Disclaimer: Star Trek belongs to Paramount/CBS. No copyright infringement is intended.
Summary: Some conversation and introspection in the middle of the night. Post-'Barge of the Dead'. P/T.
A/N: This one started off as a bit of a style experiment and progressed (slowly) from there. Huge amounts of thanks to Delwin for beta-ing.
Feedback, as always, is welcome.
He realised she was gone when he awoke to a cold draft on his bare back, goose bumps prickling his skin, and a shiver.
She'd thrown the covers off herself and partially from him in the process.
And left them like that.
Turning onto his other side - readjusting the bedding as he did so to combat the chill - he threw out an arm to feel the bottom sheet on the other side of the mattress.
Cold. No residual body heat.
He stilled, listening. Silence. No gurgle of water, nor the whine of the sonic shower from the bathroom.
His bleary eyes – gradually adjusting to the darkness - noted that her uniform was gone from its dumping ground on the back of the sofa under the window.
He hadn't heard her comm badge bleep. Hadn't been roused by a summons through the ship's internal comm system. Hadn't stirred to a whispered explanation for her leaving.
This wasn't the first night they'd spent together. She wasn't sneaking away on a 'walk of shame' in the early hours. What time was it, anyway?
"The time is oh-two-forty-seven," intoned the computer when he yawned the query.
Was she feeling unwell? Perhaps experiencing some delayed reaction to her recent head injury or subsequent 'adventure'. Had she gone to sickbay?
He propped himself up against the headboard and called out, "Paris to Torres."
A moment's pause. Then the faint click of an opening channel.
"Torres here." A hint of annoyance in her tone.
"Is everything OK? Where are you?"
"Fine. I just had something to do." The hint became more of a hazard.
Regardless, he persisted, "Are you in engineering?"
"Go back to sleep. I'll be back soon."
"Well, do you need any help?"
She sighed. Loudly. "I couldn't sleep because I kept thinking about something I needed to do and I didn't want to put it off until the morning. Sorry if I woke you."
And she closed the channel, all bar one of his questions unanswered, and that one with a dubious affirmation.
"Computer, locate Lieutenant Torres."
"Lieutenant Torres is in the holographic research laboratory."
Intriguing. And, knowing B'Elanna, slightly troubling. Of two minds whether to wait and see if 'back soon' meant minutes rather than hours, he promptly came to the decision to risk her temper and investigate immediately. If she didn't wish to cause concern, she should have given him straight answers.
Lights on, he clambered out of bed, grabbing a t-shirt and track bottoms, not bothering with shoes at this hour when the corridors would be all but deserted.
The door to the HRL was locked. He tried his codes. No joy.
He tried hers (the ones he knew). Nothing. Access denied.
"Paris to Torres."
In answer, the hololab's doors snapped open.
Entering cautiously, he found she had company. A formidable Klingon female dressed in civilian clothing – or at least a hologram of one – stood motionless on the grid-lined floor. And there was something very familiar about her…
B'Elanna turned from the control interface, scowled at him, and the resemblance was complete.
Tom quirked an eyebrow. "Is that a hologram of your mother?"
"Not yet." Turning back to the interface, B'Elanna tapped it to adjust parameters, the holographic Klingon's cranial ridges altering shape slightly. "But it will be."
"I didn't think we'd be at the 'meet the parents' stage for a few decades yet," Tom quipped. "I'm not exactly looking my best." Which earned him another withering glare. He frowned back. "So, you're down here in the middle of the night, doing this because…?"
Her hands hovered over the console before she crossed her arms over her chest and met his gaze, more softly now.
"You know … I realised I don't have a single picture of my mother. Nothing to remind me of her." B'Elanna heaved a heavy sigh. "Well, other than when I look in the mirror. Or when I lose my temper – admittedly, two things I do on a daily basis, but aside from in my … vision, or whatever you want to call it, I haven't set eyes on her for ten years. I didn't have any holoimages of her with me when I went to the Academy or in the Maquis. I guess … I always thought there'd be time to patch things up one day." Gesturing to the hologram, she added, "I wanted to see her."
Tom took a step closer. "What about Voyager's computer? The Captain was able to find images of Seven's parents in the Federation database."
B'Elanna shook her head. "My mother never became a Federation citizen. Not officially. She was eligible, but she never went through the whole process. So, although there's a record of her as a wife and mother of a citizen, there's no picture of her." She laughed humourlessly. "The Captain has pictures of her dog, but I don't have even have one of my mother. It seems a little … wrong."
Not having any pictures of his own family on display in his quarters, Tom didn't comment. It gave him food for thought, though. Images of his parents and sisters were plentiful in the Federation database. He did look them up, occasionally. But, often, it caused more pain than it relieved.
When B'Elanna turned once more to the workstation, Tom moved to peer over her shoulder, and, after a quick risk assessment, snaked his arms around her waist. The gamble paid off when, a moment later, she sighed and leaned back into him. He tightened his embrace.
"I thought it would be easier than this," she murmured, clarifying, "to get the image I have of her in my memory out of my head and into a visual representation. But I can't quite get it right."
Tom considered. "Memories are … complicated," he said. "Remember that dream alien? It took us ages to get that image right, and that was with five of us working on it."
Evidently, that was the wrong thing to say.
B'Elanna wriggled out of his grasp, whirling. "This is completely different! I saw my mother nearly every day for eighteen years. She wasn't … isn't some alien that I only ever saw in my sleep!"
"But you haven't seen her for ten years," Tom bit back, annoyed and trying not to be, cutting her off when she started to interrupt. "Aside from in your vision." He reached for her again. Showing affection really was like playing with fire when she got like this, but she let him take her by the shoulders without any metaphorical singeing. "Look," he said. She'd twisted to look at the hologram again, jaw taut. Lifting a finger to her chin, he gently turned her gaze to his. "I know every line … every curve of your face, but, if I had to make a hologram of you without having access to your physical parameters from the ship's computer … I don't think it would look exactly right."
The corner of her mouth twitched up at that. "Don't you dare try it."
He smiled. "As if I would."
Three o'clock in the morning, after scarcely an hour of sleep - and that the sum of several short stints - really wasn't the wisest time to embark on the kind of project that B'Elanna had set her mind to. She'd realised that was the case after about five minutes in the hololab when her sleep-deprived brain failed to call up the correct holographic template three times in a row. But, having started the endeavour, she'd naturally wanted to see it through to completion. When she'd programmed Torres Zeta-One eighteen months earlier, she'd used images from the Starfleet Intelligence files to create the holograms of her dead Maquis friends. It hadn't occurred to her then that, without those reference files, creating realistic-looking holograms would have been nigh on impossible. By the time Tom had disturbed her, twenty minutes after she'd left him – sleeping soundly, she'd thought – she was losing her cool.
Tom was right, though. Memories were complicated. Without the capacity for total recall, long-term memory was more a series of blurry emotional snapshots rather than a factual replay of events. When it came to her life on Kessik IV, the palette of those emotions was dominated by the dark, with only sparse splashes of brightness. But, in reality, if she could replay those eighteen years in high definition, B'Elanna knew that the majority of her memory would actually be filled with the mundane. Her mother's voice, which B'Elanna could hear so clearly – far more clearly than she could envision her face – would not be perpetually raised in anger.
"Why not come back to this tomorrow when you're not so tired?" Tom urged, his hands still clasping her shoulders. "We both get off duty at sixteen hundred." His eyes took on that particular gleam they did when reflecting the Flyer's instrument panel or the interior of Captain Proton's rocket ship. That same gleam they'd had when she'd invited him to learn about the Day of Honour with her. "I could help you, if you like," he said.
She stayed the flippant response that had been set to trip off her tongue and paused, lowering her eyes before answering diplomatically, "I'm not sure that you can."
"Maybe not practically, but how about … moral support?"
Casting her eyes back to the holographic misrepresentation, B'Elanna had to concede that perhaps this was a problem that could be shared – even if her relationship with Tom would benefit far more from it than would her conscience as regards to her mother.
So, she saved the file and let Tom lead her back to his quarters. There was still time to get a few hours of sleep before reporting for duty, and the mere fact that she'd started working on the hologram should be enough to stop the flurry of thoughts that had been keeping her awake. Hopefully.
They undressed in unison, climbing under the covers as Tom called for lights out.
Their bodies stilled, breathing slowed, and the bed slowly warmed.
B'Elanna tried to clear her mind, envisioning a flame, then a white light, and starting a slow count backwards from three hundred. Imagining the drone of a certain Vulcan's voice as she did so induced a soft haze until…
Minutes of counting rendered fruitless, B'Elanna twisted onto her back, her uppermost elbow connecting with something soft as it landed.
"You all right?" Tom said, voice muffled by his pillow.
She wriggled around to stare at him in the darkness, the idea taking full form, resolving in detail at the same rate as her vision adapted to see Tom. Incredulity that such a ridiculous notion had even occurred to her overrode any will to give it voice.
Slowly, Tom's eyes opened. Closed. Re-opened.
B'Elanna took a breath. Then another. She allowed herself a small smile; the tired mind could come up with a whole heap of crazy.
Tuvok. The Vulcan could create the hologram if he saw the image in her mind. His superior memory and highly developed visual to verbal processing ability would mean he'd make a far better job of it than her human-Klingon brain could.
But she wasn't that desperate. And Tuvok wouldn't agree to perform a mind meld in any case. Not for this, and rightly so. Though a mind meld was likely less risky than the induced near-death experience she'd already been through…
"Sorry," she whispered. "I'm … just getting comfortable."
Tom smiled, yawned, closed his heavy-lidded eyes.
She watched him for a while as he dozed off, closed her eyes as his breathing fell back into a steady, soothing rhythm and her own hushed to match it. Clearing her mind again, counting backwards, and … yet her mind was still unwilling to switch off.
Max Burke showing up just as she'd been thinking more and more frequently about that time in her life – almost ten years ago – had been a strange coincidence. Then she'd had that interesting conversation with Seven about nostalgia. That had given B'Elanna cause to realise that, despite the tumult of her last months on Kessik and her time at the Academy, there were moments during those times that she could look back on with a sentimental yearning. Whether she wanted to admit it or not.
Of course, what Max had done on the Equinox confused matters. Her romantic attachment to him might have been casual and short-lived, but he'd still been involved in most of her few pleasant memories of her Academy time, quick to show his support when she'd found herself in trouble.
She would have to work through those issues – work out how to reconcile those distant memories with the recent ones: of his cruelty and betrayal.
As if she didn't have enough to think about already.
But with this too, Tom would help her. If she'd let him.
Tonight, however, really was not the time.
She would imagine Tuvok's wearying tones again. And, on the second attempt, they would send her to sleep.
Feeling that comfortable, slight lean of the mattress as it accommodated her weight beside him.
The covers – if a little scant now on his side – were still sufficient to retain the warmth of his body, that warmth augmented by the more radiant body adjacent to him.
He opened his eyes, allowed them to adjust to the darkness. In her cocoon of bedding, B'Elanna lay motionless, utterly serene. The rise and fall of her breathing was indiscernible, but he could hear its gentle repetition. In fact, the only part of her exposed was the dark hair above her ears. How she'd bundled herself up like that was perplexing.
He hoped that her mind was as much at peace as her body. That no nightmares plagued her tonight. Any night. Though never was an unrealistic aspiration given her past, the present, and, on Voyager, likely the future too.
Not wishing to wake her, Tom didn't query the computer for the time. Despite the interlude during the night, he felt refreshed, so it had to be nearly time for the alarm to sound. It was one of the things he missed the most about living on a planet: the ability to estimate the time of day from the light streaming in through the window.
The computer would do its job.
So, he closed his eyes again. He'd make the most of however many minutes remained for him – for them – to lie there.
Warm. Comfortable. Together.