Disclaimer: I do not own nor claim to own any of the following characters, places, or events. Just the story.
Author's Note: A P/T element long awaiting a story. First chapter set immediately after season 1's "Faces"; second chapter set shortly following the events of the series' finale, "Endgame."
The woman who was not B'Elanna Torres raised a hand to her forehead for perhaps the hundredth time that day.
She was not B'Elanna Torres, but she was.
Daddy… Why did you leave us? Why did you leave me?
The level flesh beneath her fingers ached with the force of her confusion, and her loyalties seemed as battered as her heart. Broken and nauseated, more little girl than woman, she sat on the biobed in Voyager's sickbay and let sixteen years of anguish pool beneath her dangling feet.
"Look at me, Daddy, please," she murmured. Pled. No Klingon fire in these words. Just hurt, and regret, and absence. "I'm finally human. I'm finally what you wanted me to be." Or am I?
Her fingers continued to explore, though she'd memorized every smooth inch of frontal bone long ago. Still, it seemed strange to her. Foreign. More so than the sound of Chief Engineer in front of her name, or Commander, not Captain, in front of Chakotay's.
What have they done to me?
She was incomplete. B'Elanna, but not-B'Elanna. Alive, but compromised. Finally human, but at what cost? Death and second death? She closed her eyes, hand falling to her lap in a fist.
Vidiians. She would hate them forever, would delight in knowing they suffered every moment of their wretched lives.
The emotion shocked her, and she hunched under the thin gown suddenly too heavy for her shoulders. Hate? delight in others' suffering? Those were Klingon emotions, Klingon desires. Why did she have them now, when she was fully human? And hadn't they—the Vidiians—given her what she'd always wanted?
A lot of good it did her now. After her father had walked out, after she'd shunned her mother for ten years, after she'd been flung across the galaxy and imprisoned on a Starfleet ship for the rest of her life.
But it wasn't a prison, was it? No. She liked it here. She had friends here, friends she didn't have to worry would get blown up the next day in a raid, or taken prisoner by the Federation, or tortured by the Cardassians. Friends she could trust. Like Harry. Like Chakotay. Not like Seska. Like Janeway.
The thought surprised her. Like Tom? She hated Tom. He was a pig. And so were his holograms. But…
"B'Elanna! You're not a coward."
Would a pig say that? sacrifice his safety for hers, stay with her when she quaked with fear? Would a pig ease his fingers around her wrists and work them back from her face—her tear-streaked human face—and tell her with his eyes that he wasn't going to leave her?
B'Elanna dug her nails into the biobed's padding, as if shredding the fibers could uproot the feelings budding inside her. Where was this taking her? Why was she indulging these feelings, thinking these thoughts, shedding these tears?
With a start, she realized her face was wet. Again.
Who am I, really?
She jumped at the voice, then sagged with recognition. As she turned to face him, she saw the hypospray in his hand. Dread pumped adrenaline through her body, and her limbs tensed. No, no not yet. Don't change me back—I'm not ready to be angry again.
She squeezed her eyes shut. "Yes?"
"I've prepared the first dose of your treatment—are you ready for me to proceed?"
The holodoctor's words filtered through her defenses, each one causing her heart to dip lower in her chest.
No. I can't do this. I'm not strong enough to fight her.
"If you'd like, I can give you a few more minutes, but we should start as soon as possible. Your body can't survive much longer without the Klingon genes."
Her eyes flew open. "No! Do it. Just…get me started."
Hands loosening her fists, lowering her arms. Firm, but somehow gentle. Blue eyes tracing hers, full of compassion. A steady presence holding her back from insanity. That hour of silence in the corner, with his arm holding her close…
The hypo loomed in her vision. She recoiled with a cry. "No! Stop!"
The Doctor paused, the furrows in his brow deepening. "What's wrong?"
Her stomach somersaulted, and B'Elanna dragged deeply of the air to calm her trembling muscles. "I—I meant wait. How…how soon will this change me back?"
The hand with the hypo lowered, and with it B'Elanna's heart rate. "This is only a preliminary injection. It will prepare your body on a cellular level, and will make the ensuing treatments easier, both physically and mentally."
"So…I'll stay human for a while longer?"
A pause. "Physically, yes."
Had she been herself, B'Elanna would have marveled at the holodoctor's ability to look simultaneously compassionate and annoyed. "On a hormonal level, you'll probably begin to experience higher levels of defensive emotions—say, anger and denial, possibly aggressiveness. All quite normal, given the DNA."
B'Elanna swallowed. "I need a padd."
"I need something to write with."
The EMH frowned, but crossed to a storage cabinet. "Here," he muttered a few moments later, the requested item dangling from his fingertips. "May I proceed with the treatment now?"
B'Elanna moistened her lips and ran her fingers up the padd's casing. "How soon will it affect me?"
"Approximately thirty minutes after I inject it into your bloodstream."
Thirty minutes. Half an hour to acknowledge what was going on inside her. Her stomach knotted. Did she really want to do this? She'd probably just erase it once her Klingon genes reasserted themselves.
B'Elanna glanced down at the padd and saw blue eyes brimming with the desire to help her through this nightmare.
And she knew.
"Okay," she said, more for her benefit than the hologram's. "I'm ready."
The Doctor nodded and pressed the hypo to her neck; it seemed that the accompanying hiss released more than cellular re-sequencing enzyme into her veins.
Nausea roiled in her gut, and B'Elanna doubled and staggered to the floor. Unable to control her body, she clutched the padd and shuddered with the force of the dry heaves, each one like a laser scalpel through her torso; after three treatments, her stomach had long ago emptied itself. Or was it two stomachs now? B'Elanna shivered miserably. She'd lost track of the changes hours ago, after the chest pains that made an encounter with a d'k tahg seem like acupuncture.
Another pain ripped through her abdomen, this time so awful that it tore a scream from her throat. The cry brought Voyager's EMH running from his office, tricorder open and scanning even before he'd reached her.
B'Elanna finished retching air and rested, still-smooth forehead planted on the floor. "I…told you…to leave me—alone!"
"You are in no condition to be left alone, Lieutenant, and I'll thank you to let me do my job."
She glowered up at him, neck muscles trembling with the effort. "If you can't…give me…anything…for the pain, then why…do you keep bothering me?"
The Doctor deactivated his tricorder with the air of a hologram doomed to eternal explanation. "My program, supplemented by my interaction with this crew, indicates that a familiar presence is often comforting to one undergoing an ordeal such as yours. I am attempting to provide that comfort."
"Well it's not—working!" B'Elanna grunted, and pulled herself to her feet. She'd no sooner let go of the biobed than the nausea returned her to the floor. For nearly a minute, she gagged and convulsed. At last, she quieted to a tearful ball, alternately hiccupping and shivering as she prepared for the next attack.
Sounds of the EMH's movements registered vaguely in her mind, but she was too exhausted to force her desire for privacy. She felt something warm slip over her body, and instinctively drew it closer. Her eyes opened to the Doctor crouching before her, wearing the most concerned expression she'd seen his facial subroutines render in the year she'd known him.
"Would you like me to comm Commander Chakotay?"
The thought of Chakotay seeing her like this was terrifying, but she didn't have the willpower to conceal it. "No. I…I just want to be left alone. Please." The plea proved too much, and she coughed until her throat felt rimed with acid.
The hologram's expression softened further. "Your next treatment is in one hour. I suggest you get some rest before then—this one will begin to reshape your cranial ridges." He straightened and left.
The nausea raged through her once more, and B'Elanna wept. Never had she felt so much pain—physically and emotionally—or been more alone since the night her father left.
Oh, she didn't have to be, not now. She knew only her wishes kept Chakotay from barging in and holding her as she convulsed, just as a brother would his orphan sister. Janeway, no doubt, would forsake the demands of protocol and settle herself on the floor to rub her back, using that gravelly voice of hers to distract her from the pain. And Harry…B'Elanna almost smiled. Harry would talk her ringing ears off, probably serenade her with his clarinet, if the Doctor would just let him in here.
She didn't have to be alone.
But B'Elanna knew she couldn't allow comfort. She couldn't distract herself from her task. So far, the pain had kept her from finishing within the original thirty minutes, but she knew she had to get it done before the next treatment. Cranial ridges meant bone reforming, skin stretching and possibly splitting, requiring the Doctor to repair it with a dermal regenerator. And the return of her forehead, B'Elanna knew, meant the banishment of the past days' memories that she held so dear.
Like the hour huddled together on the floor.
As she closed her eyes, B'Elanna could almost feel the wall digging into her spine, striking opposite with the warmth at her side and arm snugged about her shoulder.
Unbidden, a sense of embarrassment surged through her, fanning her already feverish cheeks into an inferno. She held her breath.
It was getting harder to fight.
Swallowing, B'Elanna brought the padd to her eyes and began, once more, to type.
The couch was soft. Too soft.
With a sigh, Tom slid to the floor and nursed his drink, wishing not for the first time that his replicator could produce something stiffer than sythehol. Maybe then her tear-wet brown eyes wouldn't haunt him so.
But no. That wasn't true. No amount of drinking could wash her terrified gaze from his mind, and no alcohol-induced stupor could numb the pain that assaulted him whenever he thought of her. Which was all the time, since they got back. Before they got back. Since she shook him awake that second night in the prison.
She was in sickbay now, the Doctor restoring her Klingon heritage through some ingenious treatment or other. Tom had no idea what that entailed, but it didn't take Lewis Zimmerman's mind to conclude that it involved excruciating pain. One didn't just go to sleep human and wake up half-Klingon, even with an EMH operating.
He wanted to go to her. Help her, like he had (or had tried—had it really done any good?) in the prison camp. Sit with her, talk to her, make her laugh. Hold her.
He swirled the amber liquid in his glass, contemplating its depths. A circle moving within a square. Is that what B'Elanna felt like? A misfit, the wrong shape, always trying to conform, to please, but never succeeding? Given the stories she'd shared that night in the prison, Tom knew she did. And it made him hurt.
He finished the sythehol in one gulp and slammed the glass onto his coffee table, then shifted and looked about. Even the floor was too soft. Or was it the couch at his back that bothered him? It was neither, and he knew it.
Tom groaned and let his head bounce against the couch. Would she never leave him? Opening his eyes, he heaved himself to his feet and shuffled to the replicator, ordering another sythehol. If he was going to remember, he might as well enjoy himself in the process. Besides, he was off-duty, and it was clinically impossible to get drunk on sythehol…right? Fake liquor in hand, he slumped to the floor once more and let the memories claim him.
Vidiian prison camp, two days earlier
Tom glanced at the petite form huddled on the bunk for the sixth time in as many minutes. Even in the feeble lighting, he could see her shivering. Once more, his eyes roamed the room in search of a blanket, but they found none. Even if they had, Tom knew there would be no trading in this place, especially considering his lack of bargaining chips. At least in Auckland he'd had the occasional food ration to spare. Here, there was nothing but death, looming.
He shifted, more to improve his view of B'Elanna than to ease any discomfort. In truth, the bunk's pathetic mattress hardly bothered him; Tom Paris had long ago learned to take what he got without complaint. All belly-aching ever got you was a shiner and busted lip to complement your empty stomach.
A whimper drew his attention back to B'Elanna, and he saw she'd curled into a ball tight enough to pass as a pillow. His throat ached as he stared at her back, wishing he could somehow shift the nausea to himself. Anything to help her through this.
Prison was old news to Tom Paris. True, he hadn't liked Auckland a year ago, and he certainly didn't like it or any other such facility now, but at least he was used to it. At least he'd been prepared for something like this, fluent in the prisoner's mindset and capable of holding his own in the face of the typical bullies and sycophants. His prison savvy, as he liked to call it, had greatly helped him in the past day and a half.
Even if it hadn't saved Durst. Tom pushed the thought from his mind.
But B'Elanna…B'Elanna told a different tale. She was going to die if they didn't get out of here soon. He knew it, and could do nothing about it. As much as he wanted to gut every guard in the compound, Tom knew he couldn't risk it. One false step, and down to organ processing he went.
B'Elanna gasped and rolled even tighter. The sound of her agony sent anger spewing through Tom's limbs. What right had the Vidiians to do this to her? What kind of monsters would take an innocent woman and split her in half, then throw the leftovers into the mines until fear and exhaustion landed her in organ processing? It was the worst kind of rape, and Tom hated them for it.
He closed his eyes and let the air leak from his nose. For several minutes, he rested, and even dared to hope that sleep would claim him. But when a sniffle reached his ears, Tom knew he couldn't ignore her any longer. Even if she refused him, he had to try.
He rolled to the floor and crawled across to her bunk. "B'Elanna," he whispered before placing a hand on her shoulder.
She uncurled and faced him, shadows cloaking her features. "What's wrong?"
"I was going to ask you the same thing." He cast a glance at the guard station. "Are you feeling worse?"
B'Elanna sighed, and it struck him that he'd never heard her do that before. Unless it was laced with sarcasm and accompanied with a withering look. "Not really."
"You don't sound like it."
She nestled her head into the eggshell padding, and it was all he could do to keep from brushing the hair from her cheek. "I'm just cold, and it's making the nausea worse."
He sat on the floor, wedging his shoulder against the bunk, his back against the wall. "C'mere."
She tensed. "Tom…I don't—"
"We're just sitting, I promise. I'm not some pervert who'll take advantage of you." He held out his hand. "I promise."
B'Elanna hesitated only slightly before moving to the floor. Soon, she'd tucked herself under his shoulder, back to the wall like his. As she shivered, he rubbed his hand up and down her arm. Gradually, she relaxed and rested her head on his chest.
He looked down at her through the gloom. "This isn't so bad, is it?"
For a long moment, she remained silent. Then, "Tom…"
He hummed acknowledgement, hoping she couldn't hear the pounding of his heart.
"What do you think they did with Pete?"
Pete, not Durst. Tom closed his eyes against his failure. "I don't know."
"They took him to organ processing, didn't they? They killed him." Her voice was as dead as Durst surely was.
"B'Elanna…we don't know that."
"But I do, Tom. I've…I've seen what they do to people—I—" her voice broke, shoulders shaking within his embrace.
Her tears lanced through him, but he had no words of comfort, only his hands to convey his message. One cradled her shoulder while the other ran the length of her arm. She responded by clutching his uniform and burying her face in his chest. It struck Tom that he would never see B'Elanna this vulnerable again. There was no tension in her limbs, no embarrassment in her touch. Just the human desire—the need—for comfort.
Presently, B'Elanna's shaking subsided to hiccups, until she'd quieted completely. Not long after that, she drew back. Tom suppressed a shiver at the sudden chill.
The woman he knew only by name sniffed and dashed the tears from her eyes. "I just wish I could stop crying, you know? I haven't cried this much since…"
Since your father left. "Hey," he tipped her chin until he'd caught her gaze. "It doesn't bother me." It just shredded his heart.
Her gaze dropped, lips trembling into a possible smile. "I couldn't have made it this far without you, Tom. Thank you."
The words would have warmed him even in the ice caves of Andor. "You give me too much credit."
B'Elanna's head snapped up. "No, I don't." The fire abruptly left her eyes, and her gaze traveled to the floor. "You know, I didn't want this assignment to begin with."
"Oh?" he wondered where she was headed with this. "Why not?"
"Because you were leading the mission. I couldn't stand the thought of being in the same room with you, much less taking orders from you. Plus…you were a pig."
If voices could blush, B'Elanna's would be flaming right now, Tom thought amusedly. "Were?"
"Were," she sighed, still refusing to look at him.
"Well, I trust that you've revised your opinion of me, at least for the duration of our stay in Vidiian Hell."
Was that a smile tipping her lips? "I'm certain—" she broke off with a moan and clutched her stomach.
For several seconds, she panted and moaned into her knees, leaving Tom sick with fear. How much more could she take? Surely the absence of her Klingon genes had erased more than her forehead and bad temper. What if…no, he couldn't think it. Finally, though, she rolled to her side and angled her head to look up at him. "It's okay…I'm fine. For now." She panted lightly, arms still folded around her middle.
Tom swallowed and brushed her hair off her dampened skin, careful to avoid her forehead. "I wish I could help you somehow…take the pain for myself."
She smiled weakly. "You already have, Tom. More than you know."
He sat with her until she fell asleep, then gathered her into his arms and rose to his knees. Settling her onto the mattress, he brushed his lips across her smooth forehead and returned to his bunk.
Only then did Tom Paris succumb to sleep's siren call.
Still on sickbay's floor, B'Elanna relaxed from her fetal position and stared at the orange lettering. A voice inside urged her to scroll to the top and read her work, but another shouted for her to complete her task. Her thumb wavered over the command key.
Then her gaze fell on the final three words, and the command tumbled past her lips.
"Computer, restrict B'Elanna Torres' access to PADD 09287 to read-only, effective immediately, Protocol One." It would ensure the impossibility of circumventing the restriction, short of blasting the padd with a phaser.
::Command prepared. Please provide authorization code.::
She hesitated, then typed it in.
B'Elanna wilted in relief.