DOTS#11: Balance & Imbalance, Part 1

RATING

R (for language as well as sexual content)

SUMMARY

Another in the ongoing series of “Connect the P/T Dots” stories, set during the episode “Blood Fever.” B’Elanna has never felt better in her life; so what’s wrong with everyone else? This chapter is subtitled, “My Girlfriend Went to Sakari IV and All I Got Was this Lousy Bite Mark.”

TIMELINE & SPOILERS

“Blood Fever”

CODES

P/T

DISCLAIMER

Lisa Klink wrote “Blood Fever,” but then you knew that, didn’t you? For reasons that are probably obvious to all P/T fans, this one is a kind of novelization with a twist. The story is hers; the twists are mine. Paramount owns everything else.

NOTE

You may wonder if, after about 500 “Blood Fever” stories on the net, can anyone have anything new to offer? Perhaps not. But that didn’t stop me from trying. However, if you don’t like mine, let me point you to the Paris/Torres Collective Archive, home of the best P/T fanfic on the net. I am sure you’ll find one there that suits your taste. If not, write one of your own then email it to me. I always love reading new P/T.

Text Download: CTDbalance1


The bar was dark and smoky, and filled with misfits from most of the major Federation races. Humans and Hakarians, Bajorans and Bolians. There was even a lone Klingon woman in some kind of intense conversation with a young Vulcan man—which seemed strange, even if she couldn’t figure out exactly why. They were all looking for a place to forget their troubles, she supposed. A tall order, considering the times.

But she didn’t care. After months of living on scavenged leftovers and ration packs, she was starving and wanted nothing more than to eat a real dinner and get to bed. Where the hell was their food?

She was sitting with Seska and Jonas, when she saw him come through the door: their new ‘recruit.’ He was tall and handsome and had been giving her the eye for days. But he had ‘troublemaker’ written all over him, and that was the last thing she needed. Of course, the Liberty was a ship full of troublemakers of one kind or another, but at least the rest of them were in trouble in service to a cause. This fair-haired boy, though…he was a mercenary. Maquis in name only.

Her pulse quickened when she saw him, and out of nowhere, she could hear Chakotay’s voice. ‘Stay away from him, B’Elanna.’ She wasn’t surprised. The man was a drunk and a liar, and his loyalty was up for grabs to the highest bidder. He was a reckless pig with a reputation for chasing—and catching—anything with breasts.

But he was the best pilot any of them had ever seen.

As if transported back there by the thought, she instantly found herself in the Liberty’s shuttlebay at the moment when she first saw him. He smelled like liquor and unwashed socks, and he eyed her up one side and down the other as she yelled at Mario. She was furious about…something… She couldn’t remember what. But seeing him walking toward her with Chakotay distracted her. And she knew she’d need to give this one a wide berth….

Suddenly she was at her station on the bridge alongside him. It was close quarters; she practically had to sit on his lap. That was when she’d first noticed it: another scent. Musky and masculine. One that didn’t wash off when he showered. It intoxicated her.

She shook her head to clear her thoughts, and found herself back in the bar. Staring at him. But she could still smell his sweet scent from across the room.

Before her brain could get her body’s attention, he was standing there, looking right at her. “Dance with me, Torres?”

Dance? Was that some kind of euphemism? ‘No,’ she thought. “Sure,” she said.

In an instant, he was holding her hand, dragging her to her feet.

There wasn’t even a dance floor—just a space with no tables in front of the fireplace. He twirled her once before pulling her against him. Was there even music playing? She couldn’t hear anything. Only the sound of her heartbeat. It was counting out a rhythm in double-time, two beats for every movement of their feet.

She felt his hands slip around her waist before they wound their way down her back. Then she felt him caress her ass gently as they swayed to the music. What the hell did he think he was doing? Who did he think he was? She was no man’s comfort station.

Yet she didn’t push him away.

Then her mind began another journey, a mental tour of his body. She pictured the way he looked in those brown suede pants, chronicled the changing hue of his blue eyes, and imagined running her hands across the wisps of chest hair she could see peeking out of the v-neck shirt he was wearing.

Her arms encircled his neck—her face buried itself in his chest—as she fell under the spell of some hypnotic rhythm. Whether it was the way his breath was warming her hair, or the feel of his knee between her legs as they swayed against each other, she was overwhelmed by a powerful desire to kiss him, right there in the bar in front of everyone. He must have felt the same way, for she could feel him pressing against her, his quickening heartbeat pounding through his chest where she rested her head.

She looked up in time to see his face leaning down toward hers. She smiled just before their lips met. He tasted sweet and spicy and warm. She was sure, then, that she wanted to own those lips. To make them hers—exclusively—forever.

He starting taking slow steps as they kissed, picking up his pace until he finally pinned her against the far wall of the bar. What had started off so gentle had quickly turned rough as she heard him grunting and growling with each taste of her. “tagha’” he groaned. “qawIv.”

“Paris,” she forced herself to mutter as she pulled away from his lips. Did he realize what that meant?

“qawIv,” he repeated, this time more forcefully. “I choose you.”

How could he choose her? He barely knew her. She wondered if he understood the significance of what he was saying…or if he’d just memorized a few words and phrases to try and impress the Klingon girl. Get her into his bed.

But that’s exactly where she wanted to be.

She remembered, then, that she was starving. Like she hadn’t eaten in months. Yet, when she tried to think of what she was hungry for, the only answer that came to her mind…was him….

~~*~~

Maybe it was the exhilaration of seeing Vorik hit the deck the night before, but B’Elanna was feeling pumped, energized, and ready to get on with her mission. She was so excited, so anxious to get going that she actually woke up before her alarm sounded. She couldn’t remember the last time that had happened.

She did have a vague memory of a strange dream, however. She couldn’t recall any of the details, yet she woke up famished. Craving something she couldn’t name. Other than her uncontrollable appetite, though, she felt…wonderful.

She was surprised. For all intents and purposes, she’d been assaulted by a member of her own staff a few hours earlier—and with almost no warning or time to prepare. Not that he’d hurt her—Vorik only held her face in his hands. But the look in his eyes was feral, wild. And for a moment, she thought she could hear him saying something to her in Vulcan. Odd, since she could see his face the whole time, and knew, for certain, that he hadn’t actually spoken. She’d felt a surge of adrenaline at the same time, and used it to fight him off. The Doctor said she dislocated the ensign’s jaw. Hell, she’d wanted to do a lot more than that.

Part of her realized that she’d narrowly avoided a more serious assault. She’d been lucky. And it was the rare occasion when Torres felt grateful for the Klingon half of her genetics. But—in those moments when she was called upon to defend herself from a physical attack—she knew her mother’s heritage gave her strength and reflexes her petite frame wouldn’t have allowed in a purely human woman. Even a taller, more substantial human—male or female—would have found it next to impossible to fight off a love-sick Vulcan. Yet she’d downed him with one punch.

And what in the hell was that about?! Why—out of the blue—was Vorik proposing marriage, talking about what compatible mates they would make, and then grabbing her face like that? Maybe something about the Nekrid Expanse made Vulcans go batty. Whatever it was, B’Elanna was damned if he was coming back to work until she found out what was wrong with him and had some guarantee that it wouldn’t happen again.

Not that it mattered at the moment. She’d been put in charge of her first major away mission, and there was too much work to do to worry about Vorik. Their job was simple: map the gallicite deposits, collect samples from the different veins, and bring them back for analysis. If the mineral proved to be as pure as their scans suggested, a larger geological team would be sent down to mine the ore. Then in a week or so, if everything went according to schedule, they’d have brand new warp coils.

The thought of finally getting her engines back in pristine order left B’Elanna feeling a real sense of control over her life for the first time in years.

After finishing her sonic shower, she replicated and stepped into her climbing uniform, then walked back into the bathroom to finish getting ready. At first, she dragged a brush quickly through her hair, in a hurry to get dressed and get out the door. But when she felt the bristles against her skin, she realized that her entire scalp was starting to tingle. It was a strange—and compelling—sensation, and she found herself standing there for a few moments enjoying the feeling as she brushed and brushed her already tamed hair.

Soon, she realized she was losing track of time, as if her mind had wandered, but she wasn’t sure to where. Berating herself for not getting enough sleep the night before such an important mission, B’Elanna grabbed her empty knapsack and headed down to engineering to give her final orders and grab the equipment she’d need for the survey. Despite her lapse in concentration, her body was pumped up and raring to go. There was a bounce in her step as she headed into the corridor and to the turbolift.

~~

0500 came too quickly, and Tom had to force himself out of bed. Part of him wondered if B’Elanna’s late-night visit to his cabin had been his imagination, but when he saw Chakotay’s approval for the replication of an all-terrain uniform in his personal database, he knew it must be true.

So, she wanted him on her survey team. Good. He only wished he had more time to review the plan for the climb. Of course, he wasn’t looking forward to spending the day with Vorik. Neelix had mentioned at dinner the night before that he and the Vulcan would be going planetside with B’Elanna this morning. Tom had confessed to his friend, then, that there was no love lost between him and the ensign. He didn’t go into the details of why—he would have had to explain some things that were better left unsaid—and Neelix was sensitive enough not to pry. Now, all four of them would be working closely together on what might be a dangerous mission. Well, maybe they’d get lucky and Vorik would take a header into a bottomless pit…

Tom didn’t really mean it—even though he enjoyed the fantasy for a second. No, Vorik wasn’t to blame for the sorry state of his love life. The man was merely a means to an end, he knew. B’Elanna’s means to end Paris’s fantasies about being more than just her friend.

This was not the mindset to be in before a day of scaling cliffs together, Tom reminded himself. He focused on getting dressed and reviewed in his mind the equipment they’d need for the climb.

He pulled the jumpsuit out of the replicator and stepped into it. He hadn’t worn this kind of special-issue uniform since his Academy training, and he had forgotten how tight the things were. And, while it moved freely with his body, the silver fabric clung to him like a second skin. As he pulled on the matching boots, he realized that B’Elanna would be wearing her own version of this outfit.

Well, at least his imagination might get some action, he thought, immediately dismissing the fantasy. He was going to have to get over her, he knew. Someday. Soon. But not today.

~*~*~*~*~

B’Elanna’s stop in engineering had been brief. Sue Nicoletti would be filling in for her while Torres was on the planet, and—with Vorik under confinement—the alpha shift would be two men down. Not that it mattered much; there wasn’t much to do without that gallicite. The real work would begin when she got back.

Tom and Neelix were already waiting for her in the transporter room when she arrived. Paris was bending over the stairs to the pad, checking over his equipment, and, for a split second, B’Elanna allowed herself to do the same…and she definitely liked the view. Somehow, the sight of him in that skin-tight silver climbing suit…her pulse started racing uncontrollably.

“You two are very prompt,” she said, repressing the urge to stand for a few more minutes admiring his ass.

“Impressed?” Tom asked as he stood up and faced her, giving her a totally new and equally captivating view.

“It will take more work than that to impress me, Lieutenant,” she lied before moving to the transporter console. Truth was, she was more than impressed.

“Yes, ma’am,” he answered in a tone she found strangely exciting. Unfortunately, there was no time to think about the things her body suddenly wanted to do, particularly after he’d moved to stand next to her. He smelled of soap and spices and a hint of sweat. He smelled like Tom.

No matter: they were on a mission and these digressions would have to wait. This would be their last chance to use the ship’s targeting scanners to plan their descent, and B’Elanna wanted to make sure they were all on the same page about the route they would take.

“Let me show you our target area,” she said, as she called up the sensor maps on the display screen.

Neelix seemed a little confused. “Shouldn’t we wait for Ensign Vorik?”

Vorik. Not likely. “He’s not coming,” B’Elanna barked without explanation before continuing her briefing. “This seems to be the most accessible vein of gallicite. We’ll beam to the surface then go down through this passageway until it dead-ends in this chamber. Then we’ll descend almost fifty meters—almost straight down. Do you see any problem with that, Tom?”

It seemed like forever before he answered her. “Uh, well…as long as we go slow and easy, we’ll be fine.”

Why did everyone else seem to be talking in slow-motion this morning?

“Good,” she answered, trying to keep things moving with her tone. “You’re all set, Neelix?”

“I’ve got a laser drill, sample cases, geo-spectral analysis kit…” He seemed to think her question was an invitation to list the contents of his knapsack. B’Elanna tried not to get annoyed with him. Neelix was hardly a seasoned Starfleet crewman; she knew he got a little anxious on away missions.

Still, they were wasting valuable time. “In other words, you’re ready,” she said, putting an end to his inventory. “Let’s go!”

She made a quick check of their transport coordinates and headed for the pad, already wondering if she wouldn’t have to light a fire under her two pokey charges, who seemed to be taking their time getting into position. The men had barely set foot on the platform when she called out her instructions to the computer. “Energize,” she said, before watching the transporter room dematerialize before her eyes.

~~

Tom watched as the dimly lit transporter room dissolved into the early morning sunlight of a lush, green clearing. He was glad that Voyager’s artificially marked ‘sunrise’ seemed to match the hour on the planet; it was always so disorienting to see sunshine at night or to watch the stars above him in the middle of the afternoon. His body preferred to have its surroundings match his circadian rhythms.

It was good, too, just to breathe in fresh air. He caught a whiff of damp soil and wildflowers, and wished that they’d come for a picnic or shore leave instead of spelunking. It seemed a shame to spend this beautiful morning underground. Particularly considering the company.

Away missions were always more fun with Neelix along. His unconventional view of the world, combined with his eagerness to prove himself, only made him more endearing than usual. And, of course—even if things were less than ideal between them—working side by side with B’Elanna beat just about any other way he could think of to spend a duty shift.

Assuming the woman leading this mission was B’Elanna. He wondered, actually, if some perky imposter hadn’t snuck aboard, pretending to be Voyager’s chief engineer. After all, it was barely 0610, and she was a bundle of energy. He wasn’t sure there was enough raktajino in the galaxy to make B’Elanna Torres this lively before noon. She didn’t sound like B’Elanna, either. She sounded like…it was strange. Her voice reminded him of someone else. It was familiar, someone he’d met before. But it wasn’t her. He struggled to place the memory, but it wouldn’t come.

Still, she looked like B’Elanna. She looked like B’Elanna in a tight silver uniform.

He knew that one day he was going to have to stop fantasizing about her if he was ever going to get over his one-sided attraction.

“This way,” she said as she began to lead them off toward the entrance to the caves.

“Look over here.” Neelix said, drawing their attention to the stone ruins of what looked like an abandoned city. “This must have been the colony.”

Tom pulled out his tricorder and joined his friend’s survey of what little remained. What appeared to have once been large pillars were shorn off at the base, and all that was left were the inlaid stone pavers and a set of steps that now led to nowhere. Something was strange, though. The ruins looked to be centuries old, yet Tom’s tricorder showed that they were considerably younger. “Not more than fifty or sixty years ago,” he said as he took another scan. “Hardly enough time for these structures to decay so badly.”

Neelix was somber, Tom noticed, no doubt imagining the fate of the people who had lived here—if this was all that was left of their city. “They must have suffered some kind of disaster,” his friend said. “Maybe an earthquake…”

Tom was thinking the same thing. Only a generation or two earlier, this had been an inhabited planet with some level of technology. Now it was a wasteland. He couldn’t help but wonder what had gone wrong.

B’Elanna, however, seemed a little annoyed that they’d stopped to check it out. “Well, we’ll send down an archeological team later on,” she said, clearly trying to get them to keep moving. “Right now we’ve got our own work to do.”

Again, Tom wondered who was this bundle of energy standing in front of him. “Are we in a rush?” he asked her.

“I just don’t see any point in wasting time,” she explained. “Unless, of course, you want to stall…to put off demonstrating your climbing ‘expertise.’”

Oh, there was no doubt about it now: that was B’Elanna. Tom hated that she knew how to get to him so easily, but there was no denying that she understood exactly which buttons to push.

“Grab your gear,” he said, brushing past her on his way to the caves. “And try to keep up.”

~~

As he stormed off toward the tunnels, Paris’s arm brushed against B’Elanna’s chest, practically pushing her out of the way. Well, at least he was moving, she thought. But she couldn’t help but notice that her skin—where his upper arm had made contact with her breast—was now tingling in exactly the same way her scalp had in her quarters as she’d brushed her hair earlier that morning. And she’d caught another whiff of him as he passed her. It was like smelling a delicious meal cooking—after not having eaten in days. And she realized that she was starving. Only this time it wasn’t her stomach that was growling.

Soon, B’Elanna realized. Soon she’d have to tell Tom everything she’d been too afraid to say. Maybe after this mission was over. If she could wait that long.

Even though Paris’s legs were longer and he had a head start, B’Elanna overtook him and led the way into the narrow opening at the base of the rocks. This was her mission, after all, and she would lead her team.

About ten meters inside the cave, her tricorder indicated their first descent: a simple drop of about eight meters through a hole in the cavern floor. Tom leaned over to scan the opening, giving B’Elanna another chance to notice exactly how tight his climbing suit was, and the way it molded itself around his backside. She knew that she should be focusing on the mission she was leading, but—just for a moment—her thoughts were fixated on the muscles on his back, each one rippling under a whisper of silver fabric. Each one dancing in the dim light of the cave.

She started to move toward him—she couldn’t just stand still and there wasn’t room to pace in the small chamber. So, when he turned around to give his report, she was face to face with him. “There’s nothing to push off against,” he told them. “So we’ll just have to climb down the rope. I’ll go first and guide you down.”

“No!” B’Elanna said, her attention now fixed on his lips. She wondered for a moment if they would taste the way she’d imagined for so long…

It took all of her effort to force those thoughts away, and to focus on her mission. “I’ll lead the way,” she said forcefully. “After all, this is…”

“…your mission,” Tom mocked. “We know, we know.” She relaxed a little when she realized he was teasing her. “Here,” he said to Neelix. “Tie this off on that outcropping and let me know when it’s secure.”

As they waited for their mining expert to finish his little task, B’Elanna found herself staring up at Tom’s face. He moved with such confidence that she wondered why it had taken her so long to think of adding him to her away team. She also wondered why it had taken her so long to get comfortable admitting to herself something she was now more than sure of: she wanted him. She wanted to take him right there on the cavern floor and to touch with her hands and her mouth all the places that only her eyes and dreams had previously explored. She wanted to tell him about the fantasies she’d had of ravaging him—and of being ravaged by him.

But it was more than that. She wanted to tell him—and the rest of the world—that he was hers. That she’d just been a coward about showing it. That she had fallen in—

“Ready, Tom!” Neelix called, interrupting her thoughts.

B’Elanna was horrified at how hard she was finding it to concentrate on the tasks at hand. So much was riding on this survey. Everyone was counting on her. This was no time to let her mind wander. She needed to focus. Focus…

“After you, Lieutenant,” Tom said a little sarcastically. He was playing with her now, she knew, but she couldn’t let herself respond in kind. She needed to pay attention to her duty.

“Make it quick,” she said, trying not to look at him. Then she grabbed the rope and slipped herself over the edge.

~~

All joking aside, Tom began to wonder if it was his imagination or if something was different about B’Elanna this morning. He’d had a fitful night of sleep, he knew, and she couldn’t have gotten much more rest than he did. Maybe she got edgy when she was overtired, he supposed. Or maybe his own sleepy mind was overreacting this morning.

Still, for the first time in years he wondered if maybe he didn’t know Torres as well as he thought he did.

He watched as she slipped over the edge of the opening and began to lower herself down the rope. He could hear her panting and grunting—though a simple rope climb shouldn’t be taking that much out of her. Maybe she was sick, he thought. Maybe that explained the weird way she was acting.

‘You’re next, Paris!’ he heard B’Elanna yell up to him, her voice echoing in the chamber below. ‘Paris,’ he thought to himself. She hadn’t called him that in ages. No doubt another part of her plan to let him down easy.

“You okay, Neelix?” he asked before he lowered himself over the side.

“I’m right behind you, Tom,” his friend answered, looking a little less than convinced. “I just realized I should start taking the Jeffries Tubes instead of the turbolift if I’m going to go rock climbing with you two. I’m not quite in fighting form.”

Tom laughed. “Well, then you’re fine, since I don’t plan to do any fighting today.”

‘Are you two coming?’ he heard from below him. ‘Or do I have to shimmy up this rope and carry you down?’

He looked at Neelix and smiled. “I can’t speak for her, though,” he said before lowering himself into the opening. “See you there.”

Tom wrapped his knees around the rope and lowered himself hand over hand. He felt the line pull taut and knew that B’Elanna was trying to steady his descent. As he neared the bottom, he felt her hands reach up to guide him, first grabbing his ankle, then sliding slowly up his leg and finally grabbing onto his butt as she helped him lower himself to the ground.

It was a totally normal move for one climber to aid another. Yet, he was almost sure that she’d let her hands wander a little more than ‘normal’ spotting called for. In fact, he was pretty positive she’d felt him up a little as he lowered himself into her waiting arms.

That was silly, he realized. Wishful thinking.

Still, they had to repeat their little free climb again, with B’Elanna once more leading the way, her hands once more conducting their own little exploration—of his butt. This time, Tom decided that he didn’t care if he was imagining things or not. He’d just enjoy the feel of her hands on his body and move on—all the while praying that his reaction to her touch wasn’t obvious in his tight climbing uniform.

His feet made contact with the floor, then he gave the rope a tug and waited for Neelix. “No matter how real a holodeck program may seem,” his friend was saying as he descended, “it just doesn’t get your heart pumping like a genuine physical challenge. It’s exhilarating.”

Tom laughed at the way Neelix was reframing his fears about being out of shape. But two steps into the outer chamber gave Paris a few fears of his own.

“If you’re looking for exhilaration…” B’Elanna let her voice trail off, as they all leaned over to get a glimpse of what appeared to be a vast bottomless cavern before them. They knew from their readings that there was a bottom, however. Fifty meters below.

Even in the dim light, Neelix looked a little green. “It didn’t look quite so steep on the sensor map, did it..?”

B’Elanna, on the other hand, seemed raring to go. She stripped off her pack and began to pull out her gear. “We’re prepared for this. We can handle it.”

Tom knew she was right, but—while the mission was B’Elanna’s responsibility—ensuring a safe climb was his. He was experienced enough to know that preparation and training only went so far; there was an element of luck involved in doing anything dangerous. It was his job to see that they were lucky. And this time, no matter what B’Elanna said, he’d insist on going first.

As he unpacked his own gear, Paris made sure to watch Neelix’s preparations. Their chef was an experienced miner, but a novice rock-climber, and Tom wanted to make sure he followed the safety procedures to the letter.

“All this Starfleet technology almost takes the fun out of it,” Neelix quipped as he drove his piton into the rock. Tom watched as his friend clipped his rope onto the bolt and pulled to make sure it grabbed.

“If you mean the ‘fun’ of wondering whether your anchor will hold while you’re dangling over a cliff,” Paris said as he secured his own rope, “I think I’ll pass.” After making sure that B’Elanna and Neelix were set and ready (and hearing no objection from the woman in charge of their little expedition), Tom braced his feet against the edge of the outcropping and prepared to lead the way. “See you below.”

~~

For a moment, just after they’d begun, B’Elanna had felt herself starting to fade. She had been losing her concentration, allowing thoughts of Tom to drift into her mind, her attention wandering from the mission before them. But here, on the top of a sheer fifty-meter drop, she could sense her mind hyper-focus on the task at hand. She’d been anxious for this all morning, she knew. The first real physical challenge of her first real command.

“You go first,” she said to Neelix when he was set. “I’ll follow you.”

They’d barely stepped over the edge when she heard Tom call out from below them, his voice echoing all around her. “Watch your footing!” he was yelling. Just hearing his voice made her pulse accelerate.

B’Elanna watched as Neelix started his descent, and she waited for a moment to make sure he found good purchase on the cliff face. But she was anxious to get moving, and quickly caught up with the older, slower man.

“You’re right!” she said as she stopped for a moment by his side. “My heart is beating faster!” She could feel her own pulse throbbing, not only in her chest but in her fingers, her toes…

“Wait until we climb back up with a pack full of gallicite,” Neelix quipped as he paused to check his footing.

B’Elanna wasn’t in the mood to wait for anyone or anything. “Oh, I’m just getting warmed up!” she said as she dropped another two meters at a time. She wondered in that moment if she might even beat Paris to the bottom. Maybe men were just slower, she thought, when she heard a scream from above her…

She looked up to see Neelix barreling toward her in a freefall. Instinctually, she reached out and grabbed him as he passed her, knocking the rope from her other hand as the weight of both of their bodies pulled them down. At the same time, she felt the metal buckle from his now dangling line swing down and tear at her shoulder. The pain was intense, but she managed to hold onto Neelix’s harness, the tension in her own slowing them only enough to control their speed, but not to stop them from hitting—hard.

“No!” she heard Tom cry out as they went shooting past him.

Seconds later, B’Elanna heard a crunching sound that was unmistakably cracking bone. She struggled to her feet and threw off her line, waiting for the stab of pain she knew she should be feeling. But there was no pain. Only the pounding of blood rushing through her ears. The roar was almost deafening, and with it came an anger that seemed to rise up from her toes. She’d felt this kind of impulse—this rage—before, only never so strongly. She had an overwhelming urge to hit something. Hard.

“Are you hurt?” She realized, then, that Tom had joined them at the foot of the cliff and was now standing next to her. It was everything she could do not to knock him to the ground and let him have it for what he’d done. But, no…it wasn’t his fault. It was…

“You!” she screamed at the man laying in the dirt at the base of the cliff. “You almost got us both killed!”

Neelix was making a pitiful attempt to sit up, and she realized what a pathetic excuse for a warrior he was. “I’m sorry,” he was whining at her as he tried to rise. “I don’t know what happened!”

She watched as Tom moved to tend to the useless man. “Careful! Careful, you might have broken it.” Damn right, she thought. Which was less than he deserved for his carelessness.

B’Elanna couldn’t understand how Tom could be so casual about this. And she had no compassion for Neelix. “You had no business rigging safety equipment when you had no idea what you were doing!” she bellowed. It had been a mistake to bring him, she realized. First he slowed them down, now he’d almost gotten their necks broken. She wondered why she’d ever let the captain talk her into…

“Calm down!” Tom was yelling back at her. “This wasn’t Neelix’s fault. I saw him drive the piton and it was solid. It must have malfunctioned.” Why was Paris making excuses for him? Why was he on Neelix’s side in this? “Oh, you are hurt…” he said as he moved back to her. He grabbed her by the arms, and flames seemed to shoot through her at the point of his touch.

But she didn’t need him—or anyone else—to make her feel better. She didn’t want to feel better. She’d earned her rage; her entire mission was in jeopardy now. “I’m fine, no thanks to you two,” she said as she wriggled out of his hands. “I would have been better coming down here alone!”

Tom blocked her path as she tried to go. “Don’t you think you’re overreacting a little bit?” he asked. Overreacting? Somehow she didn’t think he’d feel that way if he’d been the one knocked off the side of a cliff.

She realized, too, that now they’d have to wait for medical help to come and cart Neelix back to the ship. Her command—her first real command—was falling apart around her. Well, it wasn’t her fault the man had been too careless to secure his rope properly. And there was no way she was about to waste this opportunity to get what they came for. “Just drag him to the ship,” she barked to Tom as she picked up her pack. “I’ll get the gallicite myself!”

“We can’t leave you down here alone!” Neelix had the audacity to challenge her.

“He’s right,” she heard Tom say as he moved to block her way. He grabbed her by the shoulders again, and B’Elanna felt strange mix of anger and desire overtake her. Her blood was boiling, and she could feel her pulse racing, throbbing all over her body, and heightening each of her senses. And she could smell his scent again. Feel her body cry out for him. Was he challenging her? “Let’s contact the ship,” he said, looking into her eyes.

“You get your hands off of me,” she said, but meaning just the opposite. She wanted him—uncontrollably—and she would take him, right there. She felt a growl growing from inside her belly, and she broke his grip just enough to reach up and pull his face toward her. In one swift motion, she felt her teeth tear at his soft, smooth cheek, smelled the sweat of his skin against hers, and tasted his blood on her tongue. Finally, after all this time of wanting him so badly, needing him so deeply, she had made her intentions clear to the world. She had marked him. He was hers.

“Aghhh! B’Elanna!” The sound of his voice shook her out of herself, and she noticed the shocked look on his face. What was the matter? Why was he so angry with her? “What is wrong with you?!” he screamed at her.

He seemed shocked, as if she’d done something wrong, and the look on his face left her flushed with embarrassment. Was he rejecting her? She saw his hand move to his cheek, the jagged impression of her teeth on his skin. A storm of conflicting emotions began raging inside her, and part of her wondered what the hell she’d just done. It was as if her mind was struggling to awaken from a deep sleep, yet her body was totally energized, invigorated. This was all so confusing.

She knew, then, that she had to get away from him. “Nothing,” she said, finally answering his question. “I’m in charge of this mission. I’ll finish it.”

Blindly, she forced herself to walk away, to get on with what they’d set out to do. If Tom didn’t want her…didn’t want to follow her, he could stay there for all she cared. But she wasn’t about to leave without the gallicite. Even if, for the moment, she couldn’t remember why she needed it…

~~

“Wait!” Paris called as he watched her stumble away. All morning he’d felt that something was strange with B’Elanna. Now, his face throbbed with the proof.

“Go ahead, Tom,” Neelix said to him “I’ll be alright here.”

Part of him wanted to go. Part of him wanted to grab hold of B’Elanna, pin her to the ground, and demand to know what the hell was happening. But another part of him was afraid to follow her. Afraid to find out why one of his best friends had suddenly turned into a crazed Klingon warrior.

That’s when it hit him: her voice. He recognized it now. It was the voice of the Klingon B’Elanna he’d met for just a few seconds in the Vidiian laboratory. She’d spoken only a few words before she died that day. But her tone—clipped and husky—was unmistakable. And it had been this woman, the Klingon B’Elanna, that he’d been hearing all morning.

In that moment, he was sure that something more was going on. Something he probably shouldn’t try to handle alone. “The last thing we need is for all three of us to split up,” he said, trying to convince himself. Tom took one last look down the now-empty passageway before slapping his commbadge in frustration, and praying that they weren’t too deep for a signal to get through. “Paris to Voyager. We’ve got problems down here.”

‘Janeway here, Mister Paris,’ he heard his captain’s calm voice. ‘Is everything alright?’

“No, ma’am,” he answered in more than a bit of an understatement. “Neelix and B’Elanna took a fairly serious fall. I’m pretty sure Neelix’s leg is broken. He needs more help than I can give him by myself. I need you to send someone down to help me get him out of here.”

‘By yourself?’ he heard Chakotay’s confused voice. ‘Where is Lieutenant Torres?’

Tom took a deep breath before he answered. “B’Elanna…well, she was pretty upset and…she decided to go on without us.”

‘Let me speak with her,’ the captain ordered.

“Standby,” he said, hoping for just a moment that his errant friend would reappear from wherever she’d disappeared to. “Paris to Torres,” he said as he slapped his commbadge. “B’Elanna, if you can hear me, please respond.”

He waited a few seconds. Then a few seconds more. Nothing. He took out his tricorder and began scanning. There were faint Human/Klingon readings in the distance, but nothing specific or nearby.

“Captain,” he called over the still-open channel, wondering how he would explain this, “I haven’t been able to contact her. She’s either out of communications range or just not responding.”

There was a pause before he got a response. Tom could only imagine the looks that were flying back and forth on the bridge at this news. ‘Where is she now?’ Janeway asked.

He checked his tricorder one more time. “The last location I can verify is about ten meters below us.” He knew he needed to explain more, to get them to understand that something was wrong, that B’Elanna hadn’t just abandoned her team cavalierly. Still, he wasn’t sure if he could make himself say the words. “I tried to stop her from leaving, Captain, but she got very hostile and…bit me.”

The pause was even longer this time, and the voice that finally answered was Chakotay’s. ‘She bit you?’ the commander asked incredulously.

Tom had no choice but to tell them the truth. “And she seemed to be enjoying it in a…Klingon kind of way. She’s really not herself.”

‘Any luck in getting a transporter lock on them?’ he heard Janeway ask. He was disappointed when he realized that it was Alissa Lang who answered.

‘No. They’re too far beneath the surface,’ he heard the ensign say. He remembered, then, that Harry was off duty for the next two days. Damn! He hated telling anyone about B’Elanna’s bizarre behavior. At least he could trust Kim and the other regular bridge crew to be discreet. But Lang was one of B’Elanna’s junior engineers. It wouldn’t take long before news of the chief’s bizarre behavior spread all over the lower decks, he feared. Still, he couldn’t very well lie to the captain.

‘Tom, I’m sending an away team down to you,’ he heard Janeway say. ‘We’ll get Neelix out of there then go after B’Elanna. Tuvok, you’re with Chakotay.’

Good. If something really were wrong with B’Elanna, the command team could keep it as quiet as possible. Then he heard Tuvok’s voice in the background. ‘Captain, I’d like to request a short delay. I may have an explanation for Lieutenant Torres’ behavior.’

What could Tuvok possibly know about whatever was wrong with B’Elanna?

‘Vorik?’ he heard the captain ask.

‘I’m afraid so,’ was the security chief’s response. Vorik? What in the hell could Vorik have to do with this? Had he hurt her somehow? Drugged her, maybe? And why? What the hell was going on?

‘Fine,’ Janeway said solemnly. ‘Sit tight, Tom. And tell Neelix to hang in there. Help is on the way.’

“Yes, ma’am,” he answered, wishing they would hurry it up. “Paris out.”

Tom walked the floor for a moment, trying to figure out what to do. Part of him couldn’t believe he’d let B’Elanna just head off into the tunnels alone. He replayed the events of the morning over and over in his mind trying to figure out what the hell had happened. Finally, he realized he needed to do something more constructive than pace. He turned around to see an equally confused Talaxian lying on the ground behind him.

“Gosh, I’m really sorry about this, Tom.” How characteristic: Neelix was lying there with a femur snapped in three places and yet he was apologizing to the man whose job it had been to keep him safe.

“Don’t be silly, Neelix,” Paris said as he searched through his pack for his medkit. “It was an accident.”

“I think I jinxed us,” his friend said, his voice barely masking his pain. “I never should have joked about Starfleet technology.”

Tom couldn’t stop himself from laughing. “Well, somehow, I don’t think the gods of the Federation were trying to smite you for blasphemy,” he joked. “Now sit still while I take a look at that leg.”

They were traveling light, so the kit had only the most basic supplies: a rudimentary bone knitter/dermal regenerator combination, and two hyposprays—an analgesic and a few doses of inoproveline. Hardly enough to repair the kind of fracture’s the medical tricorder showed his friend to have.

Still, a few passes of the knitter had fused Neelix’s bone into a kind of self-supporting splint, and the analgesic deadened the pain a bit until the Doc could do the job for real. When he was finished, Paris threw the tools back into the kit and slid down the wall to join his friend on the cold, hard ground. The air was freezing and the chill was more noticeable now that they weren’t moving.

The men sat in silence for a few minutes before Neelix finally spoke. “It’s Lieutenant Torres, isn’t it?” he said cryptically.

“What are you talking about?” Tom couldn’t help but ask.

His friend smiled softly. “A few weeks ago when we were working in the maintenance bay, you told me you were involved with someone. Or rather, that you wanted to be. You were talking about B’Elanna, weren’t you?”

Tom could feel the blush rising in his face—the rush of blood making his already tender cheek smart as it stung from the pressure pounding beneath it. “Why do you ask?” he tried to divert the question. That naïve, hopeful, ill-informed conversation was the last thing he wanted to think about at the moment.

“Because she clearly feels the same way. I mean, I’m surprised I didn’t see it before. But… Well, I guess congratulations are in order.”

Tom was really confused now. “Neelix, what the hell are you talking about?!”

“The mating bite,” his friend answered. “Though I have to say, I’d always assumed it was given privately…”

Tom hadn’t heard much past the words ‘mating bite.’ “Whoa, slow down,” he said, touching his face reflexively. “Do you know something about this?”

“Well, it’s my job,” Neelix said. “As morale officer. I have to learn the customs of all the different races in order to make sure I commemorate their holidays and special occasions. I was studying Klingon traditions a few weeks ago for my…”

“…Klingon breakfast buffet,” Paris said along with him. “Cold gagh at 0700, yeah, I how could I forget..?”

“Yes, well, there’s an entire chapter on Klingon rituals in that same part of the cultural database. Fascinating stuff, really. There’s the Brek’Tal, the Hegh’Bat, the Sochi, the…”

“Neelix!” Tom interrupted, “I get the idea. Now what does any of that have to do with B’Elanna biting me?” He could feel his heart start to race as he waited for the answer.

Paris saw a slight hesitation dance across the Talaxian’s features. “Well, I don’t pretend to understand all of the details, but, as I recall, when a Klingon bites you on the face, they’re…well, they’re laying claim to you. As their mate. And, as I recall, Klingons usually mate for life.”

This was still confusing. “Are you saying that B’Elanna just asked me to marry her?” It couldn’t be. She was clearly disinterested in him, and hardly in a romantic mood. In fact, she’d seemed furious just before she left them.

Neelix tilted his head. “Well, yes. And no. Technically, she was initiating a, um, sexual liaison. But, as far as I understand Klingon customs, it’s pretty much the same thing. The bite is a way of marking one’s mate. Telling everyone else, ‘hands off’…in a manner of speaking. Then, once the couple, shall we say, seals the deal physically, well…voila! They’re mates. And it’s not uncommon for the, um, ‘act’ to be preceded by an altercation of some kind. Or so I hear.”

Tom sat there for a moment taking it all in. He’d always known that Klingon society was very ritualistic, but he never knew the details. And he’d never had a reason to learn them. B’Elanna lived her life like any other human woman. Other than her temper—and her forehead—he might not have known she was a Klingon. He felt stupid, then. Unprepared. And more than a little confused.

If Neelix was right, then having sex with B’Elanna was tantamount to marrying her. At least according to Klingon tradition. Or maybe that was just if he bit her, too. Besides, she’d had other lovers, right? And she wasn’t married to any of them…as far as he knew. Still, his absolute ignorance on the subject was more than a little embarrassing considering how long he’d wanted to be with her. How often he’d dreamed of making love with her.

But, if what Neelix was saying was all true, then it only confirmed for Paris that B’Elanna was ill, or drugged, or…something. She hated her Klingon side, he knew. She would never have done something so, so…Klingon. Especially not in the middle of an away mission. And with Neelix right there, wounded on the ground. Something was definitely wrong with her. He only hoped Tuvok had found out what and why.

“Tom,” Neelix said to him softly. It was only then that he realized he hadn’t spoken in a while. “You didn’t know about this, did you?”

“Um, look, do me a favor, okay?” he asked his friend instead of answering. “Don’t mention this to anybody. About the bite, I mean, or about what it means.” Not that it mattered. He’d told everyone over an open commlink that she’d bit him. He could only pray that no one else knew enough about Klingon rituals to make the connection.

He watched as a look of understanding crossed Neelix’s eyes. “Sure. It’ll be our secret.”

Tom let his head rest in his hands for a moment as he tried to take it all in. Maybe this was all a dream. Maybe it was just his imagination wandering in his sleep. He let his fingers move to trace the line of dried blood on his jaw, and winced at the still tender flesh.

Nope, he realized. He wasn’t dreaming.

‘A mating bite,’ he thought with equal parts fear and hope. He realized, in that moment, that he’d have to learn more about these Klingon rituals. Once they found B’Elanna, and got back to the ship…

~*~*~*~*~

It was so hot! For some reason, B’Elanna assumed caves would be cold, so she was amazed at the unbelievable heat the rocks seemed to be giving off. She was starting to feel like she was in an oven. Yet, strangely, the walls were cool to the touch. She wondered why she didn’t see steam as the cold stone met the obviously heated air. It didn’t make sense.

Actually, none of this day made any sense.

She’d been walking for what seemed like forever, and exhaustion was taking its toll. Her mind was getting fuzzy, and she struggled to recognize this place, to remember why she was there. It didn’t help that it was dark, and the light from her wristlamp seemed so dim. She could barely see where she was stepping.

She brought her hands up and rubbed her face, only to feel the sharp twinge of pulled skin on her upper arm. She was wounded, she realized. Wounded and alone.

As she brought her fingers up to touch her torn sleeve, she remembered where she was. She was in the caves. Her away mission. They’d been climbing and she’d been hurt. They’d been looking for…gallicite. Tom and Neelix were…where were they? They’d stayed behind. Sent her ahead. Why couldn’t she remember?

She pulled out her tricorder to try and get her bearings. A quick scan told her there was gallicite up ahead. But the passageways were confusing. She’d get lost if she wasn’t careful. And she knew, somehow, that she shouldn’t be doing this alone.

“Torres to Paris,” she said as she touched her commbadge. Nothing.

Maybe he was too far away. Maybe he’d left without her. She wondered why her mind felt so fuzzy. ‘Dammit,’ she thought as she shook her head, trying to clear it. ‘I should have gotten more sleep last night.’

It was true, she knew. She was exhausted. Barely able to keep moving. But she had to. She had to find the gallicite and complete her mission. Fighting to keep her arms and legs working, she took a few steps forward. ‘I must be coming down with something,’ she thought as she shivered. Before heading off in the direction of the readings, she made a mental note to check in with the Doctor when she got back to the ship.

~~

It seemed to take Chakotay and Tuvok forever to get down to their position, and twice Tom almost headed off without them. But he knew he couldn’t leave Neelix alone and injured, even if it did mean B’Elanna was wandering through some pretty treacherous terrain on her own. She could take care of herself, he knew, under normal circumstances. But these weren’t normal circumstances. Something was wrong with her. And he needed to know what.

The officers finally arrived with a medical team for Neelix—and, hopefully, answers about B’Elanna. Chakotay hit the ground first, followed quickly by Tuvok. “Are you two alright?” the first officer asked.

“I’m fine, Commander,” Neelix said before Tom could answer. “Lieutenant Paris patched me up as good as new.”

“Hardly,” Tom corrected. “He’s gonna need surgery on that leg. But he’ll be fine once the Doc works his magic.”

“What about you?” Chakotay asked. The first officer looked uncomfortable and seemed to be sizing him up.

“I’m okay,” he answered honestly. “Confused as hell, but okay.”

“Tom,” Chakotay was hesitating. “You said B’Elanna bit you…”

Paris turned his face to show him the wound at the base of his jaw. The look on his senior officer’s face was one of…understanding? “Look,” Chakotay said carefully, “there’s something you should know about that kind of bite…”

Tom cut him off. “I know,” he barked, trying not to let his embarrassment show in his voice. “At least I think I know what it’s supposed to mean. What I don’t know is why she did it.”

He saw the commander turn towards the Vulcan at his side. “Tuvok will explain while I get Neelix ready for transport.” Tom got the impression that Chakotay was trying to use his professionalism to keep his feelings in check. The situation was awkward to say the least.

“So there is something wrong with her, isn’t there?” Tom asked as the Vulcan stepped closer.

“Yes,” the security chief answered, looking more uncomfortable than Tom had ever seen him. If he didn’t know better, Paris would have thought that the man was embarrassed. “Lieutenant Torres is suffering from a condition known as…pon farr.”

“Pon what?” Tom asked. This didn’t sound good.

“Pon farr,” Tuvok repeated awkwardly. “It is a condition that is part of the biology of my species.”

“Biology,” Tom repeated. “Vulcan biology. And exactly what does that have to do with B’Elanna?” This was getting more confusing by the minute.

“Every seven years,” the lieutenant continued, “Vulcans males are overtaken by an uncontrollable biological instinct, which causes a severe neurochemical imbalance in the brain. They are driven to seek out a mate in an instinctual urge to…perpetuate the race.”

Slowly the pieces were lining up. But they still made no sense. “You mean, um, reproduce. Have children?” Tom asked, still feeling a little like he used to in alien exobiology class in high school. Somehow, now, he wished he’d paid more attention.

“Yes,” Tuvok said, practically rolling his eyes.

Why the man couldn’t just spit it out. “Wait a minute,” Tom said, his anger growing exponentially. “Does this have something to do with the way Vorik has been following B’Elanna around for the past few months? Did he do something to hurt her?” The images running through his mind made Paris’s blood boil.

His heart was racing as he waited for the answer. One wrong word from Tuvok and Voyager would be down one junior engineer when they got back. Tom would beat the little asshole to a bloody pulp—with his bare hands if necessary—if he’d forced himself on her.

“Ensign Vorik did not harm Lieutenant Torres,” the Vulcan reassured him. “But he did attempt to mind-meld with her last night. She was able to resist his advances successfully…”

“She knocked him flat on his back and dislocated his jaw,” Chakotay called out without looking up from tending Neelix. Tom relaxed slightly then, knowing that B’Elanna’s ‘big brother’ knew about the situation and hadn’t killed the little weasel himself. And, as the image of Torres punching Vorik’s lights out played through his mind, Paris was also a little relieved to know that she’d been able to defend herself. But, if she had fought him off…something still didn’t make sense.

“So, this pon farr thing. It’s contagious?” Tom asked, thinking about B’Elanna’s strange behavior—and the wound on his face.

Again Tuvok rolled his eyes. “No. But there is evidence to suggest that Ensign Vorik was able to make a telepathic bond with Lieutenant Torres before she pushed him away. Such connections are necessary to prepare a Vulcan female to receive her mate. In the case of the lieutenant, the bond seems only to have activated her Klingon mating drives. She is now under the influence of her own unique version of the pon farr.”

“So,” Tom asked, still afraid to find out the answers to the twenty questions now rolling around in his mind, “B’Elanna has this, um, chemical imbalance now? And that’s what’s making her do these things?”

“Apparently,” Tuvok agreed. “Her symptoms defy any other logical explanation.”

Well, he had a point. Of course, the biggest question was still unanswered. “So, is there a cure? Will she be okay?”

Tuvok took a deep breath before he continued. “Short of some treatment the doctor may devise, there is only one way to resolve the pon farr in a Vulcan female, and that is for her to complete the act. To…take a mate.”

Tom’s head was officially spinning now. The thought of a sex-crazed Klingon woman prowling the corridors of the ship might have seemed funny if it weren’t so infuriating. And if the woman weren’t B’Elanna. “What now?” he finally asked. “What happens when we find her?”

“She will have periods of lucidity interspersed with increasingly irrational, hostile and possibly sexually aggressive behavior. Usually the symptoms begin to emerge over a period of weeks or even months. Lieutenant Torres is not Vulcan, however. And it seems that she has already begun to feel the effects after only a few hours. Considering her Klingon physiology, the imbalance could progress to its final stages in only a few days. It is difficult to estimate how soon her condition will become life-threatening.”

“Life-threatening?” What the hell did that mean, Tom wondered. “You mean, she could die from this?”

“Yes,” Tuvok’s answer was quick and unequivocal.

“And you’ve gone through it every seven years of your adult life?” Tom marveled. He had trouble picturing the stoic security chief in the middle of a runaway mating urge.

“You only need to be concerned with Lieutenant Torres’ situation,” the man scolded. A distraction for which Tom was actually quite grateful.

“Right…” he said, happy for a change of mental image, and anxious to finally get on with their search for B’Elanna. He activated his tricorder and hoped—one more time—that she’d miraculously appear on its readout. “Well, it looks like finding her won’t be easy. Scanning range is limited to about twenty meters, and even that’s not too reliable.”

Chakotay had moved back to join them. “You said she was going after the gallicite,” he reminded Tom. “So, we’ll do the same and hope it leads us to her.”

“I’m ready to go, Commander,” Neelix called to them. He was finally strapped into his harness, and Paris could just make out the two officers—Mike Ayala and Sam Wildman—who were standing at the top of the steep cliff waiting to help his friend back to Voyager. He wondered, as he watched them waiting for their signal, if they’d been able to hear any of his conversation with Tuvok through the echoing cavern. Damn, he hoped not.

Chakotay tugged on the rope, then helped support the injured man’s weight until he was out of reach above them. Then he secured his pack and led Tom and Tuvok off in search of their target: a petite engineer with raging Klingon hormones. “Let’s go,” he said with determination.

‘Finally,’ Tom thought. He couldn’t help but wonder, though, exactly who it was they would find when they located the woman they now searched for.

As they walked down the passageway where B’Elanna had disappeared almost an hour earlier, Paris thought about how strange this day had turned out. How everything he’d known to be true was turned on its head. Vorik—emotionless Vorik—had been chasing after B’Elanna, for months it seemed clear. And B’Elanna, who’d done everything except tattoo ‘go away’ on her forehead, had bitten him in what he now knew was a kind of hormonally-induced foreplay. Not to mention that this woman who hated the more volatile side of her nature was now a full-fledged, grunting Klingon. None of this made sense.

Still, when driven by some uncontrollable instinct to choose a mate, she’d chosen him. Now, deep inside him, a door that had been slammed shut again and again slowly reopened. And, despite himself and the months of rejection he had faced at her hands, Tom realized he once again felt the tiniest germ of hope.

~*~*~*~*

Sandrine’s was packed to the doors, as it always was on a Friday night. And, as always, the Maquis were gathered on one side, the Starfleet crew on the other. Her table was the only one to bridge the gulf. Though why she’d agreed to let Harry drag her here was a mystery. All she really wanted was to get something to eat and crawl into bed.

As they sat there waiting for their food to come, she saw him, leaning against the bar drinking a beer. He was talking to a Klingon woman—which struck her as strange for some reason. She thought she was the only Klingon on board. But, while he talked to this woman, he was staring at her. Staring and smiling. Like he knew some secret about her that even she didn’t know. It made her uncomfortable.

They’d been trapped in the Delta Quadrant for over three months. Three months of trying as hard as she could to focus on her work, to keep her mouth shut, and to fit in—which was tough enough with her damn temper. Starfleet didn’t take kindly to malcontents. It was one big, happy hierarchy, she knew, where discipline and the chain of command ruled.

Of course, he was totally undisciplined. Even his hair didn’t seem to want to take orders, sticking out in every direction if not forcibly tamed. Not to mention the wicked look in his eyes, or the way he would flirt with her—in front of everyone—no matter what the occasion. He’d done it before, too, back in the Maquis. Back when misfits were in the majority, and no one seemed to notice if two crew members hooked up for some mutual comfort and entertainment every now and then. Hell, Chakotay had been screwing a junior engineer, and no one thought anything of it.

Not that she’d done anything. Not with him. Not with anyone. Not since Max. Not that she hadn’t thought about it.

But they were Maquis then. Now, they were Starfleet—both of them. Though, honestly, even back on the Liberty, he’d always looked Starfleet. His hair might have been scruffy and he usually needed a shave, but he had that Fleet posture. Kept calling his cabin his quarters. Seemed a little uneasy about the way they had to steal their supplies. No, he’d led a pampered life, and she remembered wondering how and when this future admiral had fallen from grace.

Now, here they were: trapped together on a tiny ship halfway across the galaxy from any home they’d ever known. He wasn’t a traitor/prisoner. She wasn’t a spitfire rebel freedom fighter. They were senior Starfleet officers. Department heads, with responsibilities and duties and obligations.

Yet after three months she still felt like an imposter. She wondered if he did, too.

Before she knew it, he was walking toward her. “Shoot some pool with me.” It wasn’t a request.

‘Go to hell,’ she thought. “Alright,” she heard herself say, as she followed him over to the table. Almost instantly there was a pool cue in her hand, though she couldn’t remember how it got there.

She stood behind him as he leaned over and lined up the ball in his sights. She knew she should be following his breaking shot, but found herself watching his uniform stretch around his ass instead. It was a much nicer view. She felt her pulse pick up a beat.

The crowded room made for close quarters, and he brushed up against her as he moved to take another shot. Her skin was tingling where their bodies had met and she couldn’t seem to get the scent of him out of her nose.

She watched as he sank shot after shot, each time looking up at her as if to say, ‘Watch me do it again.’ But she didn’t care. Tonight, he could clear the table if he wanted. She wasn’t interested in the least in their game. Well, not this game.

As they stood in the middle of his damn holographic bar, all she could think of was how much electricity was passing between them. Not just tonight, but ever since she’d first seen him. Even when they fought—which was most of the time—she could feel the challenge he was extending. To punch him. Or kiss him. Her choice.

Tonight, her thoughts ran toward kissing him. Kissing him hard enough to wipe that stupid little smirk off of his face. She’d break his damn cue across her knee and chase him around the room with the pieces. Then, she’d pin that scrawny little ass to the pool table and claim him right there before she ground his groin into next Tuesday….

Before she could stop herself, she closed the distance between them and stood behind him as he lined up his last shot. One more ball in one more pocket and he’d have won without giving her so much as a chance. But he wouldn’t win. Not at the game she was playing.

She reached out her hand, and drew her fingers slowly up his inner thigh just as he extended his arm to shoot. She expected him to jump, to miss his mark, but he didn’t even flinch. Instead, she watched as the last ball rolled quickly across the table and disappeared.

She hoped he’d at least look shocked. But instead he turned to her and smiled. “choqaD’a’?”

She shook her head for a moment. What did he say?

“SoH jatlh jIH ta’”

She only knew a few words and phrases, but she got his meaning. Something about accepting her challenge. Was he mocking her? And where in the hell had he learned to speak Klingoneese? She wasn’t amused. ‘If you think that’s supposed to be funny…’ she thought.

“HighoS,” she said instead. “Come here…”

Before she knew it, she was sitting on the edge of the pool table, tossing her cue onto the floor and pulling him toward her. The room was full of people, but she didn’t care. She knew, if given the chance, she would take him right there. He was on her in an instant, his body pressed against hers.

Still, some lingering part of her brain told her that this was wrong. That she barely knew him.

Suddenly, a series of images and sensations flashed through her mind in quick succession: seeing him smile at her over a meal in the mess hall, the smell of the salt air as they sat together on a beach looking up at the stars, the taste of ice cream and the expression in his eyes as she flicked some onto his vest, the heat of a summer sunset on her face as they ate dinner on a sailboat, the sound of music playing as they watched the harbor lights from the deck of a wooden sailing ship…her mind was overloaded with proof that he did know her. That they weren’t strangers. Still, though, it was a jumble and she couldn’t make sense of it.

While her brain struggled to understand how all of this was possible, she felt his weight press against her as he leaned over and begin to drag his tongue along her face. Without making a conscious decision, she turned her head and exposed her jaw. Almost instantly she felt the sting of pain as he sunk his teeth into her skin.

“My blood,” he whispered into her ear before running his tongue over her wound. Was he speaking in Klingon? Standard? She couldn’t tell anymore.

My god—he’d done it. He’d claimed her. The sensation was invigorating, and she felt her heart pounding its reply. Then, her eyes still closed in ecstasy, she found his face with her hand and turned his head to the side. In one quick movement, she bit into his cheek and made her own claim.

“Our blood,” she continued the ritual.

When she opened her eyes, the bar was gone. They were in a dark, cold cave, and Tom was standing there, holding his hand to his bloody face. “B’Elanna!” he was yelling at her. “What is wrong with you?!”

~~*~~

She woke up with a start, and it took her a few moments to place her surroundings. She was sitting on a stone, her back resting against the freezing wall of some kind of cave. As her head started to clear, she remembered that she was on an away mission. Looking for…some kind of mineral…what was it? Her confusion was unnerving, yet she was too tired to be afraid. It was everything she could do just to force her eyelids apart. Why couldn’t she stay awake?

And why had they sent her on this survey alone? Why didn’t she have an away team to help her find this stupid…gallicite! She was looking for gallicite. Not that she needed any help, though. This was her mission, her gallicite, to fix her warp coils. She didn’t need anyone; she could handle this on her own.

Yet, she wished Tom were with her. He knew how important this mission was to her, how much her engines meant to her. Tom would understand how much she needed to keep going after…after…

Something, on the edge of her memory. But she couldn’t place it. Then she licked her parched lips and tasted him, a hint of his blood on her mouth. It stirred something inside of her, something that made her body ache for him. Something…chemical.

She wished that she could remember how and when they had laid their claim. Why couldn’t she remember? Yet she knew, as surely as she knew her own name, that he was hers. Her loDnal. Her mate.

At least he would be, as soon as she could take him. Something had stopped her, she remembered. Something had gotten in her way before she could pull him to her, before she could seal their bond. But soon. Soon she’d know the feeling of his skin against hers. And then he would be hers for life.

She stood up and steadied herself against the wall. As strong as her desire to see Tom was her need to complete her mission. She found her tricorder in the dirt at her feet and turned it on. Gallicite. She was looking for gallicite…

After walking in circles for what felt like hours—never getting any closer to the mineral deposits that were clearly registering on her tricorder—B’Elanna considered stopping for a while to get her bearings. But something told her she was close. That she should keep going. She forced her feet to keep moving.

A shaft of light caught her eye and drew her off in a new direction. Water…droplets of water were raining down ahead of her from an underground spring. She stopped scanning and reached out her arms, catching some of the cool liquid in her cupped fingers. After taking a drink, she dragged her wet hands across her face and felt the drops begin to evaporate off of her warm skin. Why one part of this cavern was so hot and another so cold made no sense to her. Once again, though, she could feel her uniform begin to stick to her damp skin. She took another long drink before finally moving on.

She pulled out her tricorder and took another reading. There! Less than ten meters ahead of her. Gallicite.

B’Elanna felt her way along the cave wall, slipping several times on the loose stones under her feet. She hadn’t been this way before, she realized. This was it…

She could see a shaft of light, another spring slowly dripping water onto the rocks below. She aimed her wristlight toward the opening, before seeing a large, cavernous chamber ahead and to her right. She could see a shaft of sunlight play across the middle of the cavern, belying the depth of the cave and their distance from the planet’s surface. She should explore it she thought—later.

Her tricorder readings were dancing off the scale now, yet something was still wrong. Tucking the scanner back into her belt, Torres reached out with her bare hands to clear the narrow ledge before her. Buried under a layer of carefully-stacked stones ran an illuminated raceway. A pulsing, glowing energy conduit, which was completely shielded in…gallicite. Her heart leapt at her discovery.

Before she could let herself celebrate, she heard the rumble of rocks along the path she’d just traveled. Someone was coming. Finding a large stone to wield in her defense, she stepped back toward the wall and waited for the intruders to find her.

In a second, though, she caught his scent, and dropped the rock to the ground.

“B’Elanna…” he called her name. It sounded like music, and she wondered where he’d come from. Not that it mattered. He was here now, at the site of her glorious victory.

“Tom!” she called his name as she ran to him, taking his hands in hers. They felt cool and soft, and she wanted to fall into them, to feel them dancing across her skin. But first he needed to know what she’d found. “Come here,” she said as she pulled him with her. “You’ve got to see this!”

“How are you feeling, Lieutenant?”

‘Oh,’ she thought in passing. ‘Tuvok.’ She didn’t remember him being along on this mission.

“Fine,” she said, wondered what kind of question that was. B’Elanna turned her attention back to Tom as she leaned in close to him. “This is an active power system,” she said, thrilled beyond words that he was here to share in her discovery, and knowing that he would understand what this meant to her. “It must have been built by the colonists.”

His eyes were hard to read in the dim glow of the cavern. He was standing in a shaft of light from above, though, and—in the dark caves—it reflected off of his silver uniform, illuminating his body as if it were on display. He was sweating, too, she realized as his scent wafted over her. She wanted to kiss him, to push him to the ground and finish what they’d started in celebration of her victory. She needed to bask for a moment in the thrill of a successful mission.

She heard a voice, then…Chakotay? She had trouble making out what he was saying. “…send somebody down…study it more closely,” she thought she heard him say. “Right now, we’ve got to get you back to the ship.”

Back to the ship? Was he crazy? “No, no…this is my discovery. It’s my mission.” Why had all the men in her life gotten so stupid so suddenly? Why didn’t they realize what she had done? “You don’t understand,” she tried to explain as she walked along, her hands caressing her find. “This is the source of the gallicite readings! These conduits are covered in gallicite plating. It’s exactly what we need, and I found it!”

Tuvok moved toward her, and B’Elanna felt herself taking slow steps back toward Tom. She wondered why he still hadn’t said anything. Why hadn’t he congratulated her? Kissed her… “Yes, Lieutenant,” she heard the Vulcan drone on. “You have succeeded in your mission. Now you must tend to yourself. You are experiencing a condition known as pon farr.”

She looked up at Tom then back to Tuvok. What did he say? “Pon…what?”

“Your emotional balance has been disrupted. You many not be in control of your more…aggressive instincts.” That was ridiculous! Hadn’t she been sent here to find the damn gallicite? Hadn’t she done what she’d been instructed to do? This was all some stupid misunderstanding. It had to be.

Sure, she had a vague memory of yelling at someone. Someone…Neelix. Where was Neelix? But yelling didn’t mean anything. They were overreacting. Why were people always overreacting to her, treating her like some out-of-control animal when she got the least bit upset? “I lost my temper for a minute, that’s all,” she reassured them. ‘Tell them, Tom,’ she thought as she turned to him.

Just then, Paris turned his head, and the light from above revealed a wound on the side of his face. He was…wait. Not a wound. A mark. Someone had marked him! Someone had claimed the man she… No. Not someone else. She licked her lips and tasted his blood on her teeth. Why couldn’t she remember? And why was he suddenly looking at her as if he was afraid to be near her? “Why are you all staring at me like that?” she finally asked, backing away.

Tuvok moved toward her. “Please, come back with us to the ship,” she heard him say.

But there was no way she’d let him near her. And why wouldn’t Tom say something to defend her honor? “Just leave me alone,” she said to them. To all of them. She desperately wanted to be left alone…

~~

Tom was standing there watching B’Elanna, wondering how he could have spent over an hour in her company that morning without realizing something was seriously wrong. He didn’t know this woman. She was defensive—bordering on paranoid. And she was pacing the chamber like a panther.

The way she’d greeted him, though: taking his hands in hers and pulling him along like her long-lost lover, the look in her eyes, as she held onto his hands…she was almost coquettish—practically daring him to kiss her, he thought. This was all so confusing.

He wanted to reach out to her, to tell her that she was ill and not being rational, but somehow he wasn’t sure it was his place. At the moment, they were first and foremost junior officers on an away mission gone wrong. Their personal relationship—whatever it was—had already complicated their situation. And he didn’t want to risk her reaction in front of Chakotay and Tuvok. He had no way to know what she’d do or say.

So he just stood there, helpless, wondering how the hell this had happened.

Suddenly, the wall behind them began to move, and—from the corner of his eye—Tom thought the ledge was crumbling down onto them. He was stunned, then, to realize that what he’d thought was rock was the carefully camouflaged clothing of some sort of alien. An armed alien who’d shown up from out of nowhere. Then a second man appeared on the outcropping just above them.

“Who are you?” he heard from behind his first officer. Tom turned to see a third pale, gaunt man—his skin and clothing the same dull gray of the surrounding caves—brandishing a rifle and looking more than a little angry to find them there. He wondered if the men had just appeared or if they’d been in the cavern the whole time, masking their presence by blending into the scenery—if you could call their monochromatic surroundings scenery. He was also grateful, in that moment, for the universal translators built into their commbadges. “What do you want?” the alien demanded.

“My name is Chakotay,” the commander said evenly. Tom wondered how the man could sound so calm after just being startled by men their tricorders said didn’t exist. But the first officer’s tone was placid and sincere. Paris hoped the translator conveyed the nuance as well as the words. “I assure you we have no hostile intent.”

The alien, who Tom assumed to be the leader since he spoke for the others, didn’t seem convinced. He realized instantly what was making the man nervous: Voyager’s out of control chief engineer who was clearly unable to rein in her own anxiety. “She does,” the man said, waving his weapon in Torres’s direction.

Tom reached out his hand to try and pull her toward him, but she was too far away. Chakotay noticed her incessant pacing and tried to get her to calm down. “B’Elanna, please!”

As Tuvok tried to explain that B’Elanna was ill—though not contagious—Tom watched her from the corner of his eye. She looked scared. But her fear was making her aggressive and her body language reeked of hostility. And she was still pacing. One wrong move, he knew, and she could get them all killed. He wished she’d just stand still until Chakotay could explain. And, even though he knew deep down that she couldn’t help the way she was acting, Tom felt himself getting angry at her. He didn’t have time to figure out why. But he knew they needed to get her out of there before her condition made her do something stupid.

“We’d be glad to take her and leave your territory,” Chakotay offered, clearly thinking the same thing.

There was no sign that Starfleet ‘first contact diplomacy’ was working, though. “Not before you tell me why you came here,” the alien said, clearly less than convinced.

While Chakotay explained the reasons for their mission, Tom tried to split his attention between the three men with rifles and the agitated woman standing behind him. And he wondered, for a second, if any of them would get out of this with their lives, much less the stupid gallicite.

Their inquisitor’s curiosity had turned to their weapons, he noticed. Chakotay tried to explain that their phasers were a regular precaution when exploring an unknown planet.

“Let me see one,” their interrogator demanded, holding his hand out for the first officer’s sidearm. What choice did they have? They were clearly outgunned. In an attempt to be as forthcoming as he had tried to sound, Chakotay slowly unholstered his phaser and handed it to the man. Tom could see how nervous this made B’Elanna, and he and Tuvok both reached out to keep her from interfering. She evaded their grip, but stopped her threatening advance.

Her movement caught the alien’s attention, however, and he looked right at Tom. “And what is that?” he asked, pointing to the box at Paris’s belt. “Some sort of scanning device?”

“Yes,” he answered, trying to match Chakotay’s calming tone. “It’s called a tricorder.”

Something, some subtle shift in the alien’s voice made Tom think that maybe he was starting to believe them. “But it didn’t detect any lifeforms here?” he asked, almost as if he knew the answer.

“No,” Tom confirmed honestly and with more than a little confusion. “It didn’t.”

The man stood there for a moment, looking from face to face as if to gauge their honesty by their expressions. After a few seconds, he reached out and handed the phaser back to Chakotay.

Just as it seemed as if they were making some progress in diplomacy, though, a loud beeping noise interrupted their conversation.

“What’s that?!” B’Elanna asked, as she looked around for the source of the sound.

“Seismic alert,” the leader answered, gesturing to the rocks behind where Tom and B’Elanna now stood. “That wall is unstable. Be careful.”

Tom could feel a slight rumble under his feet, and he watched as the other aliens, Tuvok, and Chakotay began to back away from the ledge. B’Elanna was just standing there, though, staring at the trembling wall, and he realized he should probably try to snap her out of it and get her to safety.

Before he could take a step toward her, however, the alien who had first appeared above them jumped down to the cavern floor and approached her from behind.

“Watch out!” the man said as he put his hand on her shoulder, trying to move her out of danger.

Tom knew what would happen before he watched it play out, and—as he expected—B’Elanna misinterpreted the man’s intentions as some kind of attack. She spun around and grabbed his rifle and struggled to wrestle it out of his hands. Tom also caught a glimpse of Tuvok drawing his hand phaser and firing. But nothing happened. Their weapons were dead.

Tom realized then that he had to do something. He had to stop Torres from beating the alien to a bloody pulp—before she got herself and the rest of them killed.

“B’Elanna, don’t!” he called out to her as he grabbed her from behind and tried to force her off of the man she was fighting with. He was amazed, though, at how—even pulling with all of his might—he wasn’t able to break her grip. She was stronger than he’d realized. And he was getting nowhere.

Just then Tom felt grains of sand fall onto his face, and he looked up in time to see a piece of the cavern ceiling break loose. It was heading right for them.

With all of his strength, he pushed into B’Elanna’s back, knocking her a meter or so forward and out of danger. With no time to follow her, Paris turned and dove in the opposite direction, narrowly avoiding the boulders showering down around him.

He rolled over just in time to see a shapely silver blur wrest the gun out of the alien man’s hands, knock him onto the ground, and turn around to fire.

“B’Elanna!” he yelled out to her, terrified of what the men would do to her if she attacked them with their own weapon.

He thought he heard something in that instant and—fearing that someone would attempt to subdue her violently—Tom rolled on his side to see what it was. But there was nothing there.

When he turned back a second later, the three aliens, Chakotay, and Tuvok were all gone. Vanished into the darkness as if they’d never been there at all.

Thankfully, B’Elanna was still there, though she was brandishing the alien weapon wildly as she searched the now-deserted cave. Tom got to his feet and looked for some clue about what had just happened. It made no sense. One second they were surrounded by the aliens and their shipmates. Now they were alone. Yet another weird moment in an already weird day.

He looked over at B’Elanna, and struggled to know what to say. He was angry at her—furious that she’d almost gotten herself killed by attacking an armed man who’d only wanted to help her. Intellectually, he knew she couldn’t control the way she was behaving, but she was being reckless. His own frustration was rising as he realized that she could have died over a stupid misunderstanding.

Tom watched as she paced around the cavern. “There must be a hidden door—some kind of a passageway,” she said. He noticed that she’d unfastened the neck of her uniform and was running her hand across the skin of her shoulder as she paced.

He wanted to stop and see if she was hurt, but his concern and his anger couldn’t agree on what to do. Instead, he pulled out his tricorder and scanned the room. Maybe he could find some evidence of an escape route, as she’d suggested. But a quick check revealed nothing. “I’m not picking up anything like that,” he told her. “Or any lifesigns.”

“Then you’re using it wrong!” she said as she ripped the device from his hands.

“Yeah, that must be it,” he said as he grabbed it back from her. “Or else these aliens are generating some kind of interference so we can’t detect them.” His anger was building up now as he compiled a mental list of all the things that had gone wrong so far this day. He was getting furious at B’Elanna for reasons he couldn’t understand or explain. Her behavior could be written off as some weird Vulcan mind meld. So what justified his own out-of-control frustration?

Tom didn’t know and didn’t have time to find out. The only thing he was sure of was that he wanted off this rock. Now.

He heard a noise and turned around to see B’Elanna ripping open her climbing uniform and pulling her arms out of the sleeves. Instead of following him, she was sitting down. “We have to get out of here before they come back,” he said to try to keep her focused.

“We can’t leave Chakotay and Tuvok,” she mumbled, clearly ignoring his suggestion that they keep moving.

It was the last straw. “If you have any ideas how to find them, I’m listening!” Tom barked at her. He waited for her angry response. What he got, instead, was a look of exhaustion and fear. There was a different face looking up at him. The Klingon warrior was gone. He was looking at B’Elanna now. A drained, confused version of the woman he knew. Bathed in a diffused light filtering down from the surface, she looked fragile. And beautiful.

In an instant, he felt the fury drain out of him, replaced by…replaced by an overwhelming need to protect her. She was sick, he reminded himself. She couldn’t help what had happened to her.

Tom walked over and crouched at her feet, gently reaching out his hand to hold onto her arm. “We’ve got to get back to the ship and get some help,” he said softly. “For them…and for you.”

Her skin was like fire, he realized. Yet she seemed to be shivering. “Why does everybody keep saying there’s something wrong with me?” She was barely whispering, and he wondered how he would ever get her all the way back to the surface by himself.

“I’ll try to explain it to you,” he said reassuringly. “But we’ve got to get moving.”

She nodded, and reached for her backpack and the rifle. Then they began the slow process of retracing their steps toward the surface.

They’d walked in silence for about twenty minutes when B’Elanna stopped and leaned against the wall. “Tom,” she called to him. “What’s happening to me?”

He turned around, the beam of his wrist lamp illuminating her face in the darkness. She looked tired, but she looked like herself. The wild expression was gone from her eyes and she didn’t seem sick. Just confused. And maybe a little afraid.

He backtracked until he was standing in front of her. “Tuvok says it’s called pon farr,” he explained gently, wondering how he’d ever get the courage to tell her everything he now knew about the condition and what it meant. “It’s a kind of chemical imbalance in your brain.”

“I don’t understand,” she said. “I was fine. How…?”

“Vorik.” Tom almost spat the name at her. “B’Elanna, it’s not a disease. It’s a…thing Vulcan men go through. Vorik had it. And he, um, gave it to you.”

He could see her searching her mind, trying to piece together what he was saying. She was shaking her head, though, as if she couldn’t remember. “We were working together in engineering last night. Planning the away mission. But I don’t…”

Even though he was anxious to hear her take on what had happened, Tom wasn’t sure it was a good idea to remind her of the attack. But she seemed lucid at the moment. Maybe understanding what was happening to her would help her fight through it until they could get her back to the ship and to the Doctor. “Do you remember Vorik touching you?” he said awkwardly, barely able to contain the emotions the image brought to his own mind. “Putting his hands on your face?”

She closed her eyes, then gasped, before nodding almost imperceptibly. “I could hear him inside my head,” she said slowly. “Talking to me in Vulcan. It was so strange…”

Tom knew what she meant. He’d undergone a Vulcan mind meld just a few months after coming aboard Voyager. Tuvok had gone into his memories to help prove Tom’s innocence after he was accused of murdering a Banean scientist. The sensation was strange. Like thinking two different sets of thoughts. As if he were both himself and Tuvok, all at the same time. But, during the meld, he’d been aware of the barriers the Vulcan security chief was using to separate their minds. The discipline involved was palpable. Tom could only imagine what having an out of control telepath wandering through your psyche might be like.

And it made him all the more furious at Vorik for having done this to B’Elanna.

Yet he had to say the words he struggled to believe himself. “Vorik couldn’t help it,” he forced himself to tell her. “But you fought him off. Not before he was able to trigger something inside of you, though.”

She still looked confused. “Trigger what? And what the hell am I supposed to do to get it out of me?”

This was the hard part. Tom took a deep breath before he continued. “Well, you’ve been aggressive, and sort of hostile. And it’s gonna get worse if we don’t find a way to treat you.”

She really looked frightened now. “You mean, there’s no cure for this?! That I’m just going to go crazy and you won’t be able to stop it?!” She was getting a little wild-eyed, and he was afraid for a moment that she was losing her tenuous grip on her control.

“No,” he said in as soothing a voice as he could muster. “Remember, I told you, it’s not a disease. It’s, um…well, it’s a sexual thing. A kind of mating urge. So, you don’t need a cure, really. You, um, just need…”

“To have sex?” she said incredulously. “With Vorik? Over my dead body.” Tom had never seen her eyes open so wide. And he wished she’d found a better choice of words to express her disgust. He wasn’t at all, sorry, however, that she found the concept unthinkable.

“Actually, it doesn’t have to be Vorik…” he said, trying not to sound like he was suggesting another solution. The inference wasn’t lost on B’Elanna, however.

“Oh,” she said evenly. “You’re joking, right?”

Despite himself, Tom laughed. He pictured himself in her position and wondered if he’d believe him either. “Look, it’s not going to get that far,” he tried to reassure her. “This only happened last night. Tuvok says it could take days or weeks, even, before it gets…” He stopped himself from saying the words ‘life threatening.’ She was scared enough as it was, he knew. No reason to make it worse by making her afraid she might die. Especially since it would never get that far. “Well, before it gets really bad,” he finished his thought.

She was staring at him now, with a strange look in her eyes. “You’re making this up,” she said after a moment. “You and Harry, you’re trying to…”

“B’Elanna,” he said as he reached out and put his hand on her shoulder. “I’m telling you the truth. It’s no joke. You’ve got to trust me.”

He saw her flinch when he touched her, but her eyes softened almost immediately. “I do trust you,” she said, reaching up to hold his wrist in her hand. They stood there for a few seconds, as Tom let himself enjoy seeing the real B’Elanna—the woman he knew—for the first time all day.

“Can you keep moving?” he asked after a moment. She’s been letting the cave wall hold her weight and he wasn’t sure if she had it in her to continue.

She nodded. “I’m fine,” she said, the color coming back into her face. “I think I just needed a rest.”

She pushed herself off the wall and readjusted her pack before leading the way down the tunnel.

As Tom watched her go, he wondered how he could have been so mad at her less than an hour earlier. Part of him knew the answer. If she’d only kept her distance from Vorik, none of this would have happened. And the reason she’d been spending so much time with the Vulcan, Tom had come to believe, was to keep him at arm’s length. To telegraph with her behavior what she’d been afraid to come right out and say: that he’d been putting their friendship at risk by pushing for more.

She could have just told him, been honest with him, and maybe none of this would have happened.

Then she’d spent the morning sending him signals, looking at him in ways that made him wonder… And if what Neelix and Chakotay had said about her biting him was true, then…

Dammit! Why did he always do this to himself? Take every word, every nuance of her behavior and try and twist it into proof that she shared his feelings?! Isn’t that what got them into this mess in the first place?

No, it wasn’t B’Elanna’s fault. It was his. It occurred to him, then, that he wasn’t angry with her. He’d never really been angry with her. He was just scared to death that she’d get herself killed. And he was mad at himself—for letting his own lack of self-control get her into this stupid situation to begin with.

‘Damn!’ he thought as he picked up his pace to catch up with her. And he promised himself in that moment that he would never make that mistake again.

~~

As they walked along, B’Elanna couldn’t stop herself from replaying Tom’s words over and over in her mind. She had trouble believing she could have gotten some Vulcan imbalance from having Vorik touch her face for a few seconds. Sure, she knew she’d been a little out of it all morning, but she hadn’t gotten much sleep the night before. So her memory was fuzzy and she was a little irritable. The last few weeks had been hard—trying to patch together a damaged ship without the right parts or materials. So she’d gotten a little overanxious about this mission. Why was that so wrong?

And, while she had to admit that she was feeling like her body was in sexual overdrive, it was hardly the first time. If she were honest with herself, she’d have to admit that it happened regularly—whenever she got too close to Tom Paris.

She’d been fantasizing about him for over a year, now, dreaming of kissing him, feeling his hands on her, of telling him how much she wanted him and hearing the same thing in return. And they’d even come to a kind of secret agreement, she knew, that soon—as soon as one of them got the guts—they’d take their flirtation to the next level. Sure things had been rocky between them. She’d run away from him and from her feelings more times than she’d like to admit. But that was before.

Now, she was almost ready, she knew. Almost.

But her feelings for Tom had nothing to do with Vorik and his stupid imbalance. It was ridiculous for anyone to think so. No, she was just tired and a little on edge, and they’d mistaken her exhaustion and bad mood for this, this…whatever it was.

B’Elanna hated that any time she got a little hot under the collar or a little angry, people treated her like a wild Klingon beast, as if she were some animal that had to be reined in. They would shy away from her, or tell her she was being unprofessional, or look at her without saying the things she knew they were feeling inside. But not Tom. Tom would fight right back. He’d get just as angry as she would, sometimes. Yell right to her face. He didn’t treat her like she was some kind of freak.

Yet he seemed to believe this insane story about her and this chemical imbalance. Just thinking about it was making her angry, and her pace quickened to match her pulse. She was now in the lead as they worked their way toward the surface. “Tuvok must be wrong about this ‘pon farr’ business,” she finally blurted out as they walked. “It doesn’t make any sense.”

Tom didn’t seem to agree. “It does explain how you’ve been acting,” he said as he tried to keep up.

They came to a fork in the passageway and Torres tried to figure out the best direction to choose. Her head was starting to swim again, and she felt her stomachs growl in hunger. It was so damn easy to get lost in these tunnels.

“I don’t see what’s so strange,” she said as she stopped to try and figure out their next steps.

It only took Tom a second to catch up with her, and she turned to look at him as he spoke. “How about starting a fight with a group of armed aliens, shouting at Neelix…” he paused for a fraction of a second and turned his face toward her. “Giving me this…” He reached up and touched his chin, and she could see a crescent-shaped wound on the base of his jaw.

In a flash it came back to her: wanting him so badly she could scream, grabbing his cheek and turning him toward her, sinking her teeth into the soft flesh of his face. Along with the memory came the taste of his blood, the way it had made her entire body tingle as she’d licked her lips. The sensation, like the memory, was overwhelming, and she felt an urge to run away from him as fast as she could.

She couldn’t look him in the eye, yet he kept talking, kept trying to get her to face what she’d done. “If I remember my Klingon customs,” he said, almost taunting her, “biting someone on the face means…”

“I know what it means!” she said as she threw her arm up between them. My god, she’d claimed him! She’d never even gotten the courage to tell him she was interested in him, cared about him…wanted him. And here she’d marked him in some disgusting, antiquated—Klingon—way. And yet even as she moved away from him, she could hear herself grunting like some animal.

Maybe something was wrong.

She got as far from him as she could, then leaned against the wall to get her bearings. “All right. So, maybe I do feel something,” she had to admit. “Some kind of instinct. What am I supposed to do about it?” Her heart was racing wildly and she could tell she was losing her grip on her self-control. And she couldn’t catch her breath.

Tom was quiet for a moment as he moved toward her. Though her mind pleaded with him to stay away, she couldn’t make her mouth say the words. When he was finally next to her, he reached up again and touched her injured arm, gently stroking his thumb against her skin. His touch made her tingle from her toes to the ends of her hair. It was like being electrocuted one amp at a time.

“When we get back to the ship, the doctor should be able to help,” he said softly. His breathing was heavier, too, she noticed, and he seemed to explore her body with his eyes. She saw it, then: that patented Paris look. A kind of defiant smile he must know was torture to her. “Or…there’s always Vorik…” He was teasing her. Trying to get her to fight with him.

But she didn’t want to fight. Well, she did. But not about Vorik.

“I am not helping that Vulcan p’tak,” she cried as she forced herself off of the wall and away from the smell and sight of this man who was making her pulse pound. Yet his little game had worked. Images of Vorik were now filling her mind, and she was taken over by a different kind of instinct. The instinct to find the little bastard who had done this to her and to beat the life out of him. The only way she’d be helping him was with a phaser. Or a bat’leth to the gut. “The idea of…bonding…with him. It’s ludicrous.”

B’Elanna stormed off down the dark passage to their right and dared Tom to keep up with her. But she kept picturing Vorik, his hands extended, reaching out to touch her. This was all his fault! He’d turned her into some sort of Klingon beast. She hoped she’d keep the fury raging inside her just long enough to twist his little head off.

They’d walked for minute after minute with no sign of a way out. Yet she was sure, somehow, that this was how she’d come. The patterns in the stone looked familiar, and, when she shone her handlight onto the ground before her, she could see footprints in the opposite direction. The prints of Starfleet all-terrain boots. No, they were definitely going the right way.

‘Focus,’ she said to herself as she practically ran forward. ‘Focus on getting the hell out of here.’

She followed the bend of the tunnel—Tom’s panting ringing in her ears as he struggled to match her pace—when her stride almost carried her into a wall of boulders. But this was impossible! The path had been clear when she’d come through that morning. “What’s this?” she grunted, trying to contain her annoyance.

Tom was right behind her now and could see the obstruction for himself. “The tremor must have shaken the rocks loose,” he said as he tried to catch his breath.

She didn’t care. She knew that if they didn’t keep moving, didn’t keep working their way to the surface, that she couldn’t be responsible for what she might do. “Well, they’re in the way,” she growled, then brought the rifle up and took aim at the blockage in front of them.

“Hold it!” Before she knew what was happening, Tom had grabbed the gun and was trying to wrestle it out of her hands. The angle of his body brought his face into clear view and she could see the anger in his eyes. “We don’t know how stable this tunnel is. An energy blast might bring the rest of it down on our heads!”

Why was he doing this? Didn’t he know what being this close to him was doing to her? How hard she was fighting to stay in control of the boiling blood that was coursing all through her body? How much she needed to get out of there? “Let go!” she grunted as she tried to yank the gun out of his hands.

The tussle only served to bring him closer to her. “No,” he said, his lips only centimeters from her own, his breath warming her face. “I think I should keep this.”

All she would have to do was lean in and she’d be kissing him. Kissing him. Tasting him…

No! She couldn’t do this. If she let herself go, she’d never stop. Instead, she pulled back as hard as she could, making one last attempt to get him to let go of the rifle. The momentum only served to spin them around, making her even dizzier. She could hear Tom grunting as he tried to keep a tight grip on the barrel, his other arm pressing up against her chest. Their wrestling and the sound of his heavy breathing were starting to intoxicate her, and she found it hard to keep a grip on the rifle. Or on her passion.

“Never pick a fight with a Klingon, Tom,” she said as he leaned into her. The fiction of his forearm as it rubbed against her chest was making her breasts tingle, and she felt her skin responding to their battle as if to a gentle caress.

“I’m not gonna fight with you, B’Elanna,” he said, practically spitting out the words. Her eyes were fixated on his face, on the mark she’d made there, on his eyes that seemed to burn into hers. She had to do something. Had to end this…

“Afraid I’ll break your arm?” she asked as she put all of her energy into one last tug. “You should be!” Yet he was overpowering her, outthinking her. Before she realized it, he swung his arm up and broke the hold she had on the weapon. Instinctually, she reached out to slap him, but he tucked the rifle under his arm and caught her wrist with both hands.

“B’Elanna, stop it!” He was so close. So close she could feel the heat coming off of his skin. “This isn’t about the gun,” he said as he held her close to him. “This is about sex!” She could see the effort it took him to swallow as he calmed himself down. He felt it, too, she could tell. “But that’s not going to happen right now.”

His words stung her, yet he hadn’t moved. Hadn’t let go of her or taken even a single step away. But he was right. She didn’t care about the gun anymore. She didn’t care if they never got out of the tunnels. She only cared about him. About feeling his hands and lips explore her body. Now. “I think it is,” she groaned as her skin called out to be touched. She couldn’t take it another second, and leaned against him, pushing his face to the side and dragging her teeth across his raw, scarred cheek. “See, I’ve picked up your scent, Tom. I’ve tasted your blood.”

She pushed her hips against his legs and could feel his body responding. He wanted this. Hell, he’d been begging for this for months. Her mouth was alternating kisses and licks against the bite she’d made that morning, trying to reopen the jagged tear in his flesh. To taste him one more time before they became mates.

Then she felt him pull away. He held both of her wrists now, and pivoted his legs to break contact with her hips. “No…” she heard him whisper. “No, I’m your friend. And I have to watch out for you when your judgment’s been impaired.”

My god, that word: her friend. It was like a knife to her heart. She couldn’t have been wrong, she thought, replaying the last eighteen months at rapid speed through her mind. No, he was more than her friend. He wanted her. She searched his eyes for the desire she knew was there. But what she saw was fear. And pity.

He was pulling back from her, and not just physically. “If you let these instincts take over now, you’ll hate yourself,” he said. “And me for taking advantage of you.” He leaned in and let his forehead rest against hers for just a second, and she prayed that he was changing his mind. That he would kiss her just once. But a look crossed his face, then. Resolve. He pushed himself away from her. “I won’t do that.”

My god, what had she done? She watched Tom walk away to the far side of the tunnel and was grateful for a moment that he couldn’t see her in the darkness. She was suddenly confused and embarrassed, and wanted more than anything to be alone.

After a second, he turned, and shone his wristlight on her face. She felt exposed. Naked. “Maybe…maybe we should continue separately,” she said as she struggled to compose herself.

“No!” he insisted, shaking his head as he tried to look in her direction. Damn, she realized, he couldn’t even face her.

After all this time, she’d given in to her feelings for him, and he’d rejected her. Made light of how much she wanted him. Tried to write it off to some ridiculous hormonal imbalance. Maybe she’d been wrong about his feelings. Maybe he didn’t want her. Even so, she wanted—needed—him. “You don’t know,” she said as she tried to hold herself together, “how…strong…how hard it is to fight this…urge.” She was staring at him now. Daring him to look at her.

But he did look at her. And a familiar gleam shone in his eyes. “Are you telling me that I’m impossible to resist?” he teased, daring her to tell the truth: that she couldn’t resist him. That she didn’t want to.

Still, a reflex kicked in and she found herself falling into their normal verbal cat and mouse games. “I wouldn’t go that far,” she said, determined to deflate his ego along with the tension between them.

She almost lost her resolve when she saw him smile. “Good,” he said grinning at her. He bent over, picked up her pack, and threw it at her—hard. B’Elanna reached up to catch it as it smacked her in the chest. Then he took off down the passageway, not bothering to wait for her to follow. “Come on,” he said over his shoulder.

At least they were moving again. But B’Elanna knew that, if pushed to the brink again, she wouldn’t be able to pull herself back. Hoisting her pack over shoulder, she ran to catch up with him, elbowing him out of the way and pushing past him as they retraced their steps.

~~

Tom had heard of all kinds of torture. He’d even experienced a few. But a slow, painful death by being forced to resist a woman he’d been dreaming of touching for so long now…

His mind kept jumping back to that moment when she’d pressed her hips against his crotch, rubbing her body against his as she nibbled and licked at his sore face. Her breasts had been smashed against him, and he couldn’t help but be aroused. Hell, he got aroused watching her stir her coffee. Having her grind her body into his, well, that was the stuff his fantasies had been made of for so long, he was preprogrammed to react.

But he knew he’d done the right thing. B’Elanna wasn’t in her right mind. She didn’t mean the things she’d said and done. Yes, she would have broken his arm. Yes, she would have fucked him right there on the cave floor. But that didn’t mean she really wanted to hurt him. And it didn’t really mean she wanted to sleep with him either.

It was so damn unfair, though. Like showing a starving man a feast he couldn’t eat.

It didn’t help that they were lost, too. After finding their way blocked, they’d gone back down the long tunnel and headed off in a new direction, using their tricorders to keep their bearings. But the damn things were giving false readings. It was impossible to tell if they were heading the right way.

They’d been walking for almost an hour when they came across an underground spring. After scanning the water to make sure it was safe, Tom took out his climbing gloves and dipped them into the shallow pond to make a kind of cup for them to drink from. He filled one, handing it to B’Elanna, then filled the second for himself. He watched as she slid down against the wall and sat on the ground, trying to rest, he hoped. Despite the cool temperature of the caves, she was sweating and their long walk had dehydrated them both. He was glad she was getting some fluids into her system.

Tom was getting hungry, too, but remembered that their lunch had been in Neelix’s backpack. They didn’t even have emergency rations; the mission wasn’t supposed to take them that long.

They hadn’t said much to each other as they walked along. Tom was afraid of what kind of response he might trigger in B’Elanna and, as long as she kept moving, he kept quiet. As they sat across from each other now, he let himself sneak a glance at her face as he tipped his head back to take a drink. She looked tired, and he could see that her breathing was quick and shallow. But she wouldn’t look at him.

Which was probably just as well.

Almost without realizing it, Tom began to feel a rumble underneath him. The tremor was barely noticeable, but it reminded him of how precarious these tunnels were and how many cave-ins they’d already seen. The ceiling above the spring had been worn down by the relentless trickle of water, forming a series of jagged stalactites that looked like they could do a lot of damage if they came crashing down.

“We should keep moving,” Paris said as he stood up. He held out his hand to pull B’Elanna up, but she shook her head and pushed herself off the floor without his help.

Before, she’d been charging along ahead of him, blazing a trail it was hard to keep up with. Now, though, she was feeling her way along the walls, barely able to hold herself up. And she was gasping for air.

His tricorder showed the intersection of three different tunnels just ahead. If they could get there, they could take some readings that might point them in the right direction. “We’re almost to the next passageway,” he said softly, trying to help her without being too obvious. “Can you make it?”

“Not much of a choice…” she said, as he watched her will herself to take another step forward. She could barely stand up, he noticed, and he wondered if she would let him carry her if it came down to that.

Just then he heard a loud rumble as a strong tremor rocked the ground beneath their feet. Then the side of the cavern started coming down around them in huge chunks. Tom tried to get out of the way, but he couldn’t get his footing. The noise was getting louder—almost a roar now—and he was afraid for a moment that they’d be buried in the narrow passageway.

Without a word to him, B’Elanna pushed Tom into the cavern they’d been approaching and out of harm’s way. He felt himself falling, then, as he lost his grip on both the wall and the alien rifle he’d been carrying.

A shower of sand and dirt rained down around them. He could feel it in his ears, his eyes, his hair, and half expected it to be followed by a hail of stones and boulders. But after a moment the noise stopped and the air began to settle. Paris took in a deep breath—only to cough up a lungful of stone dust. B’Elanna was coughing, too—which meant she was alive. Not trapped under a mountain of rock. Tom breathed a gasping sigh of relief.

He pulled himself up—and realized that his silent celebration may have been premature. The tunnel behind him, as well as the other two entrances into this small cavern, had been blocked in the rockslide. They were trapped.

“It’s alright,” he said as he unstrapped his backpack and shone his wristlight on the blocked exits. “We’ll find a way out.”

B’Elanna had struggled to her knees and seemed to be okay. As a matter of fact, the adrenaline rush of their near miss seemed to have perked her up a lot. She didn’t look so weak anymore, and she was breathing more normally. “We should use that weapon,” she said as she dusted herself off. “It’s worth the risk now.”

Sound advice. But there was only one problem. And, after the fight he’d had to wrest it from her earlier, Tom knew she wasn’t going to be happy with what he was about to say. “Well, I might agree with you if I still had it,” he got the courage to tell her. “It’s buried somewhere under all that.”

“What?!” she groaned as she came to her feet. She moved to get a look at the pile of rubble he was pointing to before leaning her arms against the cave wall in frustration. She was gasping again now, which seemed to be aggravating her breathing problems.

“Sorry,” he said genuinely. He was getting worried about her again, and upsetting her had been the last thing he’d intended to do. “Try to stay calm,” he encouraged her. “I know it’s hard.”

She spiraled around and let her body slide down the wall until she was sitting on a pile of stones at its base. “You don’t know anything!” she spat at him as she sat. Tom crouched at her feet, wanting to reach out to help her. But somehow he understood that was the worst thing he could do. She was edgy and irritated and he didn’t want to make it worse.

“I feel like I’m crawling out of my skin!” she said under her breath, the growl coming back into her voice. “I need to do something. I can’t take this!”

Before he knew what was happening, Tom was flat on his back on the cave floor. B’Elanna was on top of him, wriggling her hips against his groin and nipping around the edges of his lips, panting the entire time. They were in full body-to-body contact, and he knew he had to get her off him before he gave in and kissed her back.

It was the hardest thing he’d ever had to do.

Without letting himself think any more, he rolled them both over together, and pinned her to the ground. “No,” he whispered again and again. He forced his body away and off her and stepped as far back as he could. Which, inside their tiny cave, wasn’t very far.

Then he heard her…laughing at him. “You’ve never been hard to get, Tom,” she said cruelly.

She was right, and he knew it—but not in the way she’d implied. B’Elanna could have had him at any time from their first day together in the Maquis until last night. But not today. Not like this.

He stepped past her, a little afraid that she might grab his legs and tackle him to the ground. “Well I’m making an exception,” he said as he walked away. “I can’t let you do this.”

She was getting up, and he knew she’d head right for him. This was getting out of hand, he realized, and he wasn’t sure how long he could keep resisting her. She seemed to read his mind. “Oh, oh, but you wish you could.” She was stalking him now, like a cat. Each step she took, each word she said drove another nail into his heart. “All those invitations to dinner. And on the holodeck, the way you would stare at me when you thought I wasn’t looking. And get jealous when I’m with someone else.” Wow. He didn’t think she’d noticed.

She was backing him against the cave wall as she spoke. “You can’t tell me you’re not interested in me!”

She was so close to him—panting so hard he could feel the heat of her breath warm his cold face. His cheek, the place where she’d bitten him, was throbbing, as if she’d activated some dormant Klingon signal just by being so close. More likely, though, it was the pounding of his own heart, which seemed to want to jump right out of his chest.

He considered lying to her, telling her she’d made a mistake. That he didn’t care. But he couldn’t. She was looking him in the eye, now, her hands planted against the wall on either side of his head. He could feel her breasts pressed against him through the fabric of their uniforms, and her knee was practically wedged between his legs. But it wasn’t her closeness or the way she was tempting his body to follow hers. That wasn’t what kept him from lying to her.

It was the look on her face. Intense. Honest. Searching. As if, after all they’d been through, she was finally calling his bluff.

“You’re right,” he said, admitting something he’d kept to himself for so long. “I can’t.”

She had him now, and they both knew it. He heard her fists pound the wall as she leaned even closer. “Then don’t push me away…”

He felt her forehead graze his, their noses touching, and he realized she wanted him to kiss her. His hands were raised, trapped between them, and it would have been so easy to pull her face to his and show her just how much he wanted her. How much he did care. He made a promise to himself at that moment: that he would focus on her eyes. That, as long as he could see them, he wouldn’t let her sway him—wouldn’t let this stupid illness cause him to risk everything they might have one day for something fake. Something she didn’t really want.

Something she might never want.

The thought almost weakened his resolve. “Oh, believe me, I’d like to. But I know this isn’t really you.” He needed to remind her—to remind himself—what they both knew. What she’d tried to tell him over and over again for so long. “You’ve made it clear that you’re not interested and I have to accept that’s how you feel, even now.”

He was surprised, then, by the expression in her eyes. She looked…confused. Like she didn’t know what he was talking about. Her entire body sagged—deflated—and she turned her face away. After a moment, she looked back to him, and her gaze wandered from his lips to his eyes. When she spoke again, her voice was soft. Familiar. It was the voice he’d heard so many times in his dreams.

“No,” she whispered to him. “No, it isn’t. I was just afraid to admit it.”

Tom’s breath caught in his throat as he stared into her eyes. What he saw there scared the hell out of him.

She was telling the truth.

“You see, I’ve wanted this for so long.” Her lips grazed his as she spoke. Only when he gasped did he realize he’d been holding his breath. Had she kissed him?

A second later, he didn’t have to guess as her lips pressed against his. She tasted so good, and it all felt so natural that, for a moment, he leaned in to kiss her back. But something made him pull away. Some part of him that knew he shouldn’t let himself believe her, shouldn’t let himself think for one second that she really wanted this.

He pushed himself back against the cave wall and shook his head as if to shake off her spell. But there was no place to go. No way to hide from what they both seemed to want so badly. And, when she matched the movements of his face with her own, her lips finally accomplished their mission. She kissed him softly one more time.

“Just let it happen…” she whispered.

There was a time when this would have seemed like the ultimate fantasy: trapped alone with B’Elanna—no way for the world or the captain or Harry or any one of a dozen other people or crises to come between them—her forcing him to admit what they’d both known for so long: he wanted her more than he’d wanted anything in his life. He’d fantasized about kissing her almost every day for the last year, and here she was: pinning him to the cold wall of the cave, letting her lips dance across his, daring him to taste her, to take her, to tell her finally…

She stopped waiting for him to give in and kissed him deeply. Tom’s body forcibly shoved his mind away. He closed his eyes to block out the reminders of where they were and how they had gotten into this insane situation. She wasn’t the out-of-control victim of a Vulcan mating bond. She was B’Elanna. The woman he’d plotted and schemed and courted and fenced with and dreamed of and fought for and wanted so badly for so long. He could hear his own voice now—the voice of reason—shouting at him that this was wrong, that there were rules about having sex with someone who wasn’t in any condition to make that kind of decision.

He blocked out the voice and took her into his arms.

It was okay. This wasn’t an idle flirtation. They’d been doing this dance for months—years it felt like. He wouldn’t hurt her. She wanted this. Hell, she needed this to make her well. Besides, who knew how long they might be trapped in these caves. Ultimately, what choice would he have? To watch her die? Tuvok said she’d start getting sick—really sick—from this in a day or two. Suppose they weren’t rescued in time. Suppose…

Tom let his hands caress her face and stroke her smooth, soft skin. He moved on to her shoulders, then, as he first acquiesced to—then initiated—their kisses. But he needed to do more than kiss her, and he felt his body step forward. His momentum carried them both, pushing B’Elanna gently against the opposite wall of the cave. His eyes still closed, he lost himself for a moment as he heard her voice repeating over and over inside his head, ‘I’ve wanted this for so long….’

Still, his mind fought his body for control. And he knew, then, that he needed to look at her, to see her, to find the confirmation that this was more than the pon farr talking. That he wasn’t about to cross this line only to find himself standing alone on the other side of it. Pulling back just enough to break contact with her lips, Tom gently touched her face and searched for the look, the proof of her consent, in her eyes.

What he found there was vacant passion. And a woman he didn’t know.

And in that instant—during the stalemate between his body and his mind—his heart stood up and broke the tie. And with his decision made, he blurted it out before he could change his mind. “Someday I hope you’ll say that to me and mean it.”

He knew he was right a second later, as he felt her powerful arms shove him away. “You’d let me go insane rather than help me!”

So it was true—it was the pon farr talking, not B’Elanna. She’d have said or done anything to get him to fuck her. All this talk about her wanting him, about her feeling the same way—even if it might be true, he couldn’t trust it. He couldn’t jeopardize the possibilities of the future on the chance that this was all a lie. Not in her condition.

But she was wrong about one thing: he knew he’d never risk her sanity or her life. When it got to that point—if it got to that point—he’d do whatever it took to protect her, even if it meant losing her forever. But she wasn’t at that point yet. Right?

She was huddled on a pile of stones, her legs and arms tucked tightly against her body. Tom took a step toward her. “You stay away from me!” she spat.

She looked sicker now—fragile, spent, and weak. Five minutes earlier, she’d been fine, pushing him out of the way of a crumbling wall, wrestling him to the ground, practically overpowering him. Suddenly, in the span of seconds, she seemed more fragile and frail than he’d ever seen her. As he watched her, shivering and helpless, he wondered for an instant if he’d made the right choice.

He wanted to go to her, to hold her, to tell her that he was sorry for what she was going through. And he wanted to find that asshole Vorik and kill him with his bare hands. More than anything, though, he wanted B’Elanna to know that he’d meant what he said. That he really did care. But it was too late. She wouldn’t even look at him now.

~*~*~*~*~

She was exhausted and felt a little sick to her stomach, but something told her she had to wake up enough to get her bearings. She was in some kind of a cave, that much she could tell from the walls. But it seemed strange and different somehow. She ordered her mind to attention, but couldn’t make it obey.

She tried to take a deep breath, but choked almost immediately. The air was stale and warm, and filled with the sickening smell of dozens of prisoners long overdue for a bath. Between the stench and her fatigue, she was barely able to keep her feet moving forward. But she forced herself to keep up, to prepare for what she might find when she finally learned where these cretins were taking her.

The answer seemed to be some kind of barracks. Two rows of bunks facing a long center aisle; bare wire for a mattress, not so much as a pillow or blanket for comfort. She recognized some of the Delta Quadrant species as she walked past their beds. But her eyes were searching desperately now for two men from the Alpha Quadrant. She said a silent prayer that they were still alive to find.

The guard threw her toward an empty bunk; she was too weak to stop herself from hitting the floor. When she tried to stand, she saw him: that unmistakable sandy hair and the familiar red shouldered uniform. Tom Paris.

She’d spent most of the last six months trying to avoid anything except professional contact with him. Not that he’d been all that interested in her, either. He was too busy chasing those annoying twins from astrometrics. Probably didn’t even know she was alive.

That was unfair; he’d been friendly. Just distant. Only talked to her when Harry was around. Called her Torres as if he didn’t realize she even had a first name. Now, though, he was her lifeline. Her hope that there might actually be a way out of this hellhole. She was never so happy to see anyone in her life.

“Tom,” she whispered, suddenly desperate for his company. “Tom, wake up.”

When he rolled over, his eyes opened wide in shock. “B’Elanna?” She wasn’t sure she’d ever heard him call her that before. “B’Elanna, what have they done to you?”

He was looking at her strangely, and his eyes slowly scanned her face. He looked shocked and a little confused. What was he talking about?

Her fingers took the cue from his eyes and reached up to explore first her chin, then jaw, cheeks then nose, finally coming to rest on her forehead. The cranial ridges that usually jutted softly above her brow…they were harder. More pronounced. She started to speak, but her tongue ran across her now-jagged teeth. My god, what had happened to her?

Tom was backing away now, as if disgusted by what he was seeing. “What?” she asked him. “Tell me what you see!”

His features were twisting into a look of equal parts horror and curiosity. “Your face,” was all her could say.

She struggled to her feet and started to back away—when she saw her reflection in a control panel along the far wall. She knew, then, what he was reacting to. The sharp ridges, the jutting jaw, the fangs where her teeth should be, and the wild, tangle of hair. She wanted to pretend she didn’t recognize it. But it was her face. And it was Klingon…

~*~*~*~*~

They’d been trapped for what felt like hours. Tom had spent the first ten minutes pacing—trying to calm down, all the while second-guessing himself and his decision to pull away from B’Elanna. Finally, he needed to do something productive, and began digging at the entrance to their stone tomb with his bare hands. He had to get them out of there—even if that meant moving one rock at a time. His climbing gloves, which had been tucked into his belt, were nowhere to be found, and his fingers were getting nicked and caked in gray powder from the pulverized minerals.

B’Elanna had slept for most of that time, waking only occasionally to shift positions on the hard, cold rocks. She hadn’t spoken to him, or even acknowledged his presence. Tom couldn’t tell if she was ignoring him or just didn’t remember that he was there. Occasionally, she would moan or mumble something incoherent. He guessed that she was dreaming. He’d never seen her look so weak or so helpless.

Well, there was one other time. One horrible night almost two years earlier in a place not so different from this one. He and B’Elanna had been on a simple geological survey with Pete Durst—it was Paris’s first time in solo command of an away mission—when they suddenly found themselves surrounded by Vidiians, the same organ-harvesting blood suckers who had almost killed Neelix a few months before. Tom’s team was knocked unconscious by some kind of weapon, and when he came to, he and Pete were in a primitive slave labor camp—and B’Elanna was nowhere to be found. He remembered thinking then that she must have been killed in the initial ambush…

But the next evening she appeared by his bedside as if by some miracle—only he almost didn’t recognize her. The woman who woke him up that night was human. Once he looked into those eyes, at those lips, though…they were unmistakably B’Elanna’s. A human B’Elanna. She told him that the Vidiians had forcibly extracted all of her Klingon DNA. And she told him about her life, growing up torn between two battling cultures, and how she’d spent her childhood dreaming of being human. Suddenly she’d had her wish forced upon her—and she was terrified.

She was also ill. Something about being split in two had weakened her body and her spirit. She was pale and shaking, a shadow of the vivacious ex-Maquis he had just been getting to really know.

A few hours before morning, the guards came for Durst. They told some ridiculous story about letting Pete contact Voyager, but they all knew it was a lie. Tom tried to go in Pete’s place, but the Vidiians wouldn’t allow it. It was a tense and dangerous situation—and B’Elanna was terrified. Tom remembered how she’d huddled against the wall while he stood up to the guards. How he’d held her hands afterward and tried to calm her down. Afterward, she’d refused to sleep—sure that the Vidiians would come back for her, too—and he’d sat up on her bunk with her the rest of the night. Eventually, she did fall asleep, though, leaning against him, his arm around her shoulder. He’d stayed awake until morning watching over her.

Tom remembered something else about that night. He remembered how—exhausted and sure that Durst had been murdered—he’d sworn to himself that he’d do everything he could to protect B’Elanna, not only from the Vidiians, but from anyone else who wanted to hurt her. She’d trusted him with a side of herself that no one had ever seen, and he wouldn’t forget that. He’d made a silent promise to himself not to let her down.

And he’d tried not to, even after they were rescued and her Klingon DNA was restored.

Ironically, though, Tom was now trapped with B’Elanna in another kind of rock prison—only, this time, she was almost pure Klingon, in temperament if not in reality. Today she was just as ill as she’d been in those damn mines—and it was just as wrong for him to believe that the warrior he’d battled all morning was B’Elanna any more than that fragile human woman in that prison had been. He knew her too well now. He knew the reality was somewhere in between.

And it was the tension between those warring halves that made her who she was, that made her so compelling and interesting and exasperating. He knew almost every expression that played across her changing face now, yet had only scratched the surface of understanding the complex woman inside those eyes. And it was that mystery that drew him toward her.

In the years after she’d had her human and Klingon genes reintegrated, B’Elanna had gone from being an intriguing enigma to one of his closest friends. More, even. She was the woman he’d sparred with, flirted with, chased, and teased. She was his constant obsession, and the leading lady in all of his dreams. Of course, he’d do everything he could to protect her—he loved her.

The thought took him by surprise just as surely as her bite had that morning. Did he really love her? The very idea sent him reeling. Not because it was the first time he’d considered the question, but because of how sure he suddenly was that he knew the answer. He loved her. Was in love with her—and had been for a long time.

Now she might die because he’d stopped himself from showing her.

He gently made his way over to where she was resting. Even covered in dirt—twigs and roots in her hair—she was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. And he was determined to do whatever it took to make her well. “B’Elanna,” he whispered as he touched her arm. “B’Elanna…”

It was no use. She was asleep or unconscious. Asleep he hoped. He made himself a promise, then: when she woke up, if they were still trapped, if she was still willing, he’d help her through this. Even if she didn’t mean what she’d said. Even if it cost him everything.

~*~*~*~*~

The sun was rising, and she knew she had to wake up. But it was too early. And she cursed that her bedroom faced the south. Every morning, the same damn thing: the sun, coming up in her eyes. With all the advanced Starfleet technology her father had insisted on building into their house before he left, hadn’t he heard of something as simple as curtains?

She reached down to pull the covers back up over her head, but she couldn’t find them.

Any minute now, her mother would be coming into her room to wake her for school. Any minute now, she’d hear the lecture about discipline and honor—the thinly veiled threats to take her back to Qo’noS and retrain her in the Klingon way. To make a good warrior out of her.

But she wasn’t a warrior. She was a girl. Almost a woman. It was bad enough her temper and her forehead telegraphed her Klingon heritage to the rest of the colony. She’d be damned if she let herself turn into some grunting, blood-drinking animal.

‘Why is it so cold in here?’

She heard the bedroom door open and braced herself for the standard argument. “Are you just going to lie there and die?” a voice bellowed at her. “Or are you going to fight for what you want?”

The voice was familiar—but it wasn’t her mother’s.

B’Elanna opened her eyes, but the sunlight was blinding her, silhouetting the woman who now stood beside her bed. “Who are you?” she asked. “What do you want?”

With that, the woman took a step toward her, eclipsing the window and allowing B’Elanna to see who she was speaking to. “Don’t you recognize me, p’tak?” the woman spat at her. “Has it been that long?”

But she did recognize the full-blooded Klingon warrior who now stood at her bedside. Her hair was longer and wilder, her teeth were jagged and sharp, and her deep-set ridges extended well above her unkempt brows. But the eyes were the same. The face was the same. It was her face. She was looking at her own, Klingon face.

“No!” B’Elanna cried out. “Leave me alone!”

“Alone to die?” the woman challenged her. “A coward? Without a shred of honor? Is that what you want?”

B’Elanna’s head was swimming and she suddenly felt sick to her stomach. But she couldn’t speak. Couldn’t respond to the challenge that had been spat at her. “Answer me!” the woman growled. “Is today a good day to die?”

“No.” B’Elanna heard herself mumble. “No. I don’t want to die.”

“Then wake up!” The woman was shaking her now. “Wake up! Wake up…”

B’Elanna’s eyes blinked open, but—instead of bright sunshine—all she could see were dim shadows. She heard the splash of what sounded like stones hitting the ground, and the air around her was stale and cold. Her mind was so fuzzy, and her memory was hazy. She had a vague sense that something had happened to her, but she couldn’t remember what.

She tried to sit up, but there was a sharp pain in her shoulder. Every muscle in her body ached. She knew she needed to wake up, though, even if she wasn’t sure why. She pushed herself off her stone bed and tried to sit. The effort was almost too much to bear, and she heard herself groan.

Before she realized what was happening, Tom was at her side, holding her arm, brushing the hair from her eyes. He looked tired, she thought. Tired…and something else.

“Where are we?” she asked him, wondering why she didn’t already know the answer.

He was being so gentle with her. B’Elanna had never seen him so tender. She wondered if he was okay. “Still stuck in the caves, I’m afraid.” His voice was almost a whisper, and the expression in his eyes…

Wait, though. What did he say? “The caves…” she repeated softly. It was slowly coming back to her. “The gallicite. Where’s my tricorder?” B’Elanna tried to sit up, tried to find her equipment. She was leading a survey mission, she knew. With Tom and Neelix. No, Chakotay. Why was it all so fuzzy?

“No,” Tom said to her, still softly stroking her arm with his thumb. The sensation was distracting, and she tried to focus on what he was saying. “We’re not looking for the gallicite anymore. We’re trying to get back to the ship, remember?”

“No…” she answered honestly. “I don’t.”

From behind him, then, she could hear a tapping, rattling noise, and a shower of dust started kicking up over Tom’s shoulder. He left her side and moved to the source of the noise. She wanted to ask him not to leave her, but she didn’t have the energy. She was so tired…

~~

Tom heard what sounded like a rockslide from the other side of the passageway where he’d been digging only a few seconds earlier. As he got close to the blocked entrance to the tunnel, a hand burst through the stones, and a wristlight was shining in his eyes. “Are you two alright?” It was Chakotay.

He’d never been so happy to see his first officer in his life. “B’Elanna needs help,” Tom told him. “We’ve gotta get her out of here.” He reached up and started widening the hole Chakotay had started. In a second, Tom saw Tuvok’s gloved hands working from the other side, too.

“What happened to you two?” Paris asked as they dug. “You were there one second and gone the next.”

Working together, the three men were making decent progress in knocking down the barrier; Tom could tell they’d be able to squeeze through the opening in just a few more minutes. The commander kept working as he answered. “Let’s just say the Sakari have some pretty advanced cloaking technology. You’d never know it, but there’s a whole civilization down here. They helped us find you.”

The opening was almost a meter across now—more than enough room for them to crawl through if B’Elanna could get to her feet. She hadn’t moved since she woke up, and Tom was afraid she might be too weak to walk. “Here,” he said, passing their knapsacks to Chakotay, “I’ll see if she can stand up. We might have to carry her.”

His own wristlight caught his first officer’s eyes, and he saw the look of concern there. “So, you two didn’t…”

“No,” Paris interrupted, angrily. “She’s not in any kind of shape to make a decision like that. I didn’t lay a hand on her.” Which was almost true.

“Tom,” Chakotay’s voice had moderated, “I wasn’t accusing you of anything. I’m sure you did what you could to look after her.” It was an unbelievable statement of trust considering their history, Paris knew, and he was embarrassed that he’d gotten so defensive.

“I’m worried about her, Chakotay,” he admitted. “If the Doctor can’t help her…”

“Then we’ll have to figure out another solution,” the commander reassured him. “None of us is about to let her die.”

The men looked at each other for a moment, and a silent understanding passed between them. Whatever happened, whatever Tom might be forced to do to help B’Elanna get well, Chakotay would understand and not interfere. Maybe it wouldn’t come to that, though. But they needed to get back to the ship.

Tom walked to where B’Elanna was sitting and knelt at her feet. “The cavalry’s here,” he said softly. “We need to get moving.”

She nodded, and he was glad when she let him help her up. The battling Klingon warrior seemed to have been replaced by a very tired young woman, and for a moment Tom wished she would take a swing at him, push him to the ground, or call him a pig—anything so he’d know she was still fighting this stupid imbalance. But she didn’t say anything.

He helped her onto the rock pile and watched as she leaned back into Chakotay’s arms. After they pulled her through, Tom crawled out of the opening they’d fashioned. Finally, after almost three hours, they were free.

Tom brushed some of the dust off of his uniform and got his bearings. “Where are we?” he asked.

“Approximately seventy-five meters below the surface,” Tuvok answered. Good. Almost in communications range.

Paris could see B’Elanna resting her head against her outstretched arms as she leaned on the far wall of the tunnel. She was struggling to stay on her feet, he could tell. But her breathing wasn’t labored. He wasn’t sure if that was a good or bad sign.

He put on his own pack and picked up hers, as he watched Chakotay approach her. The commander reached out his hand and tried to get her to lean against him, but she shrugged him off, and started backing away. “Don’t touch me,” she was whispering. “Leave me alone.”

“Lieutenant,” Tuvok said to her, “you require our assistance. Let us help you…”

“No!” she screamed at them. “I can’t let you touch me. I don’t want you to…” She didn’t look frightened, Tom noticed. Just adamant. And she was rubbing her arms as if invisible bugs were crawling on her skin.

“B’Elanna.” He stepped into the light of Tuvok’s wrist beam and made sure she could see him. He tried to sound confident and reassuring all at the same time. “B’Elanna, it’s Tom.”

The look on her face changed, softened. And she stopped backing away. “Tom?”

“It’s me,” he said reassuringly. “Remember I told you that we had to get back to the ship?” She nodded, but didn’t answer. “Well, you’re gonna need some help to get out of here. Why don’t you let me hold onto you.” He took a slow step toward her with each word. In a moment, he was standing between her and Chakotay. “Come on,” he said as he reached out his arm. “It’s gonna be okay.” After looking into his eyes for a second, she stumbled forward and into him. He tucked her tightly against his chest and wrapped his arm around her shoulder.

“You two go ahead,” he said to his first officer. “We’ll be right behind you.”

As they walked, Tom could feel a kind of rumbling in B’Elanna’s chest, a vibration that was palpable as he held her to him. Her airway was constricted and she was burning up, he could tell. Her uniform was practically dripping with sweat, and he berated himself that he’d been given the chance to cure her earlier, yet hadn’t. Everything had seemed so ambiguous just a few short hours ago. He wished he’d known how sick she was then. This might all be over with if he had.

They’d walked about twenty-five meters and were coming up on the large cavern where this whole nightmare had started. The place where she and Neelix had fallen. Where she’d bitten his face. As soon as they got there, they could contact Voyager and make sure the Doctor would be waiting. They’d still have to climb to the surface to transport, but at least they could send for help. Only one or two more passageways and they’d be there.

There were a few times when Tom thought he might have to carry B’Elanna. They’d come down some steep and treacherous paths on their way to find her, and climbing back up was even harder. But, strangely enough, the extra exertion actually seemed to make her stronger. After a while, he was pretty sure she could probably walk unassisted—yet he didn’t let go of her and she didn’t pull away.

They turned the corner, and Tom saw their ropes and other climbing gear. They’d made it. “Chakotay to Voyager,” he heard the commander say. But there was no answer.

“Perhaps the Sakari dampening field is interfering with our communications,” Tuvok suggested.

Chakotay shook his head. “They said they’d help us and I believe them.” He was pacing the cavern floor. “This doesn’t make any sense.”

Tom wasn’t interested in debating the point. B’Elanna was starting to sag against him again, and they were running out of time. “We have to keep moving,” he said. “We can call the ship when we get to the surface.” It occurred to him, then, that there was no way B’Elanna would be able to climb back up the steep rock face.

Tom knew he was probably the most experienced climber in the group, and that it would be up to him to figure out how to get her out of there. But as he started to pull away to get their equipment, B’Elanna clutched him back to her. “No,” she said softly. “No…”

He shrugged and held onto her, nodding toward their equipment. “Tuvok, if you can get my harness and one for B’Elanna, I think she and I can tandem climb with her in front of me. But I’ll need you and Chakotay up top to pull us up in case she can’t make it. I won’t be able to support her weight and mine.”

The lieutenant nodded and moved off. Chakotay seemed unconvinced. “Couldn’t we just strap her into a harness and pull her up?”

Tom shook his head. “She’d be unsupported and dangling in mid-air. I think it’s safer this way.” He didn’t want to say that he was afraid B’Elanna might not let go of him, even though he worried that it was true. He was also afraid that she might lose her bearings and unbuckle her harness half way through their ascent. It was a long fall to the cavern floor—one she’d already made earlier in the day. No, it was better if she went with him. And it was the only way he could be sure of to protect her.

It took some convincing for B’Elanna to loosen her grip on him long enough to step into and strap on her harness, but eventually they were trussed up and ready to go. They stood alone together at the bottom of the cliff as Tuvok and Chakotay climbed ahead.

Halfway through their preparations, B’Elanna seemed to become more alert. She was able to lean on the wall without his help, and she became more aware of her surroundings and what was happening to her. But her breathing was still labored, once again, and he worried about her making a fifty-meter climb in her condition. Not knowing what to do or how to help her, Tom just stood close by and waited.

It had been so quiet for so long that he was almost startled by the sound of her voice.

“Tom,” she whispered so softly he could barely hear her. “What happens…” she took a deep breath. “What happens if the Doctor can’t help me? Because, there’s no way I’m letting Vorik touch me.”

He wasn’t sure why he liked hearing those words so much. But they brought home for him how confusing and ridiculous the last few months and weeks had been. Their work in the holodeck, their night at the luau. They seemed like a lifetime ago. He turned to face her and looked into her eyes. He wasn’t sure what to say, so he tucked a stray strand of hair behind her ear as he thought about how to answer her. “Then you might have to choose your own…mate,” he finally said.

She reached up and took his hand and held it. She was staring back at him, now, but she seemed lucid. “Maybe I already have,” she whispered.

Just then, he felt a tug on the rope. Chakotay and Tuvok were in position. “Let’s go,” he said softly as he moved behind her and clipped his harness onto hers. “Just lean against me,” he told her as he put his foot on the wall. He gave the rope two quick tugs, then felt it tense as the officers above them took up the slack. “I won’t let you fall.”

B’Elanna’s only job was to stay balanced and keep her feet moving. Chakotay was above doing all the heavy lifting. Tom acted as a brace for them both, making small advances as her weight was lifted off him.

What normally would have been a ten-minute climb took the better part of forty-five minutes. They stopped once in the middle for her to lean against him and catch her breath. As he waited for her to recover, Tom couldn’t help but think about the feel of her body pressed against his. He thought for a moment about all of the ways he’d fantasized about making love to her for the first time. None of them involved an out-of-control Vulcan mating urge or B’Elanna almost dying. He realized that it was possible, though, that when they got back to Voyager, he might have to help her if the Doctor couldn’t cure her some other way.

He hoped she would understand.

When they finally got to the top, they took a quick rest and tried to contact the ship one more time. Still nothing.

Twenty minutes and two short climbs later, Tom could finally see daylight at the entrance to the caves. They staggered out into the fading sunshine of late afternoon, and he helped B’Elanna sit down on a stone outcropping as his eyes adjusted to the bright light.

He could tell by looking at Tuvok and Chakotay that something was wrong.

“What’s the matter?” he asked as he threw B’Elanna’s pack on the ground and walked over to the men. “Why aren’t they answering?”

Chakotay turned toward him, but was looking over Tom’s shoulder at B’Elanna. “Must be some kind of communications problem.” He was trying to be reassuring. “I’m sure they’ll clear it up soon.”

Soon. Soon might not be enough. B’Elanna could barely stand up now. For all they knew, it was already too late to help her. Tom’s frustration was rising as he tried to think of their alternatives. Before he could speak, Tuvok turned to Chakotay. “It may not be soon enough. I am concerned about the rapid progression of her symptoms.”

Tom knew then that he’d been right. This ‘imbalance’ was moving faster than the days or weeks their Vulcan expert had predicted. Maybe it was different with Klingons, he thought. Maybe her mixed heritage had something to do with it. Whatever the case, they were out of options and everyone knew it. Tuvok saved Tom the trouble of having to say it out loud. “You must help her now, Mister Paris. If she does not resolve the pon farr, she will die.”

Tom couldn’t make himself look at Chakotay, as he waited for some objection, some reason why he couldn’t do what they all knew he had to. But he got none. The absurdity of their situation struck him at that moment, and he had to resist the urge to laugh. Here he was being ordered to have sex with a woman he had fallen in love with. And his commanding officer—her self-proclaimed defender and a man who’d threatened to kill him on more than one occasion—was giving his tacit permission.

But what else could any of them do?

So it was really going to happen—like this. Tom took a deep breath and moved back to her. He leaned on the cave wall for a moment trying to make himself believe it was all real. He waited a moment for Chakotay and Tuvok to move off and give them some privacy, then kneeled down, not sure if she’d been able to hear their conversation. He suddenly felt stupid and inexperienced—not sure what to say or do.

“B’Elanna…” he said, finally finding the courage to look her in the eyes. “I know this is a pretty bizarre situation. Probably not what either one of us had in mind… But it’s too late to worry about that now…”

Suddenly, she reached up and put her hand over his lips. “Tom?” she groaned.

“What?” he asked through her fingers.

She took a few more deep breaths, then pulled her hand back and put her finger in front of her own lips. “Be quiet…” she said before taking his hand and pulling him off into the woods.

There was a clearing a few meters from the cave entrance, and it seemed like as good a place as any. Hardly the candlelit hotel room or warm sandy beach that had figured prominently in Paris’s fantasies of their first time together, but it would have to do.

Tom unstrapped his pack and threw it to the ground. Next, he took off his wristlight and added it to the pile. Then he turned and looked at B’Elanna. She was leaning against the rocks, watching him. There was a look in her eyes again—something between the fragile, sick woman he’d seen only a few moments earlier and the wild raging warrior he’d been tackled by in the caves.

It occurred to him, at that very moment, that there were all kinds of myths and rumors about the way Klingons had sex. Rumors he’d never bothered to check out. Not only had he thought his prospects for finding out first-hand were slim to none, he just didn’t think of B’Elanna that way—as a sexual curiosity. That wasn’t what had attracted him to her. She was just a woman. A beautiful woman. Now, though, he didn’t know what to say or do. Hell, he didn’t even know if all the…basic anatomy…was the same, or what he should expect making love to a woman who was—and wasn’t—a Klingon.

She was half-Human, though, so clearly it was possible. One way or another, he was about to find out.

He walked up to her and put his hands on her shoulders, letting his own natural instincts guide him. Gently, he moved his fingers up to cup her face, his thumbs tracing the outline of her jaw. “Are you sure about this?” he felt the needed to ask her.

She nodded…and smiled. Tom started to relax a little, relieved to see that she seemed in control of herself and knew what was happening. He let himself believe, then, that everything she’d said in the caves about wanting him—about feeling the same way he did—was true. And he leaned over and kissed her gently.

He could hear her breathing him in as their lips met, then she deepened their kiss until he thought she might swallow him. When he pulled back, she looked entranced, and he was afraid for a minute that she was still sicker than she’d seemed. Then carefully she grabbed his arm and pulled him toward her.

B’Elanna led him into the middle of the clearing, before dropping his hand. She circled him, then—prowling—and ran her hands over his arms and shoulders as she walked. She smiled as she went, and her movements were fluid, cat-like. When she faced him again, she reached down and grabbed his hand, nibbling on his fingers and licking his skin.

He had no clue if there was some significance to her actions. She seemed to be moving on an instinct he didn’t share, and for a moment he wondered if he should mimic her behavior or just stand still and let her fondle him. As she walked behind him one more time, he remembered a story he’d heard about Klingon women breaking furniture, their men reciting poetry and dodging projectiles, as they played out some intense mating ritual.

In the caves, it had all seemed so sensual, so erotic. And, while he found her touch exciting, he found their circumstances, well, ironic. Almost funny.

After all, for a man who’d done nothing but dream of making love to a half-Klingon, he’d done virtually no research to prepare himself. As he always did, then, Tom fell back on his own instincts: to make light of any uncomfortable situation. “So…this is the part where you throw heavy objects at me?” he teased her.

He could feel her laughter on the back of his neck as she pulled on his collar and pushed her face into his hair. “Maybe later…” she answered. He was relieved that her own sense of humor was still intact.

With his joke falling a bit flat, Tom had to rely on something a little more risky. Honesty. “I’m not sure exactly what I’m supposed to do…” he admitted as she spun him around and pulled up his sleeve. She was breathing in his scent, he now realized, and something about it was getting her aroused. B’Elanna chewed on his hand, then kissed and licked his palm. She growled as she tasted him. It was erotic in a way he wouldn’t have anticipated, and he could feel his own body responding in kind.

Still, he felt a little like he’d been thrown into the deep end of the pool.

B’Elanna was trying to help him, he could tell, but all he could do was improvise. She pulled him toward her and leaned her head back, exposing her neck—a clear invitation to…something. He guessed and kissed her jaw first, then worked his way along her neck and into her hair. It seemed to be working: her growls were getting deeper and more intense.

Tom snuck a look at her eyes, which were almost closed, and he figured he was doing okay. Trying to intuit his next move, he found himself growling back at her as he caressed her face and nibbled on the soft skin below her ear. He felt the goosebumps rising on her neck at the sound, and took that as a good sign. He pulled back then, desperately needing to kiss her, his own arousal growing. His uniform was getting tight and he wondered, as he reached for her lips, if they shouldn’t just take a minute and get undressed. It might make things a lot easier in the long run if they…

…before their lips even touched, before he knew what was happening, Tom felt himself being lifted off the ground, his body slammed into the dirt, the breath knocked out of him. She straddled him, and pounded her hands down onto his chest. He waited, then, to figure out what was next.

A bad decision, it seemed. B’Elanna’s face contorted, and she pounded his shoulders into the ground with her hands. “Well, what are you doing?” she spat at him, clearly unhappy with…something.

For a second, he was almost afraid of her. “Enjoying myself?” he blurted out, now totally confused at what she’d expected or where he’d failed her.

“Then show it!” she growled, grabbing his hands in hers and slamming them to the ground above his head. He resisted her for a second, but knew he couldn’t push her off him without hurting her…

His brain and his penis caught on at the same time.

She wanted him to fight back, to wrestle with her, to overpower her and prove he was strong enough and worthy enough to take what she could dish out. This was some kind of Klingon foreplay, and the realization made him grin from ear to ear. B’Elanna smiled back at him then, and somehow he knew exactly what to do.

Letting his muscles relax, Tom gathered his strength, then rolled her over with all of his might. They landed crotch to crotch, and he knew she must be able to feel his erection pushing against her as it strained to be set free from his climbing suit. Her hips wriggled under him and he wished then that they had stopped to get out of their stupid clothes.

He pressed her arms against the dirt and leaned in to kiss the lips that were smiling up at him. And he knew, then, that they would be okay. In fact, this might actually force them to deal with all of the feelings that they’d…

He was sailing through the air again, but knew there was no way it was B’Elanna’s doing this time.

“You are MY mate, not HIS!” Tom heard as he landed—hard—on the ground one more time. Out of some twisted excuse for a nightmare, he was staring up into the contorted face…of a crazed young Vulcan. Vorik. Damn him! How the hell had he gotten there?

Tom had to shake his head to clear it. His body—which had been through a lot during this insane excuse for a day—was so confused, he wasn’t sure he could stand. B’Elanna, on the other hand was jumping to her feet. She didn’t look sick anymore, he noticed. Just incredibly pissed off. “What are you doing here?” she screamed at Vorik.

Tom knew he needed to stand up and get between them. There was no way he’d let that Vulcan asshole lay a finger on B’Elanna. He’d kill the man first if he had to. Which, from the crazed look in Vorik’s eyes, looked like it might actually be necessary.

“I’ve come to claim you. To fulfill our bond. And, if necessary, to face my rival!” the ensign was screaming. It was so incongruous—a Vulcan whose emotions were wild and out of control. Paris braced himself for the attack he suspected was coming. “Lieutenant Tuvok!”

Tom was surprised and a little relieved that the ensign had called for help. Didn’t he realize, though, that he’d be outnumbered. That there was no way Tuvok and Chakotay would agree to let him mate with B’Elanna? He was delusional—clearly. A fact that earned him no sympathy.

“Ensign?” Tuvok answered as he appeared from off in the distance. Tom was a little unnerved to see how close the two men had been, and wondered if they’d been able to overhear anything from their position on the other side of the clearing. As if this day hadn’t been humiliating enough…

“Sir,” Vorik bellowed, “I declare kunat kaliphee.”

“The ritual challenge,” Tuvok translated. Not that it meant anything to the rest of them. Their confusion must have been apparent. “He intends to fight to win his mate.”

Which was just fine with Tom. “You want a fight? You’ve got one!” he said as he rushed past Chakotay. Hell, it had been all Paris could do to keep from decking this little Vulcan twerp for months. Beating his face to a bloody pulp wouldn’t even begin to make them even for everything he’d done to B’Elanna—to both of them—in the last day.

“Hold on, Tom!” the commander yelled as he grabbed Paris, pushing him back and away from Vorik. “There’s not going to be any challenge.” Chakotay turned back around, but Tom could tell he was keeping an eye on him in his peripheral vision. “Are you responsible for the ship being out of contact?” he asked.

Vorik didn’t even try to deny it. “It was necessary to disable the communications, transporters, and shuttles. No one will keep me from my mate!”

“I am NOT your mate!” B’Elanna bellowed. Now it was Tom’s turn; he grabbed her as she tried to pass him and held on as tight as he could. He knew her strength now. He knew how hard it would be to stop her if she decided to fight him off to get to Vorik. But somehow, his touch seemed to stop her advance. She was still wriggling in his hands, but she didn’t really try to pull away.

Vorik didn’t seem to want to take ‘go to hell’ for an answer, though. “We will soon decide that!” he screamed back at her.

His insistence fired B’Elanna up again, and Tom had to tighten his grip to keep her from getting away. “If anyone is going to smash your arrogant little face in, I will!” she spat at the Vulcan. “I take your challenge myself!”

The ensign turned to face Tuvok as if waiting for some kind of ruling. “She has the right to choose her own defender,” the elder Vulcan answered calmly, as if it were a totally reasonable request. “Even herself.”

Tom wanted to say something, but Chakotay interrupted. “Now just hold on. Neither of you are thinking straight right now.” Finally, the voice of reason.

“They are following their instincts,” Tuvok insisted. “And I suggest we allow them to do so.”

“You mean let them fight?” the commander clarified. Tom couldn’t believe it either. There was no way he’d stand by and watch B’Elanna and Vorik have a go at each other. Especially not after learning what he just had about Klingon mating rituals.

“It is logical,” Tuvok argued. “Both must resolve their pon farr before it kills them. We cannot wait to hear from Voyager.”

This was ridiculous. “They’ll tear each other to pieces!” Tom pointed out angrily, noticing that Vorik was going into some kind of weird trance. Who knew what he might do in his condition. Besides, not an hour earlier B’Elanna could barely stand up. What happened if she passed out or couldn’t overpower him? Did Vorik just win? Get to ‘claim’ her as his mate? What the hell happened then?

“The risk of injury seems preferable to the certainty of dying from a chemical imbalance,” Tuvok tried to point out—an argument Tom would never let him win. They turned to Chakotay—their senior officer and the only one who could make the final call. “Commander, I see no alternative but to follow Vulcan tradition.”

Tom held his breath as he waited to hear the man’s answer. Chakotay looked at B’Elanna—her arms already circling in an imaginary battle—and Vorik, who was seething as he did some weird Vulcan meditation. “Alright,” he finally acquiesced.

Tom was outraged. “Chakotay, you can’t be serious?” He tightened his grip on B’Elanna’s arms. There was no way he would let her do this.

“What choice do we have?” The man didn’t look happy about his own decision, Tom could tell.

“Let me help B’Elanna,” Paris pressed. They had been so close, he knew. She’d already started to come out of it. Just a little more time alone together, and he could make her well, show her—finally—that…

“What about Vorik?” Chakotay challenged him, interrupting his thoughts.

“To hell with Vorik!” Tom spat back at him. “This whole thing is his fault!”

Chakotay looked at him like he was the crazy one now. “Are you saying I should just let him die?”

Tom hated to admit how little he cared at the moment. There was no way he could be objective after everything they’d been through. “No,” he finally relented. “But I’ll fight him if I have to! You can’t let B’Elanna…”

Chakotay stepped toward him and looked down at the writhing cat of a woman in his arms. “Tom, there may not be time for that. They need to do this. If it works, they’ll both be alright. We need to give them that chance. And I need you to promise me that you won’t interfere.”

Paris was wavering. There was common sense in the man’s argument, and it was starting to piss him off. There wasn’t anything logical about this situation. It was all fear and passion and raw emotion. For Tom, too. “Chakotay, if he hurts her…”

“…then you and I can flip a coin to see who gets to kick his ass first,” the commander said, quoting Tom’s own words from a conversation they’d had a few weeks earlier. A conversation where Paris had tried to reassure B’Elanna’s ‘big brother’ that he would never do anything to hurt her.

He realized, then, that Chakotay was as concerned about B’Elanna’s well-being as he was. He had to let go and trust that their first officer would stop the fight if there was any real danger. And he had to trust that B’Elanna, even in her depleted condition, could take care of herself.

Despite himself, Tom relented. “Alright,” he said finally. “Alright…”

It was over in less than five minutes. Of course, as he watched B’Elanna and Vorik battle, it felt like hours. She was cagey, Tom realized, and smart. She’d let Vorik swing wildly at first, ducking his punches as he tired himself out. But there were apparently no rules to this fight—any low blow each of them could land seemed fair play. When Tom saw the Vulcan’s hand start to reach for B’Elanna’s neck, he recognized the gesture; a neck pinch would knock her out, putting a pretty quick end to any hope she had of winning.

But she deflected it and elbowed Vorik in the chest—before flipping him over her shoulder and onto the ground. She picked up a branch as he staggered to his feet, and Tom hoped her weapon might even the odds. But Vorik wrestled it out of her hands and B’Elanna lost her footing. The man dove at her, then, but she rolled at the last minute and kidney punched him with her elbow.

Tom made a mental note to himself never to get her this mad at him.

They rolled across the ruins and down the steps before she staggered to her feet and gave a left-right combination that sent Vorik reeling. Tom took a step toward them—it was all he could do not to interfere—but B’Elanna was doing a damn good job of defending herself, he realized. In a strange way, he was almost proud of her.

He thought Vorik might fall after her final sock to his jaw, but instead he rallied—and dove for her neck. He was choking her, cutting off her air, and for the first time Tom thought she might be in real danger. He shot a look at Chakotay, who seemed unsure of what to do. But before they could act, B’Elanna broke free and backhanded Vorik before taking his arm in her hands as if to snap it in two. The Vulcan threw an unexpected left hook, though, and Tom could see the blood where his fist split B’Elanna’s lip.

That was all Tom could stand. He started to move toward them; he’d break it up if Chakotay wouldn’t. But the energy Vorik had expended to punch B’Elanna seemed to use up whatever bit of strength he had left. The ensign fell on his face in the dirt. It was over.

B’Elanna had won.

She turned around to face Tom, and he reached out for her. She was covered with blood, and gasped as he touched a tender spot on her back. In a second, she collapsed into his arms, barely conscious.

“It’s over, isn’t it?” Paris asked Tuvok for confirmation. The answer was obvious, though. Neither B’Elanna nor Vorik could stand up much less fight. The lingering question remained, however. Were they cured?

“The blood fever has been purged,” the older Vulcan said from some experience, Tom assumed. “They will both recover.”

“We need to get them back to the ship,” Chakotay said to him. Maybe their mating instincts were purged, but now they were covered with cuts and contusions from their fight. They needed medical attention, and soon.

Tom agreed. “Vorik must have stolen a shuttlecraft to get down here. I’ll stay here with them while you look for it.”

The commander nodded, and—after checking that the ensign was unconscious and not about to start Round 2—he and Tuvok walked off into the brush.

Tom sat there for a moment, rocking B’Elanna gently against him, pulling her hair out of her eyes, and noticing how fragile and weak she looked once again. But she wasn’t weak, he knew. She’d lived a horrible ordeal in the course of a single day. And she’d battled through it and won.

It wouldn’t be long, he understood, before she recovered from her injuries. There was no way to know, until then, how she would react to him after everything they’d said and done to each other. Her chemical imbalance was cured, and she didn’t need him anymore. Didn’t need his help to recover. Deep down inside, Tom knew she’d probably pull away from him again. He’d revealed too much—things he’d never intended to share at all, much less this way. All of his fears and insecurities about the truth of their relationship were in full bloom once again.

Of course, he realized, too, how close he’d actually come to having something he’d dreamed of for so long.

He thought about what it felt like to kiss her, the way she’d nuzzled his neck in the clearing—the gleam in her eye when he’d figured out how to respond to her Klingon advances. It was all over now. Maybe for good. He wasn’t sure what was worse: never having known how good their bodies felt together, or having a taste of her only to have her yanked away.

Had he done the right thing, he wondered? For B’Elanna? For himself. The second-guessing had started long before now, but there was no doubt any longer that his chances—to kiss her, to make love to her, to tell her what he’d kept secret for so long—were now over.

So he sat there on the cold Sakari ground, holding her in his arms for what might be the last time, and savoring the feel of her body against his. All day he’d wanted nothing more than for her to snap out of this pon farr and be herself again. Now he’d gotten his wish. And part of him mourned the possibilities.

Fifteen minutes later, his commbadge sounded. Chakotay and Tuvok had found the shuttle. The officers would beam the three of them inside in just a few seconds. With B’Elanna now sound asleep against his chest, Tom closed the channel and looked down at her. Then gently, being careful not to hurt her or wake her up, he leaned over and placed a soft kiss on her forehead. “I love you, B’Elanna,” he whispered under his breath. Then he felt the distinctive tingle of the transporter as it carried them back to reality.

~*~*~*~*~

The bat’leth felt good in her hands as she swung it above her head. Her opponent was scrawny. Without honor. A coward who ran from their fight. Not her, though. The smell of weakness was like the smell of blood: it invigorated her. Soon, she knew, she would be victorious, her triumph no less glorious than if her puny victim had put up a serious challenge. Cowards were to be conquered, after all, not pitied.

They were circling in shadows now, and she lost sight of the frail human woman that had been standing before her only seconds earlier. “Show yourself, p’tak!” she bellowed.

“Leave her alone!” she heard from over her shoulder. She spun around to face him. A tall human man. A face she recognized. His face. His eyes…

Suddenly, the woman she had battled ran out of the shadows and into the man’s arms. He held her tightly before pushing her protectively behind him. “You stay the hell away from her!” he shouted. “I won’t let you hurt her.”

But this was wrong. He wasn’t supposed to be here. He wasn’t supposed to see this.

“Tom,” she heard herself call out to him. “Tom…”

“Tom.” She couldn’t figure out why he wouldn’t answer her. “Tom,” she called him one more time, as she forced her eyes open.

She realized, then, that she was in sickbay.

“Good evening, Lieutenant. How are you feeling?”

B’Elanna sat up and looked around her. Other than the EMH, who was now waiving a medical tricorder over her, the room was empty. “Evening?” she asked. “What time is it?”

“2352. How are you feeling?”

She didn’t know how to answer. Mostly because she had no idea why she was there or what she was being treated for. “My back hurts,” she found herself muttering. Her head was still foggy from her dream, though, and she rubbed her eyes, trying desperately to remember why she might be in sickbay. What had happened to her?

“Residual muscle tenderness,” the EMH was saying as he prepared a hypospray. “Not surprising considering what Commander Chakotay told me about your little ‘battle.’” He brought the instrument up to her neck, and B’Elanna felt the slight tickle that accompanied any hypo shot. “There. That should take care of the soreness. Luckily neither your injuries nor Ensign Vorik’s were…”

“Vorik…” B’Elanna mumbled before bringing her hands up to cover her eyes. At the sound of his name, the pieces of her missing memory showed up in sequence, and the last twenty-four hours played back on fast-forward in her mind.

Oh my god. What had she done?

“I’ve got to get out of here,” she mumbled as she swung her legs over the side of the biobed. Despite the hypo she’d just gotten, the exertion caused her entire body to ache. Of course now, her memory intact, she knew all the reasons why her muscles were so unhappy with her.

But her mind and heart had first dibs on revenge for what their owner had put them through. And they didn’t waste a moment filling her with shame and pain.

“Just a minute,” the Doctor scolded as he rushed to her side. “I’m not ready to release you.”

“Then get ready,” she said flatly, “because I’m getting out of here. Now.”

“Lieutenant.” His voice was firm, but amazingly gentle. “Your body has been through an incredible ordeal. The chemical imbalance alone was almost fatal. I’d like to monitor you for a few more hours before…”

At that moment, the sickbay doors opened and Harry Kim walked in cradling his right arm in his left. He was out of uniform, B’Elanna noticed, before remembering that Kim was off duty for a few days. “Doc,” her friend called out as he came toward them, “I think I pulled something.” He looked at her and smiled. “Hey, B’Elanna.” She forced an uncomfortable smirk onto her face and nodded in his direction.

The EMH shot her a look that told her to stay put while he tended his new patient. She was too tired to argue. She was also grateful that the patient was Harry instead of one of her engineers—or worse, one of the ship’s gossip hounds. She was embarrassed enough without Jenny Delaney or Chell seeing her like this.

The doctor ran his medical tricorder over Kim’s arm. “You’ve torn your extensor muscle. How did this happen?”

Harry blushed. “I was arm-wrestling in Sandrine’s,” he admitted. “With Mike Ayala.” He turned and shot a look in B’Elanna’s direction. “Big mistake.”

Normally, her instinct would have been to tease Harry about taking on a man almost twice his size. But instead, a different question was running through her mind. Several, in fact. The Doctor spared her the trouble and asked the first one himself. “Sandrine’s? I thought Mister Paris retired that program.”

Harry nodded. “He did. But it’s still in the databanks, and a few of us wanted to shoot some pool and have a few drinks. Particularly with the week we have ahead of us now.”

That led B’Elanna to question number three—deciding for the moment to leave question two unasked. “What do you mean? Did we get the gallicite?” It was almost hard for her to say the word.

“Yeah,” Harry answered. She was waiting for some tone, some inflection in his voice to hint that he’d heard about her disaster of a mission, but she couldn’t find any. “Chakotay was able to work out a deal with the people down there. They’re giving us all the minerals we need in exchange for our clearing some of their old ruins. So the captain has cancelled all leave starting tomorrow morning. Everyone who isn’t working on the refining and refit will be rotating down to the surface.”

While they were talking, the Doctor treated Harry’s injured arm. “Well,” he said as he filled a hypospray, “I suppose any occasion to carouse in a bar is a good one where Lieutenant Paris is concerned. Though, I have to say, he didn’t look like he was in the mood for a party when he left here this afternoon.”

Well, that wasn’t exactly how B’Elanna would have asked Question #2, but it would have to do. She looked at Harry, who was shaking his head. “Tom wasn’t even there. As a matter of fact, I don’t know where he is. I haven’t seen him all day.”

B’Elanna was relieved, even if she still didn’t have the complete answer to her own version of the question. She was curious to know where Tom was, what he had said to people. Not that she would have expected him to be keeping a vigil by her bedside until she woke up. Not really. But she knew, now, that seeing him again would be awkward. And her imagination led her to some frightening places.

What would she say to him? How would he react toward her now that he knew? Her mind flashed again on the disgusting way she’d attacked him, on the grunting Klingon beast she’d turned into down in the caves. How could she ever face him again?

She tried not to think about it, but there was no way to avoid the truth. He’d seen the real B’Elanna Torres. The ugly monster that lived inside her. And no amount of pretending now could take it back.

But it was more than that. She’d humiliated him, too. Gave voice to his secrets. Forced him to admit that he was interested in her. Was interested. Before he saw the truth. Before she’d shown him the freak show of her buried Klingon side. Would he feel some kind of obligation to pretend that he was still attracted to her? Try to spare her feelings until he could let her down gently. The thoughts made her sick to her stomach. Stomachs. Dammit.

“B’Elanna?” Harry’s voice brought her out of herself. “What happened down there? Are you okay?”

She shot a look at the EMH, who gave her a reassuring glance. Doctor/patient confidentiality would keep him from saying anything, she knew. She wished, at that moment, that some similar rule applied to helmsmen and junior engineers.

“I’m fine, thanks,” she answered nervously. “I, um, fell, while we were climbing, but I’m fine.” Her equivocation triggered another memory, though, and she turned to the Doctor. “Neelix? Is he…?”

“Mister Neelix won’t be dancing the rumba for a few days, but he’s on the mend,” he said before finishing his work on Harry’s arm. “Of course his injury was in the line of duty,” he said scowling at the ensign in front of him. “Not the result of a testosterone and synthehol-induced contest in one-upmanship.”

Harry smiled. “Sorry, Doc. It won’t happen again.”

“See to it that it doesn’t,” the physician scolded. “You’re free to go.”

Before Kim could even turn around, B’Elanna jumped off the biobed. “Wait for me, Harry.”

As she expected, she was blocked by a scowling hologram. “Lieutenant, you’re not going anywhere!” B’Elanna pleaded with him with her eyes, and she could see him slowly relent. “Except your quarters. And straight to bed.” He was clearly unhappy that she’d won their little battle of wills.

“I’ll make sure she gets there safely, Doc,” Harry offered. Something about the way he said it made B’Elanna suddenly suspicious that her friend knew more than he had let on. “Get dressed, Maquis,” he said to her. “I’ll wait for you.”

Against his better judgment, no doubt, the Doctor handed her a clean uniform and her commbadge. She grabbed them and walked to the lavatory before he could change his mind about releasing her.

The Doctor had cleaned her up while treating her wounds, so she didn’t bother with the sonic shower. Instead, she pulled on her turtleneck and pants, feeling each twist and bend of her body as she stretched out her tender muscles. Then she slipped on her jacket and fastened it up.

Not until the very last minute did she allow herself to look in the mirror. Her hair, while cleaned of the rock dust and debris it had collected during the away mission, was wild and unkempt, its natural curl and wave untamed. She looked at herself for a moment—at the young Klingon woman staring back at her in the glass. Today, she had been as out of control as her hair. And just as Klingon.

The thought made her want to cry.

But she was too tired to cry. And too tired to go to the trouble of fussing over her hair. All she wanted was to get to her quarters, crawl into bed, and pull the covers up over her head. So she slapped her commbadge into place and headed back to the ward.

“Let’s go, Starfleet,” she said without even looking at Harry or the Doctor. “Walk me home.”

It took a second for Kim to catch up with her. Despite her sore legs, she didn’t want to spend any more time than necessary out in public looking like she did. “B’Elanna,” she heard Harry panting as he ran after her, “wait up.”

She didn’t slow down, but had to wait for the turbolift to come, giving him a chance to close the distance between them. Kim looked worried, now, and Torres began to have doubts about how little her friend really knew.

They stepped inside the lift in silence. “Deck 9,” she called out softly. Suddenly things were awkward between them. And, for the tenth time in this ridiculous day, B’Elanna wanted nothing more than to be alone.

She steeled herself when Harry turned to her. “Hey,” he said softly, “are you sure you’re okay?”

“Why,” she spat at him, “what have you heard?”

She saw him swallow hard enough to suggest that he had heard something. His eyes had trouble meeting hers. She was on the verge of a full-fledged panic. “Nothing,” he answered nervously. “I was just worried about you. You don’t seem like yourself tonight.”

Like herself. Whoever that was.

“I’m fine,” she lied. “It’s just been a long day. And I don’t want to talk about it, okay?”

She couldn’t make herself look at him now, but she could see him nod in her peripheral vision. “Sure,” he said softly. “No problem.”

The lift opened and they walked the rest of the way to her cabin in silence. When they got to her door, she keyed in her code, then turned around. “So, you haven’t seen Tom tonight?” she blurted out awkwardly. She thought she saw Kim’s eyes squint softly as if trying to figure out what she was really asking.

“No,” he said sincerely. “But he must have been on duty all night because when I looked for him before, he was in the briefing room with the captain, Chakotay and Tuvok.” Kim stared at her for a moment. “B’Elanna, if you want to talk about anything, you know I would…”

“I know, Harry,” she cut him off. She knew what he was offering, but there was no way she could tell him. She’d never be able to talk about this. Not with anyone. “But like I said, everything’s fine.”

She forced an unnatural smile on her face and took a step inside, blocking the doorway to make it clear that she wanted to be alone. “Goodnight,” she said quietly.

“Night, B’Elanna,” he answered. She let the doors close on his concerned expression.

Stopping only long enough to kick off her boots, B’Elanna pulled off her jacket and flopped face-first into her bed. She wanted so much to put this insane day behind her, to forget it ever happened. Fat chance.

After lying there for a moment, she crawled under the covers. “Computer,” she croaked, “dim the lights.”

~~

“Deck 4.”

Tom was exhausted. And even though he knew he would probably feel rested and refreshed the next morning, he wasn’t looking forward to falling asleep. Falling asleep meant dreaming, and he knew, without a doubt, what would fill those dreams. Tired, he could handle. A replay of what had been, in many ways, the best and worst day of his life…frankly he could live without that right now.

He had just finished a grueling series of debriefings and meetings about their first contact with the Sakari. Mercifully, Chakotay had volunteered to fill the Captain in on the details of B’Elanna’s illness, sparing Tom the embarrassment of trying to explain some things that were extremely personal and by all rights private. There was no reason for the official log to reflect anything that had happened between him and B’Elanna—not in the caves or in the clearing. His personal logs, however…Tom suspected he might fill up his space allotment trying to talk out all they’d said and done that day.

He suspected that his presence at the briefing was Chakotay’s subtle way of keeping him occupied. Of keeping him out of sickbay and away from B’Elanna. Of stopping him from cornering Vorik and starting a new and bloody fight. Of keeping his mind from obsessing about everything that had happened that day.

Well, two out of three wasn’t bad.

Tom punched in his access code and watched the doors swish open. He was happy to finally be home, safe, in his quarters, but he resisted the temptation to flop down on the bed, even though he was bone tired. There was something he needed to do first. Something he’d wanted to do all night.

He stripped off his uniform and tossed it into the refresher, then walked into the bathroom. He’d taken a quick sonic shower that afternoon when he’d been released from—well, thrown out of—sickbay. While that shower had scraped off the bulk of the rock dust and dirt, his body cried out for water. Hot water, as hot as he could stand it. He set the controls and stepped inside.

His quarters were chilly—which was how he preferred them—and the heat from the shower filled the bathroom with steam. Tom washed his hair, then lathered his hands in soap. Some part of him was crying out for a fresh start, and scrubbing the last remnants of Sakari IV off of his body seemed to be the best place to start.

Even as he showered, though, he wondered how the hell life could ever be normal again. There was something so bizarre about what he and B’Elanna had been through. And, even though he hadn’t been the victim of a Vulcan chemical imbalance, Tom felt like a victim of the pon farr, nonetheless. What they’d lived through on Sakari had happened to him as surely as it had happened to B’Elanna. Yet he didn’t feel he had the right to look at it that way. It was exasperating and confusing and made him want to climb into bed and pull the covers up over his head.

But there was no running away from it.

Part of his apprehension was imagining what B’Elanna was thinking and feeling now. And he wished, still, that the Doctor and Chakotay had let him stay in sickbay, let him be there when she woke up. He wondered, when she found herself alone, if she’d think he’d rejected her in some way. If it would add to her embarrassment, giving her a reason to solidify the wall he knew she would invariably throw up between them.

But Chakotay had convinced him that she was entitled to her privacy, to work out her feelings without pressure or interference. It had made sense at the time. Now he wasn’t so sure.

Tom leaned under the water, letting the warm stream rinse his hair and pound against his closed eyes. Then he pulled back and ran his soapy hands over his face, stopping—almost as an afterthought—on his now-smooth cheek. The bite mark was gone, healed with just a few passes of a dermal regenerator. As if it had never been there.

The decision to remove it had been his. In all likelihood, its presence would only have served to remind B’Elanna of her impulsive, Klingon attempt to claim him. And he knew her well enough to know that his keeping it would just have embarrassed her.

Besides, he hadn’t earned it. They hadn’t completed the deal.

Still, part of him hated to lose the only evidence that Sakari was more than just a fantasy, more than his imagination. But he hoped—perhaps foolishly—that if Neelix was right, if the scar from that kind of bite was intended to show a claim of one’s mate, that maybe one day he might wear it again. When B’Elanna was in her right mind and could make her own free choices. If that’s what she wanted.

Of course, his own feelings were an equal jumble. Being stalked by a Klingon had been an eye-opening experience for Tom. He’d had no clue until now that Klingons equated mating with marriage. That their reputations for aggressive love-making were true, and just as much genetic as cultural. And he still didn’t know what B’Elanna’s mixed heritage meant in terms of her own sexual needs and responses.

But he was determined to find out. Because seeing her down there in the caves—in the middle of a full Klingon fury—had only made her more interesting and compelling in Tom’s mind. And their entire experience called the question of her own issues and attitudes about her background. Why did she hate that side of herself so much? Why was she so afraid of expressing it? And what did it mean to their friendship now that he’d seen that part of her in all of its glory?

He lingered in the shower longer than he should have, trying to process the jumble of thoughts that raced through his mind. Finally, forcing himself to shut off the water, he grabbed a towel and headed into the bedroom.

Tom dried himself off, ran the towel through his hair, then pulled out a clean t-shirt and boxers. He got dressed, then turned around and headed reluctantly toward his bed.

That’s when he saw it, draped across a dining chair just where he’d left it: his climbing uniform. He didn’t want to pick it up now—it was covered in the rock dust he’d just gone to so much trouble to wash off. But he also knew that he needed to recycle it. That leaving it there would only serve to keep his wounded heart from healing.

Picking it up gently, he walked over to the replicator and laid it inside. He could see it then, on the right side of the chest just under the red command piping: a bloodstain. B’Elanna’s blood, probably from where her sliced arm had rubbed against him when they were rolling around in the Sakari ruins.

He hadn’t thought, before, about the slight pink tint to the stain. It wasn’t the pure pinkish-purple blood of a full Klingon. Her blood—like the entire truth of her—was some mix of Klingon and Human.

For a second, Tom closed his eyes and allowed himself to remember the moment when she’d pinned him to the ground, seeing in his mind’s eye her frustrated expression when he couldn’t figure out the most rudimentary things about making love to a Klingon woman. Then he summoned up the memory of the look on her face when he finally made the connection and caught on to her game. She’d smiled at him, then; a kind of content and free smile that made him feel for the first time that B’Elanna knew and liked herself. That she was comfortable in asking for what she wanted, even if what she wanted was so…Klingon.

But he knew that wasn’t how she was likely to feel now. He suspected that she’d back away from her Klingon side just as quickly as she’d probably back away from him. Which was a shame. Because, through his eyes, that part of her heritage only added to the interesting colors of her personality, of who she was at her core. It was too bad that she couldn’t see that for herself.

He made a decision in that instant: to burn that particular image into his brain, and concentrate on memorizing her smiling, confident face in his thoughts. One day, he hoped, he might be lucky enough to see that smile again. And, if he did, he’d know not only that he’d found B’Elanna, but that she’d found—finally—herself.

He hit the button and watched as the computer dissolved the uniform for recycling.

A thought occurred to him in that moment, and he walked to his desk. “Computer,” he said, “access the cultural and medical databases and call up all information about Klingon customs and rituals. Search for all known facts about Human/Klingon hybrid physiology, too.”

In moments, the information was displayed on his screen. Five keystrokes later and it was downloaded into a PADD.

Just before he shut off his monitor, Tom noticed the time. It was midnight. This amazing, exasperating, confusing day was finally over.

He realized in that instant that he would mark time differently from now on. Before Sakari and after Sakari. Without knowing how, he knew that his life had been changed forever in this one interminable day. What that meant, however, was still to be seen. Was it the beginning or the end? Until he could see and talk to B’Elanna, there was no way to know.

For now, though, he knew what he had to do: prepare himself for either eventuality.

Whether from accumulated curiosity or an unrealistic optimism, he decided to hope it was the beginning. Sitting down on the end of his couch, he activated the PADD in his hand and began reading.

‘Starfleet Diplomatic Corps Publication 29772. Klingon Customs and Rituals: A Cultural Context. Chapter 1…’

~*~*~*~*~

To Be Continued… Next up: More “Blood Fever” and maybe a little “Unity”

CREDITS:

“Blood Fever,” written by Lisa Klink

Some notes:

The Vulcan and Klingon spellings come from the closed captioning of the episode. Since there are multiple sources for these words (most of which don’t agree with each other), I’ve decided to use the captioning as my spelling of choice.

The Klingon phrases are my best guesses after reading The Klingon Dictionary by Marc Okrand. I don’t speak or read Klingon, so any errors I made can be easily explained by the fact that B’Elanna doesn’t know much of the language either, by her own admission.

The Maquis dream sequence at the beginning of this story was inspired by a scene currently being written by my beta buddy, Briar Rose. If she’d ever finish the wonderful, steamy story it comes from, you would all get the connection. But remember when you do finally read it: it was her idea first.

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