Disclaimer: Star Trek Voyager and all its characters are the sole property of Paramount Pictures. I am merely borrowing them for this story, and nothing more.
Author's Thanks: Thank you to all of my beta-readers, Sandy, Slider2002, Theresa, and my cybersis mercedesblanca, without whom this would never have been possible. Thank you all of you for putting up with this monster of a project and for the continued support!
Escaping Paradise: The Gates of Eden
B’Elanna Torres took a deep breath of the warm, fragrant air and smiled appreciatively. This planet, Frensia, was an ideal place for shore leave; they’d come across Frensia several days ago and had found the inhabitants, the To’Kara, friendly and accepting of them. After only a few meetings with the To’Kara ambassador, Captain Janeway had approved scheduled shore leave. The planet itself was beautiful, with lilac colored skies that seemed to vibrate with life and surrounded by a mosaic of lavishly colored plants. She’d been informed by one of the representatives of Frensia that Voyager had arrived at the time of the mi’Sia, the season of the mists, when fragrant white mists often blanketed the planet and thus, during one of the planet’s most beautiful times. Now, as she took an early stroll along the outskirts of the To’Kara’s main city of Wyls, she couldn’t agree more with the assessment.
As she made her way around a small puddle of deep blue water on the path, B’Elanna could sense that she was not alone. "Who’s there?" she called out cautiously. With no more noise than the breezes that brought the fragrant mists, a dark figure slipped out from beneath the tangle of green growth nearby.
When the figure emerged fully from the wooded area, B’Elanna couldn’t help but admire the beauty of the To’Kara all over again. They were unlike any other species she’d ever encountered; the initial scans showed them as humanoid, but upon visual inspection, they seemed to be much more. The To’Kara who had appeared possessed a pair of delicate-looking antennae that emerged from his forehead and moved slightly with every breeze as well as a pair of gossamer-like wings that were folded and partially hidden by his simple flowing robes. His physical appearance, coupled with his emergence from the underbrush, reminded her strangely of a Terran butterfly. "Are you Lieutenant B’Elanna Torres of the Starship Voyager?" he asked, his voice a deep baritone that seemed unfitting for his arthropod-like appearance.
"Yes," she replied, her eyes narrowed. They’d only been in orbit for a few days, and there was no way that a To’Kara that she’d never seen before would know her name. "And you are–?"
The alien chuckled roughly and his filmy wings fluttered, reflecting a sweep of exotic colors. "Who I am is not important, Lieutenant," he informed her cryptically, "All you need to know is why I am here."
B’Elanna frowned at his refusal to identify himself and wondered briefly if she should contact Voyager. "Well, then why are you here?" Her eyes swept the vicinity quickly, but no one had appeared on the path and she now sorely missed her phaser.
"My associates have watched your Voyager for many cycles," he continued, "And I feel that I know you. What I have to say applies only to you, and not to any other members of your crew. I must ask you to leave your ship and come with me; there is an immediate demand for an individual with your skills where my associates are." As he spoke, he had slowly advanced on her and now she scanned the area nearby for anything that could be used as a weapon to defend herself, just in case.
"What if I don’t want to come with you?" she challenged, trying to buy herself some time with which to either flee or attack this intruder.
The To’Kara’s bi-colored eyes glimmered menacingly as his thin green-tinged lips curled into an unpleasant smile. "I do not believe you would refuse, for as I have said before, my associates have monitored your ship and crew very carefully. An operative is now onboard your ship, and, if you do not leave with us within two rotations, he has been instructed to kill Lieutenant Tom Paris." He paused and allowed the full weight of his threat to sink in before adding, "And if you inform your Captain Janeway of the real motive behind your departure, Lieutenant Paris will still be killed."
B’Elanna felt her heart constrict at the thought, but did not allow any emotion to manifest itself on her face. "Where would we be going, and why am I needed?" she attempted to ask, "And if I’m so badly needed, why didn’t you just capture me?"
The To’Kara shook his head and sighed deeply, sounding like a ruptured EPS conduit spilling plasma coolant. "Lieutenant, lieutenant," he rumbled, obviously displeased, "Haven’t I explained myself already? I told you that my associates have been studying you. They know that your Captain Janeway would pursue any abduction of your crew. Many have failed to realize this, including the Rhulani that made up the Ja’in and the Vidiians, who both failed in their attempts. But we also know your captain; she would not oppose any crewman who chooses to leave of her own volition."
At the thought, she barely restrained herself from reminding him of Seven of Nine’s decision to return to the Borg that had resulted in Captain Janeway confronting the Borg Queen. She didn’t need him to know about that, or else he might just make it even more difficult for her. "You seem to have everything planned out," she commented, "But what if Captain Janeway won’t allow me to leave? After all, she could order me not to leave and I would have to obey, seeing I’m a Starfleet officer." It was a risky gamble, but at this point, she’d try anything.
"Do not give me that excuse, B’Elanna," he told her exasperatedly, "I know you were not always a Starfleet officer; you used to be a freedom fighter that your people called the ‘Maquis’. Besides, what do you value more, your Starfleet position, or the life of Tom Paris?"
"Leave Tom out of this!" she finally burst out, "If your primary concern is getting me to leave Voyager, then leave him out of this! He’s innocent!" She immediately regretted her words; she hadn’t wanted him to know how much she cared for Tom. If she’d feigned indifference, the result might have been different, he might not have believed that his tactic would work and leave her alone, but now it was too late.
His laugh was harsh, almost like the cry of the Terran crow, as he observed her. "You have 2 rotations, Lieutenant B’Elanna Torres," he warned her as he retreated, "I suggest you say your good-byes and be here by then. And do not even attempt to tell the crew anything except that you are leaving of your own volition; our operative will not spare Lieutenant Paris if anything goes wrong." With those menacing words, he melted back into the underbrush, leaving her behind.
"Torres to Transporter Room One," she hailed, "One to beam up." She took one last look at the scenic world around her as the tingle of the transporter beam reduced her body to molecules and whisked her away with a gust of cool wind. She materialized on the transporter pad and nodded her thanks to the ensign manning the transporter controls as she stepped off it. Her resolve steeled, she headed to the captain’s ready room; she had no idea if what the To’Kara said was true, but with Tom’s life at stake, she really didn’t want to gamble on chance.
"You want to—what?" Captain Kathryn Janeway echoed in disbelief. B’Elanna Torres was standing in front of her, calmly taking in her reaction. "Did you just say you wanted to leave Voyager?"
B’Elanna refused to let any visage of doubt or conflict to show itself on her face. "Yes ma’am," she replied crisply, her eyes focused on the bulkhead just a few centimeters above Janeway’s head.
Voyager’s captain studied the chief engineer standing in front of her carefully, trying to find any crack in that professional façade she was displaying. "May I inquire as to what you think you will do after leaving?" she asked curiously. This crew had been her family for the past six years and there was no way she was going to let any of them go easily.
B’Elanna felt her throat go dry at this crucial moment; if she couldn’t convince the captain that she had plans laid out beforehand, there was no way she was going to be allowed to leave. "I’m going to settle here on Frensia," she answered, "I’ve seen a lot here these few days and realized that there is so much that I could learn here, that there is so much that I could do here." Steeling herself, she took her eyes off the bulkhead and willed herself to look into the cobalt blue of Janeway’s eyes. "I’ve spoken to some of the officials in Wyls and they said that they would be pleased if I stayed here."
Janeway held up a hand, stopping her rehearsed speech. "So you’ve abandoned all thoughts of going home to the Alpha Quadrant?" she inquired with concern.
B’Elanna sighed inwardly; all these questions, trying to make her stay, or to make her say something that would reduce her chances of leaving. "I had no home in the Alpha Quadrant, Captain," she stated, "The only thing I ever had that was close to a real family or home was the Maquis, but now—" She trailed off needlessly, knowing that Janeway knew what she was hinting at.
Captain Janeway frowned inside; she couldn’t believe this was happening. It didn’t seem real or possible. "Have you talked to Chakotay or Tom about this?" she tried again, hoping against hope that B’Elanna would still change her mind, but knowing it was probably hopeless. "Does anyone know about your decision to leave?" She stepped closer to the engineer and searched her eyes for any sign of her sudden decision. "Is anyone forcing you to do this?"
"No, Captain," the soon-to-be former chief engineer reassured her, knowing her time was running out. "This is something I really want to do."
The woman standing across from her allowed herself a deep sigh. "I’m not happy about this," she admitted, "You know engineering will never be the same if you leave."
She grinned wryly, understanding the implied compliment. "I’m sure you’ll survive without me," she replied, a touch of humor in her voice, "They’re really much more competent than I usually give them credit for. They’ll manage."
Janeway felt the unmistakable moisture of tears welling up in her eyes. She’d seen this woman standing before her grow from a headstrong rebel to an engineer who had undoubtedly performed more miracles than any other Starfleet engineer before her. Even though she’d tried as hard as she could to convince her to stay, there was apparently nothing else she could do, or say, that would convince the half-Klingon woman. "Well, the entire crew will miss you, B’Elanna," she choked out, "Maybe I can talk to Neelix about organizing a farewell party—"
"No!" B’Elanna almost shouted. "I mean, no. Please, Captain. I want to leave as soon as possible and I really don’t want everyone to know where I’ve gone until after I’ve left." At the questioning glance she received, she added, "I’ve always been bad at good-byes." She paused awkwardly before bidding her captain a simple farewell. "Thanks for everything, Captain. I know you’ll get the rest of the crew back safely. And, good-bye." With those words hanging in the air around them, she turned and walked out of the ready room for the final time.
Her quarters were dark, barely illuminated as she packed a change of clothing into a newly replicated bag. The books and trinkets that she had collected still sat at their customary places and the casual observer might not even have realized the event that was transpiring. The only thing amiss was the stack of padds that rested on her table. Unexpectedly, her door chime rang and she closed her eyes almost as if in pain. She didn’t need this now, not when she was so close to slipping away from a life she knew so well and loved so much. Holding her breath, she waited for him to leave, hoping that he wouldn’t check her location with the computer. After several more rings, however, she knew that the hope was pointless. "Come in," she called out reluctantly, straightening the simple black tunic and pants she’d chosen to wear instead of her uniform.
The heartbreakingly familiar silhouette of Tom Paris appeared, a sharp dark outline against the brightness of Voyager’s corridors. "You taking a nap in here?" he teased gently as he drew nearer. "Computer, lights to normal illumination."
"Tom, no," she whispered, pained. She could barely stand to face him in the dimness of her quarters, much less with the lights on so that she could see every feature of his face with such startling clarity.
He looked around, satisfied, when the lights returned to their usual luminescence. His expression soon became puzzled, however, when his eyes fell on her, and the bag she held. "What’s wrong, B’Elanna?" he asked worriedly, his voice immediately concerned. She refused to answer, merely staring at the bulkhead just past his head. Feeling the tension that had mounted since his arrival, he tried to tease her, to do something to get her to open up. "Planning on taking a trip?" As the words left his mouth, he winced; it had sounded accusatory when the words came out, but it was too late to take them back.
B’Elanna growled silently; she had hoped to leave undetected, but that wasn’t about to happen. She took a deep breath, dreading his reaction to her revelation. "I’m leaving Voyager," she stated flatly. There was no way around it. She could be evasive, or sugar coat the truth until it was sweeter than a Vulcan honey cake, but it was still the truth; it was better to say it now and leave.
Tom heard her voice, heard the words, knew the meaning of the words, but refused to acknowledge them. "Excuse me? I think the Doctor needs to examine my hearing but I thought I just heard you say you were leaving Voyager." he informed her flippantly. However, a look at the woman in front of him, standing there, every trace of humor wiped from her face, told him he didn’t misunderstand her words. He shook his head to clear away the confusion before continuing. "Why?"
Her heart constricted painfully at his monosyllabic question. How could so much emotion, so much pain, be conveyed through such a tiny word? "I think I’ve found someplace where I belong," she answered him, refusing to look up into his crystal blue eyes.
"I always thought you felt that you belonged here, on Voyager, with me," he mumbled almost inaudibly. But she caught his words and had to fight the lump that was quickly rising in her throat.
"Tom, I’ve really taken a good look at Frensia, and for the first time, I felt dazzled by everything I saw here. The inhabitants, the knowledge they have here, their technological levels," she looked up hesitantly, still unwilling to meet his eye. "I think I have a great opportunity here; it’s what I’ve always wanted, to be able to study, learn from some people who obviously understand the world around them and have harnessed every aspect of it to help them."
Tom held her gaze for a fraction of a second before the emotion on his face became too intense for her to bear. "B’Elanna, please. I know we haven’t always been able to get along totally, but please. If it's something I’ve done, if whatever is bothering you, forcing you to consider this, has anything to do with me, please give me a chance to make it right. I don’t want to lose you, and I can’t help thinking that I don’t want to live without you. Please, B’Elanna, whatever it is, don’t make a hasty decision; stay with me. We can work through this…" She turned bodily away from him, refusing to look into those eyes, those pools of liquid blue that she could almost drown in.
"I have to leave, Tom," she answered softly, moving to take her bag. "And there is nothing you can do to convince me to stay." Her last words were spoken so softly that she had doubted he had even heard them until he replied.
"Then can’t you at least tell me why you’re doing this?" he asked in frustration, "I think I at least deserve an explanation!"
B’Elanna turned to face him, the fury building slowly as she shot him a glare from her smoldering eyes. "Who do you think you are? What can I say to make you let me leave in peace?!?!" she demanded, her eyes bright with fire. "What do you want me to say? That I love you and if I didn’t have to go, I’d stay here with you? That I can’t imagine life without you? That I’ve never felt this way about anyone else in my life and know I will never feel this way again? What more do you need? What more can you want?" In her anger, she almost spat out the words, but there was no denying the truth behind them. She stopped suddenly, as if only now realizing what she’d said, and stepped away from him. "I’ve got to go," she whispered as she grabbed her bag and fled, away from him, away from her life. A part of her, though, wanted him to come after her, to call her name, to reach out, anything. But when she knew he wouldn’t, she breathed a silent sigh of relief. Even though she was doing this to save him, she knew that any overture on his part would have caused her to abandon all thoughts of leaving and stay by his side forever, even if it meant both their deaths.
Tom watched her go, her words having frozen him to the ground. Every rational cell in his body told him to run after her, to beg her to stay. But after her angry outburst, he had been rooted to the spot, his limbs refusing to move as his brain strove to comprehend what she had said. He had only been able to watch helplessly as she stormed away from him, out of her quarters, and out of his life.
As she approached the transporter room, B’Elanna was concentrating on keeping her face impassive. She wanted, so badly, to turn back, to run back into Tom’s arms and tell him she was just kidding, but she forced herself to remember that if she did, it would have meant his death. Swallowing past the hard lump that had risen in her throat, she entered the transporter room, her bag gripped tightly in her hand, and stepped onto the transporter pad. "Energize," she managed to choke out. As the faintly numbing effect of the transporter took hold of her, and the familiar contours of Voyager began to fade away, only then did she allow herself to breathe a ragged sigh.
The transporter's effects soon faded and she found herself a few hundred feet from where the To’Kara had approached her. Drawing a deep breath of the perfumed air that had somehow begun to seem sickeningly sweet, she walked towards the spot where her life had ended. Once again, the To'Kara stepped out from behind the foliage and turned his green and violet colored eyes on her. "Ms. Torres, so you have decided to join us. We were beginning to believe that you would not accept our offer." His voice was still friendly and completely different from the malice implied.
"What choice did I have?" she retorted bitingly, recoiling slightly as he advanced. She was so focused on his increasing proximity that B’Elanna could not hear the faint sounds that indicated footsteps nearing her. When she felt the unrelenting grip of an unknown assailant, her instincts reacted and her leg swung out, hoping to catch the unseen individual.
"Now, now," the To’Kara shook his head as he spoke to her disapprovingly, "Don’t make this any more difficult than it has to be, B’Elanna."
She heard his voice, but it only served to increase her anger. Twisting her body as her leg made another try at knocking over her assailant, B’Elanna managed to free herself and began to run down the path. Reaching up to tap her commbadge as she ran, she sadly realized that she had left it back on Voyager, along with the rest of her life. She didn’t have time to dwell over her actions because at that moment, the much swifter To’Kara fell upon her. She could only remember the sensations of having the breath knocked out of her as she fell to the ground, and the horrific burning that she felt begin at her neck and spread throughout her body before darkness engulfed her.
Tom managed to sit down in B’Elanna’s recently vacated quarters as his mind tried to absorb what she had told him. She had said she loved him, twice now; she’d never said it again after that Day of Honor incident, even though they had gotten involved afterwards. But now, just as she was leaving, she had once more told him how she felt. Suddenly remembering her earlier words about leaving Voyager, Tom stood up quickly, his eyes taking on a desperate light. "Computer, where is Lieutenant B’Elanna Torres?" he demanded.
"Lieutenant Torres is not onboard," the voice replied, its dispassion almost mocking him, "Official logs state that she left the ship permanently at 1400 hours."
He sank back into his seat, defeated. She’d already left and was officially gone, as far as the computer was concerned. "Computer, what are the exact coordinates of Lieutenant Torres’s beam-down location?" The hope was faint; knowing her, she’d probably commanded the computer not to reveal those coordinates to anyone.
"Unable to comply," came the immediate reply, "That information is classified."
"Dammit, B’Elanna," he hissed furiously as his hand came into contact with the surface of her coffee table, rattling the padds that were resting there. The noise attracted his attention and he reached out curiously, both to steady the stack and to see what they were.
The first padd he activated was addressed simply "To Chakotay." After scanning the first few lines, he realized it was her final goodbye to her friend and mentor. Reaching for the other padds, he slowly realized that each padd was a goodbye to one of her colleagues or her friends. Chakotay, Captain Janeway, Commander Tuvok, Harry, the Doctor, Neelix, Joe Carey, and even Seven of Nine. As he sorted through the stack, he became more and more agitated when he could not find one addressed to him. Had he meant so little to her? Even though she had said so much during their last heated exchange, did she really not think enough of him to leave him a farewell? His fears were, however, dispelled when he got to the very last padd. "To Tom," he read silently as his thumb traced over the greeting, stroking the words gently.
"Tom, thank you for everything you have done for me during my time on Voyager. You befriended me when most people were content to stay far far away, and you help me come to terms with the Klingon side of myself. For that, and for being there for me, I will forever be grateful. You and I have both grown immensely since we were thrown into the Delta Quadrant, and I know that with you, the crew will get home safely. Goodbye, B’Elanna."
He blinked away a tear as he finished reading the short farewell. It sounded so cordial, so friendly, making absolutely no reference to everything they had become, to everything they had shared since. Any casual bystander who would have read the letter would have no idea what they had been to each other, of how much they had meant to each other. Tom suddenly felt intense regret crash over him like a wave breaking against rocks. He had never, in the time they had together, told her how much she meant to him, how much of his world was centered around her. He took a deep shuddering breath and stood up, gathering the padds together. Obviously, she wanted to say a final goodbye to the crew that had become her family, and he planned on fulfilling her wish, despite the pain he felt.
"Come in," Harry Kim invited as an unexpected visitor announced him or herself. He glanced up from his clarinet to see Tom standing in his doorway. "Hey, I thought you were going to be down on Frensia with B’Elanna," he greeted his friend.
"Harry, B’Elanna left the ship," Tom informed his best friend flatly.
The younger man almost dropped his clarinet at the news. "What?" he sputtered, "Why—? How—?"
As he watched his friend struggle to put together a coherent sentence, Tom took the proper padd from his stack and handed it to Harry. "She left this for you. Maybe it’ll explain more than what she was willing to tell me," His words were clipped, almost angry, even, but Harry could also hear the pain that was underlying every word.
"What did she say to you, Tom?" he probed quietly, knowing how much the two of them meant to each other and worried about how his friend was taking the news.
Tom’s reply was a short, humorless laugh. "Basically, she gave me the ‘been fun, nice knowing you’ speech," he informed the ensign. "You know, ‘thanks for being a good friend, keep up the good work, get the crew back, etc.’ Nothing about why she left, no reference to say that she ever considered us more than good friends." He did not tell Harry about their exchange in her quarters right before she left, however. That wound was too fresh, way too deep for him to speak to anyone of it just now.
"Tom," Harry began, then stopped abruptly. What could he say? ‘I’m sorry that your lover’s gone, but I’m sure she had a good reason for leaving you without a second word?’
The pilot raised his hand, silencing his friend. "Save it, Harry," he informed the younger man painfully, "Don’t even try to make me feel better, because there’s nothing you can say." Without another word, he turned on his heel and left Harry’s quarters, leaving his friend staring worriedly after him.
After his friend’s exit, Harry took a deep breath and turned to the padd in his hand. A thousand questions ran through his mind, first and foremost being why had B’Elanna left so abruptly, when everything seemed to be going so well for her on Voyager. He sighed deeply; there was no way for him to ask her why she’d left, the time for that had passed him by without him realizing it had been there. The only clue to her actions was the padd he held in his hand, her farewell letter to him. After taking another deep breath to steel himself for his task, Harry turned his eyes to the padd and began to read the letter.
"Dear Harry," it began. He could almost hear her voice as she had recorded this, an hour ago, or a week, he had no idea. "I still remember when I first met you, back on Ocampa. You were such a child back then. So young, so naïve. Looking back, I am amazed at your growth, and yet feel a tinge of sadness. Perhaps this unexpected twist of fate that had landed us all here in the Delta Quadrant has ripped the innocence away from you too fast. And yet, I can honestly say I’m proud of you, Harry, for growing up to be the man you have become. You’ve always felt like the little brother I’ve had to look after, and you’ve always been the big brother who looked after my welfare."
"Don’t worry about me, Harry; I’m happy where I am, but I do have some things I need you to do for me. Please, watch over Tom for me. I know him better than he might think, and he’s probably hurting over my leaving. Keep an eye on him; don’t let him hurt himself or anything. Make sure he gets back to the Alpha Quadrant in one piece. And Harry, I want you to be in charge of distributing my possessions to the other people on the ship. I don’t want Tom to do it; he’s not going to be able to do it. He’d keep putting it off, using it as an excuse not to let me go, to immerse himself in our past. Besides, you’re the people person on this ship; you’ll know what to give everyone. Whatever you don’t give away, recycle back into the replicator and split the credits between yourself and Tom. Whatever you do, don’t let Tom bully you into letting him do it; don’t let him keep too many reminders of me. Make sure he goes on with his life. Your life is still ahead of you, Harry, use it well. I know you’ll do me proud, Starfleet. Yours, B’Elanna."
Harry looked up from the letter and had to wipe away a tear. She’d left him such a goodbye, telling him how proud she is of his growth. Giving him such a task, to give away her effects. He could only hope that her faith in him was not misguided. His resolve strengthened and he knew he’d do everything to make sure he followed her requests to the letter.
Tom took a deep breath as he walked away from Harry’s quarters. He was glad he’d left when he had; there was no way he would’ve been able to withstand his friend’s probing questions. His mind was still trying to accept her departure as his feet moved, unassisted to the Mess Hall.
"Hello, Tom!" the eternally cheerful voice of Neelix, Voyager’s Talaxian cook, started Tom out of his thoughts. The Talaxian wiped his hands on a nearby towel as he moved from behind the counter and turned his cheery yellow eyes on the pilot. "I must say, it’s quite a surprise to find you here," he prattled, "I thought you would be down on that planet, Frensia, with B’Elanna. That is a marvelous little planet, isn’t it? Quite spectacular, in fact, especially with those delightful mists. Why, just the other day—" Just then, Neelix caught himself and excused himself to the pilot. "What can I do for you?"
Feeling especially empty after listening to Neelix’s ramblings about the planet, Tom attempted a tired smile for his friend, but gave up after a second. "Neelix, B’Elanna left the ship today, permanently," he informed the cook, then hurried on to finish what he came to say, "She left a few goodbye letters, and here—" He trailed off awkwardly and turned his eyes downward, searching for the padd addressed to Neelix. Locating it quickly, he turned it over to the intended recipient and turned to leave, hoping to escape the questions that would naturally follow, as well as the accompanying look of pity.
The normally chipper cook was, for once, subdued. He looked down at the padd in his hand, unable to accept that B’Elanna had left without a goodbye. Neelix’s golden eyes soaked up the words he saw first. "To Neelix," he read over and over again before building up the courage to continue down the padd. "Neelix, you, along with the rest of us, could never have predicted how our lives would have all been changed by the Caretaker. But now, I can’t imagine how life would be without you onboard Voyager. Even though I haven’t always seemed appreciative of your efforts at trying to help me come to grips with both sides of myself, I can truly say now that your efforts were very heartfelt. Thank you for everything you have done for me these years, and know that I am happy and sure that I have made the right choice. However, I still ask that you look after Tom for me. He won’t understand why I have left, and all I ask is that you make sure he goes on living without me. Please, watch out for him and don’t let him stop feeling. I know how it is to not be able to feel any emotion and I don’t want him to go through what I went through. Thank you, Neelix, for everything you have done, and please, take care of yourself, and of Tom, for me. Sincerely, B’Elanna"
Neelix sighed deeply, his eyes suddenly moist. He sniffed quickly, and slipped the padd away into the pocket of his apron. He had dinner to prepare, and if he didn’t finish, no one would have anything to eat tonight. Putting away his thoughts, he busied himself with the task at hand, preparing some of the vegetables the To’Kara had provided them with for a dinner stew.
Tom walked out of the mess hall with his head hanging; he’d never thought it would be so hard. If six years ago, someone had told him he was going to feel such devastation over a woman who’d left him, he’d probably have laughed, but now, all he wanted to do was shut himself away in his quarters and hide from the world. He sighed, suddenly grateful for the fact that the majority of the crew was on the planet on shore leave and not wandering Voyager’s corridors. He had a job to do, no matter how hard it was for him to accept that she was gone, he had to carry out her wish to distribute the farewells among the crew.
Without his conscious knowledge, Tom stopped outside the doors to the Astrometrics Lab. He knew Seven was probably in there, and he had to give her the padd B’Elanna left for her. However, he was still hesitant about entering; next to Engineering, B’Elanna had frequented the Astrometrics Lab and his memories of her were very strong here as well. Shaking his head, Tom told himself he had to carry out his task, and he couldn’t just avoid every part of the ship that reminded him of her, or else he might as well just throw himself out an airlock. Steeling himself, he waited for the doors to part, then walked in.
Seven of Nine, the woman Voyager had reclaimed from the Borg more than a year ago, stood behind one of the main consoles in the Astrometrics Lab, pivoting to reach several different consoles with ease despite her high stiletto heels. At the slight sound of the doors parting, she looked up and turned her large blue eyes to her unexpected visitor. "Lieutenant Paris," she greeted him, "May I assist you with something?" She regarded him curiously for a moment before returning to her work. She’d conducted a brief study of the helmsman and chief engineer’s romantic relationship and as a result, had seen many of the couple’s moods and expressions. However, this was one expression she was unfamiliar with. He seemed to stare into space for a period of about a minute, with a strangely pained, yet nostalgic, expression on his face. "You seem to be in distress, Lieutenant." She finally observed, "Do you require assistance to Sickbay?"
This last statement finally jolted Tom out of his reverie. "Oh, I’m sorry," he answered, "My mind just drifted for a minute."
"I do not understand the expression I have heard in which a crewman referred to his or her mind as having ‘drifted’. The mind, or more specifically, the physical aspect of the mind, the brain, is safely encased in a humanoid cranium, it cannot move more than a few centimeters in any direction, much less drift." Seven’s voice was colored with a hint of perplexity as she spoke, and, despite the pain Tom felt, he smiled a little at her statement.
"Just a figure of speech, Seven," he replied, "I meant that my attention was elsewhere."
She seemed to be satisfied with his answer, and returned to her work, but not before reiterating her earliest statement. "Do you require assistance?"
Tom looked down at the padds he still held and extracted the proper one. "B’Elanna left the ship permanently a few hours ago," he informed her, "She left several letters for the senior staff and those she felt closest to." Holding the padd out, he added, "She left you one."
Seven felt a sensation the Doctor had told her was ‘surprise’. "But I was under the impression that Lieutenant Torres did not like me," she mused, the puzzlement evident in her voice. With her Borg enhanced hand, she took the padd he proffered, her ocular implant already making out the first words of the message.
Tom felt his lips being pulled into another gentle smile as he heard her words. "She admired your work greatly, Seven. She was just a little ‘put off’ by your social skills. It didn’t mean she didn’t like you," he informed her as he turned to leave.
Hearing the doors swish shut behind the pilot, Seven looked down at the padd, allowing her one organic eye to focus on the words. She knew that she was being inefficient, turning her attention to a letter while she should be monitoring the astrometric data, but for once, she felt a greater urge to read the padd she held than to monitor the data.
Giving in to this strange and unexpected urge, her eyes focused again on the words on the padd. "Dear Seven of Nine, I realize we never had the best working relationship and I believe that is my fault. I was uncomfortable with your sudden appearance on Voyager and for a while, felt threatened by your presence. I realize you must have had no intention of taking my job of Chief engineer from me; you probably didn’t realize that was what your presence did to me, did you? Slowly, I overcame that fear, but it was still hard to believe that you had been severed from the Collective, that in the simplest case, the blood the Borg had on their hands were not on yours, not anymore. Still, you continued to prove not only that you could be trusted, but that you are a valuable member of this crew. While I might not have acted like it, I admire you work and the great strides you have taken since I saw you in Sickbay 2 year ago. You have often tried what little patience I possessed, but the advancements you have brought this crew are astonishing. I congratulate you on embracing humanity as you have, and hope that you will someday be able to see Earth with your own eyes. Sincerely, B’Elanna."
Seven of Nine looked up from the padd, feeling an unusually abundant amount of optical lubricating fluid in her organic eye. She swallowed, but the simple act was made harder by an obstruction in her esophagus. Briefly, she wondered if she should contact the Doctor to inquire as to a course of treatment for this new ailment she had recently contracted, but as a warm drop of fluid fell on her Borg enhanced limb, she paused, unable to signal with the commbadge. Standing perfectly still, she merely gazed at the single drop as it slid from the non-porous material of her limb down to the absorbent grey carpet of the Astrometrics Lab.
Tom paused in the corridor outside the lab and took a deep breath. He hadn't been fully prepared for the pain just stepping into the Astrometrics Lab would bring. As soon as he was inside the lab, the memories he possessed of her returned to him in full force. The first time they had dedicated the Astrometrics Lab. The time when she’d called him down when she’d found his father’s letter. Briefly, he wondered how he would survive the journey back to the Alpha Quadrant when so many of his memories of her could be evoked by any place on Voyager. "I can’t believe you would leave, B’Elanna," he muttered brokenly, unable to keep the emotion out of his voice, "I can’t believe I never told you how much you meant to me."
A crewman walking by gave him a curious glance and Tom straightened up. He had plenty of time to berate himself for leaving so much unsaid later, alone in his quarters, but for now, he had a job to do. Taking a glance down at the padds still left in his hands, Tom went down the list mentally. Captain Janeway, Chakotay, Tuvok, the Doctor, and Joe Carey. "Computer, location of Lieutenant Joe Carey," he commanded.
With barely a pause, the computer’s emotionless female voice replied, "Lieutenant Carey is not onboard. He is on scheduled shore leave."
Tom breathed a silent sigh of relief. He didn’t particularly want to go down to Engineering, not right now. If the Astrometrics Lab could bring back such intense emotions, he wasn’t sure if he could handle going to Engineering, which had been her domain, her sanctuary, and held so many memories. Unable to keep his mind off of the memory of her, he made up his mind and began to walk away, towards Sickbay.
The trip to Sickbay seemed to take forever for Tom. But when he neared the doors, he hesitated, suddenly and irrationally apprehensive. Tom took a deep breath to calm himself and school his features back into an emotionless mask before stepping within range of the door sensors.
The doors slid open with a muted hiss, and Tom stepped into the familiar room, more memories assaulting him at the mere sight of a biobed. "Mr. Paris, what an unexpected surprise," the Doctor exclaimed dryly, grabbing a tricorder and scanning him. "I don’t detect any injuries, only a slightly increased heart rate. And your shift doesn’t start until 0300 tomorrow. What brings you to Sickbay?"
Tom overlooked the EMH’s sarcastic comment and fumbled around with the padds in his hand. "I don’t know if you were aware of this, Doctor, but B’Elanna left Voyager several hours ago," he informed the physician dully. He’d said the words before to other members of the crew, but it still didn’t make them any easier for him to believe, or to say. "She left you a message." Unable to meet the Doctor’s eyes, he fixed his eyes on the grey carpet as he handed the EMH the appropriate padd.
If Tom had bothered to look up, he would have seen a very shocked expression on the Doctor’s photonic face. "Oh my," he managed to choke out as he accepted the padd from the obviously distressed pilot. "And how are you coping with this news, Mr. Paris?" He felt a sudden sense of loss at the news, but his new sensitivity programming kicked in and he could not help inquiring as to the mental health of his medical assistant as well as friend.
Tom looked slightly surprised at this uncharacteristic remark from the Doctor, but blinked and answered quickly. "I’m fine, Doctor," he reassured the hologram with a shrug. "I mean, nothing lasts forever, right?" He attempted a smile for the Doctor’s benefit, but both knew his heart was not in it. "I’ll be here for my shift at 0300." He turned abruptly and walked out.
"Mr. Paris—," the Doctor called out after him as the doors closed. "Why don’t you take the day off, I doubt anyone would mind…" he trailed off uselessly. Breathing a sigh, he turned to the padd in his hand to read the message.
"Dear Doctor, It’s amazing to see what you have become over these years. I remember those first few times when I saw you, when Voyager was newly stranded here. You were such a pain, so disagreeable, so brusque. But now, I can hardly believe it’s you. Sometimes I truly wonder if someone gave your program a complete rewrite when I wasn’t looking. If you’re reading this, then I assume you’ve been informed of my departure. I have to tell you that you are a valued member of this crew, and have always been a good friend to me. Even when your comments came at the most inappropriate times, or when they struck a nerve in me, I was always grateful for the truth you spoke. Maybe I never did show it to you, but thank you, Doctor, for throwing the truth in my face almost as much as Tom has, even though I didn’t like it."
"Speaking of Tom, Doctor, please, watch out over him when I’m not here. He always has a tendency to get into too much trouble; you’re right about that. But still, watch out over him, don’t ever let him tell you that he’s fine, because when he says he is, he never is. Don’t ever let him play heroic and put himself through pain even when he doesn’t need to. And watch over him these few days; I suppose my leaving will have upset him, but don’t let him do something drastic. I know what it was like not to feel anything, and that’s the last thing I would want to happen to him. Please, Doctor, promise me that you will make sure he is well and makes it back to the Alpha Quadrant safely. I am asking you this not only because you are his physician, but because you are also his friend. I wish you and the crew good luck, Doctor, on you trip back to the Alpha Quadrant. I am content now, having found what I have been searching for all these years, but my only regret is that I will not be there to witness our triumphant return to Federation space. Yours truly, B’Elanna."
The Doctor felt a curious sensation in the region of his chest cavity, where, if he had been flesh and blood, his heart would have been located. "I promise you, B’Elanna, that I will do everything with in my power to keep Tom Paris out of harm’s way," he uttered softly, even though the other party was not here to see it. Although his daydreaming program had been taken off line some months ago, he swore he could almost see the image of the Chief engineer smiling a rare, wistful smile at hearing his words.
Turning his mind away from such fanciful delusions, he set the padd down and looked to the console. "Chief Medical Officer’s Log, supplemental. Let the logs show that at 1145 on stardate 26798.8 that Lieutenant B’Elanna Torres left the USS Voyager of her own volition. Her medical file will continue to be in the computer’s database, but no further entries shall be added to it." He could hear his voice pause involuntarily as he dictated this piece of information, and for a second wondered if it was a glitch in his programming. Dismissing the fact, he terminated the current entry. "Computer, end log."
Tom counted slowly to ten, trying to force his breathing to become slow and regular. Seeing Sickbay was even worse than the Astrometrics Lab. In the lab, he had been assaulted by some of his fondest memories, including when she’d called him down from the bridge just to inform him of his letter from his father. He could still remember how he’d hugged her after she’d angrily told him about the demise of the Maquis, exactly how her body molded against his.
But seeing Sickbay, that had brought up memories as well, although those were not as pleasant a memory as of hugging her in Astrometrics. In fact, those were downright painful memories. Seeing the biobeds had reminded him of so many times when she’d risked her live and had ended up there, with him standing beside her, unsure of whether she’d be able to make it through. The time he had reluctantly let go of her when they’d beamed back after her Blood Fever incident. Waking up groggy and still oxygen deprived after the Day of Honor only to see her lying deathly pale a few feet away. Having to help the Doctor prepare for surgery to treat her multiple, self-inflicted injuries. Perhaps worst of all, watching helplessly as she refused treatment for a parasitic life-form that had attached itself to her.
He raised a hand to wipe away several tears that were threatening to escape from the corner of his eyes and almost dropped the remaining padds. He stared at them incomprehensibly for a moment, then breathed deeply and straightened. He knew what he needed, a rest. Perhaps a short nap would help him clear his mind, or at least prepare him for facing Chakotay, Captain Janeway, and Joe Carey in Engineering. Without conscious thought, Tom pivoted sharply in the middle of the corridor, ignoring the inquisitive glance of a crewman passing by, and made for his quarters.
Somehow, on his way to his quarters, Tom’s mind wandered, and his body decided on a change of course. Before he realized it, he was standing in front of B’Elanna’s quarters as the doors slid open when he stepped into the range of the proximity detectors. Too exhausted to walk back to his quarters, he reluctantly entered, only to stop short in surprise. In the middle of the room stood Harry Kim, carefully taking down the trinkets and books from around B’Elanna’s quarters, as if he had every right to do so. "Harry, what do you think you’re doing?" he asked, his voice tired but still demanding an answer.
At the sound of his friend’s voice, Harry turned around, unable to keep an irrational tendril of guilt from creeping up his spine. "Distributing B’Elanna’s things, just like she asked me to," he explained carefully as he eyed his friend with concern. Tom had looked distraught when he’d been to Harry’s quarters, but now he looked absolutely awful. His blond hair was disheveled, as if he had been running his hand through it a thousand times; his normally bright and cheerful blue eyes were dull and reddened, as if he’d been crying, but there were no signs of tears on his face; and his shoulders were stooped tiredly.
"She asked you to distribute her possessions?" Tom asked incredulously, fatigue causing him to misinterpret the ensign’s words. In his current state, he believed that Harry had meant that B’Elanna had personally asked him to give out her belongings before she’d left. Still, he felt a stab of pain through his heart. Could she have thought so little of what they had, what he thought they’d had, that she didn’t even trust him to give away her possessions? His emotionally drained mind digested this piece of information slowly, and painfully, as another thought invaded his consciousness. ‘So she didn’t care after all. So everything she said was a lie, including the part about the way she felt about me,’ a voice spoke mockingly in his mind. He sank onto the couch, too weary to speak anymore to his friend as he pretended not to notice the concerned look passed his way as he lost himself in a bittersweet reverie.
Harry frowned to himself as he watched the pilot out of the corner of his eye. This was obviously taking a toll on Tom, both physically and emotionally. His worry for his best friend was temporarily suspended when his eyes fell on an object displayed on the shelf in B’Elanna’s quarters.
It was a small crystalline orb, maybe ten centimeters in diameter. He picked it up off its wooden stand to admire it more closely. The small sphere was sapphire colored, scattered throughout with flecks of sliver, and it felt smooth and cool to Harry’s touch. He turned it around in his hand several times, examining the piece with awe. As he was about to replace it on its stand, he noticed the thin, almost unnoticeable lines on the mahogany colored stand. Feeling almost like a voyeur, he peered at the stand, trying to make sense of the lines. When he was close enough to make out the words, Harry realized that they were several lines of inscription. "Fate has blessed me today, to have found such love among the stars…" He read it twice, feeling his heart constrict as his eye wandered over to see the form of his friend sitting dejectedly on the couch. He had no doubt that Tom had given this to B’Elanna and knew that of everything within her quarters, this was one object he could not recycle, nor give away to anyone but Tom.
Tom was brought out of his trance by a hand on his shoulder. "Tom, you alright?" Harry asked, his face the very visage of brotherly concern.
He mustered a faint smile for his friend, one that didn’t quite reach his blue eyes. "I’m fine, Harry," he reassured his friend halfheartedly. "Are you done?"
"Just about," Harry admitted, unable to keep the rueful note out of his voice. "It’s kind of hard though; giving her things away make her leaving seem so final."
The pilot nodded, unable to keep his eyes from sweeping around the all too familiar room. "I know what you mean, Harry," he muttered, still feeling as if some wild fauna had attacked him and clawed until it had exposed his heart.
Harry scrutinized the pilot’s face and did not miss the flash of raw pain in his eyes as they had regarded B’Elanna’s quarters. "I don’t think I’m going to take everything out of here at once, Tom, maybe do it a little everyday. It’s going to be too hard to just clean out her quarters like that…" His voice trailed off needlessly as he glimpsed that look of pure anguish on the older man’s face. "But I know for sure that she would have wanted you to have this." He extended his hand to show him the crystal object that had attracted his attention earlier.
Tom looked at the small sphere on its stand as Harry held it out for him to take, fighting the lump that had risen in his throat. He’d given the gift to B’Elanna on the day of their first anniversary, and he’d never forget the look that had crossed her face when he’d presented it to her. The look of surprise that had quickly turned to rapture as she’d beheld the trinket and the inscription etched into the base. "Thank you, Harry," he finally choked out, taking the object.
Feeling his friend’s need to be alone, Harry nodded slightly. "I’ve got to get ready for my shift. I’ll see you later, Tom."
He nodded slightly, acknowledging his friend, before turning his full attention back to the object in his hand. "Fate has blessed me today, to have found such love among the stars…" he whispered, quoting the words that were etched in to the stand. His thumb traced over the smooth, cold mineral as the tears he had fought so hard to hide finally began to fall. He cried until he was completely exhausted and fell asleep on B’Elanna’s couch, the blue crystal and mahogany stand still clutched in his hand.
When B’Elanna finally came to, the first thing she was aware of was a searing pain in her skull. As she sat up, she suppressed the urge to scream in pain as her eyes took in her surroundings. For a second, she was disoriented, but soon, the memories came flooding back. Being approached by the To’Kara, her conflict with Tom. She almost cried at the memory; that thought temporarily blocked out the physical pain she felt. Someone must have been watching her, or sensed her movement, because within a few seconds of her regaining consciousness, a tall, intimidating alien approached her. "You are awake," he growled as he regarded her contemptuously.
"Yes, I’m awake. You have a problem with that?" she shot back. The flippant remark earned her a heavy blow to the cheek. The alien was strong, and the slap he dealt almost threw her against the other wall.
"Insolent female," he snarled, "If you were not so important to our cause you would not still be alive."
B’Elanna sat back up, ignoring the combined pain of whatever drug had been introduced into her system to subdue her, her heartache, and the stinging across her cheek. "And what is this cause of yours that I was kidnapped to help with?" she continued, her impudence unchecked. She couldn’t care less what they did to her now. As far as she was concerned, life as she’d known and loved was over.
The alien still towered over her, but he did not raise his hand to her again. His voice, underneath the translator’s functions, was deep and rumbling, but it still mocked her. "I thought you agreed to leave the ship you call Voyager," he taunted.
"If your idea of willingness was agreeing through threats," B’Elanna muttered in reply.
She could sense the alien towering over her, and her eyes saw his hand raised. Yet she did not flinch as she felt the intended blow. "You ask too many questions," he pronounced as he dealt her the blow, "You will know what the Confederacy decides you should know."
The pain was too much for B’Elanna to deal with. She saw the burst of light and the colored flecks that swam through her field of vision, but as the wave of pain was added to the existent suffering, she fell back onto the narrow bench she’d been on and saw blackness.
Tom awoke some time later, feeling somewhat refreshed, physically, but still dejected emotionally. He stood up, carefully leaving the iridescent statuette on the table, and made for B’Elanna’s bathroom, where a glance at the mirror made his eyes widen in surprise. He looked about as badly as he felt; his blond hair was disheveled and his blue eyes were pale and red, a telltale sign of the tears he’d shed. Splashing some cool water on his face did nothing for his appearance, and he marveled at the change that had come over him in the past six years. Before Auckland, he’d been an expert at keeping his emotions beneath a mask of indifference, but now, every emotion in his heart seemed exposed for the world to see. He examined himself again, trying to force the mask back on, failing miserably. For a minute, he wondered how much he’d been changed since meeting B’Elanna Torres. He knew it was because of her that he’d allowed his shields completely down; and it was her love that had made him feel like he didn’t need them. And now, when he truly felt he needed the mask again, he realized he could not wield it with as much ease and finesse as he had before.
He turned away from the mirror angrily; how could he allow himself to regret the mask? How could he forget how much she’d done for him since they’d embarked on this unlikely journey? He couldn’t, and the fact was that he was merely contemplating this because he was unwilling to face the task ahead: of finishing the delivery of her letters. His eyes landed on the stack of padds that had lain abandoned on her coffee table since his detour here. Before he could hesitate, Tom reached for them while simultaneously calling to the computer, "Computer, what is the location of Lieutenant Carey?"
"Lieutenant Carey is in Main Engineering," came the prompt reply.
Tom drew a deep breath of air into his lungs, trying his best to ignore the hollow feeling in his chest as he focused on his objective, to get to Engineering. He straightened his uniform, and, with a firm grip on the stack of padds, walked out of her quarters.
His mind was preoccupied as he walked out of B’Elanna’s quarters, the thoughts still running rampant through his head. After his short, but much needed rest, Tom could once more think clearly about B’Elanna’s departure. He could not believe she had merely thought of him as a friend as his letter has said; he could still remember how she’d looked, the pain that had been evident in her eyes when they’d had their last argument and she’d admitted again to him that she loved him. As he allowed his feet to guide him to Engineering, Tom continued to ponder the last few hours, which to him had seemed like days. On one hand, she’d made no allusion to the fact that she’d felt anything more for him beyond friendship in her letter, and she’d asked Harry to be the one to distribute her belongings to the crew instead of him. On the other hand, what they’d shared before, and how she’d looked at him before she’d left, that was something that went well beyond the jurisdiction of friendship, and could not be faked. The pilot sighed frustratedly as he tried to deal with the conflicting thoughts; a part of him nagged that there was more than meets the eye here, but he was too preoccupied to dig any deeper.
So absorbed in his thoughts was Tom Paris that on his way to Engineering, he almost collided with Lieutenant Commander Tuvok, who was finishing his security rounds. "Lieutenant Paris, may I please suggest that you focus your attention on your surroundings in order to protect the safety of others who also use the corridors," Tuvok informed him.
Tom looked up at the security chief with despondent blue eyes. Usually he would have made a comment with the sole purpose of eliciting a response from the stoic Vulcan, but today, he merely nodded. "Of course, Commander," he answered as he shifted through the shrinking stack of padds in his hands. "This is yours, I believe."
"You are mistaken, Mr. Paris. I did not misplace a padd," Tuvok insisted.
Tom sighed inwardly; did he have to keep explaining to everyone? "B’Elanna left earlier today. She’s decided to stay on Frensia, and she left this for you as a goodbye," he explained, hoping Tuvok didn’t notice how his voice cracked at the statement.
There was a second of silence, as if the Vulcan was surprised or shocked. But before anyone could be certain of that fact, he nodded to Tom and accepted the padd. "Lieutenant Torres’ contributions to this ship were invaluable, and I believe her absence will be felt by the crew as well." With those words, Tuvok took the padd, nodded to Tom, and continued on his way, leaving Tom staring after him.
Tom knew Vulcans were notorious for their emotional control, but he understood the implied meaning of Tuvok’s simple words and felt a tug at his heartstrings. He wondered mournfully if B’Elanna had realized what an impact she’d had on the dispassionate Vulcan. The warm tears that were now becoming quickly familiar once again welled up in his cerulean eyes, but he took a deep breath, willing them away, and continued on to Engineering.
Tuvok kept his eyes focused on his path, but was acutely aware of the padd he held in his hand. The logic of this situation was that he waited until he was off duty to peruse the information the device contained, but as he stepped into the turbolift, he affirmed that he was alone and allowed himself to turn his eyes to the padd.
"Dear Tuvok," the letter began, "First and foremost, I have to thank you for attempting to help me to control my temper even though I have not been the most cooperative pupil of yours. Although you might not have thought our meditation sessions resulted in any visible changes in my countenance, let me assure you that your continued insistence that I keep my temper under control has not gone unheeded. Perhaps you may not know it, but I have had a much easier time keeping my temper under control through our meditation sessions. I trust that with your guidance, Captain Janeway and Commander Chakotay will doubtlessly get Voyager’s crew home. And lastly, please continue our meditation sessions with Tom. I know that he is unwilling to share his feelings with anyone and veils his pain though a veneer of indifference. I do not wish for him to experience what I have experienced, that complete lack of emotion and feeling that led me to risk my life on the Holodeck. Even if he refuses to partake in the sessions, then please be concerned of his emotional health for my sake. I will forever be grateful to you for this, and with your guidance I know that Voyager will make it home successfully. Yours truly, B’Elanna."
The turbolift stopped several moments after Tuvok finished the brief address left to him by the chief engineer of Voyager. The words continued to dwell in his mind, although he attempted to remove them to another part of his mind, where their meaning would not interfere with his ability to function on duty, but without success.
The closer to Engineering Tom Paris got, the heavier he felt his steps become. The image of Engineering, with its perpetually pulsating warp core and the eternal presence of its Chief engineer, was almost too much for Voyager’s helmsman as he neared his destination. He continued on his mission, however, and soon stopped outside Engineering’s doors, waiting for the sensors to pick up his presence and allow him inside.
The inside of Engineering seemed the epitome of decorum, since the ship was in orbit around a planet and there were no major spatial anomalies to disrupt systems. Tom spied Lieutenant Joe Carey across Engineering and quickly traversed the department towards him. "Lieutenant, may I speak with you for a moment in private?" he asked.
Joe looked up from the checklist he’d been perusing and nodded to the conn officer. "Of course, Tom," he answered, "But I doubt we can find much privacy in here today."
Tom’s eyes raked over Engineering quickly before landing on a small alcove-style office. "We can talk over there," he motioned with a quick nod of his head.
"The Chief’s office?" the other man remarked with a raised eyebrow, "You think she’d mind?"
"Trust me, Joe, B’Elanna won’t mind you using her office, not now, not ever." Tom turned and made his way briskly over to the office, leaving Joe to wonder at the somewhat forlorn tone in his voice.
Once they were safely inside the small alcove and away from the prying ears of the other engineers, Tom handed Joe a padd and spoke. "Congratulations, Joe. You’ve finally made Chief engineer."
Joe Carey was speechless at the news and his eyes instinctively fell to the padd in his hand. "What do you mean? I’m not the– Oh god, did something happen to Lieutenant Torres?"
Tom took a deep breath, seemingly his millionth this day, and began to explain. "B’Elanna left the ship voluntarily earlier today. So Voyager is left without a Chief engineer, and I think she’d rather have you in charge than Seven of Nine." His lips quirked up in a haggard grin as he continued, "You were a good friend and assistant to her, Joe, I hope you know that." He clapped a hand on the stunned lieutenant’s shoulder and quickly walked away, leaving Joe to digest this new piece of information.
For a minute after Tom left, Joe stood there, motionless, half expecting the conn officer to return with the chief engineer and laugh at the practical joke he’d managed to fall for. But the helmsman never came, and the truth slowly sank in for Joe Carey. His superior, and his friend, was truly gone. He turned to look at the padd he held, not surprised to see that it contained a letter addressed to him. Taking a deep breath, much as Tom Paris had done earlier, Joe began to read.
"Dear Joe, Well, you finally got the chief engineer title you were always so eager for. I hope you find it everything you’ve ever hoped it to be. But you’re in for a tough ride. Voyager doesn’t have the creature comforts every Federation ship should have, and you can’t just transfer to a new ship on a whim. You’ll be doing a lot of improvising when Voyager’s systems start malfunctioning, but don’t lose hope. It’s worth it. As the chief engineer for the last 6 years, I have to say that Voyager has become a part of me. Take good care of my ship, okay, Joe? I know you’re up for the job. Keep an eye on Vorik, Nicoletti, and all of them. They’re a good crew; you know that as well as I do. I’m sure you’ll do everything to get them home.
But Joe, do me a favor and keep an eye on Tom for me. Consider this my last request. If he hangs around Engineering after you’ve left orbit, don’t confront him, but tell Tuvok, the Captain, or Chakotay. If you try to confront him, you won’t get anywhere. Believe me, I know. Tell everyone in Engineering good-bye for me, and tell them what a great job they’ve done the past 6 years, what a great crew they’ve been to work with, and how courageous they have been to put up with an insane chief for so long. Best of Luck, B’Elanna"
Joe turned away from the padd and took a deep breath, trying to stop the tears that had suddenly sprung to his eyes. True, he might not have liked B’Elanna Torres in the beginning of this mission, but now he felt like he’d lost a dear friend. He continued the slow breathing until he felt that he could speak without his voice cracking, then stepped out of the office. "Everyone, I have something to tell you…" he began as soon as he stepped out of the alcove to face the rest of the engineers.
Tom escaped Engineering quickly, not stopping to return the greetings and nods of acknowledgment various engineers threw his way. He doubted they would have to wonder very long at his behavior, for as he stepped out of Engineering, he heard Joe Carey, the new chief of Engineering, amass his subordinates with the words, "Everyone, I have something to tell you…." He felt fortunate that he had escaped when he did and had not been detained by some chatty engineer; he doubted he could have kept up whatever semblance of composure he had managed to salvage if he had been privy to Joe’s announcement.
As his feet carried him towards the nearest turbolift, Tom mentally checked off the persons he had already delivered letters to: himself, Harry, Neelix, the Doctor, Tuvok, Seven of Nine, and Joe Carey. All that was left was to bring the remaining letters to Captain Janeway and Commander Chakotay. "Computer, location of Commander Chakotay," he inquired as he stepped into the vacant turbolift.
"Commander Chakotay is in his quarters," came the prompt reply in a feminine voice.
Quickly stating his destination, Tom leaned against the lift’s doors, trying in vain to school his features into something more befitting a Starfleet officer. Even without the benefit of a mirror, Tom knew he probably looked like he’d spent a good portion of his supposed shore leave in a To’Karan tavern, or worse. He also knew there was no way he would be able to bring B’Elanna’s message to Chakotay, or subsequently beg for his help in finding her again, if he did not at least possess a minute degree of reserve.
The turbolift ride seemed to end all too soon, before Tom could compose his features in a satisfactorily emotionless mask. He made his way quickly to the commander’s quarters, where he paused a moment before reaching out to touch the keypad which would announce his presence to the room’s occupant. His finger contacted the lit panel, and a few seconds’ delay after the automated signal sounded, he heard the commander’s voice announce, "Come in."
Tom stepped into the dimly lit room as Chakotay’s head snapped up to greet his visitor. For a minute, he marveled at the changes that had taken place since Voyager had been marooned in the Delta Quadrant. No longer was Chakotay the former Maquis captain that was out for his blood, but he had become a respected colleague, as well as an admired superior officer. "Am I bothering you, Chakotay?" Tom asked.
Commander Chakotay set aside his mug of replicated herbal tea and turned to the pilot who was now standing just inside his doorway. "No," he answered, "How can I help you, Tom?" He motioned for the younger man to take a seat, and settled himself again once his visitor had seated himself.
The pilot’s eyes darted around Chakotay’s quarters, glancing at the various wall hangings and mementos scattered around, before he reluctantly looked at the commander. "I suppose you don’t know that B’Elanna left the ship," he began.
Chakotay’s dark eyes bore into Tom at this bit of news. "What do you mean she ‘left the ship’?" he demanded sharply, setting aside the book that had been in his hands. "What did you do to her?" Although Tom and B’Elanna had been a steady couple for a little more than a year by now and Chakotay had gotten over his doubt about his true intentions, this sudden news made him think the worst about Tom Paris.
Tom held up a hand to stop the commander. "I assure you, Chakotay, I didn’t provoke her to leave," he answered, then paused, "At least, I don’t think I did." His eyes fell to the remaining padds he held and passed one to Chakotay. "She left this in her quarters for you. I’ve read the letter she’d left me, but there’s nothing in there that would suggest that she’d do something like this."
Chakotay accepted the padd, then put it aside for a minute. As shocking as this news was for him, he couldn't ignore the fact that the man standing in front of him was hurt by this turn of events. "How are you holding up, Tom?" he asked, feeling bad for his initial response to blame the man who was closest to his friend.
Tom shrugged and attempted a blasé smile. "I’m fine. I mean, B’Elanna wasn’t the only woman in the galaxy. I’ll survive." While he spoke the words, Tom cringed inside. He hated to say those words, making it sound like B’Elanna didn’t mean all that much when she meant everything in the world to him. The commander scrutinized him wordlessly, and Tom found himself squirming under his superior’s unyielding gaze.
"Why is it that I don’t believe you, Tom?" Chakotay asked rhetorically as he leaned back in his chair. "Maybe a few years ago I might have believed you. But after everything that’s happened between you and B’Elanna, I don’t think you truly feel that way."
The pilot shrugged carelessly. "Believe what you want, Commander. My personal life is really none of your business anyway. I only came because I felt obligated to deliver your letter. And now that I’ve finished that, I’ll leave you alone. Good night, Commander." He turned to leave, but Chakotay’s voice made him stop halfway to the door.
"You’re right, Lieutenant," Chakotay acknowledged, "Your personal life is none of my business. Except in this instance, your personal life involves a very dear friend of mine. I refuse to believe that she would just pick up and leave without a word to anyone. Nor can I believe that in the time you two have been pursuing a relationship, she meant nothing to you." Tom glowered at Chakotay, irked by the fact that the commander wasn’t fooled by his act, then sighed and came closer. "Why don’t you have a seat and tell me what happened? And how you really feel about it?"
"Who made you ship’s counselor?" Tom wondered aloud as he sat down in an available chair. Chakotay gave him no response, only staring at him, waiting patiently for him to continue. He sighed deeply, realizing that he couldn’t joke his way out of this situation, then began. "I went to talk to B’Elanna after she came back from her trip to Frensia. When she finally let me into her quarters, I saw that she was out of uniform and packing a bag. She hadn’t told me she was going to stay overnight on the planet, so I asked how long she was planning on staying there. Then she told me she was leaving Voyager. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing; I didn’t understand why, but she wouldn’t tell me. We started arguing…" He stopped as the lump that had been residing in his throat hardened, forcing him to swallow past it. What followed, what B’Elanna had said, hurt too badly for him to form into words. "…then she just picked up her bag and left. By the time I realize what had happened, she had left and I never got to say goodbye."
Chakotay sensed there was something the pilot wasn’t telling him, but he let it go, understanding that it might be too personal for him to share at the moment. He was still shocked from the fact that B’Elanna had indeed left the ship and resolved to settle the matter. "I’m assuming she didn’t tell you where she beamed down to," he guessed.
"The computer wouldn’t tell me, either," Tom confirmed. "She just said she was going to stay on Frensia and had gotten approval to study and work with their scientists and engineers. I can’t find her beam-down coordinates; she encrypted them."
The commander shook his head, but could not allow a ghost of a smile to pass his lips. "When B’Elanna doesn’t want to be found, she makes sure she won’t be. Haven’t you noticed that?"
Tom chuckled painfully at his words. "It’s never stopped me before," he admitted, "I have to find her, Chakotay. If I can’t convince her to come back to Voyager, I hope at least I can say a proper goodbye. I don’t want her last memory of us to be of an argument."
Chakotay looked at the younger man in amazement, unable to believe that this was the same man who had been cocky and insubordinate when he first met him. "Do you have any more letters to deliver, Tom?" he asked, "Maybe you should get some rest; I’ll deliver them for you. Later we can speak to Captain Janeway. Maybe she knows something about this that we don’t."
Looking down at the solitary padd he still held, Tom fought back tears he thought he had expended earlier. "I’d really rather I delivered this last padd to Captain Janeway in person," he replied, "I was going to ask if she knew any more about B’Elanna’s leaving than I did."
"Why don’t you take a break first, Tom? You look pretty exhausted. Wait about five minutes, because I’d like to come with you to speak to the Captain. And if you don’t mind me saying so, you look like hell." His last comment managed to coax a reluctant smirk from the pilot, who sat down compliantly. With Tom taking a much-needed break, Chakotay turned his attention to his letter from B’Elanna.
"Dear Chakotay," it began, "I know you probably think I’m out of my mind. You of all people would know how much I love my job on Voyager. You were the one who got it for me in the first place. Believe me, if it was up to me, you’d never know I was gone. I hate to think of the disappointment you must be feeling, thinking I’ve run away yet again. All I ask is that you trust me when I tell you this is for the best. You’ve done so much for me in the past that I can never repay. As a last request, just trust my actions, please. Don’t come looking for me. You know that you would never find me if I didn’t want to be found.
I owe you everything, Chakotay. If it weren’t for you, I’d probably have died on some obscure space station instead of being part of this crew. If it weren’t for you, I would never have become the chief engineer, just another engine room subordinate. If it weren’t for you, I would probably never have fallen in love with Tom. While that probably doesn’t sound like something you’d have wanted, I can reassure you that whatever time I had with Tom was some of the best in my life. Chakotay, I know how he is, and he’ll never let me go if you don’t do something. Don’t let him try to find me. Don’t encourage him to find me, don’t give him hope. Convince him that I know what I’m doing and he’ll move on. Keep and eye on him for me. Without me there, someone’s got to keep him in line and that someone won’t be Harry. Thanks for giving me a life I was proud of, Chakotay. With both you and Captain Janeway, the crew will be home in no time. B’Elanna."
Chakotay looked up from the letter and blinked away the moisture that had accumulated in his eyes. He looked over at Tom, who had been observing him the entire time. "She told you not to help me find her, didn’t she?" he asked rhetorically. Reluctantly, Chakotay nodded. "You’re not going to listen to her, are you?" At this, Chakotay remained uncomfortably silent. "You’re going to listen to her?" Tom asked incredulously, "She was your friend, Chakotay!"
"That’s why I have to trust her on this, Tom," he answered, "I can’t deny her wishes." The pilot stood up and began to leave. "Why can’t you trust her, honor her wishes this one last time, Tom?"
Tom shot his superior a murderous look. "It’s not like her to do something like this, Chakotay. If you knew her like I do, you’d know that," he replied bitingly as he stormed out of the commander’s quarters.
When the doors slid closed after Tom’s departure, Chakotay sighed deeply. He didn’t like having to discourage Tom from his search, but he trusted B’Elanna and felt obligated to do as she’d asked. He reached up and tapped his commbadge. "Chakotay to Captain Janeway," he began, "Tom is coming to speak with you right now. Please don’t give him any information concerning B’Elanna just now. I’ll explain when I can speak to you privately."