He enters in a swirl of starlight

Title: In Between

Author: Starbaby/MEGDENTON@prodigy.net

Series: VOY

Date: 7/24/01

Disclaimer: I am not a dirty crook. Mild spoilers for Threshold and The Swarm. Mega ones for Day of Honor.

Summary: Just a little experiment in third person POV. This is P/T and contains a missing scene. Angst!

For LadyChakotay…you ARE a fanfic goddess!

In Between

By Starbaby

"Nothing dies; death and birth are but a threshold crossing, back and forth, as it were, through a veil."---- Joseph Campbell

He enters in a swirl of starlight.

A tall, fair man with a boyish face; his eyes are the color of winter skies, yet still warm with life…for now. They pass over me and take in the rest: the long bar, polished to a high gloss, the row of shiny, round stools, the taps that will never run dry--not while I am tending. It is dark and oaken, like the taverns he frequented in his restless youth, and empty, but for us. I am closing when he comes, but put away my CLOSED sign with a resigned sigh. Another lost soul to ply with sympathy and ale, the latest in an endless, ragtag stream of lonely hearts. They peer through the glass in desperation, and I cannot bear to wave them on down the street to a rowdy Klingon watering hole, or to the Vulcan place three doors down, where patrons are plied with logic and spice tea.

"Are you open?" he asks.

I sigh and tell him the sad truth: "We never close."

He has been here before.

The first time was in youth, and only for a moment. In the fire and confusion of Caldik Prime, his soul was set adrift. He found his way here in the aftermath, and lingered beyond the glass. In the end, he went away, no wiser for having come, too afraid, perhaps, to look back and understand the choices that brought him thus. I watched him go, a slouched, defeated boy, shattered by life, and I knew we'd meet again. The second time was in manhood, and he walked a little taller. The bar was full that night, and we toasted Tom, the only human to break warp ten, a pioneer of flight. He had his legacy, and I was glad. A part of him lingered in the swamps of an equatorial jungle, but the essence of Tom Paris--the wit, the compassion, the flawed humanity--had left that amphibian body.

Bad luck brought him around for the third time, not recklessness, pride, or zeal. He was tired and lonely and in great pain. When the shadows grew long, I asked him a simple question.

"What are you afraid of?"

He gave me a simple answer. "Failure."

I pointed to the vintage television above the bar. Tom smiled. He liked old-fashioned things.

"What are we watching?" he asked.

"Life," I replied.

He looked on in wonder as his future flickered across the screen. There was great joy and much sadness, many losses and some pain. There was birth and death, and a long, twilight struggle. There were people: the father he forgave, the brother he always wanted, the Captain he revered, and, at the center of it all, the one woman he ever loved and the only child they ever had. The sensations fairly leapt off the television: the grasp of a baby's finger, the feel of a woman's back, the tang of berries, the kiss of wind, the scent of trees. I showed him possibilities, and he went back, in the end, to B'Elanna Torres and what began in that shuttle, before the Swarm came. He went back to all they would have, when the fighting was over and the flirting was done.

I am surprised to see him again so soon.

He doesn't remember the other times. They never do, which is both a blessing and a sadness. The beauty of the starlight--and the sweetness of my ale--might make them anxious to return, when too many pass this way without having said goodbye, celebrated life, or joined hands with those they loved. There wasn't time to make merry in the lengthening shadows or add a sweet chapter to the book of memory. But the knowledge that there is nothing to fear--that the choice is theirs--might ease the long, twilight struggle. Humans, in particular, cling to their mortal shells, holding on out of terrible fear and a wild love of the physical. The combination of frail bodies and stubborn will is distinctly human. These facets of self are oddly complementary, like sunrise and tears, petticoats and pistols, love and war.

He slides onto a stool, and tells me that the bar reminds him of a place he knew in old Marseilles. I nod and smile. His friend Sandrine passed this way some time ago, the victim of a love triangle. She drank us all under the table before moving on to a more…well…celestial life.

What becomes of the soul once the choice is made, I cannot say. Whether they pass through Peter's gate or cross the river on Charron's boat, I do not know. Why I was chosen to wait here, I often wonder. Perhaps I died for a love unrequited, but the same can be said of many. My own death is a lost memory; I think it involved a pitchfork, hay, and the Landlord's daughter, but there are other memories: a scarred plain, clashing armies, a promise in starlight, sunrise and tears. That was long before the age of starships.

"What is this place?" Tom Paris asks.

I shrug. It has many names: bardo, netherworld, limbo, place of choosing. Klingons would call this the Naj, the dream before dying.

"In between," I reply.

"Am I dead?"

"Do you want to be?"

He doesn't answer, because the ale is sweet and the way is never easy. When the shadows grow long, I aim the old-fashioned remote at the television above the bar. Nothing happens. I hand the gadget to Tom, who is good at such things. He fiddles with the wires, then hands it back in triumph. I push the button, and show him the present.

He watches in wonder, as, on the other side of the veil, a man and a woman shimmer into view on a transporter pad. They are dressed in space suits, attractive young faces covered by protective plastic. Their arms are wrapped around one another. The embrace is awkward, needy, a little desperate…new love personified. He towers over her, and is much worse off. Redundant organs help her to survive and recover; she will most likely outlive him. But that's the future; this is the present. His knees buckle, and she moves to break his fall, a sleek brown kitten supporting a large, tawny cat. They sink slowly to the floor. She tears their helmets off. He is not breathing. She was also deprived of oxygen, though that's not obvious to those listening to the stream of pleading words, well-mixed with profanity, that pours from her lips. She calls his name, speaks directly to his failing lungs, and curses the day he was born, all in the same breath. She snarls at the crewmen that run to help, and bats their hands away. She pummels his chest herself. No one will ever beat on Tom Paris but her, unless they want their intestines yanked out their nostrils and tied in a granny knot.

He goes back to her, of course, leaving the bar in a swirl of starlight.

I watch the screen after he disappears beyond the glass. I watch as her clasped fists land on his chest, bringing forth breath. It is the Day of Honor, and she has done well.

He comes again, several times before the final visit. That happens when he is an old, old man. When Voyager orbits earth, the air is heavy with the scent of war, and Tom Paris is swept into the conflict. They all are, especially Kathryn Janeway, who moves among the clashing armies. She lives hard and comes here many times, in the aftermath. I give her a comfortable stool and good ale, and I listen.

Each time I go to hang my CLOSED sign, there is a face peering in through the glass, and I cannot bear to wave them on down the street, to that Betazed joint where they commemorate each sip by banging on a gong.

"Are you open?" they always ask.

As long as the galaxy exists, there will be lost souls making the choice to cross or return to life and love, sunrise and tears. I will be here until they come to tell me time is done.

I sigh and speak the sad truth. "We never close."