Part VI: Reality in Absentia

0600 hours

Present Time

B'Elanna woke up slowly, head sore, face buried in the pillow. She reached out, feeling for Tom.

Except where he should be, the bed was cold. Something in her froze.

"Good morning."

She lifted her head, pushing her hair back from her face. Tom was in uniform, sitting on a chair near the bed, apparently reading a PADD. The relief that flooded her was instant, and she smiled.

"Dressed already?"

"It's my first day back on duty. Are you hungry?"

She blinked, thought about it, and realized she could smell something. Banana-ish.

"You replicated breakfast?"

He grinned. Dropping the PADD, he crawled onto the bed to reach her, gently flipping her onto her back before leaning close, noses almost touching. Her smile widened at the sudden playfulness.


She smiled, couldn't help it. Pushing herself up on her arms, she forced him to sit up a little, blue eyes still looking into hers.

"What did you make?"

"Pancakes. Banana." Her smile faded, the brown eyes darkened with emotion. "I'm sorry. You told Neelix--"

"Yeah." She shook her head quickly. "Thanks. Give me a minute to get dressed." Suddenly self-conscious, she pulled the sheet up. He chucked softly.

"Who says you need to get dressed?" He slipped off the bed and picked up the tray and arranged pillows behind her carefully. "Breakfast in bed, my lady."

She noticed there was only food for one, and gave him a look. She gave him credit, he was good at interpretation, at intuiting the questions she would not ask.

"I ate already," he explained. "When I went to Baytart's."

Her mouth went dry. He wasn't staying. She had no idea, even now, why it was so important to her that he didn't leave, but it was. She felt her fingers bend the fork in her hand, and he gently rescued it.

"Just to get a few things," he continued, as if he hadn't just watched her bend solid metal in half. "That is, if you still want me to stay." He dropped the fork in the recycler and found another one, hopefully sturdier than its mate, and handed it over. The hand that took it from him trembled slightly.

She nodded and Tom took a deep breath, smiling gently.

"I'm going to my shift early, it's been a while since I was at the Conn."

"As if you'd forget." Her tone was almost teasing, almost normal. But not quite.

"Do you want to meet for lunch in the Mess Hall?"

She squared her shoulders unconsciously, setting her expression, and he remembered that few, if any, of the de-infected crew ate in the Mess Hall anymore. He made a mental note to mention it to Captain Janeway.

"Yeah. Twelve hundred?"

He nodded, brushed a finger over her cheek, and left, quietly. She watched him go, thoughtful, before turning her attention to the pancakes.

In the hall, he turned to the turbolift, keeping his mind carefully blank. Wondering again whether this was such a good idea.

Before this, we weren't nearly at the point where we were ready to move in together. I know B'Elanna would not have considered it. But if I leave now, she'll see it as a rejection, no matter how I put it. Well, my couch is comfortable enough…I suppose. He seemed to have spent a lot of time on couches recently. Fondly, he remembered what a bed felt like. He certainly wouldn't feel it again anytime soon.

He fought a reluctant grin.

Before, if she had said she wanted to move in with me, I would have been thrilled and scared and everything else, but now…it seems almost inevitable. Maybe because she looks so comfortable there, or because I see her things near mine, or maybe…maybe I am more ready than I thought, but I worry about us doing this. It could help us or make matters worse. She does need someone with her now. I don't want her alone, especially at night, not if last night is any indication of how her dreams are. Who else could stay with her--Harry?

He stopped for a second, remembering Harry would be on the Bridge.

It's not his fault. Why am I angry with him but not B'Elanna?

That was an easy one, and Tom shook his head as he came to a stop by the turbolift doors. He loved her, he didn't care what happened so long as he had her. How odd. How very wonderful and very odd, and why the hell aren’t I panicking right now? I just took on one hell of a commitment here, after a very bad night, and I don't even care.

He remembered coming back into his quarters the night before, headache already starting, a perk of drinking Romulan wine.

* * * * *

0450 hours

One hour earlier

Headache, headache, headache. He'd forgotten just how bad one could be, and detoured to Sickbay. As a medic, he knew what to take for it, so he didn't bother calling up the EMH and subjecting himself to a lecture about propriety and hangovers. As likely as not, the Doc would not give it to him anyway, as a lesson. Tom, however, had the Alpha Shift, his first day back at the Conn in--two weeks? Three? I can't even remember how long it's been.. He had no intention of suffering while piloting, not to mention the other symptoms inherent in overindulgence in alcohol.

He was intimately familiar with every one of them.

Quietly, he found the correct medication and dosed himself, then made his way to his quarters.

Sue's words had taken root. Insomnia wasn't helping his shift in mood. He looked down the dark grey of the corridors.

Inevitable. Me or Harry? I've never seen anything between them before, though. Friendship, really like siblings more than anything. Then again, when B'Elanna was under Vorik's Pon Farr, she approached me, and there really wasn't much warning for that either.

He considered that train of thought as the carpet rustled beneath his feet. He looked down, noticing the wear on it. It had been used for so long, without the usual replacements that occurred after a few years. No excess power for the replicator to replicate more, no spacedock to fix it in, and hell, do you want to be the one that recarpets this entire ship? Interesting idea for discipline on ship, though. Wonder why Tuvok never thought of it instead of resorting to the brig? It boggled the mind, and he wondered idly how many square kilometers of the ship was carpeted, the length of time it would take to pull it all up and replace it, the amount of glue or whatever was used to hold it down, and, all on its own, his mind worked out what seemed to be a brilliant equation to figure it out. Tom loved math (he really didn't have much choice, piloting and holoprogramming both required it) but these kinds of applications of it to everyday life were unusual, and he understood where it came from.

Not wanting to think. At least he could recognize bad habits returning, he thought darkly. Avoidance of issues. He was good at that. He'd had years of practice.

This time, however, Tom decided to be different. He set his mind to the problem of B'Elanna Torres, and walked into his own quarters, still undecided.

And he sat down in a chair near his bed to watch her sleep.

She was half-curled on her stomach, head pressed to the pillow. Her hair fanned around her face, covering one eye. The sheet was pulled down to her waist, but her position revealed only a deliciously ridged spine (a grace he wasn't sure he was thankful for). Her lips were slightly parted in sleep, one small hand clutching the pillow. She looked so young when she slept, so at peace, unlike her existence in the real world. He wondered what she dreamed of.

Wondered if it was pleasant.

And refused to think further along that line at all. He lifted one leg over the arm of the chair, watching her soft, even breathing.


When she told me she loved me, it wasn't under pon farr either--it was the Cataati and she thought we only had a few seconds to live, of course she thought she was in love with me, I was there. She probably would have told Chakotay the same thing under those circumstances. Ick, I didn't need that mental image, thanks.

Why? Too close to home?

Tom ignored the inner voice for a moment, watching her stir. Her fingers dug more deeply into the pillow, and she made a soft sound, her entire body twisting.

The question before us is this, Tom, no matter how you dance around it. Do you trust her?

Well, that would be the one he had been avoiding, all right, since the beginning. A particular kind of trust too. It had been hard to pursue her, knowing that his reputation, a well-deserved reputation at that, was one huge black mark against him. He had thought he had plenty of time to change her mind--and plenty of time to work out how he would react when she did.

Vorik had completely unbalanced that emotional equation.

Why did I want her? Because she disliked me so much on contact I just had to change her mind? Because she was the ultimate in unattainable--a half-Klingon who didn't seem to need anyone? Was it any or all of these things, or was it something more instinctive? Why the hell am I asking myself these questions?

Well, it all came down to the trust issue. Accepting her declaration of her feelings, beginning a relationship, sleeping together…all of those things were easy compared to opening up. He'd never doubted her fidelity to him, not once, but he had doubted her ability to want him for not only what he was now, but with the memories of what he had been before. One of the reasons he'd never shared those things with her. And all of that had just come out on Voyager, all of those lost skills he would have traded almost anything not to have used, that streak of coldness that had let him do it with little regret--and his own disgust at how little it truly affected him until he had to practice those skills on B'Elanna.

So easy to slip back into that role, that man. Terrifyingly easy.

So you want to cut and run because of the possibility she won't want you, when she already knows what you did and doesn't seem that scared. That isn't logical.

Well, love never is, is it?

He smiled to himself at that.

What makes you so sure that your bond with her is weaker because of what happened with Harry? You've been together almost two years, possessed by an entity he had her three days--well, a little more, actually, but lets not think specific--and suddenly she's going to throw herself at Harry? Do you believe her when she says she loves you?


Then why are we tracing the same track again? For some reason, I thought this decision was made. You would stay because you love her and need her. Trying to talk yourself out of it?


Then do it better, there are too many holes in these arguments. Just make a decision and for once in your life stick to it!

Ouch. Hurts when your conscience sounds like your father.

So he watched the small body turn slightly on the bed, twisting the sheet around her, tried to imagine years with her, remembering what he had seen. Wondered if he really could wake up one morning and not see her and Harry together in his mind's eye.

If he could ever touch her again and not see Harry doing the same thing.

Not comfortable thoughts, these.

Maybe we should have had sex last night. Maybe it would have purged both our memories.

"Tom?" Her voice was laced with fear.

His eyes went back to the bed, but she wasn't awake. She'd rolled over and her face was pale, oddly contorted, teeth gritted together.

"Don't watch. Don't. Gods, let me go! Get out of my mind! Stop it, Harry, no!"

She struggled against an unseen adversary, and Tom remembered Sue telling him, in a choked voice, about Jenny's worst nights, the screaming and struggling about being trapped and no way out, among other things Sue would not describe except with tight-lipped silence.

He carefully eased down on the bed, touching her face.

"Hush, sweetheart, it's only a dream." He caught one flailing hand, relieved his reflexes were faster than hers, and pinned it down. That would have hurt. Gently, he stroked her face, whispering words he remembered from childhood, when his mother had awakened him from nightmares, hoping the soothing tone would be enough, because beyond that he had no idea what to do. After a few more minutes, she stopped moving, her body relaxed back into quiet sleep. He eased himself away, wrapping the blankets tighter around her and remembering, very suddenly, she was sensitive to the cold.

"Computer," he said softly, "increase temperature by seven degrees." The room warmed quickly. He sighed, sitting back, then remembered he hadn't talked to Baytart about moving out, and decided to do that now. With a last glance at her, he walked out.

* * * * *

1200 hours

Present Time

The duty shift was so uneventful that it was positively anticlimactic for Tom. Lunch came as a relief.

So did the sight of B'Elanna, waiting just outside the Mess Hall. He had to smile. She had that look, that very brave, very determined look. Very B'Elanna.

If there were any enemies to fight in there, they wouldn't stand a chance.

He did nothing to indicate that her waiting outside for him, instead of finding a table inside, was unique. He understood how she felt. He hated going in there alone too these days. No telling when a memory might hit you, and he had too many people remembering things about him for it to be very comfortable.

So he put on a cocky smile and gestured for her to precede him.

She did one better. As she passed, she caught his hand.

Now that was really new. B'Elanna was not exactly the demonstrative type. (Though the crew might have disagreed, after the odd alien experimentation that had occurred to them soon after they began to become serious.) He blinked, looking at her, seeing her smile, her determined expression, and smiled back, brushing her palm with his thumb before walking in, looking around the room carefully for anyone they knew.

And saw someone.

Harry. It had to be. Fucking hell, this is not what she needs, and why didn't I think of this?

B'Elanna stiffened, and Tom abruptly turned them around, walking back out. The brown eyes were so dark they had turned black. She took a sharp breath, followed by another, too quickly. He gently pressed her against the far wall, ignoring the curious gazes of passing crewmen.

"Take a deep breath. Another one. That's it. B'Elanna, do you want to eat lunch somewhere else?"

She nodded, trying desperately to regain her composure, her breath still too fast, and Tom glanced back as the doors opened, saw some crewmen look out at them curiously. Didn't give a damn.

"Come on." He pulled her close, feeling her tremble. Wondering what it could possibly be like to see the someone you'd been the unwilling lover of, see him when you weren't prepared--It must have been tearing her up to sit in that damned conference room during the Inquiry.

Made Tom hate the entities even more.

In the quiet of his quarters, he ordered something from the replicator and sat her on the bed, crouching to look at her. Not touching her yet--B'Elanna wasn't as tactile as he was, she needed space to be comfortable enough to speak.

"Tell me what you felt."

"Huh?" She started involuntarily. Tom balanced himself on the balls of his feet and met her gaze steadily.

"We have to work on this. You know that, so do I. Tell me what you felt when you saw him. No, I'm not asking out of jealousy or anger, I want to know what happened. Trust me on this, not talking does a hell of a lot more damage. Please talk to me. Tell me what's going on in your head."

"Anger." She didn't argue. Would wonders never cease? Or perhaps it was her vulnerability at the moment, which he had every intention of taking advantage of. He remembered their fight before she left the ship for the planet, remembered what he had told her.

Wondered if she remembered. If she even wanted to.

And, somehow, he would have to trust her, and she'd have to trust him, or all the intentions in the world wouldn't help them get through this. Talk. About themselves.

"Frustration." Her voice was low, almost soft but for the underlying malice in it. "Hate. And affection and fear and--" She broke off, shaking her head. He caught her chin, not letting her look away, wondering vaguely to himself where he got the courage to push a Klingon engineer further than she wanted to go.

"What else?" She tried to pull away, one hand on his wrist, tightening slightly. He gritted his teeth. He wasn't afraid of her. "You'll have to break it to make me stop asking, so just tell me."

Her eyes darted back to him, startled, and he tilted his head. Waiting.

"Wanting, and repugnance. It doesn't make any sense, I can't sort it out!" She hadn't let go of his wrist, but she hadn't broken it either, that had to be a good sign.

"It's okay, it'll be hard at the beginning, but you need to think it through. You dreamed last night, do you remember that?"

She swallowed. He took that as an affirmative answer.

"So far so good. B'Elanna, I want you to tell me about the dreams, no matter what, even if you have to wake me up to do it. Okay? When you remember something that bothers you, tell me. If you have a headache, tell me." He smiled at the last. "We've done the emotional distance game, and it didn't help much. We'll try openness, because I don't want you to feel like this. I want to help you, but I can't do a damned thing unless you talk to me."

He still remembered her holodeck times, her addiction, a time he hated to think about at all. Days he'd helped her hide her injuries, fixed her up, never knowing why she was doing it, taking her explanations at face value. Bad explanations in retrospect. But at the time…God, at the time, he'd been glad to get any of her attention, whether it was sex so rough he wondered if anyone could possibly call it lovemaking, or merely running a dermal regenerator over her, fixing her wrist, her ankle, her face, and sending her out to do it again. Of course, she'd never brought him the worst injuries. Not after the first time.

He'd ask the questions again. He'd learned fast not to ask. She'd leave if he did that.

Well, not the same mistake this time, he'd learned. So he took her hand in his, lacing their fingers together, determined to help her in every way he knew how, no matter what it took.

"Start at the beginning, when you saw Harry in the Mess Hall. Just start there, think it through…"

* * * * *

The first full meeting of the Senior Staff was difficult for everyone.

Captain Janeway and Commander Chakotay, Tom noted, spent most of their time not looking at each other. Harry stared at the table unless asked a direct question by the Captain. Tuvok was as unflappable as ever, as was the Doctor, but neither looked particularly comfortable.

B'Elanna stared directly and intensely into her PADD, answering questions posed to her in her usual sharp manner, eyes staring fiercely over the edge of the PADD as if to challenge anyone who spoke to her.

Tom, head leaned into one palm, tried not to be amused, but he couldn't help it--no one could accuse Tom of having no sense of humor. Harry's low, nearly monosyllabic answers opposed to Tuvok's long, endlessly comprehensive replies, B'Elanna's quick jabs of retorts--and Janeway's unending and all-encompassing patience that was visibly strained.

"Anything from the Conn, Mr. Paris?" she nearly snapped. Tom's head jerked up from his regard of the other occupants of the room, and he shifted in his seat. He'd noticed this, her sudden impatience toward him. With a smile that he knew would set her teeth on edge, he answered. He couldn't help it any more than he could help breathing--damn he was tired of hostility from the recovered crew. Even her.

"The usual, Captain. Absolutely nothing of interest."

Blue-grey eyes narrowed almost imperceptibly, before she nodded sharply. She looked around the room for a few seconds before speaking.

"Our biggest worry right now is crew morale, as you are all aware." She glanced at Tom, who put on his most absorbed face and watched her with careful attention. "The crew needs to pull together. I understand the difficulties involved, but in each of your departments I expect you to actively promote re-integration." Her gaze challenged the senior staff to disagree.

"I've had fourteen requests for shift changes," Chakotay said, tapping his PADD with one finger. "Just this morning. I think it would be wise to allow it."

"I don't." Classic Janeway, face a problem head on. Subtlety be damned. Tom leaned forward on both elbows.

"I have to agree with Commander Chakotay, Captain." Blue eyes on him again, not exactly friendly, not overtly hostile, and he strangled a sigh. "Many of those who requested shift changes I have talked to--"--her eyes narrowed, That was a mistake, telling her they talked to me first. "--and I think it would be easier for them, as well as the others involved, to grant the requests."

"I don't. There aren't any easy answers, Tom."

"I don't think anyone is looking for easy answers, Captain." Chakotay caught her gaze. "Just an answer. A stopgap. I've counseled several of the crew for the last week, and I have to admit I don't have any better idea how to deal with the situation. We can't just chain them together and tell them to forget what they went through, both the crew that was infected and the crew left behind." He held her eyes, trying to get his point across, and Tom leaned back in his chair, glad Chakotay was making the argument he would have had to make himself.

Captain Janeway's eyes flickered across the room, taking in the expressions of the staff. Noticed their silent agreement, including Tom's. He braced himself against the mild hostility radiating from her.

I shouldn't have said a damned thing.

Finally, the Captain nodded slowly, relaxing into her seat.

"If that is what you think is necessary, Chakotay, authorize the changes. But temporarily. This crew has to start working together, and I expect you all to contribute to the re-integration of the crew." Satisfied, she glanced once more around the room. "Dismissed."

* * * * *

"She's didn't seem too happy with you, Tom."

To Chakotay's surprise, Tom spun around in the narrow corridor, backing off one step as he did so. An instinctive reaction, Chakotay recognized it from Tom's early days on Voyager, after the crew integration. He'd noted Tom's almost reflexive paranoia in the Maquis, had vaguely wondered what had happened to the young man that made him twitch at unexpected contact. Since that time, he had gained control over his instincts.

Though, apparently, some habits were hard to break.

"I shouldn't have said anything," Tom said finally, and Chakotay found himself fascinated by the body language the young man expressed, the coiled tenseness that hadn't relaxed, the way the blue eyes watched him warily. He and Tom might not have ever been friends, but he had never done anything to merit this suspicion.

Though something was vaguely pushing at the back of his mind. A memory. A corridor.

And it hit, with the force of a disruptor to the head, and he blinked hastily.

"Tom--" But he couldn't think of anything to say to that. Tom hadn't backed away further, seemed comfortable with six full meters of space between them.

"I know it wasn't you," Tom said finally, meeting Chakotay's eyes. Then, oddly, he smiled. With an openness Chakotay hadn't expected from Tom, the younger man continued. "I led a sweeper team after I beamed all of you down to the planet, to get the ones we hadn't been able to find. Corridors make me edgy."

That was interesting. And understandable. But there was something else, something Chakotay had noted since he'd resumed his duties as First Officer. Tom's energy level was incredibly high. Even at rest, he'd noticed Tom twitch at sudden movements, more than edginess would allow for.

"Tom--" They looked at each other for a minute. "I'm sorry about what happened. You never said anything."

Tom shrugged slightly, but the tenseness hadn't relaxed.

"I don't really see the point. One more bad memory for you, why bring it up?" Tom touched his jaw lightly. "That was a hell of a right punch, Chakotay. Remind me not to box against you."

Pure Paris, humor to lighten a situation.

Chakotay wished he could remember what had prompted the attack, but the memory was fuzzy. Maybe nothing. The entity that had held him had been extremely hostile, Chakotay remembered that clearly. He hadn't been able to keep calm, to keep control, as the Captain had suggested.

Maybe the entity had been reacting to Chakotay's own unresolved animosity for the young man. He didn't know.

He wasn't sure he wanted to know. Introspective as Chakotay liked to be, he didn't want to resolve this today. Yet.

"Tom--" he frowned. "I know we aren't the closest friends, but if you need to talk--"

Tom shook his head slowly.

"No. Don't worry, Commander, no hard feelings." He smiled, backing a step down the corridor. "I don't hold a grudge."

And Tom turned away with another quick smile, moving at an easy stride down the corridor, away.

He'd hit Tom, broken his jaw, Chakotay remembered that. The entity had been careful that morning before the mutiny, per the Captain's instructions, trying to be friendly, a thing neither Chakotay nor Tom were used to. That afternoon--

Maybe it was seeing Tom still on the ship that triggered the anger.

Chakotay didn't want to examine it further. He looked at the corridor walls, noting the unevenness of the metal, yet to be completely repaired from the on-board fight for control between Tom and his crew and the infected crewmembers. Tom had been remarkably open about everything, but he had glossed over most of what he called the 'sweep efforts' to contain and remove the infected crew.

Tom had entered the turbolift. The young man turned around, facing him briefly, then the doors closed.

Another unresolved issue, as if there weren't enough already. Kathryn and him, for one. He shook his head.

He didn't have time to do everything. He'd handle what he could.

He wondered what Kathryn was doing at that moment. They hadn't really talked since the night before. They would need to, soon. Very soon.

* * * * *

Captain Janeway gritted her teeth as she sat quietly in her chair, watching the Senior Staff leave, just as if it were any other day on board the starship Voyager.

She was angry with herself.

She knew she had no reason to snap at Tom, but seeing him there, so at ease, so normal, set her nerves on edge. She'd regretted her behavior even as she expressed it.

You're acting like he slept with your lover.

She grinned a little bitterly at that.

Well, in a way, he did. He had Voyager.

Chakotay's presence had equally unnerved her, and for no good reason. The night before had been everything she hadn't dared even think of for four long years. Everything she had told herself she didn't need.

What happened between us had nothing to do with K'eya influence. It was us. We've both wanted this for a long time.

That was true, she wouldn't deny it. Yet--yet why, then, did she feel so uncomfortable, so wrong?

She didn't want to examine it now. There was too much to do, too much to think about; she simply couldn't handle another crisis.

She glanced down at the PADDs on the table in front of her, then gathered them distractedly. She had work to do.

* * * * *

Harry had seen B'Elanna's reaction in the Mess Hall. Knew she had remembered something else. It hurt. God, it hurt more than he could have imagined.

In his quarters, he stared at his clarinet. He wanted to play it, knowing music could take him outside himself, at least for a while, but his hands shook too badly. Gently, he set the instrument down, staring at it as if it had betrayed him. Music had always helped.

But not today.

His door chimed.

And opened. Apparently, someone had taken a page from the Paris Book of Protocol. He spun to see who it was.

"Sue." He couldn't have been more surprised if Tom had shown up again.

She smiled, the door closing behind her, and took a seat on his sofa, eyebrows arched playfully at his expression.

"Hi, Harry."

She had her instructions. Well, Tom hadn't meant it to sound that way, but he'd been in command mode, unconsciously giving her an order, and she'd instinctively obeyed. Funny, it really was instinctive. I may even have said 'yes, sir'. She wondered at his concern a little, noticing how utterly calm he was when telling her what Harry needed.

"You and Harry didn't interact when he was under the influence of that entity. He needs someone to talk to." Leaving out the obvious--that the two people he would have spoken to when upset were the ones who were avoiding him, whom he was avoiding. She, of all the crew, was closest to him. She would have to do.

Megan, Jenny, now Harry. Tom working on Gerron and any other crewmember in need of someone to talk to, the rest of us just trying not to flinch when we see them--Joe Carey's been great about helping out, he and Baytart both. And Tom's talked to Megan too, but somehow I don't think it's working well, she's too sensitive to everything right now, and she and Tom were lovers once, a help and a hindrance. How on earth do you talk to an ex about a current lover? But he's in her situation now, I guess that isn't such a surprise she listens to him occasionally.

Sue hadn't believed it would be easy, the reintegration of a traumatized crew to a traumatized crew. But she had never thought, even during her most cynical moments, that it would be like this. Looking at Harry's sallow face, shadowed eyes, his thick black hair limp and glossless as soot, fingers clenched into tight fists at his side. She fought the same vicious rage that she'd struggled with since the first day the K'eya had invaded them. Harry didn't need to see her anger--he needed to talk.

Reality had been so confused for so long. She wondered if she would ever walk into a room and see her friends again as friends. If there would come a time she'd wake up in the morning without a gasp and a start of fear.

If she would ever go down the hall and not flinch from the sight of people she had helped torture. Not directly, but she'd been witness, asked the questions, even if she had never administered the drug.

She wondered if Tom would ever be able to move on.

She wished she knew.

"Sit down, Har," she said softly, patting the couch invitingly. "Tell me how everything is."

* * * * *

"B'Elanna, it's just a dream. Wake up." Tom held her hands down carefully, finally forced to use the weight of his body to stop her thrashing. He'd talked to the Doctor earlier that day and gotten her a sedative, but she'd refused to take it. A Klingon thing, he supposed. Or maybe she was punishing herself, he didn't know. He'd heard her scream and jumped off the couch to see her gripped in a nightmare that was twisting her on his bed, trapped in the sheets.

He shouldn't have fixed that. As if she were reliving her experience under IS117, her spine arched underneath him as he tried to keep her down, almost knocking him off his straddled position above her, trying to keep her from hurting herself and him, her wrists becoming slippery with sweat and harder to hold. He'd forgotten how strong she was, easily his match. The low sounds she made hurt to hear. Finally, he pinned her arms beneath his knees and slapped her across the face.

That had been Doctor's best advice. It hurt to do it, but he figured if nothing else…

The shock opened her eyes wide, dark, not recognizing, and he moved quickly, feeling her body tense. He sat on the edge of the bed, watching as she lifted herself on her elbows, breathing hard, face flushed, one cheek dark red with blood. He waited for her to see him.

Finally, she drew a deep, trembling breath, calming herself down. He went to the bathroom, coming back with a wet washcloth and gently patting her face with it. The flush receded slowly, but her reddened cheek did not, and he stifled the spurt of guilt.

"All right. Tell me what it was."

She shook her head.

"I'm not sure."

Tom settled himself. No mistakes this time, he wanted to do this right.

"B'Elanna, give me an idea. Start at the beginning. Tell me what you saw in that dream."

Her eyes narrowed, but Tom didn't bother reacting. He was perfectly prepared to wait all night.

* * * * *

0300 hours

Present Time

Sue wasn't surprised Sandrine's was running--in all honesty, she was glad. She checked for a privacy lock, found it was not in use, and walked in.

Tom looked tired; that was the first thing she noticed. Tired in a way she recognized. It had nothing to do with physical exhaustion.

He looked up, seeing her, and motioned her over to the booth. He didn't look particularly surprised to see her either, and she wondered if perhaps he'd been expecting her. She slumped down across from him, taking the glass he offered silently, and downed the blue liquid in one gulp.

"Bad night?" His voice was laced with the thinnest edge of irony.

"All nights are bad nights," Sue said softly, staring at her glass. "No different tonight than any other since we stopped at that fucking planet. Bad nights, bad days, bad

in-between, what do I say?" She took the decanter and filled her glass again. "How's B'Elanna?"

"I gave her a sedative after she went to sleep," he said softly, She was somewhat surprised he was telling her, hadn't expected anymore than a 'fine' or an 'okay'. "It'll keep her sleep dream-free for tonight at least. Or so Doc assured me when he handed it over. He's prescribed a lot of those lately, sleep aides." He sighed, staring at his glass with a wry expression. "Responsible officers don't drink to ease their troubles."

Sue toasted to that and downed the second glass without flinching. she suddenly remembered her hangover from the night before, and the small hypospray Tom had left in her quarters. Megan had told her he had come by with it. It made her grin.

"Is this alcohol or synthehol?" She tapped the glass meaningfully.

"Synth. Too much of the real thing does strange things to my reflexes after a while." He made no move to refill his glass, staring at it with hypnotic intensity. "I want to kill them again. It's not very comforting to see myself in the mirror anymore, you know, seeing that hate, seeing what they did to the crew, to B'Elanna."

"To you."

"Ever one to thrust honesty down another's throat, aren't you, Sue?" His grin wasn't very convincing.

"'Cold hands, cold heart,'" she reminded him with a smile. His grin became more real and he nodded, filling his glass again. "I wish this wasn't real."

"Don't we all." He drank to that, lightly touching his glass to hers. The gentle sound of glass on glass echoed in the still quiet of Sandrine's. She watched him over the rim of her glass.

"You still aren't sleeping, are you?" she asked softly.

"Not well. Nothing life-threatening."

"Is that why you're still using the stims?"

His head came up, eyes wide, and she hid a smile. He didn't bother to deny it.

"Just for a little while more," he said finally. "Not much, anyway. As soon--"

"--as the crew doesn't look at each other suspiciously and make as if to attack at a glance? Are we talking years or decades?"

"You want to poke a fork in me too, and really watch me squirm?" He put his empty glass down, regarding her carefully. She shook her head. The synthehol was getting to her fast.

"Not really. You're too thin to use a fork on." She'd noticed that too, his weight loss.

He shook his head, a smile pulling on his lips despite himself.

"I should be with B'Elanna," he said finally, though he made no move to go.

"I should still be with Harry, but I cheated and gave him a sedative too, he hasn't slept well. Luckily, he didn't argue when I suggested it." She sat her empty glass down and reached for the bottle. "We aren't dealing with this very well, are we?"

"No. I guess we did all right during the crisis, but after? That is always the part everyone disregards, you know, the effects of after." He leaned on one elbow, fiddling with his glass.

"The effects of after." Liking how it sounded. She nodded slowly. "Yeah, I know. How's Gerron?"

"Better than yesterday. He and Megan are going to talk, that's something. They'll survive, I think." Tom glanced at the wine speculatively, then poured half a glass's worth and studied it. "I know, actually. And Jenny? How is she doing?"

"She's started talking to Megan again tonight. It went well, they were both crying and talking at the same time." Sue sipped her synthehol, enjoying the burn on the tip of her tongue. "Tom, do you want to talk about it? Really, you know you can."

"I don't like to do that."

"I know." The edge in her voice caught his attention, and he looked up, meeting her blue eyes with his, eyes that didn't look cloudy from the synthehol at all.

"That's why you left me, isn't it?" he asked finally, calmly. She didn't like where this was going, and tapped her glass nervously. He didn't notice, or pretended not to, anyway.

"We both decided to end it."

"True." He looked back at his glass. "I need to get some sleep. I'll see you later."

She watched him leave, thinking about what he had said.

* * * * *

"Where were you?"

Tom spun to see B'Elanna sitting on his couch, her face set. She was wrapped up in his blue robe, her feet tucked up under her, watching him in the dark.

"Lights, twenty-five percent," she instructed the computer in an oddly toneless voice. "Where were you?"

"Huh?" It was the best he could do at the moment.

"You left. You've been gone for three hours. Where did you go?" Still in that oddly flat tone that made him want to hide, not a feeling he relished. He wasn't afraid of B'Elanna. He wasn't.

That must be the reason you're looking for an exit, hmm?

Sometimes, he wished that little inner voice would shut up and let him have one decent, comforting fantasy.

"Just out." It suddenly occurred to him that B'Elanna should be asleep. Almost on cue, she tossed something his way, the empty hypospray. It hit his chest, tumbling to the floor with a soft plop. Numbly, he picked it up, fingering it for a moment before tossing it into the recycler.

"You misjudged the amount. The dose you administered was too low for a half-Klingon. Forgot your medical studies already?" Her voice had picked up heat. She stood up, walking up to him, he caught himself backing away until his back made contact with the wall. The brown eyes widened, then narrowed. "Where the hell were you?"

"On the holodeck." Tom rarely lied to his lover. He knew better.

"With Sue." The low voice dropped further, chilling the room.

He stared at her for a long time.

"Like last night." He winced. Wondered how she knew.

She's checking up on me? Maybe he was supposed to be angry or defensive, but all he felt was an overwhelming sense of tiredness.


She didn't move for a moment, and he saw her hands were in fists. Her face gave her away, the way she bit her lip, the turn of her shoulders as she moved away. He had no idea what to do. What to say.

"Why?" Her back was to him. It didn't make it any easier.


"In Sandrine's? Drinking, you mean."

"You're keeping tabs on my movements, B'Elanna?" He couldn't even summon up a pitiful offended tone now. Exhaustion seemed to seep through him, and all he wanted in the world was to sit very still for a long time, no thinking, no crisis, and no memories.

"Yes." She turned around, fast, on the ball of her foot, eyes accusing. "You didn't return after an hour, or two, or three and I decided to find out where the hell you were."

"I couldn't sleep."

"And alcohol helps?" Her voice dripped scorn. He couldn't find an answer to that. There wasn't one. Slowly, he moved to the couch, sitting down, burying his head in his hands. He felt her presence rather than saw it.

"Do you hate being here with me that much?"

He lifted his head, fingers twining together loosely.


"Then what?"

He didn't answer for a long time, staring at her with an intensity she didn't recognize. She could feel his eyes trace her slowly. His face gave away nothing of the thoughts that went on behind his eyes, it rarely did. She waited, watching him, watching those long, graceful fingers twist tighter, knuckles white.

"God, you're beautiful," he whispered, eyes never leaving hers, voice hoarse. "I always think I remember, but when I see you again, memory is nothing in comparison. Every day, every night since…longer than I can remember. I look at you, and I wonder, why are you here, with me? Of all the men on this ship, you wanted me."

He paused again, his head shaking slightly. No more words, and she didn't know what to say to that.

B'Elanna sat down on the coffee table. Looking at him. Tried to piece together what was wrong, separate it from her fading anger, her feelings of betrayal even she knew were stupid, her overwhelming desire to lash out. Instead, she sat in silence, watching him, until he lifted his head again.

"Talk to me."

He smiled a little, unconvincing, and it faded as soon as it began. She reached out, touching his face, and he leaned into her hand for a moment. The slight scratch of a face unshaven since morning, the silky skin beneath.

"You've gone through enough, B'Elanna. You don't need--"

"I need you." He was intensely tactile, something she had learned early on, and had noted on several occasions that he was most likely to talk when being touched. She slipped off the table, climbing into his lap, quite aware of how vulnerable Tom was at that moment, and that she needed to exploit it if possible. And it was possible. She could do this. "I need you to talk to me. I need you to tell me what's wrong. Tell me if you have a bad dream. Or a headache," she added, and was rewarded with a slight, but real, smile. "Talk to me."

He slid his arms around her, leaning into her gently, forehead against her shoulder. Breathing her in.

"You defended me at the Inquiry," he said softly. She stroked his hair, lifting his face for a moment. "Privately, when you talked to Janeway."

She caught herself in a soft laugh. Surprised.

"Did she tell you?"

"No, it was recorded. I was looking for Vorik's testimony and found that record. I think the Captain wanted me to hear it. Your command of Klingon profanity is impressive. I didn't know Klingons had so many variations on a single Standard word."

"You'd be surprised," she answered noncommittally. "Nice jump off the subject, though. Tell me what's going on in your head, why you go to Sandrine's and talk to Sue."

The way she said Sue's name brought his head up again, looking at her with raised brows.

"You don't like her."

"I don't like the way she looks at you."

"She's a friend."

"I'm friends with a lot of people but I don't look at them like that. I'm Klingon, Tom, and a woman. I can feel these things."

Tom considered what she said carefully. B'Elanna could be incredibly intuitive. He wondered what she felt when she looked at him, and resolved, in his own mind, never to let her know, or guess, that he had considered what Sue had offered, consciously or not. A bandage over his tattered emotions, a way to find distraction.

Another step down the path. He shook his head.

"She and John broke up. She needs a friend," he compromised, deciding this was the one thing he didn't need right now. Even to think about.

"She has friends." B'Elanna studied her lover, wondering--and left it there. Because she didn't need to know that. She trusted him not to betray her, or their relationship, but she did wonder if he had been tempted.

As if she had some sort of monopoly on fidelity. She shook her head at the thought.

"Many of them were among those infected." He didn't look at her. She tilted his head up, staring into the impossibly blue eyes.

"You and she were close during what happened, weren't you?" Some things couldn't be ignored. He'd taught her that.

His gaze moved to her shoulder.

"She was Acting First Officer. We had to be."

B'Elanna bit her lip, trying to think of a way to phrase what she suddenly wanted, needed to know. He met her eyes, reading the question in them.

"No. Nothing like that." Could have been, though. Gods, I could have, she might have, do I really want B'Elanna to hear this? Does she need to hear something like this? What is the right thing to do here? He leaned his head against hers, closing his eyes. She pulled gently back, framing his face with her hands, looking at him for a long time, then slowly leaning forward, giving him the option of pulling away. He didn't, let her brush her lips across his, then return, slowly, the gentlest touch. Sweet.

She closed her eyes, felt his fingers in her hair, gently pulling, twisting, deepening the kiss carefully, as if it were the first time he'd kissed her, the first time he kissed anybody, tongue gently brushing across her lower lip, tracing her teeth, then she opened her mouth against the pressure of his, so carefully, wanting him to know she wasn't trying to destroy a memory, that she simply wanted him.

And it felt good.

His free hand caught one of hers, lacing their fingers together gently, and shivered, moving closer to him, arching her back slightly. Felt him pull her closer, one hand flat against her back, supporting her as he leaned her backward

It was a long kiss. Finally, he broke it off, looking into her eyes. A smile turned the corner of his mouth. It made her breath catch, that smile, tender, loving, and pleased. She couldn't remember the last time she'd seen him smile like that. Tracing her face with one hand, he leaned close again to claim her lips, tasting them deliberately, gently, thumb tracing her cheekbone. She felt his teeth grazing her neck on an achingly slow path to her collar, the brush of his tongue against her jugular, settling at the base of her neck, gently sucking before a crawl back up to her chin, easing her forward so he could kiss her again.

He pulled back again, both their breath coming a little fast, staring at each other. Moving forward to touch again, taste each other, a little less carefully, a little more passionately. He freed her mouth, cupping the back of her head, lips sliding down her neck, tongue brushing her skin. Finally, she felt him stop, breathing heavily against her shoulder.

"God, B'Ela, what you do to me," he murmured. She curled her arms around him, and he lifted his head, his eyes a little dilated, dark as indigo, and she caught her breath.

"Sleep with me. Just sleep," she said softly, in answer to his raised eyebrows. "Is the couch really that comfortable?" His answering smile was reluctant, but it was there, at least.

He kept her gaze firmly locked with his for a few moments, then nodded slowly. Before he could change his mind, she stood up, holding out her hand for him to take, leading him to the bed, then turned to unbutton his shirt. She heard his breath catch at the brush of her fingers against his chest, felt the heat in her own face. The simple, familiar action of undressing him had become unfamiliar, as if she had never done it before, and her fingers trembled at the closure of his pants, freezing there for a moment as she tried to slow her heart.

She couldn't remember the last time they'd actually stopped like this.

His hand brushed hers, then moved around them, unfastening his clothes, letting them fall, stepping back. Looked for a T-shirt, but she stopped him, one hand pressing against his chest.

"Don't." She tried to smile, but she couldn't help staring at him. Her mouth had gone completely dry. I'm acting like I've never seen him in only shorts before. She made an effort to regulate her breathing, realized he was doing the same, and giggled softly. "This is ridiculous. I've seen you undressed before."

He laughed with her, and the blue eyes seemed lighter than they had been for a long time.

He watched her shed the robe and noted she was wearing one of his T-shirts, barely brushing the tops of her thighs, and he was reacting to it, wondered how he hadn't noticed before, and then wondered if this was such a good idea.

She turned, crawling into bed, still holding his hand, pulling him behind her. When he settled himself, she curled against him, achingly familiar, one small hand splayed on his chest, her head on his shoulder, some strands of her dark hair tickling his cheek.

Her breathing evened slowly, and, surprisingly, so did his. He felt pleasantly sleepy, the comforting smell of her around him. Breathed her in, winced in some humor as his body reacted to her closeness, and thought he heard a suspicious giggle. He tilted her face up.

"You're laughing at me."

"Well, actually at both of us," she whispered, eyes dancing, and he liked that, her sudden, easy humor, the dark lifted from her eyes, at least temporarily. Her mouth twitched, and they both burst into laughing, Tom rolling on his stomach to bury his head in the pillow to muffle himself, B'Elanna helplessly leaning against his back, tears leaking from her eyes.

When they finally slept, curled against each other, B'Elanna did not dream.

She forgot he hadn't talked.