"Where to now, Captain?" Torres asks peevishly, arms across her chest.
The engineer is, of course, relieved that Voyager's newest shuttle won't be incurring substantial fire damage. But isn't as if she's going to let the little fact that Janeway was wrong slip through the cracks.
"You were right the first time," Janeway concedes, if with poorly concealed frustration. "No sense trying to stay ahead of the fire when it could still shift again. . . We'll wait it out to see how close it gets, now that the rainfall has slowed its progress. "
To this admission, B'Elanna has no immediate response. Occupies herself instead with arranging and rearranging their collective gear. Anything, really, but continuing a conversation with her present companion.
They'd managed to make to their current location in about an hour, despite the rain that initially slowed them. It helped, of course, that B'Elanna was angry enough to take out six Nausicaans, but forced by circumstances to divert that energy into the task of half-carrying, half-dragging Janeway up the crest they've set up camp atop of.
She's spent the last two hours silently brooding. Brooding, and trying to decide how she's going to explain all of this to Tom, when they get back.
I finally said something to Janeway about her having the hots for you–
I wasn't trying to destroy the Flyer, Tom. I just wanted to know if her there's a reason Janeway's been such an unmitigated b–
The explanations grow more and more colorful, as B'Elanna's disquiet mounts. Though her initial anger still seems completely reasonable, she can't find any handy summary that escapes sounding a bit ridiculous.
Worse, when she runs the conversation over in her head, she can hear her lover's voice clearly, and always, it's defending Janeway.
"We should sleep," Janeway's voice interrupts. "You rest first. I'll take the first shift of fire observation."
B'Elanna nods into the darkness, finding a spot that's at least half comfortable against a tree. But she doesn't sleep, can't even keep her eyes closed. Not with this thing hanging over her.
She doesn't mean to stare at Janeway. But the direction she has to turn her face to avoid the wind puts the other woman in the center of her vision, and it isn't as if there's a lot to look at, moonlight having rendered the clearing they're in a collection of scattered shadows.
She can't see Janeway's face. The older woman is turned the other direction, for one, and even then it's too dark. But B'Elanna can just make out the slope of her shoulders and silhouette of her trunk; the way she holds herself perfectly upright, despite her surroundings and the broken ankle that must be throbbing like hell.
In another time and place, it might inspire B'Elanna's admiration. More complicated thoughts about honor, women warriors. The nature of courage.
"Why does it matter what I think? Whether or not I approve?"
Torres doesn't know whether Janeway has simply assumed she was awake, or else felt herself being watched.
B'Elanna guesses it's the latter. Janeway's knack for picking up on tiny things can be one of her more. . . challenging traits.
"Why does it matter to you?" Janeway repeats. "Why do you care what I think of your relationship with Tom?"
It's a question B'Elanna can answer any number of ways. And one, the Lieutenant notes darkly, that somewhat sidesteps the issue of the Captain's own feelings for the pilot in question.
Perhaps Janeway anticipates the inner debate B'Elanna is waging. Or perhaps she knows the dodge she would use in the engineer's place. Either way, she sighs, B'Elanna watching as the Captain's shoulders hunch in a bit.
"Don't tell me it's because I'm 'the Captain'. . . That's not the kind of thing that matters to you, the way it does Harry, some of the others."
"But it matters to Tom," the engineer responds reflexively, wincing as soon as the words are out of her mouth.
B'Elanna closes her eyes at the prompt, grateful when complete darkness replaces Janeway's silhouette.
She doesn't particularly want to go into how many nights she's curled in bed next to Tom, feeling him toss and turn after Janeway looked at him wrong, or uttered even a slightly disapproving phrase in his direction. But it's either that or admit to the knot she gets in her stomach whenever she sees Tom and Janeway together, the complete synchronicity that exists between them, whether in a crisis or just bantering in Sandrine's.
B'Elanna's convinced it's partly the 'Fleet brats thing, the pedigree that goes with it. It's something Tom's tried to run from and yet still informs who he is, the ease with which he carries himself. It stands out the second you put him next to Janeway; the two of them always looking like they belong, no matter where they are.
It's also something that never fails to make B'Elanna feel like an outsider: awkward and out of place, like she's back in her first year at Starfleet Academy, standing next to polished cadets who were groomed for greatness starting at birth.
"You'll always be the one who saved him from prison," B'Elanna says, choosing the less personal explanation. "He cares about what you think of him. He wants your respect."
"Tom saved himself. And he has my respect." Janeway adds, briefly turning her face in B'Elanna's direction, "so do you . . . for whatever that's worth."
It's worth a great deal, in fact. More than B'Elanna will be able to realize, until time and hurt feelings have passed.
"You might not think we're good for one another," B'Elanna sighs, her voice sounding thready and even a bit desperate to her own ears, "but I do love him. And we're trying our very best to make each other happy. . . Is that so wrong, so difficult to understand?"
In the silence, B'Elanna anticipates any number of remarks highlighting the many failures of her romantic relationship, not the least painful among being the one Janeway hit on a few hours earlier.
She's puzzled when Janeway gives a chuckle, dry but not quite mirthless.
"Love is something that remains rare, no matter how many quadrants you poke around in. I've found it a few times. Lost it, too – but, B'Elanna, even in the losing, I've never found love to be wrong."
It's an olive branch the younger woman accepts in careful silence. Wary of the delicate admission that might flutter out from under its leaves.
. . . . .
"Chakotay to Janeway. Chakotay to Torres. Do you read?"
"You have impeccable timing, Commander," Janeway says, and B'Elanna can't help but smile a little. "The Lieutenant and I are alright, although I do hope you're in transporter range."
The fire is close enough to be a real threat at this point, and the weary and battered twosome had just begun to head out again when their commbadges chirped.
"We are," Chakotay says, and now the women can hear the XO's obvious relief. "Once we have you on board, we'll work on beaming aboard the Flyer."
There isn't even a trace of smugness in this last part, but B'Elanna still gives Janeway a knowing look. The old man must be over the moon that someone else was the first to crash the shiny, new shuttle.
They know that neither of them will ever live it down. To say nothing of how they're going to explain the cause of the crash in a report.
They don't exactly have time to dwell on it, as a second later they're in the transporter cycle, B'Elanna having been just about to note the Captain's injury. Tuvok, Harry, and Tom are all in the transporter room when the two materialize, their greetings interrupted once the ship's pilot-turned-medic notices Janeway's disfigured ankle.
"Why didn't you mention you were hurt?" Tom asks, stopping just short of his lover when he notices Janeway's injury.
The depth of his concern even keeps him from whining about the Delta Flyer.
"It's nothing serious," Janeway dismisses, averting her gaze when Tom finally manages to hug B'Elanna. "I'm sure the Doctor's lecture will be far more painful than the injury itself."
"Do you want me to go with you to Sickbay? If it's only a break, I can treat you myself. Spare you the Doc's highly articulated thoughts regarding needless risks on away missions."
Tom's arm is still around B'Elanna when he speaks the offer, and Janeway watches as her engineer smooths away signs of disappointment and frustration.
Tom is likely on duty again in a few hours, and if Janeway accepts his help (as she normally would), any time the couple might have together will be eaten up by Tom playing Captain's physician.
"It's been quite a while since I was treated to one of those lectures," Janeway declines diplomatically. Then adds, in a rueful tone only Torres understands, "maybe I deserve a lashing about the ears, this time."
It's no surprise when Janeway waves off Harry and Tuvok's offers of assistance. Now that's she's back on her own ship, she'd rather hobble under her own power, even if this means it takes her twice as long to get to Sickbay.
"Still up for that dinner?" Tom asks B'Elanna, once they're in the corridor.
"I think it's technically breakfast now," B'Elanna responds. Then cringes when she gets a look at her own reflection in the glare of a console.
"I believe you know how I feel about breakfast," Tom smirks, his hand lingering on her hip.
Janeway is ahead of them in the corridor. Not close enough to be obtrusive, but well within earshot.
B'Elanna glances in her direction, but Janeway doesn't even look back at them. Just keeps moving forward as if she didn't hear them, her single-minded determination dominating her pain.
"I do love breakfast," B'Elanna says, now smiling and pulling Tom forward a little with her hand.
"Most important meal of the day," Tom smirks, waggling his eyebrows, and his lover is hard-pressed not to laugh.
"I'm sorry we crashed the Delta Flyer," B'Elanna says, snuggling against him in the turbolift. Tom only shrugs, the muscles of his back expanding under her palm and splayed out fingers.
"There are more important things than shuttles" Tom says solemnly, and B'Elanna soaks in the vibrations of his chest as he speaks. Nuzzles the hand that combs through her matted mane of hair, which (she knows from experience) even the sonic shower will have difficulty taming.
"Things that are far rarer than any borg-modified alloy," B'Elanna murmurs.
Tom lifts an eyebrow at this, but B'Elanna doesn't elaborate. Just tucks her face into his chest for the rest of what is, all things considered, a relatively short ride.
For S and C: a rarity of thirty-odd years.