by Kat Hughes

Author's Note: This is what happens when you decide to start touching up various fanfiction pieces and then get strangely inspired to make them a lot longer and a lot more in-depth (and, coincidentally, you can't do a damn thing about it). Habit was originally just an idea that I was given by someone who was beta-reading my work, and, well a fine idea it was too. So, that idea spawned a 5 page little thing dealing with my total unacceptence that Tom was as dense as he appeared in "Extreme Risk" and how he might have dealt with the situation of B'Elanna's depression had *I* shared doughnuts with the Voyager staffers. Around, um, January time this year I posted Habit to ASC and got some very intriguing feedback but was positive that there was something more I could do and just wasn't seeing yet. So, February and some 'interesting' Harry angst pieces came and went but while suffering from the flu I decided to go retrace my steps and take a look at Habit, and what can I tell you? I got inspired. This is what happened, Habit the original is still in there somewhere but it's been stretched, it's been elongated and to an extent its been resolved, but then I do love a bit of angst.

Formatting note: Oh, how do I love shooting myself in the foot. Everything in // marks is a flashback and everything in {}marks is character thought or introspection, or well, whatever…

Dedication: Brenda for starting me thinking about POV and inspiring some of the very weird things I did with it here. Magen for the original beta read. Carolyn for the prodigious beta read and all her tips and hints with where I was going with this, my eternal thanks and gratitude.

* * *

In life we make decisions. Loads of them, constantly, when we're least expecting it, when we don't really give a damn whichever way we choose, when it's life or death.

And we swear they've changed us, swear to anyone who'll listen that we've learned from our mistakes, that they'll never happen again, that we'll remember whoever's birthday we forgot, to wipe our feet when coming into the house, not get thrown in prison, stuff like that.

And you sit there, and you watch the people passing by, watch them go about their business as day turns to night and what you thought was stable turns to something altogether volatile.

What makes you different from them are your experiences and knowledge, your inexplicable and inexhaustible ability to deal with any given situation.

And so you cope, and you tell yourself you're doing the right thing. You tell yourself that just sitting back and watching the clock tick and the people you hold closest waste away is excusable, because you're so damn sure you know exactly what you're doing.

Because you've been here before, haven't you? Felt this kind of pain every time you've touched her, run your hands through her hair, made her smile weakly. You tell yourself that you know how it feels to be this cut-off, this lonely, watching her slowly drift from your clumsy grasp.

After all, it's happened before. You've been everywhere, so sure of yourself, of who you are and of what you mean. Nothing can touch you, nothing can faze you…you've been through worse and you've pulled through worse.

And then you wake up.


"Initiate Program Torres beta-seven."

The view.

Pretty vista really, lots of stars and big clouds of nebula dust.

But then, only if you cared to notice.

She moved further into the program, her head held high and a small smile playing her mouth, just the way that she'd been when she left Engineering.

She couldn't remember the first day she'd activated this particular program. Orbital diving had its kicks, the numerous martial arts programs were good in their own right but this one was just that little bit more special, if that was the word.

It was warm, a sticky kind of heat, in the center of the open courtyard where she stood, night loomed over the pale white houses. She used to enjoy coming here, the soft tones of music would carry well on the holographic wind, it was beautiful, again, if you gave it a thought.

She moved slowly into the center of the room, her boots sending up swirls of dry dust from the tiled floor in random patterns that she barely even noticed. Her jacket began to itch around her wrists so she pulled it off and threw it across the simulation.

//"Why, Torres, I didn't know you could dance," he said, smiling at her in that way he had, his eyes locked on hers from across the courtyard.//

She moved to the small well by the side of the wall. Pretty thing, like most everything else in the program, a little alien in design, made out of some kind of red ore with the slight, supposedly tranquil, thrum of running water, making rings on the calm pool.

She ran her fingers through it, noting the cool feel of it against her hot skin and very little else, little else that she could note right now.

//"There are a lot of things you don't know about me," she said slowly, her eyes narrowing a little as she took a step forward and then two, and then three.//

There were no safeties here to disengage, so all she could do was sit, sit and watch the gentle nothing of an inactive program.

//"Really? I thought I had you pretty much all figured out."//

They'd liked this one. It was Tom's and she always wondered why it wasn't populated with holo-characters, the ones that he seemed to like so much, the slightly inappropriately dressed woman, the aged man with a kind word, the leery salesman, the spirited youth, they'd never been part of this program.

//They met in the middle of the courtyard and he reached out a hand to hers, grabbing it softly and bringing it to rest on his shoulder. She did the same with her other hand, resting them behind his neck as he put his arms around her, he leaned close and whispered, "Want to dance, Chief?"//

He showed it to her on a romantic whim, telling her that compromise when it came to holoprograms was the best way to go, and of course, she'd agreed.

Sometimes, when he smiled at her in a certain way she could do nothing but agree, and she hated that about him.

//They picked up a gentle rhythm, swaying lightly in the breeze to the gentle strums of some kind of music. Two people, happy in each other's company, happy just to dance in the deserted courtyard, not needing to talk, because the other already knew.//

She didn't know why she'd activated the program. It was eerily quiet without the music and the wind kicked the dust up into her lungs making it even harder to breathe, harder than it already was being there.

The darkness that the starscape offered was comforting, comforting as she tried to remember if she'd ever felt anything in this place, these empty four walls, another romantic illusion, just like so many others in her life. She'd never stopped lying to herself.

And that night, as he held her in his arms and she registered what she'd been told, as the hurt and the pain began to manifest themselves, hollowing her very soul, she'd told herself that it'd all be okay, because she couldn't bear to let herself think otherwise.

//He ran a hand through her hair and she lifted her eyes to search his, her eyes wide, open and displaying a hint of frailty she didn't want anyone to see, not even him. So, he moved her head to his chest and said it softly, because it just seemed right, "It'll be okay."//

He'd told her too, hadn't he? She'd been fool enough to believe him. Fool enough to believe that her richly veined fantasy life, full of noble things like love and respect would last any longer, would last at all as her world, piece by piece, came crashing down at her feet.

He'd told her it'd be okay.

She couldn't even muster the will to hate him for it.

"Computer run program Torres Kappa 8. Authorization Torres Omega one. Disengage safety protocols."

The holographic walls flashed to something much more comforting, even the computer's customary warning had a nice familiarity to it.

::: Warning: disengaging safety protocols presents extreme risk of injury.:::





She grabbed her shirt and pulled that on.


"Your regenerator? I can't see it."

They weren't talking to each other, merely at each other. It was often like this after sex, whether they were too dazed, tired or just couldn't…

She sighed and walked towards the lit bathroom, dragging her feet over the carpet a little, feeling the burn.

She arrived at the doorway and he smiled at her, an angry red mark on his neck, still bleeding.


"Yeah. Regenerator?"

She moved to sit and reached for the piece of paneling by the doorframe, tapping it with her fingers it opened and the regenerator was revealed. She picked it up and handed it to him.


She ran a hand through her hair, pulling it back from her eyes. "No problem."

Switched it on and began to run it over the affected flesh, struggling a little.

"Here, let me." He relented and she took the regenerator from him, tilting his head so she could get an easier angle over the bite mark.

"You got me," he smiled as she concentrated on her task.

"Yeah, sorry," she said weakly, shutting off the regenerator.

He took a deep breath and looked her in the eye. "Turn around," he sighed, sounding tired, weary.


"Just turn around."

She did so, and he reached his hands to her back and slipped them under the material. Feeling his way he moved his hands over her skin, trailing his fingertips over her spine as if she'd break and then gently brushing them over the bruise that was swelling there.

She winced a little in pain.

"Was that…Did I do that?" he asked, moving his hands to her waist, resting them on her hips.

"No," she said softly, her back to him.

"Then how…?"

"It doesn't matter."

And as far as she was concerned, it didn't.


"Hey." He seated himself at her table, placing the bowl of Neelix's oatmeal in front of him and wondering if it was really worth picking up the spoon and taking his life into his own hands.


"You on shift this morning?" he asked, picking up the spoon and moving the oatmeal around in his bowl, hoping to preoccupy himself.

"I'm on beta. Carey can handle the engines so…" and she just let it drift as she stared past him and at the stars shooting by the window, her own spoon idle in her bowl.

"Plans?" he asked.

"Not really." She shrugged, her eyes drifting to where Ashmore sat with Denez, watching as they chattered excitedly, looking overly pleased with themselves. She turned her view back to Tom, smiling a little at the disgusted expression he was offering his food. "I thought that maybe I'd just relax with a book."

He nodded. "You've got some holodeck time booked at 0900. What program were you planning on running?"

Her brow creased and she wondered when he'd begun to check up on her, become interested in her daily routine.

She sighed and rested her head on her hands. "Oh, I don't know…something…"

"I could switch shifts with Sam. Maybe we could do something together…"

"No." She looked up at him.

"Why?" he asked, smiling a little, trying not to look surprised.

"What?" She grinned. "Aren't I allowed to do something on my own once in a while?"

"Yeah," he smiled back, but his voice held just a hint of annoyance. "But I thought it'd be nice to do something together for a change."

"We do things together," she said defensively.

"Care to name a few?" and finally the smile had dropped.

She reached her hand to his, covering it. "We'll do something together tomorrow, okay?"


"What?" she removed her hand, voice raised. "You don't want to do something tomorrow?"

He gave her a stern look. "Why don't you reschedule your time or something?"

"I don't remember you owning me," she said quietly, her eyes boring into his.

"I don't, I just maybe think you shouldn't do…"

"Do what?" and she even smiled to show him how absolutely perfectly fine she was meant to be.

He shrugged his shoulders, "Nothing."

She stood to leave. "I'll see you."

"Yeah," he responded.

She left.


Ignorance only goes half way.

Part of you didn't even want to know, want to see it happen, want to recognize its existence.

And you don't want to push it, to infringe for fear of making it worse, because you don't know how to handle it, don't know what to say, what not to say.

And so you decide to do something. You don't care what, just something.


"Hey Doc." Familiarity, that's the first rule, don't change a thing, if you slouch, then slouch, if you don't, then don't. If you call someone by their first name then keep calling them by their first name. If you always shower before breakfast then keep showering before breakfast. Rule of thumb: don't give them any ammunition, anything to use as evidence.

"Mr Paris," he'll smile tiredly, if holograms can and point you in the direction of the engineering crewman perched on the far biobed. And of course, you smile at him too, passing by and picking up the medical tricorder with the ease of someone who worked in Sickbay often, making them trust you that little bit more, not letting them want to question you, need to.

"Ahh Ensign Stevens, run in with a bulkhead or B'Elanna up to her usual tricks?" Hell, even mention her name, let him see it trip off your tongue with an amiable smirk, some of that roguish charm on show, telling him in a smile that you noticed how she's been acting recently, but that you're guessing it's just a rough spot.

"I tripped," and he smiles at you, tentatively at first, as you're running the medical tricorder over him.

You nod, officially, and look like you're concentrating very hard on the read-out and not wondering how preoccupied the Doc is with Ensign Harper, how much he's taking care of medical supplies with Kes gone, how easy it would be to hack into his program and scramble a few things.

"Okay, Ensign Stevens, just a minor laceration to the cheek, we'll have you fixed in no time."

Another smile as you reach for the dermal regenerator, not too forced though, one of those natural smiles, one you don't have to think about or check. Just pick the one that comes to you as the minutes progress, a smile you hope doesn't look too wry with the amusement at the very pathetic state of your life and what you're considering when your fingers hit the regenerator.

You know the one she uses, know what it looks like, know about the way she has to get to a certain juncture way up on jeffries tube 12 so that her own replicator will produce the power cells. You know what it looks like too, having held it in your own hand in happier times and smiled at the fact she owned one, even appreciated her forward thinking that would save you trips to Sickbay.

You pause, remembering the way she looked when you last saw her with it, the shrug of her shoulders and the swift removal of the offending instrument, the dark eyes, and the flat mouth. You close your eyes and remember finding the bruise under her shoulder blade with your fingertips and hearing the quickly stalled yelp of pain as your fingers slid over it. And something occurs to you that is so simple in execution that you don't know why you didn't see it before, but then you don't know why you didn't see a lot of things before.

You open yours eyes and you check Ensign Stevens, he's giving you his best attempt at an 'I didn't see that' look. You shrug your shoulders a little, trying so hard not to be defensive. "Rough night," you explain, moving towards him and flicking the regenerator on.

The pale blue light slips over the clotted cut and you try to regulate your breathing, keep your eyes focused and your hands steady as you set about the task that maybe you weren't born to do, but were trained to.

And the little box of tricks goes about its work, replacing the old with new and healing a deep scar so it'll never be there. You watch it mend and you try to ignore the glib metaphor, the achingly obvious allegory to your own situation.

Partly because you don't think like that and partly because the little piece of medical wonder doesn't offer answers, only band-aids and antiseptics for cut knees and grazed elbows. A fix-me-up, far from an answer, and far from even a beginning.

You finish; switching the damn thing off with the same easily assured flick of the wrist and smile at him a little, which he returns, gladly.

He thanks you, wonders if he should ask you how you've been, if you're okay, and then decides against it. Because, you were fine, so obviously okay with everything you did, every single little thing right the way down to that smile was natural, just like you'd practiced.

The doctor sees the ensign leave and tells you that you should go load 10 ccs of anoprophaline in the hypospray. You grab the correct vial, load the spray and throw him the instrument. He frowns, unsurprisingly, as he catches it and then tilts the woman's head and injects.

You're still holding the regenerator.

You ask if you can help and he looks surprised, you shrug and tell him you've turned over a new leaf. So, he tells you that you can leave and that you can go do whatever it is that you 'do'.

And so you do leave, safe in the knowledge that the façade held, that not one person suspected there was anything different and something vaguely nostalgic accompanies that as you walk down the corridor.

You're still holding the regenerator.

Stealing and pretending not to give a damn. Reminds you of a guy you used to know, yourself mainly.

And as you turn the corner for the turbolift you realize it's just as easy as you remember it, just as simple. And you smile as you call out your deck number in the lift.


Her neck ached. Muscles in her back contracted painfully; there was a dull throb in her left knee. Blood stained her top from an unknown source on her left shoulder.

She stumbled badly into a coffee table.

"Computer, lights."

As ordered, the room filled with light, too much light. "Computer 40% illumination."

The light dulled. She made her way, dragging her left leg slightly, to the bathroom.

With a hard elbow movement, she opened a hatch just next to her sonic shower and pulled out her battered regenerator, she'd had it since her Maquis days. The battery cell was going, and it was in need of some major repair, that or its molecules needed recycling.

The bathroom was still dark. She made her way to the sink to fully inspect her injuries. A way that had become familiar, almost safe. Saved thinking too hard about what she'd done to herself. Saved thinking.

Moving the sink out of the wall, the light automatically blinked into life and she was drawn to an unfamiliar object on the mirror ledge.

She picked it up. A PADD lay next to it. She turned it on. {Instructions for the proper use of a Starfleet issue dermal regenerator, excerpt from Starfleet medical text #0345, understanding and familiarizing yourself with commonly used equipment.}

The PADD fell through her hands, clattering on the floor. Looking back up, she studied her reflection. She hoped for an emotion. None came.

She wasn't sure whether to be happy or sad.

{He knows.}

She would have to be more careful.

With a flick of her wrist the regenerator began to hum and with a clinical precision she shouldn't have possessed, she moved to her shoulder injury.


"You found it?"

She blinked and looked down at him, shrugging her shoulders a little and moving across the room to find her boots.

"What?" harshly, plainly, ultimately dismissive.

"I dropped it in your quarters."

"Oh," she said, from behind him as she went through the pile of clothes on the floor. "Yeah, thank you," came mumbled through it all. "I was meaning to get a new one."

She could hear him getting up and moving to the bedroom door, his brow lowered. "Nothing else?" he looked at her seriously, darkly, with more concern than he should have, than he was allowed to have, seeing as he'd done such a good job of pretending everything was all right, would always be.

She smiled at him, a little strained. "I said 'Thank you' what more do you want?"

"An explanation."

It was obvious, he thought he knew what she wanted, he though he'd understood what she was doing. And all the time, as he tricked himself into gently picking up the pieces she left in her wake, he'd been in the dark.

She stopped searching and straightened to stare straight at him. "No, you don't want that." She turned from him and bent to look under the bed.

She wanted him to leave, just as he had before.

"I'll be late for my shift."

"So will I," he returned, moving behind her and putting a hand on her shoulder.

She shrugged it off and turned, grinning a little at him. "So, Tom, you want to talk about *it*?"

He took a deep breath and looked into her eyes, reaching a hand up to her face. She recoiled at the touch. He moved his hand, dropping it by his side. He wouldn't force this, he wouldn't ask her to tell him, he wouldn't make her heal, besides that, he couldn't make her heal.

"I want you to talk about it," he said, softly.

"There's nothing to talk about," she said, cool, moving away from him again and to her hands and knees as she continued to search for the missing piece of footwear.

"There is."

She turned towards him and laughed, brutally, at the somber look on his face. "Oh, Tom," she mocked, "you don't want to know."

"No, I don't."

He didn't want to know. He didn't want to know what she was doing to herself on the holodeck; he didn't want to know that every night she set off to kill herself without even a good-bye. But then, he didn't want to know that he'd let her, that he'd watched her and at times that he'd even enabled her.

"No?" her eyes were dark.

"Don't be like this," he said, just as quietly, but a little hoarsely, holding onto his patience as it slipped away.

"Like what?!"


"Oh, that's right Tom, let's start shouting, that'll solve some problems, won't it? I suppose you want to go fuck now because that'll solve a few more problems? Hey, and I know, let's just sit here and pretend this never happened…that's the way you like it, isn't it Tom? All neat."

"Actually, I thought that was more your style."

"My style? Tom, the whole ship is talking about me. They see the bruises, Tom, and they're thinking its you, its me falling out of a jefferies tube, banging heads with Carey again. They don't want to know."

"That's because you don't want them to see," he returned, easily, his equilibrium returning slowly.

She laughed again, moving back to sit on the bed. "Three minutes in Sickbay and you're sounding like the kind of trauma counselors they were always fielding me off to at the Academy; it doesn't suit you."

"What *is* wrong with you?" he asked, eyes on hers.

"Nothing," she said forcefully. "There's nothing wrong. Take that, Tom, I hope it lets you sleep at night and puts your mind at rest. Oh, of course, you tried to help me, you gave me this little 'talk,' told me to get over myself but you couldn't get through to me, Tom. It's okay, go take the conn like this never happened, I won't resent you."

"What?" he snorted. "You won't resent me any more than you already do?"

She smiled at him. "This isn't about you. Don't flatter yourself."

"Why am I even bothering?" he said quietly, turning to leave.

"I know why," she shot over to him. "You're putting your conscience at rest."

He turned back towards her, seeing her, sitting on the edge of the bed with her face twisted into a grim smile, her eyes forward and any hint of anything that may once have made her look alive gradually dissipating. She was dying before his very eyes, and she taunted him with it as he tried to help her…and worst yet, he was about to stop trying.

Their conversations were all like this recently, sniping, biting and full of a discordant hatred that neither knew where to direct. He didn't want to know why she was doing it, or even when or how she was doing it. He could only tell her the one thing that he did know, and be damned if he sounded weak with it.

"I care about you."

"Yeah," she shrugged. "So you keep telling me."


I suppose it's nothing new. Happens to people all around the universe every single waking moment of every single day. They deal with it, and get on with their lives and live to fight another day etceteras, etceteras.

You thought, stupidly, that you were helping, that it was some way of getting through to her. If you couldn't stop her, why not keep her safe, why not aid and abet when she won't let you do anything else? Why not?

You know, you know as you pick up the power-cell, that what you're doing is wrong. But when you love someone, when you love them enough you do it anyway, telling yourself that somehow your motives are just.

You place it in her quarters like before, and you fix the stock records from your quarters like before, and you sit and wait like before. You just need to show her that you care, that you're still there.

Supposedly, you're meant to rest easy that the numerous cuts and other things won't get infected, that she won't die as she repeatedly tries to kill herself.

Put like that, it sounds as stupid as you know it is.


Orbital Skydiving.

It was actually, ironically enough, a public program once.

If anyone one else enjoyed it with the safeties off, then B'Elanna was happy to share, a good diving buddy wouldn't be too bad actually, as long as he or she didn't ask too many questions.

Hadn't Janeway been holed up in her cabin for weeks? Maybe she was a prime candidate.

B'Elanna took a step forward and looked out of the hanger door and beneath her, to the layers of atmosphere below, all neatly stacked up and waiting for her to sail through at a speed that should kill her outright, save the intervention of modern technology.

It was a rush, a thrill, a childish dare to throw yourself off a platform and just fall, letting it take all your memories with it, letting it wipe you clean of who you are and why you are and why you still are. It was also mildly addictive, falling and falling faster and faster, falling till you forgot that you were even moving.

She knew that this could be it, that this could be the drop too far, that after this there'd be no more B'Elanna Torres.

She had been B'Elanna Torres for far too long, having bit and kicked and moaned and spat all her life. Seeing her shining career record and sum of personal achievements sprawled before her, she knew B'Elanna Torres intimately and hated her unquestioningly.

A half-Klingon girl, a little bright, as quick with her tongue as her fists and okay with a sonic spanner. That was one short obituary.

Smiling, she jumped.


He had watched her come in, seen her stumble through the darkness, barely illuminated by the dim light from the window. She'd been clutching her side, hair disheveled, making no sound.

Carefully, making no sound, he stood up and made his way towards the bathroom, easy to see because of the dull light emanating from it, washing the rest of her quarters in a kind of half light, making the furniture easy to maneuver. He didn't know why he hadn't just left the light on and waited for her, confronted her outright, instead of sitting in the shadows and thinking, but then thinking was something he hadn't done enough of recently.

From just a few meters beyond the doorway, he could see her. She was looking into the mirror, a large gash running the length of her right cheek, her eyes fixed on the surface as if she could will it away. It was as if she could close her eyes and be back to something more real, waking from some kind of hallucinatory nightmare. She was bleeding, but he doubted she could even feel the pain. He considered leaving.

Still, he moved into the bathroom, quietly, staying out of her view and waiting for something, anything that would tell him how to deal with this.

Too late, she caught his reflection in the mirror.

"Tom," she said quietly, for a moment her eyes going a little wide and then relaxing, back to normality, or some kind of normality.

"Hey," he responded, just as quietly, taking a step further, lit partially by the mirror light

She didn't turn around, watching him in the reflection, as he watched her. "Do you want anything?"

"Tell me." He didn't look away; his eyes were fixed on the mirror and clear, like whatever crusade he was embarking on this time would finally get through to her, would finally work.

"You already know," she whispered, looking down, her hands and broken nails, superficial grazes, dirty.

"I know where you go. I even know the programs you run. I checked up. Nice programs Torres, real nice. I even recognized a few of them. Yeah," he smiled at her, eyes harsh and accusing. "I know all about it, every little detail."

"Then leave."


A silence fell, it lingered a little as they both held their respective corners, doing what they always did, dancing around the subject and never getting anywhere, running around in these pretty circles, one after the other.

"Why?" she broke it, lifting her eyes to meet his in the mirror, just as determined, not something she was used to, from him.

"You can't live like this."

She smiled wryly. "You noticed."

"So stop."

"You don't think I tried?"

"No," he paused. "I don't."

On that, she turned, her eyes dark and dull at him, arms folding over her chest, her mouth flat and her breathing slow. "Then you haven't been paying too much attention." He'd seen her like this before, been seeing this version of B'Elanna Torres for longer than he could remember, longer than he wanted to remember.

"Oh, I have," he smiled to spite himself. "That's about the only thing I have done. And if nothing else, that stops, now."

"You needn't be the hero."

"But you're playing such a good victim." He had to be cold, view her with so little emotion, so clinical, like she were a problem he could fix, like she wasn't there at all. Because, and he'd drilled this into his mind, that was the only way he could start to help.

"You think I like this? You think I like standing here and explaining myself to you? Is this who you think I am?"

"To be honest, I don't know who you are anymore." The truth, easy to say in the long shadows, when things presented themselves as light or dark, when there was so very little gray.

She shrugged. "You're not the only one."

"Then who do you want to be?" asking as though it were an order, firm, commanding, just like they'd taught him at the Academy, taking his cue from Janeway and God knew she could give pointers on emotional detachment, or lack of the same.

"Well, that is an interesting question," she said, lifting her arms from her chest and feeling the throb from what looked to be a fractured rib.

He saw her move her arms, moving his quickly and catching hers he pushed them slowly away. Satisfied she wouldn't interfere he touched his fingertips to the wound, feeling the bruise as it swelled, reminding himself instantly of the last time he did that. "Why do you do it?"

"Did it occur to you that maybe I don't want to tell you?" She looked at him; eyes aflame and indignant as his hands ran over her wound.

"'I'm not interested in what you think I need," and his eyes flashed something close to angry, something dangerously close. His voice was low and hoarse. He moved nearer, his hands running up her sides, feeling for any other injuries. Leaning close to her, he whispered, "Tell me."

She closed her eyes and even seemed to move into the touch, allow it. As though she was remembering something, entering a time when things weren't like now, whatever this was, whatever this had become.

"I run them…"

And his hands ran over her back, catching a week old scar. She felt the pain pulse through her. Bringing her arms up she pushed him backwards, away from her and took a step back, looking at him, eyes dry, angry, so very angry.

"Get the hell away from me." She turned quickly and made straight for the door, not looking back.

She only got half way. He caught her arm and held it firm, not letting her escape, escape him, his questions, the look in his eyes.

"Don't run away," he said, his voice just as calm.

And she whirled on him, something darker in her eyes, wanting to see him bleed so he'd leave her alone, so he'd stop reminding her of a person she used to be and would never be again. But he'd just be happy if he got B'Elanna back, whole and sane. Damn who she used to be and damn who she is. He just needed her alive, breathing, needed her full stop.

She raised her hand to strike him and he caught it, holding both her arms now and not letting go. "You think you're alone?" he asked. And for a moment he was almost convinced that she wanted to break free, that she actually was trying as she struggled, as though she didn't need this as much as he did. "You don't think I've seen this, seen what you do to yourself? You think I care so little that I was just happy to stand by and let you kill yourself? Is that who you think *I* am?"

"Yes," she spat. "Don't give me this. Oh so you *care* about me, do you, and that gives you the right to stand here and dictate my life according to Tom Paris?"

"This won't work," he ground out, his grip increasing. "How many times have we been here before? How many times have I let you just push me away? I'm not leaving this time. That stops now, here and now."

"Or what? Or we just give up? Go our separate ways?" She stopped struggling, and just stared up at him, smiling maliciously.

He grinned right back at her. "Oh you see, here's my problem. I can't walk away. Seems you're stuck with me."

"I don't need you."

He shrugged at her. "But you've got me."

She lashed out, shirking his grip and hitting him as hard as she could with her fists. Hitting him, showing him that he shouldn't bother, needn't bother, that he could just walk away and she wouldn't blame him, even hate him. All those things she should have been feeling but wasn't. He looked down at her, as she rammed her fists into his chest, wildly, not inflicting the damage that she could, hampered by weak arms and no real desire to actually inflict any pain. He didn't even blink. "I'm not going away."

He looked down at her, as she rammed her fists into his chest, wildly, not inflicting the damage that she could, hampered by weak arms and no real desire to actually inflict any pain. He didn't even blink. "I'm not going away."

Breathing hard, she took a step back.

"Are you going to show me the programs?"

She looked at him. He wondered if she could even felt anything for him.


It wasn't much, but it was a start.


"This is it?"

"There are others."

"How many?"

She stared plainly at him, face set. "Too many."

He moved a little further into the simulation, not running, halted at the start. "Level?"

She smiled wryly. "You'd be impressed. One time I made 47 before I passed out."

He didn't look impressed.

"Are you going to stop?"

She didn't seem to hear him, moving deeper into the program and trailing her hand over the damp and dripping holographic rock clusters. They weren't sharp, she hadn't take the time on the programming, the edges were round, cast in a hard light based stone but far from comfortable.

"Are you going to tell anyone?" She turned, eyes dark and body still, although held oddly to accommodate the fractured rib, or ribs.

He ran his hands through his hair. "No."

She looked up; her dark brown eyes connecting with his cool blue, trying not to look overly shocked, but then looking as if she didn't give a damn had come easily recently.

"I'm not here to tell you what to do."

"Could have fooled me."

"What I said?" he asked, shrugging. "I was just trying to get your attention."

She dropped to sit on a rock outcrop, dropping her head a little and rubbing the back of her neck with her hands, comforting circular movements. It was to the left of the main platform where Tom and a host of holographic fighting opponents now stood, the dim light, coming from an unknown origin above him lighting his hair and casting deep shadows on his face, making him stand out from the poorly designed holographic characters.

He walked away, looking around the dull, gray walls of the martial arts program, seemingly intent on ignoring, fully, where he was.

"Do you think you can stop?" he asked, back to her, paying more attention than he should to an indistinct spot on the wall.

She wondered about that. "Yes." She had no idea whether that was true.

"When?" He turned, coming closer to her, easily maneuvering the still characters of the program. "Can you stop tomorrow?"

"No," she said, sharply but her voice was quiet, looking up at him. "I'll need time to shut them down…go through the database, bury them so no one else can find them."

He stood over her. "How long do you think that will take?"

"I don't know," she said, wearily. "A week maybe…"

"Do you want to stop?" he asked, looking only at her now, seeing in the bright light the bruises at the base of her neck, the same bruises she was trying to cover with her hands.


He came to sit next to her. "Okay."

She turned, shifting herself to face him. "Okay?"

"You said it yourself, 'I don't own you.'" He looked away from her, at his hands clasped between his knees. "There's only so much I can say. I don't really know how to deal with this. One day, one day you're just B'Elanna and everything's fine; you meet me for dinner and you smile and you make me laugh and everything's how it should be."

"Almost perfect," she breathed, eyes on the floor.

"And then we get the messages from home and I'm so busy wrapped up in myself that I don't see what's happening in front of me, what's happening to you…"

"It wasn't meant to get far," she sighed. "It was meant to just be temporary."

"Then why?" He turned towards her, eyes open and earnest, inviting her to tell him everything. And it wasn't like she'd never considered it, telling him, maybe just to see the reaction, what it'd do to that smile that wouldn't falter, that easy attitude that he held with such ease and she'd never envied.

"I wasn't trying to kill myself."

Something registered in his eyes as shock, a little surprised, a little off-center. "Then?" he prompted.

"I don't know," she shrugged, eyes down. "I suppose I was making sure I was alive."

"Making sure you were alive?" he snorted, face unreadable.

"Sounds stupid, does it? You can't even imagine what's happening to me." She moved her body away from his, but still sat on the outcrop.

"No," he said smiling. "I have no idea what it feels like to lose friends, B'Elanna. You're right, I've never been through anything like this. I've never woken up one morning and realized what a complete waste of time and effort my life is. I've never tried anything I could to get the pain to go away. No, B'Elanna," he repeated, smiling harshly. "I have no idea what you're going through."

"That was different."

"Well now, that's a neat answer. You know, I meant to help you. I thought leaving you alone was the key. After all, it worked for me…I mean, look at my illustrious wilderness years…

"'Meant to'?" she smiled to herself, nodding her head, hands still on the back of her neck. "Yeah, I 'mean' to do a lot of things too."

"For a while I thought I was helping. You know, not asking questions, not making you talk to me, giving you the distance I thought you needed, leaving those damn hyposprays in your quarters…" he drifted off. His eyes took in the whole length and breadth of the program and the frozen holograms therein, various species and cultures, Vidiian, Kazon, Cardassian. Funny, he hadn't even noticed them before, too busy trying to remember if he'd made the program, trying to remember if she'd ever looked like this before…so…empty.

She moved her hands from behind her neck to study them, still dirty. And the irony of it all was obvious, before all this, before failing to feel anything about anyone, she'd never talked like this, so openly, never. She'd be like him, struggling, trying to sort things out in his mind, trying to find the right words, skirting around the issues, avoiding them where necessary. It'd taken a massacre to make her talk to him, and it didn't seem to be helping any. Well, maybe some. She could still feel his fingers on her arms, holding her there and not letting her go…and knowing things now, seeing them rather than thinking them she knew that meant something…something.

"The hyposprays," she nodded, recognizing. "Did you just take them or did you ask the Doctor?"

"Took them," he said. "Easily done."

She smiled, "Wish I'd have known that."

He turned back to her, angry but weary with it, exasperated, feeling like it was all just falling beyond his grasp, everything. "If I ask you to stop, will you? If I said that you're just going to have to deal with this some other way, would you bury the programs? Would you stop?"

"For you?" she looked at him coolly. "No," she shook her head. "I'm not doing all this because of you, Tom, it wouldn't be right to stop for you."

"Well, it's not like you're doing this for yourself," he said, softly, sounding cool and far more menacing than he ever did when he was shouting. "Look at you. What is this, some kind of homage to the dead? Some kind of 'all my friends are dead now and I want to be too' deal? I know this has to do with the Maquis because that's when it started." He paused to look at her. "But, oh right yeah, you said you weren't trying to kill yourself?" he sneered. "I'm sorry, I forgot, but that's sure what it looks like to me."

"Why are you angry?" she said, quietly, looking at him, seeing the flares of pain in his eyes. "I'm doing what you want, I'm talking to you, I'm 'letting you in.' If you don't like the answers then don't ask the questions."

"It hurts." He laughed, short and callous at that. "More than I though it would, you know, I didn't think I was in this deep. I thought I could cope, I thought I could be strong for you, for the both of us. Just another entry on a long list of failures I guess."

"Forgive me if I'm not sympathetic," she said, darkly, so cold he wasn't even sure if it was her voice.

"Oh yeah," he said, pushing his feet out and leaning back a little. "My motives are entirely selfish."

"Selfish?" she asked.

"Yeah, purely and simply."

"I underestimated you then," she said, smiling to herself, but not like it amused her, not like she enjoyed it, as though the action were involuntary.

"You see, I'm part of this now. It's not just you; it's you and me. And I'm good at denial B'Elanna, I'm good at not-thinking too, I'm even good at pretending that everything's fine. But that's just it, everything isn't fine."

"And don't tell me," she interrupted, "you just had to do something about it?"

He smiled grimly. "Yeah."

"And so, here we are having this talk and after that I'll be fine, miracle cures and everything. One word from my loving boyfriend and I'll never come back here?" she asked, sharply, looking him in the eyes, waiting for his reaction, liking the way he flinched when she pronounced 'loving' so precisely.

"Maybe," he said, shrugging it all off. "Are you going to stop?" This time he looked into her eyes, looking for what she searched for every night in the mirror, that hint that there was something else there, something behind them, some small part of B'Elanna Torres left inside.

"I can take care of myself."

"And I can't?" she said, dryly.

"Right now? No."

"I should stop because you want me to? Because you said I should? Because, despite everything I think I need you're telling me this isn't good for me?" She still didn't look at him, tracing her fingers along the outcrop of the rock, along the mixing dark blues and grays.

"I don't know about that, B'Elanna." He paused, taking a calming breath, shutting out the grinding pain in his skull. "Want to hear what I do know?"

She nodded.

"If you carry on like this you'll kill yourself." He looked at her so honestly, high-lighting the blindingly obvious with frightening ease. "And I don't want you to die."

She looked at him, his eyes, his face.

{I don't want to die.}

B'Elanna felt something creep inside her, trusted it.

"Computer. Delete program from database."

He looked up. "You didn't have to do that."

She stood, wiping her grubby hands on her uniform pants. "I did."


Music flooded the small courtyard. The dark sky was speckled with bright stars, and the huge bright red nebula, three moons, in varying degrees of a light yellow.

They entered together, laughing, sharing some kind of joke and dressed in their off-duty clothes. He had his arm around her and looked at her warmly, she returned the look, tentatively, not fully exercised yet.

The small white walls of the buildings that surrounded them reflected an interesting half-light onto the red tiled floor, the small trickle of water from the well audible even amongst the strong beat of the music. It was beautiful, and they noticed.

He took his arm from around her, and grabbed her hand, leading her to the center of the courtyard.

"Care to dance, Chief?" he asked.

She smiled.

And as he put an arm around her waist to pull her close he said nothing. She rested her head against his chest and echoed the silence. They swayed easily to the music.

Maybe everything wasn't all right, and maybe things wouldn't be all right for a long time and maybe they'd never learn from their mistakes.

Maybe she'd re-enter the programs, and maybe they weren't all as buried as she'd told him. And maybe, even at this exact moment, the EMH was informing the XO of the disturbing injuries she'd sustained recently. And maybe Janeway suspected and maybe Tuvok had found the programs and maybe Harry worried for his friend.

Maybe she hadn't told him everything. Maybe he hadn't told her everything

But things were better.

And maybe, after it all, that was enough.


So, when it's done, post-event, do you ever learn anything? Does getting by just on the seat of your pants and what you can think to say or do at any given movement really work?

Do you vow never to go down that path again? Do you promise yourself that you won't let anything like that ever happen again, tell yourself you've got it covered, tell yourself that you're stronger now, wiser, life's experiences and all that shit?

Or, do you just carry on, happy, trying to be happier, living your life instead of considering it, being instead of thinking.

Slowly you try to forget, you want to forget, to start again.

Because it's never nothing, never underestimate it. But it's never anything either, you can't let it take over.

If you're lucky, if you fight hard enough, you get through it, you carry on.

But you never do forget. Somewhere, God knows where, you learn something, a tiny detail, a passing rule on how to deal with it all. It's never a revelation, and you never do get to see that light but it's there at the back of your mind, reminding you not to fuck up again, reminding you of the consequences, the affects it has. So what that the steps are small, and the life lessons learned are insignificant, the fact is that they're there, they're real and whether you decide to learn from them or not, next time isn't a viable option. There won't be, if you have anything to do with it, a next time.

And it is better.