The Art Of Losing
by Kyra Cullinan

"The art of losing isn't hard to master." -- Elizabeth Bishop, "One Art"

It's like a dream, when he thinks back on it now. Not the kind of surreal nightmare they'd convinced themselves it was then, at first, but like his best twelve-year-old daydreams. Too bright and too vague, essences without details and the kind of overly simplistic leaps of logic more properly reserved for pre-pubescent fantasies than an account of his own past. He knows -- he knows -- it wasn't like he remembers, is certain he hated Neelix's cooking, grew to despise the four gray walls of his quarters, spent half his time desperate for shore leave. But he closes his eyes and all he can remember is the feel of the ship humming beneath his fingertips, Harry laughing across a pool table, B'Elanna's eyes lighting up from across the engine room. A glow of belonging whose absence keeps him up nights.

He is surprised to find himself at her house. He didn't mean to come here, and even after he sees it, he thinks he'll leave without approaching it. But while he stands there, the sky rumbles and finally begins to spit the rain it's been threatening all day, low iron gray clouds curling to sit heavily in the pit of his stomach. It's cold and not hard yet, but suddenly he feels infinitely tired, completely incapable of turning around and walking all the miles back into the city he hadn't realized he'd come. His feet propel him forward and he is at her door and pressing the button and he counts to twelve before she answers.

"Captain," he says when she opens the door, a now obsolete habit he's fairly sure he'll never break. He is perpetually startled by how small she really is. She's one of the many people who looms larger in his mind than in reality. It's been two weeks and three days since he saw her, at his father's funeral. She wore black and stood on the other side of the plot as the coffin was lowered in and clasped her hands tightly in front of her and didn't meet his eye, didn't stop to dispense a gentle touch and word of condolence. At the time he was glad, but now he feels like he might shatter from the omission. Her hair is pulled back today like it was then, but now she's wearing white, and he thinks she should never wear anything else.

"Tom," she says, and she looks at him without dropping her gaze and then steps aside wordlessly. It's started to rain harder, and he shivers with the sudden coolness of her foyer. She doesn't ask him why he's there and again he's filled with gratitude.

"Do you want some coffee?" she asks, turning away from him to move into the house and he can already feel its hot, black bitterness in his throat.

"Yes," he tells her and follows her deeper inside. He's been here only once before, at her housewarming party, a year after they returned. B'Elanna's belly was round with their son, and he secreted her aside and kissed her until she glowed, all swollen lips and tousled hair. Harry had been effusive with descriptions of his new job and girlfriend and the captain had floated through the crowd and touched shoulders and elbows welcomingly and smiled charmingly and her eyes looked as if she were a thousand light years away.

She hands him a mug, steaming, the china just slightly too hot and he wraps his hands around it, ignoring the burn. She's holding one, too, and she turns and walks into the living room and sits on the couch without saying anything and he moves to sit beside her.

"I am so sorry," she says, lifting her gaze from her own cup, and the coffee burns his mouth like he knew it would. And he knows she means it like nobody else really can, that her sympathy contains an awareness of all his father's flaws and weaknesses and the timbre of his voice when he talked to his son that nobody else, not even B'Elanna, could ever hope to grasp.

"Thank you," he says, because that's what one does, and his voice sounds strange in the empty, white-walled room. There are large paneled windows which look down on the city and the rain, heavier now, beats away at them, and at the roof. The noise makes him sleepy.

"I heard about you and B'Elanna," she says, after a moment, and her voice is rich and thick, like the coffee. "Tuvok told me." He's glad that both women still write to him on Vulcan. It keeps him a kind of peripheral figure, looming on the edges of his consciousness without a need for any effort on Tom's own part.

"She's happier, I think," he says, looking down, and he thinks of his daughter and son, and how he can't even envision what Owen's fifth birthday party was like, because he's never been to Deep Space Four.

"And you?" she says, and her voice is gentle. He doesn't answer her, but watches the way her throat moves as she swallows more of her coffee. He wonders if having such a ready supply has become routine for her yet, or if it still retains some sense of indulgence.

"Did you really hate it so much?" he says instead, and she looks up at him, slightly startled. "Was it so terrible all the time?" And she knows, of course, what he's talking about.

"Yes and no," she says, after a moment, and he suddenly feels the gulf of the years between then and now yawning even further, because he cannot imagine her ever, ever being this frank, as Voyager's captain. "Sometimes ... sometimes it was beautiful."

And it's not the word he would have chosen, but it fits. Beautiful and terrifying and unexpectedly right. The sense of home he'd had, so far away from everywhere the word was supposed to mean. A feeling born of having screwed up all his chances here so badly it took another quadrant for him to finally start to get things right. He hadn't thought anyone else would understand, but he looks at her, still and silent inside her monochromatic house and feels the ache in his chest bloom suddenly into something potent and close. It's wrong not to see her on the bridge or in her ready room, as effortlessly graceful as if she were born there, and he wants to get under her skin to find that past they share, the once upon a time he can't manage to get back. Wants to see warmth stirring again in the calm emptiness of her eyes.

It fills his chest, suddenly, and he revels for an infinitely longshort moment in the certainty that he is going to kiss her.

He does it because it's stupid, and crazy, and he can't think of a single reason not to. Notices somewhere in the back of his mind that she's not pulling away, and then her mouth is under his, dry lips and coffee taste.

She doesn't say anything when they break apart. Moves, and he thinks she's starting to stand up but realizes she's putting her cup down on the table. And then her hand is on his chest and her mouth is back on his and her tongue is small and intent.

They fuck on the couch, silent and half-clumsy. If this were a story, he thinks, the sex would be like flying, hairpin turns and slick, hot skin. Instead, she is thin and resolute, hissing as he enters her, and it takes several tries for them to find anything like the right kind of rhythm. If she would only talk, he wants to say, this would seem a little less unreal, would connect the woman underneath him to the voice issuing orders over his shoulder for so many years, but she says nothing, closes her eyes, twines her hands together over her head.

Right, he thinks, and wants to close his own eyes, but he can't stop looking at her, pale eyelids and lower lip caught between her teeth. He's the master of escapist sex, but even while he feels her tightening around him, all the can think about is the way things used to be, the futility of hanging on to anything.

He comes after her, weary and wrung out, and finds himself lying on her, skin pressed to sweaty skin. Her fingers tangle in his hair in a semblance of affection and he catches his breath, inhaling the scent of her, the leather of the couch, the smell of sex.

"I want it back," he whispers fiercely into her neck, ashamed at the stupidity of his desire, of his inability to either shake it or achieve it. Can't even keep it to himself and he sits up without looking at her, reaches to find his pants on the floor.

In a different world this would be the beginning of something. But reality isn't like that, and he already has one broken happily ever after to his name. He's suddenly desperate to leave, to get far, far away from here and he's opening his mouth to apologize, to find some excuse, when he feels the warmth of her hand slide up his back.

"I know," she says, and her voice is low and intense.

The rain is bitter and steady, his whole walk home.


Silverlake: Authors / Mediums / Titles / Links / List / About / Plain Style / Fancy Style