Author’s Note (11/00):  This takes place two weeks after the events of “Extreme Risk” and outlines a possible step towards recovery for B’Elanna.  Written in January, 1999.  Rated PG.

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

The Fourth Stage

by Diane Bellomo

B’Elanna Torres walked down the deserted corridor just after the end of beta shift.  She already knew no one was on this deck.  Sleep eluded her, anyway.

Grief Response.  That’s what the Doctor told her it was.  To the death of her friends in the Maquis back in the Alpha Quadrant.  He had added with surprising sensitivity that it was quite possibly also a response to a multitude of other rotten things that had occurred in her life.  The death of her friends only served to amplify feelings of loss and abandonment she had been carrying with her for a very long time.  It was a difficult thing to compartmentalize, and the Doctor had advised her it would be foolish to try.

The Doctor had further informed her there were five stages of grief, and that they were all healthy and necessary, but that if a person stayed too long in the second or third stage, it could turn into clinical depression, which is what had happened to her.

She snorted.  Wouldn’t that be just like me?  To turn a perfectly healthy human response into an ugly, twisted, Klingon thing so horrible that I can barely recognize my own reflection in the mirror.  She tapped the padd she held against her opposite palm and then stopped walking to look down at it.

Stage 1:  Denial

No question, she had certainly done plenty of that.

Stage 2:  Anger Turned Outward

Gods, how easy this was.  She only had to talk to Mulcahey or Vorik, or any of the entire rest of her Engineering crew to know she had made it past this stage.

Stage 3:  Anger Turned Inward.

And here she balked, knowing this was where she had stayed too long.  The Doctor had assured her, in his unique, holographic way, that her being able to define and recognize these stages would help her to move through them.  But he had cautiously advised that she would have to want to move in order to heal, and to do that, to get better, she would have to go through all five stages.

She sighed heavily, unaware of the humanity of this action, of its ability to afford her some small relief.  Leaning against the wall, one ankle crossed over the other, she continued reading the padd.

Stage 4:  Genuine Grief.  The most important stage.  Vitally necessary (according to the padd).  To have a good cry.

In spite of her sigh, her Klingon spirit bristled at the thought of “a good cry.”  Nothing could be further from her character than weeping.  Besides, she thought bitterly, she had already wept for her Maquis friends back in dear old Stage 1, after she had learned of their deaths.  She had wept, all right.  In rage and denial.  But crying as an agent of healing, crying because one was supposed to?  No, she didn’t think so.  She read Stage 4 again.  Vitally necessary.

Anger burned inside her for the weakness of the tears burning in her eyes.  No, it could not be.  She could not go there.  She would not.  She would just have to find another way.  Her glistening eyes fell to the padd again.

Stage 5:  Resolution.  When a person regains their zest for life and joy.

Even though she yearned to reach this stage, it might as well have been in the Alpha Quadrant, for all the closer it felt to her now.

She looked up from the padd, gazing vacantly down the empty corridor, allowing the familiar nothingness to settle over her.  It was too familiar, in fact, and far too comfortable for her to resist.  It gave her the strength she needed to crush her sorrow into a tiny, almost imperceptible knot in her stomach.  She embraced the nothingness, the no thing that at first she had tried to be rid of by entering into dangerous activities on the holodeck.  And if that was what she had done at first, what was she to do now?

She thought about her newfound knowledge of the stages of grief.  The third one.  Anger Turned Inward.  Was this anger, this way she felt?  This almost-sensual cocoon of nothingness?  If so, she did not recognize it.

It did not matter that she knew her ailment.  It did not even matter that others knew and were speaking about her to one another.  In spite of what she and Chakotay had been through in the Maquis simulation, there was simply no room yet for recovery, though she had spent these last two weeks honestly trying.  Her eyes went dead.  Pushing off the wall, she felt the padd slip from her fingers to thump softly on the carpeted floor, but she did not bother to retrieve it.  She walked loose-hipped down the long corridor until she reached the holodeck door, her intended destination all along.

*   *   *

Janeway had worried for hours about her chief engineer after she left the young woman in Sickbay.  She had been shocked by the extent of B’Elanna’s old injuries (internal bleeding, fractured vertebrae, contusions, cranial trauma), at first arguing with the Doctor about what he had found.  But when he proved to her that what he said was true, she realized he had been right from the start. 

At a meeting with Chakotay and Tom to discuss the Delta Flyer, she changed the subject to B’Elanna, determined to get to the core of B’Elanna’s problems and to help her.  In the end, there was only one way to go about it, and that was to invade her privacy regarding her use of the holodeck.  It had been Chakotay’s task, and what he had found left all three of them cold with imagining the things they had not found.

It was also Chakotay’s job to force B’Elanna to face what she was doing to herself and to offer, on behalf of himself and everyone else aboard Voyager, support and assistance.  It had not been pretty, but although he had to leave her in the holodeck simulation when the Malon garbage scow attacked again, he felt confident that progress had been made.

It became immediately apparent that progress had been made when B’Elanna not only asked Chakotay for permission to go along to retrieve the probe but that she had participated to the point of saving the lives of everyone aboard the Flyer, and had kept the shuttle in one piece, as well.

*   *   *

Two weeks passed without need for intervention, or even a reason to believe there should be.  B’Elanna had been actively taking part in all levels of life on Voyager.  Chakotay allowed himself a measure of relief at this, relief that was abruptly cut short by a report from the Doctor. 

B’Elanna had come to see him that day and after an examination assured him she had not been using the holodeck again, they had had a “session” of sorts.  The Doctor was quick to reiterate, as Chakotay expected he would, that his programming did not include psychotherapy, adding with righteous indignation his displeasure over having to endure B’Elanna’s wrath over the examination itself.  At Chakotay’s patient urging, the Doctor returned to the subject at hand, advising Chakotay that he had discussed the stages of grief with B’Elanna, provided her written information, and was certain she understood what was going on with her.

While all this appeared very positive, he was still deeply concerned that B’Elanna might not be moving from Stage 3, even with the knowledge of what it was doing to her.  He did not have any concrete proof of this, offering only his speculation that the Klingon in her might be…disinclined…to move to the fourth stage of grief, actual cleansing tears. He further ventured that her depression was affording her a bizarre kind of comfort that she was not ready to give up, and that while these last two weeks suggested that B’Elanna was on the mend, all might not be as it seemed.   He admitted he was unsure how to proceed, except to suggest to Chakotay that he or someone would do well to be prepared to intervene again, possibly very soon.

The First Officer did not care for having to compose this report for his captain, and it took him several hours to complete it to his satisfaction.  In the years since Voyager had come to the Delta Quadrant, the line between personal and professional, Maquis and Starfleet, had become more and more difficult to see.  For persons such as Chakotay and B’Elanna, who had together seen enough violence to last two lifetimes, there had barely been a line.  Now, Chakotay was unable to separate his personal concern for B’Elanna from his professional concern for the ship.  He knew Janeway would feel the same.

*   *   *

Her opponent was far too big and too clever for her, but she had known that when she programmed him.  She lasted almost an hour before her guard weakened enough to allow him to strike her brutally from behind, sending her flying and landing hard some several feet away, unable to rise again.  She managed to rasp out a command for the computer to end the program and lay winded on the holodeck floor.  She did not know how long she lay there, only that the pain she felt and the blood she tasted meant she was alive, and that was all that mattered.

*   *   *

Captain Janeway was unable to get to Chakotay’s report until almost 2400 hours, but she had foolishly not been worried about what it would contain.  Her apprehension over her chief engineer had subsided since Chakotay’s intervention two weeks earlier in the Maquis simulation, because he had been certain that things were moving in the right direction.  Subsequent reports had also been positive, and she had assumed B’Elanna was healing. 

But the Doctor was never one to beat around the bush.  If he was still concerned about B’Elanna, then so was she.  Chakotay’s uneasy tones only made the report more haunting and left her feeling vaguely uncomfortable and restless.  The line between personal and professional had blurred for her a long time ago, though she would not have been able to name the exact date when this occurred.  Distressing news about any member of her crew upset her very much.  When it was a member of her senior staff, when it was B’Elanna Torres, her stress level increased twofold.

She left her ready room, asking the computer for the location of Torres.  She did not intend to interrupt anything if, please god, the Doctor’s concern was unfounded and B’Elanna was presently engaged in some healing with Tom Paris.  But when the computer could not verify the location of Torres, she was immediately on alert, going straight to the holodecks.  Rounding the corner on Deck Six, she saw a padd on the floor.  Picking it up, she thumbed it on and the five stages of grief stared up at her, the third one highlighted and blinking.  She did not realize she was running until she found herself breathless in front of Holodeck Two, pounding on the locked panel.

“Computer!  Override lock!  Authorization Janeway alpha one!”  The door wheezed open and she flew inside, skidding to a halt at the sight before her.  B’Elanna was unconscious, splayed out on her stomach on the empty holodeck floor, blood drying on a swollen, split lip, her cheek marred by an angry red bruise.

Janeway’s legs threatened to buckle, but she remained on her feet long enough to get to B’Elanna, dropping to her knees beside her and hesitantly reaching out to check for a pulse.  She swallowed hard against the ache in her throat and shuddered with relief at the feel of a strong, steady pulse beneath her fingers, releasing a breath she did not know she had been holding.

“B’Elanna?” she whispered, placing her hand gently on her back and bending her head low to the dark hair, trying desperately to gain emotional balance so she could respond professionally.  But it was difficult.

“Captain?”  B’Elanna stirred, lifting her head and moaning, trying to move.

“No, B’Elanna, lie still.  I’m going to call for transport to Sickbay.”  Before she could touch her commbadge, B’Elanna spoke again.

“No, Captain.  No, please.”

“B’Elanna,” she warned, darkly.  Her voice was stronger this time, she was more in control of her feelings and her rank, and ready to act against B’Elanna’s wishes.  By now, B’Elanna had successfully rolled to her back and was trying to sit up.

“I’m okay, Captain.  I just need…I just need a few minutes.”  She put her hand on Janeway’s arm, using it for balance as she tried to bring herself to a full sitting position, grimacing, her breath catching with the pain.  She was unsuccessful in her attempt.

Janeway shifted to sit cross-legged on the floor, easing B’Elanna halfway into her lap, holding her there, waiting for her breathing to become less labored.  She knew B’Elanna needed medical attention, but she also sensed a deeper need, one that begged her to stay there on the floor.  But she couldn’t keep from questioning.

“Why, B’Elanna, why?  Until today, Chakotay seemed to think you were getting past this kind of behavior.  And what was I to do but believe him?  My god, I almost saved his report until morning!”  She whispered fiercely, “You have to tell me why!”  She stroked B’Elanna’s ridged forehead, staring at the beautiful, battered face, a mixed bag of  emotions flickering in her blue-gray eyes.

B’Elanna opened her eyes, but she did not look at Janeway.  “Captain, I tried, I really did, but I can’t stop.  I can’t seem to find another way to be sure I’m alive.  Nothing else seems to work.  I’ve tried being with Tom, I’ve busted my ass in Engineering, I’m even listening to Klingon opera, but nothing works, nothing but…this.”  Her lip had begun to bleed again.  Her voice was flat, her eyes dull, dry.

Janeway was no counselor, but neither was she a stranger to grief.  It took no effort at all for her to remember the radical action her sister had taken to get her on her feet again when she tried to sleep her life away after the death of her father and Justin, her fiancée.  She pulled the sleeve of the gray turtleneck out from beneath her uniform and used it to wipe the blood from B’Elanna’s lip.

She knew what B’Elanna had to do, and she determined that now was the time she would do it.  Certainly, there was the matter of the young woman’s physical injuries, but if there was anything Kathryn Janeway knew for sure, it was that if B’Elanna did not give her mental injuries opportunity to heal, there would be no ending to her physical injuries except for the very final kind.

“B’Elanna, you are alive, you don’t need to keep proving it to yourself by hurting yourself.  What you have to do is let it go.  You have to allow yourself to grieve for your friends who died…”

“They didn’t just die, Captain, they were slaughtered in cold blood by Cardassians!”  In spite of her pain, or perhaps because of it, B’Elanna’s voice was full of hate, and she spit out the name of her enemy’s race as if it were poison on her lips.

“All right, then, B’Elanna,” Janeway returned with equal heat, matching Klingon rage with Irish ire, not about to let the woman drown in her past.  “They were killed in cold blood.  None of that can matter for you now, none of it can matter for them now, either.  They’re dead, they’ve been dead for a long time.  Those people you created in the holodeck?  They aren’t real.  No matter how many times you watch them die, the real people, the real Meyer, the real Nelson and Sareen are all dead and gone.  Nothing, nothing, you do to yourself will bring them back!  If you don’t cry for them, for yourself, nothing I can do will bring you back.  And B’Elanna, I’m sorry, but losing you is unacceptable.  Do you hear me?  Unacceptable!  You will cry, if I have to stay with you night and day for the next hundred years to ensure that you do.”   She resisted the urge to shake her and did not realize she was crying until the tears blurred her vision.

“NO!”  No, no!”  B’Elanna surged out of Janeway’s lap, her anger pumping adrenaline into her bloodstream, giving her false strength she could not maintain.

Janeway quietly collected herself and spoke softly, as B’Elanna collapsed beside her.  “Yes.”  The captain reached out to her, gathering her into her arms again.  “Yes, B’Elanna, yes.”  They remained like that for a long moment.

When the crying began, it was a very quiet thing, very human, and if B’Elanna had not recognized her reflection during the blackest days of her depression, she would surely not have recognized it now.

She shuddered violently in Janeway’s arms, clutched at her, hot tears soaking her captain’s uniform front, as the tight knot of sorrow in her stomach slowly began to unravel.  Memories of her time in Chakotay’s Maquis cell came back in jumbled pieces, all of her friends finding life again one last time…

“Roberto, you goddamn idiot!  You know you’re not fast enough to set one of those things and get away from it in time to keep from getting hit!  C’mere, let me clean that out before it gets infected.”

“Lee’Paz, cover me.”

“You manage to make the best stew I’ve ever tasted out of pretty much nothing.  How the hell do you do it?”

“I’ll kill the bastard!  I’ll kill him!”

“Atara, fire!”

“Woo-hoo!  We did it!”

“Chakotay, I’m frightened…Chak…”

And then her memories found her voice, hoarse and thick with tears.  “…otay!  Chakotay!  Don’t leave me!  I’m frightened!”  A tortured sound of despair escaped her as the faces of her friends flashed before her in quick succession and then faded, until only one thing remained.  A single word, scorched onto the back of her raw throat.


*   *   *

It was quiet in the holodeck.  “Janeway to Sickbay.  Two for emergency beam-out.”