Author’s Note (11/00):  Why did Tom bring B’Elanna roses, and will it take more than flowers to heal the wounds this time?  Not quite canon, but close.  Thanks to DangerMom and J.A. Toner for their help in ironing out wrinkles.  Written in April, 2000.  Rated PG-13 for some strong language.

Disclaimer:  Paramount owns it all.  Always has, always will.  I accept this.

Where Now the Roses Fall

by Diane Bellomo

Seven of Nine reluctantly entered cargo bay two.  She had been on duty for 72 hours and would have been perfectly content to remain on duty had Janeway not strongly suggested she return to the bay to regenerate.

While Seven excelled at disobeying a direct order from Kathryn Janeway, she had a harder time refusing her suggestions, however strongly made.  She suspected this was why the captain had phrased it that way.

It was 2310 hours.  She would have much preferred to take a datapadd and check on the activities of Ensign Paris and Lieutenant Torres.  She knew they were both on beta shift this week, and she always got her best information about human mating behavior when they finished this shift.  But it appeared as though she would not get her opportunity this evening.

She stepped backwards into her alcove, clicked in, and closed her eyes, unwilling to admit even now, even to herself, that it felt good to rest.

*   *   *

“B’Elanna!” Tom shouted in frustration at the back of his lover, who was currently retreating at a rapid pace down the corridor.  Shit.  He ran to catch up with her, reaching out to snatch her back before she could step through the open doors of the turbolift.

“Jesus Christ, Bee, would you just stop for a minute?”

She yanked her arm from his grip and glared at him, her gaze piercing him as surely as if she were holding the point of a knife to his eye.  The turbolift doors slid shut with a soft hiss and left them alone in the corridor. 

It was 2330 hours, just after the close of beta shift.  Both were still fully dressed in uniforms, although the original plan had been to shed the uniforms and acquire the shower stall.  Instead, Tom, in his rising passion, forgot to mind his words and had inadvertently allowed something to slip he never should have allowed slip in such an unguarded moment.

Her mood shifted so suddenly and so dramatically he had not realized she was storming out the door until she was gone and he had to go tearing after her.

“Don’t you ‘Jesus Christ’ me, Tom!  Just tell me this, tell me this one thing.  What right,  what fucking right did you have to access that program?”

He rocked back on his heels, folded his arms across his chest, and waited a beat until he heard her release the breath she had been holding.  When she cursed in Standard, rather than the half-forgotten Klingon she usually used, he knew she was at warp nine rage.

“B’Elanna,” he began evenly, “I was worried--”

She stomped right up to him and cut him off, seething with fury.  She had just barely missed tramping on his instep, and he figured that had been only because she misjudged the distance in her anger.

“Worried, my ass, you nosy bastard!  I don’t wanna hear about your ‘duty as a medical officer’ or your ‘concern for my well-being’ or any other bullshit you’d care to dole out.”  She whirled away from him and began to walk in full strides back down the corridor, intent, he supposed, on the turbolift at the opposite end.

He was not going to let her get off this deck.

“B’Elanna!  Stop it, stop it, stop RUNNING FROM ME!  What the hell are you afraid of?”

At this accusation, she skidded to a halt and pivoted sharply around.  He didn’t think he had ever seen such a black look on her face, and it was not one he cared to ever see again.  But he had initiated it himself, no denying that, and he determined to himself he would see this through to the bitter end.

“Afraid?”  She marched back to him and stood facing him again.  Her hands were balled into tight fists at her sides, her eyes were on fire.  “You think I’m afraid?” 

The challenge left his lips before he realized he’d made it.  “Yeah, I do…pahtk.”

Her rage boiled up in her throat and expelled itself in a sound from another galaxy.  Lightning quick, she raised her fists above her head.  He went to duck, but before he could move a single muscle, she uncurled one hand and slapped his face hard enough to snap his head sideways.  It was not the first time she had slapped him, but it was the first time she had done so with such furious intent.  He knew her handprint would be evident on his cheek, but he resisted the urge to reach up and touch the place she had struck.

She stood defiant before him, shaking her hand.  “What a fucking self- righteous son-of-a-bitch you are,” she snarled, aiming for his heart.  “You walk around here thinking you’re some kind of wonderful, that you can do no wrong.  Even when you do commit a crime, you don’t suffer much for it.  Christ, how many times did you bang Janeway to get her to put you back at the helm, huh?  How many more till you get that goddamn pip back, Ensign?”

Something snapped inside Tom, something he had not even known was poised to do so.  Without conscious thought of his actions, he raised the back of his hand and laid it with such force across her mouth that she spun around and hit the opposite wall with a dull thud.

Time froze in the corridor until B’Elanna moved against the wall, slowly turning to face him.  Blood dripped from a split lip.

“I hate you, Tom Paris, you and the goddamn horse you rode in on.  You were nothing but bad news from day one and I should have known better.  Shit, even my mother would have known better.  Get out of my life.  Just get completely the hell out of my life.”

She pushed herself away from the wall, wiped her mouth with her hand, and walked with her head raised to the turbolift.  She entered but did not turn around, and the doors closed on her back.

Tom shook his head and blinked.  What had just happened?  One minute they were necking and the next he was here, watching the lift close.  He had endured B’Elanna’s wrath on many occasions, but she usually allowed him to explain before she started cursing him.  This time she had not and the moment had quickly escalated into physical violence that was not consensual.

If she had allowed him to explain, she would have learned of his sincerity regarding the program.  What he found, he found purely by accident, while he was scrolling through the public access programs, looking for something to do.  The one-word title, “Playground,” held no clue as to its content – but it had B’Elanna’s personal identification number on it, and that set off a red alert alarm in his head.

He wasn’t being nosy, he was frightened that she was reverting to her former behavior on the holodeck, and he’d be damned if he was going to let it get past him again.  But the program had been nothing of the sort, and as soon as he realized what it really was, he shut it down and put it back where he found it.  He had never intended to say another word about it, but that was not quite the way things worked out.

Tom finally lifted his hand to his face.  He winced and tears came to his eyes, but it was not from contact with the stinging welt beneath his hand. 

The bitter end, indeed.  He dragged himself back to his quarters.

*   *   *

Late the next morning in Sickbay, Tom found himself grateful for the Doctor’s new bedside manner subroutine that allowed only a raised eyebrow and a single, gentle comment as he regenerated Tom’s cheek.

“Mr. Paris, I would suggest you consider your next move very carefully and you do not tarry too long before making it.”

The Doctor did not break patient confidentiality by mentioning B’Elanna had already been to see him that morning and that he said the same thing to her.

The Doctor was wise enough to know the crew aboard Voyager could not afford to be this angry with one another, particularly if the two persons involved were more than just friends.  It would destroy the very fabric that had been so painstakingly woven to create this tiny community.  He was not fearful that Tom and B’Elanna could not handle this on their own, but he was certain if there were no signs of reconciliation within the next 24 hours, he would go to Chakotay, possibly even Janeway herself.

He released Tom with a pat to his arm, tucked his report into a corner of his matrix, and went about his daily tasks.

*   *   *

Tom left Sickbay without a clear destination in mind.  He turned left and began down the corridor, turned around and went the other way, stopped in front of the Sickbay doors and turned again.

Even though her handprint was gone, he imagined he could still feel the stinging on his cheek.  He looked down at his right hand and could not believe it was attached to him, could not believe what it had done to the woman he loved.  No, not it, he amended.  What he, he had done to B’Elanna.

What had the Doctor said?   Decide carefully and do not tarry once you do decide.

He made it to the turbolift, but decided against using it.  He backed up to the access panel for the Jefferies tube that would take him down three decks.

Pausing with his hands on the panel, he allowed bittersweet memories to surface, wanted them to surface.  Jefferies tubes were (or had been) the location of choice whenever he and B’Elanna were in the mood to play little games with protocol.   It was devilishly good fun to make love inside a tube, with the risk of discovery so high.

His throat began to ache, but it did not deter him.  He opened the panel, crawled in, closed the panel, turned and began to crawl to the ladder at the nearest junction.  Attaining that, he descended and began crawling back the way he had come three decks above.  He let the ache in his throat build to a lump he could not swallow and tears blurred his vision, but that was all.  He wiped his nose and eyes with his uniform sleeve and continued crawling.

He had just reached the access panel when it opened from the outside and he found himself staring into the red-rimmed eyes of B’Elanna Torres.

The silence between them was deafening.

“B’Ela…B’Elanna,” he managed to choke.  She jumped like he’d scared her to death, cast him a startled look, and ran.

He scrambled clumsily from the tube, and in his haste it took him several seconds to properly secure the panel.  By that time, she was gone.

*   *   *

B’Elanna was not sure why she ran.  It was – she struggled for the right word and could only come up with one – dishonorable.  She re-entered her quarters and folded herself into her favorite armchair.  She considered lighting some of her precious Klingon incense, but decided that would only muddy her thoughts, which were muddy enough already.  Sighing, she pulled herself from her chair and exited her quarters again.

What had the Doctor said?   Decide carefully and do not tarry once you do decide.  No matter what she had said to Tom in anger and pain, no matter what they had done to one another, she did not want him out of her life.

*  *   *

Tom entered the mess hall with the idea of having lunch, but decided on just a beverage when he got a whiff of what was on the menu.  Leola root stew.  Where the hell was Neelix getting all the leola root?  Hadn’t they passed through the last known growing sector of this cursed vegetable months ago?  He took his juice and sat by himself in the corner, staring at the starfield outside the window.

He thought again about what B’Elanna said.  Did she really mean it?  That she wanted him out of her life?  Of course she did!  Look at the way she had just run from him, and who could blame her, after what he had done to her.  (He was so consumed by anguish, it never occurred to him to wonder what she was doing at the entrance to the Jefferies tube.) 

It didn’t matter she hadn’t given him a chance to explain, or that she had provoked him on purpose out of anger.  He had never struck a woman before in his life, and he still couldn’t quite believe he had not only hit a woman, but a woman he was desperately in love with.

But one thing did matter.  He did not think he could live without her.

He rose from his seat, leaving the untouched juice on the table.  Into his muzzy head came an idea of what his next move would be.  Do not tarry.  He exited the mess hall.

*   *   *

They met again unexpectedly in the corridor as he rounded a corner on her deck.  She stood frozen, a mixed bag of emotions skating across her features.  He suspected his features reflected hers, but he was at once filled with hope at just seeing her again.  He opened his mouth and began to speak before his courage could dissolve.

“B’Elanna, please.  I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.  I deserved to be smacked, but you didn’t deserve a smack in return.  I’m sorry.  You’re right, you’re right, I am a self-righteous son-of-a-bitch.  I thought I was doing the right thing, I really did.  When I realized what the program was, I shut it down, I swear to god, I shut it down right away.  God, I’m sorry.  I love you.  I love you.”    He stood there, quaking, tears standing in his eyes, begging her with every atom in his body.

Tears were streaming from B’Elanna’s dark eyes, but no sound of crying accompanied them.  It was impossible for him to tell whether this really was the bitter end…or the bitter beginning.

“Tom, stop, stop.  It’s okay.  You’re the one who’s right.  I was afraid, I am afraid.  Afraid it’s always going to be what I told you before – me against the galaxy – and no matter what I do to try to curtail or prevent it, there will always be a fight.

“Tuvok said the whole point of my learning a few meditation techniques was not to atone for past transgressions, but to prevent future ones.  She shook her head and snorted. “But, god, Tom, if I can’t get past the…the past transgressions, how am I ever going to learn to prevent future ones?

“I know you checked that program because you were worried I was hurting myself again.  I should have known you of all people would find it, but I thought it was safe in the public access files.”  She dropped her eyes, clearly struggling with her next thought.  When she raised her eyes to his again, he could see a steely determination in them.

“It’s just…it’s just…when you called me…that name, it brought all the anger right back to the surface again.  I couldn’t believe it.  I was angry because you opened the program, sure, but I was more furious at myself because I knew my reaction meant I hadn’t learned anything from Tuvok.  You happened to be handy, so I took it all out on you.  I know you never would have hit me if I hadn’t egged you into it.  I was the one out of line, not you.”  She paused and took a deep breath.

“I love you, Tom, I love you so much.  I don’t want you out of my life.”

His relief nearly turned him to jelly.  She was staring at him so intensely he thought he might melt completely away.  An abstract thought crossed his mind just then, something about an old Christmas story, one called “The Gift of the Magi.”  As he remembered, in this story the husband sells his treasured pocket watch to buy hair clips for his new wife, while his wife sells her beautiful long hair to buy a chain for his pocket watch.  It was not even remotely the same as the present situation, but it felt so achingly familiar he snickered ruefully.

She was clearly puzzled.  “What’s funny?”

“You and I.”  He took her hands in his, tenderly kissed the backs of both, and met her eyes again.  “We’re quite the pair, aren’t we?  I call you ‘turtlehead’ in a moment of passion and you fly into a blind rage.  You tell me I’m a self-righteous son-of-a-bitch who’s screwing the captain for my job, and I belt you one.  Trouble is, B’Elanna, it’s exactly what happened.

Except,” he amended quickly at her sudden raised eyebrows, “that part about sleeping with the captain.  As far as I know, the only one doing that is Chakotay, and even him I’m not one hundred percent certain of.”  He cocked his head and smiled at her.

Though she visibly bristled at the sound of the hated nickname, his comment about the captain sparked a smile and a huff of amusement.  Tom squeezed her hands and continued.

“Thing is, Bee, you’re right, but it applies to me, too.  I’m going to have to get over myself and my past just as much as you’re going to have to get over yours, or neither of us are ever going to be able to go anywhere.”

She nodded her head sharply in agreement.  “Right.”  Then she released his hands, allowed her body to go completely still, closed her eyes, and made a strange request of him.

“Tom, say it again.”

He wondered what was up.  “Uh, say what?”

“My…my nickname.  Say it again.”

He hesitated.  This was possibly not a good place to go and he said as much.  She urged him to repeat it.

“Uh, ‘turtlehead.’”

“Again.  Please.”  She swayed and reached up to touch her forehead ridges, much the same way she had touched her smooth forehead back when the Vidiians split her Human/Klingon DNA.  Understanding dawned.  Tuvok’s technique, he thought, or at least a Klingon modification of it.

“Turtlehead,” he whispered, adding, “your ridges are beautiful.”

She took his hands again, filled her lungs deeply, exhaled evenly through her nose and lifted her eyelids.

“Okay?” he asked, tentatively.

“Oh, not yet – but I’m getting there.”  And she bestowed upon him the most open, honest smile he had ever seen from her.  It thrilled him to see her face light up like that, thrilled him to his toes.

He walked into her arms and held her for a moment, kissing her beautiful ridges, then turned with an arm still around her waist and began to walk with her down the corridor to her quarters.  When they arrived, he was glad to see Harry had done what he asked him to do.

A dozen long-stemmed red roses lay on the floor at her door.

“Tom?”  She bent and picked them up, breathing in the heady scent of the dark buds.

“Oh, uh…I, uh…”  Words abandoned him.

“They’re beautiful.  Thank you.”  She turned into his arms, brought the bouquet up over his shoulder, and kissed him full on the lips.  He could feel thorns pricking his back as she pressed herself to him.

*   *   *

B’Elanna broke the kiss, keyed open her door and stepped into her quarters.

And gasped.

It was filled with the scent of roses, because roses had filled her replicator’s little platform to the point where it could hold no more.  Roses were spilling out onto the floor, and the replicator was not finished.  As she watched, it continued to produce flowers that rolled from the top of the pile on the platform to the growing pile on the floor.  Big, drooping petals and tight buds in all hues imaginable, one after another.

She tore her eyes from this extraordinary sight to look back into the shining blue eyes of the man she adored.  The tips of his ears were bright pink and he was grinning like an idiot, mouthing “I love you” over and over.

She was not fool enough to think this would be the end of their personal battles, but she knew they had both learned from this experience and would use what they had learned as building blocks for their future.

She added her bouquet to the floor and returned to Tom’s arms.

*   *   *

In the shadows at the far end of the corridor, Seven of Nine made a few notes on her datapadd, thumbed it off and turned to the turbolift, satisfaction written all over her face.