotay's inquiry and stood up, holding out his hand.
"Marika, this is Tom Paris, our chief helm officer," Chakotay said.
Marika accepted Tom's hand and shook it firmly. Her smile was
perfunctory. "Nice to meet you, Mister Paris."
"And you, Marika," Tom said sincerely. He noticed that she hadn't added, "I've heard a lot about you," a standard greeting he'd gotten all his life, for one reason or another. But then, she'd been on Voyager less than a day. Unfortunately, he *had* already heard a lot about her. He'd also updated her sickbay file not an hour ago.
"Tom, Marika is interested in creating a holoprogram, and she needs some assistance. I told her you are also our resident holoprogramming expert. Since you aren't busy tonight after all, I thought you might be willing to assist her."
Tom caught a knowing glint in Chakotay's eyes. He turned to Marika and offered her an openly blase grin. "What the commander means is that I was involved in a fight on the station, and now I'm persona non grata there."
Marika looked mildly amused. "I heard something about that. I also heard that you and your fellow officer won."
Tom's grin was deliberately smug. "Of course."
"Of course," Chakotay repeated dryly. "And since you are at loose ends tonight, Tom, with B'Elanna otherwise occupied..."
Tom was sure there was smirk lurking under Chakotay's placid
expression. "Right. I heard the captain is also...otherwise occupied..."
Chakotay's expression remained bland. "Yes, attending some sort of art...exhibition, I believe. The same one B'Elanna is attending, if I'm not mistaken."
Tom could tell from Chakotay's tone that the first officer knew exactly what was involved in the "exhibition," as he termed it, and that he found it far more amusing than Tom did. Tom gave him a disgusted look.
"I hate to interrupt whatever's going on between you two," Marika said, glancing from one to the other. "Especially since you seem to be enjoying yourselves..."
Her tone was sardonic, and Tom and Chakotay looked narrowly at each other.
"And I am sorry to take up your time, Mr. Paris," Marika continued, her voice genuinely apologetic now. "I did program the holodeck on the Excalibur occasionally, but that was…a long time ago. Voyager is much more advanced ship. I'm sure I could figure out the finer details of your holoprogramming, but it would take me a while, and, quite honestly, I don't have the time."
There was a bit of sadness in her voice, perhaps even a touch of bitterness, but mostly Tom heard simple resignation. He looked at Chakotay again, feeling suddenly very petty that they'd been busy taking sarcastic potshots each other. Chakotay frowned a little too, and Tom looked back at Marika. "I'd be more than happy to help you," he said solemnly.
"Thank you, Mister Paris," Marika said. "I really appreciate this."
"You're welcome. And please, call me Tom." Tom smiled and gestured toward the door. "Shall we go?"
Marika nodded, and Chakotay clapped a friendly hand on Tom's
shoulder. "I reserved Holodeck Two for the rest of the evening under Marika's name, Tom. I'll be on the bridge if you need anything."
"That should do it," Tom said, nearly an hour later, with a definite trace of satisfaction in his voice. He looked at Marika, who was staring intently at the grassy hills that stretched in front of them. Small stands of trees dotted the landscape here and there, and not twenty meters to their right was a small stream, lined with the same twisted-trunk trees. The sky above was a cloudless bright blue, and the occasional screech of a bird could be heard over the soft rush of water from the stream. Several dozen meters in front of them, down a small incline, stood a modest house of local dark wood. It was the house that had commanded the larger part of Tom's programming expertise, and that now held Marika's attention.
"It looks so...real," Marika said softly. "The wood is even weathered just like it was the last time I saw it..." She paused and turned to Tom, smiling a little tremulously. "If I didn't know better, I'd think I was actually here...uh, there. I see where you got your holoprogramming reputation."
"Thanks," Tom said lightly. She turned away again, still smiling. The spot obviously brought back good memories, though her smile was not surprisingly a little wistful.
"I guess you think this is all a little strange," she said, turning to look at him again.
"What?" Tom asked. "Wanting to see your home?"
"I do know it's just a holoprogram," she said softly, as if he might doubt her grasp on reality.
"Half the holoprograms in the database are the same," Tom told her. "Most of the crew have recreated parts of their home planet." He nodded toward the house. "Sometimes even their own homes. There's nothing wrong with being a little homesick." The only difference he knew was that the rest of the crew expected to see the real thing again one day. For Marika that wasn't an option. He spoke again, as much to alleviate his own discomfort as to impart information. "There are some general Bajoran settings in the database that Gerron and Tabor have programmed. You're welcome to visit them also."
"Thank you," Marika said. "But this is what I really wanted to see. It's where I grew up." She looked toward the stream and pointed at a small copse of densely grown trees. "That's where my brother and I used to flush furbats out of the tree branches," she said, her voice low and her gaze distant with memory. "And we used to swim in the stream in the summer. It could get pretty hot and here but the stream was always cool..."
She paused, looking at the house again, then turned to Tom and smiled ruefully. "I don't mean to make it sound idyllic." Her mouth twisted into a grimace. "After all, Bajor was occupied by the Cardassians back then, but this area was pretty remote. We were affected, though not as much as others. We had to turn over part of our crops, and when a season was unproductive we were sometimes hungry. But we had a lot of happy moments even so. We had each other, and that was a lot." She looked at the house and smiled briefly, and then her smile wavered. "My husband and I hoped one day to come back and build a house of our own nearby, once the Cardassians were gone."
Marika shook her head, obviously dismissing that thought, and looked at him. "I'm sorry, Mis--Tom. I must be boring you with all my nostalgia."
Tom shook his head. "I'm not bored," he said honestly. He felt sorry for all she'd lost, but he wasn't bored.
"I know it's changed since I last saw it. Especially since the Cardassians were finally thrown off Bajor." There was a definite note of satisfaction in her voice, and Tom remembered that the Cardassians had still occupied Bajor when she'd been on the Excalibur. She could only have found out since Voyager had arrived that the Cardassians had left Bajor over eight years ago now.
"Anyway, thank you for all this," Marika said. "I just wanted to visit it one more time."
"I can arrange for you to have more time here," Tom said. "Holodeck schedules can get a little tight, but I do know a trick or two to getting around that problem."
Marika raised an eyebrow at his self-confident tone. "Are you trying to tell me you're a devious man, or just amazingly resourceful?" she asked sardonically, though her voice held no judgment.
Tom grinned. "I guess you could put it either way, depending on your perspective." In truth, he doubted he'd need to cajole anyone into a trade, or hedge his bets to win extra rations in this case. Under the circumstances, no one would protest, and Chakotay could arrange it in a minute. "Really, it's not a problem to get you some extra time. Just give me the word."
Her expression stiffened a little at his assurance. "Thanks, anyway, but I don't need any special favors," she said shortly, as if she didn't appreciate the thought of someone doing something above and beyond for her. For just a moment she reminded him of B'Elanna. "Besides, I really want to spend most of my time *on* Voyager. I miss shipboard life almost as much as I miss Bajor."
"Well, there's plenty of shipboard life available on Voyager," Tom said easily. "I'm sure we can arrange some more tours for you--"
"I've already had plenty of tours," Marika said dismissively. "I'm not here as a guest. I want to contribute something, to be useful while I'm here."
"That can be arranged too," Tom said, shrugging off his own discomfort at the way her words made it sound like she was just visiting briefly before going on her way. "Believe me, there's always plenty of work to be done around here."
"I was an engineer on the Excalibur," she told him, though he already knew that from her file. "I got the twenty minute tour of your engineering section, and your engines are amazing." Her eyes lit up in the way an engineer's invariably did whenever the subject of engines came up, a reaction Tom was intimately familiar with. "The design is so much more advanced than the Excalibur's engines. It must take a lot of work, and talent, to keep them in such good shape out here."
"Well, we do have a very dedicated chief of engineering," Tom said. His lips quirked. "And if you want to get your hands dirty in engineering, I do have some sway with the chief..."
"That would be Lieutenant Torres?" Marika asked, though her question was clearly rhetorical. "I met her. She is quite intense, isn't she? And obviously talented. Not to mention very beautiful." She gave Tom a shrewd look. "I guess you're already very familiar with those particular qualities..."
Tom grinned at her droll tone. "I bet that was the first piece of gossip you heard."
Marika gave him a knowing look. "I remember how small a ship can be, and this a very small ship, isn't it?"
"Yes, it is," Tom agreed. "What you don't already know about everyone's personal business, you'll find out pretty quickly. I'd say in another day or two, you'll know every torrid detail."
Marika's spontaneous, soft laugh was genuinely amused. It was nice to hear. "I'm sure I will." The mirth in her voice faded, but a trace of a smile remained. She glanced at the holographic hills around them, and swept her arm, indicating the vista. "This is just an attack of nostalgia. What I'd really like is to be part of a Starfleet crew again, and to feel like this ship is my home in the time I have left."
"Then we'll make sure you do," Tom said softly.
They were silent for several moments, both staring thoughtfully at the landscape in front of them. Finally Tom asked her the question that had been nagging at him for the past hour. "So Seven made the right decision for you?"
Marika's expression froze, and Tom realized the ambiguity of his question. "I meant yesterday, not--"
"I know what you meant." She dismissed his gaff with a small smile, but it was forced and cool. "The answer is yes. Rejoining the Borg Collective might have extended my existence, but that's all. It's not being alive. How can you be alive when you're not even aware of your own existence?" she asked brusquely, her voice tight with controlled emotion. She shook her head vehemently. "No, I'd rather *live* for a few weeks, than be an unaware automation for the next fifty or even a hundred years."
"When you put it that way, I guess I can understand," Tom said sympathetically.
Marika laughed again, but this time the sound was harsh and lacking any humor. "No, you can't."
Tom flinched a little at her derisive tone. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean it like that--"
"I know, and it's okay, Tom," Marika interrupted him softly, obviously recognizing his chagrin. "I'm glad you can't really understand. I wouldn't wish that on my worst enemy--" she paused. "Well, that's not true. There might be a few Cardassians who deserve to be assimilated," she admitted, with a fleeting, ruthless smile. "But I would like to consider you a friend, so I'm glad you don't have a clue what I'm talking about."
Tom accepted that, because he really didn't have a clue, and he was glad he didn't. "I'd like to consider you a friend too, Marika," he said. "So I hope you don't mind if I speak honestly. I get the feeling it might help you to talk to someone who does 'have a clue.'"
Marika's eyebrow rose, and then her lips tightened. "Don't tell me...Seven?" She shook her head sharply and quickly before Tom could answer. "No, thanks."
"I know she feels badly about what happened--"
"I'm sure she does," Marika said curtly. "And I know she was different back then, when she forced the interlink on us. She was very young when she was assimilated. She didn't understand her emerging
individuality and it scared her. I know it all." Her voice was weary, as if she'd repeated the same words dozens of times to herself. "I even told Seven that I...understand. I also told her that I can't forgive her for what she took from me." She crossed her arms and hugged herself a little, looking away from Tom. "Maybe that was harsh, but I can't change how I feel."
"You're entitled to your feelings," Tom said softly. He couldn't really imagine what it was like for her to have lost so much of her life to the Collective--not to mention her husband and her friends from the Excalibur--and then to finally get it back with a death sentence attached. If it had happened to him, he didn't know how he'd react. He had the feeling that he wouldn't be particularly forgiving either.
"Quite honestly, it's very hard for me to know that Seven is walking around this ship, enjoying what she denied us years ago--her
individuality. And knowing that she still has all the time in the universe to keep enjoying it." Marika's mouth twisted, and she shook her head. "I really don't want to ever talk to her again if I can avoid it."
"I'm not sure how much Seven actually *enjoys* her individuality," Tom pointed out wryly because, ironically, it was true. After two years on Voyager Seven still held herself apart from everyone. He knew Seven appreciated her individuality in some sense, and would never want to return to the Borg, but whether she actually enjoyed her life here, that he couldn't really tell. "But you can avoid her fairly easily if that's what you want," he added. He was pretty sure Seven was not going to seek Marika out either if she could help it. He felt suddenly sorry for both of them.
"I plan to do just that," Marika said bluntly. She gave Tom an almost defiant look. "I know I should be more forgiving, and I should be handling all this better, but I can't help who I am."
Tom stared at her, then shook his head. "Under the circumstances I think you're handling this all very well."
Marika shook her head. "Not really. At least not at first. When the doctor woke us and told us the interlink was broken, I was ecstatic. A minute later he told us the damage that had been done, and that we probably wouldn't live for more than a month. Then I was furious. I wanted to attack him right then and there, and find Seven and kill her. I could barely contain my anger. I still felt very bitter when I said goodbye to P'Chan and Danat, and when I talked to Seven. As soon as Commander Chakotay assigned me quarters, I went straight there, threw myself on the bed, and cried for two hours straight."
She was silent for a moment, and Tom felt a pang of sympathy for her. Then she shook her head. "Finally I realized what I was doing. I don't have time to waste on self-pity or anger or regret. Literally. All that has to take a backseat to…simply living in whatever time I have left."
Tom wanted to offer her some comfort, some hope, so, though he didn't believe it, he said it anyway. "I still think the doctor might be able to come up with something that will reverse--"
"He won't," Marika interrupted him softly. Then she shrugged. "At least the deterioration will be swift, a matter of hours, and then it will be over. The doctor said until that point I'll barely feel the effects. That's one positive aspect."
The only positive aspect, she might have said, and not much of one at that. Tom wished there were some real assurances he could give her, but he knew they wouldn't be true, and she knew it too. There was a rustling noise behind them, and Marika looked over her shoulder, her attention diverted. He followed her gaze almost gratefully. Something darted out of the upper branches of the trees by the stream.
"Look," Marika said, pointing at the small, furry creature lifting into the air, her voice genuinely delighted. "A furbat!"
Tom watched the graceful animal lift into the sky on lightly veined, gossamer-like wings, its sleek gold fur shining in the simulated sunlight.
"I think I will stay here a little while," Marika said softly, her rapt gaze on the furbat.
Tom took that as his cue. "I'll leave you here then. Take as long as you want."
"Thanks," she murmured distractedly, not looking at him.
"If there's anything else I can do for you, just let me know."
Marika turned then and looked closely at Tom. Her gaze held his intently for several moments, and an oddly appraising look crossed her face. When she spoke her voice was soft and reflective. "While I was a Borg drone I had no individual thoughts, or desires, as you probably know. It was as if that part of my life had never existed. After I escaped from the Collective, I was still linked with P'Chan and Danat, and I had no privacy. Even though I began to feel certain…natural desires return, I couldn't act on them with two other minds always living inside me, hearing and seeing everything I did."
Tom had a weird feeling about where this was going, and he tried not to look as disconcerted as he felt.
Marika clearly saw his uneasiness and her lips curved into a smile. "Yes, what I'm saying is that I haven't had sex in well over ten years. Not since my husband..." She paused, and her lips tightened for a moment. "Well, not in all that time. And I enjoyed sex. Quite honestly, I wouldn't mind experiencing it one last time." She gave him a frankly bold look. "The truth is, if you were available, Tom, I might just proposition you right now."
Tom was literally speechless for a moment, and he could feel himself blushing. He wasn't sure if there was a hint of an actual question in her voice, or if she was even expecting an answer. "I don't know what to say. It's not that I wouldn't...or that I don't..."
Marika laughed lightly. "All you have to say is that you're flattered, Tom. It was just a compliment. I said I *would* proposition you, not that I *am* propositioning you."
"I'm flattered," Tom managed. "Thank you," he added, not sure if he was thanking her for the compliment or for the fact that she wasn't really propositioning him.
She was still smiling, a little slyly now. "By the way, you blush quite charmingly."
"Thanks," Tom muttered under his breath, grateful that he could feel the heat in his cheeks receding. He couldn't remember the last time he'd been so flustered by a sexual proposition. Maybe because he'd rarely refused even a subtle hint at one in his past. A few years ago he would have accepted Marika's proposition in a second and assumed he was giving her as good a quick thrill as she was likely to get, and it might have been true. He was also unsettled because, if it wasn't for B'Elanna, he might well be tempted by Marika's proposition, for different reasons entirely now, not the least of which was that Marika reminded him quite a bit of B'Elanna. Despite those kinds of conjectural thoughts, as things stood for him now there was no real question at all in his mind or in his heart. "Under different circumstances, I might have accepted your proposition," Tom told her softly but unequivocally.
Marika smiled, hearing clearly what he didn't say. "Thank *you* for that compliment, Tom. And I'll take your gallant rejection as a testament to your character, and your feelings for Lieutenant Torres."
Tom nodded, and glad that was over, he spoke again, without thinking. "You know, there are still quite a few unattached men on Voyager--" He stopped abruptly, realizing what could be implied from his words.
"Lord, did I make it sound like I was desperate?" she asked lightly, sounding amused rather than insulted.
Tom shook his head. "No, you didn't. I just meant...they are all nice guys."
"Nice guys? The kind who might want more than just a quick meaningless roll between the sheets?" Marika asked softly. "That's too bad," she said lightly, her smile wry. "Because it's really not in the cards for me to offer anything more."
Tom gave her a rueful look. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have even brought it up."
"I'm the one who brought it up, Tom, so I apologize." She smiled again, and waved her hand. "And I've delayed you long enough. You must have something better to do than baby-sit me on your holodeck."
Tom shook his head. "You already heard that I was left high and dry tonight. With B'Elanna gone it's not like I had anything more interesting to do to pass the time."
"Pass the time?" Marika asked. She shook her head, and gave him a wry smile. "Passing time sounds like a rather wasteful activity. Though I guess it's better that you're just passing time here rather than with Lieutenant Torres."
Tom stared at Marika, thinking that was a strange comment. He
frowned. Of course he wasn't just passing time with B'Elanna. He wondered if she'd heard some gossip he wasn't aware of. He quickly decided that wasn't what she'd meant, and he didn't try to analyze it any further. "'Passing time' is just a human expression," he told her. "It doesn't necessarily mean anything. And this isn't a waste of time to me. I enjoy creating holoprograms. It's almost become my stock in trade." He gave her a wry, slightly mischeivous grin. "Well, besides piloting. And medical assisting, which the doctor likes to refer to as nursing." He grimaced. "But I just don't see myself as a nurse..."
She laughed, genuinely again, at his mildly distasteful expression. "It's clear you are a man of many talents, Tom Paris." She patted his arm and looked down the hill at her family's house. "You should go now. Wait for that beautiful chief engineer of yours. She'll be back." She looked back at him. "Speaking of passing time...it does. I know I'm not going to waste any of it." She turned her gaze to the house again. "Appreciate what you have while you have it, Tom. When the time's gone, it's gone."
There was several moments of silence after Marika's wistful comment. Then she turned and gave him one final thoughtful look, and a small smile. "I'll see you around the ship, Tom."
"See you around," Tom echoed, as he watched her walk slowly down the hill without glancing back. "Computer, arch."
The arch appeared and Tom stepped through, leaving Marika alone with her thoughts and memories.
Tom shook his head as something tickled his cheek.
Something tickled his nose this time, and there was a soft brush of warmth against his lips.
"Oh, sleeping beauty..."
Tom opened his eyes. B'Elanna's face was over his, her hair swinging lightly over his cheek, her lips nearly touching his. She pulled away slightly and his sleep-bleary eyes met her dancing ones. He was lying on her couch where he'd been reading, waiting for her, where he'd finally fallen asleep--and she was straddling him. "B'Elanna..."
"Yes, it's me."
Her tone was amused, and her breath that fanned across his face smelled faintly fruity, and faintly like alcohol. She was smiling, looking unusually cheerful. His eyebrows rose. "B'Elanna, what have you been drinking?"
She shrugged. "Some kind of fruit drink, or something."
Or something. "Are you drunk?" he asked lightly.
B'Elanna shook her head, her eyes bright. "Nope. Just feeling...happy."
Tipsy was probably more like it, he realized, as she grinned blithely at him again. He couldn't help but notice that her thighs were pressed tightly against his ribs, and that her dress had ridden up--way up--- exposing the entire length of her black silk stockings. He absently stroked one silk-clad thigh. "So, how was the performance?"
B'Elanna shifted a little under the caress of his hand. "It was...intriguing." She leaned down and pressed her lips against his. "I want to paint your body all over, Tom," she whispered against his slightly parted lips. "Your naked body." Then she giggled right into his mouth.
Good lord. Definitely tipsy. He wondered just what kind of "fruit drink" they'd served at that nightclub, and if she'd even realized what she was drinking. He had a feeling it had contained something quite a bit stronger than synthehol. He smiled at her. "That can be arranged. As long as I get to paint your naked body all over too."
"Okay." She sat up suddenly, as if she thought he meant now. She swayed just a bit.
He pulled her back down. "But maybe another night."
"Okay," she repeated agreeably. She pressed closer against him, and her lips started moving down his throat with obvious intent. He moaned as her actions pushed him deeper into the couch. Then he groaned.
Her head came up and she looked down at him, half-aroused, half- annoyed. "What?"
He shifted enough despite her weight to pull out the datapadd that was digging into his back. "I was reading so I could stay awake," he said, when B'Elanna looked at it blankly. "Though I didn't know it would be after...0100 hours when you got back," he said, glancing at the chronometer reading at the bottom of the padd display screen.
B'Elanna took the padd from his hand. "You were waiting up for me, Tom?" She tossed the padd over the back of the couch and gave him a delighted smile. "That's so sweet."
Sweet? "You must have really had a good time tonight," he said softly, shaking his head.
B'Elanna shrugged, and pushed a strand of hair out of her face. He noticed that her hair comb had become mostly dislodged. "It was okay. I missed you."
That wasn't something B'Elanna said often. "I missed you too," he told her softly.
She smiled, and then looked at him curiously. "How did you pass the time tonight?"
"I worked in sickbay for a couple of hours." He smiled at her exaggerated grimace. "Then Chakotay asked me to help Marika with a holoprogram she was creating."
B'Elanna looked momentarily confused. "Who?"
"Marika, the Bajoran woman who was part of Seven's Collective unimatrix," Tom reminded her.
"Oh." Comprehension dawned on B'Elanna's face. She pushed her hair back again, and then rubbed her eyes, her expression sobering a little. "Oh," she repeated softly, her tone sympathetic.
"She used to be an engineer on the Excalibur," Tom said. "She'd like to be part of our crew for the time she has left."
B'Elanna frowned for several moments, as if she was trying to
concentrate, and then nodded. "I can find a place for her. We can always use more help."
"Thanks," Tom said. He kissed her forehead. She immediately dropped her head to his shoulder, and snuggled up against him. "Did Seven show up tonight?"
B'Elanna mumbled something that sounded negative, and shook her head. Tom took that as a "no." He wasn't surprised "Too bad," he murmured. "I guess she's still feeling a little guilty."
"Prob'ly," B'Elanna grunted. She was silent for a moment. "But she didn't know what she was doing."
Tom assumed she was talking about Seven. "B'Elanna, do you actually feel sorry for Seven?" he asked with mock astonishment.
B'Elanna's hand slid down his chest and she wiggled her fingers into the waistband of his pants. "Let's not talk 'bout Seven," she murmured. "Aren't you s'posed to help my--me...um, my dress--"
"Help you take your dress off, B'Elanna?" he supplied for her, smiling at her slurred words and the husky tone of her voice.
"That's it," she agreed, her voice a low contented purr. Her lips were pressed against his throat, her body was almost molded to his, and her fingers tugged lightly at his waistband. She was using more restraint than usual. More often than not she would have had his pants off by now.
"Help you...like this?" he asked softly as he grazed his hands up her thighs. He pulled her dress up slowly over her hips, letting the tips of his fingers caress the warm soft skin exposed between her stockings and the lacy edge of her underwear. He expected some reaction, an aroused tightening of her muscles, but she didn't move at all, and her fingers that had been tugging the waistband of his pants were completely relaxed.
"B'Elanna?" He raised up slightly and her head fell back against his shoulder. Her eyes were closed. "B'Elanna..."
No doubt about it, she was asleep. Sound asleep.
He tried rousing her, but when he shook her lightly she didn't stir. He pulled himself to a sitting position with her in his arms, and she still didn't react. He leaned back against the couch, her sleeping form cradled against him, and considered his options. He didn't want to leave her on her hard couch. If her unresponsiveness now was any indication, she was going to wake up with a hell of a headache tomorrow as it was. And she'd be facing a full shift in engineering.
The one thing he did know was that she preferred to be left alone when she was grumpy and out-of-sorts. That was a given. She'd probably also be a little embarrassed that she'd all but passed out on him--literally-- even if she wasn't likely to admit it. He'd done the same to her once, not long after the Hirogen array had been destroyed, when he'd chosen for the first time in a long time to forgo synthehol for a bottle of the real thing. He'd thought at the time he was handling his over-indulgence just fine, though he knew afterward it hadn't been so. He couldn't recall much of the conversation or anything else. He'd awakened the next morning to find her gone but a blanket tucked securely around him, and glass of water and two analgesic tablets within easy reach. She'd never mentioned the incident later. It was one of those moments they kept privately, silently between themselves.
He shifted her a bit in his arms so he could stand. When she realized he'd undressed her and put her to bed to boot, that probably wouldn't enhance her morning mood. All things considered, it would definitely be better if he wasn't here when she woke. She could find him later in the day, once she'd recovered her equilibrium and hopefully her disposition.
He carried her to the bed, where he took her dress off, though not in quite the circumstances he'd originally envisioned. He removed her undergarments, and found an oversized t-shirt--one of his--in one of her drawers, and managed to get her into a sitting position against him long enough to pull it over her head. B'Elanna generally didn't sleep naked, since she felt the cold easily, unless she fell asleep that way next to him after they'd made love. Which was what he'd been hoping for tonight. Or, last night, now.
He sighed and let her fall back gently onto the bed. She'd barely moved while he'd undressed her, but as he pulled the covers over her she turned and curled up on her side. The comb in her hair had already fallen on the floor somewhere and he brushed several errant locks of hair off her cheek as he tucked the covers tightly around her.
He walked into her bathroom and filled the glass on the sink with water. Then he opened the cabinet next to the sink and rummaged in the portable medikit, bypassing the dermal regenerator this time. He took out two small tablets--the standard analgesics suitable for headaches-- and closed the cabinet.
Back in her bedroom, he set the glass of water and the two tablets on her bedstand. He checked her alarm, knowing the last thing she'd want is to be late for her shift, no matter how she felt. Then he leaned over the bed and kissed her lightly on the cheek. "Sleep tight, B'Elanna. Maybe we'll have better luck next shore leave."
Then he left her there and went back to his own quarters alone.
B'Elanna did find him the next day, in the mess hall after his shift, and though her disposition was clearly still affected by the late night and lack of sleep, and probably a lingering headache, her mood was only mildly surly. He was sure she remembered the previous evening, and probably how it had ended, but she didn't mention any of that. Instead she told him that she'd talked to Chakotay and had arranged for Marika to be assigned to engineering. She told him Marika's knowledge of Starfleet vessels was at least a decade behind the technology on Voyager, but that Marika was a quick study and she actually listened, unlike Seven. Tom didn't hide his satisfaction at her favorable impression of Marika, and though B'Elanna looked a little curious about his interest, his abbreviated recounting of creating the holoprogram of Marika's home sparked her sympathy.
A short while later, despite the fact that B'Elanna was still a little touchy, giving him a sharp look when he asked if her head still hurt after she'd rubbed her temples for the third time, he ended up back in her quarters. They took up where they'd left off the previous night, more or less, with a little more gentle stroking and a little less gymnastics than usual.
The days on Voyager proceeded at their typically hectic pace, and Marika merged quickly into the crew. B'Elanna spoke highly of her abilities, and of the ease with which she'd become part of the close-knit engineering staff. Tom didn't know how Marika chose to spend her free time, though he saw her deep in conversation once or twice with Gerron and Tabor. He did speak with her on occasion, when he'd meet B'Elanna in engineering, or when they crossed paths in the mess hall. They never had the time, nor made the opportunity to talk much beyond the basic pleasantries, but he was gratified to see that she looked content, even happy.
It lasted just over three weeks. One afternoon while Marika was in engineering refitting warp coils with Shaun Mulcahy, she got dizzy. B'Elanna immediately sent her to sickbay. The doctor's prognosis about her rapid decline was correct, and by the time Tom heard and made it to sickbay to check on her, she'd lapsed into a coma. The next morning she was gone.
Tom didn't know if B'Elanna and Marika had ever shared any topic of conversation beyond engineering formulas and warp drives, but he could tell B'Elanna was upset, even though she put him off when he tried to talk to her about it. They attended the brief memorial service together, along with the captain, Chakotay, the doctor, and most of the
engineering staff. And Seven, though she stood alone at the back of the room and ducked out immediately at the end of the service before anyone could speak to her.
Tom had little opportunity to think about Marika after her body was consigned to space. That very afternoon Voyager's sensors detected a possible wormhole signature in a nearby nebular field, and the captain sent a multispatial probe--the only one they had--to locate the source. When the probe's subspace guidance system failed several hours later, B'Elanna was to first to volunteer to retrieve it. Tom wondered if Marika's death had anything to do with her enthusiasm to leave her engines for a while and go chase the probe. Even though they worked together running the Delta Flyer through its pre-flight checks, he had no chance to ask her about it. B'Elanna's thoughts were consumed with her job at hand, which was not unusual, and she barely seemed to
acknowledge his brief goodbye kiss as she started the final pre-flight sequences.
Restless after he left the shuttlebay, he used his brief break before he returned to the bridge to access the holodeck database. He entered Marika's holodeck code and accessed the one program filed under her name, a program that would be erased from the database at the next automated computer update now that she was listed as deceased. He recoded the program file and moved it to his private directory in the holodeck database. It wasn't exactly within the regulations, but it wasn't unethical either, because he knew Marika wouldn't mind. Just the opposite in fact. He would probably never use it, but the fact that it remained meant that a part of Marika survived on Voyager. Or maybe he would visit it sometime, and bring B'Elanna with him. She might like to see Marika's home.
He got back to the bridge just as B'Elanna announced that she was ready for take off. The mission was a fairly routine one, not particularly dangerous, and hardly something that was going to alter the course of anyone's life, but he wanted to monitor the flight anyway. He checked the remote status indicators and systems monitors for the Delta Flyer, and smiled with satisfaction when he saw that everything was at peak performance levels. A few moments later the captain gave the go-ahead for departure.
Tom always felt a twinge of envy when anyone but him was at the controls of the Delta Flyer, even when it was B'Elanna. But he was also secure in the knowledge that she flew the Flyer almost--almost--as well as he did. Barring any unlikely delays or unforeseen circumstances, she'd be back in a few hours. And by the time they were both off-shift tonight things would be a little closer to normal again, more so than they'd been for the past couple of days. Maybe they could relax a bit, and talk a little. He was already planning the specifics of the evening in his mind as the Delta Flyer glided smoothly out of the confines of the shuttlebay and into open space.
Tom forgot briefly that unforeseen circumstances *were* almost the norm for Voyager and its crew. He also forgot that nothing stayed the same for long on Voyager, or for B'Elanna and himself.
Instead, just as before Marika's brief time on Voyager, their lives were again about to go through changes.