Part VII: Closure

0200 hours

Present Time

"Computer, location of Lieutenant Susan Nicoletti?"

:::Lieutenant Nicoletti is in Holodeck 2.:::

* * * * *

Sue took a long drink from her glass, staring off into space, thoughtful. Sandrine's was dark, barely at half-lights. As she shifted on the barstool, she thought about exactly what she was doing here.

Actually, it was who she was waiting for.

She told herself she came here for a drink after another long day. Even to herself, the excuse sounded weak. She wanted to see Tom.

Stupid. Definitely that. Stupid and very wrong, but she couldn't resist the temptation, no matter how much she tried. She wanted to be here, to see him at his most vulnerable, and maybe, this time, when he looked at her, he wouldn't leave. Maybe he would touch her face again, and she'd lean into the caress, look into those blue eyes…and he would stay. For her.


The holodeck doors slid open, and Sue resisted the urge to turn around and look. She took another short drink, bracing herself.

He didn't say anything as he joined her at the bar, taking the glass she offered, giving her a tired smile. He downed the amber liquid in one gulp, staring into the dark recesses of the area behind the bar, and she laid her hand on his limp one, squeezing gently. The bones under her fingers seemed suddenly fragile.

"You okay?"

He looked at her, blue eyes meeting hers, then turned toward her, lifting her hand to his cheek for a moment. She could feel the day's growth of beard against her palm, and rubbed softly, feeling him lean into the caress.

"Better now." He reached out with his other hand, cupping her face, thumb smoothing across her cheekbone with incredible gentleness, before leaning forward, brushing his lips across hers, then drawing back suddenly, eyes wide.

"I shouldn't have done that." But he didn't let her go, simply looked at her, and this time she leaned forward, gently pressing her mouth to his, feeling him respond. One arm slid around her as he cradled her close, pulling her off the barstool and into his lap, his hand laced through her hair. Quickly, he unfastened her shirt to the waist, cupping her breast lightly through her bra. He turned them so she leaned against the bar, mouth locked on her neck as she slid her fingers gently around his neck. His hand slid down her thigh, then back up to her hip. Taking her breath.

"Tom…" she whispered.

"Hey, Sue."

Sue spun around at the sound of that voice. Her breath froze in her throat. She blinked, adjusting herself to the here and now, realizing that she must have been deep in her fantasy not to have realized who was standing there.

Hell, it had been real. So damned real.

B'Elanna was leaning against the door, dressed in a simple dark tunic and pants, her uniform boots for some reason working well with the outfit. Her hair was loose around her face, her brown eyes mild and face relaxed. There had been no malice in the soft voice. Nothing threatening in her comfortable posture, arms crossed across her chest. An attitude she'd picked up from Tom; Sue couldn't count the times she'd seen Tom stand like that, a cocky grin turning his lips.

"B'Elanna." She tried to think of more words, but there weren't any. She stared, swallowing hard, remembering last night, when Tom had left with that cryptic statement. Wondering why she was so nervous, as if she had done something wrong. She hadn't. She hadn't.

Yet. Only in my mind, Chief.

With her normal stride, B'Elanna joined her at the bar, pouring a glass of the dark gold sherry Sue had replicated. She took a sip, studying Sue over the rim of the glass for a moment, then took another sip. Her expression was thoughtful as she glanced down at the liquor

"Not synthehol? I'm surprised." She set the glass on the bar, not moving her fingers from it, and Sue saw the strain of tendons, wondered if B'Elanna was going to break it with one hand. The woman's face was profiled to her now.

"Tom told me you and John have called it quits." It was a good way to start the conversation; Sue gave her points for striking at a weak spot.

"Yeah." Sue drained her glass and poured more. "It wasn't working out, it hasn't been for awhile. I suppose this was as good a reason as any to call it quits." Giving a sidelong glance to the quiet Chief Engineer. She was so still, so quiet, like at the Inquiry, so much different from how she'd been before. Living energy leashed, always, but not now. It was more disconcerting than having B'Elanna interrupt her daydream. Almost.

"I thought you were happy together." B'Elanna fingered her glass gently before taking another drink. She still wasn't looking at Sue.

"We had a lot of problems from the beginning." Wondered why she was telling B'Elanna this.

Then knew why, if the barest stiffening of muscles beneath the tunic was any indication. What the hell am I doing? He's not mine, never will be, what makes me think I would ever be more than a distraction? Why am I here?

"Sometimes it's worth the time it takes to fix them." B'Elanna turned now, eyes veiled, and at this unfortunate moment Sue noted the very slightly predatory look on the other woman's face. Remembered belatedly that this woman's heritage was from a species with the instincts and reflexes of a hunter.

A woman who could fight and win against a Vulcan. Geez. What the hell am I doing?

"You want him." It wasn't a question. Her voice was still expressionless. Another mannerism of Tom's. Sue wondered if B'Elanna even knew how much she had adopted from him.

B'Elanna is not noted for her diplomacy.

"It's not--"

"I'm not stupid or blind." Sue noted, with a kind of fascination, how tightly B'Elanna gripped her glass. "Don't try it. Don't even think about it."

Sue swallowed the last of her sherry into a dry throat, almost choking. Her fingers trembled; she forced them flat on the bar.

"You've met him here for two nights. Drinking. Talking, I suppose. I don't care what about, I don't want to know."

B'Elanna finished her glass and turned to look at Sue. There was no mistaking the naked threat conveyed by the cool brown eyes.

"We are going to pull through this, Nicoletti. No matter how much you want him, how much you think he may want you. We are going to work through this, so leave him alone."

Sue felt herself bristle.

"Isn't this his decision?" What the hell am I doing? Am I crazy?

B'Elanna stood up, and suddenly her small frame seemed larger, more intimidating, the chill brown eyes focused on her to the exclusion of all else. Yet so still, as if waiting for something to give her a reason to react. Sue's mouth was completely dry. She grabbed her glass, taking a drink, hoping she wasn't shaking. Is it cold in here?

"He's tired, he's been through more than I or you can guess. I know him. If he--if he did turn to you, you'd both be hurt, and not just because of what I would do to you, Nicoletti. He doesn't need it."

"After what happened with Harry--" Sue began hotly.

Sue never saw the hand raise, but she found herself on the floor with a throbbing face. B'Elanna hadn't seemed to move a muscle, watching her from the other side of the bar stool. Calmly, controlled, no flash of pure Klingon violence. Sue tasted blood on her tongue.

"Don't push me, Nicoletti. I lost a lot of my human heritage under the influence of that parasite. I will be damned if I let you take advantage of him now. And that is exactly what you'd be doing. You know it as well as I do. Back off, let him re-acquaint himself with normal life. Let him learn to forget, or at least put everything into perspective, or you're no better than those parasites that used our minds like a playground. You'd use him."

Sue shook her head slowly, denying what B'Elanna said, but in her heart--she wasn't so sure. Her face throbbed in counterpoint to those cool words. She gingerly felt her jaw. It wasn't broken, but it was certainly swollen. She closed her eyes for a moment, trying to catch her breath, even it out. Trying not to be afraid.

This was not the B'Elanna she knew. Nothing like her. No heat of temper that would burn itself out quickly, no flares of humor. This was B'Elanna with a purpose, with a cause, all the layers of Starfleet officer peeled away.

This was the woman who killed Cardassians in the Maquis. Who killed a psychotic radioactive monster in the bowels of an alien ship. Reminding Sue that of all the people on this ship, B'Elanna Torres was the one whose heritage glorified the art of honorable death.

Or honorable murder. Take your pick. She didn't answer B'Elanna, instead focused on her pain.

"Leave him alone." And B'Elanna was gone. Sue picked herself up shakily, walking to the barstool.

* * * * *

She re-entered the room quietly, undressing and putting her clothes away quickly before putting on one of his T-shirts, her favorite sleeping apparel. Slowly, she walked to the couch, watching him sleep, then sat on the coffee-table.

Well, that was stupid as all hell. Like a jealous wife.

She lowered her head to her hands, breathing deeply. Damned temper. B'Elanna had never followed the "look before you leap" principle of life. She preferred more direct methods of confronting external problems.

And God, it had felt good to get back control of her life. Just to settle one thing, one concrete thing she could do something about. One thing she could see, one thing that didn't exist only in memory.

Something to focus her rage on. And if she'd overreacted--well, toss it to Klingon genes and leave it there. She didn't care. Finally, she'd done something besides stew in her own anger and helplessness.

It had felt pretty damned good, too.

She let her gaze move back to Tom. He looked exhausted even in sleep, something she hadn't noticed before. Well, I haven't exactly spent a lot of time sleeping with him, either, and he usually goes to sleep after I do. But tonight, he hadn't gone to the Holodeck, that had to mean something. When she'd risen to confront a problem that existed outside her mind, he'd been sleeping. Here.

Not awake, on the Holodeck, with Sue.

She bit her lip. He would never betray her. Never.

In normal circumstances, no, probably not. But this isn't even close to normal.

Her reasons for that little chat with Sue had been more than just jealousy, though. She knew Tom, understood him a great deal better than he knew. She could see, in the space of those seven days, how he might be tempted by Sue, after seeing her and Harry, after everything that had happened. Jeopardy, she knew, could create quite a bond between two people.

In this case, however, she had no intention of letting it go any further than it had. She didn't really think Tom would pursue such an action. But she wasn't nearly as confident that Sue wouldn't.

She shook his head. He was trying to protect her, care for her, help her get better. The least she could do was do the same for him. Even if it had to be from himself. He'd gone through enough.

She watched him sleep for a long time, bracing herself for what she was going to do. The Klingon in her was ready, the human was not. Stop separating your genome, B'Elanna. This is not the time for internal debate. Do it or don't. Make a decision for once in your life without being forced into it.

Well, that certainly put things in perspective.

She shifted him over (the couch was wide enough, thank goodness) until a reasonable space was formed. Gently, she curled up with him, pulling the blanket over them both, sliding one leg over his to keep her position and burying her face against his shoulder, breathing him in slowly, deeply. One arm sleepily pulled her close, and she smiled as fingers brushed her cheek.

"You know there is a whole bed over there, right?" His voice was a sleepy chuckle. He drew her closer, the other arm going around her, pulling her tight against him. She brushed her fingers through his short hair.

"No, I didn't. You mean this isn't the bedroom?"

He laughed again, softly, turning his head and their lips touched. B'Elanna felt herself shiver at the contact, felt him pull back, meeting her eyes, and the look burned into her. She hadn't seen that look in so long--her breath stopped, and she could hear her heartbeat increase suddenly, pounding against her chest.

For a moment, neither moved; then suddenly, he was kissing her, pressing her deep into the couch, his whole weight on top of her, and she clutched at his back, nails digging in to the T-shirt before she pulled it up, out of the way, she wanted to touch bare skin. He quickly removed it, and hers, hands sliding down to her thigh, pulling it up roughly against his hip, bringing them into intimate contact with each other. He kneaded the firm flesh of her leg before sliding one hand gently up to her face, locking her chin in place, his mouth moving down her cheek to her neck, lightly biting. She caught her breath at the feel of his teeth on her shoulder.

Suddenly, he stopped, and an odd smile turned his mouth as he looked down at her.

"You set me up."

She blinked and felt his hand sliding down her hip, encountering no resistance before slipping between her legs. She caught her breath at the feel of his fingers, lightly caressing.

"You aren't wearing underwear."

And she laughed suddenly, intoxicated by his smile, the way he was looking at her, the feel of his fingers caressing her so gently--and the sudden strength he took her mouth with, scraping by her teeth to run across her tongue, and she pressed one hand into his hair, gripping tight, using her other hand to push his shorts down, her foot to push them off, then slipping it around his waist, settling them together, and she heard him groan softly.

"Yeah," she murmured, a smile curling the corners of her mouth. "Did it work?"

"Oh, yeah," he breathed, kissing her again, pressing against her as she repositioned herself against his hand, closing her eyes at the feel of skilled fingers. Her breath came faster, harder, a light gasp, and she caught his other hand in hers, caressing the palm with her thumb. He grinned against her mouth, and in that grin was something she hadn't seen for awhile.

Tom wanted to play.

He flipped them both over so she straddled him, pulling her head down so his breath brushed her lips, their eyes meeting.

"Are you still ticklish?"

Her eyes widened as he found that particular spot under her ribs, and as his fingers touched the skin, she broke into laughter. She bit down into his chest, enjoying his low groan (she knew it wasn't pain) and the way his fingers tightened on her hip before sliding over her breast, making her breath draw sharply. She nuzzled his neck, squealing when he tickled her again, and finally grabbed his hands, pinning them near his ears, putting her full weight on them. Gave him a wicked grin.

"Ticklish? If I remember correctly--"

"You wouldn't dare." His eyes challenged her.

"Never challenge a Klingon, Tom," she whispered, inching his hands above his head until she could catch both in one hand--she wouldn't be able to hold him like that long, but long enough. As quickly as she could, she slipped her other hand down to his waist, catching the skin there with her nails, and then brushed his side with the lightest touch of the tips of each fingers.

It felt good to hear him laugh like that.

He freed his hands, blocking her hands from further contact as best he could, rolling onto his side and almost depositing her on the floor. Then he turned them both and she found herself trapped under him again, both of them giggling, until Tom's hand slipped down, and she sucked in a long breath as his long fingers caressed her. God, she wanted him.

"You seem ready," His voice a low growl against her ear.

"Like you wouldn't believe," she whispered back, settling her hips and reaching down to guide him in. He murmured something as he completed the stroke, and she arched her back, trying to pull him in deeper, tightening her legs around his waist. " God, Tom." Brown eyes locked into blue. She wrapped both arms around his neck, drawing his mouth down, pushing his lips apart hard, exploring his mouth with light darts of her tongue. "I've missed you."

"That's it, sweetheart," he whispered when a move of her hips brought a gasp. She leaned up to gently bite his chin.

"Sweetheart?" She caught her breath softly. He licked along her jaw, bit down into her shoulder, feeling her shudder beneath him.

"Term of endearment," he muttered in a staccato voice, his breath coming faster, though she could tell he was trying to draw it out. "You--have--a preference?" He cradled her head with one hand, brushing his tongue just around her lips, then traveling to her ear.

"B'Elanna?" she suggested, and he grinned, shifting his movements, drawing out a growl from deep in her throat. He bent to kiss the soft flesh there, biting the long column of her neck, before lifting his head again.

"How--about--baby?" he rasped.

"I--don't think--so," she answered shortly, pulling his head down for a kiss, biting his lip a little too hard, feeling the blood well up, and licked it away. "This is good, Tom."

"Thanks. I--aim to please." His chuckle was lost as she tightened her legs suddenly, feeling his body shiver.

"Faster," she breathed. Pulling him closer, she looked into his eyes. Saw the same intentness. "Now, Tom."

The way he looked at her took her breath away. She wondered what he saw when he looked at her, what it was in her face that she never noticed when she looked in the mirror. It couldn't be what she saw every day. It couldn't be, or he'd never look at her like that, with wanting, with need, with such incredulous wonder. As if she were something precious, something wonderful.

He braced their joined hands against the couch, leaning down to kiss her, sliding one arm under her shoulder, cradling her close. Then moved into her hard, making her gasp, neck arching, staring into those impossibly blue eyes.

"I'd do anything for you, B'Elanna," he murmured, his hand under her head, lifting it slightly as he moved again, picking up speed, not letting her look away. Watching, feeling her reaction. Her eyes closed, and he stopped. "Don't close your eyes. Look at me. Don't look away, not ever." Brown eyes locked into his again, and he thrust into her, drawing out a low cry from his lover, felt her nails dig deep into his back. She caught his mouth in a hard kiss. His teeth sank into her lower lip then pulled back, and he met her eyes again. That intense look on his face as he watched her react to him, to what they were doing.

Close. She knew she was close, and locked her ankles around his back, meeting each thrust. God. So was he, his breathing told her that, but she didn't look away from him. No longer wanted to.

When the moment came, for both of them, he whispered something against her ear, just before her body took her mind, washing her into her climax.

She wasn't sure, ever afterward, what he said, nor did she ever ask him.

But she thought he said 'I love you.'

* * * * *

"You did what?"

B'Elanna rolled over on the bed, where they'd finally moved, staring at the ceiling.

"I hit her."

Tom took a steadying breath, reminding himself he was a Starfleet officer, he had to keep his temper in check.


B'Elanna shook her head, and Tom raised himself on one elbow, turning her chin so he could look at her.

"You don't see it, do you?" she said softly. He looked away, and she bit her lip. "You know what I'm talking about. You do see it."

"It isn't--I mean--" He stopped, mouth tightening.

"I'll apologize," she said finally. His mouth quirked a little. "Tomorrow."

"Can I record it for posterity? I doubt that will ever be seen again." She hit his head with the pillow and he pretended to wince. "You should apologize. She's never done anything inappropriate."

"Hmmm." B'Elanna remembered the look on Sue's face when she'd walked into the Holodeck.

"I wouldn't betray you." His hand curved around her face gently, and with the words, he knew it was true. He wouldn't. Not for any reason, ever.

Would you have, during those days the K'eya had her?

I didn't. I had opportunity, and I didn't.

But you thought about it.

Thinking stupid things and doing them are very different.

He looked at her, the caramel face, the dark eyes that stared into his, the way she bit her lower lip as he looked at her. Wondered if there was anything in the universe that would make him risk what he had with B'Elanna.

Probably not.

"That doesn't mean she wouldn't try to tempt you to." B'Elanna could be unsurprisingly stubborn. He sighed and shook his head.

"No. She wouldn't." Tom smiled, brushing his fingers along her cheek carefully, watching her close her eyes, leaning into the caress. "You remind me of a cat sometimes, you know."

"Really?" She didn't open her eyes, and her voice was a low murmur. He leaned forward, brushing his lips against her throat, and her neck arched gently against him. Damn, she tasted good. He brushed the skin beneath her ear with his tongue, feeling the indentations his teeth had made earlier, and grinned slightly. Made him want to find the other marks, see how they felt, how they tasted. "How?"

Huh? Oh, yeah, cat.

"The way you move when I touch you." The feel of a day's growth of beard tickled her shoulder, and she lazily slipped a hand around his neck, stroking lightly. "Are you tired?"

One eye opened, regarding him for a moment. She certainly didn't look tired.

"Not at all." A purr that sent shivers up his spine as her hand tightened, pulling him down to her lips. His low chuckle as he obliged made her smile too.

Not tired at all.

* * * * *

Later that night, Tom woke up to watch her sleep.

It wasn't unusual, in their relationship. Those first early days, when she'd shared his bed, he had watched her sleep for hours, with a sense of disbelief, because this just couldn't be happening; she couldn't be here with him. Watching her breathe, the way she shifted in her sleep. Memorizing everything because there might not be a next time, and he wanted every minute, every second, burned deep into his memory.

That sense of wonder had never completely diminished, and he suspected it probably never would.

He raised himself on one arm, studying her face. Wondered if tonight would bring another nightmare. She'd had too many already, he hated to see it, hated to watch her relive the K'eya. Maybe he'd exhausted her.

Hell, she'd exhausted him. He couldn't sleep, but he certainly didn't want to move.

Especially now that he knew what the subject matter was.

One hand slipped over to brush her hair back from her face. A very slight smile faintly turned her lips and she sighed in her sleep. No one slept quite like B'Elanna, like an exhausted child, totally defenseless. It was endearing, one hand curled under her cheek, the other clutching loosely at the blanket.

Nothing outside the bed seemed to matter as much anymore. Not the memories of what he had done, what she had been forced to do--it was distant.

And God, he had missed her. Not just their physical encounters, but simply sleeping next to her. The relatively simple pleasure of watching her laying with such utter trust beside him.

He glanced at the chronometer, sighing softly. Two more hours until he went on shift.

* * * * *

Alpha Shift

Tom went to shift early, as had become his new habit, one B'Elanna could not quite figure out. She stepped into the shower, liking the feel of the sonics cleaning her, relaxing each aching muscle.

Aching for the right reasons. She smiled at that, the memory still fresh. Very fresh. She couldn't remember Tom being quite so--enthusiastic--in a long time.

And energetic. She'd fallen asleep before he did. Unusual.

As she got out, she kicked something from beneath her foot and grabbed her robe, pulling it on, before turning to fix her hair. Glanced down to see what she had kicked.

An empty hypospray.

A long moment. Why is there a hypospray on the floor?

She knelt to pick it up, noticing the cabinet beneath the sink was ajar. It must have fallen out, maybe that was where Tom had moved his medical supplies. She picked up the hypospray, preparing to put it back in the cabinet.

Then played with it for a moment.

It had been used. Recently. Very recently, if she was any judge. Maybe this morning. She studied it, looking at the residue inside, then sat on the floor and took Tom's medkit out and checked through it. She wasn't seeing a certified field medic for nothing, she knew exactly what belonged there.

Nothing was missing. She frowned, knowing there was something here she just couldn't see. Still holding the hypospray, she sealed the kit up and put it back, then walked into the living room.

Glanced at the replicator.

Using her authorization as Chief Engineer she made to a very simple request of the replicator. Her eyes widened at its reply.

"Open this damned door, Vorik!"

Vorik answered, in uniform--Does he sleep in the damn thing? I know he isn't on shift until beta.--trying with almost pitiful determination to keep an impassive expression at the sight of B'Elanna, in a robe, at his door, looking fierce. She pushed him aside, letting the doors close, and a PADD was immediately thrust under Vorik's elegant nose.

He glanced at it once, then at B'Elanna. Blinked. Tried to reconcile the robe to the Chief Engineer.

"That is the program I used to break the replicator codes," he said. B'Elanna's eyes narrowed.

"I know that. Does it also remove the replication log?"

Vorik's finely arched eyebrows jumped.

"Not exactly, sir. It encrypts the log."

B'Elanna ground her teeth, but she didn't lose her temper. He's a Vulcan. He's very literal. Spell it out.

"I could see every replicator item I ordered, Vorik. Does it encrypt specific substances?"


B'Elanna took a calming breath and resisted the urge to just pick him up and shake him until he told her what she wanted to know.

"Tell me what substances."

"IS117, sir."

B'Elanna stared at him for a long time while she counted to ten. Slowly.

"What--else?" She ground the words out with careful precision.

Vorik looked thoughtful, apparently trying to understand what it was she was getting at. She gave up.

"Can that program be used to replicate anything, and encrypt the logs?"

Vorik nodded, now comprehending. That was something, it saved him from being tossed against the wall.

"Yes, sir. The algorithm--" a wave of her hand cut him off. She understood the theory. She stared off to the area to the left of his shoulder.

"I can't access those encrypted files, Vorik, even with my clearance. Break into them and tell me what was replicated this morning." With enough time, B'Elanna knew she could have done it, but she didn't have that kind of time now. She had an idea, however, of what was on those encrypted files and couldn’t believe she hadn't realized sooner. Blind, willfully, selfishly blind, I didn't even notice…

Vorik nodded with a Vulcan composure that made B'Elanna want to feed him that PADD and crossed to his terminal to begin his work.

* * * * *

When B'Elanna returned to Tom's quarters, she remembered she was still wearing her robe, and the hypospray was in the pocket. Vaguely, with one part of her mind, she thought she should be embarrassed. Crewmembers passed with averted eyes. She couldn't really summon the energy to care. On a PADD clutched in one had, she carried those lost logs, and every once in awhile she would pause, staring at them for a long moment, counting the days, the dates; a mantra.

Unable to believe she hadn't realized. That no one had. Even guessed.

Or if they had, they sure hadn't done a damned thing about it.

All those sleepless nights. Or nights with barely any sleep. Spent on the Holodeck with Sue, on late shifts. And last night--

Blind. Oh, yeah.

And there wasn't a damn thing she could do about it until after Beta shift.

"Damn!" The doors closed behind her as she stepped into the living room, staring at the replicator. The logs kept excellent track of the amounts he requested each time, steadily larger, though, as yet, not quite at the lethal level.

Stimulants. She should have guessed, just from the way he looked. The way he was acting.

She dropped onto the couch, staring at the PADD but no longer really seeing it.

Only one thought ran through her head.

I should have known. I should have known. I should have known…

What she didn't know was what to do about it.

* * * * *

Gamma Shift

B'Elanna walked in to see Tom reading something on a PADD. He looked comfortable, laying on his couch, knees drawn up slightly, absently chewing on what appeared to be bubble gum (she knew he had a weakness for it). His hair was slightly ruffled (How can anything that short look rumpled?) and he was dressed in his favorite off-duty clothes, jeans and a grey T-shirt that never failed to make her mouth water.


He looked up, blinking to see her, then checked the time, a smile turning his mouth.

"Hey. I didn't realized how late it was." He didn't move, however, just looked at her for a long time. Studied her face.

"You found the hypospray."

It would never cease to amaze her, how he did that. She nodded, slowly going to sit down across from him. He still didn't move.

"How did you know?" She couldn't hide her surprise.

"You decrypted the logs. I found them when I was getting dinner." He was watching her, studying her, and the coolness of his eyes was a contrast to that slight smile.

He's angry.

"How long, Tom?" When all else fails, attack.

"The day after the mutiny." He shifted, putting the PADD down on the floor. "I couldn't perform interrogations and do everything else that needed to be done in the time allotted. Doc gave me the first dose."

Somehow, she had expected him to be defensive. Not this cool, matter-of-fact explanation.

"After that, I administered the doses to the crew to kill the K'eya, and that took three days, around the clock. I couldn't stop then during that. I'm the only medic on board besides Doc."

She felt her nails digging deep into her palms.

"Now--well, I guess I really don't have an excuse for now. Habit."

"You need to stop."

"I know."

Nothing else. She didn't know where to go now. She hadn't expected this, and yet--it wasn't unexpected. Tom was so deeply inside himself right now, he didn't want to fight--more, he didn't want to talk, and she would love to meet the person who could make Tom talk when he didn't want to.

Where the hell to go from here? Go back to mundane tasks, as if nothing out of the ordinary had been said? Maybe ask about dinner, or some time on the Holodeck? Maybe just sit here in uncomfortable silence until one of them gave in.

He wouldn't. She knew that. Just by the way he sat on the couch.

"Do you really think the only reason I am with you is sex?"

A flicker in clear blue.

"You remember that."

"I remember everything, Tom."

He swiveled his feet onto the floor, one hand on each knee, regarding her carefully.

"No. I was angry."

"Yeah," she answered softly. "Angry, I noticed that. How angry, Tom?"

He blinked. She kept her satisfaction carefully hidden. He hadn't expected this change in tactics.

"I was sorry within a few hours," he answered slowly. "You'd already gone planetside."

"With Harry." Again, a flicker. She pressed a little harder. "It was interesting, you know. I can remember that, the transition. It only took two hours for all of us to be--how would Seven put it?--assimilated. We didn't even know what was happening to us, just that we were suddenly doing things we had no control over. The difference between them and me, was I remember past the transition. Every damned thing that happened. Every second it was in me. Except when it slept, and I slept too, and we dreamed together. You scared her, Tom. You scared the K'eya in me. In the Brig, she had nightmares. About you."

Tom didn't answer.

"I could hear you interrogate the other prisoners." His head came up sharply. "You did that on purpose, right, so she--it--whatever the hell it was--could hear what you were doing, what you would do to her. If she didn't tell you what you wanted to know. She couldn't tell you because she didn't know."

"What are you doing?" he answered, voice dangerously low. "Do you think you were the only one who suffered? Janeway, all of you--do you think everything was easy for us up here, without you?"

"No, I don't. I know it wasn't, Tom." He'd cracked. Just a little. But enough. This time, this one time, she'd do this right, be what he needed. No pulling away, no distance, no letting him draw himself up into himself, ignore the problem.

"Are you going to stop using the stims?" she asked. The changes in topic were deliberate; she wanted to keep him off-balance. Unsure. Surprisingly, it was working.



Eyes narrowed again.


She tossed the PADD she'd kept in her uniform jacket at him, and his incredible reflexes allowed him to catch it easily. He glanced at it cursorily, then, a slight frown marring his brow, read it again.

"It's the proper name of your stimulant. Street version, right? Though you made it a hell of a lot purer than you'd get on the street." He looked at her, blank. She smiled gently. "You don't think I've been there, Tom? On the streets? What the hell do you think I did between Starfleet Academy and joining the Maquis?"

Unblinking regard that seemed to last a lifetime. She let him look. Watched the thoughts that spun in his head.

"What did you do?" His voice was so low she barely heard it.

"Survived." They looked at each other. "I should have guessed what you were doing sooner, you know. I've seen the effects among the Maquis, truth be told. Mood swings, though with you--well, its harder to see, you keep such good control. Not eating. Not sleeping. Going to duty early--for you, that is right up there with a scream for attention, isn't it?"

He didn't answer, still holding her in that unblinking regard, PADD clenched tight between his fingers. The metal would bend under that kind of pressure soon. She kept her distance from him, knowing instinctively he needed space now.

He hadn't dealt with what happened. Not yet, no time. Well, she was making time. Too damned bad if Janeway needed him for something else, or Sue wanted another heart-to-heart, or the crew was having adjustment problems. They could damn well fend for themselves. Was she the only one who saw what he was going through?

"Tom, how did you learn about IS117?" A shudder, well-concealed but still caught by her careful eye, ran through him.

"After Caldik Prime." His voice so low, hard to hear. She wanted to move closer, but couldn't. She couldn't break his concentration, when he was opening himself up. It had been sixteen hours since his last dose, unless he had gone to another replicator, and she doubted that. He'd want to cover his tracks. It should be diluted enough in his system to keep him off-balance, vulnerable. No mistakes, B'Elanna. Watch your step.

"What happened?"

"I'm an Admiral's son, B'Elanna, whether my father wanted to remember that or not. A former Starfleet officer." A bitter laugh, mocking himself.

"They thought you would willingly betray the Federation?" She tried to imagine that, couldn't.

"No. They never thought that." She frowned, trying to understand. He wasn't seeing her at all now, looking over her shoulder with an expression she didn't recognize. Wasn't even sure she wanted to recognize.

It came like a bolt of lightning. Her mouth went dry.

"It was used on you." Her nails broke the skin of her palms, blood bubbling around her fingertips.

"Admiral's son," he whispered. He wasn't in the room with her anymore. "That's what they called me. They wanted any knowledge I might have; after all, Dad was involved in the war with Cardassia. And disgraced Starfleet officer--who would notice or care what happened to me?

"There were Maquis with me there. They were rescued and so was I. They didn't differentiate between the captives. Soon after, I met Chakotay. He needed a pilot for a mission and, I jumped at the chance."

She drew in a deep breath and let it out slowly. Hands still clenched into tight fists.

"That's how I knew to use it. Cardassia adapted that particular drug to function on a wide variety of humanoid species. I did the analysis on it after Vorik got it out of the replicator, and it worked just beautifully with enhanced human/K'eyan physiology." His voice was toneless. "The first drug I tried was a Federation-approved version, used to treat epilepsy. It worked on Ricarla pretty damned well, but the doses I administered to keep her "distracted" were dangerously high. So I decided to find the Cardassian version, with its lower doses and greater potency. Tested it on crewmembers until I found the right dosage. Enough to keep them talking but not so much they couldn't do anything except scream."

B'Elanna closed her eyes at the thoughtful bitterness.

"I used it on my prisoners for three days. And I liked it, B'Elanna. I liked hurting them after everything they'd done to us. It was so natural. I taught Ayala how to do it, to give the correct doses, ask the right questions. I taught Vorik to do it, too. Even Sue learned. I influenced the crew to approve of my methods. Approve of them, B'Elanna. Not tolerate. Approve." She shivered at the low intensity of his voice.

Her mouth was dry; she'd never wanted a glass of water so much in her life. Scratch that--she wanted something harder. Something to knock her senseless. This is what I wanted. Him to talk. He's talking, all right.

"They looked to me to lead them, and I did. I certainly led them, didn't I? And it all worked out. Ends justified the means, you know. The crew is free of infection, with some bad memories, but that's all. No one died, a miracle there. And the Captain tells me she's proud of me. God, B'Elanna. Proud."

The blue eyes were so dilated they seemed black. He thought she didn't understand. Couldn't understand, maybe, how he felt, what he had done, what path he had chosen to take.

He didn't believe, even now, how much he had changed and how far he had come. She had no idea how to make him understand. Like me. I never realized it before. But there it is.

She unclenched her hands unconsciously, rubbing her palms into the arm of the chair.

"What the hell did you do?"

It was so fast, she couldn't quite catch up with him. He knelt in front of her, turning her hand over, running his fingers over the torn flesh of her palms, then looked at her. She was kind of surprised herself, belatedly noticing the streaks of blood on the chair arms. He had her other hand now, blood smearing the fingers that touched her. Eyes wide, slightly blank. She closed her fingers over his, and he looked up.

"I just used a knife," she whispered. Her voice seemed very far away, dreamy. "That's all. We couldn't afford drugs, or much of anything, but a disrupter was too messy, wasn't precise enough for what we needed to do. Required frequent medical attention, and anyway, that wasn't my thing."

"B'Elanna?" His voice was hoarse.

"They had Maquis prisoners, caught in a raid in the DMZ. We had to find them." She felt Tom's hands tighten on hers. "It took almost two days to make the Cardassians talk. A society like theirs has a lot of resistance to pain. But one finally broke. Finally. Half the Maquis in that pod were dead when we finally found them, but at least we got some of them out." She looked down at Tom, still holding her hands. "You didn't think I could understand. I do."

She felt his hair brush her palms as he lowered his head, slowly, into her lap, breathing deeply. His hands tightened on hers.

"We're not so different, huh?" she whispered, lowering her head so she could speak near his ear. "When I told you I wouldn't have done a damned thing differently, I meant it. Not--one--damned--thing."

Neither moved. She freed one hand, gently brushing her fingers across Tom's head, caressing his neck gently, letting him take it in.

Needed. Finally, Tom needed her. Not wanted her, or cared for her, but needed her. For comfort, for redemption, maybe, or just to listen. It was a heady feeling, making her light-headed, making her smile despite what had been said. Needed her.

Finally, Tom stood up, pulling B'Elanna up with him, taking her to the bathroom. They both sat on the floor while he ran the dermal regenerator over her palms.

And he took her face between his blood-streaked hands, looking into her eyes, as the cold tile chilled their legs though their clothes.

"I don't know what to do, B'Elanna."

She leaned forward, resting her head against his shoulder, feeling him tremble against her. Slid her arms around him, holding him bruisingly close. Slowly, his arms went around her, almost squeezing the air out of her, and she closed her eyes. Needed.

They sat like that for a long time. B'Elanna didn't care how cold her knees were becoming. Tom, apparently, did. He moved back, reaching for a towel, wetting it in the sink, before washing the blood first off her, then himself.

"Come on. Are you hungry?"

She shook her head mutely, keeping one of his hands in hers as they returned to the couch, sitting together in a comfortable silence.

"I guess I have to go see the Doc tomorrow, huh?"

She gave him a speculative look.

"Yeah," she said finally. "What you replicated can have some interesting effects on you. It's slightly addictive in smaller quantities, I have no idea what the effect will be in the doses you were using."

He nodded.

"He'll tell the Captain." His voice was quiet. She leaned her head against him. "How can you stand to touch me?"

She blinked, lifting her head to stare at him.


"After what I've done. To you. To the crew. Knowing what you know about me now."

Pure Tom Paris, voice light and conversational. She'd expected that. Gently, she brushed her fingers against his temple.

"How can you stand to touch me, Tom? After what you know about me?"

Blue eyes darted to her, meeting for a moment, then flickering away.

"Don't look away. Not ever, Tom," she said softly. Brown caught blue. "So we're not perfect. I never expected you to be."

He shook his head.

"You didn't sign on for this, B'Elanna."

She smiled then, a baring of teeth that made him smile reluctantly back.

"Sure I did." She took her uniform jacket off, dropping it on the floor. Watched the instinctive dilation of his eyes. "Can you handle that?"

"Handle what?"

"Someone caring about you. Can you handle being forgiven?"

His eyes darkened again. She took his hand in hers, caressing his palm. Knowing now, he needed the contact, needed the her touch, to drive her point home.

"Can you handle someone knowing everything about you and still loving you? Do you think anything about your past could make me walk away? Talk, helmboy. This is long overdue. Tell me everything you didn't talk about during the Inquiry. Tell me what you had to do. What kind of compromises you had to make to get us free." She leaned closer, eyes darker, stroking his jaw with her fingers. Watched as his breath caught at the caress. "Tell me what you did, what you didn't do--then tell me that you would do it again, if that is what you took, because this crew meant more to you than your ghosts. That you did whatever you had to do to get us free."

She smiled again as his eyes widened. He blinked. Fingers tightening on hers briefly.

"Because what you did on this ship has nothing to do with who you were before. That man is dead, gone, the same as the Admiral's son and the disgraced officer and the Federation convict. Gone, for good. You're not the same person, and you don't have to punish yourself for what he did. Not anymore."

He lifted her hand, clasping it between his for a moment, a slight, real smile turning his mouth. He understood. She breathed out.

"Yes, Counselor."

"I liked sweetheart, actually." He chuckled. "But don't let that get around, okay, hotshot?" She squeezed his fingers menacingly, eyebrow arched in a scowl.

"Not baby?"

"No." She slid her fingers up his cheek gently. "Tom, you don't have to be perfect, you know."

"Maybe not." He glance down at their joined hands. "I'll tell the Captain myself. And the Doc."

"I know. You take your responsibility seriously." She turned his head to brush her lips across his cheek, letting her teeth graze the skin lightly. "Can you forgive yourself, Tom? For doing what you had to do, even if you had to get dirty to do it?"

A long look.

"I'll try."

It was a start.

* * * * *

1000 hours

Alpha Shift

Captain Janeway stared out into the stars. Tom, seated on the other side of her desk, had not moved since he had told her what he had been doing.

"Are there withdrawal symptoms?" she asked finally. She still wasn't looking at him.

"Some, Captain." Tom at his laconic best.

She began to pace slowly, and finally turned around, spearing him with a look.

"Two weeks?" She picked up the PADD the Doctor had sent her, giving it a long glance, before dropping it again. "What the Doctor named here is very addictive. And illegal."

His face didn't change, and she hated that.

"It's similar to the stimulant the Doctor gave me," he answered. "The formula is different. But equally illegal."

She didn't bother to check the PADD for confirmation. Tom simply had no reason to lie.

"The Doctor's report says you're malnourished. That you've lost several kilos in weight." She tossed the PADD at him, watched in veiled annoyance as he caught the unannounced throw easily. Hadn't affected his reflexes, apparently. Yet.

"Yes, Captain."

She clenched her teeth, wanting a reaction, something, from him, at least. Something to make her satisfied that he even had emotions. He played it like a Vulcan. She didn't need another Vulcan. She had Tuvok for that.

"What the hell were you thinking, Tom? You had command of a vessel and you became a stim addict."

Blue eyes looked into hers.

"There wasn't much choice. Half a crew, no senior officers, and a mission. Captain."

The way he said the last word made her swing around to face him.

"This isn't the behavior I've come to expect of you, Mr. Paris."

"It shouldn't surprise you, Captain."

He regretted the sarcasm as soon as it left his lips. He'd known she would be angry and disappointed, no big surprise. He tried to control his erratic mood swings, tried to control his tongue. All because he'd dropped that damned hypospray.

Damn. It would have been so much easier if he could have waited for this.

Yeah, you certainly sound like an addict. And you've never been this jumpy. Actually, he could feel himself begin to twitch at the enforced inactivity. A side effect of overuse of stimulants, he felt edgy again, and it took effort to control himself.

Janeway noticed the edge to his voice. She had the Doctor's report to confirm what just looking at him told her. I didn't even notice. Damn.

Tom's fingers tapped on the chair arm discordantly.

That's why I'm angry. I should have seen something. She took a deep, calming breath, sitting back in her chair. The young man in front of her faced her without flinching, but she could see his fingers move against the arm of the chair, the set, expressionless face, the eyes that gave away nothing.

Never had she been more ashamed of herself, as a Captain and as a friend, for Tom was her friend as well as her subordinate. She'd never looked for it, she admitted it. Perhaps, just perhaps, she hadn't wanted to know. God knew, there were so many problems right now with her crew, and Tom seemed the least visibly affected by what had occurred. He'd been the one to counsel the crew, help them through the adjustment. Half the crew still looked to him for leadership. She had thought…but she'd been wrong.

But stimulants. For two weeks, and in retrospect, she could see the signs. The weight that had seemed to have melted away. He looked older, harder, more distant.

The way I looked once, after my first difficult command decision, actually. I've seen that look in the mirror. After it three people were killed under my command. The first time I was truly aware of my own power and what it meant to be a Captain. That I had the ability to send people to die, and they would go willingly because I was Captain.

"I'm relieving you of duty for the next week." He nodded. "Medical leave. This won't go on your record." A bare hint of a smile turned the corner of his mouth. Yes, well, there are certainly worse things on his record, she thought, almost shaking her head. "Dismissed."

He stood up, nodding with a jarring shortness, and went to the door.


His back stiffened, and he slowly turned around.

"If B'Elanna hadn't found that hypospray, how long would you have continued this?"

He considered the question.

"Too long, Captain."

And he walked out the door.

Captain Janeway knew she wasn't omnipotent. But she expected, at very least, to be able to see if something was wrong with a member of her crew.

Well, a lot of the crew is having problems. Most. Maybe all. That was no excuse. She'd known something was troubling him days before. Yet she had done nothing. Trying to finish her own recovery, to sort out her complicated feelings for Chakotay, her frustration with the fact that the crew just wasn't re-uniting as it should.

She hated to feel that lack of control.

We have time to fix that. Years and years of time for everyone to relearn how to trust each other. We can be a united crew again.

She wished she could believe it.

* * * * *

2000 hours

Present Time

Harry had barely made it into his quarters after dinner before his door chimed.

"Come," he said absently, removing his uniform jacket.

The door slid open, and he turned to welcome Sue, with whom he had planned to practice their duet tonight. Music helped, and Sue's company couldn't be discounted either.

But not enough. Not nearly enough.

Instead, it was B'Elanna.

He started, but she didn't give him a chance to become horrified or uncomfortable.

"Do you think we could talk now?" she said. Her set face, the way she shifted from foot to foot, told him how very little she wanted to be here.

He gaped at her.

She didn't wait for an answer, in typical B'Elanna fashion, but took a chair in his living room. Brown eyes turned on him, waiting for him.

"Maybe we shouldn't--" he trailed off uncomfortably. He realized he was retreating to the bedroom and stopped himself.

"Shouldn't what?" Her hands moved restlessly against the arms of the chair, her lap, her knees.

"Does Tom know you're here?" he switched gears. It didn't seem to affect her. One dark eyebrow arched at the question.


Harry drew in a deep breath and slowly sat down.

"I don't need his permission to talk to anyone, Harry." In this case, she wasn't being quite truthful. She didn't need it--but she wanted it. Too much had happened for her to want to risk Tom's trust. Or his increasingly unpredictable moods. The Doctor had warned her. So had Tom.

Well, hell, he's babysat my moods for long enough. I suppose this is payback. It was comforting, and disconcerting, to see her lover snap at things for no good reason. I've rarely seen him lose his temper. Well, you get to see it now, B'Elanna.

The mental picture of Tom, as she'd left him, popped into her mind. Laying on the couch, with a headache he wouldn't describe except in a look of undiluted dislike, a washcloth covering his eyes. She'd darkened their quarters before she left.

When did I start to think of them as our quarters?

The intriguing thought had to be pressed aside for the time being, but it gave her courage. She forced herself to relax. Waited for Harry to settle himself.

Watching Harry twitch, she spared him some sympathy. But not much. She couldn't.

"What happened between us--" she began, and completely lost the words, if she had even had them to begin with. What the hell do you say in a situation like this? I hate you. I know it wasn't you, but I can't make that real to myself. She didn't want to hurt Harry. Yes I do. Just like I hurt every time I think about it, or I waken from another dream, or I see a certain expression on Tom's face and remember what he had to watch, what we made him watch.

"I'm sorry, B'Elanna." His voice was low, it would have been impossible to hear but the room was eerily silent.

She nodded.

"It's okay, Harry." Well, what else the hell was I supposed to say there? No, it's not okay, you bastard. This is Harry. He never would have--never would have done that to me. This was turning out to be a bad idea, she had somehow known it would be, but something in her wanted some kind of resolution, closure. If for no other reason, to make the dreams go away.

Uncomfortable silence. They didn't look at each other.

He's my best friend, and Tom's. Am I willing to give that up? Five years of friendship, and we just drop it because of one time, one unwitting betrayal?

But that betrayal--she felt herself shiver. Somewhere, deep inside, she wanted to scream at Harry what he had done to her. Take his throat between her hands and just squeeze, thrown him against the bulkhead and watch him die, no matter there was no K'eya in him now to make him hurt her, how the hell do you deal with this? How did Tom talk to Harry afterward? How did he talk to me?

"This was a bad idea," she muttered, standing up, moving to the door. To her shock, Harry blocked her.

"No, B'Elanna. There's something--"

"Get out of the way." Her voice was a throaty growl. Surprisingly, he stood his ground.

"B'Elanna--" He seemed desperate now.

"Get the hell out of my way!" Her temper was reacting to her fear--Why am I afraid of Harry? He'd never hurt me, never.--and she pushed against his chest, knocking him off-balance, leaving her clear to the door. She got two steps before he blocked her again.

"Hit me."

She stared at him. Tried to make sense of the words.


"Hit me." The brown eyes looked steadily into hers, without flinching. "Hit me, do something, just get it over with." His hands were behind him, as if he could ever be a threat to her, and he lifted his chin, waiting. "I deserve it, B'Elanna."

And it tempted her. Her fingers tingled in anticipation. Not just one hit, but a series, punch after punch after punch, watch his blood stain her fingers. Watch him quiver at her feet because of what he had done to her--done to Tom--

--her hand lifted, fingers clenching to her palm--

--she knew she was seconds away from doing just that.

And Harry just stood there, unmoving, ready to take the punishment for something that had never been his fault. Her clenched fist tightened as she tried to think over the maelstrom of feelings. Her harsh breathing echoed in her own ears.

"The K'eya--they were bonded," she said softly, evenly. "What happened, between us, was them. It has nothing to do with us."

Saying the words didn't make her believe them, but it did help cool her. Tuvok would have been proud.

Harry didn't move. The look in his eyes made her ache.

"I shouldn't have come here," she said finally, her voice still even. And it took everything she had ever learned from Tom about control, everything Tuvok had ever told her in her counseling sessions, to stop herself from just hurting him. He was in pain, she could see it in his face.

But not enough. Not the way she was. She wanted to see pain she had caused, that she had inflicted, she wanted visible proof that she had injured him as deeply, as irrevocably, as he had injured her, whether he had wanted to or not.

Just once, she wanted to use her rage to hurt someone other than herself.

But Harry didn't deserve that. The K'eya deserved that. Not the fragile man in front of her, who had done so much to help her, who had been her best friend for so long. He didn't deserve it.

She reached out, and in the bravest moment of her life, she touched his shoulder.

"It'll be okay, Harry. Just--well, time, you know?"

He stared at her blankly, and she saw his mouth trembled. The brown eyes become liquid.

She put her arms around him and embraced him for a brief moment. Refused to give into her fears, to the automatic stiffness of his body.

He returned the embrace, and they moved apart. Looked at each other.

He let her leave.

* * * * *

B'Elanna let the Holodeck doors shut behind her and studied the brig program. Checking to see if it was what she remembered.

She had found the program after Tom mentioned it in the Inquiry. Those official records had been ordered erased. She had saved them, having no idea why she was doing it, hiding them away so no one else would know.

Hell, she didn't know, then, what possible use they could be, except to hurt Tom. She hadn't wanted to do that, but her fingers and her voice had done the deed, even as she wondered what the hell she wanted them for.

Now she stared around the incredibly well-lit brig program Tom had created. She recognized the cell she'd been held in, but didn't approach it. Instead, she walked around the program, intellectually admiring Tom's work on this--he'd hate to know it, but it was very possibly the very best holodeck program he had ever created.

This wasn't healthy, but she was tired of being healthy. Tired of being so confused, and so angry, and so bitter. She turned on her heel, spinning to face the control panel. She didn't need to, of course, but it was one of those idiosyncrasies she had developed on Voyager. She drew in a deep breath.

"Computer, run holodeck record Paris Delta Seven. Crewman Ricarla."


"Torres Alpha Alpha Omega One. Proceed."

:::Authorization verified.:::

She watched the figures appear--Tom, Vorik, Ayala, Ricarla, and the biobed that would hold the crewmember while Tom coolly asked the questions that the K'eya didn't know the answers to.

Watched her lover torture the K'eya.

Fascinated by the hypospray dangling from between Tom's long fingers as he waited for Ricarla to answer.

* * * * *

He couldn't remember having a headache this excruciating in a long time. Tom closed his eyes, laying back on the couch, trying to think calm thoughts. Calm thoughts.

B'Elanna had finally gone to see Harry. He had wondered, vaguely, when she would be able to do that. If she would ever be able to do that. She'd looked very--Klingon--when she left. He wished that he could have gone with her.

To protect her? Or Harry? He'd seen that look before. He crushed a smile and was rewarded with a new spike of pain across the center of his forehead.

He picked up the cool cloth B'Elanna had left for him and put it back over his eyes. The stimulant, or lack thereof, was causing a bout of insomnia, which, in Tom's case, was manifesting itself as a terrible headache. He knew the signs, didn't even want to breathe. Every breath was a new and unexciting experience in intense pain. Hell, even his hair hurt. He kept his head still on the pillow.

B'Elanna had been amused by his sudden temper. As she pointed out, rather dryly, she was usually the one usually likely to throw a fit over nothing and was he trying to take that place in their relationship? In that case, maybe they should "explore" his human heritage more thoroughly, especially the human customs of meditation and denial of luxuries to do penance.

No man could ignore a warning like that. He'd shut his mouth and concentrated on something less stressful--say, piloting through a fleet of Borg cubes. Then she'd sat down with him, giving him that incredible smile that warmed him whenever he saw it, and told him to lay down and relax until dinner. He wasn't hungry. She didn't give a damn. He would eat.

He entertained himself wondering what methods she would resort to if he proved recalcitrant.

After she'd left, he had made the mistake of trying to get up and since then hadn't dared move.

For the first time in--weeks?--no one was at the door needing assistance. No one needed him to mediate, to talk to another crewman, or anything. He suspected it was B'Elanna who had assured his privacy, not a sudden drop in complaints. Or the fact the door was very locked. B'Elanna had done it before she left, with only a half-joking threat of locking him in if he didn't cooperate.

Sue had taken over that duty. He winced at the feel of her name in his head, and drove it out. Bad habits be damned, he didn't feel like handling this, he just couldn't face one more crisis right now.

"Tom? How are you feeling?" Her voice was soft.

He pulled the cloth away from his eyes.

"Fine. I didn't hear the door chime." He sounded short, and knew he did. B'Elanna chuckled softly.

"I'm an engineer. I can disable something as simple as a door chime. So is this how I act when I am in a bad mood, hmmm?" B'Elanna sat down on the edge of the couch, taking his hand in hers. "Is it getting better?"

"I suppose if I said 'now that you are here it's much better', that would be a little much, huh?" She grinned and her fingers gently brushed across his cheek. "The Doc gave me a relaxant, and yes, I took it a little while ago, but no, it's not better. And at least three days of this before I do." He glanced at the chronometer. "You've been gone awhile. Are you okay?" He studied her face in concern. The lights were too low to make out much, but he could see her smile.

An odd look came into her brown eyes. He couldn't interpret it, and he knew he should be able to.

"Much better," she leaned down and brushed her lips across his cheek, laughingly dodging the hand that tried to hold her. "I'm going to go get something to eat from the Messhall. Do you want anything?"

Tom groaned theatrically and B'Elanna grinned her understanding.

"I'll replicate you something when I get back. Just hush and try to get some sleep." She gave him a last long look and then placed the cloth carefully over his eyes. He heard her quietly leave.

* * * * *

"Are you sure you want to do this, Harry?" B'Elanna wiped sweaty palms dry on her pants. If Tom knew-- She tried not to think about that. He wouldn't find out; he didn't need to. This was something she needed to do.

He gave her a long look. His grim expression did not surprise her.

"Will it help?" His voice was harsh in the silence of the dark room.

She drew a deep breath, pulling her chair closer. Looked around the dark, considering her options, and finally sat down. Some ghosts just don't leave. Some you had to fight out. And you had to win.

Because the alternative is unthinkable.

One more step toward control of my life. One more demon dead. I can do this.


Harry sat down a short distance from her, and she turned her head to the console. Swallowed in a suddenly dry throat.

"Computer, run holodeck record Paris Delta 7. Crewman Ricarla. Authorization Torres Alpha Alpha Omega One. Proceed."

:::Authorization accepted.:::

Some ghosts don't leave. You have to fight them out. She clenched her hand into a small fist on her thigh.

She was Klingon. She'd never been accused of turning down a good fight. Especially one she would win.

And she would.

They watched the figures shimmer into existence, and B'Elanna, in the silence of the dark room, felt herself smile.

The End