When Chakotay enters the hydroponics bay and sees Tom sitting on a bench next to a series of flowering plants, he considers turning around the way he came.
The Commander came here because he thought it would provide some solitude outside his quarters. A bit of quiet amidst the chaos of the week's events.
Once, only a few days ago, he may have come here in search of peace. The signs of life and growth gently soothing him. Looking at Paris' pained expression, he isn't sure if any of them will ever find peace again. But tonight he decides to give up even on the far less lofty pursuit of solitude.
He's surprised when Tom doesn't school his expression as he sits down next to him, his sorrow and contemplation remaining apparent. "Purple was B'Elanna's favorite color," the pilot eventually comments, and his blue eyes lock on the flowering plant next to them, its angular petals ranging from lavender to a deep plum.
Chakotay searches his memories. It's a piece of information he's sure he once knew, but one that's been lost among countless others, over the years.
"It was Kathryn's as well," Chakotay breathes and Tom finally looks at him.
"I didn't realize they had that in common."
"Not the most obvious commonality between them," Chakotay concedes, and Tom falls silent, mentally ticking away the others.
A fiery temper.
The inexplicable tendency to forget eating when in the middle of work.
Their date of death.
The pilot closes his eyes, trying to will away the wave of nausea that abruptly finds him.
"What happens now?" Tom asks finally, his voice barely audible.
Chakotay knows he isn't talking about repairs or strategy; the continuing threat of Krenim attacks. But he chooses to address the question as pertaining to ship's business. Forestalls his own confessions, currently looming, just out of reach.
"She left orders for me to take Command. Assume the title of Captain, in the event of her death."
Tom doesn't respond to him. Partly lost in his own thoughts, partly recognizing that there's nothing he can say to ease Chakotay's pain.
There's nothing, after all, that can be said to ease his own.
"I'm not sure I can ever move into her ready room," Chakotay confesses, burying his head in his hands.
"You don't have to," Tom consoles, though it isn't the truth, they both know. The Commander must take over command of the ship with an appearance of certainty, masking his own profound pain for the sake of the crew.
Sitting beside the Lieutenant, Chakotay envies the pilot's freedom to mourn B'Elanna and whatever existed between them. To acknowledge, as openly as he may choose, the death of both a woman and an infinite set of possibilities.
"I've felt guilty. . . since the Caretaker's array," Tom says suddenly.
"What?" Chakotay manages, pulled back into conversation. "Why should you feel guilty?"
"Because. . . as much I want to get back to Earth, I don't miss it the way Harry- everyone else does. . . There was nothing left for me back there. But on Voyager. . . " Tom stops, shrugging slightly before looking again at the purple petals once more as he continues. "This felt like home more than anything in the Alpha Quadrant ever did."
"Felt?" Chakotay asks, his stomach lurching a little more as Tom lets go of a jagged breath, his shoulders hunching in a way that captures more of his bleakness than the desolation in his voice does.
"I'm pretty sure when we shot them into space, home went with them, Chakotay."
The older man sinks lower into the bench, his shoulder pressing against Tom's.
"We'll find peace someday," Chakotay murmurs, after a long silence.
"You think so?" Tom asks earnestly.
Chakotay looks at the plant next to him, his eyes fixing on a petal of the deepest plum.
"No. . . not really," Chakotay concedes, and to Tom's surprise. "I think. . . that went with them, too."
They fall quiet after this. Both of them contemplating the future's barren prospects among the continually blossoming reminders of the past.