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 one scene coda to the episode "Extreme Risk". P/T, rated PG.
Notes: Many thanks in general to the online P/T communities for several insights I garnered from the many debates and critiques about the episode "Extreme Risk". There is a bit of angst here (come on, it is a direct coda to "Extreme Risk"), but hopefully not too much. Also a lot of talk. Self revelations and banana pancakes :)
"A Risk Worth Taking"
by Julie Evans (Juli17@aol.com)
The warm maple taste of the banana pancakes filled her mouth and slid smoothly down her throat as she swallowed, and a genuine smile lit up B‘Elanna Torres face, one of both pleasure and relief. They tasted good. They truly tasted good, and nothing had, not really, not for quite a while. She felt a warm glow spread from her solar plexus, and that too felt incredibly good. She reveled in the feeling of simple contentment, because for the past few months that feeling had been harder and harder to capture, even for brief moments, and in the past few weeks it had eluded her completely. She took another bite of the pancakes, and chewed slowly, savoring the taste.
He said her name softly, aware that she hadn‘t seen him come into the darkened Mess hall, and that she hadn‘t yet realized that he was standing a meter away from her, watching her. He didn‘t want to disturb that smile on her face, a genuine open smile, not like the ones she‘d mustered in the past few weeks with obvious effort when the situation required, the ones that hadn‘t eased the lines of tension on her face or hidden the bleak vacant look in her eyes. The ones that he‘d tried so hard not to see.
Her smile remained as she turned and looked at him. She watched him slide into the chair across from her, not quite relaxing into it but remaining perched on the edge. He smiled, tentatively, and glanced at her plate. "Pancakes?"
B‘Elanna nodded. "Banana pancakes. My grandmother used to make them for me when I was a little girl."
"Not your Klingon grandmother?" Tom asked.
"No, my human grandmother. She used to visit occasionally, even after my father left. At least until her and my mother couldn‘t stand being in the same room with each other any more."
Tom gave her a sympathetic look. "Oh. I‘m sorry."
"She wrote me sometimes, long letters..." B‘Elanna paused, looking at her pancakes, then at Tom. He was still perched on the edge of his chair, and she could sense that he was unsure. Waiting. When she‘d boarded the Delta shuttle earlier Tom‘s hopeful, pleased "welcome back" had been laced with deeper meaning. They‘d had no chance to talk then, but she‘d felt his gaze on her several times as they‘d pursued the probe. After she‘d patched the impending hull breach and rigged the force field and they‘d all managed to survive, Harry and she had exchanged triumphant smiles, then she‘d turned to find Tom staring at her intently. She wasn‘t sure if he was assuring himself she was unhurt after wrestling to get the force field in place, or if he was trying to gauge her mood, to decide if she was truly was "herself" again. Their eyes had met and locked, and for several moments it had been as if Harry and Seven, who‘d begun debating the likely length of repair time to the damaged shuttle, weren‘t even there.
Tom was studying her just as intently now, expectantly.
Waiting for her to make a move, to give him a sign.
B‘Elanna raised her fork. "Bite?"
Tom looked at the fork she held in front of him, and his lips quirked. Then he opened his mouth and accepted her offering. He chewed, tasting the banana and warm maple syrup. "Those are pretty good," he said, swallowing.
"Why don‘t you replicate some and join me."
Tom nodded at B‘Elanna‘s invitation, and she took several bites of her pancakes as Tom busied himself at the replicator. She could sense the slight tension between them, the lingering effect of the distance that she had wedged between them during the past several weeks as she‘d repeatedly pushed him away. She didn‘t mind the tension, the simple fact that she noticed it—felt it—somehow comforted her. Her head shot up as Tom set a glass of milk on the table.
"That‘s for me," Tom said, and the small grin he gave her as their eyes met was easy this time. "This is for you."
"Thanks." B‘Elanna accepted the steaming cup of raktajino and watched Tom set his plate on the table and move the tray aside. She stared at the huge stack of pancakes on the plate, and her own mouth quirked. "Hungry, Tom?"
"Yeah, I am. I guess surviving that shuttle mission—thanks to you—gave me an appetite." He smiled at her again, then helped himself to a large bite of the pancakes.
"Thanks to all of us," B‘Elanna said, returning his smile. "You finished the follow up quickly," she added. She‘d left for Engineering with the initial damage reports to assemble teams and set up a repair schedule, while Tom had stayed behind with Harry and Seven to debrief the captain and run the full damage diagnostics.
"I left Harry and Seven to finish the final reports," Tom said. Actually Harry had leaned over him while he was finishing the navigation diagnostics and had told him to go find B‘Elanna. Tom had met Harry‘s knowing smile and he hadn‘t argued. He‘d just thanked his friend and left.
"Oh." B‘Elanna didn‘t say anything else, but she gave him a pleased look. A short silence descended as they ate their pancakes. Their eyes met periodically, assessing, probing. The silence was expectant, but not uncomfortable. B‘Elanna finished her pancakes and pushed her plate aside, picking up the still warm cup of raktajino. She opened her mouth to speak, but Tom beat her to it.
"B‘Elanna..." He paused, and pushed his fork into his half eaten stack of pancakes. He looked closely at her. "You do feel better."
It was a statement, not a question, and B‘Elanna nodded. "Yes. Better." She took a sip of her raktajino. "Maybe not...completely myself, but definitely better."
Tom nodded, looking satisfied. He forked another bite of his pancakes, his eyes watching her silently.
B‘Elanna broke the silence this time. "I‘m sorry about the other night in your quarters," she said quietly, her gaze dropping as she took another sip of her raktajino.
Tom knew what she was referring to. Not the fact that she hadn‘t wanted to talk, or to stay. In the past few weeks that had been a recurring pattern with them. They‘d mutually ignored the growing distance between them, neither willing to admit the precarious state of their relationship, fearful of disturbing it further, wanting to believe that it was a temporary problem. At least that had been the case for him. But it had been more that night. When she‘d taken his hands and deliberately pulled them off her shoulders, as if she could no longer bear to be near him, it had been like a slap in the face. And still he‘d found a way to dismiss the hurt, to keep pretending that it wasn‘t serious, that she would come around. To completely bury his head in the sand.
"Tom, it wasn‘t you," B‘Elanna said softly, recapturing his attention, meeting his pensive gaze. "It was never you. It was me."
"I know." Tom dropped his fork on the table. "Was this all about the Maquis, B‘Elanna?"
B‘Elanna knew that Tom had been looking through her holoprograms with Chakotay and that they had both seen the Maquis one she had programmed months ago. And that Tom had agreed that Chakotay should be the one to confront her about it. She wasn‘t angry with either of them, even her initial anger at Chakotay had been more out of habit than real feeling. Secretly, deep down, she‘d been relieved that they‘d done it, and that Chakotay had confronted her and forced the issue.
Tom read in B‘Elanna‘s silence her acceptance of his interference—his and Chakotay‘s—and he also recognized her lingering hesitance to talk about what had happened. But he wanted to know. He wanted her to talk to him. "I knew you were very upset about what happened to the Maquis, but I didn‘t realize how upset until I saw that program..."
B‘Elanna saw the distressed look on Tom‘s face and she knew he deserved an answer. More than deserved it. She set her cup down but kept her gaze locked with his. "At the time, whenever I thought about what had happened to the Maquis—my friends—I felt like I was going to explode. I programmed it because...I guess I thought if I looked at them, at what had happened to them, I could vent the rage I felt, rant at the injustice. But that‘s not what happened. When I stood there looking at their dead bodies, I suddenly felt as dead as they were. It terrified me and I ended the program and never went back into it...until today."
"And you never told me about that program," Tom said quietly.
B‘Elanna shook her head. "No. I thought I could handle it myself, then when the program didn‘t work, I dismissed it, tried to forget about it. And with the Hirogen and then the clean up after they left, I did forget, for a while. But then, not long after, I started feeling...numb sometimes, like I needed something to challenge me, to make me feel...more alive. That‘s when I trying some new programs. Physical ones, risky ones..."
"With the safeties off."
B‘Elanna nodded at Tom‘s flat, slightly accusatory statement. "Yes. At first I just ran them occasionally, whenever I‘d feel a little...empty. Like something was missing. It wasn‘t that often, but the physical challenge always made me feel...invigorated afterwards. Able to face things."
"Face things. Like your work, your friends...me..."
B‘Elanna winced inwardly at the hint of pain behind Tom‘s emotionless observation. She wrapped her hands tightly around her cup. "Yes. Sometimes."
Tom looked down at his plate, then pushed it away. "I didn‘t even notice." He looked at her again. "But maybe I wasn‘t looking."
"I hid it well. There‘s no reason you would have noticed. And I really just did it occasionally, usually when we were on different shifts. Until we entered the void..." B‘Elanna paused, and looked down at the cup cradled in her hands. "I don‘t know why it got worse. Maybe it was the utter emptiness of the void. Somehow it started to mirror my own soul. I felt angry all the time, it seemed like the only thing I could feel then, when every other feeling seemed to be eluding me."
Tom nodded. He‘d realized in the void that B‘Elanna was acting more moody than usual, and angry. He‘d called her on it a couple of times. It was at that point that their relationship had started to feel strained, and they‘d started finding less and less time when they could be together, and that time had become more often than not fraught with tension.
"That‘s when I started using the programs on a regular basis, including the Day of Honor program."
"You used the safeties in that one," Tom pointed out, frowning.
"Only the time you did the program with me," B‘Elanna admitted. "Otherwise I left them off, in that program and all the others."
All the others. Tom knew from his investigation with Chakotay that B‘Elanna had programmed upwards of two dozen different high risk scenarios, and had been running them with increasing frequency over the past few weeks.
"After we left the void, I felt a little better. I tried to believe it was the void that had made everything worse, and with it behind us I would be fine."
Tom knew that was what he had believed at the time too, or had wanted to believe.
"I thought I could quit using the programs then. I meant to. I did for a couple of weeks. But it got so much worse again...I couldn‘t think, or concentrate...everything irritated me...using the programs was the only thing that brought back my concentration, that made me feel like I could get through the day, deal with my duties in Engineering..." B‘Elanna paused, and smiled wanly. "I think my engineering staff could barely tolerate me by then."
Tom didn‘t smile back. He noticed that B‘Elanna had abandoned her raktajino and her hands were clasped tightly together on the table. He wanted to touch her, but he didn‘t want to disturb the fragile state between them, to stop her from saying what she needed to say. He simply watched her as she continued.
"And after One...died, everything seemed to fall completely apart. Nothing mattered, I couldn‘t feel anything at all unless I was skydiving or fighting Cardassians, or...whatever. I could barely stand being in Engineering, I didn‘t want to talk to anyone who might question me, or expect an explanation. I didn‘t want concerned looks from people who would expect me to...care. Especially you." B‘Elanna raised her clasped hands and pressed them against her mouth, then lowered them again. Her eyes were bright. "I didn‘t want anyone to care, when I didn‘t care at all in return. All I wanted to do was get back on the holodeck, go through the motions, then use the regenerator I kept hidden in my quarters to repair the damage, and go to sleep. That was the only thing that mattered anymore."
"B‘Elanna..." Tom‘s voice came out hoarse, anguished. "When I found out that you were doing that to yourself over and over..." He hadn‘t wanted to believe it when he‘d first gotten word that she was in Sickbay and why. Worse, he hadn‘t wanted to face the fact that he‘d also been seized with a horrible sureness that it was true, and that somewhere, deep down, he wasn‘t even surprised. As if some part of him had known all along.
"Tom, I‘m sorry..."
Tom shook his head. He ran a hand through his hair. "I‘m the one who‘s sorry, B‘Elanna. I can‘t believe I didn‘t see what you were doing, what you were going through..." He closed his eyes. "That I was barely even there for you..."
"Weren‘t you, Tom?"
Tom‘s eyes flew open and his startled gaze met B‘Elanna‘s contemplative one.
"I almost started to depend on the fact that you would cover for me, run interference when I couldn‘t keep my attention from wandering. I knew you were doing it, in the briefings, in the Shuttlebay. I didn‘t care enough to even be angry that you were protecting me when you know how I hate that," a small rueful smile crossed B‘Elanna‘s lips, "or to thank you. But I knew you were doing it, and I just selfishly took advantage of it."
Tom looked at B‘Elanna for a long moment. "I did know something was wrong," he said finally, somberly. "That you were distracted, and withdrawn. I just didn‘t see how bad it was, how much you were hurting..."
"You tried to get me to talk to you, more than once," B‘Elanna said. "A part of me even wanted to tell you what I was doing, to ask for help. But it was too much effort to talk, and I just couldn‘t care, not even that you were worried about me..." She looked at him sadly. "You tried, Tom."
Tom shook his head. "Not very hard. You wanted me to leave you alone, so I did. Maybe I was a little angry that you wouldn‘t talk to me. And a little afraid that if I pushed you, you might never come back. I convinced myself that whatever was bothering you, if I just gave you some time and space it would go away. That‘s what I told myself anyway."
"I don‘t blame you for that," B‘Elanna said softly.
"Want to know what really bothers me?"
B‘Elanna met Tom‘s troubled gaze. "What?"
"I‘m probably the one person who should have seen what you were doing."
"No, I mean it." Tom frowned. "Not because we‘ve been lovers for the past year. Because I‘m the one person on this ship who understands self destructive behavior better than anyone. I used to be an expert at it. Drinking to feel something, not caring a whit about my own well being, pushing everyone away who wanted to help me. I‘ve been there, B‘Elanna and I still didn‘t see it."
"And maybe that fact made it even harder to look at it again and see it for what it was," B‘Elanna pointed out quietly. "Tom, I feel bad enough about what I‘ve put everyone through, and I don‘t want anyone feeling guilty for what I‘ve been doing to myself, especially you."
Tom nodded slowly, though he looked less than convinced by her words. B‘Elanna looked at his hands, clasped tensely together.
"Will you do something for me?"
B‘Elanna‘s question was almost a whisper, and Tom met her wistful gaze for a long moment before answering her. "B‘Elanna, I‘ll do anything for you. If ever led you to think differently, to think that you couldn‘t come to me for-"
Tom closed his mouth at B‘Elanna‘s quietly murmured command.
"You‘ve never led me to think differently," she said softly. "But this is a small thing." She stretched one hand across the table and rested it mere millimeters from his clasped hands. "Hold my hand."
Tom stared at her, remembering her reaction the other night in his quarters to his touch, and seeing the same remembrance in her expression, along with a hesitant yearning. He wanted to crawl across the table and hug her. Instead he looked down at her hand and he moved one hand slightly, just close enough to touch hers, to allow his fingertips to brush against hers. He moved his fingers lightly in a soft caress, then slowly slid his hand over hers. He let his hand rest there for a moment, warm skin against warm skin, then he turned her hand over in his larger one and moved his thumb in a gentle circular caress over the smooth center of her palm. Then he lifted her hand, slowly bringing it toward his face, and pressed his lips against her warm sensitized skin. He held her hand there for several moments, pressed intimately against his mouth, feeling the small tremor that went through her. Then he dropped his hand to the table again, still cradling hers. He threaded his fingers tightly into hers, as if he had no intention of letting go. And he didn‘t. Finally he looked up at her.
Her eyes weren‘t distant and empty of expression, the way they‘d been in his quarters. They were dark with emotion. She smiled tremulously at him.
"What else can I do, B‘Elanna?" he asked softly.
"Whatever will help you get better, I‘ll do it."
"This does help," B‘Elanna said, her voice husky. Her fingers tightened around his, and she stared intently at their linked hands. Then she looked up at him again. "Chakotay was right. I can‘t hide from my emotions, and I can‘t stop feeling just because I‘m afraid that what happened to the Maquis...with my father..." B‘Elanna‘s voice trailed off, then she regathered herself. "Because I‘m afraid that it might happen again."
Tom wrapped his other hand around hers, enclosing her hand firmly between both of his. "B‘Elanna..." What could he say? He knew about B‘Elanna‘s fear of abandonment, he‘d pressed her to face it a year ago when he‘d been pursuing her, almost railroading her into a relationship. Or maybe he‘d simply pushed her to ignore it, repress it, and take a chance on him anyway. He realized now that he‘d actually been egotistical enough—or dense enough—to believe that his mere presence had put those fears to rest, and all the while he had yet to really prove to her that he intended to be around for the long haul, that she could count on his feelings for her, no matter what fate might have in store for them...
"I don‘t expect promises, Tom, about anything," B‘Elanna said quietly, reading his uneasy silence well. "I know there aren‘t any, that I can‘t always control what will happen, and neither can you. I think I can finally start accepting that now and not let it...eat at my soul."
Tom squeezed her hand tightly. "There‘s no way to know what will happen in the future," he agreed somberly. His gaze locked with hers, and his hands absently rubbed hers, as he continued. "But I can promise you that I will never intentionally hurt you, B‘Elanna. And if I do—if I have—unintentionally, because I‘m a little dense, or sometimes a little selfish...if I‘m a little afraid myself..."
Tom paused, and for several moments they simply looked at each other with the kind of mutual recognition that sometimes hit them, a knowledge of shared fears and insecurities that created a bond of understanding between them. "What I‘m trying to say, B‘Elanna, is that no matter what happens, with Voyager, with us—hell, with the fate of the Universe—I do love you, and I want to see you happy, more than anything. That will never change."
B‘Elanna nodded, not trusting herself to speak. She did know. Tom had as many or more defenses than she did. He‘d been hurt by his past too. But she believed in the feeling between them, even if they sometimes lost sight of it, if the walls between them only came down slowly, one chink at a time. When they reached through, the connection was real, more real than anything she‘d ever known. And she wanted that back, along with everything else she‘d given up recently. She leaned across the table and put her free hand over his. "I will be happy, Tom." She hesitated for a moment, her expression asking him to understand. "And my feelings haven‘t changed, even if I couldn‘t feel them for a while. If it didn‘t seem like they were even there any more..."
"I know, B‘Elanna," Tom said softly. He did understand. "You‘re not the only one who‘s been hiding out lately. Maybe we both need to find a way to stop hiding so much."
They silently appraised each other for several moments, two people seeing again a mirror into their own self doubts looking into each other‘s eyes, a sensation that was both disconcerting and reassuring. It was B‘Elanna who finally spoke, and she said with apparent nonchalance, "So you‘re willing to try again?"
Tom wasn‘t fooled. "However many times it takes," he said simply, but with complete assurance. "And you, B‘Elanna? Even if there are no guarantees, and we can‘t know for sure how it will turn out in the end? Are you willing?"
"I‘m willing to take that risk, Tom," B‘Elanna said softly, without hesitation. She looked silently at him, until she realized that she had leaned far enough over the table that she was no longer sitting in her chair. Tom had obviously noticed also. He had a half smile on his face, and as she slid willingly forward he braced his elbows so that she could use him for leverage. She was practically laying across the table by the time their mouths were close enough that their breath mingled. "I won‘t give up on you, if you won‘t give up on me," she said, her lips millimeters from his.
"Never," Tom whispered. His longer body still stayed in contact with his chair as he leaned forward, just enough to cross the final distance between them and allow their lips to meet.
B‘Elanna didn‘t notice the uncomfortable position she was in, or the fact that their clasped hands were pressing into her sternum. She was too busy noticing the sensations of Tom‘s mouth moving on hers, his teeth tugging gently at her lower lip, the tip of his tongue lightly stroking the inner edge of her upper lip. She was busy noticing that it felt...good. Not good, wonderful. His mouth pressed a little closer and his tongue delved a little deeper, and she felt the familiar welcome rush of warmth, of desire-
Tom and B‘Elanna pulled away from each other, and B‘Elanna managed to scramble back into her chair without knocking it over. They looked up at Neelix, trying to adopt innocent expressions.
"Neelix. How unexpected to see you here, in the Mess Hall."
B‘Elanna gave Tom a look, a warning look, the kind tinged with just a bit of amused exasperation, the kind he realized he‘d really missed. Neelix was watching both of them with an expression of equal parts chagrin and bemusment.
"Ah, I was just coming in to do a last minute check..." Neelix paused, as if he suddenly wondered why he was excusing himself, then he noticed the plates. "Are those pancakes?"
Tom followed Neelix‘s gaze to the half eaten stack of pancakes he‘d pushed aside. The question was probably rhetorical, since the answer was obvious, but he supplied it anyway. "Yes. Banana pancakes."
Neelix immediately looked at B‘Elanna, then he grinned from ear to ear, wide enough to split his face. "I see."
B‘Elanna smiled back at him, a little self consciously. "And as you can see, Tom‘s eyes are bigger than his stomach."
Tom grinned. "But as you can see, B‘Elanna ate all of hers."
Neelix could indeed see that. And he looked happy enough about it to pop his spots. "I‘m glad you enjoyed them, B‘Elanna."
Tom could hear the genuine pleasure in Neelix‘s voice, and obviously B‘Elanna could too, because she gave the Talaxian a look of real affection. "I really did, Neelix."
"And don‘t worry, we‘re going to clean this up-"
"No, no." Neelix shook his head vehemently and was scurrying around the table grabbing plates before Tom could say anything else. "I‘ll take care of this. You two are obviously...involved." He gave them both another delighted smile, with just a hint of mischief in it. "Go off and finish what you were starting, and I‘ll take care of everything here."
"Okay." Tom shrugged at B‘Elanna, then stood up, still holding her hand. She stood too, and they moved down the table together until they were standing next to each other. "Thanks, Neelix."
"Yes...thank you, Neelix."
B‘Elanna‘s voice was warm with meaning, and Tom looked down at her.
"My pleasure, B‘Elanna." Neelix gave her a thousand watt smile and it crossed Tom‘s mind that something unsaid had passed between them, but he didn‘t dwell on it. He was simply content to see the obvious affection in Neelix‘s eyes. B‘Elanna had friends here who would never fail her if they could help it, and Neelix was one of them. In the uncertainty of life, that gave Tom great comfort.
"Goodnight, Tom," Neelix replied cheerfully, and he gathered the rest of the dishes as Tom and B‘Elanna walked away. He wasn‘t listening, not really, since that would be eavesdropping, but he couldn‘t help hearing their words as they paused briefly at the door, Tom saying in a low husky voice, "B‘Elanna, if you need time..."
He wasn‘t watching them either, he wasn‘t a voyeur after all, but it was only natural that his glance as he moved around the table might wander in that direction. So that he saw B‘Elanna raise one hand and press her fingers gently against Tom‘s lips, a simple but intimate gesture to stay his words.
He turned toward the kitchen, only by chance hearing her soft throaty reply, "Tonight, Tom, I need you..."
His glance found them again as he turned the corner around the counter, unintentionally, and he saw them slip quietly through the opened doorway, their hands clasped together, and their rapt fervent gazes locked on each other. He deposited the dishes on the counter as the doors closed behind them, and he let out a large sigh, a happy sigh. A pleasant warmth had filled him at the sight of those two, the woman who just two days ago had looked at him with such bleak desolation that it had disturbed his sleep and just about broken his heart, and the man whose forced cheerfulness of late had been reminiscent of the blanket of self protective distance he‘d worn when he‘d first boarded Voyager. He‘d become very fond of both of them and to see them together, obviously overcoming whatever had separated them recently, cheered his heart.
And for some reason it gave him an appetite, he realized, as he contemplated the dishes in front of him. He wanted to celebrate the return of his friends, and it took only a minute for him to decide. Though he generally had a personal aversion to using the replicators for food himself—he was after all a chef, and what kind of chef would eat replicated food—he determined that this one time he could make an exception. Besides, now he was curious. He left the used dishes where they were and approached the replicator, and with a sense of anticipation, and a light heart, he ordered one stack of banana pancakes.