Disclaimer: Star Trek and its characters are the property of Viacom/Paramount. I am just borrowing them for fun, not profit.

Synopsis: This is a coda story to "Nothing Human". How does B‘Elanna deal the fact that she is alive, courtesy of the suffering of thousands of torture victims? And how will she deal the feelings of those around her? This story involves B‘Elanna, Chakotay, Tom, and P/T. Rated PG13 for violence (a brief description).

"No Absolutes"
by Julie Evans (Juli17@aol.com)


"Personal log, B‘Elanna Torres reporting.

The Doctor informed me a few minutes ago that he will release me for light duty tomorrow morning. I should be thrilled. After being in my quarters on medical confinement for three days I‘d normally be so stir crazy by now I‘d be replicating replacements for the furniture I‘d hurled against the walls. Instead I‘ve barely noticed the passage of time. I‘ve been too consumed by the turmoil in my mind to think much about Engineering or anything else, except that I‘m alive. And why.

I told Tom, and the Doctor, that I didn‘t want to be treated by that Cardassian butcher. I didn‘t want to live because innocent people had suffered and died to save me. Janeway knew that. It should have been my decision, but she used her position as captain, and the power it gives her, to override my choice. To make the decision for me. Part of me hates her for it, though I know she believes she did the right thing. That‘s almost as annoying as the decision itself.

The right thing. Why does she think she knows better than me? Now I‘m left trying to find a way to accept that I‘m alive, existing on the tortured souls of all those dead Bajorans. I‘ve been seeing them in my nightmares the last three nights. Suffering and dying at the hands of the Cardassians. One particular image plays over and over. A Bajoran woman, strapped to a table, and Krell Moset looking down at her, that guileless smile on his face, that makes him all the more evil. Standing over her, torture instruments in hand, like I know he stood over me, while I was unconscious and helpless. God, that thought makes me want to retch. But he‘s not trying to save her life. He‘s cutting her, torturing her. Experimenting on her. She opens her mouth, but she doesn‘t scream. She just says to him, "You won‘t win. You can take my life but your evil won‘t triumph in the end. Evil never does." That‘s it. Then I wake up.

I never put much belief in interpreting dreams, though I can guess what this one means. He triumphed after all. If I asked Chakotay he would no doubt explain all the subtleties. But I haven‘t talked to Chakotay since that alien latched on to me. I haven‘t talked to any of the ex-Maquis. I don‘t know what I‘ll say when I see them again. Ayala, Gerron....Tabor. Not one of them has tried to see me, so they obviously don‘t know what to say either. Or they can‘t stand to look at me, knowing why I‘m alive.

Of course, I made it clear that I wouldn‘t welcome any visitors. I don‘t want anyone feeling obligated to seeing me and offering sympathy. That‘s the one thing that will make me throw furniture. That didn‘t stop Janeway, but then she was hardly sympathetic. And despite my warnings, Neelix has come by every day with some special dish he fixed for me. He doesn‘t seem to care that I don‘t talk to him, he just jabbers a little about general ship gossip—nothing about what happened to me, though I‘m sure everyone is talking about it—then he tells me to feel better and leaves the food. I eat it because even now I can‘t bring myself to hurt Neelix‘s feelings.

Harry came by once, two days ago. He didn‘t stay long. I guess my attitude was pretty unwelcoming. He just said he was glad I was alive. Rather defiantly, for Harry. Then he reminded me that Seven was running Engineering until I get back on my feet. I‘m sure he hoped bit of information would annoy me, and motivate me to get back into my life quickly despite everything that has happened. Well...it did annoy me anyway.

Tom also comes by to check on me several times a day. I haven‘t been very receptive to him either, but he doesn‘t care. He seems to know I want to be left alone, at least with my thoughts, and he doesn‘t ask me to talk. He just picks up an item of clothing I left on the floor, or straightens the datapadds on the table, then makes a few quiet observations like "You look better" or "I see Neelix brought food by again". He doesn‘t seem to expect a reply and I don‘t give one. In the evenings he stays a while. He sits on the couch by me, an arm‘s length away, not touching me. And he stares for a long time at the incense bowl that I‘ve about worn out now, as if he has as much on his mind as I do on mine. Eventually he kisses my forehead, says "goodnight, B‘Elanna", and leaves. It‘s as if he thinks that just being here for a little while somehow helps. Maybe it does.

Meanwhile I just keep thinking, and brooding, and reading through the Klingon Precepts of Honor—as unbelievable as that sounds even to my own ears. But I need to find something that will make this all right. Something that will change the truth I know—that instead of the honorable death I would have chosen, I‘m condemned to a life of guilt. Maybe there is nothing will change that.

Maybe it will be help to get back to Engineering. Work usually stills my thoughts when I‘m in turmoil, and my anger, that right now seems to stay at a constant simmer. At least I won‘t have to think about what I‘ve been forced to—

Computer, end log."

B‘Elanna stared at the door. Neelix had stopped by with lunch earlier and Tom wasn‘t off shift yet. She certainly wasn‘t expecting anyone. She didn‘t want to see anyone. And if it was Janeway, here to tell her again in her imperious way that letting a crew member die had been unacceptable—

The door announcer chimed again, and B‘Elanna frowned. Whoever it was, they wouldn‘t be staying long. "Enter."

Chakotay stepped into her quarters as the door opened. He stopped for a brief moment and studied her, as if assessing her mood, then walked toward her, treading almost carefully. But then everyone was being careful around her, and given that her visits had consisted of only a handful of people, that was surely only a sampling of what she would get once she left her quarters.

"How are you feeling?"

B‘Elanna smirked at Chakotay‘s question. "Oh, great. I‘m alive, aren‘t I? Come to see the subversion of everything we ever stood for and believed in?"

"That‘s a rather dramatic statement," Chakotay said mildly as he sat down on the couch next to her, picking up several datapadds in his way. He glanced at one briefly, before setting them aside. "No, B‘Elanna, I came to see you."

"Took you a while."

She said it belligerently, but Chakotay heard the wounded undertone in her voice. "I know. I knew you were pretty angry and probably struggling to reconcile your feelings."

"So you just didn‘t want to interrupt me."

"I was also busy trying to reconcile my own feelings."

B‘Elanna snorted. "Really? That Cardassian doctor tortured and mutilated and killed hundreds—thousands—of Bajorans, and Janeway let him use the knowledge he‘d gained by their suffering and death to save me. It was unethical and immoral. What‘s to reconcile?"

"The fact that you‘re one of my closest friends," Chakotay said quietly. "And that ethical answers aren‘t always that unequivocal. And that in this case there were two positions that perhaps each had their valid moral arguments."

B‘Elanna stared at Chakotay, then her eyes narrowed. She looked at him accusingly. "You agreed with Janeway."

Chakotay watched the incense wafting from bowl on the coffee table for a moment, then looked at B‘Elanna. "No, actually I didn‘t. I argued rather vehemently that she should let you die."

B‘Elanna looked slightly discomfited at Chakotay‘s bald statement. Finally she said softly, "That would have been the right decision, Chakotay."

"Maybe," Chakotay said quietly. "But it was never my decision to make."

"It wasn‘t hers either!"

"I didn‘t agree with the captain‘s decision, but I don‘t dispute the fact that it was her decision to make. You were in and out of consciousness, immobile, your body systems were compromised by the alien‘s infiltration-"

"And you think that made me mentally incompetent?" B‘Elanna asked hotly.

"No, but it certainly put you under severe stress. And you are a Starfleet crew member now. By Starfleet regulations the captain has the right to make medical decisions for you under certain circumstances. Once you slipped into a coma, and it was clear you weren‘t going to regain consciousness, those circumstances were met. She did have the right, B‘Elanna."

B‘Elanna was silent at that, and she looked away from him, fixing her mutinous expression on the incense bowl.


The sober tone of Chakotay‘s voice drew B‘Elanna‘s gaze to him again.


"I disagreed with Janeway‘s decision, and I argued against it, but I was damned grateful that it was hers to make in the end." His gaze held hers. " And I won‘t condemn her for it, because as it turns out I now find myself very grateful that she made the decision she did."

B‘Elanna stared at Chakotay, who was looking at her calmly, as if he hadn‘t just casually readjusted his moral conviction in less than a minute. "How can you say that!"

"Because you‘re alive," Chakotay said simply. "And I‘ve been trying to accept that dichotomy myself. I know what I still believe was the better ethical choice, though the longer I think about it the less clear cut the issue seems, and I can‘t regret that this one lapse—if it was a lapse—saved you."

"It was wrong, Chakotay," B‘Elanna said firmly, a little sadly. "All those Bajorans he experimented on, they suffered and died at his hands. And now I‘m alive only because of their suffering. How can there be any moral justification for that?"

"It has been justified before in human, and Klingon, history. Sometimes a moral position is clear, but sometimes it can be a matter of perspective as much as anything."

"Perspective?" B‘Elanna asked incredulously.

"What if you‘d been a victim of the Cardassians, one of their experimental guinea pigs whose suffering and death ultimately contributed to medical knowledge. And what if later you could see from beyond, and what you see is an innocent child laying on a biobed, dying painfully. What if only one thing would save her, and that one thing is a procedure that had been perfected by your torture and death. Would you want that child denied treatment because your suffering provided it?"

"I don‘t know!" B‘Elanna snapped churlishly.

"You answered that too fast, B‘Elanna. You do know. You wouldn‘t deny that child. Or woman, or man. In fact, someone one day being saved by that knowledge, however unethically gained, might make your own sacrifice meaningful. At the very least you wouldn‘t begrudge that innocent person her life. As I don‘t think any of the many Bajorans who died at Krell Moset‘s hands would begrudge you your life. They‘d just begrudge him his, and that‘s really two different things."

B‘Elanna was silent for a long moment, her dark eyes somber. "That still sounds like rationalization, Chakotay."

"Maybe," Chakotay said. "And I do applaud the Doctor‘s decision to completely delete the program so it can‘t be used again. I still think that using knowledge that was unethically gained gives a certain validation to the methods. I wouldn‘t ever want the Doctor, or any of us, to become desensitized to that fact, to become tempted to ignore it. But in this instance we didn‘t understand the source of the information until we had already gained the knowledge to save you, and I think there was some justification in using that knowledge, despite the source. I can accept that a life—yours in this case—is valuable enough to temporarily put aside ethical considerations, especially when the ethical boundaries is this case are a little ambiguous. And you need to accept it, too, B‘Elanna, as everyone else has."

B‘Elanna gave him a skeptical look. "Everyone?"

"Yes, the former Maquis included. They‘re all glad you‘re alive, B‘Elanna. Everyone is."

"Even Tabor?"

Chakotay nodded. "Even Tabor. I convinced him not to resign his commission after the Doctor deleted the Krell Moset program and everything associated with it. And he doesn‘t blame you. He knows it wasn‘t your decision. And he has his own emotional baggage to deal with, as we all do. He‘s filed a formal protest to Starfleet against the captain and her decision, which is his right. And I should tell you he wasn‘t alone. Several other crew members have also filed formal endorsements on the captain‘s behalf. It‘s not important who filed what, they each had their personal reasons and none of them are any less valid than another."

B‘Elanna didn‘t want to know anyway. She hated being the center of attention, of gossip. Of controversy. She‘d gone through that enough times in her life already. "I doubt the captain cares much what anyone has to say anyway."

Chakotay heard the disdain in her voice. "She knows the crew has the right to express their own views, including through formal channels. She made a hard decision and did so with the intention of accepting all the consequences it might entail, from you and everyone else, and eventually from a Starfleet board of review if it should one day come to that. She took your life in her hands, B‘Elanna, and she accepts complete responsibility for that. And she had another reason for taking the decision on herself I think."

B‘Elanna wanted to blurt that it was because Janeway was enamored with her own sense of godlike power, but she held her tongue. Despite the bitterness she still felt, she knew that wasn‘t true of the captain. "What other reason?"

Chakotay heard the resignation in B‘Elanna‘s voice. "I think Captain Janeway was trying to spare anyone else from having to deal with the emotional repercussions of making that kind of decision about someone very close to all of us. No matter what the Doctor‘s opinion, or Tom‘s, or mine, or anyone else‘s, by making the decision herself she took that responsibility, and that guilt, out of everyone else‘s hands."

"Including mine, where it should have been!" B‘Elanna said, with angry frustration. "It was nobody else‘s choice."

"I know you feel that way, but the fact remains that the captain made the choice anyway, and you‘re alive because of it." Chakotay picked up one of the padds he‘d set aside and looked at the screen. He wasn‘t surprised when B‘Elanna snatched it away. He‘d seen enough anyway. "You‘re reading the Klingon Precepts of Honor?"

"What were you expecting," B‘Elanna said sarcastically, "The Ferengi Rules of Acquisition?"

"At least those have a lighthearted moment or two," Chakotay said.

B‘Elanna gave Chakotay an unamused look, then turned the screen on the datapadd off and dropped it on the table.

"B‘Elanna, since the captain took the decision out of your hands, you don‘t bear any responsibility for it. You didn‘t do anything dishonorable, so you don‘t have any reason to atone as if you had."

"It doesn‘t always work that way, Chakotay," B‘Elanna said. "Honor isn‘t only conferred by your own choices. Others, through ignorance, or deliberate interference, can take your honor."

"You picked an interesting time to suddenly immerse yourself in the Klingon concept of honor, B‘Elanna," Chakotay remarked, then shrugged at her annoyed look. "I personally find the Precepts a little inflexible and dogmatic, but if you still believe Janeway overstepped her bounds, and impinged your Klingon honor, then you‘re free to file a formal protest also. Or hadn‘t you thought of that?"

No, she hadn‘t. Or maybe the knowledge that she could do so had been there somewhere in the back of her mind, and she just hadn‘t elected to consider it yet. And she wasn‘t sure why not. The captain had blatantly disregarded her own wishes, treated her as if she was incompetent to make her own choices, used a rarely employed Starfleet regulation of questionable application to make a crucial decision about her life. Despite Chakotay‘s contention that Janeway had accepted the consequences of her decision, it was she who now had to live with the consequences. And she was here now, able to think about her bitterness over the captain‘s decision, because the captain had saved her life, and had believed she was justified in doing it.

"Think about that, B‘Elanna," Chakotay said quietly, as he watched the conflicting emotions cross her features. He figured she‘d already made her decision. She just didn‘t know it yet. "Certainly as the recipient of Janeway‘s decision your statement would carry a lot of weight with Starfleet, perhaps enough to convene a board of review when we get back. This time it is your choice."

B‘Elanna didn‘t reply. She didn‘t have to ask Chakotay which choice he hoped she‘d make. He‘d already said he accepted the captain‘s decision, was even grateful for it.

"And think about everything else I said. No matter how comfortable you are cloaking yourself in your sense of righteousness, it‘s not really very productive. There are rarely any absolutes to cling to in life that are worth sacrificing yourself." Chakotay stood up when she didn‘t reply. "I‘ve got to go. I have some reports to finish before dinner. Maybe I‘ll see you in the Mess hall."

B‘Elanna shook her head, her gaze distant.

"Medical confinement doesn‘t mean you can‘t leave your quarters at all, B‘Elanna. The doctor told me he suggested yesterday that you start taking meals in the Mess hall again."

B‘Elanna glanced at him, then at the incense bowl again, her expression distracted. "I‘ll be there for breakfast tomorrow."

Chakotay nodded. "I‘ll see you tomorrow then." He hesitated a moment, looking down at her. He‘d come here hoping to reach her, hoping he‘d given her enough time to be willing to hear him, though he wasn‘t sure he had succeeded on either count. He wanted to put a hand on her shoulder, comfort her, hug that stiff resistance out of her. But B‘Elanna didn‘t look at him or give him any sign of encouragement, so he turned away and walked toward the door.


Chakotay turned as the door slid open. B‘Elanna was still sitting on the couch, looking at him, her expression uncertain.

"Thank you for coming."

Chakotay smiled. Maybe he had reached her after all. "You‘re welcome."

He walked out, and B‘Elanna watched the door close behind him. After a moment she transferred her gaze to the smoky incense wafting up from the bowl She stared at it, and thought about everything Chakotay had said, for a very long time.


Tom stood outside B‘Elanna‘s door, where, truth be told, he‘d been standing for several minutes. Fortunately no one had walked by to ask him what he was doing. He hadn‘t stopped by to see her after his shift, as he had the past few days. Instead he‘d hoped she would show up for dinner in the Mess hall. She hadn‘t, and though he was disappointed, he‘d found he wasn‘t really surprised. And now he‘d just learned that the Doctor had released her to duty, and tomorrow she could resume her normal schedule again. Her normal life, or as much normalcy as it could regain right now, after what she‘d been through. Before she started to accept her restored life—and he knew her well enough to know, despite her still simmering anger and lingering defiance, that she would work her way to it—before that happened, he had to tell her. Even if it threw a wrench into her recovery. Even if it ripped a black hole into the middle of their relationship.

He took a deep breath and pushed himself away from the wall where he‘d been loitering and pressed her door announcer. Twice. When she didn‘t answer the second time he keyed her code and let himself in.

Her quarters were lit at half illumination, and that ubiquitous incense bowl was still spewing out its noxious fumes. Or maybe it wasn‘t that noxious, maybe it was just his own conscience, and the fact that smell reminded him of how desperately she was trying to find any way to accept what had happened, that triggered his reaction. Still, she‘d burned enough of that stuff to smell up half the Delta quadrant.


He barely got out her name before she stepped out of the bathroom. Her hair was damp and she was wearing a pair of long cotton pajamas he hadn‘t seen her wear in ages. She usually wore one of the silk nightgowns that he had convinced her looked great on her, or occasionally one of his t-shirts. Comfort clothes, he wondered?

"I didn‘t know if you were stopping by," she said quietly, though he thought he saw a hint of reproach in her gaze before she turned away and walked toward the couch. It was the only place he‘d seen her for three days, on the couch in front of that incense bowl. He wondered if she‘d been sleeping at all as he watched her drop down cross-legged onto the couch. She looked tired.

"You didn‘t answer, so I let myself in."

She nodded in acquiescence at his statement. She seemed even more distracted than what had become usual.

"B‘Elanna, are you all right?" He immediately cursed how stupid that sounded. "I mean-"

"Actually I think I‘m feeling better." He was stunned when she looked up and actually gave him a small, if wan, smile. "I‘m still a little tired..." She shrugged. "But that‘s probably to be expected."

"You don‘t seem as..."

"Bitter? Angry?" B‘Elanna asked dryly, almost sounding like her old self, "I still am a little angry," she admitted. "But I think I‘ve come to realize that what‘s done is done. I can‘t change what happened, so I suppose it‘s time I just accepted it."

"I‘m glad you feel that way, B‘Elanna. I mean, for you."

B‘Elanna looked at him soberly, then nodded. "Chakotay came by this afternoon."

"That‘s good." Tom forced a smile, wishing he felt happier at hearing that. //One visit from Chakotay and B‘Elanna is feeling better//. He pushed away that sarcastic thought, but he couldn‘t help feeling a little flash of resentment, though he knew Chakotay was nothing more than a very good friend. A friend who had supported B‘Elanna‘s wishes.


Tom looked at B‘Elanna who was staring at him, questioningly. He dismissed his troublesome thoughts. He could see she was willing to talk to him, as she hadn‘t been willing or able to for several days. He wasn‘t ready to discourage her yet. "So what did Chakotay say?"

B‘Elanna recounted most of the conversation, while Tom walked across the room and stopped in front of the window, looking out at the stars. He felt B‘Elanna‘s gaze following him, remaining on him as she spoke. So Chakotay was now glad Janeway had made the decision to save B‘Elanna even if he wouldn‘t have. Tom wanted to feel bitter about that, after the confrontation between them in the briefing room, but he couldn‘t. He knew Chakotay genuinely cared about B‘Elanna. He should even feel vindicated that Chakotay had come to the conclusion that the ethical boundaries were somewhat ambiguous after all, not so absolute as everyone had seemed to think in the briefing room.

B‘Elanna finished talking and a silence fell between them. Tom knew he should say something. He tried to will the words out of his mouth, but they wouldn‘t come.

"It‘s okay if you agree with Chakotay, Tom," B‘Elanna finally said softly from behind him. "I guess I can‘t condemn him for being glad that I‘m alive. Or you either. I‘m glad that he cares...that you care..." There was a small catch in her voice when she said that. "And it was Janeway‘s decision, not his, or yours."

Tom turned around and looked at her. She‘d risen and walked across the room, stopping a meter behind him. She was watching him, looking unsure. Looking beautiful. Looking vulnerable. And looking like she god damned trusted him. He turned away and looked back at the stars again. "Am I glad you‘re alive? That‘s an understatement, B‘Elanna. But there‘s more to it than that. Janeway made the decision to disregard your wishes, to let the Krell Moset save your life." He took a shaky breath. "But I argued for it."

There was a long pause before she spoke. "What?"

He heard the small stammer of confusion in her voice. He closed his eyes for a minute, shutting it out. He stared at the empty space separated from him by a mere meter of duraglass. God knew how much empty space he was about the create between himself and B‘Elanna. It might never be crossed again. "I argued for it. I said it didn‘t matter about the ethics, that the Doctor should use the program to save you. I said that since we‘re in the Delta quadrant, no one would ever know." He paused to take a breath, to stop the words from tumbling out over each other, and to give himself the courage to say the most damning ones. "And I said that you were in the midst of having your life sapped out of you by alien tendrils, so you obviously weren‘t thinking straight. I basically argued that you weren‘t capable of making the decision yourself. I don‘t know how much of what I said influenced Janeway‘s decision, if any, but I do know that I...thanked her afterwards. More gratefully than I‘ve thanked just about anybody for anything in my life."

The silence was deafening. Not silence exactly because he could hear the very dim background roar of Voyager‘s systems, the barely audible beep of B‘Elanna‘s activated monitor, he imagined he could even hear the quiet puff of the incense burner. But from B‘Elanna there was no protest, no angry words of condemnation. Nothing. He turned slowly and met her gaze. She was looking at him, dismay and disappointment etched on her features. But, he realized, not the complete shock he‘d expected. He almost wondered if someone had recounted the whole briefing room debate, though he knew no one who‘d been present would do that. "Did you know?"

"I thought...you‘ve been preoccupied and quiet. I wasn‘t sure...or I didn‘t want to believe..." She stopped, her lips pressed tightly together, as if she couldn‘t bear to finish.

Tom turned away from her accusing look and stared unseeing out the window again. "I know you probably think I betrayed you...that I betrayed your trust..." He paused and bowed his head a little. "But that wasn‘t my intent."

B‘Elanna let out a harsh laugh. "It wasn‘t?" She asked, her voice disbelieving, pained. "You told the captain I was irrational, you deliberately ignored what I wanted, you‘ve watched me suffering over this for the past several days. If it wasn‘t your intent, then why, Tom?"

Tom flinched at the desolation in B‘Elanna‘s voice. "In Sickbay when you told me in no uncertain terms that you wouldn‘t allow Krell Moset to treat you, you were so upset, and I tried to protest...but then your vital signs destabilized, and I never got a chance to speak to you again. Maybe I didn‘t even completely realize then that I couldn‘t accept your decision. I was kind of in shock on several fronts. I was even a little angry with you for being so willing to give up your life. I wanted to argue with you, convince you that you were making the wrong decision, but it was too late." Tom rubbed his arms and turned around, looking directly at her. "And by the time we got to the briefing room and the Doctor made it clear that Moset‘s procedure was the only thing that would save you, I knew I couldn‘t just stand by and watch you die, even though I knew you expected me to support your decision. I just couldn‘t."

She stared at Tom‘s anguished expression. She remembered now that he had disagreed with her initially, tried to argue, even said something about her not being rational. She hadn‘t really listened to him, she‘d been so consumed with her own anger. She‘d just assumed he would support her decision unquestioningly, even if he disagreed with her. She‘d assumed she could trust him. She gave him a resentful look. "It was still my life, Tom," she said bitterly. "And it was my decision. You should have supported it."

"I know you think that, B‘Elanna." Tom took a step toward her, then stopped. His voice was quiet but determined. "But something occurred to me while I was admittedly looking for a way to avoid accepting your decision to die. It occurred to me that maybe you really didn‘t know what you were saying—" he held up a hand when she started to protest. "I‘m not saying you were incompetent to make the decision, but you made it in the heat of the moment, you had no time to think it over..."

Tom paused for a long moment, meeting B‘Elanna‘s angry, unyielding gaze. "Let me ask you a question, B‘Elanna. Have you ever had a knee jerk reaction, made an emotional decision, then later, after you‘d had time to think it over, regretted it, and changed your mind?" Certainly B‘Elanna of all people had, and he knew it. And he could tell by her annoyed expression that she knew where he was going. "I have. Quite a few times unfortunately. And I had that thought about your decision. What if you would have changed your mind if you had the chance to think about it, really consider the issue? It was too late to give you that chance, and the thought that you might die on the basis of a decision made when you were obviously distressed, that you might have eventually regretted, that terrified me."

B‘Elanna looked at him for several tense moments, her emotions held in check. "I don‘t think my decision would have been any different, Tom," she finally said sullenly. He knew she understood his analogy, perhaps couldn‘t refute it, but she wasn‘t about to give in to it easily.

"You don‘t think it would have..." Tom echoed, and ignored her narrowed gaze. "B‘Elanna, maybe you wouldn‘t have, but you just told me everything Chakotay said to you. Even he came to the conclusion that the ethical issue wasn‘t so clear cut after he‘d had some time to really think about it, and it seems to me you‘ve been seriously considering what he said." He tried not to sound resentful about that. "There isn‘t just one right answer, though maybe you wouldn‘t have changed the one that was right for you. But I didn‘t know that for sure. I just wanted to protect your interests. Protect you."

B‘Elanna didn‘t speak or move. From her rigid stance he could tell she was still angry, but he saw the conflicting emotions in her expression, and a flicker of doubt—of indecision—crossed her face as she looked at him. He hoped that meant that she was seriously considering his words. He took a step toward her then stopped when she stiffened. "So by ignoring what I wanted, you were just protecting my interests," B‘Elanna said, her voice skeptical.

Tom thought, or maybe he just hoped, that he heard just a bit of softening in B‘Elanna‘s voice. "Yes. I latched onto that possibility for all it was worth, but to be really honest, B‘Elanna, it wasn‘t the only reason I ignored your wishes. Maybe not even the biggest reason. And I admit my other reason wasn‘t so noble. In fact it was completely selfish. I practically begged Janeway to save you..." he paused just long enough to steady his voice, "because I love you, B‘Elanna, and I simply couldn‘t bear the thought of losing you."

B‘Elanna stared at Tom, his arms crossed over his chest, his eyes bright and his expression entreating her to understand. She‘d heard the tremble in his voice, the emotion when he‘d said those last words, and for a moment the irony almost undid her. Even if she‘d convinced herself that it wasn‘t important, she realized now that she‘d waited for a long time for him to look directly at her and say those words, just those three words unadorned, and not in some passing way—"you know I love you"—not mirroring her sentiment with a quick "me, too"—but to say them to her. She just hadn‘t envisioned it quite like this. She couldn‘t help the small, almost bitter, laugh that escaped her lips.

Tom paled a little at her reaction, then dropped his arms to his sides. The entreaty was gone and his eyes went blank for a moment. Then he gave her a composed, resigned look. "I am sorry—very sorry—that I betrayed your trust. But I‘m not sorry that you‘re alive. Even if you never talk to me again, B‘Elanna, even if you throw me out of your life completely, even if you find someone else to love you, maybe someone who is more deserving, and all I am left with is the knowledge that you‘re alive, somewhere, I can‘t regret that or believe that it was the wrong choice. And I can‘t ever be sorry about that." He gave her a small pained smile. "I‘ll leave right now if you want me to."

B‘Elanna still didn‘t say anything. Her mouth was set in a tight line and she could feel tears behind her eyes, the human tears she hated. She wasn‘t sure if she could handle any more conflicting emotions, any more revelations. Earlier today she‘d been sure how she felt, sure what was right, and sure what constituted betrayal by a friend. Or a lover. First Chakotay had shaken her stern surety in her convictions, and now Tom. A hard, stubborn part of her wanted to let him walk out, sure that the fact that he had opposed her wishes—no matter the reason—proved that he had betrayed her. Surely her honor would be comforted by that, cold comfort though it might be. But she couldn‘t ignore the nagging thought pressing at her, that maybe her absolute standards were rigid—unfair—and that it did mean something that Tom had acted because he wanted to protect her, because he loved her. That it meant far more than just something.

Tom had taken her brooding silence as confirmation and was almost at the door when she finally found her voice. "Don‘t go."

He turned and looked at her, his face guarded. She stared back at him, her expression equally wary.

"I know you believed what you were doing was right, Tom," she finally said softly. "And I know the situation was extreme, and you never actually made me any promises. And you felt you had a good...reason..."

"I love you," Tom said simply. Again.

B‘Elanna frowned, trying to look annoyed. Now he was just throwing it in her face.

Tom hoped the flash of exasperation that crossed her features was as good a sign as he thought it was. She might still be angry with him, but she didn‘t hate him. She wasn‘t condemning him. He closed the distance between them until he stood a few centimeters from her. "I love you, B‘Elanna."

B‘Elanna‘s mouth did quirk a little this time. "Stop it, Tom." Then her expression sobered. It was nice to hear Tom say those words so freely, but it wasn‘t enough. "I know everything happened so fast that you didn‘t get to have more than a few cursory words with each other, but f I had asked you for your promise to support my decision, Tom, what would you have said?"

Tom frowned. "I would never have made a promise to you that I couldn‘t keep, B‘Elanna, and under those circumstances I couldn‘t have kept it. If there had been time, I would have told you that. And I can only tell you that in the future, if a similar situation comes up again—god forbid—and if I‘m for any reason responsible for your life, if I have any say, then I‘ll do everything in my power to keep you alive if that‘s possible. Whatever it takes. I can‘t be any other way. I know you probably want to hear something different, but it wouldn‘t be the truth."

B‘Elanna looked at him for a long moment, then nodded slowly. "Fair enough."

Tom looked at her, nonplused. "Fair enough?"

"That‘s an honest answer, Tom," B‘Elanna said simply. "I can hardly condemn you for that."

"Well, since we‘re being completely and painfully honest, I have to tell you, now that the crisis is over and I‘ve had time to reflect on it, I think Janeway made the right decision, not just personally, but ethically."

B‘Elanna sighed. "Tom, maybe we should quit while we‘re...ahead."

Tom thought maybe they should just get this issue closed once and for all. Or as closed as it could be given their differences of opinion. "I see your position, and the merit of your argument, B‘Elanna, and I understand your feelings. But it‘s not the only position. No matter how unethically the knowledge was obtained, if it could save your life, hell, if it could keep saving others, I don‘t know that it should be disregarded just because the source was reprehensible. It just means that even more innocent lives might be lost that could be saved. That doesn‘t make the guilty, the real Krell Moset, pay. Maybe it just keeps serving his evil, allows him to win. Maybe using the knowledge he gained for good instead actually dilutes his evil a little, and turns it back on him."

B‘Elanna stared at Tom, then shook her head. "It‘s a moot point, Tom. The doctor deleted all that knowledge from the database. He decided that using the data justified the methods."

"I know. That was his choice, and I understand it. I‘m sure it would have been yours. I can‘t honestly say that it would have been mine. In fact, I‘m pretty sure now that it wouldn‘t have. Which probably makes a lot of people on this ship glad I‘m not in charge of the medical department."

They stood silently looking at each other for several moments. B‘Elanna found to her surprise that she wasn‘t really angry about Tom‘s latest revelation. She couldn‘t force her views on him, and one thing he wasn‘t was a pushover. It was one of the things she‘d always admired about him. She didn‘t know if the disquiet she was feeling was because his ethical view was so diametric to hers in this case, or because hers suddenly didn‘t seem so absolute, so securely "right" anymore.

"B‘Elanna." Tom reached out and rested one hand lightly on her arm. It was the first time he‘d touched her since she‘d been released from Sickbay. She didn‘t pull away, but she make any move to respond either. "We don‘t have to think the same way, and we don‘t have to agree on everything." His lips quirked just a little, and he added wryly, "You and I, we‘ll never agree on everything." And they both knew that was an understatement. "Does it matter?"

"Not as long as we both respect each other‘s positions. As long as we can respect them."

Tom let his hand slip away from B‘Elanna‘s arm. "Are you saying that you can‘t respect my position on this?" he asked her.

B‘Elanna shook her head. "No. A few days ago if we had discussed this, I would have been convinced that there was only one moral position on this issue. But now, I‘m not so sure anymore. I don‘t know if it‘s because the issue really is ambiguous, or if it‘s because I desperately want to feel some justification for being alive."

"Most of the time I don‘t think there is just one right, absolute answer, B‘Elanna. Take the Prime Directive for instance...." Tom paused, then shook his head ruefully. "There‘s a reason why the ethical merits of that directive are still being debated after a hundred years. As for Krell Moset‘s unethically obtained knowledge, it took me three days just to figure out how I really feel about it, and believe me I have no clue if I‘m right. I just know what I feel. And part of what I feel is sheer gratitude that you‘re standing here now in front of me, even if you are angry with me, even if this ultimately changes things between us."

"I don‘t know if it does or not," B‘Elanna said quietly. Tom frowned, and looked away for a moment, obviously trying to control his feelings. This time she reached out and touched his arm. "But I do know it doesn‘t change what‘s fundamentally between us. I‘m not angry that you have your own opinion, and I don‘t expect you to change it for me, any more than I can change mine for you. I can‘t make you something you‘re not, Tom. And you can‘t make me something I‘m not."

Tom shook his head. "B‘Elanna, I wouldn‘t even want to do that."

"So I suppose we can just put this down to learning something new about each other. And now we just try and work through it. Again."

Tom nodded, feeling an incredible sense of relief at wry way she said that last word, at her obvious willingness to overcome this latest bump in their relationship. "We do seem to be pretty good at surviving setbacks. A lot of setbacks." She smiled a little at that, and he smiled back, and put his hand on top of hers. "And we can survive this, B‘Elanna, as long as you can forgive me."

"You weren‘t intentionally trying to hurt me, or betray me. I know that...." B‘Elanna hesitated, sounding a little frustrated. "I‘m not sure there‘s anything to forgive you for..."

"I don‘t want you to resent anything I‘ve said or done, B‘Elanna," Tom said quietly. "And I think you‘re still not quite over your anger about this."

B‘Elanna looked at him, then nodded. "Maybe not completely. But it‘s not directed at you. Not most of it anyway. And at least I‘m pretty sure I can deal with it now."

Tom wrapped his hand around hers, trapping it. "Then forgive me for my part in making you angry. And for letting the situation overwhelm me. For handling it so badly. For being afraid to tell you right away. For disappointing you. For designing the Captain Proton program..."

B‘Elanna‘s mouth quirked just a little at Tom‘s last statement. He could never resist the necessity to inject humor when he was nervous. She looked at his hand holding hers securely, and at the hopeful expression on his face. "I don‘t know if I can forgive you for that last part..."

Tom smiled, and B‘Elanna‘s intercom beeped at that moment.

"Lieutenant Torres."

B‘Elanna sighed. "Yes, Doctor?"

"Are you in bed?"


"It is now 2200 hours. Given the healing your body has been undergoing it is important that you get eight hours of sleep before returning to Engineering duty tomorrow."

B‘Elanna frowned. "Doctor, I think I can figure out how much sleep I need."

"That is hardly evident, given the circles under your eyes when I saw you this afternoon. If you are still finding it difficult to sleep I can give you a sedative-"

"I don‘t need one."

The doctor was apparently unaffected by her snappish tone. "I presume that means you are getting into bed right now."

She looked at Tom, and rolled her eyes. "Sure, Doctor."

"And you can tell Lieutenant Paris to leave now. You can do that some other night."

Tom‘s mouth dropped open and he almost laughed, except that B‘Elanna looked really irritated. "What would that be, Doc?"

The doctor obviously chose to ignore Tom‘s mockery. "Lieutenant

Paris, I must point out that you looked none to rested when you were on duty in Sickbay this afternoon. I suggest you go get some sleep also or I‘ll have to schedule you for a complete physical to find out why you are sleep deprived-"

"All right, Doctor. We get your point." Tom shook his head at B‘Elanna, motioning her to give up, so they could get the doctor off the intercom.

"Good. Follow my orders please, Lieutenants."

"Of course." B‘Elanna‘s voice was sweetly agreeable. "We wouldn‘t do anything else."

"Very well." The doctor sounded suspicious, but there was little else could he say. "Goodnight."

"Goodnight, Doctor."

Tom looked at B‘Elanna as the channel closed. "He‘s right you know. You do look tired."

"I‘ve had a lot on my mind," B‘Elanna said, unnecessarily. Her expression became a little remote. "I still do. And my dreams haven‘t been very pleasant lately."

Tom nodded. He could certainly understand that. Neither had his.

He squeezed her hand lightly. "You need sleep. And truthfully, so do I. I‘d better go." He leaned over and dropped a light kiss on her forehead.
"You can stay, if you want."

B‘Elanna tone was restrained and Tom straightened and looked down at her. It was hardly her most enthusiastic invitation, and for a moment Tom thought she was being polite. B‘Elanna being polite? Beside that unlikely scenario, he saw a quick flash of emotion in her eyes. She wanted him to stay. But after the emotional turmoil they‘d both been through the past few days, and the slight tension that was still between them despite the understanding they‘d reached with each other tonight, he wondered if they should push it.

"I don‘t know if that is a good idea-"

"Not for that," she said softly, mimicking the doctor.

He started to smile, but her expression was serious. He understood.

He was tired of his own tormented company over the past few days. The knowledge that she didn‘t want to be alone either, that she wanted him to be here with her despite everything...he swallowed quickly before he spoke in a casual tone, "Can I use your shower?"

B‘Elanna nodded.

"Can you turn off that damned incense?"

She gave him a perturbed look.

"Okay, never mind. I‘ll be back in a couple of minutes." He squeezed her shoulder and slipped past her toward the bathroom, before either of them thought better of the arrangement.

She was in bed snuggled under the covers when he returned. For a moment he wasn‘t sure she even remembered that he was still here, that she hadn‘t curled up and gone to sleep. Then she reached behind her and pushed one side of the covers down.

He slipped in beside her and spooned himself around her. She was warm. Even through the heavy cotton of her pajamas he could feel the warmth of her radiating into him, spreading across his stomach and chest as he pressed himself close to her. He crooked one arm so that his hand rested against her hair, and slipped his other arm beneath hers, letting it drop gently over her waist, so that his fingers could rest lightly against her stomach, where the warmth of her body met the bed. He had the urge to hug her tightly, but he contented himself in the comforting feeling of their bodies pressed together, the simple pleasure of lying beside her again. In the briefing room he‘d had a few horrible moments when he‘d been sure that the argument wasn‘t going his way, that Janeway was going to agree to let B‘Elanna die, that the last time he would see her he would be watching that alien slug suck the last of her life away. That hadn‘t happened, except in his nightmares the last few nights.

B‘Elanna shifted her arm and he felt something brush his hand. Then her smaller hand closed over his, and she threaded her fingers into his. He did hug her closer than, and pressed his lips lightly against her hair. His voice was just a whisper when he spoke. "I love you, B‘Elanna."

B‘Elanna‘s fingers tightened over his and she pressed his hand closer against her stomach. "Me, too," she murmured sleepily.

Tom had to smile at that. //Touche, B‘Elanna//. He snuggled a little closer to her, though there was now little space left to cross, and he fell asleep nearly as quickly as she did.


The Bajoran woman was strapped to the table. She didn‘t struggle, or cry. She simply looked at the man standing over her with a stoic expression, refusing to show fear or pain. Krell Moset looked down at her, a distracted, congenially blank look on his face. He cut her slowly, displaying no particular pleasure in it, and no particular regret, as if it was meaningless to him. As if she was meaningless. He pulled the sharp scalpel up and shook it toward the side of the table, spraying excess bits of blood and tissue on the floor, that would quickly become indistinguishable from the other extensive bloodstains that deeply discolored its surface. He looked carefully at the blade, then apparently satisfied that it was again usable, looked down at his subject. This time as he looked into her eyes, defiant and calm, despite the fact that he had just laid open a good part of her abdomen, his own eyes took on expression. He looked at her with condescending approval, a small smile crossing his lips.

"Very good of you to cooperate, my dear," he said approvingly. "What I learn from your reaction to this direct application of cyanitoxin will help determine the best course for a treatment for Mielotian Syndrome. Very important research indeed."

His voice was matter of fact, tinged with satisfaction and even mild enthusiasm. B‘Elanna, standing several meters from the table, though she had no idea how or when she had gotten there, shivered at that voice, then felt her fury consume her. She at the table but something stopped her and she bounced back almost immediately, landing hard on her rear end. "You monster," she screamed, but Krell Moset didn‘t look at her. He didn‘t hear her. He simply repositioned the scalpel again.

B‘Elanna picked herself up and prepared to attack again, no matter what stood in her way. Then the Bajoran woman spoke, and B‘Elanna paused. Her voice, soft and imperturbable despite the circumstances, was mesmerizing.

"You won‘t win. You can take my life but your evil won‘t triumph in the end. Evil never does," she said, and the scalpel in Krell Moset‘s hand stilled. For only a brief moment. Then he shrugged, unconcerned, and the scalpel moved down again. The woman continued to speak as if she didn‘t notice. "Something good will come of it one day. A murderer like you can‘t make or stop that. You can only destroy your own pathetic poisoned soul."

The woman turned her head then and stared straight at B‘Elanna, her eyes sad and wise, and B‘Elanna found herself unable to look away. "He can‘t destroy anyone else‘s soul. Not mine, not yours. And he can‘t stop you from making your life a testament to what I and others like me have given you. It was our gift. Our legacy, however unchosen by us or you. But it‘s your choice how to use it."

The woman pushed herself up on the bed, and Krell Moset stepped back, surprised. She ignored him, her gaze still on B‘Elanna. "He gave you nothing," she said as she stretched a hand out toward B‘Elanna. "He was no more than an instrument, an empty soulless vessel, now cursed to the depths of damnation. Let him stay that way."

B‘Elanna reached for the woman‘s hand, through the barrier that was no longer there. Their fingers touched, then slipped apart. And then the woman was gone. The room was gone, Krell Moset was gone, it was all gone. And B‘Elanna stood alone, in whiteness that surrounded her like thick fog.

B‘Elanna sat up then and stared into the darkness. It took her a moment to realize that she was in her quarters. Something heavy lay across her waist, and she laid her hand on Tom‘s arm, feeling the solid warmth of his skin and the soft sprinkling of hairs under her fingers. He shifted and mumbled something, but he didn‘t wake up.

The dream again. Only it hadn‘t been quite the same. It had still been disturbing but she hadn‘t awakened with the same sense of despair this time. The end...the Bajoran woman‘s words...she had a feeling Chakotay would tell her that it had been a message, a vision. Or maybe it was her own mind accepting the possibility of another interpretation of what had happened to her—that she was alive not to sanction Krell Moset‘s evil, but to spite it.

She glanced down at Tom, and in the darkness she could only make out the shadowy shape of his face and tousled hair. She knew now that Tom and Chakotay had been on opposite sides of the issue of Krell Moset and her treatment in the briefing room. She wondered if either of them had a clue how much their positions had moved toward each other‘s. And that they had both helped her to at least start to resolve her feelings, showed her that perhaps sometimes there were no absolutes, sometimes it was a matter of perception. Given her a chance to find one that she could, if not be happy about, at least manage to live with.

B‘Elanna slipped down under the covers, and pressed her back against the solid warmth of Tom‘s body. He obliged her action by shifting again toward her, and his arm tightened around her waist, pulling her closer to him. She could tell from his very soft snore that he was still sound asleep. She snuggled against him and slowly closed her own eyes, sure that she would be able now to reconcile what had happened to her, even if it took a while to completely accept, and to completely forget. Even if she still had regrets, and doubts. She could live with them. She could just...live.

Warm and comfortable, wrapped in Tom‘s arms, she fell asleep. And this time there was no dream at all.


The end