Banked Fire by Djinn

The bar is gloomy, dark and too warm. It smells musty from clothing worn for too long in too hot a climate. Torres closes her eyes, breathing deeply. She is worlds away from dirty diapers and the safe place that Earth has become.

She is worlds away from Tom and Miral.

She would have to, if pressed, admit that she is in heaven. No one calls for her, or cries, or falls down in the next room only to shriek.

She is a good mother. But sometimes she longs to just be herself, to just be Torres: the bad-tempered engineer who took no shit off anyone. That woman has seemed so far away for so long, and Torres has enjoyed getting her back.

Even if it's only for a few more days.

"Slumming, Lieutenant?" The raspy voice is full of amusement.

Torres feels her lips turn up, it's almost a Pavlovian response after seven years with this voice, with this woman. "I could say the same about you, Admiral." She looks up, sees Janeway laugh. She laughs too. It feels good. Woman to woman.

"May I?"

Torres nods. "Of all the dives on all the planets..." She is paraphrasing badly. Tom's love of things past has rubbed off on her; his knowledge hasn't made as much headway.

But Janeway seems to get it. "I know. I had to walk into this one." She sits, her compact body taking less space than her essence does. She has always seemed larger than life to Torres, always seemed like a giantess. It is a shock to realize how petite she is after the months away from her.

"How are you, Admiral?"

"We're off duty, B'Elanna. And out of uniform."

Torres is uncertain what to do with that. She settles for taking a long sip of her drink. She's not sure what's in her glass. Knows only that it's strong and slightly bitter and a dark, dark orange.

Janeway smiles. "I mean you can call me Kathryn."

"Mmmm." Torres smiles, but she knows it is a wary expression. "I don't think so."

She means it as a joke; it seems to strike like a missile. Janeways' expression goes blank, and suddenly she's cold, as distant as she ever looked on the bridge, when Chakotay made one of his gentle suggestions that maybe the captain was a little bit crazy.

Torres looks down. She didn't mean to rip into her former commanding officer.

At least not that hard.

"Sorry. My humor subroutine needs work." EMH jokes might work where mean-spirited humor didn't.

Janeway just nods. She sips at her own drink, something clear--it may be water, it may be straight one-hundred proof. There is no smell, and Janeway's eyes don't water as she drinks it. She makes no face to indicate it is anything potent.

Torres looks down. "It's just..."

"Fine. It's fine, B'Elanna. Let's drop it."

It drops. All the way to the floor and then some.

"I didn't expect to see you here." Torres knows Janeway could say the same of her. She looks away before her former captain can ask her why she's on Trilaris Prime. Of course, she can always say she's here to help. Freakishly strong ion storms wiped out the infrastructure; Starfleet answered the call--B'Elanna answered the call. Quickly, too quickly perhaps. Tom looked a bit hurt when she first told him she'd be gone for a few weeks. She may have seemed too eager to be away--to be alone.

"Earth gets a little...dull." Janeway is staring at her, eyes dark, almost all pupil, or maybe it is just the light.

Torres wants to look away, but she can't. "Life gets a little dull."

A slight nod concedes the point. No other indication that Janeway agrees with her or not, as she sips at her maybe-water-maybe-more.

"Do you miss it?" Torres wishes immediately that she could take the words back.

"What? Exactly?"

"Voyager." Torres misses it. Misses the hum of the engines--her engines--underfoot, the smell of the alien components she melded seamlessly with Starfleet ones, the sound of her crew, working, talking, mourning, sometimes rejoicing. God...what she wouldn't give--

"Not as much as you do, apparently," Janeways says as she watches Torres, as if she can read every single thought. Maybe she can. She's always seemed like a bit of a witch to Torres. Too powerful. Too insightful.

"The adventure. I miss that."

"Yes. The Hirogen, the Borg, the Kazon. Boy, do I miss them." Janeway's picking the worst times, the defeats--the horrible parts of the adventure. She must still be smarting over the name thing.

Torres tries it out, forms the word in her mouth. "Kathryn"--the name almost sounds natural--"there was more than just that."

But it seems a betrayal to say that. To Joe Carey, especially. Torres still thinks of him. Still wishes she had the courage or the compassion to reach out to his wife, to his children, but it is hard enough some days for her to reach out to Tom and Miral.

"Maybe." Janeway finishes her drink. "You want another?" Her eyes dare Torres to say no.

"Sure." She belts back the drink, feeling reckless. It has been a long time since she felt this free, this energized, despite how tired she is from working double shifts on the repairs.

Getting up, Janeway goes to the bar, somehow managing to push past men and women much larger. Her own special magic. There is no doubt who is in command here.

Torres misses that more than anything. Knowing exactly who her boss was, knowing who she had to please, and how. Keep the ship going, make it more efficient, get them home. It was a joint mission, a shared goal. Their dream.

She is dying of boredom in their dream. She will never tell Tom that, hopes that she never inadvertently shows him that. But getting home was a lot more exciting when it was years away than what the reality has proven to be.

"Here." Another glass, full of something pink and steaming is in front of her. Janeway looks at her, her eyes hard, her smile mocking.

"You don't seriously think you can drink me under the table, do you?" Torres feels something coming alive as she talks, something dangerous and dark and full of the old Maquis ways.

"Oh, I think I can more than drink you under the table." Janeway's gaze doesn't waver; she doesn't blink as she stares Torres down. There is more than a little of the Maquis in her too. Torres wonders if the admiral realizes that maybe she is too wild for Starfleet, especially after seven unfettered years.

"So why are you here, Kathryn." Torres watches Janeway's face as she calls her by her given name; she does not look comfortable with the familiarity, despite having invited the liberty. "Would you prefer admiral after all?"

"Kathryn's fine." There is an edge running through Janeway's voice; her tone could cut glass. The glare she gives Torres as she sips at the steaming pinkness could shatter glass.

Torres reaches for her drink, takes one small sip and nearly chokes at the rancid, penetrating taste of the sticky liquid. Spitting hers back into the glass, Janeway breaks up, even as her eyes start to water, from pain, Torres thinks, not from mirth.

"My god. That's awful." Torres is laughing now too, laughing in a way she has not laughed for a very, very long time.

"I'm sorry." Janeway wipes at her eyes. "That bartender hates one of us. Or possibly both of us."

Torres slides out of her chair, picking up the glasses and making her way to the bar as if she is still in the Maquis and this bar is her home turf. She sets the glasses on the bar, pushes them toward the bald and shiny man who looks oily and dirty and utterly at home in the seedy little place.

"She said she wanted a taste of the local color." He looks a little worried that the local color might earn him a thrashing.

Torres is tempted. It's been a long time since she beat someone up just for fun. "Make it up to me."

He nods, fixes her a double of what she had to begin with. The orange liquid is suddenly comforting. He hands her something else, this time dark, like a bitter stout. "For your friend." He manages to put an interesting twist on the word.

"My friend isn't going to appreciate any more dirty tricks."

"She'll like this. I'm good at reading people."

Torres laughs. "Oh, yeah? Read me." She stares at him, her smile dangerous. But then her smile slips as she sees something in his face, something she doesn't like. "You think I'm housebroken?" The thought angers her, probably because it's true. She is tame. Tom's pet Klingon.

And most of the time, she likes it like that.

"I never said that. Drinks are on the house. You go back to your girlfriend now."

It makes her feel odd, to walk back to the table with him thinking that she and her former captain are more than just old comrades. She looks at Janeway, smiles as she does it. It's been so long since she felt this way--antsy and sexy and just a little bit deadly.

Janeway looks up at her, takes her drink and says, "What kept you?" as if she wants to provoke her more than she already has.

Torres sits down and studies her.

"Are you looking for something in particular? Would you like me to give you my best side?" Janeway turns her head in profile, facing away from the bar, away from the man and his ability to read her. This is not surprising; Torres knows the admiral does not like to be read.

"I know why I'm here," Torres says. "I'm bored. I'll admit it. Earth...bores me. Now. You admit it."

"I'm here because Starfleet Command thought an admiral should be overseeing the rebuilding. It is our best listening post against the outer reaches."

She's right. It's no secret. The Federation, the Klingons, hell, everyone comes here to peer out with their newest gadgets and try to guess what sort of nasty thing might be coming down the pike. The Borg? Something worse?

"And they asked for you?"

"Any admiral would do." Janeway takes a drink, smiles and nods approval--obviously, the bartender could read her, at least as far as her beverage preferences.

"So you volunteered?"

"Yes, B'Elanna, I volunteered." Janeway leans back, and with the move seems to shed some sort of tension she's been wearing like a cloak. She stares at Torres with the fond half-smile she used to wear when she would come down to engineering and "help out."

Torres loved those times. Quiet, between some crisis or other. Just the two of them. Passing instruments back and forth, talking softly about this modification or that possibility for improvement. Sometimes, Seven joined them. Torres hated that. Not that she hates Seven--or at least not anymore. But back then, she resented Seven horning in on her time with Janeway. Time that became increasingly rare as they got closer to home.

"I miss you," she says, then takes a quick drink. Why the hell did she say that? It must be the drink. Orange for truth, orange for blurting out stupid, honest, useless statements.

Janeway doesn't answer, and Torres feels unreasonably hurt. Unreasonably because she doesn't expect her to say that she misses her too, or to tell her she's sorry.

"I was your protege first." Again, such stupid, useless truth.

"You didn't need me the way she did." Janeways says it as if it is something they have talked about often. Maybe she told herself this? Maybe she felt guilty when she abandoned her half-Klingon mutt for her shiny new doll?

"How did you know that? How did you know what I needed?" Torres looks down. "I didn't even know what I needed."

"I know." Janeway sighs, reaches out and touches Torres's hand. Her touch is light, warm. Soft.

"Don't. You use that like a weapon. Your touch. Your skin." Torres says it, but she doesn't pull away.

Janeway doesn't pull away either. She pushes Torres hand over, lays her hand in it. Her hand is so much smaller. Tiny, really. Torres could crush it like a little bird. She folds her fingers over Janeway's.

She hears Janeway exhale. Slowly, the sound ragged.

"Where is she now? Seven?" It is a question aimed to hurt. Torres knows where Seven is. When she is not visiting chez Paris with Chakotay, she is off in the bowels of Starfleet Command, wowing the resident science base with her Borg know-how and efficiency. She is not anywhere near Janeway, and by the look on the admiral's face, it has been a long time since she's laid eyes on Seven.

Even longer since she's laid anything el--

Janeway jerks her hand away, no mean feat since Torres is holding on firmly. Torres does not even question that she could tell what she was thinking. Janeway is a witch, a sorceress, a warrior. Her idol.

"I love how strong you are," Torres says, smiling at her former captain with courage fueled by orange alien liquor and the knowledge that no one will ever know what happens here.

"B'Elanna. I'm your husband's friend."

"I know." Her voice is mocking. She doesn't even try to soften her tone. "That's why you stop by to see him so often." She has never been by. Not to see Tom. Not to see any of them. Miral wouldn't know her "Aunt Kathryn" if Janeway bit her in the ass. Torres laughs, leaning back, stretching.

Once, back in her Maquis days, Torres and Seska were in a bar like this.

"Do you like her?" Seska asked, pointing out a native beauty.

Torres laughed. She liked Chakotay. And she hadn't yet found out that he'd liked Seska a whole lot better.

"She likes you," Seska said in that way she had that made everything a little bit risky, a little bit sexy.

And it was probably true. The woman was staring over at them, over at her. Her eyes were looking at her the way Kathryn is looking at her now. Only there wasn't any anger in the alien's eyes. And there definitely is in Kathryn's.

It's getting easier by the minute to call her Kathryn.

"I want you," Torres says, maybe to the girl from so long ago, maybe to Janeway. Maybe to the memory of what they once had, made prettier by time and alien alcohol.

"You want me?" Janeway slams her hand down. "You don't want me. You want our old life back. It's what I want too, B'Elanna. Yes, I'm bored at Command. Yes, I'm bored on Earth. Yes, I miss it." She finishes her drink, starts to stand.

"And it's why you came to my table. So that you could say that. Finally."

Janeway stops rising, then slowly sinks down. She sighs, and the sound is the epitome of defeat, if this woman ever actually admitted defeat.

Torres smiles. Maybe the bartender is rubbing off on her. Or maybe she is a little bit witch too?

"I have a room." She knows what Janeway will say. But she wants it out there. The offer. Even if it just hangs in the air between them forever. Even if there is never anything else for them. She wants it out there.

"I have a perfectly good room of my own." The words could be cruel, but Janeway is smiling at her in a way that is far from that. She looks down, and the smile turns into a grin. "Do you remember? Passing the hypospanner to me?"

Torres nods. Sometimes, she'd miss, just so their hands would touch for a moment. And every time Janeway left, she'd put her hand on Torres's arm, on her back, on her shoulder. The goodbye touch. The longed-for touch.

"I love Tom." Torres feels the need to say it. "And Miral." It is tearing at her suddenly. That they are home, and they love her, and she loves them. And that she wants this woman still, this woman who trusted her and gave her a chance and was everything to her for so very long.

"I know you do," Janeway says, her hand again falling on Torres's hand. "And they love you." It is unsaid that she views Torres as lucky, that she views her as happy. "You'll be all right."

"I know. So will you." There is silence then. She could leave it at this. She could...but she can't. "It's good to be here though. For a while."

Janeway nods. "Yes. It is." She takes a long sip of her drink.

"So what does an admiral do on a war-torn world?"

"Meet people. Read reports."

"Sounds scintillating." Torres laughs at her.

"Wait till you're an admiral, missy." It is the voice of old. The voice of shared hypospanners and a "no Borgs allowed" tree fort.

Torres smiles. "There's work to be done, you know? Engineer-type work, not admiral-type work."

"I forgot my tool belt." But Janeway looks nostalgic again.

"I'll share mine."

Their eyes meet, a long, lingering glance that could be the start of something torrid and wonderful and probably very wrong.

They both look down.

"What time do you start in the morning?" Janeway asks.

"As soon as the anti-tox kicks in."

The admiral laughs. Not a mean laugh, or a self-deprecating laugh. But a real laugh. "I'll find you."

"I'll count on that."

Janeway's smile is gentle, her touch soft again--one last, glancing connection before she is up and out of her chair. "You can count on that."

Their eyes meet. So many other things that could be shared besides that promise are whirling around them and between them. Torres forces her hands into her lap, where she will not reach out, will not try to draw this woman back in, back down, back to her.

She notices that Janeway has clenched her fists, then she puts her hands behind her back, the picture of an admiral at parade rest.

"I'll see you tomorrow," Torres finally says, releasing her.

She stays in her seat as Janeway walks away, only looks for one long moment as Janeway nears the door, then forces her head back down, to study a drink she no longer wants.

A cup of something that smells like coffee is pushed under her nose. She looks up at the bartender. If anything, he looks even oilier, but his eyes seem to read her, all the way to her heart where the woman who just left defends the space she carved out long ago, a space she shares with a precious girl and a beloved man.

"I am not house broken," she says, sucking down the coffee.

"Of course not." He wisely says nothing more as he leaves her to what probably, for her, resembles honor.

FIN

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