Disclaimer: I do not own nor claim to own any of these characters, places, or events. Just the story.
Author's Note: Inspired by the B'Elanna/Chakotay storyline during "Future's End, Part II," and the desire for RESOLUTION! Briefly references season one's "State of Flux," and repeatedly refers to season one's "Faces."
She was quiet. Too quiet.
Chakotay's brow creased, wrinkling the navy lines of his tattoo. Silent, he waited till Paris and Kim had left the turbolift to look at her. Really look at her, that is.
Dust from the shuttle crash and ensuing fistfight coated her face. Her lower lip was split—doubtless from her fall down the cellar stairs. Probably when she'd gotten the cuts on her cheeks, too. Her chestnut hair, normally brushed into soft composure around her neck, was tangled and dusty, its disarray exposing the bruises along her jawline. Her shoulders slumped like they had when she'd heard of Seska's deception; her boot scuffed slowly on the carpet. Overall, B'Elanna looked exhausted and beaten, leaning against the 'lift wall in her tattered engineer's uniform.
All of this angered him, made his blood pound in his ears, like a brother's would when seeing his little sister mistreated. But it was her eyes that struck him hardest. There was a haunted wavering to them, a shadow, that he hadn't seen since the incident with the Vidiians over a year ago. His heart ached as he watched her, knowing the reason for the raw pain tearing into those soft brown eyes.
"And that one…I don't know what her story is."
Porter's words echoed through his mind, much louder than he remembered. Their volume caused him to wince. Chakotay resisted the urge to sweep the 'lift with his tricorder in search of hidden speakers. His mind was playing tricks on him, exploiting his sympathy for B'Elanna. He turned back to her. For several seconds, he watched her, his ebony eyes unwavering. She never acknowledged his scrutiny.
"What's that thing on her forehead?"
Butch seemed to be beside him, whispering the insulting words into his ear. B'Elanna's stony face flashed in his mind's eye, followed by the memory of her complete stillness, the tension that had surged through her small body like plasma from a warp core breech. He remembered the way she'd ceased breathing as Butch's finger inched toward her forehead ridges, the flash of terror followed by pain, banished by white-hot fury as she lashed out at the offending finger.
"I wonder what they'll think when they find a half-Klingon in here."
He'd laughed at her comment then, in the dark, dirty confines of the cellar, his senses charged with the sounds of firefight outside and their captors' guns cocking inside.
But now, as B'Elanna's words played a loop in his mind, all Chakotay could hear was the bitterness in her voice, the hatred she harbored toward the black sheep inside her. The struggle to accept her Klingon genes. And it tore into him as painfully as if it were a bullet from Porter's gun.
The 'lift hummed to a stop; B'Elanna straightened, moving toward the doors. Chakotay shook himself free from the dark thoughts and looked at her—the ragged, haunted young woman with her back to him and a burden greater than any he could fathom bowing her shoulders. His heart throbbed, sending pain coursing through his limbs. Do something! it demanded.
"Walk you to your quarters?" he heard himself ask, and saw B'Elanna glance back at him. She hesitated only a moment before a lopsided smile tugged her lips, answering him in that warm, completely comfortable way only a friend you'd faced death with could. She gave a short little nod, in that B'Elanna Torres way of hers, and exited the 'lift. Smiling, he followed.
As he walked beside her, he observed her body language. He analyzed the sound of her feet hitting the ground, the slump of her shoulders, the way she hugged her arms against her ribcage. As he watched her, he knew.
Exhaustion had little, if anything, to do with her silence.
The callous words crashed into his mind once more, brutal and uncaring in their rampage. Doubtless B'Elanna was hearing them in her own mind, gasping under their fiery lashes. Enduring the pain in silence. Alone.
They reached her quarters, and B'Elanna stopped; he drew alongside her, still silent and searching. Her dirty fingers emerged to press the keypad before darting into the crook of her left elbow once more. It struck him that she looked incredibly vulnerable, and he swore he'd never let this happen again.
"Well, I guess I'll see you in the morning," she said, looking up at him. His eyes searched her face, and he sensed her scrambling to hide her pain. But he knew her too well.
You don't have to hide from me, he wanted to say. But instead, "I guess so."
The doors shushed open. Still hugging herself, she made to enter her quarters.
"B'Elanna," he saidsuddenly, reaching to stop her.
She paused at the contact, her brown eyes sliding up to his. "Yeah?"
"I'm sorry they hurt you."
The pain flashed again, sharp and fierce, but he refused to break the contact. Chakotay forced himself to feel it, to absorb a fraction of what she had to bear. They stood like that for a minute, tense, silent, and hurting.
At last, B'Elanna ducked her head and drew a shuddering breath. Then, lifting her chin and squaring her shoulders, she avoided his eyes. When she spoke, her gaze was directed into her quarters. "I'm fine, Chakotay, really. I'll see you in the morning."
And with that, she was gone, the silver doors gliding into place behind her.
With a soft sigh, he turned and made for the turbolift. She was not fine, Chakotay knew, not fine at all. But he'd made it clear that he was here for her, and she had walled herself in, just like always.
What else could he do?
As soon as the doors slid shut behind her, B'Elanna sagged against them, eyes closing in utter relief. He hadn't asked her to play hoverball with him, catch a late dinner together in the mess hall, or even walk with him to sickbay, where the Doctor would patch them up. She was off the hook. No scrambling for cover, no pretending she was fine—just her quarters, silent and welcoming. She opened her eyes, taking in the drab features. Nothing had ever seemed so beautiful.
Shoving away from the door, B'Elanna moved from the main room into the bedroom, unzipping her gold and black jacket as she went. She grimaced as she held it in front of her. Filthy. She tossed it into the recycler and kicked off her boots. Those, too, were muddied beyond recognition. It felt wonderful to shed them. She headed for the bathroom.
Thirty minutes and a leisurely sonic shower later, B'Elanna stood in the main room, dressed in what had become her favorite in-quarters outfit: a flowing red tunic over black leggings and bare feet. The bare feet were the best.
Inhaling the clean, if not fresh, air, B'Elanna sank onto the couch and tucked a blanket over her legs. She was clean, off-duty, and alone. Pure bliss. Her eyes drifted closed, and she rested her head on the couch's arm. Sleep came for her.
The cold concrete dug into her shoulder, and she shifted, trying to ease the discomfort. She felt her cheek brush the grimy floor, and shuddered involuntarily, trying to ignore the faint scuttling sounds of insects in the shadows. Chakotay stirred beside her, obviously uncomfortable as well.
And why shouldn't he be? They were both filthy, exhausted, and tied so tightly that neither one of them could feel their hands or feet anymore. B'Elanna considered herself lucky not to be gagged.
She grunted as her elbow and hip banged against the floor. "Welcome to the 20th century," she muttered. The sting of her split lip only added to her misery.
"Pretty nice place we have here, huh?" Chakotay rasped. Despite his droll words, B'Elanna heard the pain behind them. She glanced sideways at him, trying to assess his injuries. She knew he'd taken a rock-like fist to the neck, and that one of their captors—Porter, maybe—had grazed his ribs with a knife. Still, here he was trying to make her feel better. That was Chakotay.
"Charming," she shot back, pushing herself up against the wall. Her back ached horribly from the fall down the stairs. Not to mention the rest of her body. She was about to comment on the nature of their tiny roommates when she heard the scraping of boots against the wooden stairs. She tensed, bracing herself for what she knew was coming. It wasn't enough.
"What's that thing on her forehead?"
The words struck her physically, like a slap to the face. B'Elanna jerked awake and found herself soaked in sweat. She squeezed her eyes shut and breathed deeply, trying to calm herself. Even now, she could see Butch's finger creeping closer and closer to her forehead, reaching to touch the part of her she'd never allowed anyone to touch but herself.
B'Elanna felt moisture on her cheeks, and realized she was crying. Angry, she clamped her teeth on her split lip, heedless of the pain. She would not cry. She would not. It was pointless, and weak, and did nothing to help her. And it reminded her all too much of the nightmare she'd undergone with the Vidiians more than a year ago.
The horror of that day came back to her all too quickly, shrouding her in darkness. No matter that a year had passed; the memories were still fresh, the pain still raw and bleeding. She remembered what it had been like to be cut in half, to pass out half-Klingon and wake up fully human. She remembered the trembling that had plagued her limbs, the nausea that had roiled through her stomach. The alien feel of smooth skin where her forehead ridges should be.
And that was just the physical. Inside, it had been infinitely worse. She'd been a coward. A weak, spineless girl, not even worthy of the title woman. So frightened that sudden movements paralyzed her, and friendly gestures stole her breath in a gasp. The shadows of the sheer terror she'd undergone still lurked within her, waiting to pounce. The tears that had flowed so freely still threatened to break forth.
She hated it. She hated herself.
In a genuine demonstration of her Klingon genes, B'Elanna let a scream rip from her throat as she flung her arm against the couch. Then, she buried her face in her arms and wept. She wept for her father, and all that she had lost when he'd walked out. She wept for her mother, and the chance she'd never have to reconcile with her. She wept for the war raging inside her, and the peace she'd never known because of it. But most of all, she wept for B'Elanna Torres, the half-breed who hated herself too much to stand up and defend her identity.
"What's that thing on her forehead?"
The question bit into her, ate away at her like acid burning through bared skin. What was that thing on her forehead? Good question.
She hated it, and yet it was a part of her. She blamed all her problems on it and everything it represented, but the inward traits accompanying that hated forehead had carried her through most of her life. While she cursed her temper and natural hostility, she was a coward without the genes that formed them. She'd made it through her teens and two years of the Academy on sheer Klingon pride—that much she couldn't deny. True, her temper had gotten her into hot water, but the guts it had given her to stand up for her work had apparently impressed her professors. Her Klingon nature was a part of her; an undeniable element of the living being that was B'Elanna Torres. And, regardless how badly she wanted to change it, she couldn't.
So what was that thing on her forehead? What did it represent? What had it caused?
Conflict. Misery. Heartache.
And yet, it represented pride and determination, a strong will and fiercely loyal heart, as well.
Her tears spent, B'Elanna dried her eyes and breathed deeply.
She laughed, but it was a bitter sound. And she had told Chakotay she was fine. She'd pushed away the one person who cared enough to share her pain, to apologize for the people who'd inflicted the same cruelties on him as they had on her. Yet again, she'd walled herself off from the man she looked upon as her closest friend, the one who was like a brother to her. Tears flooded her eyes once more, but now they were ones of regret.
How long would she keep doing this? Better yet, how could she keep doing this? Chakotay had been her friend for years, had been there for her through so many challenging situations. And still, she pushed him away.
B'Elanna recalled the time she'd first met Chakotay, when she'd snuck aboard his ship and dared them all to make her leave. She remembered the dust that had coated her from head to toe, the grim determination etched onto her face. Then, she remembered the softness of that gaze surveying her dirty features, the depth to those black eyes searching her brown ones. The utter vulnerability she'd felt facing him, and the burst of relief that had startled her upon seeing his slow nod of acceptance.
He'd noted the grit caking her skin, the sharp defiance scarring her features. He'd perceived the roughness of a half-Klingon, the volatility of her temper. He'd detected the hurt and anger and vulnerability that she'd worked so hard to hide, and the tears lurking behind her eyelids. He'd seen it all, and he'd still given that slow, steady nod of his. The nod that said, "You've found a home." Chakotay had looked past her rough edges and hostile glare to the woman and friend she could be.
In short, Chakotay had, with that single nod, become the closest thing she'd ever have to a brother in her life.
He'd been the one who, just this morning, when faced with living life four hundred years in the past, in a place where she would have been a walking freak show, had looked at her and said, "I'd hire you in a second."
The memories quieted; B'Elanna sat, staring. Her heart hurt. How could she have done that to him? How could he stand it? Why was he still here for her, one the rare occasion when she let herself need him? She tried, but couldn't understand.
The door chime sounded, scattering her concentration. She blinked and stared at the door in confusion, not sure what to do. Then she remembered.
"Come in," she called softly. Somehow, B'Elanna knew who stood behind the silver doors, knew even before they shushed open.
He stood there for a silent moment, watching her, before he stepped into the room. Then he walked just far enough for the doors to slip closed, and stopped, still looking at her.
B'Elanna hesitated only a moment before leaping from the couch and running to him. She hugged him, pressing her wet cheek into the dry burgundy of his shirt. It felt wonderful, to wrap her arms around his waist and acknowledge that she loved him. Loved him like a sister loved her big brother.
She felt him hug her back gently, with the protective arms of a brother, comforting her with a silence that spoke everything.
A silence that encouraged. "I'd hire you in a second."
A silence that affirmed. "You're irreplaceable, perfect just the way you are."
A silence that comforted. "I'm sorry they hurt you."
A silence that promised. "I'm here for you. I won't let it happen again."
A silence that pledged. "I love you, little sister."
There, in the silence, in his brotherly embrace, the answer came to her.
Why was he still here for her?
Because he was Chakotay.