Part V: Aftershocks
"Do you have anything to add to the chronology you have given us, Mr. Paris?"
Captain Janeway stood up, letting her gaze wander around the room, taking in the faces of her staff, then finally coming to rest on those she had put on trial. With one finger, she hit a button on her screen. Clearing the three days of data from the inquiry.
"I have found no evidence of criminal activity. This Inquiry is adjourned."
* * * * *
Two hours earlier
"I think you're making the right decision, Kathryn."
He rarely called her Kathryn, and she loved to hear it when he said it. She hid her pleasure by busying herself with the PADDs on her desk.
"I think so too. It solves most of the problems, which is why I decided to have an Inquiry in the first place."
"Instead of a court-martial?" His tone was teasing, a little forced, but they had time to learn to be comfortable with each other again.
"Court martial?" she answered. "No. There had to be some official action, but a court-martial wouldn't have solved anything." She looked thoughtful, and Chakotay wondered what thoughts occupied her mind now. He understood why she had chosen this path; no one, least of all Janeway, had wanted to put the crew through a court-martial when the evidence was so dependent on interpretation. "I needed the information, and this was the only way I could do that without bringing formal charges." Her smile was a little bitter. "If the crew would even have let me, that is."
Chakotay wished he could argue with that logic, but knew she was right. He also knew that if she had truly believed Tom and the other conspirators had acted criminally, she would have nailed them to the wall without giving a damn about crew opinion.
He was glad that she hadn't seen them as criminal.
"Tom needed to confess," she said softly, almost to herself, and he realized she'd used his name. Not "Mr. Paris" but Tom. He hadn't heard her say that since she'd taken back command. "It was written all over his face, even I could see it. After the last time--" she stopped short, and Chakotay, for a moment, thought she meant the incident with the Moneans. Her brow furrowed slightly. "He didn't confess last time. He learned from his mistakes. More than I've given him credit for, it seems."
Ah. He understood. Caldik Prime.
"Have you talked to the rest of the Senior Staff?" He wanted to switch the subject a little--after all she'd been through, though she certainly didn't look it, she was far too vulnerable.
"Every one of them."
She winced a little, her smile becoming a little twisted now.
"Oh, yes." Chakotay grinned, more naturally, at her rueful tone. "She had a few things to say to me about the whole concept of an Inquiry. Many words I didn't understand, but I am guessing were the Klingon equivalent of profanity. What she used in Standard she certainly didn't bother to edit by much. I've never been able to use the same word as a noun, verb, adjective, and adverb in one sentence, but she managed admirably. I haven't been that impressed since one of my Bolian instructors at the Academy was accidentally pushed down a cliff during a field trip." She smiled, reminiscing.
"How about Tom's cohorts?"
"What about them?" Her smile faded--she was back to business.
"What are you going to do about the rank changes he made?"
"Keep the rank promotions, but somehow I don't think Sam would appreciate it if I made her Head of Ops, and Harry no doubt would be equally displeased. The Acting Heads are no longer heads, and I think they'll be relieved to hear it. Ensign Zephyr and Ensign Stein--well, they both served well in a high-pressure situation. I see no reason to reduce them in rank; I'll just have to find officer's quarters for them both." She chuckled, then her smile faded. "I thought integrating the Maquis and Starfleet was difficult, but this--this is worse." She picked up her cup of coffee, staring distractedly over his shoulder.
"I know." He met her eyes for a moment, and they both looked away, trying not to think of what had happened on the planet. Between them.
* * * * *
"I don't understand," Tom said blankly.
"The Inquiry is over. I have your statements, and I do not find any action meriting criminal prosecution. You are all returned to your ranks and positions aboard the Starship Voyager without prejudice."
Sue made some sort of noise, he wasn't sure what it was, because he couldn't think through his shock.
"You can't do that," he said finally, rather like a small child, and she forced her grin down and away.
"I just did, Tom."
He nodded, rather dazedly. Janeway looked around the room, noticing the equal shock of the others, but not her senior staff, who seemed simply…satisfied. B'Elanna wasn't smiling, her entire attention was focused on Tom, to the exclusion of all else, and Janeway wondered when she would finally make Tom talk. Maybe tonight, hopefully very soon. The scars created by this couldn't be healed overnight, but she had hopes at least they could be finally bandaged a little, begin to heal.
She smiled then, letting him see it.
"Because I found no evidence of a crime committed."
Tom's blue eyes widened, and for a moment, she toyed with the notion his jaw might drop.
"Tom, we can do this officially, if you want. No crime. I find you and your crew innocent of any wrongdoing. You are restored to your rank and position, as are your associates, effective immediately." She had another reason for having an inquiry and clearing the incident--of all things, she did not want to arrive back in the Alpha Quadrant and have Tom face another kind of jury, a group of Admirals who probably hadn't left Earth since the beginning of time, playing the 'what if' game and second-guessing his every decision. She had been through that too many times to count, and refused to make Tom go through it.
So she simply watched him, watched the blue eyes cloud over for a moment, and raised one hand in a dismissive gesture to her senior staff. They complied quickly, with a little rustling, though she noted, from the corner of her eye, B'Elanna was less quick, eyes still on Tom, speculatively. The captain kept another smile from surfacing. Tom glanced back at the other stunned ex-mutineers and nodded quickly. They dispersed, and Janeway wondered when they would again look to her for orders
It's only been a week. Give them time to be back.
Sue also stayed behind for a moment. One slender hand touched his arm lightly to get his attention, and she said something that Janeway could not quite hear. Tom nodded, a slight grin turning the corner of his mouth. Sue glanced at Janeway, nodded shortly, and left. B'Elanna was a step behind her, and Janeway briefly debated following to see what would occur.
She recognized Sue's attentions now, even if Tom did not. So, apparently, did B'Elanna.
When the room was clear, Tom approached her, smile gone, eyes on hers.
"Captain--" He stopped there. The enormity of what she had done had utterly stunned him. Hell, the enormity of what she had done stunned her, had when she had first thought of it. The simplest solution to the problems Tom's command and actions had posed.
"Sit down, Mr. Paris," she said, seating herself. He perched on the edge of the chair near hers, too tense to sit back. "You want to know why I chose this course of action, don't you?"
Both eyebrows jumped at the obvious, but he remained silent. Instead, he leaned an elbow on the table, waiting for her.
"For obvious reasons, charging you with mutiny would be ridiculous."
"But the charges regarding the use of an illegal substance, torture, and murder, are true." Right to the point.
Janeway leaned back, studying him carefully.
"I understand why you think what you did was unforgivable, because to some it would be. If we were in the Alpha Quadrant, then your methods would certainly be called into question, starting with how you got your hands on IS117, a story I think I would like to hear. Your version, not Vorik's." At his startled look, she smiled gently. "He volunteered the information that he broke the replicator codes to get the computer to synthesize it when no other drug available proved--useful in interrogating the entities, the K'eya."
"That little--" Tom choked off the words, a rueful grin that he couldn't control appearing on his face.
"Hmm. He said something to the effect that you might try to--how did he phrase it?--take a little too much upon yourself. Tom, I want you to understand this. I am Starfleet Command out here. I came down on you regarding the Monean incident because what you did was wrong. But this--" She gazed over his shoulder for a moment. "I don't pretend to understand what led you to your decisions, but the one thing I know is that you have to believe in what you are doing if you are going to do it. You believed this was the only way to free us and keep the K'eya from possessing the rest of the crew. What's more, I don't believe that in your position, I would have done anything differently."
He nodded slowly, eyes dark. Gently, she laid her hand on his shoulder, wondering if he would pull away. She wondered if he had a memory of her she didn't, something that would make him flinch from her touch, but he didn't. For a moment, the clear blue eyes looked into hers.
"Tom," she said quietly. "I know I can't understand what you are going through, but I will try. Captains have to make snap decisions and later, they wonder if they made the right ones. If I had done this instead, I could have avoided this or that. It always happens. You were raised Starfleet, you know it as well as I do. But after you've made the decision, and you've gone through with it, you can't--you can't relive it every second, and wonder." She knew, and so did he, what decision she meant. What decision she had made that still haunted her. "You learn from it and move on, knowing next time, there is that much more information for you to draw on. You did your best, I know that. I think, deep down, you do too." She squeezed gently. "I'm proud of you for what you've accomplished."
His tentative smile warmed her. He stood up, saluting gravely, and left at her nod. She turned to stare out at the stars.
* * * * *
Tom keyed his door open and walked in.
"Computer, raise lights to--"
"Seventy-five percent," a voice finished. He turned around, startled, to see B'Elanna coming out of the bathroom. He stared at her for a moment.
"I'm sorry, I didn't know you were here," he said inanely, trying to connect the fact that he had seen her leave this afternoon, for beta shift, in uniform, with the fact that she was now here, out of uniform, watching him. He'd asked the computer for her location before he left Baytart's quarters, and it had said she was in engineering. She leaned against the bathroom door, observing him with a slightly calculating look in her eyes. He'd seen her look at her warp engines the same way when they were doing something she didn't think they should be. It was unnerving.
"Why are you avoiding me?"
Nothing like getting straight to the point.
"I'm not." He winced at that automatic lie. One eyebrow arched at him and she crossed her arms over her chest. He tried again. "Okay, I was. I just thought you needed time to--"
"Recover?" she said pleasantly, and Tom gritted his teeth.
"Yeah." He actually felt himself backing to the door.
"Computer, initiate privacy lock." She sounded a little smug.
He spun to look at it. He tried it. Yes, it was sealed.
"You can't do that."
"I'm Chief Engineer, I can do almost anything." She hadn't moved, still watching him. His skin began to tingle with the feel of her steady gaze. "I didn't think you would talk to me voluntarily; this method seemed more--appropriate."
Tom couldn't believe it when she smiled, a little predatory, a little pleased, a lot B'Elanna. It abruptly occurred to him, as it always did at these moments, that as a Klingon, she had gained a hunter's instincts with her heritage. Rarely did he see it, rarely did she give into it, but here it was, reminding him that the woman he loved was probably one of the most dangerous people on Voyager.
A hell of a thing to think about when you are locked up with her, Tommy boy.
"I would talk voluntarily." He hated sounding stupid, but he hadn't been prepared to see her, much less converse with her. She tilted her head, the slightest curl of her lip telling him she thought he was full of shit. And he was, they both knew it. "Why aren't you on duty?"
"Chakotay gave me today off. I don't report until Alpha shift tomorrow."
"Oh." Thanks for the warning, Chakotay.
"You only come here when I'm on-duty, and at Baytart's you're never alone. This seemed the best method."
And Sue said he could plan. It was to chuckle. The woman was an engineer, she could plan circles around him.
"I left my comm badge in engineering," she added, almost as an afterthought. Why did Tom get the feeling Carey was in on this? So much for honor among thieves.
"What do you want to talk about?" Might as well face the issue. Not that he had a lot of choice.
"Why are you avoiding me? The real answer, Tom."
"Why do you think?"
"If I knew, why the hell would I ask?"
"After everything that's happened--" He tried to find a way to say it, but the words stuck in his throat.
"With the parasite?" she asked helpfully.
"With the parasite." He felt himself nodding and stopped. "Yeah. After…after…"
"After you injected me with the cure--" she trailed off, one hand outstretched a little like a magician on stage, and that thought brought some weird imagery for Tom.
"A Cardassian drug. IS117," he said softly.
"I recognized the effects."
He imagined she would. He imagined every one of the Maquis had recognized it instantly. More than a few had probably been exposed to it directly, long before Tom began playing with it.
B'Elanna wasn't giving him any clues, and it kept him on edge, wondering what it was she wanted. An apology? An explanation? To remove his skin? He tried to read her face, but B'Elanna had been with Tom for almost two years, and evidently she had learned a few tricks from him, not the least of which was his most blank expression.
"Okay, I give up. What do you want? An apology? A reason to kill me? What?"
She gave him a long look, slightly predatory, slightly understanding, very B'Elanna.
"I want you to tell me that everything you said to me was true."
Tom tried to take that in.
"What you told me--the parasite. In the brig--or rather the Holodeck. What you told it, was that true?"
"Which part?" Tom felt a little dazed.
"Tom, we've played these games for--damn, it's beginning to feel like forever. I guess that tells you something. You try to get me to talk, I don't; you chase, I push you away. Get the parts down right. This isn't your role, Tom. You are supposed to want to discuss the situation and I'm supposed to want to toss you into the hall."
He didn't move, didn't breathe, was B'Elanna joking about what he had done? It made no sense.
"Instead, I've been reduced to stalking you. I want an explanation and I want it now. Did you mean what you said to the K'eya about me? Did you mean it or was it only meant to keep her off-balance?" Her voice took on an edge he hadn't heard before. "Or is it that--that what you saw--that what happened between me--"
She came to a stop, trying to find words, a euphemism to avoid saying what they both knew she meant.
"And Harry?" The slightest edge to his voice.
"Yeah." She didn't say anything further, and he wasn't sure what it was she wanted to hear.
"B'Elanna, I don't understand. You-- B'Elanna, you think I blame you for that?" He seemed honestly surprised.
"It’s the second time," she said softly, and he remembered, at that moment, Steth.
"That isn't--B'Elanna, you know me better than that."
"Yes and no, Tom. This was different, though, wasn't it? Different for both of us."
"There is a difference. It wasn't you."
"Yes it was." Her voice changed, and Tom found his breath catch. "I remember it all, every second. The look on your face, I remember that! I lived the whole thing, I watched it and experienced it, and--" She stopped, trying to find the words, but there weren't any. "You sent Carey to meet me when I was released, you wouldn't talk to me. You've been avoiding me--what am I supposed to think?"
"That's not why I sent him. I didn't think you would want to see me." His voice was quiet.
"Why?" She unconsciously stepped forward, searching his face. "Because of what you had to do to get rid of that thing inside of us? Inside me? Did you think I wouldn't understand that?"
"I don't know!" He leaned back against the wall, and she studied his strained face, the dark circles beneath his eyes, eyes that wouldn't meet hers, and knew she had finally found what was holding him back. "I don't know because I don't know how I would have felt in that situation. I don't know because there should have been another way to cure you, and there wasn't, I couldn't find it. Because the person I was before this happened--" He stopped short, his breath coming faster.
"Because you think what you did made you into who you used to be. Before Voyager."
He didn't answer.
She couldn't just say that he was the same, because he wasn't, and they both knew it. What he had done, however necessary, had changed him, his perception of himself. He realized now the limits he would push to get something done. A fundamental change in the way he saw the world, saw Starfleet. That he knew that, acknowledged and accepted it, surprised her in some way.
"That's why you're being so open at the inquiry, why you're trying to assume all the responsibility, isn't it? Not just to protect the others. You want everyone to see you as you see yourself."
"Do you even know how I see myself?"
"No. I don't look in your mirror. But I can see on your face you don't think much of it."
The silence stretched, and neither looked at the other, unsure where to go with this, how far too push--if they even wanted to push; hadn't they been here before? Tom's withdrawal into his holodeck car programs, her withdrawal into dangerous holodeck scenarios. They had found their way back, but it had never been easy.
But she didn't remember it being this hard, either.
"What do you want, Tom?" She heard her voice, calm, so much like her normal tone she didn't recognize it.
"To wake up."
She closed her eyes for a moment, absorbing the throbbing bitterness in his voice, the low-key frustration, the helpless anger.
"I wouldn't have done anything differently," she said softly. He looked up now, eyes on her. "I thought about it, when you gave your testimony. I thought about what you did, and I thought, would I have done what he did? And it's always yes.
"I don't know what else to say. I spend all my free time just sitting in here, thinking, remembering. I try to convince myself that I really had nothing to do with this, that it was just some kind of dream, but I know it's not. I lived it, every second, every minute, trying to stop that thing in me any way I could. Sometimes I succeeded, but not often."
"It wasn't your fault." His voice was so certain. She wished she could believe him.
"What happened with Harry…and with Joe…and all the other things that I did. No, it wasn't me, but it was, because I remember it, all of it. Do you remember the Enaran dreams I used to have?"
"It's almost like that. The entity's emotions, my emotions, I couldn't tell the difference sometimes. Guilt, anger, rage, hate--and I want to kill them all, I wanted to kill myself just so that thing inside me would die. I've never felt like that before. I watched myself do all those things, and…" she stopped. Not knowing what else to say. If there was anything left.
Silence again, and B'Elanna knew, somehow just knew, that if they didn't start now, they never would. That it would end like this, trapped in their own memories, their own minds, apart.
"Did you mean it?" She finally got the words out, and he looked at her for a long time, knowing what she referred to.
She moved, or maybe he did, and finally, she was in his arms, her heart racing, her eyes burning with the tears she would not shed, could not shed, but wanted to. She contented herself with clutching him close, until they found their way to the couch. They sat there for a long time, not speaking, not thinking, just enough to be together.
Tom pushed her hair back from her face gently, studying it, tracing it with his fingers over each ridge, over her eyes, nose, mouth, down her chin. So carefully.
"Are you sure?" he asked softly. She knew what he meant and nodded.
"If you are."
"Everything is changed, but I think I can handle that."
"So can I. If you want to."
"I want to."
She took his face between her hands, gently, rubbing her thumbs over his cheekbones, meeting his eyes.
"Do you want to know what I see? When I was in the Maquis, I did things I--things I am not proud of. You know that. So did Chakotay, so has every one of us. We believed in our cause so strongly that the ends justified the means. Whatever it took to succeed, to leave an impression. Sometimes just to cause pain to match what they caused us. It don't feel honorable admitting to that, and we--we tried to be noble, but sometimes we didn't live up to our own ideals. Sometimes we forgot those ideals and sank down to the level of those we were fighting.
"So when I look at you, I see that. You did what you had to, the ends justified the means. And if you--if you--"
"Liked hurting them? Didn't find a way to get rid of them and not kill them? Didn't care to find a way?" His voice was challenging, but not to her. To himself.
"Then what does that make you? Very human."
"It doesn't excuse it."
"It doesn't have to. You acknowledge it, you live with it, you move on."
"That doesn't make it any easier."
She brushed a finger across his nose.
They looked at each other for a long time.
"I'm sorry I wasn't there when you were released. It was selfish. I did it to spare you, but--"
"You also did it to spare yourself. You don't have to be selfless all the time, Tom, or you'd be boring."
"God save me from being boring."
"Amen." Her mouth quirked, and she closed her eyes as he leaned to kiss her, gently, a brush of the lips across her mouth.
"We can get through this."
* * * * *
Tom awoke to the feel of a mouth touching his. He lay still, responding to the caress, the feel of a warm tongue brush across his lips, into his mouth. He knew there was something not quite right about this, but sleep had dimmed his mind too much to be sure of anything. He lifted one hand to touch her face--
--and immediately found that hand pinned to the bed. He opened his eyes, more than a little surprised, B'Elanna's most aggressive tendencies tended to come out early in the evening, not early in the morning.
Her nightgown was already off, and that was uncharacteristic enough to snap him from the drowsy arousal and try to sit up.
Nothing doing. His other hand joined his first, and he realized she wasn't playing. He couldn't break her grip.
She leaned down, catching his lip between her teeth, and he felt the flesh break, tasted iron in his mouth, before she moved down. Her mouth settled on the junction of his neck and shoulder, a favorite place, to lightly bite, then apply more pressure.
This wasn't right. He tried to move his hands again, and didn't even get an acknowledgement for his effort.
She growled in answer, and leaned down to cover his mouth with hers, an aggressive kiss that should have been exciting--but wasn't. It scared him.
She maneuvered her hips over his, sliding down over his erection, and he caught his breath--whoa, it's been a long time-- and her lips moving down his chest, catching the flesh between her teeth. He gasped softly at the feel, but something wasn't right, he knew it, could feel it in the way she moved, the almost desperate--
Oh, damn, B'Elanna, no.
"B'Elanna. Stop." He struggled to enunciate each word clearly. It was a struggle.
He might as well have spoken Romulan, for all the attention she paid to him. He pulled against her grip again, trying to free his hands.
"Tom," she whispered huskily, licking at one nipple before lifting her head, meeting his eyes, letting him see what was in them. "I've missed you."
He tensed every muscle in his body, then flipped her, a practiced motion she never quite anticipated soon enough to counter it. He pinned her down, breaking the hold on his wrists, catching her hands and pinning them to the bed. She moved her hips against him, watching his undeniable reaction.
"Come on, Tom. Do it."
And he wanted to. And didn't. He forced his body under some sort of control, trying to stop her moving. It didn't help.
"B'Elanna, you don't want this." His voice was breathless. Or maybe she does. For all the wrong reasons.
"Just see how much I want it," she purred. The sound always made his skin tingle. He ruthlessly suppressed the sensation, knowing this wasn't right. After all that had happened, after what had been said, he still hadn't been able to make her understand. Failed again, no surprise. He forced the thought from his mind, controlling his impulse to just give her what she wanted--Not like this.
B'Elanna watched the play of emotion on his face, thrust her hips up, maneuvering until he was between her legs, and they were pressed together. Dear God. He could feel just how much she wanted it, wanted it now…
"B'Elanna, no. We can't."
"Since when?" She broke his hold on her wrists, he and had to admire the speed she did that with, pushing him over on his back. She over-calculated the momentum needed, and he hit the floor. Not a problem for her. She followed before he could catch his breath, straddling him, working her fingers at the edge of his shorts. He caught her hands in his, then grabbed her face, forcing her to look at him.
"No! B'Elanna, stop!"
"Why?" She ground herself against him, a very practiced movement she often used quite successfully, and Tom bit back the gasp, trying to keep his mind clear. He wanted her so badly--
"Don't do this, B'Elanna. Listen to me!"
"Stop fighting me!"
"You don't need to prove anything." He finally found his balance and sat up, putting an arm around her waist and pushing her back against the side of the bed. "B'Elanna, don't do this."
Wide brown eyes looked into his.
"You want me." Was there uncertainty in her voice?
"Since I first saw you. That's not the point."
"Then what the hell is the point? We've been doing this for two years, what the fuck is your problem?" She began to struggle in earnest, with a desperation he did not recognize. He tightened his grip, wondering how long he could hold her.
"I've never heard you use language like that, for one." He kept his grip on her head, not letting her look away. "I know why you're doing this. I told you it doesn't matter what happened with Harry. You don't have to do this."
"I want you, Tom." But he could see her eyes, and knew she didn't mean it. He stared at her, and she looked away, lowering her head, and he gentled his grip. "I want to make love with you."
"No, you want to have sex with me. There's a difference." His breath was coming too fast, he had to make an effort to slow it. "You want to erase a memory. I won't do that for you. You'd hate me if I let you."
"I love you!"
"You don't have to prove it to me! I know that."
She shook her head, slowly. Refusing to listen, yet knowing he was right. Slowly, her struggles ceased, and she lowered her head.
"Maybe I need to prove it to myself?" she whispered, and felt him stiffen for a moment. Then he nodded, carefully moving her onto the edge of the bed so he could stand up. He didn't join her, instead stood perfectly still, and she couldn't read a damn thing in his face.
"B'Elanna, do you have feelings for Harry?" She'd never heard that tone before. Nothing in it but the coolest, most disinterested curiosity.
"No. Not like that."
She thought she saw him relax, just a little, but it was hard to see in the almost complete darkness of the room. She felt him sit on the edge of the bed.
"Then why do you need to prove it to yourself?" He reached out, as if to touch her, but instead moved his hand back, leaning on it to study her. "Computer, lights, twenty-five percent."
The illumination made their faces clearer, especially for eyes adjusted to the dark. Her face was unreadable, a good trick for someone whose every emotion played on her face constantly, whether she wanted it to or not. You always knew where you stood with B'Elanna. Except for this one time.
"That it was all the K'eya. Not me." Her voice was a whisper, barely audible.
Tom closed his eyes for a minute. Tried to find the air.
"Your entity had feelings for Harry's." Hadn't he told Sue that? Gods, he could have lived the rest of his life not knowing this. "You remember how it felt, because you felt it too." His voice was incredibly calm. He wanted to yell. He didn't.
She nodded slowly. Tom took a deep breath.
"How do you feel about me?"
"I love you, Tom, that hasn't changed." She sounded desperate. He couldn't remember ever sounding like that before, and it was because of him. Because of the K'eya.
"But now you think you have residual feelings for Harry? From the K'eya?" He tried and failed to keep the slightly sarcastic edge from his voice.
She hesitated, then nodded.
"I don't want him, Tom. I don't. But the K'eya's feelings were real, and I can remember that." She stared at her hands, trying to make sense to herself. He heard her breath catching, knew it meant her Klingon side has just successfully controlled a bout of tears. The sound never ceased to hurt him when he heard it.
"You didn't tell me that earlier."
"I didn't want to make you think that--it was anything." Her voice was uncertain. Another catch in her voice. He closed his eyes for a moment.
"It is something!" He didn't remember ever feeling so out of control, out of his element, he wasn't a psychologist, damn it, he was a pilot, why in the name of all that was holy was he trying to figure out what this meant? And suddenly, viciously, he wanted to hurt her like she had hurt him, and the words he could do it with came so naturally, so easily--he bit them back. Remembered what he had told the K'eya.
That it didn't matter.
He'd lied. It did matter, but not in the way she had thought.
What did I think? One talk and everything would go back to normal? Was I really that naïve, to think there wouldn't be consequences for what happened to us? Not over anything I did, how ironic that I was worrying about that. Over what it made her do.
The trick was, knowing what to do now.
More than anything, he wanted to be out of this bed, far away from this room, be somewhere else, anywhere else. The temptation was so strong, just to get up and go.
Leave her behind.
Two simple choices, leave or stay. Leave or stay.
He remembered what he had told the K'eya. Remembered what he had told himself that first day, that he wasn't just a pilot, but a leader. He was no longer a leader (at least, not of an entire ship, he couldn't express his relief enough for that), but he wasn't just a pilot. He was this woman's lover, her mate.
I don't like the man I used to be, before Voyager. He would have walked away, not given a damn once the door was closed. He would have left and never looked back, never thought it worth the effort to work through it. I know differently now, I know it's worth the effort, is it just I want the easy way out? So I don't have to hurt anymore, either?
"You need time to come to terms with what happened," he said finally, carefully. "I understand that. Do you want me to leave?"
"No." She sounded sure about that, at least.
I can do this. I can live with this, move on from this, put the past behind, and help her. I can do this because she matters to me, more than anything else, anyone else. I don't want to lose her. I won't cut and run. She needs me and I need her.
"Computer, lights off." He pulled the blanket aside, sliding under it. Almost by accident, he found her hand.
"We'll get through this," he said softly, making himself believe it. And was rewarded with a squeeze of small fingers, before she curled close, her forehead touching his shoulder, her hand clasped tightly in his. He could feel the warmth of her body against his side, heard her breathing try to even out. Knew neither of them would sleep much.
Time. Time, time, time. Well, we have about fifty years left, I guess we certainly have the time.
He thought about that, and turned over on his side, lifting her face with one hand for a moment, looking into her eyes.
"I can wait." She nodded jerkily, and he put his arm around her, drawing her close, then remembered she was naked. Gods, I forgot how that feels. Despite what had happened, hell, maybe because of it, he heard himself emit a slight, involuntary laugh that she caught. They looked at each other for a moment, wary smiles on both mouths. Slowly, they settled back down.
"Do you want me to put my nightgown back on?" she asked softly, next to his ear, making him shiver.
"No." He leaned over, speaking just against her ear. "I missed you, B'Elanna. I meant everything I said to the K'eya and I meant everything I said to you tonight. We have time."
He felt her body relax against his, and she nodded. Relieved.
* * * * *
When her breathing evened into full sleep, Tom carefully disengaged himself from her arms and got up. He dressed quickly in some civvies he had in the back of his closet. Quietly, he made his way out the door, entering the dark halls with some relief, but determined, at least until he got where he was going, to think of absolutely nothing.
The Holodecks were, for once, unoccupied, and he programmed in what he wanted, then reconsidered. Wondering if this was what he wanted to do.
Tom stiffened and turned to see his Captain, semi-visible in the dark of the corridor. Chakotay was with her, and he realized, from their casual attire they must have just left the Holodeck themselves. They stood close together.
Tom knew he should have just gone straight into his program, but didn't.
"You know this is a bad idea," the Captain said softly. "What happened on the planet…that wasn't us."
"Wasn't it?" Tom had never heard that timbre in the First Officer's voice before. Low, gentle…but something else too. He's remembering what happened between them. And why am I standing here?
They looked at each other for a long time, unmoving, then, very slowly, the Captain moved toward him, lifting one hand to touch his face. He turned his head into her palm, brushing his lips against it, gently clasping the slightly trembling hand in his, before looking at her again. They moved together, bodies barely brushing, her hand still beside his face, still held there by his. He leaned down, mouth touching hers for just a moment…a breath of time, then they were pressed together, hungrily, and Tom stumbled back into the Holodeck, the doors closing as he looked at them, trying not to think what this could mean for him, for B'Elanna…They've been attracted to each other for years, you know that, hell, you started the betting pool! Which I just won, by the way. Somehow, it didn't make him feel any better.
He regained his breath, looking around Sandrine's for a long moment.
And walked to the bar replicator and ordered a drink.
* * * * *
Sue could not have said what led her to the Holodecks. They had been in constant use for the last week and a half. She had no illusions any would be open now, but despite that, maybe just to have another deck to walk off her dreams, she went by there anyway, and looked at the settings. One had a privacy lock, one did not, but both were running. She checked the program on the unlocked one, and knew, almost instinctively, who was running it.
"Computer, location of Ensign Paris?"
:::Ensign Paris is in Holodeck One.:::
He was, in some ways, as predictable as a Ferengi is trustworthy. Always wore his comm badge. She touched the panel to open the door and walked in.
Not surprisingly, he was sitting at the bar. No holographic people were around, she noted, not even Sandrine. She debated walking over, almost deciding to leave quietly, when she heard his voice.
"You couldn't sleep either?"
How the hell did he know it was me?
"No," she said, joining him at the bar. There was a large bottle of purple liquor near him, roughly close to one-quarter empty. Ever the gentleman, he poured her a glass and handed it to her. One taste told her why only a quarter of the bottle had been consumed. She choked.
She caught his grin.
"What the hell is that?" she asked when she got her breath back.
"Romulan wine. If you think that's harsh on the throat, try the ale one day," he said. He drained his glass and poured himself another, seemingly focused completely on the liquor in front of him.
She was beginning to feel the effects already.
"I won't even ask how you got that out of the replicator," she said, taking another very cautious sip. He laughed softly, and the sound was so natural, like his smile.
She thought about that. About that unconsciously flirtatious smile that warmed her, the soft, easy laugh, placing it in her memory. Something was not right, she knew this man, had spent the last two weeks with him almost constantly. Her mind connected the alcohol with that smile, and sighed softly.
"What happened?" she asked quietly.
"Why do you think something happened? You know me too well." Another grin, more intimate, and she felt her face flush. She took a drink to hide it, a larger swallow than necessary, but this time she didn't choke. It actually wasn't bad, a very fruity taste with a hint of cloves. Not entirely unpleasant, once you got used to it. Really, not bad at all.
"Do you want to talk about it?" she asked finally, leaning one elbow on the bar, as he was doing, facing him with no expectation that he would tell her.
Again, he surprised her.
"Just adjustment problems," he said noncommittally.
He shook his head in wry amusement.
"For everyone. Just catching up with me, I guess."
The blue eyes widened exaggeratedly.
"Sue! Such language from an officer and a lady."
"When did I claim to be a lady?" she retorted, grinning despite herself. "You don't have to talk about it, Tom, but if you need to, I am here."
"You always have been, haven't you?" He put both elbows on the bar, eyes turned straight ahead, missing the expression that crossed her face when he said that. "It's not that big a deal, it's just--remember when we were talking about how the crew would adjust to the formerly infected crewmembers returning?"
She nodded slowly, watching him.
"I told you that we could find a way to move on, something to that effect right? That we would be able to separate what they did as entities and who they are now that they're free. Well, I didn't realize how hard that would be, and only recently did it occur to me how hard it would be for them to separate those two things as well."
She bit her lip. Something had happened with B'Elanna. Baytart had said Tom had gone to his room that afternoon and that B'Elanna had taken that shift off, presumably so they could talk. Tom hadn't been seen since, and had not returned to Baytart's quarter that night.
Something had happened. Apparently, it hadn't been good.
"Have you and John talked?" Tom asked softly, lifting the glass to his mouth and finishing the considerable amount within.
"Yes. Mostly to the effect we need time, yadda-yadda-yadda, you know the drill. I think--I know it's not going to work out."
"Are you sure about that?" He was looking at her again, with a steady blue gaze that unnerved her.
"Yes." She looked straight back, unmoving. Almost not breathing.
"I saw the Captain and Chakotay in the corridor. It seems what happened on the planet has changed their relationship," Tom said softly, eyes still fixed on her. "I won a bet. I should have guessed only alien interference could have caused that to happen. Somehow, left on their own, I doubt it ever would have."
He isn't talking about the Captain anymore.
"You think so?" she said softly. Tom didn't answer for a minute.
Sue felt her hand grip the glass tightly, warming the liquor with her skin, and he lifted a hand, brushing the stray hair back from her face, the tips of his fingers brushing her cheek. Lingering there for a moment, unmoving. Stopping her breath.
"Or maybe it was inevitable." It hurt to say it. But I won't be a replacement. Won't? Can't?
"I don't know, I don't live in their heads, but the signs were there for so long. Anyone could see it, even me." She wasn't talking about the Captain either. "And when it happens like that, maybe it's because it wasn't the only way, but the most convenient way, the excuse needed." She took a deep breath, hard to do with those blue eyes on her like that. Knowing what she said could be taken either of two ways, and wondering which he would choose.
Which one she wanted him to choose.
For a long time, he didn't move, she didn't know if he even breathed. Then he nodded and stood up, leaning down to brush her cheek with his lips, an absent, gentlemanly gesture, and it took all her self-control to keep from turning into that kiss. Knowing just how much he wanted comfort right now,
Knowing there was a real possibility he wouldn't turn away.
But I won't be a proxy for someone else. I won't, I can't.
With a sad smile, he walked out. She listened to the Holodeck doors close behind him, and stared at the bottle, mesmerized, before filling another glass.