Endless IIB: Hitting Home
by Judy firstname.lastname@example.org and Etal
Day 46, Hour 1130, Alpha Quadrant
B'Elanna remembered how Harry and Tom tried to explain the neural plugs that were implanted while they were in the Akriterian prison. Harry had said something about fire ants crawling through his skull and Tom had made some dumb joke about it. She guessed that she had probably laughed at his joke at the time, but couldn't remember for sure. Looking back, B'Elanna wished she'd been more sympathetic and listened more carefully. Maybe it would have helped her now.
Because she felt like fire ants were crawling in her brain. And under her skin. It started slowly, with just one twitch last night, then they began to multiply. Now, they seemed to be everywhere and nothing made them stop. B'Elanna tried sitting still for a while, but it didn't help. In fact, it felt worse because she was even more aware of the sensation in that moment. It was like they gained strength to roll over her like a wave if she stopped moving.
So she didn't stop. B'Elanna paced or ran up and down the stairs, anything to stay ahead of them. But she could feel them getting busier by the minute. What was happening to her? She was so scared and somehow this fear worried her more than the burning inside.
B'Elanna hadn't focused on the fact that the fire ants were in her ears until she saw her mother's lips moving. She concentrated very hard to try to hear the words over the static. "Dear...I called...Evan's here."
B'Elanna thought her mother had a funny look on her face. Was it concern, was it embarrassment?
As Evan stepped into her line of vision, she began backing away, "Don't touch me! You could make it worse!"
Quaice took a step backward and she could see he was not encroaching upon her. She saw him take out a tricorder and scan her from that distance. B'Elanna was frightened that this would agitate the ants, but he seemed to sense her reaction and finished quickly. He looked kindly, but also intently, as he started speaking. Frustrated again with words she didn't understand, B'Elanna put her hands over her ears, squinted her eyes shut, and pleaded, "Stop it! Just shut up!"
Quaice waited to see if she would open her eyes, or if she was going to try to shut him out. He knew B'Elanna became highly aversive to people and sound during these panic attacks, so he searched for a way to make contact while minimizing an invasion of her space. If Miral Torres had called earlier in the day, he could have talked B'Elanna through this more easily, but at least the mother had called now. The counselor focused on calming himself, so that maybe he could guide her down by example and teach her some self-soothing techniques at the same time.
She did open her eyes, but B'Elanna didn't know what to make of the counselor. She was rocking on her feet to keep moving as she watched him. He looked at her reassuringly and slowly raised a hand towards her. Evan didn't reach for her yet, but looked down at B'Elanna's hand. She raised her hand as well, not sure what he wanted. He moved slightly forward and placed his hand under her own, without touching her. Then he began making little circles in the air.
B'Elanna could feel a small waft of air, almost like a cool breath as his hand moved. She didn't know what he was up to, yet she found the rhythmic motion soothing to watch. Quaice's hand moved closer and closer to her own until she finally felt contact. She gasped, anticipating that it would make it burn worse. She was surprised that it only burned for a few seconds, and then started to feel better, feel warm and soft. As the tension began leaving her hand after a couple of minutes, he began to softly massage her fingers.
Quaice smiled at her. When her hand was deeply relaxed, he carefully placed it against her rib cage. Her chest felt tight and sharp, like it was composed of shards of broken glass that rolled up and down over her fingers. B'Elanna instinctively removed her hand. She looked at the counselor and said, "I can't! I can't do this!"
His look was somewhat sympathetic, yet very intense. B'Elanna had the sense that if she didn't do this, he'd move towards her and do something invasive that would be worse somehow. She thought about running away, but that might jar the glassy feeling and that would be worse, too. Feeling trapped, and sickened by the sensation, B'Elanna returned her fingers to her ribs.
Evan could see that she was doing better. B'Elanna was tracking his motions. Having a single point of focus had already calmed her to some extent. Hoping he had enough of her attention, he started talking about taking slow, deep breaths. He put his hands on his own ribs and exaggerated the effort somewhat so that B'Elanna could clearly see the motion through his shirt.
B'Elanna watched him, and it took her a little while to realize that this was the next thing he wanted her to copy. Doubtful, but desperate. B'Elanna tried to grab a breath. The more she thought about her lungs, the more they hurt at first. One time she got a good gulp of air and felt better for a second. After several more tries, she found another. It was making a difference somehow.
"That's it," she heard someone say, "deeper and slower."
After what seemed like an eternity, B'Elanna could no longer feel the fiery sensation in her chest, and the rest of the fire ants seemed to be slowly leaving her, like they were leaking out of her extremities. She looked at Evan again. Perhaps it was seeing the change in her that made Quaice try to talk to her a little more. B'Elanna could hear a few words as the roaring sensation faded. "You're doing very well...focus on breathing...you'll feel better soon." Her strength seemed to be draining away even as her mind and senses became clearer. She found herself trembling slightly.
Quaice turned to Miral and spoke to her for a second. She quickly left the room and returned with a blanket. Quaice took the blanket and gently started to approach B'Elanna. She started to pant again and said, "No, it hurts too much!"
He quickly reassured her, "It's okay, you're okay. This is going to keep you warm, but it's very soft. It won't hurt your skin. It won't make it start again. You can keep that feeling away, just keep breathing slowly." He kept up the gentle banter as he wrapped the blanket around her and helped her to the couch.
She collapsed into the couch as if she were made of liquid. She remembered hearing that someone on Deep Space Nine was made of liquid, but she couldn't remember who. Did that person feel like this all the time? Was she going to feel like this all the time? Was she turning to liquid? Was she going to burn away, like acid, from the inside out? It frightened her all over again.
"Easy. Take it easy. You're okay, you're safe. Do you understand?" Quaice asked.
Feeling so tired, B'Elanna just looked at him. It took a few seconds to realize that he had asked a question. Not sure what to say, she just repeated his words, "Take it easy."
"Yes, that's right. Just try to relax. Nice and slow. Even breaths."
"Slow breaths," B'Elanna agreed, "that's good."
"That's very good. That's all you need right now. We can talk later, but for now, all you have to do is focus on breathing."
B'Elanna didn't quite know what was going on. She knew she felt better, but very sore. All her muscles ached, like she'd been doing a marathon. She yawned as Quaice helped her to lie flat. She felt a pillow under her head and was going to ask how it got there, but then her mother brushed hair off her forehead and said something about closing her eyes. That seemed like a good idea too, so she did.
Satisfied that B'Elanna was finally sleeping, Miral and Evan walked quietly out of the room, leaving the door open slightly so they could hear if she awakened. They moved to the kitchen and Quaice sat down at the table. He saw that Miral was agitated and needed to be busy for the moment. Evan thought if he sat still and out of her way, then Miral could collect herself while she moved around the room. B'Elanna's mother made them a couple of raktajinos, and handed one to the counselor. She took a sip, then stirred it for a moment. Abruptly, Miral took the spoon out of the cup and threw it in the sink.
"How many more times is this going to happen?" she challenged Quaice.
"I don't know. I know these panic attacks are hard on both of you...."
"No, you don't know. You don't have any idea what it's like," Miral interrupted him. "To watch my daughter suffering like that. It's awful!"
"You're right that it's a different experience for you and B'Elanna. I expect it's little comfort, but these attacks are a byproduct of her recovery. As B'Elanna moves out of denial and into an acceptance of what happened, this is a sign that she is getting stronger. Sometimes that means strong enough to experience, even on a visceral level, the extent of loss and grief that she's been trying to suppress."
"So running the stairs is strength? Shaking is strength? No, B'Elanna is getting weaker. We have to do something else. Harry didn't act like this after they put him on medication. Maybe it's what she needs."
"As you know, I'm in regular contact with Dr. Z'Pel and if I ever thought B'Elanna was at risk physically, we'd treat her immediately. But right now, I'd like to keep her off medications if we can. It might keep her calm on the surface, just like it did for Harry. Unfortunately, it would also interfere with her ability to think clearly about what happened."
"That's why you've cut off her contact with Harry for now. Because B'Elanna was using him like a drug," Miral offered.
"B'Elanna wasn't actively trying to hide behind Harry, she wasn't being a coward. It was just too easy to ignore her own adjustment if she focused on taking care of her friend."
Miral thought this over for a moment. "What's happening now still isn't good enough. I need to be able to do more for her. Maybe if we went to Kronos."
"Miral, what do you know about the approach of counselors on your planet? What would be the traditional Klingon way of responding to this kind of event?" Evan asked pensively.
Laughing at his naivete, she said, "Klingons don't use counselors for something like this. We get drunk on blood wine in honor of lost crewmen, fight with friends and enemies to show our courage, and sing songs of glorious battles."
"What would you do for crewmen who weren't ready to return to their ship or enter battle?"
"Soldiers who cannot face their enemies or are unable to function have no honor. They commit ritual suicide rather than disgrace themselves or their families," she stated simply.
Knowing Admiral Paris would never accept this option, Quaice still had to ask, "Do you think your daughter should kill herself?"
Miral didn't answer him right away. He could see she was struggling. "Being Klingon was never important to my daughter. At least it wasn't before she left. But in the end, she cannot run away from who she is. Some people might think our culture is obsessed with honor. For us, it is very real, it is everything. I don't want my B'Elanna to die, but how can I let her live in such pain? If she were physically debilitated and asked to die, I would let her go. I would have to."
"You have the right to make decisions about your daughter's well-being. If you believe B'Elanna would be better off drinking and fighting, then you can speak to Admiral Paris about transportation to your homeworld. I have to ask you to consider, though, that your daughter is very honorable. If she wasn't deeply committed to her crewmates, then B'Elanna would not be so deeply wounded now. And when she has healed, these scars can serve as her badge of courage. This need only be a temporary setback and her honor can remain intact." Quaice didn't know whether Miral Torres believed him or not.
Day 50, Hour 1115, Alpha Quadrant
Harry was lying in a lounge chair on the back porch with his eyes closed. He recognized the voice instantly and smiled. He had always liked Dennis. Technically, they were cousins, but they grew up like brothers. Dennis was one year older and good naturedly teased Harry about the age difference by nicknaming him 'kid'. Harry hated being thought of as the kid on Voyager, but he actually liked it with his cousin. Without bothering to open his eyes or get up, Harry asked, "Who let you in?"
"Nobody. You know me. I go my own way," Looking around, Dennis continued, "Maybe I ought to start rethinking my approach to life. If you get fancy digs like this for being a team player...."
Still not moving, Harry replied, "From what they tell me, this is a loaner. Still, I can't complain. If they're gonna stick me someplace, I have to admit I like it here. It's quiet, peaceful. Dad and I go for a walk in the woods everyday, and Mom's excited about the wildflowers. She says it's some varieties she never had at home."
"Yeah, it'd be nice if we could all have a huge A-frame in the forest with a private lake. The only problem is there is no good sand for volleyball."
Harry then felt a volleyball gently hit him in the side of the head. "Hey!" He sat up quickly and was trying to get a grip so that he could toss it back. He finally looked at Dennis, who was casually leaning on the railing, smiling at him. His cousin had the same black hair, the same black eyes and small nose. And the same wide grin with lots of large, white teeth. A few laugh lines, a few more pounds, but he was the same Dennis he remembered from what seemed like a century ago. Harry abandoned the ball as they moved towards each other for a hug. "Why didn't you come see me sooner?" Harry asked.
For a second, Dennis' mood got serious. "I did. I came to see you and your folks a couple of times."
Dennis saw the disoriented look that crossed Harry's face. "I'm sorry. I don't remember."
His cousin tried to shrug it off casually. "I know. It's no big deal. I could see that they had you doped out pretty good. Besides, it was an excuse to get some of your mother's good cooking." Feigning a stern look, Dennis continued, "I hear they've cut your meds way down, so don't think you can use that excuse again. I'm a fascinating person, and I expect to be remembered."
Harry laughed out loud. Nobody else in his family would have the chutzpah to talk about themselves so grandly. Playing along, he said, "Being fascinating is a tall order. If you want to be remembered, don't be boring."
"Me? Never. Now go put on a pair of running shoes."
"Maybe everybody else lies around the house here, but that's not for me. If I'm going to stay for awhile, then I expect to be entertained. So you're gonna give me the grand tour and then we're going for a run. At some point, we both know that our friendly little jog is going to turn into a race. And when I win, I don't want to hear a lame excuse, like you're wearing the wrong shoes," Dennis explained confidently.
Dennis saw Harry hesitate, and he waited. He could see the wheels turning and knew Harry was looking for just the right words. "Dennis, you know what happened?"
"Yeah, kid, I know."
"Don't you want to talk about it? To ask me what I've done?" Harry asked. Dennis could see that Harry was churning inside. Was Harry worried about accusations or attacks from him? He'd hoped that Harry hadn't lost confidence in their relationship. What was Starfleet doing to him that Harry could be so easily twisted into knots over this?
"The way I figure it," Dennis replied, "you spend all day doing two things -- watching over your parents and Torres, and talking about Voyager. You talk to lawyers and uniforms and counselors. So if you want to go through it with me, I'm okay with that. Or if you want to just make it all stop for an hour, and feel normal for a bit, then we'll go for a run. Whatever you need."
Dennis was right. Something simple and normal would feel like an oasis. Harry had no doubt that all his problems would be waiting for him later in the day. But for now, he wanted to enjoy this moment. Without another word, Harry headed into the house to find his best sports shoes.
Day 50, Hour 2200, Alpha Quadrant
"Grace," Myeong whispered as she looked at her friend on the viewscreen in the study, "Is now a good time?"
"Yes, it's fine. Owen's asleep upstairs. You can speak up."
Relieved, Myeong continued. "Thank you so much. You should see Dennis and Harry together. It's like Harry is a different person around him."
Grace's smile broadened. "I'm glad, Mye. I wish it hadn't taken so long. It took a few days to persuade Owen. You know he isn't a fan of Dennis, but I tried to explain to him that Harry has this way of bringing out the good qualities in people. Just because Dennis is rude to Owen. Oh, I'm sorry Mye. I didn't mean...."
"It's okay," Myeong assured her, "It's true that Dennis has always been the most contrary child in our family. I don't know where he gets his wild spirit, but none of us have ever been able to reign him in. I know I've told you before how appalled we all were when he initiated those protests at Starfleet after Voyager first disappeared. Despite our warnings, he continued. I've always thought Dennis sort of looked forward to the day he was arrested. In fact, I think he was disappointed that he only spent a few days in jail."
Grace seemed far away for a moment when she replied, "Some young men seem to define themselves by being controversial. They seek opportunities to be against something, even if they don't know what they're fighting for. It's a sad way to live because they only know who they are when they're in trouble. Besides," she added, "Owen shouldn't have taken those protests so personally. In his own way, he's a very sensitive man."
"Yes he is. I can never thank him, or you, enough for what you've done for us."
"You're welcome. Do you think I could come see Harry again soon? If he's doing well, I mean. I don't want my presence to upset him. But if it's not a problem?"
Myeong could hear the desire in Grace's voice. She could easily imagine how much she herself would have wanted to be near Tom if Harry was still missing. Somehow being with her child's best friend would have eased her pain. "Evan Quaice transports in everyday to see us. He had to approve Dennis' visit, as you know. I don't see a problem with your arrival, but let me double check with Evan in the morning, okay?"
"Of course, Mye. Whatever you, or John, or Harry needs comes first. If we should wait awhile, I'll understand."
Wanting to give her friend some comfort before she ended the transmission, Myeong added, "Grace, Harry likes you very much. He told me that he sees so much of you in Tom, even if Tom tried to hide it. Harry'll grow to be connected to you in a special way."
"I hope so," Grace allowed herself to admit, "I truly hope so."
End part 7