Disclaimer: Star Trek Voyager and all of its characters are the property of Paramount. No copyright infringement is intended.

Author's Note: Part of the "Glory Days" Universe, a look at our favorite characters in the post-Voyager era. Many thanks to Seema for her help, input and enthusiasm in turning this into a full-fledged series. Yes, that means there are more stories to come--from both of us.

Time frame: one year after "Do The Walls Come Down" (by Seema), shortly before "Glory Days"

FIRE AND RAIN

B'Elanna Torres hesitated on the doorstep and cursed herself for being a coward.

As far as the eye could see, everything surrounding her was red--the sands, the sky, even the dwelling she stood in front of, built of native stone. The heat rising off the desert was oppressive, despite the Klingon heritage which made her prefer higher temperatures than her Human husband found comfortable. On top of all that, the thin Vulcan air left her gasping. The relentless wind, occasionally dropping slightly but never subsiding completely, felt as though it were whipping every atom of moisture from her body. She took a deep breath which seemed to sear her lungs, and jabbed at the outside signal.

The door opened instantly. "Greetings, Lieutenant Torres," said Tuvok.

The planned "hello" died on her lips, unuttered, as she was flustered by his unexpected mode of address. "I'm not a lieutenant anymore--I'm just a civilian contractor with the Starfleet Corps of Engineers," she corrected him automatically, while at the same time trying to conceal her surprise at his attire. Though why she should have expected to see him in a uniform instead of the traditional robes he wore was on a par with him calling her by her rank. Neither one of them was in Starfleet anymore; somehow it was easier for her to accept it about herself than of him. Or Tom, for that matter.

He stepped aside to allow her entry into his home. "Of course, B'Elanna. I believe the expression is 'old habits die hard'?"

She gave him an abashed smile; she hadn't meant to sound so abrupt. "They certainly do," she said, taking in the decor. It suited Tuvok, she thought with surprise. Though sparsely furnished, the clean white walls and sleek furniture had a welcoming ambiance to them. The temperature was noticeably cooler than it had been outside as well, for which she was very grateful.

He didn't miss her reaction to his domicile. "May I offer you something to drink?"

She suddenly became aware that she was staring, rather rudely. Nervousness was no excuse for her lack of manners, she silently scolded herself. "Yes, please, some water would be very appreciated."

As if on cue, a woman entered carrying a tray of tall glasses. "You may of course have water, but I believe you will find the renen tea quite refreshing as well," she said to B'Elanna.

Tuvok inclined his head. "My wife, T'Pel."

"Pleased to meet you."

"As am I," responded T'Pel. Her face was unlined, her bearing serene. "However, we met once before, at the Starfleet reception following Voyager's return."

"Did we?" B'Elanna racked her brain trying to remember. Many things about that time were a blur--there had been so much to take in, from the sheer wonder and excitement at finally being home, to apprehension over what was going to happen next. Most of her memories of that time were confused impressions of crowds staring at her everywhere she went, talking, laughing, asking endless questions--forever asking questions. It had been a relief when their 'celebrity' status faded, and eventually even Starfleet's review boards had left them alone.

"You doubtless had other things on your mind at the time," T'Pel said matter-of-factly as she sat down, her manner showing no hint of being insulted. She gestured to her guest. "Please take a seat. There is no need to remain standing."

B'Elanna sat down on a chair that turned out to be more comfortable than it initially appeared and thirstily gulped her water. At her hostess' expectant look, she then took a polite sip of the tea, not really wanting something hot right now. To her surprise, the tea sent a feeling of coolness through her in a way the water had not. She caught a hint of ginger and some other spices she couldn't quite identify. She looked up to see T'Pel watching her. The Vulcan woman's expression didn't change, but it almost appeared as though she were smiling.

"I will bid you both good evening," she said and rose gracefully to her feet.

"I don't mean to drive you from your home," B'Elanna said hastily.

"Not at all--I had plans to meet my daughter and daughter-in-law this evening." T'Pel glanced questioningly at her husband. "What is the Terran expression?"

"'Girl's night out,'" Tuvok supplied. "So you see, B'Elanna, your presence, far from being an imposition, has saved me from spending an evening alone." He added, "I was most pleased when you called from the spaceport. It was fortuitous that your flight was delayed."

'Fortuitous' hadn't been B'Elanna's first reaction to the development. She had been attending an engineering conference on Alphacent over the past week. At first she had relished getting away from San Francisco and the papers presented had been interesting. But as the days went by she found herself growing restless, impatient to be back home with her family. This was the first time she'd been away for such an extended period since before the baby was born. Joey was in good hands, she knew, as was Miral, but still...And it wasn't just her children that she missed. Every time she'd spoken to Tom she'd felt a rising feeling of uneasiness, though he was obviously coping just fine. But there was something about the look in his eyes during an unguarded moment, a faint note in his voice, that made her wish to be home.

When she'd booked her flight, it hadn't registered fully that her return transport had a brief layover on Vulcan. She'd filed the fact away as unimportant. Unimportant, that is, until she'd actually arrived, and the expected few hours had turned into a projected delay of 18 hours. She'd attempted to secure passage on another vessel leaving sooner, but there was none to be had. An ion storm in the system had essentially grounded all traffic on or off the planet. Irritated, she realized she was stuck on Vulcan, at least till the next morning. Faced with an empty evening looming ahead, she'd obeyed a sudden impulse to call the one person on the planet that she knew.

She had been surprised when Tuvok responded to her out-of-the-blue call by immediately inviting her to his home, and now was surprised again by her reception. She'd been thinking of a quick, 'kill some time' type of conversation at a neutral setting. Instead she was being confronted with full Vulcan hospitality.

She watched as Tuvok and T'Pel exchanged a few quiet words, and then Tuvok extended two fingers of his hand. T'Pel pressed her own to them briefly--the Vulcan equivalent of a peck on the cheek, B'Elanna knew.

As soon as the door closed behind his wife, Tuvok turned to his guest. "Dinner will be ready shortly."

All at once she became aware of a delicious aroma in the air. "You didn't need to go to all this trouble," B'Elanna protested. Her stomach chose that moment to rumble in a way that belied her words.

"It was no trouble at all," he said.

He allowed her to help him carry the dishes to the table. They worked together well; she reflected on their past interactions in the Maquis as well on Voyager, how his presence always made her feel more relaxed. When she'd been going through a particularly rough period during the fifth year of their journey, Tuvok had been the one to help her find her calm center. Perhaps that was why she'd had the urge to seek him out now. There was also the undeniable fact that he was the longest married person she knew.

As it sometimes did at odd moments, her worries about Tom surfaced again, how much he'd given up for her sake. In particular, his decision of a year ago--turning down a plum assignment in order to stay closer to home--concerned her. That someone with his talent, his skills, could simply walk away from the golden opportunities that beckoned was incomprehensible. One day, she feared, Tom was going to discover just how far off the track his career had foundered; what if it was too late for him to recapture what he'd voluntarily given up?

She was also worried about the children and how he was coping with them--he had reassured her the last time they spoke, but she wondered how much to believe when Tom said that everything was 'fine.'

She looked up to see Tuvok watching her. "Is the food to your liking, B'Elanna?"

"It's wonderful," she reassured him hastily, and took another mouthful of the vegetarian stew. It was quite good, she suddenly realized--she had just been too preoccupied to pay much attention to what she was eating. Though she usually preferred meat, the tangy dish--filled with vegetables she wasn't familiar with--was more than satisfying.

"I know I am not in Mr. Neelix's league when it comes to cooking," Tuvok said. Was that a glint of humor in his eye?

B'Elanna said dryly, "No, you're better."

"Neelix did everything with equal measures of exuberance," Tuvok remarked. "Including spicing his dishes."

B'Elanna smiled, remembering the Talaxian's exuberance. He had taken his role as 'morale officer' so seriously. With a pang, it occurred to her just how much she missed him. And from subtle hints in Tuvok's manner, she guessed that he did as well.

They continued making small talk over the meal, sketching in what they were each doing now. Tuvok asked several pertinent questions about her work, and B'Elanna launched into a full description. "And so," she said, finishing up, "Some would say that giving up a commission in Starfleet was a bad idea, but with my work as a civilian contractor for the Starfleet Engineering Corps., I'm actually on the cutting edge of developing new technologies--more so than I would be on board a starship."

"There has been a virtual revolution in propulsion and warp drives, not due in small part to what Voyager brought back and you yourself worked on," Tuvok agreed.

She realized suddenly that she'd been monopolizing the conversation. "And what about you, Tuvok? What have you been doing with yourself these last few years?"

"I have been leading a quiet life," he answered. "For the first time in a long while, I have the leisure to read, to meditate, to tend to my orchids." B'Elanna remembered that there had been rumors around the time of Voyager's return that Tuvok had been suffering from an undisclosed illness. She studied him carefully. If he had, he had certainly recovered by now. In fact, she could not ever remember him looking so well. The faint line of worry he habitually had between his brows was gone. As if echoing her thoughts, he continued, "I have learned to prize quiet and reflection--as a child my mother had wondered if I would never learn to be still and appreciate stillness," he added wryly.

She was sure that he was enjoying his new lifestyle, but..."Somehow, I hadn't thought of you leaving Starfleet," she said.

"I have already served for many years," Tuvok pointed out. "The equivalent of a lengthy career--even more so, if you count my first tour of duty aboard the Wyoming under Captain Hikaru Sulu."

"You left Starfleet after that initial posting?" she asked. She had only the haziest knowledge of his career, but it was a fact he had been only a lieutenant when Voyager was first lost in the Badlands. Based on an uninterrupted span of years of service, surely he would have achieved a higher rank previously.

"Yes, I left...but returned again some years later. In addition to other posts aboard starships, I served briefly as an instructor at the Academy, as well as a tactical advisor attached to HQ and the office of Admiral Finnegan, before being assigned to the Billings." He paused. "That was the first vessel upon which I served under Captain Janeway."

She perked up her ears at this as she realized another gap in her knowledge--the details of his past service with Janeway. "I remember a lot of us thought at the beginning that Voyager was her first command."

Tuvok shook her head. "Her first command was the Billings, as a brevet captain. It was a science survey vessel, as was the Nobel which followed. I was assigned to the Billings as its tactical officer."

B'Elanna listened, amused, as Tuvok filled her in on the details of Janeway's first command and the board of review which followed--and the circumstances that led to his assignment. "So Captain Janeway assumed you were put there to keep her on the straight and narrow."

"Correct, though, that is arguably an impossible task." B'Elanna bit back a giggle at that all-too-accurate statement but quickly sobered as Tuvok added, "Perhaps not, but certainly there have been times when it was more difficult than others."

"I'm sure that Janeway always appreciated your help, especially in the Delta Quadrant years," B'Elanna said gently. She resisted the urge to take his hand and press it comfortingly. This is a Vulcan, and Vulcans don't like to be touched.

"They were most difficult," he said quietly. B'Elanna had a sudden recollection of Tuvok standing diffidently by the captain's side during encounters with a hostile alien race, ready to step in as needed, remembered too how the Vulcan always gave Janeway his unequivocal support whenever she was faced with a particularly difficult decision. With a faint note of emotion in his voice, he went on, "It was hardest of all for the captain, bearing as she did sole responsibility for our welfare. All I wanted was to assist her in any way I could."

Chakotay had said something very similar to her one time, about trying to make the captain's burden easier. B'Elanna shifted uneasily in her seat, not wanting to think about Voyager's first officer and his very complicated position within the command team. It brought back too many unpleasant memories. "Were you sure we'd make it back home?"

Tuvok was silent for a moment. "I knew that if anyone could do it, it would be the captain. Or else she would die trying."

B'Elanna heartily agreed. Sometimes she wondered if in fact that would have been what Janeway wanted most of all--to sacrifice herself for the sake of her ship and die content with the knowledge that she'd gotten her people home and would no longer have to struggle. With an effort, she crushed those thoughts with speech. "Have you heard from the Admiral lately?"

"Yes, I have."

"How is she doing?" B'Elanna asked, her voice just a little too casual. The last interaction, if you could call it that, she'd had with Janeway had been when Tom had met the Admiral for coffee almost a year ago. "I remember how surprised we all were when we heard about her promotion." She gave a shaky laugh. "I somehow can't see Janeway without a ship."

"Nor can I," Tuvok said quietly. He rose and began gathering up the dishes and utensils from the table.

B'Elanna got up as well, and made herself useful. She moved the last of the dirty dishes into the recycler and watched as Tuvok placed the small amount of leftover food in the stasis unit. Behind him, the sunset could be seen. Vulcan's sky was a faded orange, and her sister planet T'Khut was rising. A swollen crimson orb larger than Earth's moon, it was locked in synchronous orbit around Eradani 40, Vulcan's star. B'Elanna thought it had an ominous look; in the dying rays of the sun, the sands were dyed a darker shade of red, the color of Human blood.

His tasks completed, Tuvok ushered her back into the sitting room. B'Elanna knew she should take her leave, head back to the environs of the spaceport and try to find a room for the night, but she was strangely reluctant to go, and Tuvok appeared to be in no hurry for her to do so. It was comforting to sit here and relax in the twilight, listening to the sounds of the ever-present wind.

The room slowly darkened, but Tuvok did not call for lights. He sat half-hidden in the shadows, his hands steepled together in a familiar pose. How many times had she sat with him like this in his quarters, learning to meditate, to control her aggressive feelings? All that was missing was the flickering of the firepot, but the unholy glow of T'Khut outside more than made up for it.

Their conversation veered back to the Torres-Paris family and more importantly, her work. Unlike their earlier conversation, this time B'Elanna found herself voicing her fears and hopes--thoughts she had never even mentioned to Tom.

"To the casual observer, it would appear that you have attained what you desire," Tuvok said, presumably referring to her career.

"Yes, it should seem that way, shouldn't it?" she said, and her lips twisted in an ironic smile. "I'm looked on as one of the leading lights in the field, but I'm still painfully conscious of the fact that I never even finished the Academy. Very little of my knowledge came from formal education--unlike the engineers I work with on a daily basis."

"But why should that matter?" Tuvok asked, quite logically. "Is your basic understanding any less than theirs?" At her quick shake of the head, he repeated, "Then why does this matter?"

"It shouldn't, and yet..." B'Elanna paused for a moment, trying to collect her thoughts. "For whatever reason, I'm still trying to fill in the gaps in my background. Just in case someone challenges me, to make sure that I really do have all the answers. That I do have the right to be there, even if behind my back they refer to me as 'the former Maquis.'" She forestalled his next comment, "No, I don't know that they call me that--but that's how I feel."

He made no answer, simply waited for her to continue.

Maybe it was the darkness that made it easier to confess how she was feeling. "Tom doesn't understand this," she said in a rush. "He wonders why I feel I have to keep on striving. I think he sees this insecurity as a weakness."

"Is it?"

"Maybe...don't get me wrong, most of the time I don't dwell on this, those little niggling doubts are pushed into the background, and at others..." her voice trailed off. A familiar wave of guilt rose over the long hours she put into her job, away from her young children. Was that part of the reason Tom had chosen to give up his career for the sake of his family? Was he oh-so-subtly reproaching her for not doing the same? "But Tom, well, Tom is a different story." Hesitantly, she went on, "I sometimes wonder if perhaps he is resentful that my career is going somewhere whereas his has seemed to stagnate. Granted it was his choice to step off the fast-track, but I can't help but wonder if he is truly happy. He says he is, but I'm not so sure."

"Are you happy?" A strange question coming from a Vulcan, but B'Elanna knew what Tuvok meant.

She considered. "I think I am. But then I think about the sacrifice that Tom has made for me and our family and I wonder if I should have accepted it."

Tuvok said quietly, "Sometimes we have to allow the ones we love to do things for us, although it may not be what we ourselves would have chosen." He added, "Accepting the gift is often harder than making the offering."

A sudden crash outside made her jump. She looked up in time to see a large tree branch strike the window. She became aware of a low moaning sound that hadn't been there before and wondered what it was. And then she knew--the wind was picking up. The windows rattled ominously. Just then, the room was illuminated in a sudden flash as lightning forked across the sky.

"We are in for a major storm," Tuvok said, getting up to fasten the windows more securely. "I do not think it wise for you to attempt to return to the spaceport in this weather. You are welcome to spend the night with us."

"I couldn't impose," she protested.

"It is not an imposition. What time is your flight?"

"It's not till tomorrow morning," she admitted. "I was going to look for a hotel."

"You are welcome to stay," he repeated.

"What about T'Pel?" she asked, struck by a sudden thought. "Aren't you concerned about her, being out in this storm?"

Tuvok raised his eyebrow. "My wife returned some time ago. Did you not hear the sound of the flitter?"

"No, I didn't," she said. "I guess I didn't notice it above the roar of the wind." She didn't mention that T'Pel hadn't come into the room, but doubtless the woman hadn't wished to disturb them. Perhaps Tuvok had communicated something to that effect along their bond. B'Elanna didn't know much about Vulcan mating practices, but did know that a bonded couple shared a mental link of some sort. The idea was at once fascinating, as well as more than a little frightening. To share your innermost thoughts with someone on a regular basis, as naturally as exchanging words--but with less ability to hide.

Tuvok was speaking again and she made an effort to pay attention. "So there is nothing improper in your remaining." She forced a smile at his attempted levity.

They watched the storm in silence, and indeed any attempt at conversation would have been impossible. The wind howled and tore, and the fiery lightning stabbed repeatedly, arcing across the sky in flashes that lit up the darkness to brighter than day. The ferocity was immense, but here on the edge of the desert there was nothing but wide open spaces, nothing to be battered down and destroyed.

And then, as abruptly as it had gathered, the storm was spent, and it was quiet, the wind once more a muted presence on the edges of consciousness and hearing.

She thought once more about what Tuvok had said before the storm struck, about sacrifices and those who make them. Suddenly, she said, "If Janeway had kept her command, would all of us have been able to stay together? Would we all be happy?" Her voice cracked on the last word. She remembered how lost Harry Kim had been after their return, when he received his new orders--how he had felt at the prospect of serving under another captain. Ignoring the fact that some of Voyager's crew had by their own actions removed themselves from the 'family circle', she added, "I know that Tom would probably have signed up with her in a heartbeat."

She expected Tuvok to tell her that her statement was illogical, to counter that it was Tom's own decision to give up Starfleet, for reasons that went beyond the simple fact that Voyager--the home and safe haven to all of them for seven years--was no more. That there was no going back. That all of them had had their reasons for moving on, as did the captain herself.

But Tuvok said none of those things. Instead, he quietly responded, "As would I."

She stared at him in surprise. For years she'd heard about the friendship between Tuvok and Janeway, but until this moment she had never really understood its depth, or just how much Tuvok cared about his former captain. And after all this time she was still surprised to detect the emotional undercurrent in him. Even though she knew better, she too had bought into the premise that Vulcans were incapable of feeling.

Tuvok made a quick gesture with his hand, and illumination filled the room. Her eyes watered at the sudden shift. When she was able, she looked at Tuvok once more. Whatever storm had stirred within him was gone, and outwardly he was as he always appeared--calm, imperturbable. Had she imagined what she'd seen? And then she looked closer, and saw that she had not.

"Would you care to visit my greenhouse?" he said.

The apparent non-sequitur left her baffled for a moment, and then she understood. His orchids. She exhaled deeply, welcoming the change in subject to something less intense. "Of course." She forced a smile. "I'd like to see what you've been spending so much time on."

He led her through a corridor in the opposite direction away from the kitchen. She had the impression of several doors on either side, which presumably led to the family's sleeping quarters. He stopped before a particularly sturdy barrier and keyed in a quick series of commands. The heavy panel slid aside. He gestured for her to precede him.

As she stepped across the threshold, she was simultaneously aware of a delicate fragrance in the air as well as an increase in humidity. She stopped in delight, taking in the many low tables covered with greenery. In contrast to the harsh and barren landscape outside, this small room, its walls constructed of gently glowing panels, was teeming with life.

Tuvok stood before a pot which held an exquisite pale pink bloom. "This is my prize specimen," he informed her.

"As in prize-winning?"

"It placed first in the regional horticultural show last week," he said, a barely discernible note of pride in his voice.

"It's lovely," she exclaimed. At his nod, she reached out and lightly stroked the velvety petals.

The atmosphere in the greenhouse was peaceful. B'Elanna closed her eyes and breathed deeply of the scented air. She became aware of a gentle rain upon her face and glanced up at the ceiling, noting the condensation coils evenly spaced among the rafters, hearing their faint hum. She could understand why Tuvok found solace here. Suddenly envious, she wondered if any of the rest of them would be as fortunate.

As if he'd read her thoughts, he suddenly said, "Some decisions are made for the greater good, B'Elanna. However that is perceived at the time."

She was startled, and then slowly, she nodded with understanding. "And some decisions are continually renewed."

"As situations change, so do our responses adjust accordingly," he agreed. "Even if it is as simple as choosing not to change--and keeping faith with the ones we love."

B'Elanna exhaled deeply, feeling as if a weight had been lifted off her shoulders.

FINIS

Afterword: details about Janeway's and Tuvok's early careers, and their pre-Voyager association, comes in equal parts from canon, "Mosaic" by Jeri Taylor, and the wonderful fanfic by m.c. moose.

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