Disclaimer - yakkady smackady. Paramount owns everything in this story except for the idea - which is mine. Hee hee.
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I watch as the now Lieutenant Harry Kim dances with another partner. I have to admit that his promotion is overdue - he's proven himself from the beginning but for some reason I kept putting it off. Lack of time, lack of sleep, lack of a decent meal…God, I sound like Chakotay.
I smile at anyone who passes me in the holodeck, but inside I feel…nothing. Not anger, sadness, happiness - nothing. Everyone else is happy so once again I put on my mask and smile.
Only two people on this ship know me well enough to see through it. One of them is on the bridge. He stayed for the ceremony but declined to attend the festivities, much to Harry's disappointment. I can't say I'm surprised, he's always disapproved of these social functions. I once heard him refer to them as an 'unnecessary waste of resources'. I'd have thought by now that he'd realise how much Humans need that unnecessary waste of resources. Something to break the monotony, the loneliness. Even on a starship in the Alpha quadrant it can get to you. Actually, Chakotay was there at the time and I have the feeling that Tuvok was trying to annoy him. It worked.
Speaking of Chakotay, he's the other one who knows what I'm doing now. I look around the room and find him in amongst the crowd of people who are now surrounding young Harry to congratulate him. Sociable as ever.
He's been doing it since the beginning - bringing the two crews together. Even now when we've become a family he still does it. Smoothing down bruised feelings, settling disagreements, keeping everyone happy. It thrills and disgusts me when I think about how much I have come to depend on him.
Tom breaks away from the crowd and walks towards me. I tell myself to smile, to act normally.
"Captain," he greets "are you okay?"
He's almost as perceptive as Chakotay. I suppose I've spent more time with Tom than any of the senior crew (besides Tuvok and Chakotay). It's to be expected that he'd know something was wrong.
"I'm fine Tom." I reply "Thanks for asking." There. That sounded quite convincing.
He observes me doubtfully, but decides not to push. "Okay. You know I'm here if you need to talk."
I nod and thank him, wondering where this conversation came from. He moves on then, no doubt to find B'Elanna. Or at least that's what I assume. A few moments later I'm proven wrong as she suddenly appears from the opposite direction.
"Hello Captain. Enjoying the party?" she asks as she silently offers me one of the drinks she is holding.
I nod my thanks and accept the drink. "Oh yes, Neelix certainly did a wonderful job. Very…creative." That was definitely the best word to describe it. As per usual, the colours were incredibly gaudy but somehow it all went together rather well.
B'Elanna smiles into her drink, but then I see her frown. She looks about furtively, perhaps to see if anyone is listening. Apparently satisfied she turns to me. "Captain…are you alright?"
"Yes. I mean…you seem happy enough, but something seems wrong somehow."
Okay, she's a woman. That could explain how she knows something is up. We've had a few heart-to-heart chats in the past that could explain her insight. "I'm fine really." I insist. "Just a bit tired."
The engineer accepts this, perhaps a bit too quickly and nods in an agreeing manner. "I know that feeling. Between the diagnostic we've been running and my relationship with Tom I've been feeling drained lately. Maybe you should go back to your quarters and get some rest. I'm sure Harry wouldn't mind."
A slight smile tugs at my lips. "That's nice of you to suggest B'Elanna, but I think I should stay for a little while longer." I don't really know why I'm saying that, but I can't bring myself to leave yet.
"Okay Captain, but feel free to talk to me anytime."
"Thank you B'Elanna."
Grinning again, she leaves and this time I know she'll end up finding Tom.
I examine the drink that she handed me. As if the colour didn't give it away I lift it up and sniff gently. Canar. Maybe she thinks I need to drown to my sorrows. I don't even know if I have any, and if I do what they are.
I'm left to myself for a few more minutes, sipping occasionally, but mostly watching my crew. Watching them interact. Teasing…laughing…some even crying.
Then Harry approaches me.
"Having a good time Captain?"
"A lovely one. Thank you for asking Lieutenant." I deliberately emphasise his rank and he smiles and blushes slightly. It amazes me after all we've been through how innocent he still seems.
"I noticed you over here by yourself, so I thought I'd come over and ask you to join us."
"That's very sweet of you Harry, but I think I'll decline. It's not that I don't want to, but the Captain of a starship doesn't mingle very well with the crew. I tend to stick out." I surprise myself at how bitter I sound.
He looks disappointed and I instantly regret my decision. I start to take it back then stop. No. He understands and respects my decision.
He turns to return to his friends but stops. He asks me if I'm okay.
What is with me? How does everyone seem to know that something is wrong? Is it emblazoned on my dress for everyone to see?
Once again I assure someone that I'm just fine and dandy, thank you so much for caring. I just want to be left alone. Of course I don't tell him that. How can it be true anyway, if I want to be alone but insist on staying?
Regretfully he leaves, and I walk over to the drink table to freshen up my Canar. I pick up a ladle full of the drink then pause as I catch my reflection in the bowl. What is it that they can see? My face looks normal, nothing is revealed. I smile experimentally. That looks genuine too. So what is it? Then I realise - my eyes. It's my eyes. They're the same colour as always, the same shade as always…but something…something is wrong.
Then suddenly I realise something. I can't do it. I can't do this anymore. I can't keep dangling myself over the line between duty and my personal life. It's only one or the other. The cost is too much if I try to have both.
A hand touches my shoulder and I'm not even surprised because somehow I knew that he would be the next one to come to me.
He doesn't speak. Instead he turns me around and stares at me, my arm still holding the ladle. Carefully he removes the ladle and places it in the bowl, his eyes never leaving mine. He pulls me into his arms and I don't even bother to resist him. He begins to dance, hardly moving at all, that slight sway that barely qualifies as dancing. I move with him, once again taking what he has to offer.
I rest my head on his chest, and for the first time in weeks I actually feel something. Regret. I know how he feels about me, and I know how I've been stringing him along. It has never been intentional, and I have never, never wanted to hurt him. But it happened anyway. And for that and so many other things in our relationship I am regretful.
The tears start then. Only a few of them, no one else would probably notice. But he knows and moves us around slightly to block their view of me. He still says nothing.
I blink them away, determined to enjoy this moment for as long as it lasts. Tomorrow everything will be different, but I still don't know how. I still haven't made my decision.
For now…for now I hug him and listen as he hums to the music.