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Posts in the Void

by Judy

Summary: In this vignette, Tom reflects on what looks to him to be the faltering end of his relationship with B'Elanna. Harry tries to comfort his friend.

Disclaimer: They all belong to Paramount. The story is mine. Copyright 1998.

Warning: Spoilers for beginning of 5th season as well as the 4th season episodes. Major Tom angst.

Comments are welcome: jlf@door.net. Visit my website for more Star Trek stories:

http://www.door.net/jlf

Please Archive at ASC, PT Collective, PKSP. Please leave all disclaimers and warnings intact.

11/4/98

***

Personal Log. Tom Paris.

I don't how it got this bad. For months B'Elanna has been letting herself get hurt on the holodeck. And I knew nothing about it. I mean, I suspected something was going on, but she wouldn't talk to me. She'd avoided me and had gone out of her way to act as if there was nothing between us. I thought she was paying me back for all that time I'd spent in the holodeck ignoring her. And I couldn't blame her. Who was I to ask her for her time? Her interest? Her love?

It all began with the messages from our so-called 'home' in the Alpha Quadrant. Not knowing what my father had said in his message had derailed me for awhile, sent me brooding under the hood of a holodeck Camaro. And I hadn't paid enough attention to how much B'Elanna was hurting. Payback, that's how I saw her indifference to me.

But it was more than that, and it wasn't even about me. Maybe I could have helped her had I given her more of my attention right after we got the mail from the Alpha Quadrant. But, typical Tom Paris self-absorption used up all of my energy. And then I took it on myself to design the Delta Flyer, our new shuttle. It required a lot of time, but I was glad for the distraction. I didn't have to notice how much B'Elanna had been ignoring me. I didn't have to notice how much I was hurting from her rejection.

End Personal Log

***

The Delta Flyer had been a success. After all the hard work on it, then the adrenalin rush of its maiden voyage, now it simply rested quietly in the shuttle bay. Its hull was being reinforced, but otherwise it didn't require the skills of its creator and pilot.

Tom ran his hand along the exterior of the hull, sensing where it was smooth, where it had been damaged on its inaugural trip. As he rounded the aft section, he pulled up short. B'Elanna Torres had her back to him, tools in her hands, doing something. He couldn't see what she was up to with her body blocking his view. Briefly, he debated turning on his heel and just leaving. But it was too late, somehow she must have sensed his presence.

Turning around, her face smudged, B'Elanna said, "Oh. Tom."

He wanted to take the steps that would bring him close enough to touch her, to hug her to him. At the same time, he wanted to flee the shuttle bay as quickly as possible. He stood rooted to the spot, paralyzed by indecision. Her expression was neutral, not welcoming, but not hostile. "Um . . ." Get a grip, he told himself, you're not sixteen anymore. "I . . . uh . . . I was . . ."

She stared at him, those dark, dark eyes as unreachable as if they were those of a stranger. She started to turn back to her work. "Um, B'Elanna?"

Even as he tried to start a conversation, he remembered how she'd stonewalled him in his quarters and he got cold feet. Tom couldn't tell her what he wanted to say, that he longed to put things back to the way they had been during those few months when they'd loved each other with all the passion of a double supernova. He didn't know how to form words that wouldn't just invite more rejection. "How . . . how are you?"

She gave him that quirked smile of hers that really wasn't a smile, more like the same acknowledgment that she'd give to an acquaintance. "Fine. I'm fine."

"Uh . . . I'm glad to hear it." He knew what had gone on and that she was probably far from fine. But how could he contradict her? The meeting between himself, Chakotay, and Janeway had stunned him. That she could hurt herself . . .it seemed more like something out of his play book. And he hadn't even known. He hated himself for his inability to see, even something she had cleverly hidden from view. It had taken Chakotay to find out the truth. Not himself, the one she had said she loved, but Chakotay.

The moment to reach out had passed. B'Elanna had returned to her work. Fighting a sudden stinging in his eyes, Tom abruptly left the shuttle bay.

He searched for Harry and found him sitting with Seven in the mess hall. Even though Harry faced him, he was so engrossed in his conversation with Seven that Tom knew his friend did not see him. Not feeling hungry, except for the huge empty place inside his heart where B'Elanna had been, Tom turned to leave. Neelix spotted him and started over, but Tom was gone before Neelix could close in. Tom hadn't even seen the big hearted Talaxian.

Both holodecks were in use. One program was private, the other public. Hesitating to go in, Tom weighed the fact that being among the crew in the resort program would only heighten his sense of aloneness.

Outside the holodeck doors, he debated where to go next. He could report to the doctor in sickbay but that particular trip might just as well wait until he was actually on duty. Somehow he didn't think he could tolerate the doctor's smug attitude just now.

Briefly, Tom thought of getting some sleep. He'd run up a huge sleep deficit working on the Flyer, but the image of his empty quarters hit him hard. After seeing B'Elanna he just couldn't face the cabin alone. Not without a drink of alcohol. And he knew what lay down that path. He'd traveled its familiar seductions too many times before. If growing up, finally, in the Delta Quadrant meant anything, it meant that his old ways of coping had to go. Maybe that was it. He had hoped that with B'Elanna, with their relationship, he wouldn't have to cope again with the apartness, the lonely pain, that knew his name.

Well, he thought, there were always some of the women he dated before B'Elanna. No. No way. He didn't need a one night stand. Somehow B'Elanna had spoiled him for those shallow encounters he used to engage in so easily. For awhile, the intensity and depth of their relationship had shown him what a real relationship could be like. Until he'd run away from it. Until she'd withdrawn.

Without actually making a decision, he found his feet taking him to the observation lounge. All the while his thoughts nagged at him. Why hadn't he turned to her in his confusion and pain over the missing letter from his father? Why hadn't she turned to him in her grief over her Maquis family's deaths? Was he that scared? Was she?

He knew now what being alone really meant. It meant being in the mess hall surrounded by familiar faces and not feeling connected to any of them. It meant flying Voyager from the bridge with only the vastness of space before him, as if no one worked at their posts behind him. After all, he couldn't see them, they might as well not be there. Maybe that's why he joked so much on the bridge. It allowed him to turn around and affirm that someone was actually there.

Entering the observation lounge, Tom sighed, pleased that he had it all to himself. He settled on the couch under the windows that showed the stars as flashing traces of colored light outside. There were planets out there, and asteroids, moons, comets, nebulas, anomalies. And sentient beings. How many had been born and died in that star system over there? Or over there? Had those sentient beings made any difference to anyone else? How many had died alone? Long fingers traced seemingly random paths on the window's surface.

His pain deepened, and like an old friend, it wrapped him in its familiar roughness. Being alone, hurting, these had once been so familiar to him. Now, it almost took his breath away to feel this badly. Tom's head rested against the back of the couch as his blurred eyes blinked away the image of the starfield.

***

"Tom?"

He didn't move. "Harry?"

"May I join you?"

"I'm not much company right now."

"Mm. I'm not looking for company, in the sense that . . . "

Tom tried not to be obvious about looking at his friend as Harry slowly approached him and sat on the couch, settling with enough distance between them to suggest respect for Tom's sadness. "I thought you were with Seven."

Harry smiled at him ruefully. "I was. But I saw you leave the mess hall and you looked . . . I don't know. I guess. . . I'm not being very articulate here."

"Yeah," he agreed.

"Tom. I came looking for you."

Sad blue eyes engaged concerned brown ones. He frowned at Harry, not understanding. "Did I miss something?"

"No. Nothing like that. I guess . . . I wondered if you needed someone to talk to. I heard about you and B'Elanna . . . I had no idea you two were 'barely talking'. I'm sorry."

"Sorry that you asked?" Tom asked, not sure what he was supposed to say in this situation.

"No. Sorry that your relationship . . . that there are problems."

"Oh, I have the feeling we're beyond problems, Harry. I don't think there's even a relationship."

"Is that what you want?"

"I don't know." After a moment, Tom amended his statement. "I mean, I do know. How do I explain? I want . . . wanted . . . that relationship with B'Elanna. But I'm not sure I'm what she needs. Hell, I'm not sure she's what I need. I couldn't turn to her, and I should have. Now . . . I find she wouldn't turn to me . . ." He glanced back out the window.

"Tom. I'm not sure I know what you're saying."

Very softly he tried to explain. "I've never been very good at relationships. I keep things to myself, I don't say the right things, do the right things, you know, for the long term? I . . . I think I should just give it up. I don't want to be Tom the playboy. That's what I was. And worse. You know what I mean. I don't want that anymore. But I don't know how to have anything else." Tears gathered as an assault force on his dignity. He blinked them away. "I thought I could do it. Have a real relationship. One that would last." Tom almost failed to get out the next words, "And I couldn't."

Harry heard the pain that came straight from the jagged edges of Tom's shattering sense of self. He was seeing a side of his friend that Tom kept deeply buried. "Tom. I know how much this hurts you. And her. You've both been so good for each other, but so alike that . . .that sometimes it's going to hurt like hell. Relationships take so much work. And sometimes, no matter how hard you try, nothing can repair it. I don't know where you and B'Elanna are right now. It may be too much for you to risk more by trying to talk to her. But then again . . ."

Trying to hide the pain now, Tom's voice took on a bitter edge, "I think we're over. Finished. And I don't think there's a damn thing I can do about it." The tears he'd been fighting against won their assault and flooded down his cheeks like an invading force. Choking, broken, Tom said, "She doesn't love me anymore."

Harry knew the truth when he heard it. For someone like his friend, who never truly believed he was loveable, this revelation had to be devastating "I don't know what to say. I'm so sorry."

Pulling up his legs onto the couch to hide behind, Tom let the sadness claim him as he cried into his arms. He didn't want Harry to see him like this and begged Harry to leave.

For his part, Harry wanted to argue with Tom, wanted to stay with him. But before the words left his mouth, Harry knew that would put additional strain on his already burdened friend. Awkwardly, Harry patted Tom's shoulder, then respected Tom's wish to be alone. On his way out, he engaged the privacy lock for his bereft friend and at the door said, "Tom, I'll be around if you need me."

Just as Voyager flew into the unknown, so she brought along with her a troubled and lonely soul who knew, as much as knew anything, that he had failed once again. He had hurt someone he loved. Spectactularly, publically, privately, painfully. Although he'd tried to make it up to her, he'd failed in that, too. Tom felt as lost as the grief in his tears felt overwhelming. Slowly, sadly, he began to close the door on what might have been as well as on what he had once been. The starfield that spilled by the window held untold stories of birth and death, joining and parting, love and grief. If the sentient beings in all those stars knew anything, they remained stoically silent as Tom sobbed out his lonely pain and his agonizing guilt.

The End