I'm going to kill her.
If the Borg don't kill her, I most certainly will.
If she survives, that is.
I can't imagine Voyager without her but I cannot imagine how she will survive the Borg either.
But then, my darling half-Klingon doesn't seem concerned about life with the Collective; rather, her lips turn upward in a curl of anticipation.
I suspect the Borg don't stand a chance; one wrong word and they will end up on the wrong end of the bat'leth. I should know – I've been there many times myself.
Of course, I know when I'm licked, know when I ought to give up; once B'Elanna has made up her mind, my stubborn darling is intractable. Her jaw grows tight, her eyes hard and glassy, and you can almost smell the fire in her nostrils.
Telling her what to do is about as easy as convincing a Hirogen that the hunt is a dead-end, a biological and cultural suicide.
Janeway looks perfectly calm as if deciding to become one with the Borg is as easy to decide between Colombian black or a French roast. She is leaning back in her chair, slightly turned towards Chakotay, her fingers rapping gently on the table.
"Are we clear?" she asks in that gravely voice. Her gaze sweeps over us, her eyes asking not only for obedience but also for understanding.
"Crystal," I offer helpfully when no one else speaks. Kim is looking at some spot over Seven's shoulder while Chakotay is looking down at his hands. Only Tuvok and B'Elanna seem alert, almost as if in a state of over-excitement.
"Good," Janeway stands. "B'Elanna, Tuvok, we meet in the shuttlebay in three hours. Tom, go over the Delta Flyer. Make sure it's ready. I don't want to take any chances."
"Yes, ma'am," I give her jaunty little salute and she smiles back at me.
"Dismissed," Janeway says, but this time her voice is softer, a bit more gentle. I wonder if she is regretting her decision, wonder if she wants to go back; but I know Kathryn Janeway. She makes her decisions, sticks by them, and then takes no time for regrets.
Of course, there is a first time for everything.
We spill out into the hall and I pause for B'Elanna. She offers me a cautious half-smile, almost as if she is afraid to speak.
"You want to check out the Flyer with me?" I ask. She nods. Her hand brushes mine, a casual yet intimate gesture. I want to grab her hand, intertwine my fingers with hers and beg her to stay; if I bow to the impulse though, she will most probably rip out my heart and eat it in front of me.
No surprise there; she does that on a daily basis.
B'Elanna cocks her head slightly to one side, her eyes bright.
"I suppose," she says. "I have a little time before we go."
We walk shoulder to shoulder down the corridor; I want to put my arm around her waist, but propriety constrains me.
"It's not fair," I say. "You get to go to all the best vacation spots."
"A Borg cube is hardly a vacation spot, Tom," she says in her best preachy tone. She moves slightly away from me, her gaze straight ahead; if I didn't know better, I would think she was trying to avoid me. But I do know B'Elanna and know she has trouble saying those things she wants to say at the right time. And I know from experience that she has to be at death's door before her heart gets into the action.
"I've never been on a Borg cube," she says. "I imagine it would be exciting."
"That's one way to put it but not the way I would describe it," I answer, remembering my recent excursion on a Borg vessel.
We continue on, a comfortable silence settling over us. I get the feeling sometimes we are an old married couple, as broken in as a pair of favorite shoes. Words aren't necessary; we have moved past the stage where we need to fill every space of silence with words, useful or otherwise. There is no more shyness; we say what we need to when we need to.
B'Elanna clears her throat and I turn to look at her, but sure enough, her gaze is everywhere but on me.
"Don't watch too much television while I'm gone," B'Elanna says in an authoritative voice. "Especially not those `I Love Lucy' episodes."
"Of course not."
"And don't spend too much time in the holodeck playing Captain Proton," her voice softens. "Or maybe…"
She stops, bites her lip, and looks at me. I lean against the opposite wall of the corridor, not even measuring the rapidly growing distance between us. It seems, in some ways, she is already gone, already assimilated, already one of them.
"Any more instructions?" I tease her.
Her eyes narrow and her nostrils flare slightly.
"No," her voice is barely audible. I cross over to her, take her elbow in my palm, and point down the hall.
"The Flyer?" I remind her. B'Elanna takes a deep breath and nods. She lets me lead her down the corridors, onto the turbo lift, and finally into the shuttle bay.
The Delta Flyer shines in the dim lighting; it should, I went over every inch of her in my last break. Of course B'Elanna had been upset, throwing a temper tantrum every bit worthy of her. Damn if the woman wasn't jealous of the Flyer. I tried to explain, tell her that every man needed his toys, and the Flyer happened to be mine. Her retort went along the lines of hadn't I learned my lesson with Alice? Or what about Steth? Then she threw in that she was tired of my "do first, ask forgiveness later" type attitude. On and on she went, endlessly, it seemed and all of my blood drained to my feet. By the time I stumbled out of her quarters, I was numb from the waist down.
Twelve long-stemmed roses ended that argument plus an exotic dinner in the holodeck, using rations begged, borrowed, and um, stolen, from various members of the crew who had it in their best interests to keep B'Elanna in a good mood.
Now, B'Elanna circles the Flyer with a contemplative eye. Her fingers brush the hull lightly, stroking it absent-mindedly. I watch her, seeing her petite figure turn the corner and she is lost from view.
"B'Elanna?" I call out.
She comes around the other side of the Flyer, her expression serious.
"Yes?" she queries, leaning one shoulder against the shuttle.
"Are you sure?" I ask. "You know what you're doing?"
"This won't succeed without me," she answers.
"Janeway's plan means you'll be assimilated."
"I know that."
There are about a thousand things I could say now, but none of them would mean quite the right thing. I could tell her I don't want her to go, but she would arch an eyebrow at me, fix me with that piercing glance and sneer.
And I suppose I would prefer that sort of reaction; sentimentality does not become B'Elanna. She likes to be hard to reach, emotionally distant, and only in those rare moments we share, she softens beneath my touch. She wears her temper like a mystique, keeping those who might care at an arm's length distance. She says everything on her mind but confesses nothing.
If I cared less, this might bother me, but I've come to know B'Elanna and to truly love her is to accept who she is, no more, no less. There are no expectations and no guarantees. I take what I can, give what she will accept.
"The Flyer?" she asks with a smile. "By the way, it looks really nice. You did good."
"Thanks," I answer.
She punches in the codes and the door opens. B'Elanna enters, crouching to avoid bumping her head on the frame. I stand there for a moment, contemplating all those things I could do to keep B'Elanna with me and then she calls for me.
"Sorry," I say. Inside the cockpit, she has already taken one of the chairs and is absorbed in her work. She complains about my toys, but I have a thing or two to say about her engines. Beneath her skillful hands, they purr and hum; I know the feeling.
"I'm aligning the plasma manifolds," she mutters under her breath. "Tom, if you could recalibrate the main relays, then I can set the upper levels here."
"Your wish is my command," I tell her gallantly. She doesn't look at me. My fingers fly across the console and I revel in the instinct that allows me to manipulate the innermost workings of the Flyer; I know every inch of this ship, every little circuit, ever isolinear chip. I know its moods, good and bad, and I love them all without question.
I run the diagnostic, primary first, giving me the overall snapshot of the Flyer's condition; the secondary diagnostic is a little more specific, producing more detailed information.
"Watch the starboard plasma injectors," I say. "They tend to run a little hot at high impulse."
"I'll keep an eye on it," B'Elanna says.
"And the warp matrix is out of alignment."
"By point three microns. Since when are you so meticulous?" A note of disbelief creeps into B'Elanna's voice.
"Since you volunteered for this insane mission," I answer. "You know...I could sabotage the helm. You'd never make it out the launch doors."
"Then I'd have to put you on report. You might lose that new pip of yours," she says in a smug tone of voice.
I take what I can get and B'Elanna's sense of humor prompts me to leave my seat to whisper in her ear, "It'd be a small price to pay."
I wait only a second, pausing to inhale her musky scent, and then I retreat to my own seat, watching and waiting.
B'Elanna waits only a moment more before turning around. She is smiling, revealing two rows of sharp, slightly-crooked teeth; teeth which have broken my skin at the shoulder, arm, thigh, and countless other places where she has left her mark. Bruises on my wrists, my stomach and neck, and the scratches on my back – they all proclaim me as hers. I wonder if she ever looks across the table during a senior staff meeting knowing what she has done to me. I know I remember every mark I put on her body, memorizing each detail of her, from the curve of her hip to the swell of her breast, and of course, that gentle little dip at the base of her neck.
"You understand, don't you, Tom?" she pleads.
I take a deep breath.
"I don't want you to go."
"I got that," she smiles. "Loud and clear. But I outrank you still."
"This has nothing to do with rank," I tell her. "Don't you understand that?"
"I know you're worried, but I can't let the captain go without me. She needs me to help spread the virus."
"Do you realize how crazy this plan is?"
"Yes, I do."
"You want to be assimilated?"
"It's the only way," she reclines in her chair, her hand running through her hair. "Think about it, Tom."
"I have been thinking about it," I argue back. I lean forward, my hands on my knees. "Have you even thought about what assimilation means?"
"I talked to Seven about it. She says it's not very painful."
I laugh bitterly.
"Seven would say that. She used to assimilate people before breakfast."
"That's not a fair thing to say."
I sigh, "I just want you to understand what's going on. What if we don't get to you in time? What if you're a drone forever?"
"Then that's my decision, isn't it?"
"Are you running away?"
She laughs at me, baring those teeth once again. She squares her shoulders back, drawing herself to her full height. No slouching for my lady, no indeed.
"Running away? To the Borg? Really, Tom. This isn't the circus."
"That's not I mean."
"I know what you mean and you're wrong."
"I'm worried. I think this plan is crazy. I think you're crazy."
B'Elanna stands up.
"You won't change my mind."
"I know," I rise and cross over to her in two strides. "I've known that from the beginning."
I cup her jaw in my hand and she leans into me, her forehead nearly resting on my chin. She is pliant in my embrace. I let out a breath. A truce then. When words fail us, physical contact always restores us.
It's a sad but undeniable truth.
"I will miss you," I whisper.
B'Elanna sighs and presses herself closer against me; my arms snake around her slender body, my hands resting on the small of her back.
"Don't," she says.
"I'll be waiting for you."
"I hope so," she says. "Keep the light on for me, okay?"
I pull away and put my fingers beneath her chin, forcing her to look at me.
"If Seven says it's not so bad, then she must be right," I say, mentally apologizing to Seven of Nine for my earlier denigration of her previous occupation as a Borg drone.
"It is a little crazy," B'Elanna admits. "I'm half out of my mind thinking about it."
I don't blame her for her trepidation. The whole plan is sketchy, at best. Infiltrate the Borg cube, get assimilated, spread the virus, communicate through Unimatrix Zero, Voyager to the rescue and then the Doctor can make history by "de-assimilating" Janeway, Tuvok and B'Elanna. At least that's the plan in a nutshell; there are details, but I can't be bothered with those details. The detail I'm most concerned about stands in front of me, evidently unperturbed by the thought of giant steel tubules piercing her neck.
I try not to think of all the things that can – and will – go wrong. What if the Borg Queen instead orders their execution? What if they cannot communicate with Voyager?
There is no doubt in my mind that B'Elanna will be different if – when – they return. How that will affect our relationship certainly bothers me in an incredibly selfish way.
"Just come back in one piece," I tell her. "We'll work on the rest when you're back, okay?"
She nods in relief; apparently she is thinking the same thing.
"Don't spend too much time with Harry on the holodeck," she says. She closes her eyes and presses her cheek against my chin. I brush the top of her head with my lips.
"I won't," I tell her.
"Promise?" her voice is barely above a whisper now.
"Yes, of course," my hand reaches to intertwine my fingers with hers.
She lifts her head and I take the opportunity to kiss her. B'Elanna smiles and touches my cheek with her fingers.
"I don't regret what I'm doing," she says. "No matter what happens, I don't regret it."
"Assimilation can't be that bad, can't it?" she asks shakily. "Seven says… and I know what you think, but she says it was very comforting to have those other voices in her head, to think as a whole rather than as a part. To belong to something unconditionally."
"Sounds like you're looking forward to it?"
"I wouldn't quite put it that way," she says with a smile. Her fingers trail down my cheek, down my neck, before resting on my shoulder. "I will be glad when we finally come home."
I lean in for another kiss and this time, she wraps her arms around my neck.
"Wait for me," she says between kisses.
"I will," I answer. Our lips part and she breaks away, returning to her seat.
"Where were we?" she asks casually as if these last five minutes never happened. Her face is completely composed, though she does rub a fist across her cheek. I don't point this gesture out; any observation of weakness is automatically grounds for skewering on the end of her ceremonial mek'leth.
"I will telling you to watch the warp matrix," I say, sliding back into my chair.
"Oh yes," she says briskly. "I appreciate the alert, thanks."
After a few minutes of silent working, B'Elanna turns around.
"Done?" I ask her.
"Done," she affirms, nodding her head. She tips her head to one side, her eyes unusually bright. "Tom, I don't think I told you, but I'm proud of you. You really earned the promotion and, uh, you've come a long way."
The sentiment is nicely expressed without bite, without a hint of sarcasm. Just plain and simple, purely B'Elanna. The B'Elanna only I'm allowed to see; the one who is quiet and gentle, shy and demure. If I told anyone about this B'Elanna, they would never believe me and she would eat me alive without any remorse. In fact, she would probably ask Neelix to whip up a blood pie to eat afterwards.
But that is giving my heartless darling too little credit. Most likely, she would simply turn her back to me, ignoring me, until I came to my senses and begged for her forgiveness on no less than bended knee.
"Not quite a pig anymore?" I ask.
B'Elanna offers me a shy smile, "Did I call you that? No, certainly not."
I nod, swallowing hard. B'Elanna brushes her palm across her face, rises and stretches.
"I should get ready to go," she says.
"I imagine you don't have much to pack," I say in jest. "I hear the Borg pack light."
She gives me a withering look. I try to imagine her lithe frame encased in the black stiff armor favored by the Borg and of course, those tubes which sprout out of all orifices for God only knows what reasons. I think of her hot-tempered blood swimming with nanoprobes and wonder what a thousand voices in her head will do to her.
"Tom," she says reproachfully. She exits the Delta Flyer and stands there, waiting for me, her arms crossed on her chest.
I take one more look at the Delta Flyer; she is a beautiful ship.
Reflexively, I touch the hull before B'Elanna pulls me away.
"Don't think about it too much," she whispers. "We'll build another ship when I return. I promise."
I want to tell her that the Delta Flyer doesn't matter; that its destruction makes no difference to me. It's a toy, nothing more, nothing less. I think about telling B'Elanna this, but I know she won't believe me; there's nothing B'Elanna hates more than facing the truth.
Sometimes I look at her when she is sleeping, curled up, her knees almost to her chest, her palm against her lips. It's almost as if she is closing herself off to me even in those moments when we should be most intimate. On occasion, she rolls over and places her palm lightly on my hip, but I doubt she knows what she is doing. Once, I woke up and found her staring up at the ceiling, her hands behind her head. I propped myself up on one elbow and asked her what she was thinking.
"Nothing," she said. "Just a million things and all of them are jumbled together."
I traced my finger down her jaw, "Could you focus one thing?"
She turned to face me, "You, I suppose?"
"That would be nice."
She sighed, pushed off the covers, and got out of bed.
"Not everything is about you, Tom," she said quietly. She put on her robe and sat down on the chair, watching me. "Don't you ever think about what's going to happen to us?"
"All the time. I imagine mostly good things."
"You would," scorn dripped from her voice. "But I think about all the bad things."
She shrugged, "You know… all the things that could possibly go wrong. I imagine what I would feel like if they actually happened."
"Why?" I couldn't help asking.
B'Elanna's eyes, always luminous and opaque, shined back at me. She blinked a couple times.
"Does it make me a terrible person?" she asked.
"No, it just makes me worried about you."
"Good," she sighed as if my concern was necessary to her well-being.
She ran a hand through her hair and then leaned her head against the seat back. "I just want to be prepared for the worst case scenario. Whatever happens, I want to be prepared. It won't hurt as much that way."
Now I place my fingers beneath B'Elanna's chin and gently lift so her eyes meet mine.
"Is this a worst case scenario?" I whisper.
"It's one of them," she admits. "But not quite the way I expected."
"No," she says. She takes my arm and nearly pulls me out of the shuttle bay. Out in the corridor, we collide with a couple crewmen; we make quick apologies and B'Elanna is pushing me into another corridor.
"I'm only going to say this once, helmboy," her lower jaw is trembling now. "I intend to come back."
Our faces are inches apart and I place my hands on her cheeks.
"The Borg don't stand a chance," I whisper, wishing, hoping, praying I can believe my own words.
Our lips meet. She clings to me, pressing tighter against until I can feel her permeating every pore of my body.
After a minute, she releases me.
"I have to go," she mumbles. She turns and flees, leaving me there in the corridor, rubbing my lips.
It has been six days, seventeen hours and twenty-three minutes since we last recorded life signs for Janeway, Tuvok and B'Elanna.
Sometimes I stand next to the windows in the mess hall, looking out at the great expanse of space and wondering where in the Delta Quadrant are our missing people?
Chakotay is grim; he sits in the Captain's Ready Room, his shoulders slumping, his hair sometimes flipping over his forehead, nearly obscuring his tattoo. I take this unusual unkempt appearance to mean that the acting Captain is not sleeping.
Seven confirms this theory when she appears suddenly at my side in the mess hall.
"I have not yet seen the Captain and the others," she says. "Everyday, there are fewer drones at Unimatrix Zero."
"I wish you wouldn't call them drones," I answer shortly.
"You sound like Commander Chakotay," she says. "He has developed a new respect for the Borg."
I give a snort.
"Only because of the Captain and the others," I say.
"He is in the cargo bay nearly every night," Seven's forehead creases. "Should I alert the Doctor?"
"No," I say.
Seven shrugs her slender shoulders in a fluid gesture. I turn to her, wondering what she is thinking behind those impassive features. Except for the occasional sneer in her voice, the quirk of an eyebrow, it is impossible to ever truly read Seven of Nine. She remains as cryptic to me today as she did that first day when she boarded Voyager as a drone.
"What does it feel like to be Borg?" I ask abruptly. Seven lifts her eyebrow.
"Why do you ask?"
"I was just curious."
"You are concerned about Lieutenant Torres."
"That is true," I admit.
Seven cocks her head slightly to the side. We make an odd reflection in the glass, the two of us, former Borg and human. I shake my head, trying to erase the abrupt image of B'Elanna in full Borg regalia.
"It is peaceful," Seven says finally.
"Even with all those voices?"
"Yes. It is safe."
"I can see how that would be," I tell her bitterly.
"It is calm," Seven continues as if I had never spoken.
"Sounds like Risa."
Seven's eyes open wide.
"Lieutenant, you are mistaken. It is nothing like Risa," she says without a trace of irony. I still have not learned yet, after all these years, that my sense of humor is completely wasted on Seven. She does turn her head slightly towards me and say in her most reassuring tone,
"But it is not unpleasant."
We stand there in silence for a couple more minutes and then I summon the courage to ask yet another question.
"Does it hurt to be assimilated?"
"I do not recall my assimilation," Seven says thoughtfully. "I remember being frightened but that is all. There was no pain that I can recall."
It is only then that I realize I have been holding my breath.
"When you assimilated people, how did it feel?"
"I had a similar conversation with Lieutenant Torres before she departed," Seven says.
"She mentioned something about that," I answer.
"Lieutenant Torres was intrigued by assimilation. She wondered if she would have to assimilate anyone."
Ah B'Elanna, the things you don't share with me.
"What did you say?"
"I answered in the affirmative. It is the duty of every drone to contribute to the overall perfection of the Collective. Once she was assimilated, she would be expected to fulfill those obligations."
"That sounds like a lot of propaganda to me," I say.
"You are entitled to your opinion, Lieutenant," she says the last word with obvious condescension.
"Thank you for that," I say, irritation creeping into my voice. "You never answered my question about what it felt like to assimilate someone."
"It is difficult to separate duty from emotion," she says. "Individuals focus too much on emotion. As a drone, I did not have that burden."
"Well?" I ask impatiently. I have this nightmarish vision of B'Elanna, in black armor and metallic accessories, extending those long tubules into the neck of another being. I can't imagine B'Elanna, who experiences a different emotion for every moment of the day, to mindlessly subjugate species without feeling a slight tinge of pity, anger, compassion – anything at all but certainly not this brisk efficiency that characterizes Seven.
B'Elanna's blood runs hot as Seven runs cold. I wonder how much of a temper young Annika Hansen would have developed and then it occurs to me that the B'Elanna who comes back to Voyager may be cool and utterly inaccessible.
"Lieutenant?" Seven says.
In the background, the volume of conversation rises as one shift ends and another begins. In general, it has been quiet since Janeway left; waiting is painful for those left behind.
"You asked how I felt about assimilation," she says. "Specifically, how I felt."
"I have an answer for you."
I look at Seven and if I did not know better, I would think she was uncomfortable, perturbed, disturbed – call it what you will – but it's Seven as I've never seen her before.
"We led individuals to a level of perfection otherwise unavailable to them. It was… an honor."
"Do you still think it's an honor?"
Seven takes a deep breath. I watch in fascination as a shadow ripples over her face as she struggles to hold in her emotions. Composed and serene once again, Seven says flatly, "I am no longer a drone yet I believe there is value to a collective existence."
"But not in the Borg?"
Seven says, "I do not know the answer to that question."
Her tone is that of surprise, as if she did not expect such difficult questioning from me. I imagine I asked the questions she has been dreading, the ones whose answers are elusive, since being Borg is an integral part of her existence.
Seven of Nine has come a long way, but there is still a distance she needs to cover.
"I will report to the cargo bay now for regeneration," she says. "And I will attempt to contact Unimatrix Zero again. Tonight, perhaps, we will talk to the Captain."
She spins around and exits the mess hall, her swan neck held high. I place my hand on the glass, pressing my weight against the window until my forehead nearly touches it.
At times like this you can't help but feel a little crazy. With her, without her, the result is still the same. I hate that she has this effect on me, that my every waking moment is consumed by B'Elanna Torres. I wish I could say she thinks of me in the same way but sometimes I get the feeling she regards me with the same neutrality one would view a limb. Yes, that is me, Tom Paris, appendage of B'Elanna Torres, nothing more, nothing less.
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