Divided We Fall

A/N: This is set sometime before "Extreme Risk" as things slowly begin their downward spiral for B'Elanna.

Thanks to Uroboros75 for the beta work.

Disclaimer: I own nothing but the words.

The words brand her memory, incandescent against the darkness of her mind.

If you can't stand living with us, then why don't you just leave?

They are the ghosts of her disdained past, where recollection of a given moment is determined by chance rather than fondness. She doesn't choose to remember these things, lying scattered in her mind amongst schematics and algorithms. They're just… there. And she has no way of keeping them out, knows no way to make them disappear.

From that moment cascades a thousand more: instances of rejection at the Academy, strange looks and glances in the corridors periodically punctuated with whispers not meant for her ears.

It's alienating.

She pretends to not hear them, to cast their words aside or cut them down with the fine edge of her mind. But it fails to do any good; it's only a temporary fix. There will always be more words and glances to keep her company in this strange land.

The notion leaves a bitter taste in her mouth, stinging her eyes, but she swallows it back before anyone can notice. They can't see. They mustn't. One moment of weakness is all it would take; one little slip and she will lose any ground she had ever gained. She's tried so hard to build something for herself on this ship, but it feels so fragile that one tiny step in the wrong direction will unravel it all.

She can't keep doing this.

It's an illusion of contentment, of comfort where there is none. It's not real; it's not right. There's too much discord, too much discomfort. It's like trying to integrate herself into the schoolyard world when she's the only one with facial ridges.

It terrifies her.

She's flesh and blood, real as any of the rest of them, but it doesn't stop her from feeling anything but. She feels as distant to some of them as she does to a man who is now nothing more than a shadow to her.

Even Chakotay is growing out of touch, lost in the folds of command at the Captain's side, who is in turn far too buried in her own responsibilities to pay her any notice. They simply don't have the time for stuff like this.

And Tom… how can she express something like this to him? How can she drag him into a darkness that she doesn't even want to recognize? Tom Paris, the cocky flyboy with that pristine smile sure to shatter the concentration of the unwary. She loves him, but she can't let him see this dark page nestled within her. This pain that she'd sooner banish than revisit is nothing that she'd ever place on his shoulders; there are already too many burdens there.

She curls her legs beneath her on the couch with a glance at the door. Tom had taken her to dinner three nights ago; she barely remembers a word she said. The memory feels surreal, blurred with the touch of falsity. How does she deserve someone like him?

Next to Tom, Harry is her closest friend on the ship, but she doubts that anything like this will go far with him. The pages of his personal memoir are far too spotless for her to tarnish them with her own troubles. She can just imagine the pale tone his face would take if she uttered a word to him about this in the mess hall.

Deep down she knows, as much as she tries to ignore it, that this is her burden and that she must bear it alone. Regardless of consequence she has to deal with this by herself, as she always has.

She swallows, eyes burning and brings a hand to her mouth, closed into a fist. She presses her lips against it to keep a sob from escaping; she can't allow this weakness, not here, not anywhere. One moment of insecurity can make the way for a thousand more, and with everything she's been through she can't stand the thought of giving them something else to torment her about.

It's all too close, too near to everything that she knows and cares about. These memories and hauntings are weaved into what she is, and she's finding it hard to distinguish between them.

She drops her closed hand from her face, letting out a puff of air as she does. She uncurls her fingers before holding the hand for inspection. She'd cut herself on a hyper spanner yesterday along the outer edge of her hand, a wound extending from the base of her pinky to her wrist. Despite her protests, Vorik had insisted that she go to Sickbay.

He was right, of course, but in the moment that she had seen the cut bloom open along her hand and the smallest drop of blood curl over her skin, she had felt a strange clarity. It was like everything in that moment was more real than most of what she's been through this entire week.

The injury served as a clear indication that she was – had to be – alive. How else would she be bleeding from a stupid hyper spanner?

She'd been utterly convinced of this empowering notion through the Doctor's torturous lecture on the proper handling of engineering equipment (even though she believes him to be less than qualified in the subject), and this sensation lasted for the remainder of her shift.

After that… she started having doubts.

How can she ever be sure if she's really alive? The injury, the slight pain... could it be real? Was it as real as the pain she felt from the memories she tries to keep hidden from prying eyes?

She's no stranger to pain, but everything that she's experienced in the past few months has been painful in some aspect, summoning less than desirable moment from her memories to intrude without warning. It's like a permanent shadow that lingers over her shoulder, watching her, whispering in her ear when she's alone.

It really can't be like this.

She drops her legs over the side of the couch and rests her elbows on her thighs, joining her hands beneath her chin.

There is no scar on her hand where the spanner cut her, no evidence to show that it happened. Is that what things are turning to? Just a record and few passing words with no physical evidence left to testify? She finds the idea hollow, rattling with cold air that chills her skin.

She still has the scar on her ribs from her time in the Maquis, when a fight grew beyond any semblance of control and phasers were exchanged for knives. She'd been lucky. Any closer and she may not be alive today.

Alive, she thinks. I felt alive that day.

She can't keep doing this.

She doesn't know how to go through the motions of duty and life anymore, unable to distinguish what's real from the torrent of her painful memories. Is she alive? She has to know; she has to find a way to know, because being alive surely can't be this painful.

She thinks briefly of Tom, Harry, Chakotay and the others, and envies them. They all know that they are alive now; they surely are not having the doubts that she is.

She'll have to wrestle with these demons, even though she doesn't know where to even begin. But she knows that she absolutely must do this, and she will have to do it alone, just as she always has.