Title: The Real Thing
Author: Julie Evans
Date posted: 1/20/00
Summary: A brief conversation takes place between Tom and B'Elanna. Set right after the events in the episode "Fair Haven."
Disclaimer: Star Trek and its characters are the property of
Viacom/Paramount. I am borrowing them for fun only, not profit.
Notes: Okay to archive to the ASC, PTCollective Archive, PTFever Archive, and the BLTS. All others please ask author for permission.
"The Real Thing"
by Julie Evans
He spotted her in just about the farthest corner of main engineering, panel covers and the tools of her trade scattered on the deck around her. He nodded to Joe Carey and Shaun Mulcahy, who were both immersed in their own repairs, and skirted around the warp core. He managed to avoid stepping on or tripping over any of her tools as he crouched down next to her. She was half hidden inside one of the open panels and she hadn't heard his approach over the ever-present hum of the engines and the warp core that permeated engineering.
B'Elanna jerked her head around, looking momentarily annoyed, though her expression softened--slightly--when she saw who it was. "Hey."
"I thought maybe you could use a break," Tom said, settling into a sitting position on the deck, and letting his back rest against the bulkhead. He balanced the tray he'd been carrying on his lap.
B'Elanna glanced at the tray. "Thanks, but I grabbed dinner a little while ago," she said. She leaned back into the open panel, returning her attention to the plasma relay she was working on.
"It's not dinner," Tom said. He lifted the cover off the tray. "It's dessert."
B'Elanna pulled herself out of the interior of the panel again and looked at the offering.
"Raktajino," Tom said, indicating the two steaming cups. "And Neelix's triple layer German chocolate cake."
B'Elanna's eyes were trained on the cake, one of the few dishes Neelix made straight from the recipe rather than embellishing with his own brand of "improvements."
"Take a break," Tom said, his tone half-cajoling, half-demanding. He knew very well that B'Elanna would simply ignore the demand, and was rarely swayed by simple cajoling on his part, which was why he'd brought along the chocolate reinforcements.
B'Elanna looked at him sharply for a moment, and then dropped the fuser in her hand onto the deck. "I guess I can take a short break."
"The ship made it through the radiation edge of the neutronic storm pretty well," Tom said conversationally as she settled next to him. He handed her one of the cups of raktajino. "At least warp drive stayed on line."
B'Elanna glanced at the clear chamber several meters away. The core inside glowed in healthy shades of blue. She could spot a color variation that didn't belong there in a second. "The warp core came through fine. But it will still take time to repair all the blown relays and conduits."
"Well, we have plenty of that," Tom said.
B'Elanna took the plate and fork he offered her. "Mmmm," she said appreciatively as she took a bite of the cake. "Bribery will get you everywhere," she told him with a small grin. "Want some?"
Tom shook his head. "No, thanks. It's all for you."
He said it as if it was a sacrifice, though B'Elanna knew he'd take something like pizza any day over chocolate. There was definitely something wrong with him, but she'd come to accept that. "How is the bridge?"
"In good shape," Tom said. He cautiously sipped his still steaming raktajino. "There are still a few minor repairs to be made, but that's it."
"What about Fair Haven?" B'Elanna asked as she took another bite of cake.
Tom shrugged and gave her a wry smile. "That didn't fare so well. Harry and I were able to save about ten percent of the program. The rest will have to be reconstructed."
"That's too bad," B'Elanna said sincerely enough, though in the scope of things, such as keeping the ship intact, it was a minor loss. Still she knew he'd worked hard on the program.
"Yeah," Tom agreed. "I wish you'd seen more of it."
"I saw it," B'Elanna reminded him. She'd gone once with Tom right after he'd first finished it, and had walked through the town with him. As usual, it had been a faultless recreation.
"But you didn't get a chance to really experience it," Tom said, sounding a little disappointed.
"I was a little busy with the neutronic storm," B'Elanna reminded him shortly. "It put a lot of strain on the engines."
"You're still entitled to a break once in a while," Tom said, his voice mild. "You have an experienced, capable staff."
"I'm taking a break right now," she said, her voice a little testy. It was a subject that came up periodically between them, her insistence on overseeing everything in engineering personally. "I'm running the largest department on the ship, and that doesn't leave me a lot of free time."
"And you're a workaholic." Tom smiled as he said it, sounding more regretful than reproachful.
"Does that make you a playaholic, Tom?" B'Elanna asked. Her smile had an acerbic edge.
Tom's eyes narrowed a little on her. "I was asked to create this program for the crew. And we all need to relax and wind down sometimes."
"Right," B'Elanna said. She didn't miss his emphasis on the word "all."
"I put a lot of time into it because I wanted to do the best job I could," he added, his voice getting testy now. "I didn't neglect any of my duties."
"I know that too," she said. She set her empty plate on the tray with a small clatter. "I was just teasing you. Don't get defensive."
He was silent, and they stared at each other for a moment, knowing they were both being defensive. Then B'Elanna sighed and leaned her head back against the bulkhead.
Tom knew that was her signal that she didn't want to argue. He didn't want to argue either. "Tired?" he asked gently.
"A little," she admitted. She knew it wasn't his fault she had a tendency to overwork herself. She took a sip her raktajino, and then turned to look at him. "You did do a great job on Fair Haven, Tom. Everyone who went there loved it. I'm sorry I didn't get a chance to see more of it."
"Harry and I can fix it," Tom said. "It'll probably take six or seven weeks, putting in an hour or two here and there, but we'll get it up and running again. Then I'll give you the complete tour. Not just the town, but the seaside. There's this quaint little inn you might like that overlooks the water..."
She smiled at his suggestive half-grin. "Okay," she agreed. "You're on."
"What about the dress?" Tom asked, giving her sly look.
B'Elanna knew he was referring to the dress he'd pointed out in a window of one of the small shops they'd passed on their brief walk through Fair Haven. "Red's not my color," she said, for lack of a better reason.
"Red is definitely your color, B'Elanna," he said unequivocally. "It would look great on you, and you'd fit right in with the time period."
"I'll think about it," she said finally.
Tom knew her noncommittal response was the best he was going to get, since B'Elanna had a limited interest in programs that included either role playing or dressing up. He wisely decided to let the subject drop for the moment.
"Are you going to keep Fair Haven exactly the same?" B'Elanna asked.
"As much as possible," Tom said. "Everyone liked it the way it was, so I don't want to change anything. Harry and I managed to save most of the characters, since they are the hardest to recreate, especially their memories. But we'll have to recreate most of the buildings and the seaside again."
B'Elanna gave him a curious look. "What about Michael Sullivan?"
Though B'Elanna hadn't visited the pub, nor met the publican, she knew his name. Everyone on the ship did, though most of the crew only knew that the captain had been seen in his company in the Fair Haven program several times. Anything else was rumor, except to the few like Tom who'd been in the pub when Michael had been spilling both his whiskey and his feelings. Those few had kept that incident to themselves, but Tom had told B'Elanna everything. "His program is intact," Tom said.
"With the changes the captain made?"
Tom nodded. He didn't think most of the crew had been familiar enough with the character to be aware of those changes--that Michael was a little taller, and more erudite...and that he no longer had a wife.
B'Elanna shook her head. "I don't know what to think about it. I really thought at one time that she and Chakotay..."
Her voice trailed off, but Tom knew what she meant. It had certainly crossed his mind, though less often in the past year or so. But Janeway was Starfleet born and bred, not unlike him. The only difference was that she followed the rules better than he did. "That was never going to happen. She's the captain. She can't have a relationship with one of her crew."
"It's not like it's never been done, Tom," B'Elanna said, never one to pay much attention to rules that didn't make sense to her. "And our situation is different. We're alone out here, so it's not like she has a lot of other options."
"I think it's *because* our situation is different that she is so strident about not involving herself with anyone on the ship," Tom said. "Out here she has no escape from her sense of responsibility for all of us. And if the relationship took a bad turn...well, she won't take a chance on compromising her position."
B'Elanna didn't look entirely convinced by his argument but she nodded. "I guess I can understand that. But I still can't understand why she would want to settle for a hologram."
"Of course you don't understand," Tom said. He gave her a cocky grin. "You have me."
"That's true, Tom, but I don't like to be reminded," she said dryly.
Tom laughed at her quick return. "Ouch. Touche." His expression sobered a little. "Seriously though, it's like you said. The captain doesn't have a lot of options. We don't stay anywhere long enough for her to get involved with someone outside the ship, and it's not an option with anyone on the crew." He frowned. "She's got to be pretty lonely. I mean, we've been out here almost six years now..."
B'Elanna understood his unspoken implication. She tried to imagine Tom going without sex for six years. She tried to imagine herself going without, now. "Sex is one thing, Tom. But emotional involvement? Do you think she...cares about him?"
Tom shrugged. "I don't know how she feels. But I can understand that she has needs, and maybe not all physical. I'm not going to judge her for that."
"I'm not judging her, Tom," B'Elanna said quietly. She knew Tom had a bit of a protective response when it came to the captain. No matter what else had happened between them, he was on Voyager living this life because of Janeway, and it was something he never forgot. She couldn't help but admire his sense of loyalty, even if it sometimes annoyed her a little. "I just wonder how it can be enough for her."
"I guess it's better than nothing," Tom said. His gaze was distracted, as if his thoughts were somewhere else.
Neither of them spoke for several moments as B'Elanna sipped the last of her raktajino. She set the cup on the tray, and then looked at him curiously. "Did you ever...?"
Tom looked at her, a little disconcerted by her unfinished question, though he clearly understood what she was asking. It was a subject they'd never discussed. He fixed his gaze away from her again, on the pulsing blue warp core. "If you recall I was a pariah for the first few months I was on Voyager. Almost no one would give me the time of day, not that I necessarily blamed them." His lips quirked, though there was no answering glint of humor in his eyes. "And it had been a long time since I'd...scratched that particular itch."
B'Elanna remembered the way Tom had worn his womanizing persona so deliberately in those early days, openly making advances to almost any female crewmember, though his advances were always rebuffed, as he almost certainly knew they would be. She wasn't prudish about sex; it was a simple biological need. If Tom had slaked that need with the most obvious option available to him, she didn't blame him for it. She understood sexual need.
"That was a long time ago," he murmured, his gaze briefly distant. "And it got old fast." He didn't offer any further details. He turned to look at her instead, with a teasing gleam in his eyes. "At least with the real thing there's a challenge involved. And you know I love a challenge."
B'Elanna's eyes narrowed at his soft drawl, but there was definite hint of amusement in her expression. "The thrill of the chase, Tom?"
"Something like that," Tom said. "What is that saying...nothing worthwhile comes easy?" He smiled at her. "And in one particular instance it was worth every effort."
B'Elanna smiled slowly back. "Was it?"
"Absolutely," Tom said. "Hi, Sue."
Sue Nicoletti greeted them both with a smile and a nod she walked by. They watched her pass, heading toward the upper level of engineering with several tools in hand. B'Elanna looked at her own tools on the deck next to her, as if she'd just realized they were there. She shifted a little. "I should--"
"So, what about you?" Tom asked at the same time that she began to speak.
B'Elanna looked at him blankly for a moment, her attention refocusing on their conversation. "Did I ever..." She shook her head. "No."
Tom looked at her curiously now. "Why not?"
She shrugged. She'd certainly felt her own measure of sexual frustration back then. But sex became complicated when emotions got involved, and that had been something she'd known would happen with anyone on Voyager. She'd resolutely avoided that kind of involvement, until Tom. Straight uncomplicated sex would have been easy enough on the
holodeck, and she knew Tom was hardly the only person who had
availed himself of that method, but she could never quite bring herself to do it. Even in that area she'd been more comfortable relying on herself. "You know I'm not very good at pretending. I just never saw any advantages."
"The captain saw certain advantages in a hololover," Tom said.
B'Elanna grimaced a little at that term. "Hololover, Tom? That sounds so...smarmy."
"Maybe," Tom agreed. "But a hologram can be exactly who you want him to be." He gave her a wry look. "You could make him into the perfect man."
B'Elanna snorted. "The perfect man?"
"Sure. Someone who wouldn't argue with you, or show up late, or hog all the covers. Someone who would share exactly the same interests, and who would always know the right thing to say--"
"He sounds pretty dull," B'Elanna said dryly.
Tom shrugged. "But it would be a no-risk relationship. He would never let you down, or hurt you."
B'Elanna met Tom's unwavering gaze. They both knew that had been an issue for her from the beginning. "You're right. He *couldn't* hurt me, because I wouldn't have any feelings about him to hurt. He wouldn't be real, Tom. And no matter how perfect he was, *his* feelings wouldn't be real either."
"Michael's feelings for the captain seemed pretty real," Tom said. He couldn't forget Michael's distress in the pub.
B'Elanna shook her head. "His feelings can be turned off, Tom. He can be reprogrammed to forget he ever had them. Besides, doesn't he think the captain is someone from his own world, from nineteenth century Ireland? He doesn't even know who she really is. How meaningful can his feelings really be?"
Tom frowned. "I don't know," he admitted.
"That's what bothers me about the captain's...involvement," B'Elanna said. "No matter how you look at it, it's not real. It can't be, because Michael Sullivan's not real."
"He's not in one sense," Tom agreed. "But what about the doctor? Isn't he real, a sentient lifeform, even if he's not flesh and blood?"
B'Elanna frowned. "Maybe," she conceded. "But the doctor's program is far more sophisticated than any holodeck program. He's crossed a line and become self-evolving. Regular holograms are just...cardboard people."
"The captain locked Michael's program so it can't be manipulated from the outside, by her or anyone else. So his personality parameters can't be changed. There's nothing to say he can't evolve now, like the doctor did."
"Maybe," B'Elanna said again, more doubtfully this time. She couldn't see how Michael Sullivan's program could ever become that complex, but she bypassed that argument. "But even if he evolved, even if he eventually came to know the captain as her real self, as Kathryn Janeway, he can never leave the holodeck. She can't ever wake up and find him lying beside her, or turn to him to share a spontaneous thought, or come into her quarters after a long day and find him waiting there..." She caught Tom's surprised gaze on her and paused at the small smile he couldn't quite hide. She cleared her throat. "|The point is, she can only see him if the holodeck schedule happens to have an opening for a couple of hours. He can never completely *be* with her."
"I think she understands those limitations," Tom said, his expresson sobering. She may care about him, she may accept his affection and companionship, but she's not in love with him. She's too smart to expect more than she can have."
"I hope so," B'Elanna said.
"I know so," Tom returned. "But she still deserves a little fun, and a little affection from someone."
He didn't say "even if it's just a hologram," but B'Elanna heard those words in her own mind. "You may not be the programmable perfect man, Tom," she said lightly. "In fact you're not even close--"
"Thanks," Tom grumbled.
"But if I don't know anything else, I do know that you wanted me not because I programmed you to want me, but because you actually wanted *me.*" She paused, and her expression was completely unguarded for a moment. "All of me, who really I am, faults and dual heritage and everything."
"That's not past tense, B'Elanna," Tom told her softly. He touched her cheek lightly and then let his hand drop to her knee. "It's definitely not past tense."
B'Elanna smiled. "I know. You do keep hanging around."
"We both keep hanging around," Tom pointed out. "And we haven't always made it easy on each other, have we?"
B'Elanna looked at him thoughtfully. "That's the point isn't it, Tom? It hasn't been easy." Her lips quirked again, because they both knew that was an understatement. "But we've persisted, even when it would have been easier just to give up."
"But we didn't give up," he said softly.
"Exactly," B'Elanna said. She rested her hand over his. "And we couldn't just hit 'reprogram' to fix everything. Our relationship has survived this far because we've fought for it." She smirked a little. "Okay, maybe we've fought all the way *through* it too..."
Tom laughed. "We don't fight all the time."
"Not *all* the time," B'Elanna agreed. "But it's definitely part of us. We may not be perfect, but we're real. And whatever we have, however long it lasts, it means something *because* we've made the effort for it. We've earned it."
"However long it lasts?" Tom asked lightly, trying not to be bothered by the easy way she'd said that. "Haven't I said before that I see a future in this?"
B'Elanna nodded. "I believe I do recall you saying that. And it is a possibility."
"A possibility?" Tom echoed.
B'Elanna brow furrowed as if she was seriously pondering. Then she smiled teasingly and squeezed his hand.. "A real possibility," she said, the double meaning in her words intentional. She shifted and looked at the tools scattered around her. "But right now my immediate future is at least two more hours of repairing plasma relays."
Before she could get up he reached around her and picked up one of the spare fusers. "I'm pretty good with one of these, you know. If I help you we can cut that time in half."
"You want to help me, Tom?" B'Elanna asked. She gave him a contemplative look. "I suppose then you'll expect a reward for your efforts."
"You suspect my innocent motives, B'Elanna?" Tom asked, his expression hurt. "I never expect a reward for helping. Besides, I was thinking I would reward you. Reality doesn't mean your fantasies can't come true too."
B'Elanna snorted, and rolled her eyes at his shameless grin. "If I did create a holographic lover, he would never utter a line like that."
"Which is why you prefer me," Tom said, leaning close to her.
"Because you're an egotistical, incorrigible pig?" B'Elanna asked, her voice a low growl.
"Yep," Tom said, leaning even closer so that his breath fanned across her mouth. "And I love it when you talk sweet to me."
They were both perfectly still, their bodies tensed, and for several moments their mouths lingered mere millimeters apart. B'Elanna pulled back first, and pointed to one of the open panels several meters away. "You start there, and I'll meet you in the middle."
"Yes, maam," Tom said smartly.
"Then we'll see how fantasy compares with reality," she said, giving him a promising and slightly wicked grin before she slipped halfway into the open panel where he'd found her a few minutes earlier.
Tom knew exactly how fantasy compared with reality. He'd had more than a passing familiarity with insubstantial romantic liasons that had only the barest illusion of meaning, and not only on the holodeck. It had taken him a while to appreciate the difference, but he did now. In more ways than one, he'd take the real thing any day.
He spared a brief thought for Captain Janeway, and he hoped whatever she was expecting from Michael Sullivan it would work out the way she wanted without her regretting it in the end.
B'Elanna popped her head out, startling him out of his thoughts. She glanced at the fuser in his hand and then glared at him meaningfully. He gave her his most engagingly apologetic smile. Her eyebrows rose, but a small smile tugged at her lips. She gave him one final glare to hide it before her head disappeared again.
Still smiling, and mindful of getting the job done so they could move on to other, better things, Tom got to work.