by Kat Hughes
Summary: After assimilation for Tom and B’Elanna.
Author’s Note: I haven’t actually seen Unimatrix Zero - from which I draw some material - but heavily detailed spoilers were a huge help.
Dedication: Pam and Lark for those self same detailed and hilarious interpretations. And Janeway did look like an upset fish!
It had gone from fear. To relief. To emptiness. To hope.
All in the space of five seconds. And if he closed his eyes the cycle would begin again.
He hadn’t wanted her to go. Didn't think he was being selfish either. Got very possessive about the things he loved, whether they be shuttle craft or smart-ass half Klingon engineers. She'd smiled, even humoured him a little, when he’d told her that he'd give up everything he had to stop her going.
She'd gone anyway.
He was scared. In a shivery kind of way. When the reality hit, and he just wanted the world to stop so he could get off.
He turned around.
"Maybe you should go get some sleep." Soft, comforting, almost resigned - could holograms get tired? This one did. This one got worry lines on his forehead, and dark rings around his eyes. This one missed B'Elanna Torres.
"Maybe," he mumbled.
Somehow, they'd got them back. Somehow.
He'd expected her to walk from the transport pad.
"Well, if you're staying Tom."
He nodded at the EMH. "I am."
She'd been carried, by him. Covered in Borg. Dark suit and so pale - beautiful caramel skin the colour of snow.
"Good Night, Mr Paris."
B'Elanna wasn't there. Her body was. And even though, under the skull plate there was her hair, her soft, thick, curly hair, she’d been unresponsive for the last forty-eight hours.
She wasn't there.
She was everywhere. A part of her was with Tuvok, another with Janeway, and fragments, pieces of her memory were all the way across a battered collective. She wasn't his anymore.
The doors swooshed.
"Mr Paris." Seven's clipped tones. "I was made aware that Lieutenant Torres' recovery has been slow."
<<Tact? That's new.>>
"Yeah," he said, smiling of all things, pushing strands of brittle hair from her fevered brow. "She's being stubborn again."
He didn't to look at her. Almost couldn't.
"Your presence will not stimulate her recovery."
He tensed. But truths were always the hardest to swallow, weren’t they?
He wouldn't leave her. Once, he'd said he’d never leave her. And although Tom Paris had doled out enough bullshit in his lifetime to make it hard to even consider being earnest anymore - that was true, he'd never leave her. Ever.
"It may stimulate mine, Seven."
"She was--" Seven stopped and took a few steps forward. Tom knew it was her first time there - her first time *seeing* this. "She is very brave. And a very competent engineer." She looked up. "I have missed our interactions."
"You mean the fights." He grinned. A necessary reflex he'd found. Let people know he wasn’t crazy yet.
"Yes," she nodded, curtly. "I think I had come to 'expect' them." She arrived at the foot of B’Elanna’s biobed and cast a look along B’Elanna’s thin form. "She has been missed in Engineering."
<<Shit, that wasn’t compassion in her voice?">>
"Yeah," he sighed and yawned a little.
Seven continued. "She once asked me if I felt guilt. She needed to know why I didn’t see assimilated peoples and feel responsible."
"She has her more righteous moments--"
"I feel guilty now, Lieutenant Paris." She looked him straight in the eye, unconsciously, her hand playing with the corner of B’Elanna’s medical blanket.
"Look, Seven--" Stammered, tired and not wanting to absolve Seven, play her confessor.
"I did not expect this."
"We should have known it’d go wrong." He shook his head slowly, bowing it a little. "I shouldn’t have let them go."
"There is no cause for you to experience such emotional responses - but you do. I suffer the same predicament," and she turned and walked away, striding capably from the biobed. She stopped near the door. "I did not expect to feel remorse."
"Hope," she said, bluntly. "I also did not expect to feel hope."
"Hope?" He raised an eyebrow.
Seven simply nodded and turned towards the door. They opened with customary noise and bluster, punctuating the still air. "I believe she will awake feeling loved."
"Seven,uh--" But she was gone. And what the hell was he going to do, anyway? Deny it?
He scratched his head. And one deep breath followed another.
He reached out his hand to hers and touched her fingertips briefly, a reflex in them made them coil. Encouraged, he reached out to grab her pale hand and covered the skin with his own.
He smiled weakly as he watched her.
Fear, followed relief, followed emptiness, followed hope. Sometimes the emptiness preceded relief, sometimes it overwhelmed all. At points, he knew, just knew, that his son-of-a-bitch luck would have her go and die on him. Sometimes he wondered why she even left. Sometimes he wondered why he let her leave.
And, sometimes, because he was too tired, and too angry at the universe and the damn lights in the Sickbay, and the grey utilitarian walls, and the Doctor, and Janeway and Seven...
And sometimes, just because he missed her, remembered her laughing, remembered the flick of her hair as it framed her face, the playful lilt to her voice, the feel of her breath on his skin...
And sometimes, because he couldn’t do anything else, because he wouldn’t leave her, and he wouldn’t let her go...
He sighed and his hand, only loosely holding her fingers, dropped from the grasp and fell down by his side. Her fingers remained motionless, pale and cold.
And fear in his gut that he’d never see them move again.
So, he took her hand in both of his and squeezed. Just to reassure himself that there was still a pulse, that there was still a part of her he had loved.
A strong pulse.
He cast a long look over her peaceful face, a small frown playing her cool lips, light breathing that barely raised her chest. No fire, no warmth.
He squeezed her hand again. Nothing. He closed his eyes and let out a long, calming breath and sat back in his chair, her hand still loosely in his. Ready for the hundredth disappointment, for his life to just screw up all over again.
And slowly, she squeezed back.
<<"I believe she will awake feeling loved.">>