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

Dedicated: To Pammy and Sab. Thanks for going over this for me and pointing out what needed work....which was a lot....*g*

Part Three

B'Elanna buried herself in her work over the next few days, as she always did when she was troubled. The latest breakthroughs in the MIDAS project intrigued her, and so she set out to see how she could improve them.

Typically, she lost track of time. She was jolted back to the mundane world by Carey, who cleared his throat behind her.

When B'Elanna glared back at him he said, "Chief, you've been working for.....well, I got off my last shift two shifts ago, and you were here. From what I've been able to tell you haven't even stopped to eat yet. You shouldn't do this to yourself, not after....after what' you've been through." He stammered out that last bit, unable to meet her eyes.

B'Elanna growled low in her throat. "Dammit, Carey, why can't you just say it? Can't any of you just bring it up once to my face instead of talking behind my back?" she demanded.

Carey's eyes flew to hers, and he flushed. "Sorry, Chief. I just....I guess I just didn't want to remind you of it because I thought it might be too hard for you to think about...being a Borg."

She sighed, frustrated. "Would you please tell me, Lieutenant, why everyone on this ship seems to think that I'm someone else just because I was assimilated? I haven't really taken the time to watch any of you around Janeway or Tuvok, but it seems like I'm the only one of the three of us who's being targeted by this gossip," she said.

Carey was silent for a moment. Then he sighed also and said, "Sir, I guess it's just because we can look at the Captain and Commander Tuvok and--and there's no difference that's really visible. But've changed the way you look and even the way you act. On a ship like this, sudden change like that is...a little hard to accept. The reasons for that change aren't really the important thing, Chief."

B'Elanna considered this. It was possible that Carey wasn't just saying all that to make her feel better. She could almost let herself hope that it was the truth. Almost, but not quite.

"That works for everyone except--" she stopped, not really wanting to discuss this much of her private life with her second in command.

Carey, seeming to sense her sudden discomfort with the subject, quickly said, "Chief, I really do think that you should go get something to eat now. I can handle things here for a while. Maybe you could even get some sleep.

B'Elanna returned his tentative smile. "All right. Just don't disturb anything on my desk, okay?"

He nodded. "Yes, sir."

She patted his shoulder as she passed him. After their short conversation it was easier to ignore the glances in her direction that she received as she left Engineering.

* * * * *

B'Elanna entered the Mess Hall feeling more than a little defiant. The stares and whispers started even as she walked over to the counter and peered around for Neelix. He popped up out of the back in his usual fashion, and for the what must have been the millionth time she wondered if he had some kind of telepathy.

"Hello, B'Elanna!" He was always cheerful, but she wondered if he wasn't overdoing it a bit now.

"Hi, Neelix. What have you got today?" she asked, sniffing at the aroma that wafted forward from the kitchen area. Well, "aroma" was a nice way of putting it.

"I've got some grish-ta soup and yemo casserole. And, if you're really hungry, I'll add some of this delicious vit-vi in saqi sauce." He filled her plate with all of this, and she had to accept it and the cup of some amber liquid because her replicator rations were low after the chocolate binge she had indulged herself in the week before.

"Thanks, Neelix. It looks--interesting."

"That's what everyone has said today! I'm so glad that you all enjoy my cooking," he told her with a smile.

B'Elanna could only smile weakly back and head for the nearest empty table. She sat down, feeling uncomfortable in the slightly crowded Mess Hall, as she usually did lately. She hadn't eaten with anyone but the Captain and Tuvok since her return, and she wasn't sure if she liked it that way or not.

"B'Elanna? Do you mind if I sit here?"

Harry's voice pulled her away from her thoughts. She looked up, aware of the chill that had entered her eyes and seemed to paralyze her.

"I don't really care," she said coolly.

Harry grimaced as he put his tray down and took the seat opposite her. He just sat there for a moment or so, and then he finally looked up at her and said, "I know that we haven't talked a lot since you got back--"

"We've said maybe three words to each other, Harry. That includes 'Hi,'" B'Elanna told him harshly.

Harry took a deep breath and nodded. "You're right. I just didn't know what to say to you after all that you went through," he said quickly, trying to finish the explanation before she could interrupt.

B'Elanna was quiet for a minute, and then she told him intensely, "I needed a friend, Harry. I needed someone who didn't go through 'all that I went through' to help me adjust, to keep me balanced. And there was no one, not even you, who was willing to do that for me. Do you realize how much that hurts?" She had tried not to raise her voice, but she wasn't very successful. Her pain and anger were too strong.

She stood up, her meal untouched, picked up her tray and cup and was about to leave. His hand on her wrist stopped her.

"I'm sorry, B'Elanna. I know I should have been there for you, and I wasn't. I'd like you to forgive me, and for us to still be friends," he said sincerely, looking directly into her eyes for the first time.

She shut her eyes, trying to ignore the voice that told her to forgive him. It wasn't that easy. "Maybe we can be friends again, Harry. Maybe even someday soon. But not today."

She left the Mess Hall with a cold feeling in the pit of her stomach. Would she always react like this? Would the hurting never go away?

A voice whispered in her mind, her voice. It won't leave you until you face your fear and defeat it.

She wasn't sure if she was strong enough for that yet.

* * * * *

She woke up groggily. This had been her first chance to sleep in--days? She hadn't allowed herself the luxury of a really good deep sleep in a long time. Certainly not since before being assimilated. She wouldn't have indulged this time except that she'd received orders to from Chakotay switching her next shift up so that she had three free shifts. She detected Carey's hand in that.

B'Elanna stretched lazily, then she got up and showered. The sonic pulses had never felt so good.

Still not more than half-awake, she checked with the computer to see what time it was. She had two hours until her shift began, so she only put on her pants and undershirt, ignoring the jacket that would go over it for the time being.

Her stomach chose the moment she sat down to put her hair up to inform her that it didn't take kindly to missed meals, and she'd skipped several. So, B'Elanna replicated a plate of steaming hot banana pancakes and a tall glass of milk. She tried to enjoy the food, really she did. Somehow, though, it just didn't taste like she thought it should.

B'Elanna had finished eating and finally ready to fix her hair when the door chimed. She frowned. No one had come on an impromtu visit since she got back. Her heart, weak thing that it was, offered up the small hope that it was Tom out there. She squashed that down, knowing that thoughts like that were useless and would just make her even more unhappy than she already was.

After short hesitation she called out, "Enter!"

The door opened. At first she thought that maybe the chime had been malfunctioning because no one stepped in. Then a familiar figure slowly entered. Blue eyes gazed around the room, looking for her.

"Tom!" she gasped out. Her mind and body felt numb.

* * * * *

So, what did you think? Please, let me know. *big smiles*