A/N: Takes place after the events of "Timeless," which, if running by original air date, happens three weeks after the events of "Extreme Risk."
He finds her waist-deep in a gutted console, just another engineer in the throes of reparations. For long moments he stands watching her, wondering why he's there. Wouldn't it be easier to wait for her to come to him?
But she already had come to him. And look at what he'd done with that.
The weight of his conscience digs into his shoulders, just as it has for the past three weeks, and he wants nothing more than to shake it off. But he knows that sulking in Sandrine's—that avoidance—will only make this distance widen. He can't keep running. Not like that day in the mess hall.
But no. He'd needed that. And so had she. They'd needed to reach that impasse, to understand that friendship isn't always easy and forgiveness isn't forgiveness when blurted at the first opportunity.
Then again, he'd never given her the chance to ask for it.
Why was he still standing here?
Electricity crackles inside the console and a muffled growl reaches his ears, followed by a shower of sparks and smoke. She spews forth in a hail of curses and coughs, face blackened and fingers singed, but that's only fuel on the fire.
"Vorik!" she rasps, banging a fist into the bulkhead. "Vorik get your blasted Vulcan hide over here and help me with these circuits."
Unruffled and calm as always, the Vulcan ensign makes his way to his superior. "You wanted to see me, Lieutenant?"
"Yes, I wanted to see you!"
"Lieutenant Carey requested that you help him on the second level when you find some time. I will take care of this."
B'Elanna heaves a weary sigh, running her fingers through her hair and grimacing when they come away ashy. "Great," she mutters, still oblivious to Harry's form. "Scorched hair. Just what I need." For a moment, she grips the bridge of her nose between thumb and forefinger, then sighs and bends to retrieve her toolkit.
He clears his throat and steps forward on one foot. "Hi."
"Harry." She straightens slowly. In her eyes are all the thoughts and memories he wishes he could take back, all the pain he wishes he hadn't caused, the words he swears he never said. This will be harder than he thought. "Is there something you needed?"
"Uh. No. Not really."
"Oh. I'm uh, kinda busy. With the warp core repairs and all."
"The Captain didn't… tell you the whole story, did she?"
She eases the toolkit to the ground again. "No. She didn't. Just that you sent us the wrong calculations and knocked the slipstream drive offline." She watches him intently. "Is there something you wanted to tell me?"
"It's my fault. The drive failure."
"Well I know. You sent the wrong calculations to Voyager and we—"
"No. That's not what I meant. I mean, yes I sent those calculations, and no I didn't at the same time, but that's another story, and I don't want to talk about it right now. But it is my fault, and I wanted to say I'm sorry."
Her ridges furrow. "For knocking the drive offline?"
"No. For not talking to you."
"You're not mad at me?"
"At the moment? No. I'm more mad at Janeway for calling off the slipstream project. We put too much work into it for her to dump it like a breaching core."
"Well that's my fault too. But a future me. An alternate timeline me. One that won't be causing any more trouble for at least fifteen years. I hope."
"You're confusing the heck out of me Harry."
He sighs. "I know. I'm sorry."
"So… I guess you're speaking to me again."
"I never should have stopped."
She looks at him then, sharply and a little queerly. As if he'd betrayed her or something. "No, you did the right thing. We both needed time to adjust. Space, too, but circumstances rather prevented that."
"Tom said you missed me. That you wanted our friendship back."
"If he put you up to this—"
"No! No. He didn't. He just knocked some sense into me." A pause. "So… did you miss me?"
"So I hurt you by not talking."
She sighs. "Yes. But I needed to be hurt. And you needed to sort things out. I understand that now. I'm not saying that I liked it. But things needed to be real."
"Why did you try to kill yourself?"
She blinks, mouth falling open. "I…" Seems to decide something. "I needed to know that I was still alive."
"That's what Chakotay said. And Tom. I didn't believe them, though. People don't try to kill themselves to prove they're still breathing. It doesn't make sense."
"No. But neither does the slaughter of a thousand innocents."
"Are you going to go after them? The Dominion?"
"When we get back?" She swallows. "No. I don't think so."
"How can you be sure?"
"I'm not the hothead everyone thinks I am, Harry. I do have self-control. More than most would think, I might add."
"I didn't meant to—"
"No, it's okay. You're just like the rest of them; you don't have to excuse it."
He frowns. "No, B'Elanna, I'm not just like the rest of them. I'm your friend. Or I was your friend, and I don't want to lose that. Not ever."
She looks up. "What makes me your friend, Starfleet? Why have you stuck around for so long?"
That stops him. Finally, he says, "I guess because you're the first person I had a chance to work with to solve a problem—I mean a real problem. And you didn't call me ensign or use your age as leverage over me. You were just… you."
She is silent, watching him, looking as if she's trying to find a hole in his logic so she can go back to the loneliness and pain.
"You made yourself pay for their deaths, didn't you?" he whispers. "So they'd be avenged."
He watches as the tears spring to her eyes, and they are the only answer he needs.
He leaves after that, offering no final words, no parting eye contact or hand on her shoulder. Part of him wants to pretend things are normal, but he knows it would be just that—pretending. There are only so many masks he can juggle on such a small ship, and it will take time for him to find his real self again. In the meantime, happy-go-lucky Harry isn't one he's good at preserving.
It's too easy to fall into cynicism, way out here in the Delta Quadrant.
But letting life be real, watching friendships walk through the fire, sealing lips against the trite apologies and refusing to bury the angry words for another day—those are the things that keep them from bitterness, from brawling and anger and the inability to communicate the simplest of sorrows. And ultimately, they're the things that make them strongest.
To the journey, he thinks. May it make the destination sweeter.
Special thanks goes to Alpha Flyer for her incredible and sorely needed ability to capture the realness of life and to ask the questions that need to be asked of the characters we all hold dear. While the premise for this piece spun from one of my previous works, reading her "At the Bottom of a Glass" while writing this helped to fuel the conversations in previous chapters, particularly the one between Harry & Tom.