B’Elanna had never felt uncomfortable in a Jefferies tube before.
Well, that wasn’t exactly true. Sure, she’d felt uncomfortable, but in a foot-falling-asleep, can’t-stretch-out kind of way. Never in the way other people talked about sometimes. Never confined or trapped. Some of the crew didn’t like the Jefferies tubes but B’Elanna had always felt good there. Like Voyager was holding her close and safe inside.
But there was a shipwide lockdown, an environmental malfunction, and a communications blackout, and suddenly she sort of knew what they meant.
The captain wasn’t totally helping either.
It was the heat. First, B'Elanna had watched as she’d unfastened the collar of her maintenance jumpsuit. Then she’d shrugged the top half down to her hips and sat there with the sleeves in her lap, and then she’d taken off her undershirt and now she was just in her regulation-issue tank top and half a jumpsuit, sweating so hard her hair stuck to her neck, and seeming not in the slightest bit concerned that they’d been in there for six hours already and it could easily be six more.
B’Elanna was still in her jumpsuit but she wasn’t sure exactly what she was trying to prove.
At the moment the captain was rolling her head from side to side, making little pained noises under her breath, and B’Elanna was trying not to listen to the noises because they reminded her a bit of something else and this was a very small space and they were going to be in here a while.
‘That’s it,’ the captain said, ‘I just have to stretch out again. I’m sorry, B’Elanna.’
She shuffled up to the far end of the tiny section available to them, and lay flat on the plating.
‘Watch out,’ she said, and she lifted her arms past her head and clasped her hands together, stretching out into one straight line from toes to fingertips. B’Elanna winced as things popped and cracked.
‘Better?’ B'Elanna asked.
‘Much. Where were we? I’d just guessed your auxiliary deuterium cart...’
‘I’m sick of this game!’
There was silence. B’Elanna felt her already warm face flush. She never spoke to the captain that way - not any more, anyway.
‘You’re right,’ said the captain evenly. ‘We’ve been playing for over an hour, I think we’re both running out of ideas. What shall we do now?’
B’Elanna sighed, and the heat in the air made her lungs ache, and every time she breathed in she breathed in the captain’s scent, and her own, mixed together with the smell of hot metal.
‘I don’t know,’ she said. ‘I just wish it wasn’t so hot. Doesn’t it bother you?’
‘A little. We got a lot of hot summers while I was growing up, but at least then we could always go swimming to cool off.’
‘Oh, imagine being able to swim right now!’ said B’Elanna.
The captain started telling her about her favourite childhood swimming spots, but B’Elanna was having trouble concentrating. It was important not to look too hard at her, lying there, her outstretched arms half an inch from B’Elanna’s aching knees. If she didn’t look, she wouldn’t picture the captain, rising through the waves, skin glistening wet, hair clinging to her scalp, her arms and shoulders powerful as she cut through the water.
A whimper escaped.
‘Oh, B’Elanna, I’m sorry!’ said the captain. ‘Here I am taking up all this space and you must be feeling just as cramped. Here, let’s switch.’
She propped herself up on her elbows and then shifted around so she could get back into a sitting position. Her back was to B’Elanna, and it was covered in little imprinted squares and lines from the deck plating.
B’Elanna couldn’t seem to help it, and afterwards she blamed the heat. She reached out and traced the little squares with a finger.
Suddenly it got very quiet. The captain seemed to have stopped breathing. B’Elanna’s heart was in there somewhere but it sure wasn’t doing its job properly. They were absolutely still for an eternal fraction of a second.
Then her pulse thudded in her head and she pulled her hand away like she’d been burned.
‘B’Elanna...’ said the captain, and she turned around, awkwardly in the small space. ‘Just answer me one question. Is this really what you want?’
‘Yes,’ said B’Elanna, her voice a growl.
‘Well then,’ said the captain.
And just like that the heat didn’t bother her any more.