100 Days, part VII

By Seema

It's dark and smells like cleaning solution, not unlike the fluid used so recently to clean the carpets on Voyager.

Green light shines everywhere throughout my hazy surroundings. It is cold here. Loud too. The noise, God, it's impossible to escape. I cover my ears and I am looking for a way out. There are no doors, just endless corridors of metallic construct, girded and beamed, with wires hanging out of orifices. Everything is angular and sharp; nothing smooth, nothing pretty. My boots clatter against the duranium floor. I only stop once to notice that the floor is a weave and between the spaces I can see forever. If I fall, I fall forever.

The noise grows louder and I sink to my knees, my hands firmly over my ears. I want to shriek for it all to stop but my teeth are chattering and suddenly, every muscle in my body spasms.

And then the shadow comes. One, then two, and finally, the third. They are there, huge hulking figures attired in sculpted black armor, their one eye glowing red, and their fingers, hands, arms reaching outward.

"Resistance is futile," they intone in one voice. "You will be assimilated."
"No!" I scream. "No!"

I sit up, gasping. A dream, Tom, only a dream. But some details felt astonishingly real and it was almost if I was back on the Borg cube, a science fair project for a bunch of kid drones to practice assimilation technique on.
I calm my breathing and get out of bed.

"Computer, time?" I ask.

"The time is 0742 hours," she responds cheerfully.

Great thing about a computer is that it isn't made out of flesh and blood; it doesn't need sleep and certainly doesn't need coffee to wake it up. That voice is perpetually chipper and always helpful except for when it doesn't want to be.

And that's when you are in trouble.

I look back at my bed, at the covers that have fallen to the floor.

"Deep breaths, Tom, deep breaths," I tell myself as I pace the length of the room.

It's no use going back to sleep; my heart is pounding. So I dress and head directly to sickbay, skipping breakfast; I don't think I can keep anything down anyway.

The Doctor is off-line, but I notice immediately that Janeway is completely restored and sleeping. Chakotay stands next to her. When he notices my presence, he drops the Captain's hand immediately.

"Good morning, Lieutenant," Chakotay says pleasantly. I make my way over to Janeway and study her.

Everything looks normal, all the right parts in all the right places. No Borg hardware remaining that I can see.
The Doctor does good work but it's best not to say these things aloud; his ego is already well-inflated.
I grab the tricorder lying next to the bed and run a quick scan; she looks good. Janeway will be back on her feet in a matter of days, once again ready to run roughshod over anyone who dares even toss a dirty look in the direction of her little Voyager collective.

Chakotay has returned to his usual reticent self and I let him be. Instead I turn to look at B'Elanna. She is exactly as I left her but her breath is raspy and strained.

"Uh," I grab the tricorder. Where to even start with a half-Klingon, half-human and somewhat Borg individual? I run a diagnostic, checking her heart and lungs and other parts of the pulmonary system, but find nothing.

"It's the body armor," the Doctor says from behind me. "It is crushing her chest."

"We've got to do something," I say desperately.

"Calm, Mr. Paris," the Doctor says.

"Calm? You want me to be calm? B'Elanna could be dying!"

"I assure you that she is not."

"You just said that the armor is crushing her chest," I remind him.

The Doctor presses a hypo against B'Elanna's neck.

"This should relieve some of the pressure," the Doctor says. He goes to check on the others while I hover over B'Elanna.

After a moment, the Doctor returns and his expression is concerned.

"We do B'Elanna next," he says. "But they are all in critical condition."

"What is going on?" Chakotay comes over, hands behind his back, his shoulders leaning slightly forward. It is, in my humble opinion, Chakotay's best pose and probably the one he uses to get all the girls.

But it also has the look of interest, of caring, and that's Chakotay's strength is. He doesn't have to pretend to care because he honestly does and he does not have to make up things because he is sincere. He says what he means and when he acts, it is completely from the heart.

It is an admirable trait.

The Doctor explains quickly but at the same time, he is prepping B'Elanna for shoulder.

Without thinking about it at all, I grab her hand.

"It will be okay," I whisper in her ear, hoping she can hear me. "We're going to get you out of there. I promise."

I am five. The closet is dark, hot, stuffy. The smell of old leather permeates the air and it's impossible to find a place to sit; the boots and other odd items clutter the floor.

I pound on the door but Jenna doesn't hear. She has probably wandered off somewhere with Kevin; he comes over a lot and they kiss. Sometimes I wonder why she even wants to spend time here watching me if all she really wants to do is be with Kevin.

It hurts my feelings; I'm at least as fun as Kevin but she never kisses me the way she kisses him. She doesn't even really look at me and only talks to me if I've done something terrible.

Sometimes she makes me lunch if she is in a good mood.

But today is different.

She is fidgety, nervous about something and won't tell me about it. And that's how I ended up in the closet. She said, "You go hide, Tom, and I'll find you, okay?"

So I went into the closet because it's such a good place to hide behind all of the coats.

Jenna never comes.

I pound on the door but nothing. I scream, I cry, but no Jenna.

All around me, I see monsters. The lone mop becomes the medusa of ancient mythology; the hangers with their metal clips are pinchers, waiting to grab me around the neck.

And then the door opens.


She is crying.

"Oh Tom," she sobs. "I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to leave you in there. I just lost all track of time…"

I scramble out of the closet and slam the door behind me. Jenna kneels and wipes my tears away.

"We won't say anything about this, right?" she whispers. "It's our secret. Yours and mine, okay? Tom, promise."

I love Jenna so I promise.

But every time I walk pass the closet, I can't help but think of those two hours when I lay there, alone and in the dark.

And I never want to be there again.'

The Doctor moves briskly. There are advantages to being a hologram; endless and boundless energy and enthusiasm, to name a couple. He even hums Italian arias underneath his breath as he works on B'Elanna. I mostly hover, handing him the necessary instruments and injecting her with various drugs as the Doctor commands.

Chakotay comes in every now and then to check on our progress. At one point, he grabs me by the shoulder and propels me into the Doc's office.

"When was the last time you slept, Tom?" he asks.

"I have nightmares," I say softly. "Of when I was on the Borg cube. It makes it difficult to sleep."

"That's understandable, but you need to rest, Tom. The Doctor needs you."

"He doesn't need me," I answer. "You could do what I'm doing, even Seven. I'm here because I want to be."

"Could have fooled me."

Our eyes meet. I'm the first to blink.

"Don't hurt her, Tom," Chakotay says finally. "She's been through a lot and the last thing she needs is your disgust."

"My what?" I am incredulous. "What are you talking about?"

"I have been watching you," he says. "The way you've been acting. Frankly, I'm disappointed. I would have expected more from you."

"I don't know what you're talking about."

"I'm talking about B'Elanna. You need to look at her as B'Elanna Torres, not as some kind of machine."

I swallow hard. He's right. Of course he's right. I've been telling myself the same thing for the last three days. Think B'Elanna, not Borg. She is not Borg, she is B'Elanna. She just looks like Borg but beneath all of that hardware, she is B'Elanna.

I want to believe this so much, but until she opens her eyes and speaks, I'm not going to know for sure.
Chakotay's face softens.

"I know what you're thinking, Tom," he says. "I had some of the same thoughts. I still have them. I don't what the Captain's going to be like. Will she be the same or will she be completely different? And those are the most simplistic characterizations I can come up with but I understand that it will be more complicated than that. We have a lot of work to do, Tom, and I'm counting you to help B'Elanna and the others to get through the transition.

Can I count on you?"

Hell, you'd have to be a heartless bastard to turn down a plea like that.

I was wrong earlier; the Borg queen didn't stand a chance.

"Yes," I say. "I'm sorry."

"Don't apologize to me," he nods in the direction of B'Elanna.

I rub my hand across my eyes. Sleep threatens me, inching into every corner of my brain until I can barely think. But there is a thought that nags at me; something I have to know the answer to.

"Chakotay," I say. He turns around.

"What is it, Tom?"

"Before Seven came to the Bridge to tell us that the Borg would lower their shields, what were you going to do?"

"I don't understand."

"During that moment of silence," I say. "When the Borg Queen and you were negotiating, you knew that Voyager was no match for the cube. What would you have done if Seven hadn't come in at that very moment?"

"Lucky for us, wasn't it?" Chakotay offers me his trademark crooked smile.

"Dumb luck if you ask me," I answer. "Well?"

"To be frank, Tom, I don't know. I replay it in my head over and over again but I do not know what I would have done."

"Would you have left them behind?"

Long silence. I can almost hear Chakotay's brain processing this question. He can't answer this question and come out ahead; it's not possible.

"I don't know," he says. "I can't tell you anything more than that."

By the tone of his voice, I know our conversation is over; he has shared with me all that ever will. Now that the Captain is back, he has no need to ever confide in Tom Paris again.

We can go back to disliking each other, tolerating each other only because B'Elanna wants us to.

I love the status quo as much as the next man. There is something very comforting in constancy; change stirs up the stomach, dredges up all sorts of unpleasantness.

But I want this all to change. I want Chakotay to know that I respect him.

I want him to respect me.

The very thought surprises me. Six years ago, the brash, stubborn pilot that was Tom Paris wanted very little to do with the cool-headed Maquis pilot. Our history together made for disaster and I was not willing to extend him the courtesy he deserved.

And I did not care what he thought of me. In my mind, only Janeway's opinion mattered; Chakotay, to quote a Borg friend of mine, was irrelevant.

"Get some rest," Chakotay says over his shoulder. "I will assist the Doctor."

Crisis comes at hour twenty-four of the operation.

"Something's wrong," the Doctor says as the machines began to beep violently. I turn to the machines.

"Her heart," I say. "Erratic heartbeat. I'm also reading a decrease in neural pathway activity."

"Ten milligrams of Jaxite," the Doctor is already halfway across the room in search of something.

I find the Jaxite and inject it into the side of B'Elanna's neck. Her body jerks.

"We've got to get this off of her," I pull violently at the various hoses on her body. "It's suffocating her!"

"Mr. Paris, calm down!" the Doctor is back at my side. "Don't do anything rash."

"It's killing her," I tell him desperately.

"Calm, Mr. Paris," the Doctor says. "Please."

I watch as he disengages some of the hoses and then injects B'Elanna with another drug.

"This didn't happen with the Captain," I say.

"The Captain is human," the Doctor says. "The side-effects vary."

Oh yes, side effects. How could I possibly forget that long litany of what might and what could possibly happen if one went through de-assimilation?

I suppose you forget what you do not want to remember.

I grab her hand and wonder of wonders, her fingers curl around my hand. The action may be completely reflexive, but it does not matter to me.

"B'Elanna, stay with me."

It is cold, so cold. How long have we been here? The evergreen trees are dripping with icicles, lightly coated with snow. Every now and then, there is a crash, an avalanche of snow descending down the slope. I imagine that one of those giant tidal waves might envelope us, sweep us away and we would lie frozen within each other's arms.

I have lost track of time. It could be ten minutes or ten hours since we stumbled off of the path.

B'Elanna's lips are blue and she is still in my arms. I lean down and blow warm air - I hope it's warm - on her face. She looks almost peaceful, her long lashes curling against her face.
I gather her close, thinking that this is a terrible way to end everything. The only mercy is that eventually I too will drift off to sleep and then it will be all over.

"B'Elanna," my voice is hoarse from screaming. She does not stir but my hand on her chest assures me that she is breathing. I can also feel the rhythm of her hearts beneath my palm and not for the first time, I thank her Klingon genome for its study architecture.

She might despise that Klingon part of herself but I cherish it.

And then, "Voyager to Paris."

My frozen lips crack open, "Paris here."

"Prepare for transport."

I lean over B'Elanna, brushing my lips against those Klingon ridges.

"We're going home," I whisper. "We're going home."

"Are you going to just stand there and watch?" the Doctor snaps.

I jerk back into action. My body is blessed with supernatural abilities; for once in my life, I am absolutely sure of what I am doing and what needs to be done.

We work quickly and then the Doctor nods at me.

"It will be all right, Mr. Paris," he says. "Can you check on the others?"

I nod and back away.

The other drones, Tuvok including, are stable. The Doctor says the Vulcan chemistry has enormous capacity for healing and that his de-assimilation process should take less time than that of B'Elanna's and the Captain's.

I check on Janeway; her pulse is normal, her breathing even. Her skin has flushed to a rosy pink, a welcome change after that unnatural pasty white. Her chestnut hair curls against her cheek as she sleeps.

I watch the Doctor tend to B'Elanna and under his care, her life signs return to normal or at least, normal for this potpourri of genetics she has become.


In space, there is no differentiation between night and day, only an arbitrary clock set to Federation standard time. I find it rather amusing that we mark off the hours by a standard a quadrant away but why change? We find comfort in that which we find familiar and time is the true constant we can rely on, mostly because it is so arbitrary.

Time, however, does not relieve my anxiety as I stand over B'Elanna. She has come through surgery well, or so the Doctor claims, but I won't believe him until she wakes.

Open your eyes, B'Elanna. Open them. Just a slight muscle movement, that's all.

Janeway is awake and alert; she is sitting up and drinking coffee, even making a joke or two.

"I missed this on the Borg vessel," she tells me and Chakotay. "No coffee for drones. No nothing for anyone, actually."

"Well, it's good to have you back," Chakotay comments.

She doesn't even know that half of it. I wonder how much Chakotay will tell her. I suppose it doesn't matter; Janeway will want to know everything in minutia. Every detail, everything, of the one hundred days we were without her.

It would be easy to chronicle the passage of each day in terms of events.

Woke up, reported to duty, went to sleep. Somewhere in there, there was food and maybe good friends, the occasional excursion to the holodeck.

To me, it is all a pointless blur. None of it matters because the infiltration of the Borg cube to spread a nanovirus to preserve the integrity of Unimatrix Zero was an exercise in futility.

Others will argue with me on this particular opinion and I bet the historians slated to write the biographies of Kathryn Janeway will hail the mission as a grand success, her greatest triumph.

Other than, of course, the re-assimilation of the Borg drone, Seven of Nine.

"You're quiet, Tom," Janeway says.

I offer her a smile. I have struggled for the last ten days about how honest I should be with my Captain. Do I tell her how I feel? That I resent that she put herself in danger and included Tuvok and Torres in her escapade?

Of course B'Elanna will argue with me - when she wakes up - that it was her decision, and her decision only, to accompany Janeway on the mission.

That's not the point.

It has never been the point.

When you are captain, you have an obligation to your people.

It's that simple.

There have been other enemies, other battles, but never one where we could deliberately affect the outcome like this one.

We could have walked away this time and it would have been all right.

Our victory is luck. That's what is. Dumb luck but no one will admit it.

Kathryn Janeway certainly never will.

"What are you thinking about?" Chakotay looks over at me. He looks much happier, definitely more at ease.

"I'm glad you're back," I say sincerely. At least that much is true.


B'Elanna is awake. Her eyes are alert as she scans the room. She even tries to sit up, but winces. I am at her side immediately, pulling out my tricorder.

"B'Elanna? Are you alive?" I ask her, half-jokingly, half-seriously. She stares at me, her eyes wide with fear.

"Tom?" she asks uncertainly.

"That's me, Tom Paris, resident pig at your service," I tell her.

She doesn't look well, not half as well as Janeway did the first time she woke. It worries me and I'm wondering if something has gone wrong. Maybe we disconnected the wrong wire, flipped the wrong switch, used the wrong drug, I don't know.

"The others?" she is trying to look for Tuvok and Janeway and looks visibly distressed when she doesn't see them.

"Released. Back in their quarters," I tell her.

She closes her eyes and the barest hint of water slips under the lid.

"It's so quiet," she whispers. "So quiet."

A hand - B'Elanna's hand, presumably - garbs my heart, squeezes and won't let go. I stand there, my breath coming out unevenly. I am waiting for the other shoe to drop, for her to tell me that she wants to return to the Collective.

And I'm so afraid, so afraid, that B'Elanna, the B'Elanna I remember, is still back there on the Borg cube.


B'Elanna, Tuvok and Janeway make exceptional progress in their recoveries. This is according to the Doctor who is now proclaiming himself an expert in the de-assimilation process.

To our relief, none of them, including Arundel and Ennis, have mentioned returning to the Collective, but the nagging fear remains.

It doesn't matter how many times you read a theory in a textbook; until it is put into practice, you don't know how it's actually going to work and that's the scary part.

Even though we have the shining examples of Seven of Nine and Captain Jean-Luc Picard in front of us, how do we know that Janeway, Tuvok, B'Elanna, Arundel and Ennis will do the same?

Wait and see, says the Doctor and much as I'm loathe to admit it, he is right this time.

We can't know and we won't know. The damage is done and now we have to face the consequences.

But the Doctor himself sees no consequences at all. Rather, he puffs out his chest as much as a holographic being can and struts around his sickbay, proud as a peacock.

"No one has performed the de-assimilation as many times as I have," the Doctor says cheerfully as the two of us clean up the sickbay. "I should write a book. Yes, this is my legacy. The de-assimilation of Borg drones. I imagine they will want me to lecture once we get back to the Alpha Quadrant."

I don't answer. I have a feeling he has already written that book he is talking about is and imagines himself on the lecture circuit, receiving thunderous applause and gratuitous praise.

I arrange the drugs back into their cabinet, organizing them in alphabetical order and so that their labels face front.

I'm rapidly getting tired of this room. Everywhere I look, I see residual signs of Borg even though the Borg are no longer among us.

Even the air, constantly refiltered, smells of Borg technology.

A medicine vial slips from my hand and I grab it a second after it bounces up from the floor.

"Are you all right?" the Doctor asks.

I nod, handing him the remaining drugs.

"Of course," I say. "It's exhausting."

"Indeed, but it went well," the Doctor says. "I am hopeful they will all be back to normal, though I do hope Lieutenant Torres left her temper behind on the Borg cube."

My fists tighten around the hypospray I am about to hand over.

"Mr. Paris," the Doctor gently extricates the object from my clenched fingers.

"Sorry," I say. "I- I must have drifted off."

"You really need to stop doing that. What if you were piloting Voyager?"

"I'm sorry," I apologize. "I think I'm just tired."

"Get some rest," he says.

This phrase, "get some rest," is becoming a habit with people. I do not know why people feel the need to take care of me. I do not need mothering. I want the strength to do what I want when I want, regardless of consequences. I want the ability to accept the outcomes of my decisions without having to answer to a higher authority.

I suppose I want to be the Captain.

But of course, I cannot say this to the Doctor so I give him a nod and head to my quarters.

On my way, I stop in to see B'Elanna. I let myself into her quarters quietly in case she is sleeping.
It has only been thirteen hours since the Doctor discharged B'Elanna and even then, she did not seem quite herself to me. Her eyes flickered back and forth. Disoriented, I suppose, though she did know who she was.

That, at least, was something.

I had offered to take her back to my quarters but she had seemed resistant to the suggestion and I hadn't wanted to push her.

To be honest, I was relieved, not sure yet how I was going to deal with her and what had happened.

Avoidance, again, is the best medicine for what ails you. If you ignore something or someone long enough, the problem goes away.

I walk into her bedroom and she is lying in bed, the blankets up to her waist, her short hair dark against the white pillow.

Sleeping like that, she looks like B'Elanna.

There is nothing Borg left in her except for the occasional nanoprobe swimming in her bloodstream.
I sit in the armchair opposite her bed and watch her chest rise and fall.

What if there had been something Borg left in her? Would I still be able to…?

Of course these are thoughts I cannot possibly entertain and at the beginning of this mission, I would never have thought my feelings would have remained constant, Borg or not.

It's amazing how prejudices bleed to the surface, spilling over into every aspect of life, clouding even the soundest of judgements.

B'Elanna stirs and then opens one eye.

"Tom?" she whispers.

I'm at her side, kneeling by the bed.

"Shh," I tell her. "Don't talk."

"It hurts," she whimpers.

"That's because we had to do a little rearranging," I let my fingers brush against her skin. It's soft, smooth, and golden-colored - exactly the way I remember. There are some rough patches of skin where the Borg armor rubbed against her, but it's nothing some lotion can't take care.

"Rearranging?" she rasps.

"Borg implants, they have a way of moving things around," I answer. "You may find at a routine Star Fleet physical that some of your organs are a micrometer or so out of place."

She reaches out, her fingers weakly stretching for my cheek.

"You look… tired."

"You too?" I ask jokingly, but she doesn't get the comment. Her fingers fall to her side and I cover the hand with mine.

She offers me only a tired and confused look in response.

"Tom, the pain," she whispers.

"I know," I stand up. "Let me get the hypospray, okay? Stay with me, B'Elanna."

Her eyes are closed when I return, but they open as I press the cool head of the hypospray against her neck.


"Better," she says.

I resist the urge to crawl into bed with her and wrap my arms around that suddenly frail body.

"You need to be careful," I tell her. "There is a chance that you might experience hemorrhaging."


"Unfortunately that's a side-effect of the de-assimilation process."

"Tom…" she looks green and again, I leap to my feet to grab a bucket. I make it back just in time and she retches before lying back down. I go into the bathroom, clean the bucket and bring her back a towel, soaked in warm water.

"Here," I help her sit up, and then gently wipe her lips, chin and cheeks. "Do you want some water, B'Elanna?"

She nods, but holds my hand.

"You have to let me go," I say gently. "Let me get you some water."

I am half way out of the room when she says in a strong, clear voice, "I remembered you, Tom."

I turn around, "What?"

"Some days, I remembered you," she smiles shyly. "Some days I was Borg but other days, I was B'Elanna Torres and knew it. And those were the best days. I remembered you."

I nod and go to the replicator.

"Glass of water, slightly warm and sweetened with a bit of honey," I say. The glass materializes and I take it. My hand trembles slightly as I go back into the bedroom.

"Here," I sit on the bed and place the glass next to her lips. B'Elanna takes it in her shaking hands, nearly spilling most of the liquid on herself.

"Let me get you another nightgown," I say.

"No," she puts her hand on my thigh. "Please, stay with me."

I have never been able to resist those eyes so I help her lie down and then I curl up next to her, careful not to touch.


The captain's expression is that of someone who has just sucked on a lemon. Her hand is curled around a mug of coffee as she sits in her chair, still in robe and nightgown.

"You wanted to see me?" I ask.

"Yes," she says. "Please sit."

I can tell this isn't a social call; she doesn't want to talk about Fair Haven or even about our plans to trade with the Narsians in a couple days.

Since returning from the Borg ship, she has remained in relative isolation, recovering slowly and seeing only Chakotay and the Doctor.

I sit. Her expression doesn't change.

Definitely not the time to talk about a party in the mess hall. Something is going on. And it's not going to be good.

"Tom, you had some misgivings about our recent mission to the Borg cube," she begins.

"Some, yes," I admit. "Why?"

"I get the feeling, Tom, that you don't like me very much," Janeway shifts position. "Is that right?"

Damn if she isn't perceptive. I've spent all of twenty minutes with her since her return and she picks up on the one thing I don't want her to know.

So much for hiding my real feelings.

At least when B'Elanna accuses me of deception, I can point out this particular moment when Janeway read my mind and emotions completely.

I imagine mind reading is yet another course offered to those on the command track and I also suppose Janeway got an A too.

"So what changed, Tom?" Janeway asks.

Where to start? I mean, honestly, questioning the decisions of your commanding officer is one thing; telling her about it is another.

I take a deep breath.

"I'm waiting."

"I'm not sure that the Borg mission was entirely necessary," I blurt out.

"So that's it? You think I put us and the ship in danger?"


"We face danger every day we're in the Delta Quadrant, Tom. God knows things might not be much better in the Alpha Quadrant."

"Yes, but this was a choice you made," I tell her. "We didn't have to do it. You, Tuvok and B'Elanna did not have to be assimilated. That was a choice you made."

"I see," she pauses for a moment. "So it's B'Elanna then…"

"Not B'Elanna," I shake my head. "The crew, all of us. We all count, Captain, and I sometimes wonder if you think we matter at all."

"How dare you question me like that?" she is furious. She slams the empty coffee mug down on her table and stands with a little difficulty. "My sole responsibility is, and always will be, this crew."

"Even when it means a direct confrontation with the Borg that could have been avoided?"

Janeway is pale and I spring to my feet.

"You are tired," I tell her.

She pushes me away, some of the old fire returning to her eyes.

"Tom, you may not believe this, but I always act in the best interests of this crew. You may not always agree with me, but believe me, I never do anything without first thinking of every person on this ship," her voice is low but firm.

"You weren't there when Chakotay was facing the Borg queen," I tell her. "Those were probably the longest ten minutes of my life. They certainly were for Harry and Chakotay. Chakotay doesn't even know what he would have done if the plan hadn't succeeded at the last minute. Likely, we would have all been assimilated and without the luxury of a neural suppressant."

"I apologize," Janeway turns her back to me. "It could not have been easy for you, but I stand by my decision, Tom, and I expect you to respect my command."

"You never have to doubt my loyalty," I answer. "But I do have the right to question an order if I think it is to the detriment of the crew."

"Do you?" she turns back around, her eyes slightly amused. "It's all right, Tom. I understand. If you ever have a problem with something I say or do, you need to tell me. I will always listen."

"I suppose that's all I can ask."

Janeway finds her way back to her chair, sinks back, and closes her eyes.

"You're dismissed," she says in a faint voice.

I stand up and head towards the door, but pause when Janeway says, "Tom?"

"Yes, ma'am?" I turn. Her eyes are still closed, but her voice is much stronger now.

"That pip, it looks good on you," she says.

The comment is unexpected and I have to wonder if it's a threat, but Janeway's expression relaxes as her eyes open.

"You earned it, Tom," she says. "I appreciate what you are saying and you may be right. You need to remember that there is only one captain on this ship."

I swallow hard, "Understood."

"Good," she says. "Now get out of here."


B'Elanna is waiting. She sits on the sofa, dressed in a set of pajamas I have never seen before: navy blue, long sleeves and long pants. Her shirt is buttoned to her throat and I find this odd; B'Elanna has always been one for less.

"Did you and the Captain have a good talk?" B'Elanna asks hoarsely as I sit on the sofa next to her. I gently lift her legs and put them on my lap, massaging her feet. She sighs.

"You could say that," I answer, not willing to reveal more information than that. There is no need for B'Elanna to know how much I resented the captain during their absence.

"Anything serious?"

"No," I reply.

We sit in silence for a moment. B'Elanna's jaw moves like she is trying to find the words to speak.

"What are you thinking about?" I ask.

"Um, what was it like when I was gone?" she asks, running her hand through her hair.

"The same," I answer carefully.

"Write any new holoprograms?"

"No. How could I? My inspiration was gone."

B'Elanna offers me a smile. Most people would never think that B'Elanna would fall for the sappy stuff, but take it from me, she adores it as much as the next woman.


I nod, "Honestly. Harry and I tried Captain Proton once, but our hearts weren't in it. I guess playing hero didn't make a whole lot of sense."

"Did you do anything at all?" B'Elanna leans forward, resting her elbows on her upper thighs.

"Well, it was business as usual. We found a planet with plenty of dilithium close to the surface, so you shouldn't have to worry about a shortage for quite a while."

"That's good to hear," B'Elanna reclines. Her eyes close and I notice that her face is draining of color.

"B'Elanna, are you all right?"

"Just sleepy. Talk to me," she whispers.

"About what?"

"Anything," she mumbles.

So I start talking. I tell her about our days on Voyager while she, the Captain and Tuvok were gone. I don't know if she hears me as I tell her about the nightmares, the memories and then, I lightly touch upon my fears. Her eyes open slightly.

"Are you all right?" I ask again.

"Just tired," she says. "Did you really think about me that much?"


"Good answer," a shadow of a smile crosses her face.

In some ways, this feels very much like a first date, this getting reacquainted process. Our conversation has all the feelings of old friends and some of the awkwardness of new romance. I can't help but think I'm either trying too hard or not hard enough. No matter, from whichever angle you look at the situation, it feels strained and uncomfortable at random intervals. I am not sure where the tension comes from, whether it is my uneasiness about the identity and personality of the woman sitting in front of me or is it her, pushing me away and not allowing me to share her experiences.

B'Elanna tips her head back against the sofa. Her hair is growing back quickly, thanks to a growth hormone provided by the Doctor. Definitely, she is looking more like B'Elanna, and when she is quiet like this, I can forget the Borg drone with B'Elanna's eyes.

"That feels good," she says. "Relaxing."

"Glad you like it," I grin back as I move my hands up and down the soles of her feet and then, gradually up to hercalves. "Your muscles are tight, B'Elanna."

"Anxiety, I suppose."

"You need to relax. A trip to the beach, maybe?"

B'Elanna's face darkens and she bites her lip; she looks away. I lean forward and take her chin in my hand and turn her face towards me.

"What is it?" I ask.

"I don't…," she chokes.

"What?" more urgently, more distressed.

"You said the beach," she says. "But how can we? You can't even stand the sight of me."

I recoil. Her tone is more sad and contemplative than angry, but she is right. How many times have I averted my eyes because I'm afraid of seeing the Borg? I can't help it even though I know it's wrong. Even worse, I did not think B'Elanna would sense my aversion.

But once again, women have an uncanny second sense about things like this; it's useless to hide and I am a fool for even trying.

"That's not true," I answer flatly.

"I saw it in sickbay," she says. "When I woke up and you were staring at me, it was as if you didn't trust me, didn't know me."

It's no use lying to B'Elanna. She is right; we both know it.

"I'm sorry," I tell her. "I didn't mean to hurt you."

"We do that a lot, don't we?" she doesn't sound sad, merely contemplative. "We do our best to wound and then pretend nothing ever happened."

Her sentiment is the same that has run through my head repeatedly during the time she was away. For once, we're on the same wavelength and from the tone of her voice, I know she wants to work towards changing the situation.

"Yes," I say. "But I'd like to change that."

"Me too," her eyes flutter again.

I caress her feet a little more and then slip my hands up inside of her pant legs. She nearly jumps out of her skin and I withdraw my hands.


"It's all right," she says quickly. "I'm sorry. I guess, I didn't expect that."

Skin to skin, the feeling I most relish, and the way I feel closest to B'Elanna, and she tells me she did not expect it.

I immediately push away my hurt feelings because B'Elanna is biting her lip, looking uneasy. She still doesn't trust me.

I don't blame her. I don't trust me either.

"You want to talk about it?" I ask.


"Your experience. We haven't even touched on it yet."

"The Borg, you mean. It's okay to say the word, Tom," there's an edge to B'Elanna's voice. Her lip curls slightly, her nostrils flare; this is all B'Elanna, no Borg influence in her flushed cheeks, hard eyes and tense muscles. It is a slightly frightening thought - B'Elanna's temper is now an integral part of what is Borg. At least you can take the Borg out of B'Elanna but if I understand the process of assimilation properly, it's not possible to take the B'Elanna out of the Borg.

"I'm sorry," I figure I can just make a recording of that phrase and play it often. I have a feeling I'm going to need to use it on a regular basis to get myself back into B'Elanna's good graces.

Because, damn, I want to be trusted, wanted, needed, loved - all of these things - by B'Elanna.

B'Elanna rests her head on her palm, her expression growing more meditative.

"It was different," she says with no trace of irony. "Different from anything I've ever experienced before."


"Sometimes," she says. "The actual assimilation process, that was painful."

"So Seven was wrong?"

"Yes, Seven was wrong," B'Elanna answers. "During assimilation, it was as if I was being squeezed and pulled in a million different directions and sometimes, I was pulled and pushed at the same time. And it was cold, Tom, so cold. I never thought about it before, but all those wires, that… armor… it was not comfortable and never warm."

"I wouldn't imagine so," I answer.

"The neural suppressant the Doctor gave us before leaving… it worked some days and sometimes not. Some days I would wake up as B'Elanna Torres and I would know that I was B'Elanna. Those were the best days because I remembered Voyager, remembered Janeway and Tuvok, and I knew why I was on the cube. It was those other days, those when I was just a drone, everything was so mechanical. I just did and I don't know why. And I don't think I ever questioned; it was as if the thought of self-will did not exist. Those were the most frightening days."

"Oh B'Elanna," I reach forward and take her hand.

"And we didn't always remember on the same day and that was tricky," B'Elanna says. "Sometimes I would remember, but Janeway and Tuvok would not and I had to be very careful around them so they would not turn me in to the Collective and then other days, it was the other way around. You never could tell."

"But you're home now."

"Yes," B'Elanna says. "It is warm here."



I weave my fingers in between hers and hold them tightly. I let her go once and damn if I do it again. Next time she decides to do something foolish like getting assimilated, I'm going with her.

I was a coward the last time but never again.

"Tom, this is not going to be easy," she says. "Being back here, I mean."

"I realize that."

"I'm going to need you," B'Elanna's voice is very soft. "Will you help me?"

"Yes, of course," I tell her. As if there is any doubt at all. There are still questions in my mind about her time on the Borg cube, things I want the answers to, but it will all come in good time; when B'Elanna is ready to share with me and not before then. I will not push this time because for once, I know we're in something together.

"I'm sorry if you look at me and see Borg," B'Elanna says. "I understand that it might take a while before you can…"

"No," I breathe. I lean forward and brush her lips with mine. "I'm wrong, B'Elanna, and I know that."

"Are you sure?"

I slowly unbutton the top of her pajamas; she watches intently, her eyes never straying from mine. I push the shirt off of her shoulders and run my fingers over the patchwork of purple, green, blue and yellow bruises which cover her throat, breasts, stomach and arms. I am careful not to press too hard. My lips run up and down her torso; her fingers find their way into my hair and then I inch my way back up to look her in the eye.

"I love you, B'Elanna," I tell her. "All of you, Borg, Klingon, human, I love all of you."

This time when I kiss her, she kisses back.


"I love sand between my toes," B'Elanna presses her foot deeper into the sand, watching as the sand squeezes up between the said toes. I crouch down and pile sand on top of her foot.

"What are you doing?" she squeals.

"Don't move," I tell her. I grab the yellow plastic pail and fill it with salty water.

"Tom," she says, half-warning and half-laughing.

I pour the water over her.

"Tom!" she is laughing now and lunges towards me. I grab her around the waist. Holding B'Elanna. Feeling her body press against me, knowing that nothing can touch us in this moment. Everything said and done in the past has come to this point.

We are not perfect yet. God only knows when we'll get to the point where we can trust and confide entirely in each other, but we have made a start and that's all that really matters now.

"I saw the blueprints for the house," she says. "They look good."

"Thanks. They'll be even better now that you are back…"

Her arms snake around my neck. I can still feel the uncertainty in her, the vulnerability that she hides beneath a red-hot temper. I kiss her forehead, my lips tasting B'Elanna mixed with salt.

"I missed you," I tell her.

She cups my face in her warm, muddy hands.

"I missed you too," she whispers back.

~The End~

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