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I am become hollow - a ST: Voyager fic

Fandom: Star Trek: Voyager
Title: I am become hollow
Characters/Pairings: Paris/Kim, Paris/Torres
Full header info posted with Chapter One

Another twenty-four hours, and again I’m lying here, staring at the ceiling. But this time, I’m not the only one who can’t sleep. Every time I close my eyes, I can hear B'Elanna pacing in the next room. The crisis has ended, and control of Voyager has been restored. But we’ve barely spoken to each other.

At first, I thought it was just my imagination. Or projection. I’ve immersed myself in work, trying to stay busy enough to avoid thinking about what’s happened. And kept out of her way, so I didn’t have to look into her eyes, knowing what I’ve done.

But after a while, I realized that she was avoiding me just as carefully. Every time my duties took me to engineering, she’d conveniently disappear into a Jeffries tube or an access hatch. She stayed on duty for hours after her shift ended, until the captain finally ordered her to go to her quarters and get some rest. And still she won’t come to bed. I didn’t know what to say, so I just gave up and left her alone. But I don’t think I can ignore this for much longer. If I’m going to pretend that nothing’s changed, I can’t go on not speaking to my wife.

Then the pacing finally stops. Her voice, soft and tired, orders the lights off. I sit up, not wanting to let this opportunity slip by. If we don’t work this out now, it’s just going to fester until I can’t fix it. She comes in silently and sits on the bed, her back to me, as she brushes the tangles out of her hair. I can see the tension in her frame, the barely contained frustration in the short, quick brush strokes. Although the room is dark, she knows I’m awake and waiting. And chooses to ignore it.

I reach out to her, placing one hand on her shoulder, in a physical attempt to lessen the distance between us. But the contact only makes her tense further. “B'Ela, I….” I stop abruptly, wondering if I’m still allowed to call her that. She wasn’t herself in sickbay, but I don’t know that she’s fully my B'Ela again either.

But she has to be. I won’t accept any other possibility. I wrap my arms around her waist, ignoring the rigid resistance in her body. I lightly kiss the top of her head, then rest my chin on her hair. She’s unnaturally stiff in my arms, but she doesn’t pull away. “Oh, B'Ela.” I sigh, tilting my head to feel the softness of her hair against my cheek. “I’m sorry. For everything. I….”

And then I have to stop. What can I say? There aren’t words that could make her understand. Forgive me. I can’t justify my actions: there’s no excuse for a married man to do what I did. But I can’t regret it either. Not when it kept me from falling apart. Not when he did it out of love for me. The only thing I regret is my own weakness. Letting it endanger what I have with B'Elanna. Or… had? No, I can’t let that happen. “I don’t want to lose you, B'Elanna. I… I love you.” The simple truth, and the only thing that might let her forgive me.

I wait, holding my breath, as I let her decide whether I’m worth forgiving. After a moment, I realize that she’s crying. I can only hear the irregularity of her breathing, not the tears, but I can feel the tremor of her body as she fights against it. Although it rips me up inside to feel the shudder of her tears, I force myself to wait. I’m not sure if she’s crying because she’s forgiving me, or leaving me. And I have to let her go, if that’s what decision she makes. Gods know, I’d deserve it after what I’ve done.

“No, Tom.” I close my eyes, feeling the universe contract around me. And I can say nothing, though my mind is screaming in anguish, because I’ve brought it upon myself. “No, I’m the one who’s sorry.”

“The things I said to you. About you.” My mouth drops open, but no sound comes out. “Oh god, Tom.” She makes a strangled sound, and then the words rush out, jumbled and desperate. “I would never… That’s not the way I think of you, I swear. And I never meant to… In front of everyone. Oh-shit-Tom-I’m-so-sorry.” And then she turns to me, and her arms are tight around me before I can process everything she’s said.

After a moment of shock, I hug her fiercely, cradling her in my arms. I won’t let her feel guilty or ashamed. She doesn’t deserve that. Especially not on my account. But first I have to soothe her pain away, before she’ll believe me when I tell her that it’s not her fault. “It’s okay, B'Elanna.” I smooth her hair away from her face and see one final tear wind its way down her cheek. She angrily jabs at it with her fist, but I grab her hand before she can complete the motion. Holding her fist in my palm, I gently kiss away the tear instead, feeling its salty tang on my dry lips. “S’okay.” And finally, she unclenches her fist. “It wasn’t your fault.”

Her shoulders droop, and all the fight goes out of her in an instant. “Oh, Tom.” Her voice is harsh and rough, as if each word rips a little of her heart out with it. “It’s more than that. I mean, yes, it was Tuvok’s mind meld, but it wasn’t just that.” She studies me intently, her eyes bright and intense despite the gloom. I want to argue with her and tell her that it wasn’t her fault, but her intensity stops me. If she feels this strongly about it, it’s my job to respect that and hear her out. So I just listen.

“When it first took over, I didn’t know which voice to listen to. I had to help with the rebellion, like it was my destiny to be part of it. But in sickbay, when Chakotay stunned you, all I could do was stare. Part of my mind was telling me that you didn’t matter.” I instinctively cross my arms across my chest, not sure I like where this is going, but force myself to stay silent until she’s finished. She continues without a pause, and I can’t tell if she’s even aware of my reaction. “Since you weren’t part of the plan, you were just in the way. A threat to be neutralized. But another part remembered being married to you. Loving you.”

Her voice cracks, but she waves me away when I move to comfort her. “No, I’ve got to say this.” I drop my arms back to my sides, and she takes a steadying breath before continuing. “But it didn’t stay like that. I don’t know whether it was part of the implanted programming, or a survival reaction. But it wouldn’t let that hesitation remain.” She watches me warily for a moment. When I stay silent, she continues, her voice even softer than before.

“It used what was already in my mind. My doubts about us, my bitterness, became part of the motivation. So that it wasn’t just about helping the Maquis; it was about getting even with you.” She reaches out for my hand, gripping it almost painfully in her sincerity. “Please believe me, Tom. I really do love you. More than I ever thought I could love anyone.” I nod hesitantly and hope there’s not much more for her to confess.

“But it made me forget that. All I could remember were the bad times. And it just seemed like you’d weaseled out of it again. Proposing, right when I’d given up on the whole thing. Just another way to get out of paying the consequences.” Even now, I can detect a hint of bitterness in her voice, a part of her that still feels the same. “And I couldn’t stand that I’d fallen for it all over again.”

She leans over to kiss me. Her touch is soft and gentle, but still hesitant. “Please forgive me, Tom. I’m so sorry for the things I did. The hatred I expressed. It twisted my thoughts, perverted them. But I swear that’s not really the way I feel. I know we’ve had our problems, but I still think we can make this work.” Her eyes are fierce now, a deadly intensity that dares anyone to suggest otherwise. “I love you, Tom.”

I study her for a moment, wondering what I ever did to deserve someone like her. As tender in love, as she is fierce in battle. “I love you, B'Ela. And of course I forgive you.” She leans into my arms, and I hold her for what seems like forever. Knowing that I have to tell her. “But I need to ask your forgiveness as well.”

She pulls back to watch me warily. I can barely look into her eyes, afraid of what I might see reflected there. “Maybe you were right. What you said about me.” I drop my gaze to my lap, not wanting to see her reaction until I’ve said everything. If I see the pain I’m causing her, I might not be able to finish.

“In the isolation chamber, after you left, Harry and I….” But it was my fault, not Harry’s. I have to make her see that. “Things got carried away. I did some stuff I shouldn’t have done. I betrayed you. Betrayed our marriage. And I’m sorry.” I tell her, slowly and awkwardly, everything that happened between us. I can tell by her breathing that she’s softly crying again, but she says nothing. I’m not really sure what words I use, but finally it’s finished. “I’ll understand if you can’t forgive me. If you want me to leave,” and I’m crying as well, “I will. Gods know, I don’t deserve you. Never did, but especially not after this.”

“But either way, please don’t blame Harry for this. I fell apart, and he didn’t know any other way to reach me. I’m the one who let it go too far. I betrayed his friendship, just as much as I betrayed you. Please don’t take your friendship from him as well.” I take a deep breath and let it out slowly. “That’s it. There’s nothing I can say to justify it. Only that I’m sorry. And that I love you.” I look up at last, ready to accept whatever she decides. “Just tell me what you want me to do.”

She sits silently for an eternity. When she finally speaks, her voice is as unfamiliar to me as it was in sickbay. This time, weak with sorrow and pain. As if the will to fight has broken down inside her, leaving her hollow and empty. “I don’t have any right to judge you. I’m the one who hurt you. And then I wasn’t there to pick up the pieces. I couldn’t help you, and I can’t hate anyone who cared about you enough to do it for me.”

“I love you, Tom. And I forgive you.” We embrace, holding onto each other tightly. “Let’s just try to put it behind us. Start over. Forget about what happened, and try to keep what we have.” She laughs bitterly as she continues, her eyes glittering with some dark irony. “After all, we’re strong. We couldn’t have made it this far otherwise. What’s a little challenge like marriage to a couple of fighters like us?”

I laugh with her, relieved that she doesn’t seem to hate me. And she may be right. If we can make it through this, we can make it through anything. “It’s a deal.” She grins at me, and I kiss her until the last trace of sadness has vanished from her eyes.

Finally, we lay back to sleep. I put my arms around her waist, and she snuggles back against me. I lay still, my body curled protectively around her smaller frame. But as drained as I am, it’s a long time before sleep comes. For either of us.

“We ready for this?” She smiles at me, grimly determined.

“Ready.” I reach out for her hand, and she grips it firmly. Her nails dig lightly into mine as the holodeck doors slide open. Just enough to reveal that she’s as nervous about this as I am. Together we walk into the cinema and make our way forward. We choose a seat close to where we sat the first time, determined to get it right this time. After we take our seats, we look around at the other people in the room. Everyone seems to be relaxed and having a good time, so it seems our plan is working.

We arranged another theater date, as if that could erase everything that had happened since then. But we quickly realized that wasn’t possible. Too much had changed. And not just for the two of us. Everyone needed to come back together again, to bridge the gulf that had divided the crew. So we went to the captain with our suggestion, and made the event open for everyone.

As I glance around the room, I see Harry just entering. He smiles at me, and heads in my direction. I smile back at him, then turn my attention to B'Elanna. Now for the moment of truth. He sits in the row in front of us, a couple seats over from me. After making sure his friend is comfortable, he immediately turns back to grin at me. Then, he leans back and taps me on the leg in greeting. And I find that I still feel a small jolt of electricity go through me at the contact. My body tenses, but I keep a smile plastered on my face to cover my fear. I grin at him until he turns back around, then smile nervously at B'Elanna.

To my relief, she’s still smiling. A little strained perhaps, but still smiling. She leans closer, to make sure no one else overhears her, and softly says, “We can do this, Tom. Right?”

“Right.” And I realize that I believe it. “Love ya.” She snags a piece of popcorn from me. I grin mischievously at her, wanting to lighten the mood a little. “Even more than the popcorn.” She laughs and grins as she pops it into her mouth.

“I don’t know… It’s pretty good popcorn.” The smile stays fixed in place, as we joke back and forth. Then the lights dim, and I settle back into my chair to enjoy the show. I put my arm around her, and she leans closer. My wife in my arms, my best friend’s laughter in my ears, and my family all around me. I focus on watching the movie, knowing everything is going to be okay.