Disclaimer:
I do not own nor claim to own any of the following characters, places, or events. Just the story.

Author's Note: Written for Laura W's "Time On My Hands" flash-fic challenge on VAMB. Set during "Workforce, Pt 2."


A Sound Like Breaking Chains
by Dax's10thHost

She's never had so much time on her hands.

It frightens her. She tries to fill the hours with busywork, moving from place to place, touching this, touching that. Trying to piece together an image of this hulking ship that's supposedly her home. There are scraps of familiarity dangling inside her, moments when she can almost taste the raktajino or smell the burnt plasma or shove the tangled strands of hair from her face and tap-dance her fingers across the controls…

Almost.

In the end, though, all she can do is sit and think over these memories they say aren't hers.

She still can't get used to it, the idea that what's in her head, what defines her, really doesn't. That her memories are merely the product of a sick mind's desire to experiment scares her—scares her to paralysis—and she doesn't want it to be true. And yet she does. Oh, she does. Because the chance… the hope that maybe, just maybe, none of what she remembers really happened to her. Could it really be true?

"They needed workers," he says when she demands an explanation. "They needed workers like they needed air. They were desperate. And desperate times call for desperate measures."

She'd tries to remember where she's heard that, but can't.

The emptiness inside her mind frightens her, even more so because she can't run from it.

"It will pass in time," he repeats. But even though time is all she has, she fears it will still run out.

At first, the Doctor (he has no name—why doesn't he have a name?) keeps her in Sickbay, and her feet kick and fingers tap and eyes wander from floor to ceiling to bulkhead to controls. She wants to leave, but she doesn't really, because then she'll have to wander through unfamiliar halls and maybe even run into somebody she knows, but doesn't. (How is that even possible…?)

How much of me is fake? she wonders. The vulnerability yawning inside her makes her want to crawl into a hole and never come out. But she can't do that, because she has to know the answer. How much of me is fake…?

More importantly—how much of me is real?

The baby kicks strongly inside her, and her fingers flutter down to her belly. She takes comfort in the movement, in feeling a tiny hand or foot press against her palm, her arm, nestle up against her heart. At least this part of her is real.

Or is it?

She doesn't want to think of how this baby came to be—even though she loves it fiercely now, she still remembers the nausea that assaulted her when she heard the news—(You're pregnant, Ms. Torres—seven weeks now)—and the utter terror that descended upon her in a moment's time. What will I tell him? she'd trembled, cold sweat standing out like goose bumps on her skin. What will he do when I start to show?

And of course, worse than the memories of Max's rejection, of her father's shunning her, of her ragged existence in the streets for three months afterward, are the images of that night and the shadows that plague her even now, in this pristine room of healing and dispelled lies.

She never should have gone alone. She knows that. She's had six months to know that, and still she can't shake the bitterness festering inside her. She should have waited, should have stayed at her uncle's house until morning, or at least asked if he would take her home. No matter that he was busy—he would've understood.

But no, she'd had to be independent, had to prove to John Torres that she was old enough to get married, responsible enough to run her own household—and walking home alone at night was the only way she could do that.

How foolish could she be?

The footsteps, the fog, the way the night snaked around her ankles and reached to drag her down when she'd tried to run, tried to fight and kick and writhe herself out of his grip—

But no, she thinks, dragging in a breath. None of it's real. The rape didn't happen, and Max didn't dump me, and my father didn't throw me out on the streets when I told him I was pregnant. It's all manipulated, implanted, memories to fit a mad scientist's agenda.

Or so she tells herself. But the memories—they're so vivid. How can they not be real?

She doesn't start to disbelieve them until Neelix takes her to their quarters. Hers and Tom's.

Tom Paris… yes. She begins to remember when she touches the television, fuzzy images of cartoons and gamboling blobs of blue coming back to jog memories of giggles and tossed popcorn kernels and the insistence that "it's really classic television, Bee."

Bee.

Yes, she remembers Bee.

And then the picture frame, with the holo-image inside. Of her smirking and him smiling into her hair, and the glint of the ring against her uniform. Thanks, but I already have a ring. Neelix tells her they found the ring in Engineering, thought how it had gotten there was anyone's guess. The surge in her chest when she hears she'll get it back is all she needs to know.

She loves him—she always has.

The cradle, though… Kahless, the cradle.

She kneels at it, fingers kissing the wood as if afraid to break it. Her daughter stirs within her, and she reaches to touch the cloud of pink inside. A blanket from Naomi.

"I made this. It's for Baby Paris. My mom helped me, but only a little. I hope you like it. She said you're having a girl. Maybe I can play with her when she's older. Seven says she won't grow as fast as I did, but I'll be careful with her. I promise."

How does she know that? Because you're starting to remember…

And Tom… Tom had been there with her. In the mess hall, eating lunch with Harry and laughing over something. What was it? It didn't matter.

You're happy about this, right?... She's perfect… just like her mother… Put it on the list… just the way she is… It belongs to us. All of it… Mommy knows best… See you later—Dad…

The tears are falling, and she can't stop them, won't. The rape, the streets, her memories—none of it is true. This is her baby, her and Tom's… "I wondered why he was so protective of me…"

Behind her, Neelix clears his throat as the door hisses open. "I'll be outside if you need me," he says, and then he's gone.

A day ago, she would have panicked at the silence in the room, at the emptiness without someone to cling to, if only emotionally. But she's not alone… not really. She has the baby.

And Tom. She has Tom.

She's never had so much time on her hands, but she's finding that she likes it. Someday, maybe he'll come back and they can learn to like it together.

Fin