Title: Lasting Effects
Author: Julie Evans
Date Posted: 10/18/99
Summary: B'Elanna and Tom deal with the aftereffects of B'Elanna's near-death experience. Takes place immediately after the events in "Barge of the Dead."
Disclaimer: Star Trek and its characters are the property of
Viacom/Parmount. I am borrowing them for fun only, not profit.
Notes: The title of this story, while not extremely original, does incorporate my hopes after watching "Barge of the Dead." I thought "Barge of the Dead" was a great character episode, and I'm hoping in future episode to see those lasting effects on B'Elanna, and her relationships with her "family" on Voyager, especially her relationship with Tom.
by Julie Evans
He heard her say those words, her voice filled with pure delight. The adrenaline rush of fear that had spread through him while the doctor and he had tried with increasing desperation to save her had deserted him. The relief that had washed over him in its place, when her neural patterns had finally and rapidly stabilized, had made his knees so weak for a moment that he'd almost had to hold on to the biobed for support. His mind was still numb with that relief as she'd almost immediately regained consciousness and realized where she was. And now he
watched, half-dazed, and a little astonished, as she hugged the captain, openly and expressively joyous to be back, to be alive.
The captain looked perhaps even more astonished for a moment, and then genuinely moved, as she hugged B'Elanna with equal emotion. He managed to get his legs moving then, enough to take several steps closer to them, and to place his hand lightly on B'Elanna's back. He could feel the warmth of her skin through her shirt, the warmth of her blood flowing through her, the warmth of life. He had to force himself to let his hand rest gently there when every fiber of his being urged him to close his fist in her shirt and pull her to him, so he could wrap his arms tightly around her, and feel the warmth of her pressed against him. Janeway's gaze met his at that moment, and she flashed him a gentle smile, one of complete understanding.
B'Elanna pulled away from Captain Janeway a second later, her happy smile still in place. His hand on her back slid up with her movement, and though her eyes were still on the captain, she reached over her shoulder and her fingertips touched his. If she felt the slight tremor in his, she made no indication, other than to tighten her grip, enclosing his hand firmly in her smaller one. She pulled his hand away from her back, twisting around as she did so, and--finally--she looked at him.
Her eyes were clear and bright, still reflecting the strong emotion from whatever she'd experienced in her near-dead state, and her smile softened as their gazes met. She reached for him and slipped her other arm around his neck, pulling him down to her.
It was a brief hug, but for a few blissful moments he smelled the scent of her hair, and felt the quick soft rush of her breath against his neck, and all the warm vibrant life that flowed from her.
It was enough.
"Yes, you are alive, Lieutenant, and I plan to keep you that way."
They separated as the doctor's hand fell on B'Elanna's shoulder, and she allowed the doctor to press her gently but insistently down into a prone position on the bed. Tom realized that the doctor's acerbic but affectionate words were the first spoken by any of them in well over a minute, since B'Elanna had announced her own return to life so
"I need to run some scans to verify that your little excursion into the Klingon afterlife hasn't left any lasting effects," the doctor grumbled. Even though he had okayed the whole procedure, it sounded to Tom like the doctor was probably questioning his own holographic sanity right now.
B'Elanna started to sit up again. "I'm fine--"
"Quiet, Lieutenant," the doctor ordered.
B'Elanna uncharacteristically acquiesced with no more than a shrug, and a small, and still rather delighted, smile.
The doctor nodded once with satisfaction and turned to Janeway. "Captain, Lieutenant Torres will be unavailable for duty for the rest of the day," he said. "Though if she behaves," he gave B'Elanna a quick warning look, and she said absolutely nothing in another moment of extraordinary cooperation from her, "then I will consider releasing her to her quarters later this afternoon."
The captain nodded agreeably. "Very well, doctor."
"Now that the crisis is over and Lieutenant Torres is back with us, I trust you *and* Mister Paris can find duties to attend to on the bridge."
Tom glared at the doctor, ready to protest being unceremoniously thrown out of sickbay, but the captain dropped a firm hand on his shoulder.
"Come on, Tom," Janeway said, smiling to take the edge off the implied order in her tone. "Let's allow B'Elanna to rest for awhile. She can tell us what happened on the barge later." She gave B'Elanna a meaningful stare as she spoke, indicating that she expected to hear all the details soon.
Tom wanted to smile at the friendly, almost confidential look that passed between B'Elanna and the captain, but Janeway was already moving away, her hand now on his arm practically dragging him along behind her. He barely had time to brush his fingers over B'Elanna's again before he was halfway to the doors. Right before he was pulled through the doors he gave her an affectionate, frustrated smile, and she smiled back at him fondly, and reassuringly, in return.
He was in the corridor before he realized that B'Elanna and he hadn't had a chance to say a single word to each other. He wanted to know what had happened to her in the Klingon afterlife, and if the experience had been worth the terror she'd put him, and maybe herself, through. Though he suspected from her attitude when she woke that it had been-- for her, he still felt a little shaken. He would have felt better if he could have stayed with her in Sickbay.
He didn't see her for the rest of the day.
That evening he walked in to candlelight.
He'd left the bridge just after 1900, silently cursing the random ion surges in the nebular gases they were passing through that had stressed helm control, and had kept him on the bridge for two hours after his shift had ended. He'd rushed headlong down the corridors of Deck 4,
expecting to grab a quick change of clothes and immediately head over to B'Elanna's quarters. He wanted to assure himself that she was completely recovered, and he'd intended to convince her that a private dinner on the holodeck would erase any lingering effects of her experience, for her, and for him.
He'd rushed into his quarters, lips parted, ready to order lights, and then stopped dead at the sight of the candles, everywhere. There were candles on his computer desk, his bookshelf, his coffee table, and on every surface in his bedroom, if the soft, shadowed yellow light that shone through the open doorway was any indication. The largest concentration, a dozen or so white tapers, were arranged on his small dining table, which was now covered with a white linen tablecloth. The warm golden light that illuminated his quarters cast a soft luminous glow over B'Elanna's features where she sat at the table watching him silently, expectantly.
He walked slowly toward her, noticing belatedly the other items on the table, the bottle of wine, two fluted glasses that reflected the dancing candle flames on their clear crystal surface, and two silver-domed platters that no doubt covered dinner.
He stopped next to the table, and looked down at her. She was wearing the deep green dress with the slit up the thigh that he'd replicated for her on her birthday. She smiled and made a small gesture with her hand, motioning for him to take the opposite seat.
He sat down. "What's the occasion?" he asked softly.
"Does there have to be an occasion?" she asked in return.
There didn't have to be, there often wasn't for him, but B'Elanna was rarely this spontaneous. He swallowed his surprise though, and just shook his head. "No." He looked at the table, still bemused. "I was going to try and talk *you* into an intimate dinner on the holodeck..."
"You're always doing those kind of things for me, Tom," B'Elanna said. "I decided it was my turn this time. Well past my turn."
She sounded wry, almost apologetic, and Tom looked at her closely. "You do things for me, B'Elanna."
"Like holodeck programs, intimate dinners, flowers and candles..."
"You have," he said. She had, though maybe not often. But he'd never minded being the one who planned and initiated most of their diversions, and who made the sentimental gestures. He enjoyed that stuff. He shrugged and grinned. "You know me, always the incurable romantic."
Her lips curved upward just a little. "And I haven't leached that out of you yet?" she asked lightly.
He thought he detected an almost rueful undertone to her words, and he stared at her. What had gotten into her? "No, B'Elanna, you haven't."
They were both silent for several moments. Then B'Elanna nodded toward the wine and looked at him with raised eyebrows.
His lips quirked at her watchful, amused look. He picked up the bottle and looked at the label. "2292 Sterling Merlot," he murmured appreciatively. She had already uncorked the bottle to allow the wine to breathe, so he poured a bit into his glass. He swirled it, sniffed it, and took a small sip. Then he looked at B'Elanna again, not surprised at the smile tugging at her lips. "Excellent," he pronounced, and grinned back at her. Though he'd never had much patience for the pretentious streak that seemed ingrained in some of his family's prestigious clan, a knowledge of and appreciation for good wine had somehow rubbed off on him, and B'Elanna never failed to find that amusing.
"I'm glad you approve," she said, her tone droll.
He poured some of the wine into her glass, and filled his glass. Then he set the bottle back on the table and took a sip of his wine before he brought up the subject that was of primary interest to him at the moment. "So, are you going to tell me what happened when you were on the barge to Gre'thor?" he asked.
B'Elanna picked up her glass and took a sip of her wine. "I...learned some things about myself. And I don't blame you if you're mad at me, Tom. I know what I put you through."
It was more a matter of what she'd put herself through, though "hell" was an apt word for what he'd gone through when it looked like they were losing her for good. But he shook his head. "I'm not mad."
B'Elanna didn't look like she entirely believed him. "Thank you anyway."
"For being there. Even though I refused to let you help me, and insisted on doing it by myself." She frowned, and her gaze was entreating. "I just felt like I had to face it alone, and I know now that I was right."
"Well, it's not like I really wanted to visit Klingon hell," Tom quipped. Then he looked at her soberly. "But I would have, B'Elanna. I was scared for you, and we barely got you back." He could hear the thread of accusation in his own voice.
"I know." There was genuine regret in her voice, but also resolve. "It was worth it, Tom, even if it didn't turn out quite like I thought. I've finally realized some things about my life."
"Like..." She paused and her look was probing. "Do you think I hold everyone at arm's length?"
Her quick change of direction, and her earnest question surprised Tom, and he prevaricated without thinking. "I don't know..."
"Do I hold you at arm's length, Tom?"
He started to make a crack about how she held him just the opposite when she got increasingly amorous, and it was such an automatic response that he barely stopped himself. "Yeah," he finally said solemnly. "Sometimes you do." Frequently she did. But how often did he call her on it and refuse to let her do it, rather than simply accepting that distance she imposed between them and pretending not to notice it was there? Sometimes he made a token effort, but as often he
acquiesced because it was more comfortable for him to retreat too, rather than force her hand and possibly find that her feelings had changed. And easier to make jokes when the conversation got too weighty. "It's a two way street, B'Elanna," he added softly.
She nodded. "You've tried though, Tom. More than I have. I know that I don't let you in--"
"That's not true," Tom said. "You've let me in. Sometimes." He could add that it was mostly during the good times. "But when something is wrong, you close up. You want to handle everything by yourself, even though I want to help. Like over the past few days, ever since you came out of the coma after the shuttle accident. I've had to chase you down in Engineering to even talk to you for a few minutes." He could see from her expression that she was aware of her latest withdrawal. He smiled a little wistfully. "We've started acting 'polite' again."
B'Elanna nodded. She clearly recognized his reference to one of Harry's many observations about their relationship, that he preferred to see them arguing with each other. It was when they got too polite with each other that Harry worried about the state of their relationship. So did Tom, and he silently berated himself for letting his own insecurities take over and not doing more to cross that distance when it fell between them.
"I have been pushing you away." B'Elanna finally said quietly. "Again. I realized that when I in Gre'thor. I push everyone away when they start getting too close. I try to keep anyone from caring about me. Even you."
Tom smiled, and shook his head. "Well, you don't do a very good job of it, because, despite what you think, you haven't stopped everyone on this ship from caring about you. They're your friends, and they love you whether you want it or not."
B'Elanna gave a small amused snort. "Not everyone on this ship loves me, Tom."
He could have told her how many of them did, though he didn't really care about everyone else at the moment. "I do," he said quietly.
"I know," she said, her voice equally soft. "You do keep hanging around."
"We do have our moments, B'Elanna."
"When we fight, when we barely talk to each other for days, when I'm in a bad mood..."
"I have a few bad moods of my own," Tom pointed out. "But I was thinking of the times when we hang out on those holographic beaches you like..." he smiled, remembering how much he liked them too. "And when we try out a new dance together, or when we laugh in the Mess hall over another of Neelix's unpalatable creations, or when we sit in the Delta flyer and talk about upgrading the helm and engines to make her fly even better..." He shrugged, and glanced around the room. "Not to mention candlelight dinners like this...and making love..." He looked at her searchingly. "Those moments count, don't they? And I've always wanted to believe that they make up for the tougher times, that they're the reason we're still...here."
Rather than mirroring his uncertain look, she smiled with surprising assurance. "They are, Tom. I know I haven't always appreciated that, and I realized that too when I was in Gre'thor. That *I've* made myself miserable, and everyone around me, because I just couldn't accept who I really am. I've fought everyone all my life, but mostly I've fought myself."
"You haven't made me miserable, B'Elanna," Tom said. "Worried, sometimes. I know that at times you've been deeply unhappy, and I didn't know what to do about it." He paused, feeling uncomfortable. But if she could be this honest, the least he could do was be the same. "Maybe it even injured my self-image a little when I didn't feel like I could...make you happy." His lips quirked in a half smile. "So I just left it alone, instead of confronting my own huge ego."
"You *couldn't* make me happy, Tom," B'Elanna said, almost gently. "Not when I hated a part of myself all along." She shook her head. "When I first saw my mother again, we argued about the same thing, just like always. I've always thought that she wants me to be something I'm not."
"Klingon?" Tom asked.
B'Elanna nodded. "But I've always wanted to be something I'm not too. Human." Her mouth twisted a little, and she wrapped her hand around the stem of her wineglass. "Do you remember when we came back from the Vidiian caves?"
He nodded. It had been a long time ago now, but he could hardly forget. The last time he'd seen her in Sickbay, right before he'd been released, she'd still been fully human. The doctor had told her that he would have to restore her Klingon DNA, because it was part of her, and she wouldn't survive otherwise. She'd nodded, obviously understanding the necessity. But when the doctor moved away her face had crumpled, and for just a moment her expression had been almost...tragic. He'd barely known her then, but he'd had the urge to reach over and hug her. He'd stifled it, sure she wouldn't appreciate it, and had hightailed it out of there as fast as he could. He had recalled later that in the twenty minutes or so he'd been in Sickbay, she'd touched her smooth forehead at least a dozen times.
"While I was fully human, I was convinced that was what I *should* be, what I'd been cheated out of, and what would make me happy," B'Elanna said. "I almost cried when the doctor started the DNA reinsertion procedure. Even though I was scared, and unsure down in the caves, and intellectually I realized that my Klingon side gave me courage and strength, I still didn't want it. Despite my fear and my feeling of weakness while I was only human, I also felt a sense of...peace that I'd never felt before. I thought it was because my Klingon side was gone and not causing me grief. But I think now it wasn't the fact that I *was* only human, but my sense of self-acceptance as only human, that gave me peace." She shook her head and smiled sadly. "How could I ever be at peace with myself--my *real* self--when I've always thought of myself as a 'mongrel'?"
Hearing her use that term about herself made Tom both angry and sad. "B'Elanna--"
"That's what the Klingons called me on the barge," she continued over his protest. "Because deep down that's how I've seen myself." She shook her head again, but she looked more relieved now than sad. "Don't you see, Tom? That's why I had no honor, why I dragged my mother down to Gre'thor. Because I've always fought who I am. I know now that if I don't accept who I am, including the Klingon in me, then I'll never have any honor. Or any peace."
Tom didn't know what to say. He'd usually make some lighthearted comment about this time to alleviate the intense mood, but he didn't allow himself to do that. He reached across the table and closed his hand over hers where it was still gripping her wineglass. Her hand was trembling just slightly.
"I think I can do that now," B'Elanna told him, her voice urgent. "Accept who I am, both Klingon and human. Or at least I can make a start. *That's* the epiphany I had on the barge, and in Gre'thor." She shrugged, and shook her head. "Okay, maybe 'epiphany' is a little extreme..."
He didn't think so. "You were practically dead, B'Elanna. I don't know of a time more likely for an epiphany." He picked up the wine bottle and refilled her glass, then set the bottle on the table again.
"I know going to Gre'thor was an extreme way to have a self-revelation, but I think it was the only way I could really understand how I've dishonored myself, and everyone around me."
Tom thought dishonor was too strong a term, but he could see that she believed it was true. And that she truly felt a sense of resolution with herself. "Then I'm glad you did it, B'Elanna." He squeezed her hand, and smiled faintly. "But I can only say that now that I know you came out of it okay, and there were no lasting effects."
"Not those kind of lasting effects anyway," B'Elanna assured him. "And the doctor was overzealous keeping me in Sickbay most of the day, but I was...nice about it."
Tom chuckled at the way B'Elanna almost gritted her teeth when she said "nice." He cleared his throat quickly and poured himself some more wine before he looked at her again. "I'm sorry you had to be...nice, B'Elanna."
B'Elanna's eyes narrowed his dry tone, and she gave him a smug look. "The doctor did decide to release me an hour early after all, as long as I promised to rest."
Tom grinned. Obviously there were limitations to how long she could tolerate being "nice," and he was relieved to hear it. "And did you rest?" he asked.
She shrugged. "Sort of. I used the time to work on a holoprogram."
Tom's hand paused with his wineglass halfway to his lips. "A holoprogram?" he asked. B'Elanna did have a few programs stored in the database, some exercise programs, and some Earth settings, mostly those beaches they'd enjoyed together. But creating new holoprograms wasn't something she did very often. "What kind of program?"
"It's a place where there's a large gorge, and a magnificent waterfall. Kind of a remote wilderness area." She paused, then added, "It's called K'VaKor Gorge."
Tom's eyebrows rose at the Klingon name. "On Kronos?"
B'Elanna nodded. "Yes."
He was surprised. She'd never created a Klingon holoprogram. Even the unpleasant painstick program had been set in an unspecified cave system. He'd been the one who'd pressured her to create the Day of Honor program with him, which they had never finished, and after that mini-disaster he'd never offered more than occasional hints about creating something Klingon again, and she'd remained decidedly
unenthusiastic. "Why this gorge?" he asked, wondering if it had personal significance, like a couple of the programs she'd created of places relating to her human ancestry on Earth.
"My mother used to talk about it," B'Elanna said. "When she was a child she and her parents used to...picnic there."
"Klingons go on picnics?" Tom asked incredulously.
"That's the closest human equivalent, Tom," B'Elanna clarified. "And Klingons don't carry food in wicker hampers and sit on blankets," she added dryly. "But my mother's family did bring lunch with them, and sat down to eat it, after they'd hiked, or hunted for targ. That's what I meant."
"Okay," Tom said. "So your mother used to spend time there when she was a child?"
"Yes. My mother took me to Kronos a couple of times when I was a child, but we never went to the gorge, even though that was the one place that sounded interesting to me. Far more interesting than visiting all my mother's relatives and being put on display. And I just decided I'd like to see it now." She shrugged as if it was no big deal.
Tom nodded. "I can help you finish the program."
B'Elanna shook her head. "I don't need any help..."
They were both silent for a moment, as those words hung in the air between them.
"Because I've almost finished it," she amended quietly. "But I was hoping you'd come to the gorge with me."
"You know I will," Tom said softly, wondering why she thought she even had to ask, though he knew it had been some time since he'd last pressured her about exploring her Klingon roots. Then he remembered what he'd said to her this morning, when he'd been almost frantic to talk her out of going through with the near-death procedure. "B'Elanna, that crack about you being a 'born again Klingon'--"
"Don't worry about it, Tom," she said. "I know you were upset." She shrugged and smiled. "Besides, maybe I am now. At least a born-again half-Klingon."
Tom smiled back. "Fine with me. I know we haven't talked about it in awhile, but I've always found your Klingon ancestry every bit as fascinating as your human ancestry." More so, though he'd suppressed his interest in deference to her own disdain for Klingon culture. "I've always wanted to know more about all those customs, and ancient scrolls, and rituals--"
"Don't get carried away, Tom," B'Elanna warned him. "I just want to start...exploring my heritage a little, not completely immerse myself in heavy Klingon ritual." She shrugged. "Not right away, anyway. Maybe by next year's Day of Honor..."
She left that thought unfinished. The Day or Honor had passed over a week ago, and though Tom had been aware of the date he hadn't
mentioned it. She hadn't been completely unapproachable about it like she had been during her depression a year ago, but she'd been
preoccupied, and he'd decided against suggesting they observe the holiday. "B'Elanna, you can explore your Klingon heritage at any pace you want. I just want to be involved."
B'Elanna smiled with satisfaction at his statement. "Good." She stood up quickly. "I have a gift for you."
"A gift?" Tom asked. "More than this?" he asked, looking at all the candles again, and the table, and the two silver covered platters still sitting next to them untouched.
She moved over to his computer desk and picked up a bound book that he hadn't even noticed lying there. It was large and obviously heavy, since she held it with both hands as she handed it to him across the table.
He stared at the familiar, but, to him, undecipherable script on the front. Klingon script. Fortunately he could read the tiny words printed in Federation Standard below the script. "Klingon/Federation Standard Dictionary, Unabridged Version," he read aloud. "With special Klingon grammar and verb conjugation section." He stared at the cover, bemused.
"You said you were willing to learn Klingon," she reminded him.
"I am," Tom replied. He hefted the book, which weighed several kilos. "There isn't a 'conversational Klingon' version?" he asked hopefully.
B'Elanna shook her head, her eyes glittering with amusement. "Don't you know yet that with Klingons it's all or nothing, Tom?"
Tom grinned. "Yeah, I guess I do know that." He thumbed through several of the pages. "I can't promise I can learn all of this, but I'm sure I can learn a few basic phrases."
"My Klingon is pretty rudimentary," B'Elanna reminded him. "But you might want to know a little in case we run across any targ hunting parties at K'VaKor Gorge."
"Targ hunting parties," Tom echoed. "Right," he murmured. "I know I look forward to that..."
He heard the seductive timbre in her voice and looked up.
"Right now, why don't you just figure out how to say 'I want to make rapturous love to you' in Klingon."
He met her meaningful gaze. "There's a Klingon word for 'rapturous'?" Tom asked, as he started flipping though the pages. "Let's see..."
Tom's head shot up again before he found the first word. He stared at B'Elanna, eyes narrowed, and a small slow smile curved his lips. "B'Elanna, is that your foot sliding up my leg?"
"What do you think?"
"I hope so, or the mice are no longer confined to the Jeffries tubes," he joked. He jerked a little as her foot moved higher and rubbed against his thigh. Then he dropped the book heavily on the table. "How about I start my Klingon language lessons tomorrow?"
"And continue your lessons in making love Klingon style tonight?"
That had always been one area where B'Elanna was quite willing to give her Klingon nature full rein. Tom smiled none too modestly as he reached beneath the table and grabbed her wandering foot, rubbing his thumb along the bare, smooth skin of her instep. "I think I've moved to the advanced courses in that area, don't you?"
"Umm," B'Elanna growled appreciatively low in her throat as his hand expertly stroked her foot. "Intermediate at least."
Tom's mouth fell open. "Intermediate?" he asked, his tone deeply offended.
B'Elanna gave him a considering look. "Well, I could...test you again, and reevaluate your progress," she said suggestively. Then she nodded at the covered dishes they hadn't touched. "Do you want to eat first to gather your strength?" she asked archly.
Tom tugged on her foot, unbalancing her a little, enough so that she had to grab the table to keep from slipping. He smirked a little. "My strength's fine." He was curious though. He lifted the lid off the dish by him. A bowl rested on the silver platter, the soup inside cold enough now to have formed a thin film. But he recognized exactly what it was. "Tomato soup?" he asked, looking up at her.
B'Elanna nodded. Her sultry expression faded a little. "You told me once that it was your 'comfort food.' I thought after what I put you through today you could use a little comfort."
He smiled, genuinely moved by the gesture. "Thank you, B'Elanna," he said softly.
She lifted the lid off her platter. "I guess it's a little cold now."
Tom shrugged. "We can warm it up...later." He dropped her foot gently from his chair and stood up. "Right now I can think of other means of comfort."
B'Elanna let her lid drop back in place with a clatter, and she stood also. She held out her hand and he took it. But when she would have led him quickly toward the bedroom, he pulled her to him instead. He did what he'd wanted to do this morning after she'd nearly died for real, what he'd wanted to do even before the doctor had put her under to allow her to go back to Klingon hell, but had felt restrained from doing in the doctor and captain's presence. He hugged her tightly, crushingly, as if he was trying to meld her body into his. He hugged her like he was never going to let her go.
If it was a little too tight, B'Elanna didn't protest. She wrapped her arms around him and pressed her face against his throat. Her lips brushed the line of his collarbone, and her hands stroked his back in gentle motions rather than with erotic intent. She was comforting him.
He savored the solace she offered him for a moment. Then something occurred to him. "B'Elanna," he murmured softly into her hair. "You never told me what happened to your mother."
B'Elanna pulled back and looked at him from within the circle of his arms.
"Did she go to Sto-Vo-Kor?"
"Yes," B'Elanna said, giving him a cryptic look, "or no."
Tom looked at her quizzically.
"When I insisted on taking my mother's place in Gre'thor, since it was my dishonor that led her there, the Klingon warriors on the barge thought I was trying to trick them. And I was, at first." B'Elanna gave Tom a strangely intent look. "I had to convince them that I wasn't trying to trick them, that I intended to stay in Gre'thor, and that I knew nobody on Voyager would be able to save me if I was accepted in my mother's place. They agreed, and that's when they sent my mother to Sto-Vo- Kor."
Tom stared at her, thinking of the moment when her neural patterns had started inexplicably breaking down, and she'd been truly dying, despite the doctor's and his efforts to save her.
"I told them I was willing to die honorably for my mother, and to stay in Gre'thor forever. And I meant it, Tom."
Tom met her somber gaze, and he understood what she was saying. She would have given up her own life, forsaken everyone on Voyager-- forsaken him--and gone to Gre'thor, and spent an eternity in that Klingon hell to save her mother.
She rested her palm lightly against his cheek. "I'm sorry, Tom. I don't know if you understand--"
Tom put a finger to her lips. "I do, B'Elanna," he said. Maybe it hurt just a little that she would have left him here alone, but he did understand why she'd felt she had to do it. "Whatever your differences with her, you love your mother."
B'Elanna looked almost surprised at Tom's simple and soft-spoken deduction, and then she nodded, and smiled slowly. "Yes, I suppose I do."
"And you didn't die after all, B'Elanna. Despite what those Klingon warriors said, we got you back."
"You, my friends, the captain, everyone on Voyager--you all confronted me in Gre'thor and prodded me to come back," she said softly. "And my mother, she told me to...choose to live."
Tom wasn't sure how he and everyone on Voyager had ended up in
Gre'thor with her, but he didn't need exact details at the moment. "I'm eternally grateful that you took your mother's advice."
B'Elanna smiled. "I guess I did, for once." Then her brow furrowed a little. "What was a little weird, Tom...when I saw my mother that last time she was wearing a Starfleet uniform. I mean, it *was* my mother speaking, and yet it was like it wasn't just her words..." B'Elanna's voice trailed off, and she shrugged dismissively
Tom recalled how B'Elanna had murmured "mother" when she'd regained consciousness, and a few moments later she'd been hugging Captain Janeway. Outside the total bizarreness of all of it happening in Klingon hell, maybe the connection wasn't so weird at all. "So, have you talked to the captain about your experience on the barge yet?"
B'Elanna stared at him curiously for several moments, then shook her head. "Not yet. But I am meeting her for breakfast in her ready room in the morning."
Tom smiled. One of those private breakfasts the captain periodically arranged with members of her crew, ostensibly to touch base on their performances, but more importantly to keep abreast of their personal lives and needs. Any harrowing event experienced by a member of the crew was likely to prompt a breakfast invitation. And no matter what kind of differences she had with any of them individually, that never changed Captain Janeway's interest in and concern about their lives. "The captain was very worried about you in Sickbay."
B'Elanna nodded. "I know. But I think she did understand what I was doing and why."
"I'm sure she'll be happy to know that you found your mother, and resolved some things with her."
"Or started to anyway," B'Elanna said. "And my mother did say she would see me again, in Sto-Vo-Kor." Then she smiled widely. "Or when I get home."
Tom's eyebrows rose. "When you get home?"
"Yes." She shrugged at the obvious ambiguity in her statement. "When I was on the barge everything seemed so...real. But maybe I wasn't really there. Maybe Chakotay was right and it was all in my mind. Maybe it was just some kind of dream state." She shook her head. "I can't be sure. I just know that *something* happened to me, and whatever it was, *that* was real."
"I know it was," Tom agreed. He didn't doubt that. "No matter how much of the galaxy we can cross, or how many phenomena we
understand now, we still don't know what happens when we die, or when we're on the brink of death. For all we know the afterlife *is* a dream state." He shrugged. It wasn't a subject he pondered often, since it was even more unfathomable than time paradoxes. "But if your mother reached out to you and talked to you, and it was real for you, then I can accept that."
"And either way, I'll see my mother again," B'Elanna said, sounding pleased.
"When we get back to the Alpha quadrant," Tom said, definitely preferring that alternative. "And I guess I'll get a chance to meet her then."
"I guess you will," B'Elanna agreed.
Tom wasn't sure he looked forward to that event. Though he was undeniably curious to meet B'Elanna's mother, he wasn't at all sure she'd be that happy with him as B'Elanna's chosen mate. "I wonder how your mother will feel about me," he murmured.
"The same way I feel about you," B'Elanna said without hesitation.
He didn't know if that was true, but before he could say anything B'Elanna slid her hands up his chest and cupped his face, and kissed him gently, a whispery stroke of her lips across his. "Tom, I know I don't show it enough, and I've pushed you away, too many times..." She looked into his eyes and held his gaze unwaveringly as her fingers lightly stroked his jaw. "But I do love you. I hope you don't doubt that."
Tom captured one of her hands in his, and kissed her palm, his gaze never leaving hers. "I don't, B'Elanna," he said. "I just wish..."
"What, Tom?" B'Elanna asked softly when he hesitated.
"I want you to *need* me sometimes too," he admitted.
"I do need you, Tom," B'Elanna said earnestly. "I needed you this morning. And even though you thought what I was doing was crazy, and it scared you, you were there by my side the whole time. I knew that, Tom, and it meant a lot to me."
"Any time," Tom said, and he meant it. "Besides, I'm sure the next time I do something crazy, and scare the hell out of you--pardon the pun-- you'll stand by me too."
"Of course I will," B'Elanna agreed easily. "Then I'll rip out your liver for scaring me."
Tom chuckled. "I'll try not to put you in that position then." Then his expression sobered. "B'Elanna, this morning when the doctor was about to start the procedure, I wanted to tell you that I love you, but I knew I wouldn't be able to stop from begging you again not to go through with it, and I didn't want to do that to you..." he smiled wryly. "And I didn't want to look too pathetic in front of the doctor and the captain. I just hoped saying 'be careful' would convey my feelings, and that it would be enough to get you to come back to me. To all of us."
She kissed him lightly on the lips. "I am back, Tom. I'm here." She wrapped her arms around his neck, and he pulled her closer to him. "Really here," she added softly. "The Klingon afterlife, or whatever comes after, will have to wait a long time for me."
Tom nodded in complete agreement, and kissed her back, very soundly.
"Mmm..." B'Elanna murmured as Tom finished kissing her, for the moment. Then she looked at him quizzically. "Why are we still standing in the middle of your quarters, Tom?" she asked him, letting her hands drift down his back. "I think we have to choose a direction."
"Forward," Tom said softly.
B'Elanna smiled at that, and nodded. "Though at this moment I was thinking of moving toward the bed," she murmured, her smile turning seductive. She wrapped her arms possessively around his waist, and he willingly let her lead him in that direction.
They warmed up the soup, eventually.
Three days later, they were running like the wind. Or, rather, B'Elanna was running like the wind, and Tom was just trying to keep up, and to avoid the branches that whipped by millimeters from his face, not to mention taking any missteps that might land him at the bottom of the gorge.
"I think we lost it!"
The words came out in a wheeze, as he stumbled to a halt and leaned over, hands on knees, in the small grassy clearing. But B'Elanna heard him and stopped also.
"It lost us, Tom."
For which he was grateful. "We should have brought bat'leths," Tom said, between gasping breaths.
B'Elanna moved to his side. She was breathing heavily but steadily. "You can't bat'leth an unarmed targ, Tom. You have to prove your superior strength by catching it and wrestling it."
"Unarmed targ," Tom muttered. All except for the razor sharp teeth and claws. And the one that had burst through the middle of their lunch spread had been very well "armed," as far as he was concerned. And fortunately very fast. He panted a little, still trying to catch his breath. "Maybe we'll catch it next time," he said, really hoping no such thing.
B'Elanna smiled, looking perfectly happy with that thought. "Maybe."
Tom groaned, and rolled over onto the grass, landing on his back. "Can we rest for a couple of minutes?"
"Sure," B'Elanna said amiably, dropping down on her knees next to him.
Tom moved his head a little and rubbed his neck where he felt
something pricking him. "This grass stings." He brushed his hand over the grass and felt a dozen tiny pricks.
"It's bladegrass," B'Elanna said. She ran her own hand over the grass, and looked at her fingers. "It is sharp, and it does leave kind of a tingling sensation, but I don't think it really stings."
Tom thought that was a matter of perspective. He ran his hand over the grass again, and it did kind of tingle. And sting.
"I see why my mother liked this place," B'Elanna murmured, sounding distracted.
Tom looked at her and saw that her gaze was fixed on the gorge. He turned his head and saw the near edge of the gorge not two meters away from them, and on the other, slightly higher, side of the gorge the massive waterfall that dropped from the plateau to the river at the bottom. "It's a little bit like the Grand Canyon, on Earth," he commented. "Except for that waterfall."
B'Elanna shifted on the grass and positioned herself more comfortably next to him. "My mother told me that sometimes Klingons used to dive over that waterfall," B'Elanna said, her hand absently stroking his hair.
Tom rose on his elbows, and stared across the gorge. "No way," he said, disbelieving. He looked up at B'Elanna. "That has to be a thousand meters straight down into the river. Even a Klingon couldn't survive that drop."
B'Elanna shook her head. "They didn't. It was once a kind of ritual suicide for Klingons who were trying to absolve their dishonor."
That figured. "So did they absolve their dishonor?"
B'Elanna shook her head. "It's never that easy with Klingons."
No, he knew that it wasn't.
"But taking their dishonor with them did lessen the stain of shame on their families," B'Elanna added.
Holding an entire family literally responsible for one member's actions was a custom Tom found overly harsh, though he was all too aware that even among humans one person's disgrace could bring shame on his family. He laid his hand on B'Elanna's bent knee. "There must be a better way to atone for your mistakes, and restore your honor," he said. "No offense to the Klingons."
"I'm only half-Klingon," B'Elanna reminded him. "Just because I'm willing to accept that, it doesn't mean I agree completely with every Klingon doctrine. Besides, even Klingons have been known to
overcome their dishonor."
Tom knew she was talking partly about herself, though he couldn't help thinking of his own efforts to overcome his past. It was a struggle they both had in common. A loud rustling sound in the trees cut off any reply he might have made though, and he jolted into a sitting position as B'Elanna whirled around.
"Maybe our targ is back," B'Elanna said, sounding excited at the prospect. She was on her haunches, coiled to react, and Tom couldn't help admiring the way the strong lines of her muscles were clearly outlined by her close-fitting jumpsuit. She looked beautiful, and a little dangerous.
"And if we do catch it and subdue it, do you really think the captain will let us take it home as a pet?" Tom asked dryly. He hadn't know until today that the "targ hunting parties" that prowled the gorge weren't looking for dinner, but for a pet. Leave it to the Klingons to acquire one by surviving a wrestling match with it, rather than just going to a pet store.
B'Elanna snorted. "It's a holographic targ, Tom," she pointed out. Her attention was still on the trees. "We can just let it go again. I wouldn't want a targ for a pet anyway," she added with distaste, obviously not enamored with that Klingon custom. "They smell terrible."
Tom watched the trees for several more moments, and there was not even the smallest rustle of leaves. "Darn, it's gone."
B'Elanna turned around at Tom's words, looking a little disappointed. "I was really in the mood for a wresting match."
"We can always join the next targ hunting party that comes along," Tom suggested. "If they don't laugh at me this time," he added with a bit of ire.
B'Elanna smirked. "They liked you, Tom."
He thought he'd done pretty well when he and B'Elanna had come across the hunting party earlier, greeting them with appropriate aggressiveness in Klingon, and refusing to lower his gaze from their fierce glares. They'd looked suitably impressed that he couldn't be stared down. Then he'd inadvertently asked them how the opera singing was going instead of how the hunt was going. An innocent mispronunciation on his part, but they'd laughed loud enough to shake the entire gorge. They'd still been laughing as they'd stomped off to resume their hunt, after a couple of them had slapped him with companionable--if painful--enthusiasm on the back. "I amused them anyway."
B'Elanna smiled. "You stared them down. And Klingons like a good laugh, too. They do have a sense of humor, you know."
Tom started to comment on their sense of humor, but he realized that this was one of the few times B'Elanna had viewed Klingons in a positive light. "I'm sure I'll learn to appreciate it," he said, winking at her.
B'Elanna dropped down on her knees. "So, you're glad you came?"
Tom stared at her, and nodded. "Of course."
"And you really want to see more of Kronos, and explore Klingon culture?" she asked. "Because it can get a lot more Klingon than this, even on the holodeck."
She sounded as if she wasn't completely sure she wanted to herself, or maybe she just didn't know yet that she could be as comfortable in Klingon surroundings as human surroundings. Tom was pretty sure though, and he spoke without doubt. "I hope this is just the first taste, B'Elanna. Any Klingon setting you want to program, I'm game."
B'Elanna smiled, satisfied. Then she looked down at him, her
expression thoughtful and a little calculating. "We do still have some time left in *this* program, Tom. And that targ got away."
He recognized that look, and the physical energy barely contained in her as she leaned over him. He knew exactly what she wanted when she was like this. She already did her Klingon side more justice than she knew. He shifted and felt the bladegrass beneath him and knew he'd willingly ignore its sting. Then he tensed in preparation before she finally asked the question, teasingly, provocatively, and with just a bit of menace...
"Want to wrestle, Tom?"