"Tom?" B'Elanna's voice filtered through to him, and Tom stuck his head around the 'fresher's doorframe.
His wife glanced up, a smile curling her lips at the sight of him. Tom could only imagine what he looked like, arms loaded with toiletries and clothing items that hadn't quite made it to the recycler. But as long as it made her smile, he didn't mind.
The bundle in her arms squirmed, and B'Elanna transferred it to her shoulder. "Once you're done in there, Harry wanted you to stop by," she said, attention on their daughter. When Miral continued her fussing, B'Elanna rose and swayed slowly, murmuring those things only mothers did to their children.
Tom grinned and abandoned his packing. In the barely two days since Miral's birth, Voyager's newest father had decided that motherhood only enhanced B'Elanna's beauty. There was something about her whenever she held Miral that made him love her all the more.
"Harry say why he wanted me?" he asked, arms outstretched. B'Elanna surrendered Miral, who immediately quieted and stared at her daddy with impossibly big blue eyes.
"Something about packing and a final hurrah in Captain Proton. Though, if you ask me," she said, mischief lighting her eyes, "I think he's just hoping his niece will stop by."
Tom regarded their daughter with mock scrutiny. "What do you think? Could she pull of Arachnia? I doubt we'll ever get the Captain back in that costume."
B'Elanna socked his arm and moved past him. "Don't get any ideas, flyboy. I don't want her growing up in a world with no color."
"No worries. I'll let you take her horseback riding in Fair Haven every once in a while. Keep Brogan in line."
Even with his back to her, Tom was certain B'Elanna rolled her eyes. "Yeah, right. Like anyone can keep an O'Connell in line."
Pleased that his half-Klingon wife had joined him in the teasing, Tom almost forgot to monitor her activities. As soon as he heard rattling in the bathroom, however, his klaxons sounded red alert.
"B'Elanna!" he scolded, chasing after her. "You know what the Doc said—no heavy lifting until you've fully recovered."
"Does this look like heavy lifting to you?" she argued, brandishing a hairbrush and shaving kit.
"No; it looks like the first innocent armload you could grab before I came in here and saw you with a box."
A year ago, her look would have turned him into a human pincushion. Now, it only quirked his brow. "You know, you look eerily like Tuvok when you do that," she grumbled.
"I'll take that as a compliment, thank you," he said, settling a sleepy Miral in her arms and prodding her back to the couch. "I'll also thank you to stay seated and out of my way. Be a backseat driver, if you must." He hardened his voice. "But no lifting. Period."
B'Elanna huffed, but did as she was told. Tom suspected her protests were simply to save face; he'd caught her dozing more than once in the past two days. Satisfied with her compliance, Tom returned to his task.
He'd just finished the bathroom and started on the closet when B'Elanna piped up again, though quietly enough to keep from waking Miral. "Tom, did you remember my toolkit? It was in the wall cabinet in the bathroom—you know, the one that blends in."
Tom thumped a half-filled suitcase outside the 'fresher door and retrieved the forgotten item. Good thing B'Elanna had remembered—no telling how many heads would've rolled had they disembarked and she couldn't find her personal engineer's kit.
"Here it is," he called, studying it as he exited the 'fresher. "Right where you said it would be."
"Tom, watch out—"
The rest of her sentence disappeared in a solid oof as he sprawled across the floor. B'Elanna's prized toolkit went flying in a hail of hyperspanners, tricorders, and dualitic inverters.
"—for the suitcase," B'Elanna finished lamely. "Are you all right?"
Tom started to reply in the affirmative, but Miral's wail cut him off. He winced, and B'Elanna bit back a curse.
"I'm sorry, Bee," he offered, disentangling his legs from his leather jacket. She shook her head and stood.
"Don't worry about it. I'll take her walking, okay? It'll do us both some good."
She left, and Tom began piecing her kit back together. His first job was to pop the racks back in place; then he started on the tools. As he searched for the proper storage slot for her to-do list, he realized the padd's power cell was dead.
"Funny," he muttered, flipping the cell compartment open. B'Elanna never neglected her tools. Then again, with Voyager's return to the Alpha Quadrant and Miral's birth, B'Elanna was bound to be a bit scatter-brained. They all were.
Rising, Tom rummaged through the junk drawer (which he'd termed his Final Project, and hoped to foist on B'Elanna) until he found a spare cell. Within seconds, he had the padd in working order. But when he flipped it over, what he saw was certainly not an ever-changing list of B'Elanna's projects.
In fact, the contents hadn't been altered for nearly six years.
It was an hour. One hour. And yet, those sixty minutes seem to have shaped who I am, who I will remain for these next thirty minutes, and who I am attempting to preserve in the humps of these orange letters.
The first four words brought it all back—everything he'd never forgotten, all that he'd struggled to keep inside him as he waited for her those two long years—it all tumbled onto his heart once more.
Unable to stop himself, Tom eased onto the couch and relived his memories through B'Elanna's eyes. The shock, the pain, the conversations and broken memories—they were all there, exactly as he recalled them. Still, they were different. More visceral…and moving.
The end nearly undid him.
And now I'm home, once more fighting my birthright of anger. Again, I've relived every moment of those two days, and still I return to that hour of darkness there on the floor. On the floor…where I am now. Even my subconscious can't fight its pull.
I ask myself, "What is it about that hour, B'Elanna, that changed you so? Why do you repel it, even while clinging to it, and why do you long to keep it alive?" Even as I ask myself, I know. The innocence…the trust, the untainted friendship he offered me in my weakest moment…
He gave me something I've never been able to give myself. And it's a gift I'll never forget.
Tom massaged his eyes, not quite believing the words before him. But another part of him remembered her tears, her gratitude, and, greatest of all, her trust, and knew. He didn't care why she'd locked this confession away all these years; all that mattered was she'd written it.
And kept it.
The door's hiss interrupted his thoughts, and brought his head up. His heart lodged in his throat.
B'Elanna stood in the doorway and absorbed it all. The suitcase, still capsized and spilling Captain Proton regalia. Her toolkit, partially reassembled. The junk drawer, open, and the dead power cell resting on the table. And Tom, on the couch, with a padd in his hand.
She hadn't forgotten it. Not really. It's hiding place attested to that. Secreted behind a tool rack in her personal kit. Carried with her nearly everywhere she went. She dropped her gaze to Miral's slumbering form and crossed to the foot of their bed. There, she studied the pink hues decorating the cradle. But that was all she did.
"What was it, Bee? What was the gift I gave you?"
His words loosened her muscles. B'Elanna knelt and settled Miral in her cradle, gaze lingering on the daughter she'd come to love more than life itself. She trailed a finger down Miral's cheek, smiling as her baby latched onto it in her sleep. With the tiny fingers imparting the strength she required, B'Elanna turned back to her husband.
"Love, Tom. You gave me love. Love without expectations, without conditions or rules or onlyifs. Love that said you accepted me no matter my physical features, and that promised to stick by me."
Tom's eyes brightened with unshed tears, and B'Elanna loved that he trusted her enough to show them. "But…Harry and Chakotay gave you that, too, didn't they?"
"Out in the world, maybe." She smiled, completely calm. It seemed that carrying Tom's gift for six years had filled her with peace. "But we were in hell, Tom. Vidiian hell. And you still loved me. I'll never forget that."
Tom's eyes closed, and he steepled trembling fingers over his nose and mouth. With a sigh, Miral released her mother's fingers, and B'Elanna acknowledged the prompt. She'd no sooner knelt before him than his hands dropped away, one feathering her cheek and the other circling her waist.
"B'Elanna…" he whispered, sliding to his knees. "I love you." He hugged her, and amidst the tender, tear-washed kisses that followed, she caught the four words she would treasure forever.
"You are my gift."
A/N: Special thanks is due to Alpha Flyer, whose dedication to plumbing the depths of Tom's character greatly influenced this piece, especially the prison scene in Chapter 1.