They had been hers. And now they were his.
Every time he looked in the mirror as he put them on, her reflection always stared back at him. So he had taken to closing his eyes in order to keep the memories from completely overwhelming him. After several weeks of this, it had become part of his daily ritual.
But even closing his eyes couldn’t completely shut out the memories....
They had begun their relationship a few months before the Krenim attack. After three years of dancing around each other and the issue, it was her near death at the hands of an alien obsessed with capturing her for his matrix that pushed her past hesitation and into acceptance. The threat of death had always been a present one in the Delta Quadrant, but something about that particular experience put an end to her uncertainty. Oh, she still wondered aloud about what the crew might think, still worried about protocol. But those concerns had begun to diminish as the days melted one into another.
The morning it happened was after the tenth night they had spent together. He had discovered quite by accident that she was ticklish. So, of course, the impulse to slip up behind her while she was finishing getting dressed and trail his fingers along her ribs was impossible to resist. And it achieved the desired result. She let out a shriek that they no doubt heard all the way up on the bridge and spun around with the intent of smacking him in retaliation, but stumbled into him instead. He caught her easily by wrapping her in his arms, but the movement scattered her handful of accessories—hairclip, commbadge and pips—all over the carpet.
Once they had recovered from their mutual amusement, she pointed at the floor and playfully ordered him to pick up the mess he’d made. Snickering, he had done so, kneeling down and retrieving first the badge, then the hairclip.
The pips had been a bit more difficult to round up. Two of them had landed at their feet, the third about a meter to the right. But the fourth proved elusive, and she was about to replicate a replacement when he finally discovered it right next to the bedroom door. Returning to her side, he fixed them to her collar, one by one, before leaning down to steal a kiss. She returned the kiss, letting it linger for a long moment, then pulled away, reminding him that they needed to get up to the bridge. He pretended to protest that five more minutes wouldn’t hurt, but she'd shaken her head at him, lips curving into a smile and turned away, her fingertips brushing his cheek in a final caress on her way to the door.
If he had known then the hell that day would bring, he would have pulled her back into his arms and held her for as long as he could. But he had assumed it was like any other day—and six hours later, she and a dozen others lay on the floor of the mess hall wrapped in sheets. And all he had to keep him going were the memories of the morning—of her final smile, of that last loving touch—before fate had ripped her out of his life.
Painful though the memories were, they had kept him going in the weeks and months following, as Voyager fought her way across Krenim territory. They justified the triumph he felt every time they successfully took down a Krenim ship—and later, they numbed him to the pain when he could no longer find satisfaction in their destruction.
He had watched the others push themselves to move on from their grief, forming new relationships and gradually letting go of those they had lost. Paris took the longest, but Kes' gentle spirit eventually healed the raw wounds left by B'Elanna's death. For him, though, it was impossible. Even as he witnessed the crew picking up the pieces of their lives, she kept a tight grip on his heart. He would see her on the bridge in the chair that still didn’t feel like his. He would hear her grumbling good-naturedly about never having enough rations to accommodate her coffee fix. He would awaken in the middle of the night thinking that he felt her warmth nestled against him, until he came to full awareness and realized that it was yet another cruel dream.
The anniversary of her death was always the hardest. Today marked the tenth year and, the moment his eyes opened, he found himself reluctant to rise from the bed. He idly wished for a sudden red alert, for some sort of crisis that wouldn’t give him a moment’s time to think about what day it was. But the commline remained mutinously silent.
Going through the motions of his morning routine took little time and he soon found himself standing in front of the mirror, staring at his reflection for a long moment. Finally, he reached out to gather them in his hand. As always, his eyes drifted shut as he moved through the motions from memory, fixing the pips to his collar, one by one. When he opened his eyes, he saw her reflection before the next blink vanished her once again to the shadows of his memories. He remained standing before the mirror for several more minutes, running his thumb slowly over the smooth metal discs—a ritual that always comforted and centered him on this day. A ritual that would help him get through the day, and prepare him to begin yet another year without her.
They had been hers—and now they were his. But as long as he wore them, he knew he would always feel her spirit by his side.