Trial by Fire
By A’Lehsen Paris

Written: June - ? 2000 (Unfinished)

Summary: B’Elanna’s back from the Borg, but a lot of things have changed. Will she be able to deal with them all? How will her crewmates respond to her now, especially the man she depends on the most?

Disclaimer: They’re owned by Paramount/Viacom. The story’s owned by me. I’m not going to try to make any money off of it, okay? Does everyone understand that? Good.

Rated: PG

Dedication: To Pammy and Kat, two terrific beta readers! May you live long and prosper...and continue to help me out. *g*

Part One

B'Elanna Torres sat on the edge of her bed and sighed, rolling her head in a slow circle to ease the tension in her neck. It had been a long day. Too long.

There had been looks, and whispers. She had expected both, had tried to prepare herself to face them. She'd told herself that it wouldn't be easy, but never would she have anticipated the rumors that had floated through Engineering on her first day back--rumors which held more than a grain of truth.

"She doesn't seem the same somehow. She's just different."

"I can't believe that they've let her come back without--"

"What did you expect? I heard that they can't be removed."

"At least you can't see them."

"Most of them. Look at her neck."

"I can imagine what they look like, though, all gray and's frightening."

"Shhh.....she's coming over here!"

It had been like that all day. She wondered if it had been wishful thinking that had led her to believe that seeing her in the Mess Hall and walking through Voyager's corridors every day would make them see that she hadn't changed. Not on the inside, anyway. She was still B'Elanna Torres, still Voyager's Chief Engineer. She had, foolishly perhaps, hoped that at least her staff would be able to see that.

It wasn't who she was that disturbed them. It was what she had been. What she still was, in part.

B'Elanna reached up and loosened the fastenings on her jacket, letting it slip down her shoulders. She glanced down at the object of the rumors, the whispers. It gleamed coldly on her arm, a constant reminder of what she had sacrificed. For them.

The Doctor had been apologetic. There had been problems removing some of the Borg attachments due to her unique blending of Human and Klingon physiology. Some of the internal ones would never be removed, and as for the external ones...her shoulder sported a permanent metal cap with tendrils curling down her arm to her elbow and entering her skin to meld with the bone beneath. And her spine.....two cords had wrapped themselves around her spine, inside and out, filaments connecting and bonding with her spinal cord. There was nothing the Doctor could do.

She had tried to come to terms with it. It just seemed so unreal at times. Sometimes she would brush a hand against cool metal and, like reliving a nightmare, she would realize yet again that she would have these for the rest of her life. The thought chilled her mind as the metal did her fingers.

She had been given some unexpected help through this time of adjustment. The Captain and Lieutenant Commander Tuvok had, like herself, been ordered to take a week of sick leave. They had become a comfortable trio, often content to simply sit in silence in one another's quarters. Sometimes they would talk, but not of their time in the Collective. No, everything that could have been said had already been discussed, but not verbally. They had been linked, mind to mind, through the Collective, even though their personalities remained distinct and individual. That telepathic bond had enabled them to communicate things that would never, that could never, have been said aloud.

B'Elanna had, for instance, finally admitted her resentment of the Captain and her behavior over the last couple of years. The way that she had ignored her Chief Engineer's capabilities and importance in the command structure. The way she hadn't listened, resiging herself, instead, to take advice from Seven of Nine. The way she had stopped trying to take into account the opinions of her crew when making a decision. The way she had let her own selfish wants guide the fates of all of them.

Janeway had been stunned, and shamed. She had known, deep down, that what she was doing was wrong. But it had been easier, and she had been so tired of forcing herself to be everyone's mentor, everyone's example and role model. She had tried to convince herself that the crew would do just fine without her being too involved. The Captain had accepted her guilt, and B'Elanna believed that she would do what she could to repair the damage she had caused.

B'Elanna's relationship with Tuvok, too, had undergone a strange metamorphosis. No longer was he her un-looked for counselor, the mentor she grudgingly had to acknowledge. Instead, she had recognized in him a fount of strength and knowledge that she had been missing since she and Chakotay had grown further apart. She finally understood that Tuvok, instead of trying to change who she was, was trying to help her become who she wanted to be.

B'Elanna now considered that all of that would seem like success to most people. But there were so many things that had gone wrong since she had come back to Voyager two weeks ago. The way her crewmates treated her was only the beginning, a sign of a deeper problem that might not even have grown so large, if it hadn't been for . . .

Tom. He had haunted her on that ship, the look in his eyes when he had said goodbye to her. As if he had feared that she would never come home. Also, as if he hoped it.

When she had been beamed immediately to Sickbay he had been the first thing she saw. She hadn't wanted to smile then; it didn't feel right. So they had just stared at each other before the Doctor had gently pressed her back onto the biobed and the hypospray gave her the gift of blessed oblivion.

There had been distance in his eyes. Their cool blue depths had seemed unfamiliar to her. She hadn't understood it then. She didn't now. All she knew was that from that moment on Tom Paris had ignored her as much as he was able. He had left any room she had entered, walked away from every conversation she tried to start. After a few such incidents B'Elanna had just stopped trying.

Was she really so different? It was a question she had asked herself a hundred times over since seeing that look in his eyes. Was she someone else now?

Oh, maybe if you were looking at her. There were some changes. Her hair was longer, falling just past her shoulders. She had asked the Doctor to regrow it that way, and it fell in waves down her back unless she pulled it back as she had to while she was on duty. Her skin was still paler than she was used to seeing it, but the Doctor had assured her that the artificial pigments would fade very soon. She felt more graceful when she walked, almost as if she were gliding, and she supposed she had the spinal attachment to thank for that, if it was helping her fine motor control.

But on the inside...well, so what if she hadn't chewed Carey's head off today for not making sure that the warp core diagnostics were performed every week instead of every two weeks? And what did it matter if she had thrown only one faultily-written report at a lazy ensign instead of her usual half-dozen? The rest hadn't been so bad.

Even if she did have a better reign over her temper now, what did it matter to them? They were only benefiting from it, weren't they? And so was she. She had actually walked out of Engineering without a headache for the first time in years. She was sure it was because she had kept her cool more than was her wont.

Couldn't they see how terrific all of this was, for her and for them? Couldn't they see that, even if she had changed, it was for the better?

Maybe they just didn't understand. They didn't know, couldn't possibly begin to comprehend what had changed her. Sometimes she thought, she wished, that it had only been a dream. Especially when she lay awake at night, the cries echoing in her mind.

Each assimilated person . . . each scream of a soul being overpowered by an entity so powerful that it boggled the imagination. Those cries had ripped at her heart, had imprinted themselves in her mind. And then there was the Voice that called constantly, cajoling her to give up her fight, her struggle to stay free. It had been a seductive Voice, and had been all the more horrible because she recognized it. To her, the Voice had sounded like Tom's.

Perhaps she had allowed him to avoid her so much because she didn't want to hear him speak, didn't want to be reminded of those terrible few weeks. Each time she heard him speaking, even from a distance, she had thought about the thousands she had heard assimilated each day.

"You're thinking about it now," she muttered to herself. "This is ridiculous! You're just scared! You don't want to know what he thinks of you. You don't want to hear him say how disgusted he is by what you've become. And he knows it all, Torres. He was there, in Sickbay, and he helped the Doctor remove every one of those damned little implants. He knows."

Yes, it was fear that kept her from reaching out to him more than she had. Fear, and shame. She shouldn't let those two irrational emotions stand between her and the man she loved.

She did love him. Didn't she?

How could she be sure anymore? They had hardly ever had the time to talk even before B'Elanna had decided to go with Janeway. They had been drifting apart, and while it had hurt, it still hurt, B'Elanna hadn't known what to do then anymore than she knew what to do now.

"Just take it day by day, Torres," she told herself, repeating the words she had never forgotten from a teacher who had cared more than she had thought he had.

That's what she had to do. Take it day by day. In time they would come to accept her as she was now. They had to. There was no one else on the ship with her expertise, and Janeway would never hear of Carey replacing her for such a trivial reason. They would get used to it. And so would she.

B'Elanna stood up slowly and headed for the sonic shower. All she wanted was to get clean and try to sleep dreamlessly, if that was possible. She was sure she dreamed about him while she slept, but she couldn't remember when she woke. She did remember hearing his voice, though, as she had heard it waking and sleeping for too many days while she was a Borg drone.


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