Somewhere beneath the arch of the wooden bridge a stream flowed, dark and distant, hidden by the night and the rain. Indistinct shapes loomed on the far shore, but no sound other than the steady rainfall could be heard. One of the murky figures almost coalesced into the form of a man, of someone who should have been there. Someone — but he was gone, lost, they were all gone.
B’Elanna Torres opened her eyes and found herself staring up at the bland expanse of her bedroom ceiling. Another dream, nothing more. Chiding herself for her foolishness as her heart slowed to a normal beat, she sat up in bed and checked the time. Just after midnight, past the time when she would normally have left for her night job at Quarra’s power facility, but she had the night off. And her small apartment, alone, was certainly not the ideal place to spend it.
She threw a drab cloth coat over a shapeless maternity dress and made her way outside, shivering as she inhaled the cold air. The afternoon’s steady rain had given way to sleet, and B’Elanna stepped carefully around the icy puddles that had started to form on the sidewalk. She kept one gloved hand over the ill-fitting hood of her coat as the gusty wind threatened to lift it from her head. Where she had gotten the wretched coat, she didn’t know, but she would definitely have to go shopping for some better clothing.
For now, though, she could hear the inviting sounds of laughter and conversation from the nearby tavern where she had met that cute waiter, Tom Paris. There was something about him that, like her strange and disturbing dreams, seemed almost to remind her of people and places she’d once known. It didn’t seem likely that she had ever seen him before, not with Quarra’s workforce having come from all over the galaxy, but still, there was something about him. She pondered just what it might be as she opened the door of the tavern.
Glaring lights and a crowd of unfamiliar faces surrounded her. There was one empty seat at the bar, and she made her way toward it, her coat shedding icy drops on the already damp floor as she pulled off her gloves. No one seemed to notice her. For just a moment, she imagined that this was also a dream and that she would find herself awakening in another strange place. She had vague memories of living aboard a starship, of traveling from one world to another. Apparently she was some sort of interstellar nomad, wandering among various planets in search of work. Or something. She frowned, trying to sort out the confused images that came to mind.
A mug of hot spiced cider slid across the bar toward her, distracting her from a jumble of memories that made no sense. Tom Paris gave her a sympathetic look.
“Been having bad dreams again?”
She made a conscious effort to smooth out her scowling features and nodded, reaching for the mug. The steam rose from the hot cider like the mist that drifted through the river valley of her dreams, and she found herself struggling to describe what she had seen there.
“I’m standing on the bridge. I’m waiting in the dark.” The dream came back much more strongly now, and she could almost feel the hard wooden planks beneath her feet. The figures on the shore seemed both distant and familiar at the same time. Although she couldn’t quite make out their features, she felt certain that she recognized them, somehow. She knew that she needed to reach one of them, the central figure of a man, but the more she tried to focus on him, the more he seemed to recede into the mist.
He should have tried to find her. B’Elanna spoke directly to his vanishing form, her tone both plaintive and accusing. “I thought that you’d be here by now.”
No response came. He remained silent as the darkness and fog covered him and his companions. She had lost him, lost them all. Again. The rain poured down around her, completely filling her vision, as if there were nothing else in the universe.
“There’s nothing but the rain. No footsteps on the ground.” She felt abandoned, utterly alone. Where had they gone? Why had they left her behind? The lights in the tavern seemed to blur as she blinked away tears, and for a moment she felt entirely convinced that they were about to vanish as well. Her voice rose, taking on an edge of panic. “I’m listening, but there’s no sound. Isn’t anyone trying to find me? Won’t somebody come take me home?”
The tavern suddenly came back into crisp focus around her, as strangers’ faces turned to stare. No doubt they all thought she was losing her mind. B’Elanna wasn’t entirely certain that they were wrong. The only person who hadn’t started casting nervous glances toward her was Tom, but of course, dealing with patrons of questionable sanity was just part of a bartender’s job.
“You’re all right, B’Elanna. It was only a dream.” As he mixed a drink for someone at the other end of the bar, Tom didn’t seem to be at all alarmed by her unusual behavior. In fact, his voice sounded completely calm and undisturbed, as if crazy women told him their dreams in great detail every night. Maybe they did, for all she knew.
The door slammed, and a blast of frigid air struck B’Elanna. She picked up the mug of cider, which she had almost forgotten. “It’s a damn cold night.”
“Drink your cider, that’ll warm you up,” Tom advised. “And don’t waste so much time worrying.”
B’Elanna took a gulp of the spicy cider and felt its warmth begin to restore her to a more normal frame of mind. She gave Tom a slightly embarrassed smile. “Trying to figure out this life.”
“Not much use trying to figure it out, I’d say.” Tom shrugged. “You just have to go ahead and live it.”
She thought about that for a while as she drank the rest of her cider. Go ahead and live it. That was what she had done, wasn’t it? Wandering around the galaxy, with no plan that she could recall, and ending up on Quarra, apparently because jobs were plentiful here? But she knew it wasn’t right, nothing was going right.
Perhaps it was time to move on again. Was the dream telling her that Quarra didn’t have whatever she needed, that it was time to find a new place? No, that wasn’t right either; it wasn’t just a place she was missing, but also a person, a group of people. Somewhere, lost in the rain and the silence, lost to her. She didn’t even know who they were. Maybe they had never existed. Maybe it was all in her mind.
Tom reached across the counter to take her empty mug, and she studied his hand intently, contemplating how it moved with such simple and purposeful intent. Unlike the man standing on the riverbank in her dream, he would not have left her alone on the bridge, she felt suddenly certain. He would have found some way to reach her, no matter how long it took.
Setting the mug aside with some other dishes in need of washing, he turned back to her.
“Is there anything more I can do for you?”
“Won’t you,” she began, uncertain of what she meant to say. Then, all at once, without reason or forethought, she found herself blurting out, “take me by the hand. Take me somewhere new. I don’t know who you are, but I’m . . .”
She hesitated for a moment, realizing the sheer absurdity of what she had said. Surely he must think her insane. B’Elanna looked down at her own hands, which were clenched tightly as if in prayer or desperation, and silently cursed her own sanity or lack thereof as she declared, “I’m with you.”
Everyone in the tavern was staring at her now. A few timid patrons, evidently fearing a sudden violent outburst, had withdrawn to safer vantage points near the door. A burly bouncer with a distinctly reptilian appearance was eyeing her as if he had plans for either a brawl or a late-night snack.
Tom touched her chin and gently lifted her head until she was looking into his eyes, which seemed to contain an unexpected depth of comprehension as he asked, “Where would you go?”
Of course, she had no good answer. “I’m looking for a place,” she began, knowing as she spoke just how completely inadequate her statement sounded. What she needed to find was much more than a simple physical destination, and her foggy memory didn’t even seem to contain the words to describe it.
“I’m searching for a face,” she haltingly amended her response, turning to gaze at the crowd of nervous or hostile strangers. Surely the figures on the shore in her dream couldn’t be among them. She turned her head from left to right, surveying the alien faces. “Is anybody here I know?”
She could hear the hopelessness in her own voice and taste the hot salt tang of the tears that had started trickling down her face. There was no possible way she could find them, those silent figures that had gazed at her through the mist; none of them had even been real. She had dreamed it all, imagined that she had a place where she belonged and people who cared about her. The only reality was this tavern full of strangers, her cold and lonely apartment, and the meaningless job to which she would soon have to return.
Tom, now starting to look just a bit disconcerted, handed her a napkin to wipe her face. “What’s wrong? Why are you crying?”
“‘Cause nothing’s going right, and everything’s a mess.” B’Elanna dabbed fiercely at her eyes before abandoning the attempt and burying her face in her hands. The napkin fell to the floor, unnoticed. “And no one likes to be alone. Oh, why is everything so confusing?”
“Could just be that you haven’t been getting enough sleep,” Tom put forth a matter-of-fact suggestion. “That’ll do it to you.”
She considered that idea for a moment, rejected the possibility. “Maybe I’m just out of my mind.”
“You know what, you’re much too hard on yourself.” Although Tom hadn’t raised his voice, it nevertheless seemed to hold more authority as he spoke. “Trust yourself, B’Elanna.”
She raised her head and reluctantly focused her gaze on him. She knew it couldn’t be that easy, but she was surprised to find some comfort in his words, all the same. Maybe she wasn’t entirely alone in the universe, as long as the universe had Tom Paris in it.
Author’s note: Some alert readers may have spotted the Evil Songfic Challenge, in which one character speaks all the lyrics of a song. B’Elanna’s lines are from “I’m With You” by Avril Lavigne.