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As I roll over in bed, my hand brushes up against the cool skin of her thigh; she stirs and then props herself up on her elbow to look at me, that dark hair, tips curling, brushing against her cheeks. In the dim light, B’Elanna’s expression is shadowed.

“I didn’t mean to wake you,” I say softly.

"So you really were going to go through with this crazy plan of yours to rescue me from the Mari?" she asks without preamble, continuing an earlier conversation that had been interrupted.

I reach up to cradle her jaw in my hands.

"Yeah," I say.

"You were going to disobey the Captain for me?" she sounds curiously pleased. "Subvert the Prime Directive?"

"No question," I answer. I shift my position slightly, wrapping my arms around her. “The Prime Directive isn’t always right, you know.”

"Listen to you, the son of a Starfleet admiral.” Now she’s teasing. "What would your father say?”

I brush my lips against her cheek.

"Admiral Paris isn’t here,” I tell her. Owen Paris, the Daedalus to my Icarus, is both always and never on my mind. “And even if he was, I don’t care what he’d say.”  

She puts her hand on my chest and leans down to kiss me, her teeth gently grasping my upper lip. Her breath is warm against my skin. I hold her close, but she strains slightly away from me, her eyes luminescent as she runs her fingertips down the curve of my chin.

“I almost believe you,” she says.

“What part?”

“That you don’t care what your father thinks.”

At least she doesn’t doubt that I would have come for her, Prime Directive or not. In this way, we’re so much alike. Rules and regulations exist to be thrown out when the circumstances dictate.  

I want to tell her how she looks to me at this moment, gentle, soft and utterly pliant. I want the Mari to see her now, the way she moves over me, her eyes never leaving my face. I want them to see her as I do, someone more than a bundle of angry energy and fierce thoughts. In this moment, as I pull her down to me, we are so far removed from the suggestion of violence.

*****

Over the next few days, she insists nothing’s wrong, so I drop the question. I know if our positions were reversed, I'd hate someone hovering over me every single second, but I notice little things which make me worry and I can't help myself. For the first time in forever, I have someone in my life I feel anxious for.

So I say nothing when she seems to have forgotten the way to the Mess Hall, that there are moments when words dry up at the edge of her tongue because she can’t seem to remember what she wants to say. And so I tamp down the curl of worry in my stomach when I see her standing in front of the mirror staring blankly at her reflection.

"B'Elanna?" I ask cautiously. I'm still in bed, having worked gamma shift and B'Elanna, as fate would have it, drew alpha. She turns to look at me, almost confused by my presence in her quarters. For a terrifying second, I wonder if she’s blanked on who I am, why I’m there, who we are together. But then her expression relaxes, and she smiles at me.

"Good morning, Tom," she says. She covers the distance between us quickly and leans down to kiss my cheek. I pull her close, nearly bringing her down in my lap. The material of her uniform scratches against my bare chest, but I don't care. I press my lips against her neck, breathing in the scent that is uniquely B'Elanna. She is quiet today, not furious and fast in her actions.

"What time is it?" I ask, my voice still hoarse from sleep.

"0700."

"Early," I say. I fall back onto the bed, bringing her with me. She lies on top of me for a moment before rolling over, her hair now in disarray. I grab her hand. "You've got another hour until your shift starts, so why rush out? What's the point of being the boss if you can't be late occasionally?"

Those wide red lips turn up in a delicious smile.

"I like the way your mind works," she says. "But I've got a busy day ahead of me."

"Hmmm... how about lunch?"

"Lunch sounds nice." She gets off the bed. "I'll see you then." She pauses in front of the mirror again, staring at her mussed hair. "Tom..."

Her voice trails off and I restrain myself from asking the forbidden question. I slip off the covers and swing my legs over the side of the bed.

"What is it?" I ask, keeping my voice carefully even.

"Where did I put that brush again?" she says. Then realization crosses her face, much to my relief, and she locates the object on her dresser, tucked behind the vase of flowers. "I wonder how that got there. Probably, someone distracted me..." she says with a little laugh.

"That must be it," I tell her. I kiss her on the lips and hold her lightly around the waist for a few seconds before releasing her. "Lunch then?"

"Of course."

She flutters her fingers at me and disappears out the door. I look at the hairbrush; it's plain, silver -- more functional than ornamental. My fingers curve around the handle as the brush blurs. I want to believe B'Elanna's forgetfulness is nothing more than a symptom of stress and overwork, that her experience with the Mari has not permanently scarred her brilliant mind. The cynic in me, always my best friend, believes the truth lies somewhere in between.

I step into the sonic shower, the pulse massaging the tension out of my body. As I finish zipping my jacket, the door chimes. I frown as I attach the pips to my collar, evaluate my appearance quickly in the mirror, and decide I'm presentable.

"Come!" I call as I notice the bed is still unmade, B'Elanna's violet nightgown still on the pillow. I grab the nightgown and throw it into the recycler, just as the doors slide open to reveal Chakotay. "Commander." 

To say Chakotay and I aren't close would be an understatement of gigantic proportions. Too much history lies between us, too many things said, and more than enough words left unsaid. Over the last four years, we've managed to maintain a professional relationship, one that requires very little in terms of emotional disclosure, an arrangement that satisfies both of us.

"Good morning, Tom," Chakotay says. He glances past me into the quarters and I’m acutely aware of the unmade bed, and my clothes pooled at the footboard. "Can I come in?"

I step aside. "Um, sure.” I glance towards the replicator, wondering if I should expend precious rations on the first officer. After all, he does make the schedule and sometimes I think he arranges the duty roster so B'Elanna and I barely see each other. Never miss an opportunity to influence a superior officer, a lesson taught well by my father. “Coffee?”

“No, thanks,” he says. “I don’t want to take too much of your time.” He pauses. "I wanted to talk about B'Elanna." The last thing I expected before coffee and breakfast was a heart-to-heart with Chakotay. To be fair, a conversation with me is not necessarily the way he wanted to begin his morning either.

I swallow hard, gesture towards the sofa and ask him to take a seat. I remain standing though, shifting from foot to foot.

"Relax, Lieutenant." The faintest of smiles crosses Chakotay’s face as he nods towards the armchair. I take the hint. "I stopped by Engineering to see B’Elanna, see how her recovery is going. It's been, what, three days?"

"About that,” I answer guardedly.

"The Doctor tells me she’s doing well," Chakotay says. He looks at me closely. "She appeared annoyed when I asked."

I laugh, almost sardonically. Dear God, after all this time, doesn't this man know anything at all about B'Elanna Torres? Or does he really have such poor ability to decipher others? "That was your first mistake. Don't ask B'Elanna. She's always going to tell you she is fine."

"I realize that. Which is why I'm asking you. I thought you might be able to give me an accurate idea of how she is doing, in your expert medical opinion, of course."

I have my script well-rehearsed. "The Doctor says the Mari’s treatment was minimally invasive and the procedure to reverse the engrammatic purge went well. There shouldn't be any lasting effects and he expects B’Elanna to physically recover within the week.” I compose my features to appear neutral. “If you really want an expert opinion, you should talk to the Doctor."

"I want to talk to you." Chakotay shifts his position in the chair. "You spend more time with B'Elanna than anyone else. From the Doctor, I get medical files and lengthy explanations regarding the advancements he's made in engrammatic reversals. He won’t give me a timeline, just vague commentary that trauma recovery isn’t easy and unpredictable. I figured you'd cut to the chase and give me the bottom line."

"The Doctor is the one who certified B’Elanna fit for duty." I know I sound insolent, but I can't help it. Somehow, Chakotay has a knack for putting me into a bad mood. Funny how years of serving together can't remove the underlying tension between the two of us.

"But you disagree, don’t you?" Chakotay leans forward. Damn, I hate it when he has that look, the one which says he knows exactly what you're thinking; during our first year on Voyager, whenever I saw that particular expression cross Chakotay's face, I knew a reprimand, at the very least, lay in my immediate future. In fact, those were the times when I thought Chakotay was just looking for something to nail me on.

Even now, I'm not always entirely sure his motives are good. When it comes to my relationship with B'Elanna, I get the vaguest sense that Chakotay doesn't approve. I don't know if he thinks I'm going to pull a caveman stunt and drag B'Elanna off by the hair, but I do know he doesn't view me as someone who is serious about my intentions towards his friend.  

"Tom?" Chakotay asks in a sharp tone.

"It's not my place to contradict the Doctor," I laugh hesitantly. "I'm just a field medic, remember?"

"I imagine undergoing an engrammatic purge isn't something you recover from overnight. Perhaps, we should remove her from active duty --"

"She'd break your arm for even suggesting that."

"I know," Chakotay says evenly. "Level with me, Tom. Do you think what the Mari did to B'Elanna has left permanent damage?"

I inhale sharply and shift my position in the armchair. Truth be told, I very much enjoy being alive and I know the answer to this question can put my life at jeopardy if B'Elanna ever finds out. I have no intention of wearing a bat'leth on my forehead for the rest of my life.

"Not permanent, no. But,” I take a deep breath, “you’re right. She needs time to process what happened to her and for her neural engrams to rebuild," I say very carefully. “She was arrested, prosecuted, charged with a crime, subjected to a medical procedure against her will—"

"How much time?" Chakotay’s voice has an edge to it. “Three days? More than that?”

The question frustrates me. "Who knows how far along the procedure was before Tuvok discovered what really happened?" I feel heat rise in my face. It takes all my restraint to not point out that if only he’d supported my plan to yank B'Elanna out of Mari prison before they’d begun the process of purging her ‘violent’ thought in the first place, we wouldn't be having this conversation in the second place. "And she went right back to work. Of course, she's a little disorientated, but I agree with the Doctor. With enough time, she's going to be fine."

"Are you saying that because she is or because you want to believe that?" Chakotay asks. He gets to his feet. "I need honesty, Lieutenant. I care about B'Elanna-"

I bristle at his tone which implies I could give a flying fig about B'Elanna's wellbeing. And it makes me angry because he should know, after all this time, that my relationship with B'Elanna is more than lust, more than like. In fact, I'm somewhere in the middle of a four-letter word that terrifies the hell out of me. Sometimes I think I'm wearing my heart on my sleeve for everyone to see but apparently, Chakotay, obtuse as he can be, hasn't gotten the hint.

"I'm not lying to you," I cut him off. "All of the medical scans indicate she’s fine.”

Chakotay's expression does not change but narrows his eyes as he scrutinizes me. I refuse to wilt and lift my chin defiantly.

"All right," he says finally. "But you will tell me if something changes?"

"Of course," I say.

After Chakotay leaves, I stand in the middle of my quarters, my eyes on the still rumpled bed. While the Mari held B'Elanna, I’d been unable to sleep. Instead, I had conspired with Harry, late into the night, over various plans to break her out. We’d even run a simulation or two in the holodeck, but before I could take the proposed plan to Chakotay, Tuvok had already figured out the violent thought industry -- if you can call it that -- and the Mari set B'Elanna free.

I make the bed quickly, pulling the sheets tight and tucking in the corners in Starfleet regulation, a habit reaching all the way back to my Academy days. Some things, I muse, you never forget. As I pull the blue comforter across the bed, my eyes fall on the box I brought back from the Mari planet, the gift I had yet to give to B'Elanna.

I’d found the item while B’Elanna had been bartering for parts in the main market square. While meandering along one of the side alleys, I’d seen it in a store window and it immediately struck me that I had yet to give B'Elanna a present of any consequence. It had been a completely impulsive purchase, one rooted deeply in fantasy, if I was completely honest with myself. Whether she would still want the romance the gift promised was now open for debate.

I pick up the box and put it on the bed, running my fingers over the silvery white wrapping paper. I make my first decision of the day; I'll give it to her tonight and it's possible she'll throw it back in my face, but it's also possible she'll love it for what it promises.

I sincerely hope for the latter.