I could get used to this, Tom Paris thought as he glanced around the bridge. The view from the Captain's chair was certainly different than the view one had at the helm or even at the Ops or Engineering stations. In the past, Tom had often chided Harry for spending his night shifts on the bridge, noting that Harry seemed to be on the fast track for a promotion; Harry had shrugged and offered a simple, "You should try it sometime."
But bridge duty, unless under duress, never appealed to Tom. He enjoyed his off shifts, spending much of that free time in the holodeck, tinkering or writing various holoprograms, including the inexplicably popular Fair Haven program. And of course, there was B'Elanna and now, Miral... just thinking of Miral, Tom's lips curved up. Every day, Miral did something new and he found himself incredibly amused and proud to watch each little achievement, from the first smile to the first wave.
"Incoming message from the planet," Seven of Nine announced, interrupting Tom's reverie. She pressed a few buttons and a second later, Harry Kim appeared on the viewscreen. Tom grinned at the sight of his friend and stood up.
"Hello, Harry," Tom said. "Miss us already?"
"Not that," Harry answered uncomfortably. He glanced over his shoulder, perhaps in an effort to avoid eye contact. Tom's thoughts flew immediately to the worst possible scenario.
"Is it the Sernaix?" Tom asked. He kept his voice even but the very thought of the Sernaix down on the same planet as his wife and best friend terrified him. He hadn't thought it possible after all they had faced in the Delta Quadrant, but the image of those blue-skinned horned aliens occasionally disrupted his sleep and Tom would wake up sweaty, his heart beating rapidly; only when B'Elanna opened her arms to him, did he feel safe.
"No, we haven't seen any sign of the Sernaix," Harry said, relief evident in his voice. Tom felt the tension ease out of his body.
"Then why the long face?" Tom asked teasingly, but Harry didn't smile back.
"Is the Doctor available?" Harry asked.
"He's in sickbay, treating a wounded Sernaix we beamed aboard. What's the matter?"
"It's B'Elanna. She's..." Harry paused.
"What's happened?" Tom asked, advancing towards the screen. "Harry?"
"She's fallen into a coma of some kind. We've been trying to revive her, but to no use. I need the Doctor."
"I'll beam down," Tom said. He hit his comm badge. "Paris to the Captain."
"Go ahead, Tom," Janeway's voice was scratchy over the commlink. "What is it?"
"B'Elanna needs medical attention. Requesting permission-"
"Denied," the Captain answered.
"Captain!" Tom exclaimed. He paced the length of the bridge, unable to contain his nervous energy. "She needs me."
"We'll send the Doctor. I need you on the bridge."
Tom bit his lip and then he looked back up at Harry.
"The Doctor is on his way, Harry," he said, taking a step closer to the viewscreen. "You will keep me informed, won't you?"
"Of course. Kim out."
Tom turned back to face his seat but then he caught Seven of Nine's eye. She was looking at him with uncharacteristic warmth and softness. He turned back around; he didn't feel like sitting.
"Lieutenant Paris," Seven said softly. "Lieutenant Torres is a strong woman and the Doctor is a capable physician. Whatever the ailment is, I'm sure the Doctor can treat her efficiently."
Tom did not respond, but he twisted around slightly to flash her his trademark grin, the one which had melted hearts across the Alpha Quadrant, but there was no heat in his smile.
He only prayed Seven of Nine was correct.
Harry met the Doctor on the outskirts of the Caprijen village. The Doctor had come fully prepared for any possibility with several medkits. Harry heaved up one of the kits and indicated the direction of Azuma's home.
"We brought her here after she passed out," Harry said as they walked up the pathway leading to Azuma's front door. The Doctor took in the little red flowers lining either side of the cobble-stone pathway and the little iron sculptures of native animals to the left of the door.
"Quaint," he commented as Harry opened the door. The Doctor evaluated the interior of the house, evaluating everything from the brightly colored curtains at the windows to the simple wood furniture. "Delightful," the Doctor continued. "Tasteful color, functional furnishings, comfortable in every way."
Harry chose not to respond to the Doctor's commentary as he led the way down a short corridor and finally into the small bedroom Azuma had provided for B'Elanna.
The two men were surprised to find B'Elanna sitting on the edge of the bed, her eyes unnaturally bright and her cheeks flushed.
"Doctor," B'Elanna said. She scowled. "There's nothing wrong with me. You didn't need to come."
"I anticipated you would feel that way," the Doctor said pleasantly. Azuma and Harry were directly behind him and the Doctor glanced at Azuma, who seemed to read his thoughts exactly.
"You can place your instruments there." She gestured at the table pushed up against the wall. "I trust you will find plenty of room."
"Thank you," the Doctor said. "Now, Lieutenant Torres..."
"What?" B'Elanna snapped. "You're all making a big deal of nothing."
"What happened was more than simply a trip down memory lane," Harry said. He sat on the edge of the bed and B'Elanna shifted her position to give him more room. "B'Elanna, when we found you, you were in a coma."
The Doctor approached B'Elanna, his tricorder beeping wildly as he came closer. B'Elanna frowned.
"Sit still, Lieutenant," the Doctor cautioned. "I'm noting elevated levels of chroniton particles in your blood stream. There is no doubt in my mind that you have experienced some form of time travel."
"Did it cause any lasting damage?" B'Elanna asked in concern.
"No, not that I can see. Of course, it may be weeks before the chronitons you do have in your body completely dissipate."
"Good," B'Elanna said.
Harry stared at her. "What are you thinking, B'Elanna?"
"I want to go back," B'Elanna said. She lifted her chin defiantly and set her jaw. Let them argue with me, she thought. They can't stop me.
"Don't be ridiculous," the Doctor said.
"You said yourself you didn't notice any lasting damage. What's the problem with trying again?" B'Elanna asked. She got up from the bed and began to pace the length of the room. She stopped in front of Azuma. "Is it possible?"
The Caprijen woman nodded. "It is possible," she confirmed. "All you need to do is relax, breathe in slowly, breathe out equally slowly... you have already been touched by the Keeper, this is all you need to do."
B'Elanna nodded. "Good, good."
"B'Elanna, we don't know what the risks are," Harry argued. "You can't do this."
"There is no risk. He said so," B'Elanna said, pointing at the Doctor. Her expression dared the Doctor to argue with her and she fully expected that the Doctor would back down, as he often did when faced with that tone of voice. However, he set his jaw and seemed equally recalcitrant on the subject.
"I said I didn't see any effects from your recent adventures, not that there isn't a possibility of risk. There's a difference," the Doctor answered.
"In semantics perhaps, nothing more," B'Elanna said. "I just one to go back one more time. Azuma said that it's possible to time shift and I- I need to go back."
"Is there a reason?" Harry asked softly. "A particular moment?"
B'Elanna nodded, biting her lip. She closed her eyes, her entire face softening. When she opened her eyes, they were bright with moisture.
"Before I left for Starfleet Academy, my mother and I, we fought," B'Elanna said quietly. "It was the last time I spoke with her. I don't know she ever knew that despite everything, I loved her and I want her to know I honored her as a daughter should. Even then."
"Wasn't this what your trip to Klingon hell was all about?" Harry asked. B'Elanna nodded.
"But this is different, Harry," she said earnestly. "My mother was already dead then. She never knew when she was alive. I have the chance to go back now and redo that moment. If you were given the chance, wouldn't you?"
"No, I would not," the Doctor broke in. "You could experience the same reaction once again. The danger is too great."
"You don't understand," B'Elanna said hoarsely. "You couldn't possibly understand."
Azuma took B'Elanna's arm and led her over to a chair. The alien's hand was cool against B'Elanna's feverish skin and immediately, B'Elanna felt at peace. She sank into the chair, feeling warm and comforted by Azuma's touch.
"I won't assist you," the Doctor said. "I helped you once before against my better judgment and also that of the Captain's."
"I don't need your help," B'Elanna said. She looked at Azuma who was gazing at her with compassion. "I have to do this."
B'Elanna began to concentrate on her breathing. In, out, in, out, in perfect rhythm.
Just one more time, she thought. Her eyes blurred as she saw the Doctor walking towards her, hypospray in his outstretched hand. No, she thought, no please. She felt the hiss of the hypospray against her neck.
"What have you done?" B'Elanna whispered. She felt tired, so tired. She closed her eyes, intending to only rest for a moment...
She recognized the room immediately. Tiny and functional - nothing more than a bed, a dresser and the desk. The bookshelf, built into the walls, held several PADDs containing B'Elanna's sole vice - Klingon romance novels.
The suitcase lay open on the bed. Clothes were neatly folded on the floor, on the chair, on the bed.
And a packet, embossed with the Starfleet Academy logo, lay on top of the desk. B'Elanna crossed the room and picked it up. She pulled out the letter with her acceptance, a letter she had memorized over the long summer months, which seemed like they would never end.
"Dear B'Elanna Torres, We're pleased to notify you of your admission to the Starfleet Academy. As you know, the Academy is extremely competitive and your admission shows that you are a candidate possessing outstanding qualities. Your talents will be an asset-" B'Elanna paused reading as she heard footsteps coming down the hallway. Her hands shook as the letter fluttered from her fingers.
She turned resolutely towards the door. Her mother had greeted her with silence ever since the letter of admission had arrived and today - B'Elanna glanced at the cadet uniform neatly folded in the suitcase - B'Elanna would be leaving for Starfleet Academy.
"Do something!" Harry exclaimed frantically as he tried to shake B'Elanna awake, despite his instinct that such action was grounded in futility.
"I'm trying," the Doctor answered. The EMH rummaged through his medkit before finally settling on another hypospray. "I didn't expect the stimulator to have the exact opposite reaction." He pressed the cool head of the hypospray against B'Elanna's neck, discharging the medicine within with a cool hiss.
"Nothing," Harry announced. He picked up his tricorder. "Her neural pathways are firing randomly, almost too quickly."
"It's an effect of the Keeper," Azuma said from her corner. The Doctor whirled on the woman.
"This has happened to others and you say there isn't a way to revive them," he said.
"No. The memory must play out."
"We don't know where in time she is," Harry said. He looked down at his friend who had slumped down onto the table, her forehead resting on the crook of her arm. "How can we possibly stop the memory?"
"There is one treatment that we can try," Azuma said slowly. "We rarely attempt it because it is not always successful-"
"What is it?" the Doctor queried.
"An individual can enter the memories of the affected person and slowly bring her back to a conscious state," Azuma said, rising to her feet. "If done properly, it will awaken the affected. However, the danger is great to both parties if done incorrectly."
Not for the first time since they had discovered the Keeper, Harry wondered how he would explain all of this to Tom. Of course, Tom wouldn't be surprised by his wife's impulsiveness. Despite the fact that B'Elanna seemed genuinely at happy and for once, at peace with her Klingon and human heritages, her new found ability to change an outcome of the past could be nothing less than tempting. This much Harry understood.
'Wouldn't you?' a little voice in Harry's head asked. 'Wouldn't you go back if you could?'
"Harry?" the Doctor asked. Harry blinked and realized both the Doctor and Azuma were staring at him curiously. "Would you attempt it?"
"A journey into B'Elanna's head?" Harry tried to laugh off his trepidation. He knew he would do it, knew he would do anything for B'Elanna, but the thought of entering her thoughts, those private memories...
"The Keeper doesn't seem to have the same effect on you that it does on her," Azuma pointed out.
"I didn't touch it," Harry said slowly. He touched B'Elanna's shoulder lightly and pulled his fingers away from the heat of her skin. "It feels like I would be invading her privacy."
"This isn't the time for that," the Doctor said urgently. "Will you do it?"
Harry nodded. "I'll do it."
Harry walked down the halls of the unfamiliar home. He knew this was B'Elanna's childhood home, could tell by the bat'leth hanging at the far end of the corridor, and of the pungent musky smell that was uniquely Klingon. He passed by an alcove and had to restrain himself from carefully examining the trio of pictures arranged neatly.
The house seemed unusually dark and when he peeked into a bedroom, he realized dusk had fallen and the sun had become nothing more than an amber colored line across the horizon.
"B'Elanna?" Harry called. His voice echoed eerily in the hallway. Harry turned a corner and there he saw B'Elanna, her back to him. She was bent over the bed, folding clothes carefully. Harry smiled to himself; he recognized the pattern of her folding well.
In the distance, Harry could hear another set of footprints. He peered down the hall and saw a Klingon woman dressed in traditional garb coming in his direction. Harry flattened himself against the wall, but Miral Torres passed him, seemingly unaware of his presence.
"B'Elanna," Miral said, her voice harsh.
"What is it?" B'Elanna asked, not turning to face her mother. She continued to fold, calmly, neatly, almost without any thought to the action.
"You will look at me when I speak to you, daughter."
"Yes, you are packing to go off. Just like your father. You are so much like your father."
"Better to be like him than like you!" B'Elanna spat back. She turned around now, and Harry knew the expression on B'Elanna's face well. On Voyager, it meant someone was going to leave Engineering minus an appendage or two. "He understands me in a way you never will."
"Is that so?" Miral Torres sneered. "Then why has he not contacted you all of this time? He wants nothing to do with you."
"That's not true!" B'Elanna exclaimed. "You drove him away! If it wasn't for you, he wouldn't have left me."
"So you blame me then?" Miral scoffed. "Don't be ridiculous, daughter. All humans are the same and you will discover the same when you run away to this Academy of yours."
"I'm not running away," B'Elanna said. She rounded the bed and grabbed some PADDs off the shelf and tossed them angrily into the suitcase. "I'm getting away from you. There is a difference. I'm going to live the life I should have had. The one you keep interfering in."
"You don't mean that," Miral Torres said softly. "A dutiful and honorable daughter would not say such a thing."
"You never considered me 'dutiful' and 'honorable' before," B'Elanna retorted. She grabbed some picture frames off the shelf and tossed into her suitcase. The glass on one frame cracked; B'Elanna paused, running her fingers over the fissure. "You should be glad. I've been nothing less than a burden to you all of these years."
"That is not true."
B'Elanna shrugged, biting down on her lip. Miral reached out, as if to touch her daughter, but B'Elanna ducked, slipping away so that the bed was between them.
"I'm glad to be away from you," B'Elanna said. "I've been waiting for this day for a long time."
A long silence followed, mother and daughter staring at each other.
And then finally, Miral, sotto voce, said, "If you were a mother, you would know..."
Miral Torres turned then and walked back down the hall. As she passed, Harry thought he could see the Klingon woman's lips quiver. B'Elanna turned and headed after her mother, but Harry caught her arm.
"B'Elanna," he said quietly.
B'Elanna jerked her arm away. Her eyes were wet and she quickly drew the back of her hand across her face and attempted to smile.
"What are you doing here, Harry? Did you hear everything?"
"Every word and I've come to bring you home."
"If you heard it, you know why I can't go back with you," B'Elanna said. She sat down at her desk and rested her cheek against the palm of her hand. "It doesn't hurt any less, Harry, not even after all of this time. This is my chance."
"You can't go after her, B'Elanna," Harry said. "You risk changing the timeline."
"What difference does it make?" B'Elanna shrugged. "I want her to know how I feel. If my daughter ever said such things to me..."
"If you salvage your relationship with your mother, so many things might change."
"Nothing would change. I'd still go to the Academy."
"But it could be different this time. Think about it. Maybe this time around, you would graduate," Harry said. "Don't you see?" He crouched in front of B'Elanna. "I don't think you'd be the same B'Elanna Torres we've come to know and love. Changing this moment could change everything."
B'Elanna sniffed, keeping her eyes focused on a spot directly beyond Harry.
"I never meant a word of what I said," B'Elanna whispered. "I was so angry, that's all. We never did see eye to eye that last summer and I've always regretted that."
"I know you want to do this," Harry said quietly. "I was thinking about it myself. Wouldn't it be nice if I could just erase the last seven years in the Delta Quadrant? I'd be married now, maybe even have a kid or two. Maybe I'd even get promoted. But just because I can change it doesn't mean I should. We're the sum of our experiences, B'Elanna, and no matter how tempting it is to go back and redo our lives, we shouldn't. It would mean everything else that happened in between would have been meaningless."
B'Elanna swallowed hard. "She's right there, Harry, just down the hall..."
"And your daughter Miral is on Voyager," Harry said. "What happens if you change everything now? It's possible nothing would play out the way it has. You might even be an upstanding Starfleet officer somewhere in the Alpha Quadrant."
"It's an insignificant moment..."
"Our lives are built on insignificant moments. We make them significant, B'Elanna. Remember your daughter. Come with me now, B'Elanna. Please." Harry held out his hand. "I'd hate to have to explain to Tom what happened here."
B'Elanna bit her lip. "She's not coming back, is she?"
"No." Harry turned to look over his shoulder as if expecting Miral to walk back into the room. "The choice is yours. You can go after her and risk changing the life you have made for yourself on Voyager or you can come back with me and nothing will have changed, not at all."
B'Elanna heaved a sigh, one that seemed to shake her entire body. Harry reached out, resting his palm on her shoulder.
"What is it?" he whispered.
She glanced at him, her brown eyes watery. "I wasn't a very good daughter," she whispered. "What if I'm equally bad as a mother? What if Miral grows up to be as angry with me as I was with my own parents?"
Harry was truly surprised. B'Elanna had never expressed any insecurities before about motherhood; quite the contrary, he thought she had taken to her new role extraordinarily well. For once, Harry thought, something took precedence over those engines.
"B'Elanna, how can you say that?" Harry asked. "You're great with Miral."
She sniffed, waving her hand, as if dismissing his comment. Another surprise. Damn, Harry thought, I'm not cut out for this conversation.
"Have you told Tom?" Harry asked softly. "How you feel?"
"No, how can I?" B'Elanna's shoulders slumped. "He'd laugh it off. He, he's so good at this, Harry."
"Believe me, so are you. Everyone says so. B'Elanna, you've got to believe me. You're setting yourself up for perfection, something that's not possible. If you think going after your mother is going to change things, then that's what you should. I won't stand in your way." Harry spread his arms in a gesture of surrender, but he kept his gaze focused directly on B'Elanna. She ducked her head to the side, pressing one palm against her eyes. "B'Elanna..."
"When the Doctor put Miral in my arms," B'Elanna said softly, "I experienced a whole range of emotions, joy, uncertainty, anticipation - I was overwhelmed, Harry, and some days, I still am. I look at Miral and I can't believe I'm responsible for her. Sometimes, I wake up in the middle of the night and I'm looking for the real parents to come in. What if I don't do this right? Harry, I'm terrified at the prospect."
Harry shook his head. On one hand, he was surprised by B'Elanna's truthfulness and emotional state, but he also knew that changing this particular event in her life would not give B'Elanna the answers she needed.
"I still think you're making a big mistake," Harry said in a warning tone of voice.
She drew in a sharp breath and stood up, blinking. Harry couldn't look but he knew as B'Elanna walked past him that she was actually going to do it, she was going after her mother...
"B'Elanna!" he stood up. He had to make one more try. He owed B'Elanna that much. "B'Elanna, if you go, you could lose everything! Your husband, your daughter, your family on Voyager... is it worth it?"
B'Elanna stopped, mid-step and turned around slowly.
"Look, it's okay," Harry said. He got up and walked towards his friend steadily. "I don't think what you're feeling is wrong, but you're going to figure everything out. Not right away, of course, but think of it as an engineering problem. You break it down, piece by piece, and you figure out the solution. Maybe it's not the best analogy, but you're going to be a great mother to Miral. I know that."
B'Elanna glanced down the corridor and then back at Harry. Back down the hallway, back at Harry. Time seemed to stop as B'Elanna contemplated her decision. Harry leaned against the wall, arms crossed against his chest, seemingly casual, but he was uneasy; unpredictable as B'Elanna was and her often surprising outbursts of emotion caused her to act irrationally on occasion.
Come back with me, Harry pleaded silently. Please.
"You're right," she whispered. "I'll come back with you."
"You won't regret it," he told her. B'Elanna gazed at him sadly.
"I already do," she said.
Go to part IV
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