Part III: The Slow Slide Down

Day 3 1400 hours

Filthy, crawling through her mind, leaving tendrils of cold thought like slime, heavy and clammy, dampening her own thoughts, her own being, violating her mind, sifting through her memories, mocking them--

B'Elanna watched Tom walk into her quarters, glancing around the dark living room. She could see over Harry's back, between the moans and sighs, the movement of his body. Her eyes were open, had to see it all.

He paused at the door, not quite letting it close behind him, hesitating to invade her privacy, even with the suspicions, the knowledge her parasite knew he had. B'Elanna knew this had been planned, for him to see this. She had come back up to the ship when Harry called--ordered--her up.

One last chance to get the only remaining senior officer to go down voluntarily. Though the parasite knew why, B'Elanna herself had no idea what this would accomplish. Keep away from that planet, Tom. She could only hope it would keep him from the planet, the shock of what he would see now. For that reason alone she did not go insane with what her body was forced to do. Stay here. Be safe. Get away, Tom. Please.

Slowly, he walked into her living area, and she heard herself moan louder, catching his attention. His head turned sharply towards the sound, and she saw the disbelief, the incredulity in his face, as he came slowly to the door, not wanting to see what he knew he would see, what he would know, once he walked to her door. She couldn't keep the next scream from coming, louder, more obvious, driving the knife in deeper.

Harry rolled onto his back, taking her with him, and she braced her hands on his shoulders--my hands? Kahless, make this stop--no privacy, no way to fight, no place to hide, she experienced it all as her body rode him, as her body responded, as the thing within her laughed and enjoyed both the pleasure Harry gave her and her own horror at what she was forced to do.

She could still see him. It wanted her to see him and to suffer; it liked her pain. Harry had turned them both so she faced the door, had to watch his approach. her eyes refused to look away and her body refused to curl up in shame. She watched him come to the door, the blue eyes look into hers--

and felt the smile curving her lips, brown eyes locked with blue. Watched the way his face did not move, yet changed, as she moaned again, and Harry levered himself to sit up, one hand roughly in her hair, pulling her down for a kiss--

--her eyes locked with Tom's until Harry blocked her sight--

--and it liked how she felt.

When she lifted her head, he was gone. Her climax hit and Harry was rolling her onto her back, covering her, forcing her deeper into the mattress. She screamed his name.

Not Harry's name.


* * * * *

Day 5 0800 hours

Present Time

"You're crazy." Sue's voice was utterly flat. Tom, under other circumstances, would have agreed. But his mind was already running with the idea, desperate, perhaps, to believe. To have found a way.

"You know we can't risk one of the senior staff up here. Hell, even Captain Janeway would be safer than B'Elanna! She's an engineer, she knows everything about this ship. Damnit, Tom, she wrote the virus that we used to take control! Okay, she didn't write the whole thing, but I saw it, and her fingerprints are all over it."

"Yeah, she taught me well." Tom could be very patient when he was certain he would win. He sat back on the couch, studying Sue, looking for a weak spot, the place he could put the lever in and push, to make her agree. A smile played around his mouth, placed there by his knowledge that he would win.

She recognized that smile.

Sue knew her approach wasn't working and jumped to logistics.

"How will we separate her from the others?"

Tom grinned, and her stomach sank, knowing he had this planned out. Hell, he probably had the whole thing already meticulously detailed in his mind, perfectly coordinated so nothing would go wrong. He was a good planner. It was the one place she couldn't fight him on, the Plan. Tom had one, very possibly a fool-proof one, and there was nothing in it she would be able to pick apart. Damn it.

"Just beam her up, directly to the holodeck. Pick up her genetic code, and we're done." Does he sound smug?

"We don't have a sample of her…" She was grasping at straws and knew it. Worse, so did he. But he humored her

"We don't need one. She has an original on file in Sickbay. The parasite didn't change her entire genome, it couldn't have. And there is only one half-Klingon on the planet, you know."

Sue shook her head slowly, not exactly negating, not agreeing, just needing something to do so she could think. Maybe stall.

It was only an hour ago that she had gotten the story from Carey about what B'Elanna had done to him in Engineering. Black eye my ass. And though a part of her knew that it wasn't B'Elanna that had done those terrible things, it was still hard to believe it. Hard because of the nature of the parasite, that could use their memories, their experience. Their lives against them.

Tom, as always, could follow the track of her thoughts on her face. That may have been one of the reasons she had never wanted more than a casual relationship with him; that uncanny ability disturbed her. It had made him a good pilot, a good friend, and an incredible lover, but it left little in the way of secrets.

"Sue, you know it's not them, not really." His voice was incredibly gentle. He took her hand, patting it gently.

"I know." A thready whisper.

He stood up and walked to the large window, a habit she'd observed in Captain Janeway and apparently, either consciously or unconsciously, had been adopted by Tom.

"When we get them back--and we will--do you think you can still obey the Captain?"

"Of course."

"Talk to Harry? Eat lunch with your friends? Stay with your lover?"

She flushed and looked away. Tom understood instantly, and was annoyed he hadn't sooner.

"Did you see him with someone else? The K'eya chose--well, some of them were, for lack of a better term, bonded to each other, and that's what caused the random pairings." He shrugged slightly. "Random to us, anyway. You have to know he would never betray you."

Sue glanced up, quickly, then out to the nebula outside.

"Do you?" she whispered softly.

For a brief moment, something crossed his face, something she had not seen before, and she shivered.

"Yes." It was definite, certain. Sue nodded with him.

"And Harry?"

Every muscle in Tom's jaw tightened for the briefest moment, then relaxed as he asserted control.

"I hope so." An admission she had not thought he would make. He sat down. "This is not what I want to talk about."

"But is it something you've thought about, Tom? Seriously, when we get them back--I have faith we can do this, I have faith in you--how will the rest of the crew respond to them? Zephyr, Megan, me, you, Carey…"

"Carey?" Sharply. She cursed herself and pushed on, ignoring the implicit question.

"Tom, what will happen?" She clasped her hands in her lap to still the shaking, meeting his eyes. "How will we go back? I saw the Captain hit Zephyr, Megan saw Gerron with her sister…and you saw Harry and B'Elanna in the conference room. For you, perhaps, it wasn't quite as bad…"

She stopped speaking. Two feet from her, and he was as good as gone, expression carefully blank, the hands clasped behind him tightening visibly.

He knew. He walked into that room knowing what he would see there. How the hell did he do that?

"Yeah." A whisper. She stopped herself from asking the question. What he had seen.

"What about them, when they get back?" she asked, wanting him to come back, wanting to distract him from whatever demons haunted his lone hours…glad, so glad, for once, that she had never been in love, so she didn't have to feel what he felt.

It worked, the blue eyes returning to her as if they had never left.

"To be honest, I'm trying not to worry about that yet," he answered. "If it's true, that they are unconscious, then perhaps they won't remember…" he trailed off, aware that they didn't know. They just didn't have enough information to be sure what the crew would remember about their experiences controlled by the K'eya.

"How will we trust them?" she whispered, and Tom gave her a sharp look.

"How did you trust me, Sue, when you met me? How did you trust me when we took the ship?"

She flushed.

"That was different." She couldn't meet his eyes then.

"Was it?" Softly. Tom had never discussed with her, or anyone, their semi-relationship after it had ended--well, maybe with B'Elanna, but Sue couldn't be sure. She didn't particularly want to, either. "How different?"

"In the beginning, Captain Janeway trusted you enough to give you a commission, make you a senior officer…" she trailed off, knowing she was explaining this badly. Couldn't find the words; the only ones, the truth, would do no good now.

But Tom understood instantly. A small grin appeared, a bitter grin, instantly becoming her commanding officer, not her friend.

"Vorik and I will consult on the best method of keeping Lieutenant Torres incarcerated. You have the Bridge. If I'm needed, I'll be in Holodeck 2." At her weak nod, he turned smartly on his heel and was gone.

Stupid, stupid, stupid! She leaned against the table for a moment. He'd never asked why she had invited him to her bed. Never wanted to know, perhaps never cared. Back then, when he was so new and a little lonely, and she was too, and just wanted someone who could keep it casual. And he certainly did that. Very casual. But always fun, always enthusiastic, always very, very good…

She pushed those thoughts aside, aware that their friendship had suffered a blow. Maybe not a mortal one, but definitely a blow that would take time to recover from. Now was not the time to try to fix her blunder, her own tacit admittance that she hadn't trusted him that time they were together. She had used him, just as then she had thought he used her--until she knew him better, knew him as more than the former Maquis pilot, the convict.

As a man she liked. As a friend.

Then, it had been too late to have him as a lover too. She'd never realized just how much she'd regretted that, until now.

She straightened, turning her face to the door, carrying herself as the officer she was, and went out to the Bridge.

* * * * *

Day 5 0900 hours

Present Time

Tom had tried not to think about what had happened in B'Elanna's quarters those long two days ago. Now it was back, no way to fight it, ignore it. Just remember it, every hellish second.

Thanks, Sue.

That was unfair, but he wasn't feeling particularly fair. Now that it was lodged in his mind, he couldn't escape it, the memory. The feeling.

The implacable, cold anger that kept him able to torture fellow crewmembers without a second thought. When he looked in the mirror now, he saw something disturbingly familiar, something he'd thought he'd left behind in a Federation prison--rehab colony, Tommy-boy--along with an anklet they'd used to monitor him there. Shed like an old skin, to be something better.

Perhaps he'd always known, somehow, that it would come back. That coldness that let him do anything that had to be done, no matter how filthy, no matter how low. I never thought I'd agree with you on something, Dad. But irredeemable definitely applies here. He kept his face expressionless, his step light and firm. No one could have guessed his thoughts. If they had--Well, that would be inconvenient for them, I am in charge of this ship. Dad, you'd have an apoplexy if you could see what I am doing in the name of Starfleet.

B'Elanna. Dear God, B'Elanna. He locked his jaw, fighting the intense desire to hit the wall with one closed fist, just to get rid of some of the anger. He would channel that anger later, watching with uncomfortable glee as the imprisoned crew writhed under IS117's influence while he asked the endless questions, holding the antidote in one perfectly still hand. Where they could see it, know that relief was within their grasp, if only they told him what he wanted to know.

He wondered what Ayala thought when he watched Tom performing the interrogations. Wondered if he even wanted to know. Then wondered why he cared.


That smile.

Yet, for some reason, his feet took him back to her room, and he punched in the sequence quickly, before he changed his mind. He walked in, not caring what kind of etiquette or regulations he was violating; he had certainly performed enough crimes that a simple invasion of privacy seemed rather tame. Kind of nice, actually. He walked into the bedroom.

Her bed was still unmade.

He could remember it all, especially the smile, that vicious smile that had stopped him cold, had frozen him. For what had seemed an eternity, he had wanted to kill Harry Kim, his best friend, once his only friend. Kill him, watch him die, and stomp over the remains with fierce satisfaction, with pleasure. Tom didn't like that part of himself, had kept it well occupied for the last five years by engaging it in less homicidal pursuits. Piloting. Rock-climbing. Martial arts. Any sport that would exhaust his body, his mind, and purge the aggressive instincts for the moment, control them as he controlled every other aspect of his life. Impulsive he was, but never, since setting foot on Voyager, in circumstances where impulsiveness was unwise.

B'Elanna had been the first impulse of his new life that he hadn't tamped down, killed on contact, locked away until he could forget it. The first time he had willingly lost control of his life, unable to help it, stop it, finally stopped wanting control over it, glad to give it up, hand over everything he felt, everything he was, to the control of someone else. Become vulnerable. And where has that gotten me? Breaking into her quarters. Yeah, you've changed so much, Tommy boy.

On Voyager, he had learned the finest points of self-discipline, never wanting to return to being the man he had been those years after Caldik Prime, before prison, before the Maquis even. One who had done things he still couldn't think of without a shudder, who had forgotten everything he had ever known about honor, about morality. A man who sold the skills he had to the highest bidder, then had learned new, less savory skills to sell for even more. And how ironic I have to use them here. For Starfleet. Fate, God, Q--whatever force decided this has a decidedly unpleasant sense of humor.

He couldn't erase the past. He'd always known that. He'd confessed to the Caldik Prime incident for that reason. He'd accepted the early derision of the crew for that reason.

Hell, he had accepted a lot of things for that reason. You couldn't change some things. Memories. Actions. Words spoken.

Maybe you couldn't change who you are, either. Beneath the uniform he wore, he hadn't changed, not really. The same Tom Paris who'd lied at Caldik Prime to save his career. The same Tom Paris who'd sold himself for alcohol. Nothing changed, not really.

Staring at the bed, taking in the rumpled sheets, he allowed himself to relive the entire sequence of events, the smile, the way she moved, the way Harry had touched her.

He wanted to kill them again. Enjoy watching it slow and easy. That would be closure.

Unfortunately for him, non-corporeal lifeforms were exceedingly hard to kill. So far. Not for much longer, little K'eya. Your time is running out.

He wanted them dead, all of them. But not for what they had done to him. Not even for what they had done to the crew, though he hated them for that.

What they had done to B'Elanna, forced her do, feel, experience. Smear her with that kind of filth, making her live that long nightmare. For that alone, they were forfeit. Fuck the Prime Directive and fuck Starfleet, he didn't care what it took, what he had to do, he would do it. Get her free.

Even if it turns out that everything I said during our fight is true, it doesn't matter. I love her. I don't care if she was using me, I don't care if she doesn't love me, or if she did and doesn't anymore. I love her. I'll get her out of this, and every damned one of them will pay. Whatever she chooses to do about us afterward, if there even is an us, that doesn't matter. She matters.

He looked at the sheets for another long moment, then stripped them off the bed, tossing them into the recycler with a great deal of satisfaction. When she came back here, when she walked in this room, it should be ready for her. No reminders of what she couldn't control. For that matter, no visible reminders for me, either. Kind of cathartic, actually. Closure on a less grand scale.

Turning to the replicator, he ordered new sheets, then carefully made her bed, pulling up the bedspread, fluffing the pillows. He did it automatically, having done it many times before. Slowly, he went through her quarters, straightening the mess that the parasite had made of them, picking her clothes back up. Somehow the activity calmed him, such a normal thing for him to do, cleaning her room.

Before he left, he noticed her console was on, and went over to touch it off. Then he realized what it was, and ducked down, sitting in her small chair, shifting to get comfortable. He checked the time index. It's been on since the first time she went to the planet. Damn, she must have been distracted, to forget to turn it off. An idea came to him, and he tapped in a few commands, listening for her voice, wondering if the parasite had said something, anything he could use, in an unguarded moment.

After ten minutes, he heard it, and for another ten minutes he sat there, mind slightly blank. Slowly, he shut down the log and got up, going to her bathroom to look in the mirror, bracing himself for what he was about to do. Wondering, rather inanely, whether she would ever look at him again, whether the chocolate brown eyes would ever light up when they rested on him, whether…he stopped himself. It didn't matter. Not in the big picture, so to speak. He turned the faucet on and splashed some water on his face, rubbing it dry with a towel.

When he was done, he let himself out, and walked to his own room. As quickly as he could, he took a shower, and changed his uniform, preparing himself for what he was about to do.

Then, very slowly, he took out the hypospray from below the sink. Stared at it for a few minutes, studying the color. You know this isn't a good idea, right?

Yeah. I know. When have I been famous for my good sense, hmm?

The stimulant was already loaded in, an alternate version of the one the Doctor had given him. He was a medic, he knew the long-term effects of stimulants. He was also a programmer, and knew how to get the replicator to give him what he wanted, since he knew the Doctor wouldn't. Vorik's program, of course, helped with that. He tapped the hypospray lightly into his palm for a moment, then set it against his neck, feeling the cool rush of air as he released it into his bloodstream. He could judge to a hair exactly how much was safe to take, knew he was treading that edge now.

He hadn't always been so careful. Since those days, he had learned.

In the hall, he paused. Stared down the hall, body reacting fast to the stimulant, giving him energy, removing the lethargy that led to his more introspective mood swings. A side effect of prolonged use, he reminded himself, mood swings. As he thought of B'Elanna, however, he shuddered slightly. He straightened his back, raising his head, ignoring the sudden tension in the pit of his stomach.

Whatever it took.

* * * * *

Day 5 1500 hours

Present Time

The Doctor was already ready in Holodeck Two, having been briefed by Tom a few hours before. He knew what he was here to do, after which he would be dismissed from the room. He understood Tom's reasoning, that ethical subroutines were a bitch to get around, and Tom didn't want to have to fight the K'eya and the Doctor over his methods.

It was a good representation of the Brig, and the Doctor was impressed. Each prisoner believed himself or herself to be alone; with all the careful manipulation Tom had done on sound and sight, he had made sure of it. What the Doctor liked a great deal less was the odd smile on Tom's face after these sessions. Chemical coercion was not a particularly cruel method of retrieving information, and the Doctor knew that few Captains in Starfleet would be above it if it involved the common good of their crew, but it still hit his ethical button every time. The Doctor had decided not to ask about it, simply ignored the crewmen Tom periodically sent to Sickbay to replenish supplies that they couldn't or wouldn't replicate. That way, he could pretend he had no idea what Tom was doing to assure cooperation.

The one bit of information Tom hadn't been able to extract was how to get the K'eya out of their host bodies. Even the K'eya didn't know this, and it had taken some time before Tom had been satisfied this was true. The Doctor shied from that thought. B'Elanna, however, could change everything, if Tom was correct, and the Doctor was hoping, almost praying, that he was correct.

It was all they had left. Everything else the Doctor had explored had failed. They knew so little about lifeforms like this. Ones who bio-formed bodies instinctively, took minds and memories.

Ayala was waiting beside the empty cell that would house B'Elanna Torres during her incarceration, and the Doctor decided to take a look at it. It was large, enough at least to hold her and her interrogators don't think like that and it had a bunk. Nothing else. Pretty much like the real brig.

Not for the first time, he wished that this could be done in Sickbay, but the Doctor understood Tom's reasoning. The parasite could do too much damage if it got loose, with the mind and physical strength of B'Elanna Torres. So Tom had written in the biobed that was now sitting just outside the Brig, waiting for the beam-in to proceed.

:::Paris to Ayala.:::

Ayala touched his badge.

"Ayala here, sir."

:::Ten seconds on my mark. Mark.:::

Ayala unslung the phaser rifle, considerably disrupting the Doctor's equilibrium. Vorik appeared from around the corner, apparently also having also received a message, and brought his rifle down. Ayala's look of fierce concentration was a study of contrasts to Vorik's cool impassivity. At any other time, the Doc would have considered the contrast amusing.

In his mind, the Doctor counted the seconds, and finished 'one' just as a swirl of bright light appeared in the cell. Vorik, nearest the door, hit the switch that activated the forcefield while Ayala covered him, then stepped back, raising the rifle to point at the slender figure in the cell.

It was indeed B'Elanna, with a look of unmistakable shock twisting her face.

The first thing she did, very typically B'Elanna, was throw herself against the forcefield. She bounced back, angrily righted herself, and looked at her captors. Only seconds later, Tom materialized outside the cell, a look of smug satisfaction on his face.

"Welcome back to Voyager." The smug look was added to by an unendearing smirk as he pulled a chair from somewhere and sat down. Ayala and Vorik were on either side of him, rifles still drawn. B'Elanna got as close to the forcefield as she dared, meeting the mocking blue eyes with enraged brown.

"I knew you'd make trouble," she hissed. "B'Elanna's memories were quite clear. I told them you would try to stop us."

"I didn't just try, I succeeded. Don't look so put out, I had tons of help. Your people have definitely pissed off of our crew, you know."

"We are your crew," she smirked, crossing her arms across her chest. "In every way that matters."

"No, you're not." He pointed to the stance. "B'Elanna never slumps."

A look of outrage passed over her face, followed by a curiously blank expression. Tom took advantage of her distraction and motioned the Doctor over.

"You and the biobed can go straight through," he said. "Give me your holoemitter, you don't need it here, and I won't take the chance she'll get hold of it." He waited as the Doctor nodded, removing the emitter, and turned his face back to the woman in the cell, standing unnaturally still, not like B'Elanna at all. Watching him with an expression of intense concentration.

"You miss her, don't you?" He already knew what to expect from this creature, was prepared for anything she could say. Tom smiled.

"She knows the answer to that question."

"Did you like what you saw? Her and--his name is Harry, correct?" She seemed to see something in his face, no matter how hard he tried to control his expression. "Her body responded so naturally to his touch. Were they close before--well, before us?"

That smile. Slow and cruel. It couldn't hurt him. Much, anyway. Not now, not after what he had heard in the logs she had not turned off. The parasite had forgotten to end them, left them running. Stupid.

"And that's why you yelled my name?"

The creature stiffened, and again, the blank expression. The Doctor was behind the holographic biobed that he had programmed personally, pushing it into the cell. The parasite found she couldn't stop him--and being a hologram, he moved even faster than she did here. He was able to hypospray and get her on the bed with only a few lighting-fast motions. He used the tricorder and the holographic display of the sickbay monitor to run the tests and study the results. His face changed. He ran them again, then again, frowning each time, until his expression finally relaxed.

"You were right," he said to Tom, loading all the information into the tricorder.

"Take her off the bed." As the Doctor complied, Tom had the biobed dissolved, and the Doctor walked out, carrying the readings.

"What's the difference?"

The Doctor couldn't stop the grin.

"The half-Klingon." The smile grew wider. "More precisely, the half part. They seemed to have a problem making the physiological changes stick because she is a fusion of two different humanoid species." He tapped a few commands into the PADD while Tom kept his eyes on the woman in the brig's narrow bunk. "The changes fluctuated, even while I was reading them. A constant battle for control over the body. Without the physiological modifications, the entity can't keep control."

"Would that be true for all those of mixed species?"

"I would say yes, unless the two species are more naturally compatible. I would need more information."

"Unfortunately, we don't have a lot of mixed species on the ship, unless it's by removes of several generations," Tom mused. "So they are dependent on the physical changes. I was told that, but I wanted to make sure. How long could they survive in a non-altered host?"

"Again, I need more research to know for sure, but I don't think very long at all."

"I'll kill her first." She was sitting up, eyes blazing.

Tom tilted his head slightly, studying her. A cool, impersonal look of calculation.

"That's a laugh. You can't even keep her physiology from fluctuating, so I doubt you have the bio-control to end her life. And that certainly wouldn't be very practical of you. What will you do for a host?"

"I can find another." Her defiance was amusing. Tom kept his grin in place.

"But you can't survive off the planet without a host, can you?" he answered pleasantly, hoping that was true, that the Ricarla parasite, all the parasites, had not lied. "And--let me see--I find myself doubting you can just transfer from body to body like that. I bet it takes more than just a quick leap." Mocking now. He knew exactly what it took for them to do that. If those infected crewmembers hadn't lied.

Her eyes narrowed, mouth opening, but no words came out.

It's true.

He felt himself breathe again, not letting her see his relief, his light-headed excitement. He decided it was time to push. She beat him to it.

"You want her back." Searching for a weak spot.

"Yes." Nothing more needed to be said. He waited for her to respond. He could almost see her looking for a way to twist this to her advantage.

"You wouldn't hurt her."

"I wouldn't have to. You said she was unconscious within her own body. I could pull out the thumbscrews and she wouldn't know, and I even have the nice Doctor here to fix up whatever I break." He nodded amiably at the Doctor, who found his holographic stomach had just cartwheeled. Do I know this man? Did I ever? "You don't like pain, do you? Your colleagues certainly don't." She seemed to pale, and it pleased him. "I would never hurt her." He leaned forward a little, resting his elbows on his knees, looking straight into her eyes. Smiled. "But I would enjoy hurting you."

"She's not fully unconscious." It seemed to be trapped. Tom liked that.

"Yeah, I know. The Doctor's still alive, after all, isn't he? It makes me wonder why you took the time to deactivate him in the first place." He gave her another smile. "What scared you so badly that you would try to kill him off?"

She stood up, approaching the forcefield.

"She doesn't love you. She's using you. Everything you said to her is true." Naked desperation. "You know I'm right. You said it yourself!"

Tom's smile never changed.

"It doesn't matter. She matters."

He stood up, walking towards the forcefield, waving Ayala and Vorik back, close enough so that only she could hear. His voice was low.

"There is nothing I would stop at, nothing I would scruple against, to get her back, do you understand?" He looked straight into the brown eyes without flinching. "You were stupid, you let yourselves lose your discipline, act out of character, instead of playing it safe until you got all the crew down to that planet. I am not stupid. You have something I want, the crew of this ship, and you hurt her. Unless you get the hell out of her, the hell out of all the crew, you will die, and I don't care how I have to do it." His eyes narrowed, his voice dropping lower. "Do you understand me?"

He knew she believed him. She was intimidated, eyes huge and dark, mouth slightly ajar. B'Elanna was never intimidated. Ever. He backed away, keeping his eyes on her until he sat back down, having offered her the only deal he would accept. One chance.

"Your choice."