Author's Note: Written as part of VAMB's 2012/2013 Secret Santa exchange, for Alpha Flyer, who requested a Paris/Kes piece. Uses the "Before and After" timeline as the springboard for events.
Dear Self Who Will Not Remember
The first time we kissed, it was to keep a memory, not make one. I'm not saying that to be cynical – I'm saying that because it's true. The first time we kissed, he was really kissing her. I knew that. And I still kissed him back, because… it's what she would have done.
Being telepathic is both a good thing and a bad thing. It gives you an edge, but it also makes you an eavesdropper. No matter how hard you try to turn it off, you can't.
Their thoughts just come.
So when he closed his eyes and leaned into me and kissed me, I didn't so much taste the tears on his cheeks as much as I listened to them falling from his mind.
Bee, he'd thought. Bee. Over and over, just her name, Bee. But not just her name, because there were memories falling, too. Beautiful ones, aching ones, angry ones. Bee.
Bee smirking, Bee insulting, Bee pressed up against a wall and gasping because she was so scared she couldn't even cry. Bee dirt-smudged and sweaty, body moving against his in all the right places and lips fiery as they searched, hungering for more than he'd let himself give.
No. Not now. Not like this.
Because he loved her, and she didn't. Not then. Not all the way.
—But oh, Tom, she did. She loved you. She loved you so much, so very much, and that's what scared her. It was the Pon farr that sealed it, that drove the stake into her quivering hearts and told her.
She loved you.
But I'm the one kissing you now. Kissing him.
Tom. Oh, Tom. What has she done to you?
The second time we kissed, it was to remember, and this time I didn't kiss back. I wasn't hesitant, wasn't against it, but I didn't encourage it, either, because I knew… he needed to heal.
And so did I.
Maybe I should explain how it all began, or at least how the first part ended, so you'll understand, maybe just a little bit, all these things I'm telling you.
You know about the Day, the one that no one mentions, at least not where Tom or the Captain can hear them. You've learned through whisperings and late-night searching through personal logs what happened that Day and in the Days After. You know that a console exploded, killing Kathryn Janeway and B'Elanna Torres, and you know that Voyager lost two of its most valuable members before any of us could even think to cry. You know that there was much deliberation over whether Chakotay, a former Maquis rebel, was fit to become captain, and you know that another explosion eventually made the decision for us – Tuvok lost his sight and Chakotay became captain and that was that.
But you don't know that it took two months before Chakotay sat in her seat, and three before Harry could touch a console without flinching. Four months, and Tuvok could tell you who sneezed on Deck 14 (because 15 had been blown to bits the week before). Five months, and Neelix could smile again. Six, and the Doctor hummed. Seven, and we were almost normal.
As you're reading this, you've probably noticed I've left someone out.
What about Tom?
Seven months, and he still wouldn't stop pulling double shifts. Every day, for sixteen straight hours, he'd sit at that helm and ply the blackened console, wincing when electricity arced across his blistered fingers, but giving no other indication that he was alive. Chakotay tried – we all tried – to get him to stop, but he wouldn't; not even when the repair crews came to replace the wiring and helm control was transferred to engineering. He remained motionless, watching as they worked, and then reclaimed the console as they left. No one had to ask why he hadn't gone down to engineering.
Finally, when Mulcahey took a page out of Tom's book and wouldn't budge after delta shift was up, Voyager's once-perky flyboy shrugged and took the 'lift to sickbay, where he sterilized surgical instruments and mended broken toes until the Doctor put him out with a hypospray two days later.
That was when we knew something was wrong – truly wrong. Though we understood his grief, we couldn't let him go on that way.
So I kissed him back.
That's not how it happened – not exactly. I left out the part where I found him in the airponics bay, hunched over a bed of scarlet flowers with his fingers in the dirt and a fist against his eyes.
'Red was her favorite color,' he said matter-of-factly when he saw me, as if giving a soil sample or water type. 'I always meant to come down here and cut her one of these.' He stared blankly at his muddied hands.
'They're new,' I said, and sat down beside him.
'I can cut you some, if you'd like.'
'No. That's okay.'
'Did the Doctor kick you out of sickbay again?'
'No. Mulcahey wouldn't move. Again.'
A long silence descended, not uncomfortable. It felt good to be still. To breathe. To be conscious of breathing.
'Thanks for not asking me. About missing her.'
'It's a stupid question.' His startled eyes met mine, and I offered him a wistful smile. 'We all miss them, and we'll continue to miss them. It's as simple as that, Tom.'
'Yeah, well, since when have the people on this ship ever liked the simple things?'
From then on, we made a habit of sitting in the airponics bay, flowers filling the space between us, together, silent, and breathing.
It wasn't long after that when he kissed me, and like I said, it was to remember the way she tasted at midnight, gentled and drowsy with sleep. He apologized by raking trembling hands through his hair, but I didn't try to say anything back. There wasn't anything to say.
All I could do was be, and hope that that was enough. Enough for what?
Enough to keep him breathing.
Weeks passed. From first kiss to the Question, it took us three months, and each one felt like a lifetime.
When he finally asked me to marry him, I said yes because I wanted to, not because obligation required it of me.
So why do I write all this? The Doctor says the morilogium will set in any time now. Though he insists he can't be sure, I can see it in his eyes.
I have a month. Maybe two…
And then I won't remember anything. I'll go on living for another year, perhaps a few months longer, but I won't remember any details. Nothing. To my own self, it will be as if I never existed.
It was Neelix's idea, this letter. Even though I broke his heart all those years ago, he's remained one of my dearest friends, and his reputation as the ship's morale officer hasn't faded, either. I shouldn't be surprised that he saw this coming long before I did, just as I shouldn't be surprised that he prepared for it. When the Doctor gave me the news, Neelix found out somehow and got to sickbay before Tom. As soon as he walked in, he was hugging me, and then standing there with his eyes bright and whiskers twitching to hold back the tears.
His gift? This sheaf of paper and a pen ('A quill pen, so you'll feel official,' he'd said as I ran my fingers along the plume).
Their purpose? To be my memories.
Of all the things, Kes, of all the things – you chose to write about this?
Yes. Yes I did.
We were married two weeks after he proposed, and Chakotay conducted the ceremony. The wedding was on the bridge, and this was the first time since the Krenim attacks that it appeared normal. Normal save for the fact that it was Chakotay, not Janeway, standing there marrying us with four pips on his collar.
We kept it simple, just like our days in airponics, and everyone agreed that it was for the best. Neelix, though, couldn't be trusted with restraint, and his reception in the mess hall was a much-needed three hours of festivity and excellent food. It made me smile when he confessed he'd been piecing the meal together for months to give us a proper send-off (because somehow he knew about Tom's proposal weeks before it happened…), and everyone chipped in their holodeck rations to give us a week away from touch-up repairs and the ghosts of fallen comrades.
Some of the crew can't understand why I did it – married him when he was so clearly in love with B'Elanna – but that's because they didn't know him like I did.
When you fall in love, you give a little of yourself to that person every day, just as they give a little of themselves to you, so by the time B'Elanna died, half of Tom died with her. But the funny thing about love is, it gives back in ways you'd never guess. Half of Tom died, but half of him lived, wounded and angry amongst the silent flowers, and because of that, his half-death and B'Elanna's half-life, I gained a companionship that steadied me amidst the telepathic turmoil assaulting me from every side.
Were we an unlikely match? Most definitely. But isn't everyone?
Love doesn't replace; it restores. It takes something broken and makes it whole again, whitening those wounds into beautiful scars.
I can never replace B'Elanna, and I never want to. Her death will follow us for as long as we live, but it's what brought us together.
For this, our togetherness, I am thankful.
It doesn't matter that his heart died five years ago; he's learned to love again, and I – you, Kes – can't take that away. Not now. Not in two months. He's been through too much pain already; you wrote this to spare him from more. It's not right that he watch two loves die in one lifetime.
You shouldn't have said yes. It was selfish.
And it was the best mistake you ever made.
So why am I writing this letter? Not to help you remember, because you won't. The morilogium is irreversible; once I forget, I forget.
But it can't take away the ability to learn.
So learn, Kes. Use your final days to live your life all over again. Learn about your home, your friends, your family – your husband and daughter and son-in-law and grandson. Learn about this ship called Voyager and this funny bumbling Talaxian named Neelix. Learn your favorite drinks and tastiest foods (just think – you get to experience chocolate for the first time all over again!), but choose new ones, too, because then you're really learning, making the knowledge your own.
Learn the names of the flowers and the pattern of the halls. Learn the name of the Doctor's favorite opera and the notes he needs to work on before you take out the earplugs. Learn the command structure and the number of decks and delight in the way this crew loves to bend the rules in the name of family.
But most of all, Kes, learn love. Don't let it slip through your fingers. Just because you can't remember this man named Tom Paris doesn't mean it has to stay that way forever. He loves you, and he's strong enough to teach you to love again, if you'll just let him. Give him something to hold on to past your death. Give him your love, and the knowledge that no matter how many times you forget, it can always come back in newer, brighter, more beautiful ways.
Ways called forever.