Disclaimer: I do not own or claim to own any of these characters, places, or events; they are purely Paramount's. But I certainly do love them.

Author's Note: This particular fic came into existence at the beginning of season 4's "Retrospect," during the scene where Kovin roughhouses Seven and she promptly decks him. As it was a sort of landmark episode for Seven (she experiences her first real range of emotion), it made me wonder how B'Elanna reacted to the situation, since she had a rough first few months onboard Voyager, too.

This fic was rather difficult, as I walked a fine line between turning B'Elanna into an ogre or turning her into a kitten. I tried to stay true to her character, as I very much see this situation troubling her. Hopefully, I succeeded in my quest.

I see the B'Elanna/Seven relationship neither as hatred or friendship—more like constantly clashing, but slowly moving into more comfortable territory, rather like the Kira/Sisko relationship, for those of you who are DS9 fans (DS9 is my first love). Please let me know how I did, but in a constructive way.


Through the Way Things Appear

by Dax's10thHost

Of all the people she expected to sympathize with, the former Borg was certainly not one of them. Still, as B'Elanna half-heartedly worked at recalibrating the phase-coil inverters, she couldn't help thinking how much she and Seven of Nine had in common.

The similarities made her shudder, and sent her casting wildly about for the arguments and beliefs that just hours ago had proved sufficient to convince her that her hostility towards Seven was warranted.

Up until that day, B'Elanna had clung to her belief that they were exact opposites, bound to clash on every petty or life-altering matter for the rest of the Borg's stay on Voyager.

For example, B'Elanna was a Klingon-Human hybrid, very much the vibrant, conflicted being those genes suggested; Seven was a former Borg, and eerily machine-like in her existence. B'Elanna at least tried to be polite when pointing out errors in others' work; Seven was downright rude in her observations. To say she was blunt was an offensive understatement. B'Elanna respected the chain-of-command on the ship; Seven did as she pleased and apologized to no one. B'Elanna was passionate, if anything; Seven was cold, efficient. Nothing more, nothing less.

That, B'Elanna felt, was their greatest difference, the place where their characters split and would never, under any circumstance, find common ground. B'Elanna felt while Seven analyzed.

Machines analyzed. They recorded, computed, and reported, but that was all. No smiles, no laughter, no tears, no emotions—nothing.

As an engineer, B'Elanna could poke, prod, dissect, and reassemble just about any machine and enjoy herself while doing it. She could even feel a certain level of affection toward one, as she did with Voyager. But when it came to forming an actual relationship…she shook her head. She could never be friends, or even acquaintances, with a machine. Especially one that had ruined countless thousands of lives without a shred of guilt. After all, B'Elanna thought bitterly as she rummaged through her toolbox, guilt is irrelevant.

It was as simple as that.

That had been her belief for the first eight months Seven of Nine had been aboard Voyager.

Now, the morning's incident in Engineering had forced B'Elanna to reassess her initial judgment of Seven and their apparent differences.

A circuit overloaded and caught fire, hungrily leaping upon the engineer's knuckles. She yanked her hand away from the gutted console, muttering darkly in Klingon.

"Careless petaQ," she berated herself. She'd forgotten to change the power level on her hyperspanner. Get your head outta the clouds, Torres. You've got work to do. Extinguishing the fire, she made the proper adjustment and returned to her work, ignoring the throbbing pain in her right hand.

For the remainder of her shift, B'Elanna remained intent upon her work, successfully avoiding any other lurking mishaps. She even managed to forget the ruckus in Engineering and the disturbing questions it had stirred to life. Or so she thought.

At 1800 hours, her knuckles were still black and thrumming with pain. On her way to the mess hall, B'Elanna stopped in Sickbay, in search of the Doctor and a dermal regenerator. Instead, she found an empty room.

Unable to suppress her irritated growl, B'Elanna stalked across to the instrument tray. So, the Doctor was off gallivanting in the holodeck, was he? Or maybe strolling through the corridors sporting that self-satisfied little smile of his? Fine. She'd find the dermal regenerator herself. And she'd do it faster—more efficiently—than the EMH could, too.

After twenty-five years of dealing with Klingon-Human genes, B'Elanna could feel the pressure building inside her, and knew what it meant. As she rummaged through the various medical equipment on the tray, the human inside her warned the Klingon to back off and—what was that Tom had said to her the other day? Some obscure, 21st century colloquialism, she was sure. Oh yes—"take a chill pill." B'Elanna didn't know what exactly a chill pill was, but it sounded promising.

For once, the Klingon was actually listening to human reasoning, and even considered the possibility of accepting it. For a moment, B'Elanna could feel the irritation draining from her body, sensed peace—peace!—entering her mind—

Five minutes later, she hadn't found the regenerator. She yelled and slammed her fist onto the padded biobed. But that was too soft, too yielding. She went for the bulkhead.

"Dare I ask why you're tearing up Doc's Sickbay, or will you rip my heart out and eat it raw if I do?"

She swung around at the sound of his voice, cheeks flushed and hair flying. "Tom!" she panted, forcing her fists to her sides. The adrenaline and general Klingon hot-headedness surging through her body made it almost impossible.

Tom, wearing a neutral look, sidled over to the tray and calmly began to rearrange the jumbled medical tools. When he'd straightened the last hypospray and deactivated the buzzing autosuture, he turned to her, eyebrow cocked expectantly. By then, and he knew it (oh, he knew it), she'd calmed down considerably.

"I burned my hand and couldn't find the dermal regenerator," she explained a bit sheepishly.

"So you attacked the wall instead?"

She drilled him with her best now-is-not-the-time-for-wisecracks glare and folded her arms. The contact of her scorched knuckles scraping past her uniform elicited a hiss of pain.

"Here," Tom said, reaching for her wrist, "let me take a look."

"I just told you I couldn't find the dermal regenerator! What makes you—"

The rest of her question dissolved into a disapproving scowl as Tom dangled the said instrument before her eyes. "Where was it?" she huffed, half hoping he'd hidden it. Maybe then she wouldn't look so ridiculous.

"Underneath that protoplaser over there," he said matter-of-factly, tending to her wounded hand. "So how'd you do this again?"

B'Elanna sighed and ran her uninjured hand through her disheveled hair. "Recalibrating the phase-coil inverters. I forgot to adjust the power level on my hyperspanner and it overloaded one of the circuit relays. It was a stupid mistake."

"And B'Elanna Torres doesn't make stupid mistakes," Tom observed.

Her laughter was devoid of humor. "I was distracted, that's all."

Tom made one last pass over her knuckles before clicking the regenerator off. "Care to tell me what had you so distracted that you gave yourself second degree burns on your dominant hand?" he ventured, returning the regenerator to its proper slot.

"No, not really," she breathed, flexing her fingers. They were still tender, but the cursed throbbing had subsided, finally.

"It must have been something, to make you so mad you'd punish yourself with those burns for nearly an entire shift."

B'Elanna regarded him with mild surprise and a touch of respect. "How'd you know that?"

"I paid more attention in sophomore first aid than Professor McGertyn thought I did. Join me for dinner?"

She marveled at his transitional abilities. Still, something told her that Tom wasn't done probing her about the accident just yet. But in the meantime…

"Sure. I was on my way to the mess hall anyway. I heard Neelix was trying something new tonight."

Together, they exited Sickbay and headed for the nearest turbolift. "When is Neelix not 'trying something new'?" Tom chuckled, stepping inside. "Deck 2," he told the computer.

"Good point," she conceded, smiling despite her weariness. Tom always made her smile.

The familiar dinnertime buzz greeted them as they stepped into the mess hall, or Mystery Hall, as some of the more devious crewmembers had taken to calling it. Tom's eyebrows rose at the smell emanating from the large room, but his stride never faltered. Biting her lip to keep from laughing, B'Elanna followed him as he entered and grabbed a tray from the dwindling stack.

When they reached the Talaxian cook, complete with floppy chef's hat and outlandish apron of the week, they discreetly hugged their trays to their chests, simultaneously exchanging greetings and scanning the food choices.

Nothing looked particularly appetizing—the only thing that caught B'Elanna's eye were the spiky purple triangles at the end of the counter, and then only because she'd sampled them the week before. She couldn't remember what Neelix had called them—and she doubted she'd be able to pronounce it if she could—but she did recall their edibility. Offering the furry cook what she hoped was a genuine smile, B'Elanna slid three of them onto her plate, along with a scoop of something vaguely resembling pot roast, and escaped to the last empty table. Tom, not so fortunate, followed several minutes later, bearing a loaded tray and pained expression.

"For once, what you heard was right," he lamented, sliding into the seat opposite her. B'Elanna cocked an eyebrow and shot a questioning look at his plate. "Fyrinnian sea pasta, compliments of—"

"Don't say it, I don't want to know," she interrupted, sorry she'd even thought of asking. "I just want to eat my food and dream of the day when I have extra replicator rations."

"Amen," Tom moaned, surveying his plate with such a forlorn expression that B'Elanna couldn't help but laugh. "Hey!" he complained. "It's not funny. Just because you got off with the DQ Beef Special and a side of Spikebush doesn't mean the rest of us don't have to suffer. Look at this—" he groaned, hoisting a forkful of greenish slime into the air, "—Fyrinnian sea pasta? More like Romulan entrails."

B'Elanna nearly choked on her bite of "Spikebush," but managed to swallow before exploding into laughter. Alternately wiping tears from her eyes and clutching her aching sides, B'Elanna saw Tom's scowl gradually tip into a smile, and the smile spread into a grin, until he, too, was laughing uncontrollably.

"Hey, what's so funny over here?"

Tom and B'Elanna looked up to see Harry Kim's sparkling black eyes and good-natured grin peering down at them. Still stifling errant bursts of laughter, the two diners exchanged smiles.

"Tom was just lamenting the fact that Neelix didn't give him enough sea pasta. You think you could get some more for him?" B'Elanna teased, eyes dancing.

Underneath the table, Tom's boot contacted B'Elanna's leg with a muffled thud.

"Ow!" she yelped, scowling. "That hurt."

"Better watch it, Tom. She's an engineer, remember? She can make your life miserable with a few modifications to your quarters' environmental controls."

"Or your replicator. Or just about any piece of equipment in your quarters," B'Elanna added with a wicked grin.

"Yeah, remember what we did to Tuvok?" Harry smiled, lifting his hand to form the Vulcan salute. "Live long and prosper?"

The three laughed at the practical joke Tom and Harry had pulled on the ship's unflappable Vulcan security officer and the fun they'd had doing it.

"Yeah, well, I'm the senior conn officer around here. I can make Miss Queasy Stomachs over there pretty miserable myself," Tom said, a devilish gleam in his eyes.

The gleam promptly disappeared as B'Elanna landed a vicious kick on his shin. "Ow!" now it was Tom's turn to yelp. "Sheesh, Harry, save me from this woman, will ya? She's worse than a cornered targ!"

Shaking his head as if around bickering children, Harry straightened and said, "I've got an Ops report due in an hour. I'll leave you two adults to your dinner."

Following Harry's departure, Tom and B'Elanna fell into a comfortable silence born of something deeper than friendship, each lost in their own thoughts.

At the sudden loss of distraction, the morning's memories and questions surfaced once again, pulling B'Elanna into a debate she desperately wished to avoid. She barely tasted the food she ate, and didn't realize it when her eyes glazed over with inner conflict.

She remained that way until Tom abruptly pushed his tray aside and leaned back in his chair, hands resting loosely in his lap. His sudden movements startled her, and she looked up at him expectantly, only to find the expression mirrored upon his face.

"You wanna tell me what's bothering you now?" he asked quietly. Much of the dinnertime crowd had thinned out, leaving the mess hall humming softly with a dozen scattered conversations.

B'Elanna stared at him for a long moment, weighing her options. She could surrender and tell him now, thus getting it over with, or she could evade his questions for as long as possible—a week, at max—and hope that he forgot. Finally, she sighed and dropped her gaze, trying to sort out what she was going to say.

"This morning…the incident with Seven…it…" she belatedly realized she was making no sense, and fell silent once more. Across the table, Tom waited, eyes patient and gentle. B'Elanna tried again. "I used to think that Seven and I were so different that we'd never get along. And because of that, I told myself that the way I treated her was okay. But now…after this morning…"

"You're not so sure anymore," Tom finished for her.

"Right."

"What makes you say that?"

Where to start? At the beginning, of course. But was there a beginning?

"Well, when she first came on board, I couldn't stand her because she was so…rude. I mean, she didn't even try to be diplomatic about a situation; she just drilled you with those condescending eyes of hers and said 'We are Borg,' as if that explained everything."

"But…?"

"The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I was exactly like that when Chakotay and Captain Janeway combined our crews. I mean, I hated working with the Starfleets. Especially Carey. They all seemed to…look down on me like some dirty traitor or something, just because I believed in something they didn't, and had the guts to stand up and fight for it. It made me furious."

"So you got back at them the only way you knew how."

"Exactly," B'Elanna agreed. "And Seven's not like that. I mean, yes, she's blunt to the point of being cruel, but not out of spite. That's…just the way she is. And I didn't—don't—want to acknowledge that fact, because I didn't want to accept her. I don't want to accept her," she added softly.

"What else?" Tom probed gently, catching her troubled eyes in his.

"She doesn't clear things with the people in charge, doesn't respect the chain-of-command. She just does. It's infuriating."

"It just goes along with her…blunt nature. I mean, with a single consciousness, you don't really have a need for pleasantries and hierarchy. And she is learning," Tom offered, resting his arms on the table. "So what similarity did you see there?"

B'Elanna's laugh was one of self-deprecation. "Come on, Tom, don't tell me you didn't see it yourself. It took me more than a year to get used to taking orders from Janeway. From any of the Starfleet crew."

"Yeah, you do seem to have a problem taking them from me," he teased. "Why is that?"

B'Elanna allowed herself a brief smile before her eyes recovered their solemn depth. "I was pretty mad at myself for invalidating two of my arguments, so I latched onto my strongest one and let it protect me like a force field. But that one collapsed, too."

Understanding dawned in Tom's blue eyes, and he leaned back slowly. "Ah. This morning, in Engineering."

B'Elanna nodded, still unsure how to word her feelings. "Up until today, my biggest reason for…hating?...Seven was her disdain for emotions. It just made her more of a machine, more like the cold-blooded Borg killer she once was. I even managed to convince myself that she still was a full Borg, and that I was free to treat her accordingly." B'Elanna heard the disgust in her voice, disgust directed toward herself.

"I didn't understand how someone could function without emotions. Tom, emotions are what I am. They're so much a part of me that I'd die without them. I wouldn't be B'Elanna," she paused, calming herself. "So…without that lifeblood inside her, I…I just didn't see how Seven could survive."

"What about Tuvok? And Vorik?"

B'Elanna shook her head. "They're Vulcan, but they still have emotion. They repress it, vehemently deny it, but they have it. I don't see how they can stand to do it, but they do. Seven, well…she just—didn't have it."

"Didn't?"

B'Elanna sighed. "Didn't." A pause. "But now…I realize that she does. I mean, it's obvious, isn't it? She's troubled and angered and hurt over what she believes happened with Kovin."

"And that bothers you."

"Yes, Tom! It bothers me. It means I've been treating her horribly for the better part of a year, and for no reason at all." Tears stung her eyes, and B'Elanna dropped her gaze to the table.

Tom was silent, but B'Elanna sensed it was a careful silence, one that signaled the approach of advice or encouragement. She continued staring at the table, waiting.

"B'Elanna…you're obviously upset about this, and I can see where you're coming from, but you've got to remember that everyone on Voyager felt this way about Seven at first."

She opened her mouth, but he stopped her protest with an upraised hand. "I know what you're going to say. But you've gotta understand that what you feel towards Seven is what we've all been dealing with—myself included. I admit, having a former Borg around creeped me out at first. It wasn't exactly my idea of safe. And the first few months were a little bumpy."

B'Elanna silently agreed, remembering the Borg scare and Seven's subsequent discovery of the Raven, the ship where she'd been assimilated.

"It's taken some people longer to get used to her than others. You're obviously one of them. But that's not wrong—it's just who you are. And that's a good thing. You're cautious, you like to get to know people before you open up to them. It's not a crime to be wary around someone."

"But I haven't just been wary around her, Tom. I've been cruel," B'Elanna whispered, dangerously close to tears. "Every chance I get, I try to antagonize her or tear her down, and I don't catch myself doing it until it's too late. It's like I can't stop."

"Okay, so you've been mean to her," Tom conceded. "But you're not some heartless brute."

"But I am, Tom! Don't you get it? I go around looking for ways to hurt her. Intentionally."

"Maybe you did in the past, but you sure aren't doing it now."

"What?"

"Look at yourself, B'Elanna. You're sitting here, nearly in tears over what you've done to her. I don't think you'd be doing that if you had any intention of treating Seven like this again. You may have been mean, even cruel, to her up until now, but you've realized who she is as a human being. You've acknowledged the fact that she's a living soul, and that she has feelings that can be hurt," Tom saw she wasn't convinced, and tried another angle.

"Think about it. Seven didn't start exhibiting emotions until recently, right?"

"This morning, yeah," B'Elanna nodded.

"So how were you supposed to pick up on something that Seven herself didn't notice until just now?"

Silence. He'd gotten her there. But that didn't change the way she'd treated Seven, didn't retract all the biting words and hostile glances she'd expended over the last eight months.

"Don't get me wrong—I'm not excusing your behavior," he said, as if reading her mind.

"Then what are you saying, Tom?"

"I'm saying that you, too, have feelings, and that you shouldn't beat yourself up over this. You've thought it over. You've realized that you formed a snap judgment and relied on it for eight months, used it to validate your defensive behavior towards Seven of Nine. You've admitted that you were wrong, and you just sat here and told me everything. I'd say you've done a pretty good job of torturing yourself already."

"So what do you suggest I do?" she shot back at him, thinking she'd cornered him at last. He could say everything he wanted to make her feel better, but it wouldn't change the fact that she'd treated Seven horribly. No matter if the former Borg was a major pain in the neck.

"I'd say get a cup of coffee and ask if you can join her for dinner," Tom replied, grinning.

Startled, B'Elanna looked over Tom's shoulder and saw Seven's slender frame standing at the buffet counter, looking uncertainly at the food choices.

"How'd you know she was here?"

Tom winked and rose from the table, nodding toward the viewport behind her. "Saw her reflection in the glass. Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got go find Harry so we can make our holodeck appointment. He owes me a game of pool."

Stunned and more than a bit apprehensive, B'Elanna sat alone at her table for a full minute before she regained motor functions. By then, Seven had taken the proffered tray from Neelix and chosen a seat in the near-empty mess hall. She had her back turned to B'Elanna, and appeared completely absorbed in ingesting her dinner.

Drawing a deep breath, B'Elanna squared her shoulders and nodded, drawing upon every ounce of will she had in her. "Right," she muttered, "I can do this. She may be a pain in the neck, but so was I."

And I still am.

She rose and took a few tentative steps forward, even as she scrambled for a way out in her mind. Then, before she could bolt for her quarters, B'Elanna closed the distance between them and made her presence known.

"Ah, hi." Lame, Torres.

"Lieutenant. May I…help you?" The pleasantry seemed awkward on Seven's tongue, but B'Elanna smiled slightly. As she did, a sliver of her anxiety fell away.

"I was just…wondering if I could join you."

"Join me? You mean sit with me while I eat."

B'Elanna nodded, shifting nervously on her feet. Just the sound of Seven's precisely modulated voice was putting her on edge. Hold it together, Torres. You can do this.

"I see no reason why you should not. Sit down." Something strange crossed Seven's beautiful face, and her lips parted. "I mean…please, sit down."

And B'Elanna did. It was awkward, uncomfortable, and certainly the last thing she wanted to do, but she did it.

And, for the first time in a very long time, B'Elanna Torres was proud.

Finis