Disclaimer: I do not own or claim to own the lyrics found at the end of the song. They're from "All the Way," and respectfully accredited to the songwriter(s). Full disclaimer for it found in my DS9 fic, "All the Way." Enjoy! (And please review!)
If it were physically possible, Tom would have kicked himself to pieces by now. It had been nearly thirty hours since B'Elanna's flight from him in the corridors of Deck 1, and he still hadn't worked up the nerve to track her down.
At first, he'd told himself she just needed time alone, time to sort things through and come to grips with what the "photon torpedo from nowhere" meant to her. Goodness knows he needed the time. He hadn't even known about the Duplicate Project, as Janeway's need-to-know team had termed it, until twenty minutes before B'Elanna's confession. To say the news had surprised him was one of the Seven Understatements of Thomas Eugene Paris's Life.
But being surprised didn't necessarily translate into being upset.
No, the more Tom thought about the idea of his duplicate marrying B'Elanna's, the more he liked it. And the more plausible it sounded.
After all, he loved B'Elanna. Loved her like he'd never loved any girl—or woman—before. In fact, since he'd started courting B'Elanna in earnest—after her tearful, quite literally breathless admission on the Day of Honor so long ago—Tom had come to realize that he'd never truly loved anyone before B'Elanna.
Not romantically, anyway.
Sure, he loved his family, current non-relations with his father notwithstanding, and, ridiculous as it may have sounded to some, he loved Voyager and the Delta Flyer. As much as anyone could love humming, temperamental chunks of metal, anyway.
But when it came to women, Tom now knew that he'd never loved. It had all been…lust. The admission made him wince and try to shove away all the questionable memories clinging to it. He was a different man than the one who had stepped onto Voyager's bridge nearly six years ago. One that wasn't proud of his past before Voyager.
Funny that it had taken a mercurial, cranky half-Klingon to show him that. Correction, he thought. B'Elanna showed me.
To Tom, there was a difference.
He thought again of the emotions playing across B'Elanna's face in the moments before she told him of their duplicates' marriage. The guilt. The fear. The uncertainty. The apprehension. But guilt from what? Fear of what? Why the uncertainty and apprehension? What caused them to darken the liquid brown of her eyes into a tumultuous sea of black? Tom didn't know.
But he could make a pretty good guess. And that guess made his heart ache for her, because he knew how much torture B'Elanna must be putting herself through because of this bizarre revelation.
"We got married. Our duplicates got married."
How softly she'd whispered those words to him, her lips barely moving, her eyes swathed in a protective curtain even he couldn't penetrate. And he'd just stood there like a brainless idiot, letting the shock parade across his face for B'Elanna to see, to misinterpret.
To run from.
It wasn't that marrying B'Elanna repulsed him, as he was certain she'd taken his stunned expression to say. He didn't see her as others in her past surely had—as an exotic plaything to amuse him until he grew bored and tossed her aside like an outdated holonovel, in search of the quadrant's latest fad. Nor did he see her as a piece of property, something to put on display and brag about to every new species he crossed paths with.
Tom knew those conclusions for what they were. Lies. Cruel, twisted, hurtful lies. And he resented them with every fiber of his being.
He knew, deep inside his aching heart, that some part of B'Elanna Torres—whether large or small, it didn't matter—believed these lies, and had fled from them as surely as she had fled from his touch thirty hours before. Why else would she have resisted his questions about the Duplicate Project for so long? What else could have splattered her face with fear, tensed her steps with uncertainty, and choked her words with apprehension?
Tom clenched his hands into fists, mentally cursing his stupidity. He should go to B'Elanna, find her and take her in his arms and make her understand that he loved her, and always would love her, until the day he breathed his last.
Yet, here he was thirty hours later, no closer to telling B'Elanna that marriage wasn't as impossible as she thought it was.
His combadge chirped, and Tom sighed so heavily that he nearly fell to the floor. His eyes closed in utter exhaustion, his hands rising to cover them. He'd gone off-duty hours ago, and the last thing he needed right now was to be called in for an emergency, or even some trivial discrepancy in the Flyer's power systems. Why couldn't he just sink through the deck plates and disappear for a few days?
Shore leave. He needed shore leave.
::Neelix to Ensign Paris.::
Ensign. The designation ate at him, tired as he was, and Tom bit his lip to keep from exploding at the well-meaning Talaxian cook. Lieutenant Paris! he wanted to shout. Lieutenant, not ensign! Why can't I do something right for just once in my life? Why am I always the misfit, the mess-up, the vagabond and miscreant and chronic failure?
And all that stemmed from a single word.
Sighing again—this time in disgust—Tom slapped his badge. "Paris here. Whaddya need, Neelix? If it's something about work—"
"No need to worry, Tom. I just need you to come up to the Mess Hall for a few minutes. There's something I need to discuss with you, about—well, I'd rather not say," Neelix mumbled over the line. "You never know who's eavesdropping."
Tom rubbed his gritty eyes. Then he grimaced; it felt as if his hands were made of sandpaper. "Sheez, I've got to get some sleep." Suddenly remembering he was on an open channel, he bolted upright and headed for the door. "Sorry Neelix. It's been a long day. I'll be there in five minutes, 'kay?"
The doors to his quarters hissed open, and Tom stepped through. Glancing down at his outfit, he hesitated for a split second, then shrugged and headed for the nearest turbolift. It was past 2100—he could show up in the Mess Hall in pajamas, for all he cared. Civvies and sock-clad feet hardly made a difference to him.
As he made his way to the nearest 'lift, Tom noted the unusual silence in the corridors. Practically no one was out and about this hour—they were either at their various posts throughout the ship or holed away in their quarters, getting some valuable shut-eye. Ohh, that sounded divine.
Tom shook his head and stepped into the 'lift. "Deck two," he said. He wouldn't think about sleep. Not until Neelix was done briefing him on…whatever it was he wanted to talk about. Tom thought hard, but his tired brain couldn't come up with any important dates on the calendar. No birthdays, no holidays, no One-Year-Blah-Blah-Blah anniversaries to plan parties for. Maybe the Talaxian just wanted to share the latest gossip with him.
"I sure hope not," he muttered, dragging in a breath. Neelix could go on for hours about Voyager's mostly inaccurate grapevine. In fact, the only person who could give him a run for his latinum was the Doctor. And that was saying something.
The 'lift hummed to a stop, and as he stepped into the corridor, Tom realized he hadn't eaten dinner yet. Maybe I'll get lucky and Neelix'll have some leftovers warming as midnight snacks. Of course, the word leftovers is synonymous with Most Definitely Inedible, these days, so maybe not…
His thoughts trailed away, and he walked into what had once been the Captain's Galley, now imaginatively dubbed the Mess Hall. The lights were dimmed, and from his position by the doors, Tom couldn't see half the room. His boyish—okay, well, his dominant—side made him grin and reference half a dozen "spooky" movies he'd devoured over the years, and he strode forward, head turning this way and that in search of Neelix.
"Hey, Neelix, old buddy, I'm here. Where'd you run off to?" Hearing puttering in the kitchen, Tom turned his steps there.
Rounding the corner, though, his attentions were immediately directed elsewhere. All thoughts of the furry cook fled his mind as his eyes took in the scene before him.
At first, he couldn't believe it. It couldn't be—not after yesterday, and certainly not after he'd failed to apologize within twenty-four hours of the incident. Then, when his sleep-deprived, hunger-impaired, stressed-beyond-words brain registered the sight before him as something slightly more believable than an hallucination, his first thought was, Oh crap. I'm in socks.
In what Tom would later describe as Quite Possibly the Most Romantic Evening of My Life, B'Elanna sat facing him, at a table for two, candlelight flickering softly against the honeyed tan of her skin. The wavering flames bathed the deep red of her dress in velvety shadows, taking what would be striking on her in normal lighting to jaw-dropping. Her hair was brushed so smoothly that it looked like satin, and it shone russet in the soft light of the tapered candles. And was that—? Yes, yes it was. She'd woven that single, small braid down the left side of her face. The braid that he'd been crazy about, and that she'd sworn she'd never wear again because it kept falling out. Tom began to suck in a breath, but all nonessential body functions—such as respiration and circulation—ceased the second his eyes met hers.
They were soft, liquid, two pools of ink, with candle flames dancing as torches in the dead of night. His delirious brain was working overtime in the poetic department, but Tom didn't care. Shining, like stars thrown across the ebony canvas of space, they beckoned to him, and told him that, whatever this was about, he needn't be afraid. Or worried about coming majorly underdressed.
"B'Elanna…" he breathed, seemingly frozen in place. "What…?"
She smiled, a smile that threatened to drive him insane with its beauty, and rose. In some rogue part of his body that wasn't literally mesmerized by the sight before him, Tom glanced down, past the calf-length swirl of her dress and to the floor, where he was absurdly relieved to find—
"Someone told me you hadn't eaten yet, Mr. Paris," she said, her teasing voice like music to his ears.
Her hand slipped into his, and he felt himself being pulled forward, toward the table, the chairs, the candles. B'Elanna.
They'd reached the table, and, like a lame-brained idiot, he'd let her pull out his chair before he snapped out of it. Accepting his already numerous flub-ups as irrevocable, Tom waited until B'Elanna had taken her seat before occupying his.
"I take it our plan was a success?" Tom jumped as Neelix's voice sounded behind him. He'd forgotten all about his initial purpose in visiting the Mess Hall.
"I couldn't have asked you to do better, Neelix," B'Elanna grinned. "I owe you one."
Tom furrowed his brow and darted a look between B'Elanna and the cook. "Am I correct in assuming that you two are in cahoots together?"
"Who, me?" Neelix asked, fingers splayed innocently across his fireworks show of an apron. B'Elanna merely clapped a hand over her mouth and stifled what Tom would have sworn was a giggle. When have I ever heard B'Elanna giggle? he wondered.
Breaking into a smile that strangers would call positively frightening, Neelix rubbed his hands together and leaned toward the table, his amber eyes wide and expressive. "The food will be ready in just a few minutes. B'Elanna, I'll bring it out whenever you're ready."
B'Elanna nodded and winked (She's never done that, either! Tom marveled), and Neelix disappeared into his beloved kitchen.
"Now," Tom said, once they were alone, "what's this all about? I thought I was supposed to be the one throwing a candlelight dinner and dressing to the nines at 2100 hours."
A soft smile tugged B'Elanna's lips, and she merely watched him for a long two minutes. Then, she said, "This is about us."
"Us?" Tom swallowed. Could she possibly have gone to all this trouble just to break up with him? No, he decided. B'Elanna definitely wasn't the type to turn a break-up into some sort of sick celebration.
"Us," she repeated, and fell silent once more. Watching her eyes, though, Tom knew that she had more to say. Much more. And so he waited.
Her lips parted, but no words came forth. Tom let his gaze slide up to hers once more, and he found there such a vast array of feelings that he felt he'd drown in them.
Love, joy, fear, tenderness, vulnerability, guilt, hesitation, uncertainty, caution, determination—they all rolled over him, like a giant wave coming to claim him.
And yet, through it all, he sensed a profound peace emanating from B'Elanna. A peace regarding what she was about to do, the decision she'd made in the hours prior to this meeting. A peace he'd never sensed from her before. Ever.
"Bee, what is this about?"
She smiled then, a delighted, sparkly-eyed smile. All the uncertainties and hesitation seemed to seep from her limbs and puddle onto the floor with that smile. A ripple of laughter spilled from her throat, and she regarded him with a love so strong that he could barely believe this was happening.
"This is about us," she breathed. "You and me. It's about duplicates and wedding rings and holodecks and Cardassians, and vows and love and—" she paused, breathless, "—and Bee."
"Whoa, whoa, B'Elanna, slow down. You lost me after duplicates," he laughed, her excitement contagious.
She drew a deep breath, closing her eyes as she did so. When she opened them, Tom saw that she was ready to tell him everything. They were shining and steady, more peaceful than he'd ever known them to be.
"When I first read that log entry—the one that told me our duplicates got married—I didn't know what to think. I was…" she bit her lip. "I was scared, and then I was happy, and just as quickly I was mad at Janeway for assigning me to the project. Then, I wanted to destroy the entry, because I couldn't fathom the thought of telling Janeway—or you, for that matter—about the marriage. It just seemed…"
"Too bizarre?" he offered, hoping he hadn't ruined the evening.
"Exactly. I mean…how often does one come across an exact copy of oneself?"
Tom grinned impishly. "With this crew? You never know."
B'Elanna scowled at him, but it was only half-hearted. "You know what I mean. Anyway, after you chased me down in the corridor, I was terrified. I just—" she stopped, suddenly unable to continue. The fear was back, darkening her eyes and freezing her limbs. Tom waited, willing his eyes to convey his love and support.
Just as suddenly as it had come, the fear left, and determination flooded her expression. When she spoke, her words tumbled out on top of each other, as if she was afraid they'd disappear before she had the chance to voice them. "I just knew that your reaction meant you'd never dream of marrying me, and that the idea was disgusting to you. I told myself that I'd tricked myself into believing my own lies, and that I was a fool for ever thinking you could love me."
"It was a lie, Tom. I know that," she cried, leaning against the table's edge, as if pleading with him to understand. "I realized it when I was in the holodeck yesterday, running the caves simulation." She saw his look and quickly shook her head. "No, I didn't turn the safeties off. I was catching my breath, when I looked down and…and there it was."
He listened as she told the story of the imitation wedding band, and the feelings it had stirred in her. Of her dreams, her denial, her dejection, and then of her revelation regarding his nickname for her.
Bee, he marveled. Who would have thought it'd all come down to a single syllable? I'm going to call her that for the rest of our lives.
She finished, and the silence hung between them. At last, he found the words to ask his only question. "So…what does this mean—for us?"
B'Elanna remained silent for a moment more, and then she rose, walked behind him, and dragged his chair back from the table. Before he could ask what she was doing, she'd settled herself on his lap, arms resting comfortably around his shoulders.
She gazed deep into his eyes, right down to the most secret corner of his heart, and took a deep breath. "I love you, Thomas Eugene Paris, and—someday, I hope that that love will lead me to pledge my life to you."
"But for now?" he whispered, hardly daring to breathe.
"For now…let's just take it one step at a time."
He smiled. "Come what may."
"What?" B'Elanna looked confused.
"Come what may. You said 'one step at a time,' and it reminded me of the words to an old song I once heard."
"How does it go?" she asked, tilting her head.
Tom closed his eyes and searched his memory. "Through the good or lean years, and for all the in between years—come what may," he sang softly, reaching up to brush her hair back from her face. "Who knows where the road will lead us? Only a fool would say." He paused, suddenly feeling foolish.
"Keep going," she smiled sillily, kissing his nose. "I like it when you sing."
"Really?" he raised his eyebrows, his fingers reaching to undo the braid in her hair. "I thought you hated it."
Too late, B'Elanna realized what he was doing and swatted his hand aside. "Hey!" she growled, but a smile had already begun to creep across her lips. "I spent half an hour trying to get that thing to stay in—just for you—and now look what you've done!"
"Uh, Neelix!" Tom shouted over his shoulder. "I think we're ready to eat! Pronto!"
"Not so fast, flyboy," B'Elanna laughed, pulling his head back around. And then, before he had time to worry about her revenge on her ruined braid, she kissed him soundly, breaking away only when her laughter proved too great to contain.
Tom soon joined her, and the moment was one he vowed never to forget, as long as he drew breath into his lungs.
Dinner came with Neelix's signature flourish, and as he ate, staring across the table into those dancing brown eyes he so loved, the final lines of the song he'd been singing to B'Elanna ran through his head.
But if you'll let me love you, it's for sure I'm gonna love you—all the way, all the way.
And he would.
Come what may.