DISCLAIMER: Star Trek is the property of Paramount, this story depicts a loving/sexual relationship between women...okay, disclaimer done.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Feedback: T.J.

A Reluctant Solitude
By T.J.

Part 6

The dinner was awkward and stilted as both B'Elanna and Seven were desperately trying not to discuss anything that had happened in the last few hours, but since neither of them could think of anything else, the conversation lagged repeatedly. And yet, they were both grateful that they were still friends and so they endured the awkward silences and forced themselves to discuss safe topics such as sensor arrays, and engineering problems. When they finally said goodnight they were both equally relieved to be free of one another, but also, strangely reluctant to part.

Seven was glad that she had her alcove to rely on for regeneration. She was in such emotional turmoil that she was certain that she would not be able to rest otherwise. She did not envy B'Elanna having to achieve sleep this evening. The memory of B'Elanna's lips pressed against her own was burned into her memory and she replayed the moment in her mind, reliving that instant of perfection that was to be forever after denied her. The pain she felt at B'Elanna's rejection of her love in favour of Tom Paris' tepid emotional attachment tore at her soul. She took the only escape open to her and stepped into her alcove, leaving the pain behind and resting in the tranquil sea of cybernetic oblivion.

For her part, B'Elanna was indeed unable to sleep. She had tossed and turned for several hours before giving up and padding out to her living and replicating herself a glass of wine in an attempt to relax. Her mind was unable to racing in circles. Seven had admitted to loving her! Not just a crush, but love, and B'Elanna had no doubt that the former drone was sincere. She replayed Seven's words in her head again and again. The idea of someone loving her in this life and beyond was something she never in her wildest dreams thought she could have—to her it was another Klingon myth that she rejected. She had always drifted in and out of sexual liaisons, taking comfort where she could find it. After her parent's disastrous marriage, she had begun to believe that true love was just an illusion…something people convinced themselves of so that they wouldn't have to feel so alone in the world. In fact, with the exception of Harry Kim, B'Elanna really couldn't say that she had ever really experienced true friendship until Seven of Nine came into her life. And now, that same person, Seven of Nine was offering her love, and she wasn't free to accept it. She had a relationship with Tom, and she was going to honour it…even if it killed her. 'Why don't you just call it what it is Torres, it's an arrangement, nothing more,' she berated herself silently.

But still she couldn't stop her treacherous mind from returning again and again to the feeling of Seven's lips against her own. It had been exquisite, soft and gentle and totally unlike anything she had ever experienced in her life. A bitter irony that it came too late to save her from her own disillusionment. She had accepted Tom's offer of a relationship, and agreed to his terms, and now she would be forced to live with the consequences. How could she have known that her salvation lay in the Delta Quadrant if only she had been strong enough to wait for it.

She knew that Tom didn't love her, and she knew all about his holographic dalliances. She'd accepted it all from the start, thinking it was better than being alone. At first she thought that if she was the perfect girlfriend that Tom would grow up and be the man she knew he could be, and that their relationship would grow beyond its original parameters and into something real. That hadn't happened. Tom usually abided by their agreement…if she didn't demand too much of him. He tried not to flirt too openly when she was around, and as far as she knew he had never cheated on her with another member of Voyager's crew. In moments of utter soul-baring truthfulness she admitted that she was ashamed of her deal with Paris, and that this shame led to her own self-delusions about the reality of the relationship. Sitting here now, missing Seven, she was disgusted with herself for the way she had convinced herself that what she had with Tom was a relationship…she knew now it wasn't and it would never be.

Even before Seven declared herself, B'Elanna had sometimes wished that she never gotten involved with Tom. She hadn't been in love with him, and she knew he didn't love her. It was just that earth was so far away, and the nights in the Delta Quadrant were long if you were alone. She'd let Paris convince her that it was better to share something physical now than to hold out hope that someday a miracle would occur and the perfect mate would magically appear in the middle of the Delta Quadrant.

But that miracle had occurred, and B'Elanna's deal with Paris was now standing between her and real love and happiness. If only she could have loved Tom, but at the time she was convinced that she could never really love anyone…now, when it was too late, she realized that she could. With a growl of frustration she threw her glass against the bulkhead, watching with distracted disinterest as the red wine dripped its way down the wall and onto the carpet.

The next morning B'Elanna tried to compensate for her lack of sleep by taking an icy hydro shower and ensuring that her uniform was neatly pressed and her boots highly shone. She forced herself to eat breakfast and drank two cups of strong Raktijino before heading to the conference room for the daily meeting. She had thought long and hard into the night, and finally, just before her shift began she had realized what she needed to do in order to begin to repair the damage she had done. The most important thing of all to her was Seven; no matter what she was determined to do the right thing for the beautiful former drone.

Seven was already in the room when she arrived and for several awkward moments they were forced to make small talk together until some of the other senior officers began to filter in to the meeting. Once the meeting was underway B'Elanna couldn't help but surreptitiously observe the former drone. Even though Seven had her alcove to regulate her sleep she looked less than fresh and alert. B'Elanna felt a rush of concern for her friend. Five minutes later when Tom Paris rushed into the room full of apologies for his tardiness B'Elanna was shocked that she hadn't even realized that he wasn't there. She shook her head, realizing that if something was to change in her relationship with the pilot it was up to her to initiate the change. She had given up true love to honour her commitment to him, so she was more determined than ever to make it work. Despite her best efforts however, she was unable to stop looking at Seven, wondering what was going on beneath her inscrutable features. When the meeting broke up she had to hurry to catch up with Seven, as the former drone rushed from the room as soon as the Captain dismissed them.

"Seven, hey, wait up."

Seven's heart fell when she heard the lieutenant calling her name. She had studiously avoided catching B'Elanna's eye while the meeting was in progress; even so she had been acutely aware that the engineer had been looking at her throughout the meeting. She could sense that B'Elanna was concerned for her, but wasn't sure her heart could take another falsely cheerful conversation with the Klingon so soon after the heartache of the previous night. Still, she stopped and waited for B'Elanna to catch up with her, forcing herself to smile despite the pain in her heart. B'Elanna's first words put her mind as ease.

"Look Seven, I know I'm probably not your favourite person in the quadrant right now, and I don't blame you. I know last night was awful, and I don't want our friendship to go down that road. I did a lot of thinking last night and I just wanted you to know how important you are to me, and how important it is to me that you be happy, and that our friendship stay real. So I just wanted to tell you that anything you need right now is fine with me. If you need some space or some time then I'll support you. Anything you want. I'll always be here for you, whenever you want me just call okay…I'll be there." She was out of breath when she finished the speech she had prepared, and she stood there self-consciously for a moment waiting for a response from Seven. When none was immediately forthcoming she looked down at her boots for a moment, then took a deep breath.

"Right…well, I just wanted you to know that okay. I…I'll see you around Seven." She gave the former drone a sad little smile as she turned to leave

"B'Elanna wait." Seven had been so taken aback by B'Elanna's speech that it had taken her a moment to gather herself together. She hadn't intended B'Elanna to feel rejected by her silence.

"I just…I wasn't expecting this."

"That's me…full of surprises." B'Elanna tried to lighten the mood a little.

"I wish to thank you for your consideration of my feelings. I, I do feel the need to have a little space from you right now," Seven's typical bluntness stung, but B'Elanna bit back any reply wanting to give Seven all the time she needed to say what was on her mind. "But I am also determined that our relationship be 'real' as you put it. I just need to take some time to get my feelings under control, but then I would like to resume our friendship. I will let you know when I feel able to spend time in close proximity to you."

"Okay Seven, sure…just let me know." B'Elanna forced herself to smile despite the pain in her heart at the thought of losing her friend.

"B'Elanna," Seven once again halted B'Elanna's retreat with her words. "I truly appreciate what you are doing, and the strength of character required to do it. Thank you."

"You, uh, you're welcome Seven." B'Elanna grasped Seven's bicep and squeezed firmly for a moment, trying to convey with her touch all that she was unable to put into words. "I meant what I said, I'm here for you whenever you need me." With that B'Elanna relinquished her grip on Seven's arm and walked quickly away down the corridor, hoping that Seven hadn't seen the tears that were now spilling freely down her face. This time Seven let her go, but was unable to take her eyes off the retreating form of the Lieutenant until she turned a corner and was gone from sight. Fighting back tears for what seemed like the hundredth time in the last two days she turned and made her way to Astrometrics.

Seven had felt a sense of relief that B'Elanna was offering to give her some space for the next few weeks, but that feeling was short-lived and was soon replaced by a sense of loneliness and longing. Despite what had happened between them, and no matter how difficult the former Borg knew it would be to spend time in close proximity to the Klingon hybrid knowing they would never be together, she was tempted to seek out B'Elanna's company. Still, she knew it was illogical and that she needed the space to steel herself to deal with the engineer and so she never made the comm call, even thought her hand strayed to the badge with a will of its own every few hours. Even through the pain she missed B'Elanna fiercely and the daily staff meetings were both heaven and hell to her as they were the only time she spent in close proximity to the object of her affections. In the meetings she drank in B'Elanna's presence as if she had been lost in the dessert for weeks and the Klingon hybrid was water, and her salvation, but B'Elanna kept a respectful distance and they never exchanged a word.

B'Elanna didn't know what to make of her time away from Seven. Tom, who realized he'd been pushing his luck with B'Elanna lately, and who was keenly aware that he now had competition for her time and affection, had spent more time with her than he had in the previous year. He was being very attentive and was even attempting to find things to do that didn't leave B'Elanna bored to a near coma. She appreciated his efforts and tried to convince herself that if only things were always like this, she would be content in their arrangement. Deep in the sleepless dark of night however, she knew she was only lying to herself. Every moment with Tom was like a hollow mockery of the reality she knew she could have with Seven. Their conversations were surface deep and stultifying after only a few minutes together. She found herself becoming repulsed at the thought of him touching her and began to long for him to go back to his holograms. Their relationship was a dark, haunting simulacrum of the reality she knew was waiting for her if only she had the courage to reach out and claim it. Yet she continued to convince herself that it was her honour that kept her bound to Tom, and so she accepted his attention while he lavished it on her, and secretly yearned for the restoration of her friendship with Seven. At least when she had her friendship she had real emotions, and real connection, and she knew that would help her honour her commitment to Tom by keeping her sane. All she knew for certain was that she was miserable when she was near Seven, and even more miserable to be apart from her.

Seven held out for two weeks before she broke. She entered the mess hall one afternoon and her heart skipped a beat when she saw the Klingon hybrid eating alone in the far corner of the room. This had happened with regularity in the days since they had stopped seeing one another, but today Seven couldn't take it any longer. She retrieved her lunch from Neelix and after hesitating for only a moment she made her way across the room and slid into the seat across from B'Elanna.

Upon seeing the object of her thoughts appear in front of her as if she had wished her into being B'Elanna froze, her fork halfway to her mouth. It wasn't until the load of noodles fell from the fork to the plate with an audible splat that the spell was broken.

"Seven…hey…it's really good to see you," B'Elanna stammered, unsure of what to do now that her fondest dream appeared to be coming true.

"I…am…unsure of what I'm doing here," Seven said with uncharacteristic uncertainty. "I just…I saw you here and, I've really been missing…I just wanted to talk to you."

"God, I've wanted to talk to you too…I've really missed you Seven…really," B'Elanna's voice trailed off as she realized she was gushing and that perhaps her eagerness would put Seven off.

There was silence between them for several minutes. B'Elanna pushed the food around on her plate while she tried to think of something to say that wouldn't end up sounding lame or bring up something painful. Nothing came to mind. In the end Seven broke the silence by asking B'Elanna about the diagnostics engineering were running on the EPS grid. It was all the cue B'Elanna needed and soon they were talking a mile a minute for the rest of the lunch hour. As they were walking to the turbolift B'Elanna decided to push her luck and ask for Seven's help on the diagnostics and to her delight the former drone agreed to assist and told B'Elanna that she would come to engineering in an hour once she had her sector scans underway. B'Elanna felt an overwhelming sense of relief…perhaps things would turn out after all.

*Several hours later*

"God damn it Seven!"

"You are remodulating the power couplings incorrectly Lieutenant. It is no wonder the diagnostics have failed to pin point the source of the power drain on the grid."

"Give me that," B'Elanna shouted as she grabbed for the PADD Seven was holding in order to point out the error of the other woman's statement.

Seven refused to relinquish her hold on the PADD and for a moment the two of them engaged in a rather childish tug of war before B'Elanna burst into laughter.

"I fail to see the humour in your childish behaviour Lieutenant Torres."

"Kahless I've really missed fighting with you Seven," she chuckled, wiping tears from her eyes.

"Indeed," Seven finally relented and graced her with a small, indulgent smile. "That does not however change the fact that you are in error with your remodulation of the power couplings."

B'Elanna grinned sheepishly, "Show me again."

Seven shook her head and began to outline the proper formula for realigning the power couplings, resting her hand on B'Elanna's shoulder as she did so.

Part 7

The two friends worked for hours realigning the power couplings and restoring power to the EPS grid. It was four hours after the official end of her shift when B'Elanna's comm badge chirped to life.

<Paris to Torres>

B'Elanna started at the sound of Tom's voice. She had been lost in the sensation of her body pressed tightly up against Seven's in Jeffries Tube 36 where they had been repairing the damaged relay that was exacerbating the problems with the grid. She glanced guiltily over at Seven, who had been in heaven for the past few hours in such close proximity to the chief engineer. She felt as though she were trying to make up for the past two weeks of not seeing or touching the Klingon hybrid, and so had taken every opportunity to initiate and prolong the physical contact between them. Her heart froze at the sound of Tom's disembodied voice intruding on her private fantasy.

<Torres here>

<Did you forget our dinner plans for tonight Lanna? >

B'Elanna smacked her forehead in frustration. She had forgotten her plans with Tom…indeed she had forgotten all about the existence of the helmsman as soon as she was alone with Seven.

<I'm sorry Tom. I did forget; we're working on the problem with the EPS grid, and I guess I got so wrapped up in the repairs I forgot everything else. >

B'Elanna winced as she heard herself make exactly the kind of excuse that used to make her crazy whenever Tom made them to her.

<No problem Lanna. If you hurry we can still have dinner and hit Sandrine's before it gets too late. >

At hearing the flight controller's words Seven felt a wave of jealousy sweep over her. She didn't want B'Elanna leaving to have dinner with Tom. She wanted the engineer all to herself. She clenched her fists tightly to stop her hands from shaking with emotion.

For her part, B'Elanna was annoyed. She had finally patched things up with Seven, and was thoroughly enjoying her time with the former drone. The last thing she wanted to do was to leave and go have dinner with Paris. She knew that she shouldn't be feeling this way, but there was no denying that she didn't want to leave Seven's side.

<I'm sorry Tom, but we're right in the middle of repairs, and I really should stay until we're through. Maybe another time? >

She felt guilty for putting Tom off. The truth was the repairs were practically done, and she could easily have handed the finishing touches off to the Gamma shift for completion, but she just couldn't bring herself to do it.

<Right, another time. >

Tom's voice sounded distracted and B'Elanna knew he was probably already running through his many options as to how to spend the evening now that he was free of his obligation to her. She gave him about another second's thought before she turned back to Seven and the EPS grid.

Seven felt a surge of elation bordering on triumph, when she heard B'Elanna make an excuse to avoid spending time with Tom. Even though B'Elanna had clearly chosen Tom and her arrangement with him over her, Seven couldn't help but feel that she was in competition with Tom for B'Elanna's affections, and this had felt like a victory for her. She inched herself closer to B'Elanna and together they began the delicate work of reinitializing the relay.

That night as she lay awake on her bed, B'Elanna berated herself for her lack of honour. Tonight had been her first chance to prove her commitment to Tom and she had failed miserably. She had practically lied to him and completely ignored his wishes in order to spend time with Seven. She didn't know how she was going to get through this. Everything was such a mess and it was all her fault. She got out of bed with a groan and sent a message to Tom's console asking him to have breakfast with her in the morning. It was the least she could do after canceling their dinner plans.

At breakfast the next morning B'Elanna tried to look interested as Tom gave her the details of the holoprogram he had run the night before. It involved twentieth century technology and she couldn't possibly have been less interested. She was paying so little attention that she was startled when she felt the pilot take her hands in his and raise them to his lips to kiss them.

"I really missed you last night Lanna," she heard him say.

She was confused for a moment wondering what she had missed when she heard a familiar voice behind her.

"Lieutenant's, may I join you?" Now Tom's uncharacteristic affection made perfect sense.

Tom had seen Seven enter the mess hall and wasted no time in laying claim to B'Elanna. He knew that she and B'Elanna had patched up their differences and he didn't want the drone thinking that B'Elanna was available in any way shape or form. The pained look on her face when she saw him kissing B'Elanna's hand was sign enough that he had been successful. He felt a surge of annoyance when B'Elanna enthusiastically invited the drone to join them. He kept hold of B'Elanna's left hand and caressed it gently, aware that Seven's eyes where glued to the sight of their entwined hands. The rest of the meal passed in stilted conversation as neither B'Elanna nor Seven seemed to know how to handle the situation. They were both relieved when it was time to depart for the morning staff meeting. Seven felt another wave of jealousy sweep over her as Tom put his arm around B'Elanna's waist as they walked to the turbolift.

Tom knew that B'Elanna wasn't overly happy about his public display of affection, and frankly he was a little surprised that she hadn't pulled away from him. It was only then that it finally dawned on him what was going on. He had her! B'Elanna was going to honour their agreement no matter how she might feel about it. He felt a sense of relief that despite Seven's obvious interest, there was no way B'Elanna was going to stain her honour by reneging on their agreement. He was also relieved that he could now go back to his regular lifestyle without worrying that Seven was making inroads into his relationship with B'Elanna. He smiled to himself, already looking forward to an evening at his private version of Sandrine's.

So things slowly returned to what passed for normal. Tom returned to his holoprograms and his flirtations, only spending time with B'Elanna when it suited him. The only difference was that B'Elanna no longer gave him grief about spending time together; on the contrary, she now seemed to view their time together as an obligation to be fulfilled. A small part of Tom wasn't happy that she no longer seemed to care about his flirtations and his extracurricular activities, but for now he was having too much fun reclaiming his freedom to give it much thought.

For her part, B'Elanna was relieved that Tom was moving back into his old habits. She felt free to work as late as she pleased, and free to spend as much time as liked with Seven. The two of them became inseparable. Seven structured her day in order to spend as much time in engineering as possible. While the two of them still disagreed vociferously on many occasions they still preferred to work together whenever they could.

Seven knew that she was deluding herself into thinking that B'Elanna was going to change her mind about being with Tom. Whenever the helmsman demanded that B'Elanna spend the evening with him the engineer agreed. Many nights when Seven checked on the location of the helmsman she felt the bile rise in her throat when the computer informed her that Tom had spent the night in B'Elanna's quarters. On nights like that she vowed that she was going to stop seeing B'Elanna, it was simply too painful. Yet, despite all of her private vows she always sought the engineer out as soon as possible the next day. She was incapable of staying away no matter how bruised her heart became in the process.


B'Elanna and Seven were in the engineer's quarters late one night going over plans to enhance the backup generators for the shield grid. They had had dinner together, and afterwards had retired to the living to continue their work. Seven was sitting on the sofa, and B'Elanna was leaning back on the easy chair as they argued over the best way to stabilize the matrix using the less powerful backup generators. There was a pile of PADDS on the coffee table between them.

"No Seven…that won't work. Remember we already tried realigning the shield emitters to that frequency but it blew out the secondary controllers because of the 2 second power surge when we switch to the backups…Here, let me show you. I know it's here somewhere."

B'Elanna began pawing through the pile of PADDS on the coffee table in order to find the one containing the equations in question. In the process she knocked the entire mess onto the floor.

"Dammit, hang on a second Seven," she mumbled as she got down on her hands and knees to sort out the mess.

Seven, seeing the disorder, knelt beside the engineer and began to help her pick up and sort through the tangle of PADDS. Both she and B'Elanna reached for the same PADD simultaneously and their fingers brushed together, leaving them both speechless, and unable to move. Seven felt the engineer take her hand gently. She watched, heart pounding, as B'Elanna's darker fingers caressed the back of her hand gently. Slowly, inexorably, Seven looked up and into B'Elanna's eyes.

B'Elanna felt a jolt as her fingers brushed over Seven's when they were straightening out the pile of PADDS. She couldn't remember ever experiencing anything like it before in her life. She felt as if she had just thrust her hand into the warp core. She couldn't stop herself from taking Seven's slim, pale hand into her own, nor could she stop herself from stroking her fingers over the perfect porcelain skin of the beautiful young woman. She was completely lost in the moment and in the sensation. When she looked up she saw Seven watching their entwined hands with absolute fascination. When the former drone slowly raised her head and their eyes met B'Elanna thought she might lose herself forever in the depths of Seven's beautiful blue eyes. All thoughts of Tom, and of honour, of agreements, of everything but this moment and this feeling were gone from her head. She pulled gently on Seven's hand at the same time as she leaned slowly forward basking in the eternity that was the prelude to their kiss. When their lips finally touched, for a moment neither of them moved. Keeping hold of Seven's hand, B'Elanna moved her other hand up to touch the alabaster cheek of the Astrometrics officer. She pulled her gently closer and deepened the contact between them. She felt the former drone pulling her closer and crushing their bodies together, but it wasn't until she heard Seven's moan of pleasure that B'Elanna finally realized what she was doing and threw herself backwards and out of Seven's embrace.

"Seven, oh God…I'm so sorry. I shouldn't have done that. I'm so sorry…" B'Elanna was horrified by her actions, and could think of nothing to say to mitigate the damage she was certain she'd done to their friendship.

It took Seven several seconds to realize what was happening. She had never experienced such exquisite pleasure before in her life, and she had never felt such pain as she did at hearing B'Elanna denounce her actions. She moved forward and tried to pull B'Elanna back into her embrace.

"Do not apologize B'Elanna, I have longed for your touch for so long now. Please…" Seven's voice was anguished and B'Elanna felt as though she were dying inside as pushed Seven's hands away.

"I'm sorry…I can't do this. I'm with Tom…I…I just can't…"

Seven's pain was replaced with a flash flood of anger.

"I cannot believe you are going to stay with him despite your feelings for me."

"You know I have to Seven…I can't sacrifice my honour…not for anything."

"Do you think I am a complete fool B'Elanna Torres?"

B'Elanna was at a loss for words, and could only sit in stunned silence. She didn't think she'd ever seen Seven so angry.

"You hide like a frightened child behind your 'arrangement' with Tom Paris and you call it honour."

"It is honour Seven; I gave my word…"

"Shut up!!" Seven cried out frantically. "There is no honour in a loveless relationship and even you know that B'Elanna Torres. You stay with Paris because you are afraid of really loving someone. You are no Klingon; so don't insult me with your lies about your precious honour. If you were truly honourable you would have never gotten involved in such an arrangement, and you wouldn't be turning your back on love now with me. You are afraid of being hurt and so you hide from love. You are nothing but a coward and a liar. You disgust me!" Seven spat out her final words like a curse as she scrambled to her feet and blindly fled B'Elanna's quarters, tears once again streaming down her face.

B'Elanna couldn't move. She sat on the floor crying an ocean of tears as her world crumbled around her. She had lost her only friend, her only chance at love, and all she had left was her ill-conceived arrangement with Tom Paris. She was without love, without honour, and without hope. Slowly she lay down amidst the welter of PADDS, curling up like a child and howling her grief to the uncaring walls.

Part 8

Hours passed unheeded as B'Elanna lay on the floor of her quarters. Her life was over and she knew it. Oh, she would get up off the floor eventually and return to her duties…her heart might go on beating for another 60 years or so, but anything that mattered had ended when Seven had taken her soul and walked out the door. She didn't pick herself up off the floor until an hour before the senior staff meeting at which point in time she did something she had never done since joining the Voyager crew. She hailed Chakotay and called in sick to work. She begged off going to sickbay, citing overwork and lack of sleep, and Chakotay agreed that she probably just needed to spend the day in bed. She knew it wasn't a solution, but she simply wasn't ready to face Seven yet. She couldn't bear to walk into the conference room for the staff meeting and see the look of disgust that would cross Seven's face when their eyes met. Tomorrow was soon enough to face her future's end. She had spent the night on the floor in tears and in thought. She kept coming back to one simple question—how could she have missed it. Loathe as she was to admit it, she had missed it completely, and Seven had been right. She had been using her honour as a shield, as an excuse to avoid putting herself in a position of vulnerability. Her childhood had scarred her to the point where she just couldn't afford to have another piece of her heart, her soul, pulled out and destroyed. It was a defense mechanism that had gotten her through to life to this point. The problem was that she hadn't been aware enough, brave enough to realize that the time and the need for it had passed. The truth was she was terrified of the prospect of opening her heart to Seven, and then losing her the same way she had lost everyone else in her life. That fear had left her emotionally paralyzed for her entire life, it had paved the road to empty affairs, broken dreams, and a loveless arrangement with Tom Paris that was supposed to make things better, instead of irrevocably ruining the best thing that had ever happened to her.

She couldn't really blame Tom, even though she wanted to. She had let herself be wooed, had talked herself into believing his smooth patter despite knowing better. She had no one to blame except herself, and now she was paying the highest possible price for her own cowardice. She couldn't change the past, but she was ready now to do what she needed to do to fix the future. She would talk to Tom tonight.


Seven had stumbled blindly through the corridors of Voyager for over an hour after she left B'Elanna's quarters. The pain of what had happened was too much to take in all at once. She could only think about it small bits, but it was like dying piecemeal…it eased the pain for the moment but in the end you were still dead. She had finally calmed down enough to return to the Cargo Bay and prepare for regeneration. She wasn't certain how she was going to face the next day, or the day after that. She thought about calling in sick to work, or asking for a personal day, but her overriding sense of duty to her collective prevented her from taking advantage of that luxury. She would go to work and face the consequences of her actions in the morning. She knew she had been right to express her feelings to B'Elanna, but the look on the Lieutenant's face when she told her that she was disgusted by her was enough to tell her that their friendship was over. She had been right about B'Elanna hiding behind her honour, and she had been right to point that out to the beautiful engineer, but she wasn't disgusted by B'Elanna…not at all. She had simply struck out in her anger and her pain and now she had pushed the love of her life away forever. She had gambled on love and had lost. She hadn't been exaggerating when she had told B'Elanna that she would love her for the rest of her life. Nothing would ever change the way she felt about the beautiful engineer, but she knew without a doubt that she had lost her forever. She didn't know how she was going to go on functioning. She had given her heart to another, and they had handed it right back. For a dark moment she wished that she were once again a member of the collective; she never had to worry about feelings or broken hearts back then. She shook her head to clear it of such negative thoughts and stepped into her alcove.

Seven was concerned and relieved at the same time the next morning when B'Elanna didn't show up to the morning staff meeting. She checked the computer records and they showed the Lieutenant logged off on a sick day. Again her feelings were mixed; she was relieved that B'Elanna was all right, but angry with her for avoiding the meeting. In the end her relief won out. She didn't know how she was ever going to look at B'Elanna again. Just the thought of being in the same room with her brought tears of sorrow and pain to her eyes. She wrestled herself back under control, but for the first time since she joined Voyager she paid no attention to the meeting, and when it was over she couldn't have told anyone a single thing that had happened that morning. As soon as the meeting was dismissed she left the room and went straight to Astrometrics, burying herself in her work for 12 straight hours at which point she returned to her alcove. She spoke to no one.

B'Elanna spent the day pacing her quarters, trying to find the words to do what she needed to do in order to get her life back on track. The irony of the situation hit her again and again. It was only because of Seven that she had the courage to do what she was about to do, and yet Seven was now lost to her forever. She had cried an ocean of tears today, and still at the thought of the beautiful blonde she felt them spill over onto her cheeks yet once more. As soon as the computer showed Tom as being logged off duty she took a deep breath and activate her comm badge.

Tom initially told her that he had plans for the evening, but upon B'Elanna's insistence that he come to her quarters he reluctantly agreed to cancel them and have dinner with her. He really didn't want to be bothered spending the evening with her, but something in her voice warned him that he better oblige her in this. He decided that as long as he was canceling his plans he might as well make the best of it, so he stopped by his quarters, changed and replicated a bottle of wine to take to dinner. There were worse things than an evening alone with B'Elanna.

The dinner was strained as B'Elanna was preoccupied with her own pain over losing Seven, and Tom was anxious to have dinner over with so he could proceed to the next, more enjoyable part of the evening. When B'Elanna asked him to join her on the sofa, his heart leapt. It wasn't often that B'Elanna initiated the physical side of their relationship, but when she did he knew he was in for a memorable evening. He took the wine glass from her shaking hand, and put it on the coffee table beside his own. He leaned in to kiss her and was surprised and not a little annoyed when she pushed him away.

"Tom, stop, we have to talk."

Paris leaned in again.

"We can talk later B'Elanna."

"Tom, cut it out." B'Elanna was clearly annoyed with him, and now Tom was curious as to what exactly was going on with the half Klingon.

"Are you in love with me?" B'Elanna had no idea what prompted her to ask that question. It hadn't been at all what she had intended to say.

"Wha…um…" Tom couldn't even imagine what she was thinking, or just how exactly she wanted him to answer that question. He decided to simply gloss over the situation. "Sure, baby..I, uh…sure I love you."

"Bullshit Tom…do you even know what love it?"

"What the hell is going on here B'Elanna," Tom demanded. He was truly getting angry now. He didn't appreciate being led on and then interrogated over irrelevant emotions. He had better things to do with his time.

"What's going on is that I'm ending our little 'arrangement' as of this moment." There, she'd finally said it.

"I don't think so B'Elanna. If you think you can just dump me for the Borg you can think again. You made a promise to me and your Klingon honour demands that you stick to the agreement.

"You don't want to use Klingon tradition in this case Tom trust me."

"Why not, you and I both know that you freely agreed to our arrangement, where's the honour in backing out of it now?" Tom was sure of himself here…he knew B'Elanna was adamant about preserving her honour.

"Did you know that under Klingon law Seven has the right to challenge you to a fight to the death for me?"

Tom's mouth opened, and then closed. He finally blew out a long breath. There several long moments of silence before he spoke again.

"B'Elanna, you're an amazing lay but hardly worth dying for."

"That's about what I thought you'd say," she paused, "but the truth is that I can't imagine that Seven will ever speak to me again, let alone be interested in fighting for my hand."

"Then…I don't get it, why end our arrangement if Seven is out of the picture."

"Our 'arrangement' cost me Seven, and a real shot at love. There was never any honour in this relationship, so I'm ending it. And just for the record Paris, you've been hiding behind this relationship as much as I have. I know you've been hurt by the people who are supposed to care about you in your life so you're afraid of getting involved with someone who might actually matter to you. Maybe you should give some thought to not hiding behind all of your toys and games and give real life a shot Tom. Maybe you'd be happier."

"I'm plenty happy B'Elanna, but I still don't see why we can't keep on seeing one another as long as you and Seven aren't going to be getting together."

"You just don't get it do you Tom. You're like a child with a toy, you don't want it until someone else wants it, and then you pout when they take it away from you. Just grow up… I know this is difficult for you, but we're through, and you should just move on, try to find someone you can care about."

"God, you are so full of yourself Torres. The truth is I'm relieved to be free of you. No amount of sex is worth the work it takes to put up with your personality. You're overly sensitive, violent, and a real pain in the ass, and you aren't half as smart or as good looking as you like to think you are. The fact is that you aren't that special B'Elanna…I didn't get anything from you that I couldn't get from any one of a dozen women who are dying to sleep with me. You are going to be a bitter old woman when we get back to the Alpha Quadrant Torres. Enjoy the solitude." Tom turned on his heel and left the room.

B'Elanna was stunned by Tom's outburst, and to her annoyance she felt tears forming behind her eyes. As hollow as it had been, at least she wasn't completely alone when Tom was still interested in her. Now, he was gone, Seven was gone, and the prospect of the next 60 years of her life was looking bleak. She had no idea of how she was going to get through it, how she was going to face the future alone. Still, she knew she'd done the right thing in ending things with Tom. At least now she had some chance to regain the shreds of honour she had left.

The next day B'Elanna was late for the morning meeting, but if she'd been on time she would have seen that Seven waited until the last possible moment to enter the room. Had B'Elanna been on time there would have no opportunity for them to speak. When B'Elanna rushed into the room five minutes late Seven schooled her features into a cool mask of unconcern and refused to even glance in the direction of the tardy lieutenant. It would go on like this for weeks. Seven, always a great observer of others, knew B'Elanna's schedule and habits well enough to be able to avoid any inadvertent contact with the half Klingon. She always made certain to check with the computer as to the engineer's whereabouts before she entered the holodeck or the mess hall. She knew she had lost any chance with B'Elanna when she'd poured out her venom on the lieutenant that fateful night.

B'Elanna saw Seven's aloof behaviour and mistook it for distain. She couldn't see how the former drone's heart was breaking as a result of their separation. B'Elanna was falling apart, and it was becoming increasingly obvious to everyone on board Voyager. She was often late for meetings and duty shifts; her paperwork and reports were consistently late. It wasn't that she meant to neglect her duties; she just couldn't concentrate on anything but her pain for longer than an hour or so. If she sat down to do her paperwork she eventually ended up crying herself to sleep, slumped over her desk. She told herself daily to straighten up, but every time she saw Seven another small piece of her died, and work seemed to diminish in importance next to the magnitude of what she had lost.

Seven began to wonder if she'd misjudged the lieutenant after all. She had never thought the Klingon could be so negligent in her duties, or show so little concern for her collective. She didn't really believe it, but from time to time it helped to ease the pain of loss if she found fault with beautiful engineer. For her part she threw herself into her work with a vengeance. She reported for work early, ate most of her meals in Astrometrics and continued to work until she returned to her alcove and took her rest. Work and duty were all she had left now that her heart was nothing more than a black hole of pain. It had also come to her attention that B'Elanna had begun to drink heavily in Sandrine's after her shift was over. There had been two incidents in which security had to be called in order to break up an altercation between the engineer and another crewmember. The second time it happened B'Elanna spent the night in the brig.


Captain Janeway and Commander Chakotay were in the shuttle bay getting the shuttle ready for their away mission to establish trade talks with the Reaylaini on Retaxia Prime when Janeway's comm badge came to life.

<Tuvok to Captain Janeway>

<Go ahead Tuvok>

<There has been another incident in engineering. My security squad has contained the problem and I have confined Lieutenant Torres to her quarters pending your decision regarding appropriate punishment. >

<Thank you Tuvok. Janeway out. >

"Chakotay, I swear I am at my wits end as to what to do about B'Elanna. She and her Klingon temper have this entire ship walking on eggshells. It can't go on."

"Katherine, I know that she's been going through a rough patch for the last little while, but I'm sure she'll pull herself together."

"Have you talked to her?"

"I tried, but she just told me that everything was fine. I can't get her to open up."

In truth B'Elanna had been furious with Chakotay for interfering in her life and had told him so in no uncertain terms. She'd come close to throwing a punch at him, and had Chakotay chosen to write her up there was no doubt she would have lost her commission on the spot.

"I hate to say it, but if there's another incident I'm going to have to take her out of engineering and put Carey in charge down there."

Chakotay sighed. The truth was that he had had several requests for transfers off of B'Elanna's shift or out of engineering altogether. Nobody wanted to work in a minefield. Still, she was his friend and he owed her his loyalty.

"Just give her some time Katherine."

"I can't give her much more leeway Chakotay. I have to put the best interests of this ship and her crew first." Janeway paused for a moment. "I think maybe we should go and have a word with Tuvok before we leave." Chakotay nodded his agreement and the two of them left the shuttle bay together.

When the doors to the cavernous room closed behind them, a figure stepped out of the Delta Flyer. Tom leaned back against the shuttle and contemplated what he had just heard. He hadn't really believed B'Elanna when she told him that she wasn't leaving him for Seven, but even he could tell in the last few weeks that they weren't even speaking to one another. He had spent time thinking about B'Elanna's words to him on the night they had broken up. At first he just ridiculed her, but he kept coming back to her words about his fear of being hurt, and hiding from love behind a façade of uncaring coolness. He could see clearly now what B'Elanna's fear had done to her, and he wasn't anxious to follow in her footsteps. He didn't love B'Elanna, but he was fond of her in his own way. He had seen how she felt about Seven, and had done everything he could to keep B'Elanna with him. He was feeling guilty and a little bit responsible for B'Elanna's situation, and he definitely didn't want to see her out of engineering. His ship needed her, and he cared in his own limited way. Maybe if he could help her out now, he'd start to feel a little better about himself. He certainly couldn't feel worse about himself than he had been lately. He made his way out of the shuttle bay and headed for Astrometrics.

Seven looked up from her console on hearing the doors to the department slide open. She was surprised to see Tom Paris come walking in. She felt a surge of annoyance that the smug pilot would dare to enter her domain, but she quickly suppressed it and turned back to her work. Tom nearly left after being subjected to Seven's obvious distain, but having determined to get involved he forged ahead.

"Seven, can I talk to you for a minute."

Seven wanted to say no, but instead nodded curtly, not looking up from her console. Tom was uncertain what to do or say…he hadn't exactly thought this through, so he decided to just jump in with both feet.

"It's about B'Elanna." He saw Seven flinch at the mention of B'Elanna's name. "I don't know if you know this or not, but she's in some trouble. She could lose her job if she doesn't get her act together."

"I fail to see why Lieutenant Torres' behaviour is any of my concern."

"Look Seven. I don't know what the hell happened between the two of you, but she broke up with me weeks ago, and I just assumed you two would finally get together, but now you aren't even speaking to one another and you're obviously both miserable. No matter what happened God knows B'Elanna won't come to you, so why don't you just talk to her."

Seven's heart leapt with joy as it sunk in that B'Elanna was finally free of her arrangement with Paris, but that didn't change the fact that her own behaviour and spite had driven the engineer away forever.

"I have nothing to say to lieutenant Torres." Seven stopped there, and then for reasons she couldn't comprehend she told the arrogant flight controller the truth. "Even if I wanted to talk to B'Elanna she wouldn't want to talk to me." She felt a tear escape the steely bonds of her control and make its way down her cheek.

"She's crazy about you Seven, she told me so herself."

"You don't know…the things I said to her. She will never forgive me. I drover her away, she hates me now and I can't blame her. She will never want to be with me now."

"You don't know that Seven. I think she's dying to talk to you, but she's just too proud to admit it. I think if you just apologized she'd be more than happy to just forget the whole thing."

"I cannot apologize. The things I said to her were harsh, but they were true. I cannot rightly take back what I said."

Tom saw the conflict clearly on the former drone's face. She was in anguish over her split with B'Elanna. He couldn't comprehend a love like that. He'd never really felt it, and certainly no one had ever felt it for him. He was starting to think he might like it if someone did.

"Would you rather be right than be with B'Elanna Seven? Cause the way I see it you've got a choice here. You can be right, or you can be with her. It's up to you, but I know what I'd do." Tom turned to leave.

"Lieutenant Paris."

Tom stopped and turned around.

"You are a better man than you get credit for being. It would seem that you have hidden depths after all."

"God Seven, don't say that so loud. If you tell anyone that, it will start to get around the ship, then people will start to have expectations of me, and who knows where that could lead," the sandy-haired helmsman joked.

"I hope that someday you will grow up enough to experience real love with someone. As painful as this experience has been I would not trade one second of loving B'Elanna for anything in the universe."

Tom walked over to where Seven stood, still fighting for control of her emotions. He placed a hand on her arm and gave it a reassuring squeeze.

"Just be happy Seven," he said before turning and leaving the room.

Part 9

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