Summary: There’s nothing like an away mission to find out what you’re really made of – and who your companion really is.
A Christmas gift for @caladeniablue.
Characters: Janeway, Torres
Codes: Janeway & Torres
Disclaimer: Paramount/CBS own all rights to the Voyager universe and its characters, which I am borrowing without permission or intent to profit.
“Chakotay is never going to let me live this down,” grumbled B'Elanna Torres, inspecting the steep sides of the canyon. She’d had little time to find a suitable beam-in site while the shuttle was breaking up around them, but at least she’d found one with shade. It was already thirty-six degrees Celsius, and judging by the position of this planet’s two suns, the temperature was going to continue climbing for the next twelve hours at least.
Kathryn Janeway looked up from her tricorder and squinted into the distance. “According to my scans, the majority of the shuttle debris is scattered over a hundred-kilometre radius. Even if Voyager picked up our distress call, they’re at least a day and a half’s travel away. We’re going to need to find shelter.”
“See anything promising?” B'Elanna shouldered her backpack.
“There’s a cave system twelve kilometres in that direction. With any luck it’ll have a water source and something we can eat. Let’s move, Lieutenant.”
They headed out single file, Janeway in the lead. Before they’d gone more than a couple of hundred metres B'Elanna could already feel the sweat gathering at her hairline, trickling down her spine. She shifted the backpack to one arm, searching inside it for her water container.
Janeway glanced back. “Problem, Lieutenant?”
“My water canister. It’s not in here.”
“What?” The captain stopped, frowning, and began rooting around in her own bag. She pulled out a transparent thermos and held it up. “There should be enough in mine to keep us going, but we can’t guarantee there’ll be fresh water in those caves. We’ll have to ration it.” She gave B'Elanna a look that wasn’t quite a glare. “Is there anything else missing from your survival pack?”
“There’s no medkit in here either,” B'Elanna said reluctantly.
“Nor in mine.” Janeway breathed out through gritted teeth.
“When I find out who was responsible for checking these packs –”
“– you’ll have to get in line.” Janeway zipped up her pack. “Still, we should have checked them before we started the pre-flight. When we get back to Voyager I’ll order it to become part of standard procedure.”
“In the meantime,” B'Elanna tugged off her jacket and wound it around her head, “we’ll just have to try not to get heat stroke.”
“Then we’d better get going,” Janeway replied, and they turned back toward the caves.
The canyon grew narrower and the ground littered with rocks, forcing them to pick their careful way through the valley. Stunted, scrubby trees dotted the slopes, their roots thick and twisting, prone to tripping up unsuspecting hikers. One hour in, the temperature had risen to almost forty degrees, and Janeway had called a rest stop. They’d paused in the lee of an overhanging rock shelf.
B'Elanna hunkered down beside the captain, sipping carefully at their sole water bottle. “How far are we from the caves?”
Janeway double-checked her tricorder. “Five kilometres. Another hour, more if the terrain keeps getting worse.”
“Not to mention the heat.”
Janeway quirked a smile. “I thought Klingons preferred the heat.”
“My human half isn’t so keen.”
“In that case, let’s keep moving. The sooner we find water and shelter, the happier your human half will be.”
B'Elanna huffed out a laugh and pushed up to her feet, holding out a hand to help the captain up. Overhead, there was the sound of a flock of avians screeching as they took sudden flight, and then something far more ominous.
“Is that –”
“Move!” Janeway shouted, shoving B'Elanna ahead as she scrambled upright. The rock they’d been sheltering under groaned, tipped and slid toward them, followed by a shower of slightly smaller boulders from above. One glanced off B'Elanna’s shoulder, sending her sprawling. She yelped in pain, then curled up as best she could and covered her head with her arms until the rumbling was over.
Dust hung thick in the air.
“Lieutenant,” Janeway called, voice raspier than ever. “Are you all right?”
“I’m fine.” B'Elanna picked herself up from the dusty canyon floor. “Ouch,” she added through clenched teeth, slumping back down.
“What’s wrong?” Janeway appeared at her side. Her uniform was filthy, and dust streaked her face and settled in her coiled-up hair.
“My knee.” B'Elanna’s mouth was grim with pain. “I think I’ve twisted it.”
“Let me see.” Janeway knelt beside her and placed cool, careful hands on B'Elanna’s leg. “It’s swelling up, all right. Could be a sprain.”
“I’ll be fine.” B'Elanna manoeuvred to her feet in stages, took one step and almost buckled; Janeway caught her under the elbow just in time.
“Easy,” the captain warned, then ducked under B'Elanna’s arm and pulled it over her shoulders. “Let’s take it slowly, okay?”
“Right.” Sweat beaded B'Elanna’s forehead as Janeway helped her over to a large flat rock, onto which she sank gratefully. She looked down at her leg. A raw red scrape covered almost the entire patella, and beneath it the knee was puffy and bruised. She groaned. “How much farther did you say we have to walk?”
“Five kilometres.” Janeway was frowning at her tricorder. “But I’m afraid we don’t have a choice. This section of the canyon looks to be prone to rock slides. We can’t stay here.”
“Okay.” B'Elanna glanced over at the nearest tree, a twisted grey skeleton clinging to the side of the canyon. “That branch over there – if it’s strong enough I can use it as a crutch.”
The captain tore off the arm of her turtleneck and used it to bind B'Elanna’s knee, then went to retrieve the broken-off branch. B'Elanna tested its ability to hold her weight and nodded.
“I’ll carry your pack,” Janeway offered.
“No, it’s okay.” B'Elanna hooked the crutch under her arm. “I’m good to go.”
“All right then, Lieutenant.” Janeway moved ahead of her along the ever-narrowing canyon, tossing over her shoulder with a smirk, “Try to keep up.”
“How much farther?”
“Ten minutes closer than the last time you asked me.”
B'Elanna couldn’t muster the strength for a retort. Her knee throbbed out of time with her accelerated heartbeat, the makeshift crutch was rubbing the tender skin of her armpit, and it was so hot she wanted to tear off her own hair. Left, hop, left, hop, she repeated to herself, as she’d done for the past … what had Janeway said? Ten minutes.
She managed a grunt in return. Left, hop, left –
She came to an abrupt halt against the captain’s back and staggered, clutching at Janeway’s shoulder to regain her balance. “Why did you stop?”
Janeway stood rigid, keeping B'Elanna behind her with one arm. “Don’t. Move.”
B'Elanna followed the captain’s sightline. Directly in their path crouched a human-sized avian, glossy black with vivid violet underwings. Its eyes were yellow, its beak curved like an eagle’s, and its claws were the size of a mountain lion’s. It opened its beak to reveal a long, reptilian tongue, forked on the end.
“That,” muttered B'Elanna, “does not look like friendly local wildlife.”
The giant bird cocked its head to one side, emitted a shriek and hopped in their direction. As it moved, B'Elanna caught sight of what was behind it: some kind of furred mammal, very large and very dead.
“D’you think it’s a scavenger, Captain?” she murmured.
“By the looks of that beak,” Janeway whispered back, “it’s more likely some kind of raptor.”
“You mean a bird of prey?”
The bird hopped closer and drew itself upright, spreading its wings.
“Any chance it considers us prey?”
“I’d say that’s a strong possibility, Lieutenant.” Cautiously, Janeway unsheathed her phaser, holding it loosely by her side. “Stay behind me.”
The bird shrieked and launched at them, and Janeway brought her arm up quickly and fired. The raptor keeled over.
“Did you kill it?”
“No. It’s only stunned.” Janeway holstered the phaser. “We’d better keep moving.”
“Maybe we should bring it with us.”
“For what purpose?”
B'Elanna shrugged. “You did say we can’t be sure there’s water in those caves. What if there’s nothing to eat, either?”
Janeway waved her tricorder over the unconscious bird. “Unfortunately, we couldn’t eat this even if we wanted to. I’m picking up a substance in its adipose layer that’s similar to tetrodotoxin. Eating this bird would probably kill us in minutes.”
“Great,” B'Elanna said. “I knew there was a reason I don’t like birds.”
“Onward, Lieutenant.” Janeway stowed the tricorder, waited to be sure B'Elanna was steady on her feet – foot – then continued to pick her way through the stone-littered valley.
“Yes, ma’am,” B'Elanna muttered, hobbling after her.
“They’re tracking us.” B'Elanna leaned against the canyon wall, sipping gratefully at their dwindling water supply, and pointed skyward.
“I noticed.” The captain shaded her eyes with her hand, gazing up at the circling avians far overhead. “I count five – no, six. Strange.”
“Birds of prey tend to be solitary unless it’s mating season, although they have been known to hunt in small packs.”
“You think they’re hunting us?”
Janeway shrugged. “Either that, or we’ve stumbled into their hatching grounds and they see us as predators.” She bit her lip, adding softly, “I wish Chakotay were here.”
B'Elanna’s eyes widened.
The captain must have sensed the shift in tension, because she glanced sharply at B'Elanna. “He has a knack for understanding animal behaviour, Lieutenant. That’s all I meant.”
“Mating behaviour,” B'Elanna agreed, straight-faced. “I’ve heard.”
Janeway muttered something under her breath in which B'Elanna was sure she caught the word ‘Paris’ and the phrase ‘bust him down to crewman’. The engineer hid a smile behind her hand. If only Janeway knew how quickly that story had travelled through the lower decks – or that, in fact, it had been Harry Kim who’d told her about it.
“So,” she said, screwing the lid back onto the water bottle and handing it to Janeway, “how much farther now?”
By the time they reached the caves – finally, B'Elanna thought, all but collapsing against the cliffside while Janeway scanned ahead – the temperature had climbed to forty-three degrees. They’d long since removed as much clothing as possible, and Janeway had wrapped her jacket turban-style around her head as B'Elanna had done. Despite applying a liberal layer of sunscreen, the captain’s fair skin was pink. B'Elanna’s undershirt was drenched in sweat, her throat was parched, and her knee was throbbing with dull agony.
“Shall I give you the bad news, or the worse news?” Janeway hunkered down beside her, face grim.
“Hit me,” B'Elanna said wearily.
“There’s a freshwater spring in these caves, but it’s going to be difficult to get to. I’ll have to climb about thirty metres to access it, and we don’t have much in the way of portable receptacles to carry the water in. Or climbing equipment, for that matter.”
“Please tell me that’s the worse news.”
“I’m afraid not.” Janeway sighed. “The site of the spring appears to be heavily populated with avian life forms.”
“Those hatching grounds you mentioned?”
“That would be my guess.”
Janeway straightened up. “Let’s find a defensible campsite and get you settled before I go fetch the water.”
B'Elanna couldn’t help wincing as she struggled to her feet and fitted the crutch under her rubbed-raw armpit.
“Here, lean on me.”
One arm slung over the captain’s shoulders with Janeway’s wiry arm holding her steady around the waist, B'Elanna hopped valiantly into the cave. “Is it – much – farther?” she asked, short of breath.
“I think this will do,” Janeway answered.
They were forty metres into the tunnel system, in an alcove that was large enough to sleep them both as well as to hold a small campfire, B'Elanna observed. It was cooler in here, almost bearable – she guessed it was around thirty-two degrees – but she suspected the temperature would drop dramatically when those suns finally set. They’d need a fire for warmth, even if they had nothing to cook on it.
Janeway kicked aside some loose rubble and lowered B'Elanna to the floor, hunkering down beside her. “Let’s take a look at that knee.”
Janeway diagnosed B'Elanna with a sprained ligament and bullied her into propping her back against the cavern wall with her injured leg raised onto their wadded-up jackets. “See if you can set up a homing beacon with the tricorder,” the captain ordered. “I don’t intend to spend any longer on this planet than we have to, so let’s make sure Voyager can find us easily.” She emptied her pack of everything that could not possibly be used as a water container and slung it over her shoulders. “I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
“Right.” B'Elanna took the tricorder. “Be careful, Captain.”
“See you soon.” Janeway smiled at her, then ducked into the passageway and was soon out of sight.
It took five minutes to set up the homing beacon, and when she’d finished that, all B'Elanna had to occupy herself with was replaying the sequence of events that had led them here. An ion storm that had gathered strength more quickly than they’d anticipated, damage to the starboard nacelle, an overload in the EPS relays, and they’d barely made it into atmosphere of the nearest M-class planetoid before structural integrity failed. B'Elanna sighed. If Tom Paris had given her that story, she’d have never stopped giving him hell over it.
Was it getting hotter inside the cave?
Scowling, she put aside the tricorder and peeled the bandage from her knee. The graze that had begun as a mild, superficially painful abrasion was showing signs of yellow-tinged puffiness beneath the scrapes. “Great,” she muttered. An infection was all she needed right now.
Maybe if she sponged it clean … B'Elanna shook the water canister the captain had left for her and groaned. There was only a few mouthfuls left, and if Janeway couldn’t get to the water source –
Speaking of which … she’d been gone for over an hour now. B'Elanna frowned. Surely she should have been back by now …
She listened: nothing.
“Shit,” B'Elanna muttered. Flattening her hands against the rockface behind her, she manoeuvred carefully to her feet and grabbed the crutch. “Captain,” she called again as she headed down the passageway in the direction Janeway had gone.
The captain’s harsh whisper made B'Elanna pick up her pace despite the increased agony in her knee. “Captain? Where are you?”
“Over here. I need your help, Lieutenant.”
“Captain?” B'Elanna rounded a bend and there was Janeway. Her hair was falling out of the confines of its makeshift turban and she was balancing three dinner-plate sized eggs in her arms. One shoulder bore a nasty gash. Blood streaked her arm and one side of her undershirt was soaked dark with it.
“Kahless, what happened?”
“I came across one of those avians’ nests.”
“And you thought you’d raid it?” B'Elanna helped Janeway lower the eggs carefully to the floor and ease the pack over her shoulders.
“Well, at the time the nursery was unattended.” Janeway unwound the jacket from her head, shoved it into the backpack and carefully lifted the eggs on top of it. “There, safe and sound. I couldn’t stop to do that earlier.”
“Let me guess.” B'Elanna nodded at the captain’s lacerated arm. “Mama bird came back?”
Janeway’s mouth twisted. “In her place I’d have been mad too.”
“We need to clean that wound. Please tell me you got some water?”
“Some,” Janeway acknowledged. “But I might have to go back for more.”
“How exactly do you plan to do that?” B'Elanna demanded. “That freak-bird will rip your head off! Of all the stupid –”
“Excuse me, Lieutenant?” The captain’s tone turned chilly.
“What were you thinking? You could have been –”
B'Elanna’s rant was cut short by the captain’s cool hand on her forehead. “No wonder your temper is shorter than usual,” Janeway said tartly. “You’re burning up.”
“Infection,” B'Elanna muttered. “Sorry, Captain.”
“Don’t mention it. Let’s get back to our new home, shall we?”
All things considered, B'Elanna felt pretty good. There’d been enough water to quench her thirst and her belly was full – the eggs Janeway had brought back had, luckily, shown no trace of the toxin found in their adult counterparts – and the temperature had dropped to a level she’d almost call comfortable. She leaned against the cave wall and watched drowsily as Janeway tidied their things and poked at the little fire she’d built.
Her knee hurt, but the pain was dull, remote. Actually, everything felt sightly unreal. She supposed it was because of her fever. Janeway was concerned, kept coming over to place cold cloths on her forehead and check the increasingly livid yellow-grey streaks on the skin surrounding her knee. B'Elanna, however, was more concerned about the captain’s injury.
“Are you sure there’s no poison in that wound?”
“I’m sure,” Janeway repeated patiently. “And I’ve cleaned it thoroughly. There’s no need to worry about me, B'Elanna.”
“Easy for you to say.”
Janeway settled down beside her. “Meaning?”
“Meaning it’s my job to worry about you.”
The captain half-chuckled. “I think that’s my line.”
“Oh yeah?” B'Elanna leaned her head back, closing her eyes. “I bet Chakotay didn’t give you a talking-to about watching my back. Or threaten grievous bodily harm if you let anything happen to me.”
Janeway was quiet. “No,” she said eventually, her voice even. “He didn’t. And I can’t imagine why he would say such a thing to you, Lieutenant.”
B'Elanna snorted. “You can’t imagine? Really?”
B'Elanna had actually started drifting off when the captain spoke again, startling her awake.
“Why did you join the Maquis, B'Elanna?”
“Seemed like a good idea at the time.”
She felt Janeway turn her head, felt the captain’s eyes on her in the fire-tinged darkness.
“Okay,” she sighed. “I joined because nobody else would have me. Seems there isn’t much call in the private sector for an Academy dropout with an attitude problem.”
B'Elanna tried to ignore the warm feeling Janeway’s words produced. “Anyway, I was down to my last few credits and decided to waste them on blood wine. I got into a, uh, disagreement with a couple of guys at the bar. That’s where Chakotay found me.” She smiled at the memory. “I was losing the fight. He waded straight in to defend me, and he’s had my back ever since.”
“He’s lucky,” Janeway said, “to have a friend like you.”
“Yes, B'Elanna,” the captain said softly. “You.”
B'Elanna didn’t try to quash the glowing feeling this time. “Thanks,” she said. “That means a lot coming from you, Captain.”
“Good night, B'Elanna.”
She felt Janeway’s hand clasping her own in the darkness as they drifted into sleep.
Someone was bustling around nearby. There were sounds of fabric rustling, dirt being kicked at, containers being shaken.
B'Elanna slitted open her eyes.
“You’re awake,” Kathryn Janeway remarked, putting down the empty water canister. “How do you feel?”
B'Elanna considered the question. “Pretty awful,” she admitted. “How’s your arm?”
“It’s fine.” Janeway crouched beside her with the tricorder. “Your fever has climbed a little – you’re at forty point two degrees. And we’re almost out of water. I’ll have to go fetch some more.”
“From the viper’s nest?” B'Elanna pushed herself up to sitting. God, her head hurt.
“No. I’ve detected another spring.”
“Why don’t you sound happy about that?”
Janeway sighed. “Because it’s an eighty-metre climb away.”
The captain handed her their last full water container and stood upright. “I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
“Don’t be quick,” B'Elanna called after her. “Just be careful.”
She had no idea how much time had passed; she had been drifting in and out of a heavy, dream-filled sleep. Tuvok’s unfeeling recrimination, the Doctor’s tight-mouthed frown; Chakotay’s angry, disappointed eyes as he asked her why she’d let the captain put herself in danger.
B'Elanna dragged herself into wakefulness, heart pounding and stomachs sick. “Captain?”
There was no answer.
It was so hot, but she couldn’t tell if the heat was external or her fever. Reaching for the water bottle, she discovered to her dismay that at some point while she dozed, she had knocked it over, and all its precious contents had soaked into the dirt.
Her voice echoed into the silence. B'Elanna fumbled for the tricorder, checking the time. Captain Janeway had been gone for over two hours.
“Shit.” Holding onto the wall with one hand, the other clamped over her mouth to hold in the roiling nausea, B'Elanna staggered to her feet. The cave spun lazily around her and she closed her eyes until the dizziness abated. Then she gathered up their belongings, strapped on the backpack, shoved the crutch under her arm and set off to find her captain.
Janeway lay crumpled at the foot of a cliff that made B'Elanna dizzy when she glanced up at it.
“Captain!” She hobbled toward the inert form as fast as she could, nausea forgotten. Lowering herself onto her good knee, she yanked the tricorder from her belt and passed it over the unconscious woman.
Even a standard tricorder was able to detect a broken femur, fractured clavicle and lacerated kidney.
“Shit, shit, shit,” B'Elanna muttered. Not for the first time, she cursed the descendants of the idiot who’d left medkits out of the standard survival packs. “Captain, can you hear me?”
She stroked the older woman’s hair back from her forehead and was rewarded with a low moan.
“Captain, it’s me, B'Elanna.”
“Hold still,” the engineer ordered. “You’ve broken a couple of bones and perforated your kidney. You’re probably bleeding internally.”
“Can you tell me what happened?” B'Elanna cast around and saw Janeway’s pack lying a few feet away. She scrambled for it. It was heavy – every canister inside it was filled with water. Well, at least they had that.
“Lost ... footing.” The captain raised a hand to her head; it came away wet with blood. “Couldn’t … catch myself. Shoulder.”
“I knew I shouldn’t have let you go free-climbing after that goddamned bird attacked you.” B'Elanna’s eyes filled unexpectedly and she dashed the tears away angrily. “Chakotay is going to kill me.”
“Not your fault, Lieutenant.”
B'Elanna dampened a torn-off strip of undershirt and started cleaning the gash on Janeway’s forehead. She was surprised when the captain grasped her wrist.
“Listen to me,” Janeway ordered. “Need to find … shelter. Can’t stay here.”
B'Elanna glanced around. Janeway was right. They were out in the open here, in a crevasse between two cliff faces, and way overhead she could see more of those avians circling. And it was hot. It wasn’t just her fever; the tricorder told her it was forty-five degrees out here and rising.
“How am I supposed to move you?” she asked helplessly, looking down at Janeway again. “It’ll make your injuries worse.”
“No choice. We’ll die out here.”
B'Elanna placed her hands under Janeway’s shoulders and hesitated. There was no way around it – she’d have to put weight on her injured knee.
This was going to hurt both of them.
“Do it, Lieutenant.”
B'Elanna gritted her teeth and shuffled backward, biting off her own scream as Janeway cried out in agony.
It had taken B'Elanna fifteen agonising minutes to drag the once-again-unconscious captain into a cavern that offered acceptable protection from the elements – and the wildlife. Then she’d shuffled back to the cliff face to retrieve their packs and her crutch. By the time she got back to the cave, Janeway was awake again.
B'Elanna set the tricorder with its homing beacon at the outskirts of their cave where she hoped the signal would be strongest, and hurried over to Janeway. “Here,” she said, lifting the captain’s head and holding a water bottle to her lips.
Janeway drank thirstily, coughed and turned her head away, grimacing at the pain of her fractured collar bone. “How’s the knee?” she rasped.
“And your fever?”
Honestly, she was feeling weaker and more off-balance by the minute, and she didn’t think she’d even be able to keep down water. But Janeway didn’t need to know that.
“Voyager should have picked up our … distress call by now,” Janeway offered. “With any luck, they’re … only a few hours away.”
B'Elanna slid down next to her captain and propped her back against the wall. For a while the only sounds were Janeway’s slightly laboured breathing and the faraway shrieks of the prey birds.
“So,” B'Elanna said eventually, “how should we pass the time until we’re rescued?”
“Why don’t you … tell me about the happiest … moment in your life?”
“I could use … an uplifting story right about now.”
“Okay…” B'Elanna sifted through memories, cherry-picking and discarding, until she hit upon one. “Uh, it was a few months ago. Neelix threw a party on the holodeck, and there was a big tree covered in ornaments and a fireplace and snow outside. People were dancing and we were all making bets that we’d be home before the year was out, and everyone was happy.”
She stopped talking and the cave fell silent.
Janeway was staring at the opposite wall, her face expressionless. “That was … your happiest memory?”
B'Elanna shrugged. “I guess so. I didn’t exactly have an idyllic childhood, and then there was the Academy, and the Maquis… Yeah. I guess Voyager is the happiest I’ve ever been.”
She caught an infinitesimal flicker of pain across Janeway’s face, but couldn’t tell if it was physical, or caused by something else.
“How about you, Captain?” she asked, swallowing against the ever-present nausea. “When were you happiest?”
Janeway’s brow tensed, then relaxed. “I’m not sure I could … pick only one. I had a much happier childhood than … you did, B'Elanna. Maybe it was … when I was accepted into the Academy. The look on … my father’s face when he … told me…” her voice faded out.
“He was proud of you, huh?”
“Yes.” The captain’s voice was soft and sad. “He always was.”
“And after that?” B'Elanna shifted to ease the ache in her knee. “Uh, don’t I remember hearing that you were engaged to be married?”
“Sorry,” B'Elanna muttered. “Me and my big mouth.”
“It’s all right. Actually, I’ve … been engaged twice, so … I guess you could say I’ve had … more than my share of happiness.”
“What happened to the first guy?” Immediately B'Elanna cringed. “Sorry. Again.”
“There was … an accident, and he was … killed.”
“Hell,” B'Elanna said under her breath. “That’s not fair.”
“He was a … Starfleet officer. It … comes with the territory.”
“Is that why you won’t let Chakotay –” Shit, she thought. Shut up. Just shut up, you idiot.
“Won’t let Chakotay … what?” Even as pale and clearly in pain as she was, Janeway managed to inject gravel into her voice.
“I’m sorry,” she mumbled. “It’s none of my business. It’s just that he’s my best friend, and …”
“You care … about him.”
“Yes.” B'Elanna gazed downward. “He’s been through a lot. I don’t want to see him hurt again.”
To her surprise, she felt feeble pressure on her hand and realised Janeway was trying to squeeze it.
“I don’t want to … hurt him,” the captain rasped. “But I’m responsible … for his life.”
B'Elanna stared at her. Janeway’s eyes were pain-glazed, but her gaze was steady.
“That has to … take precedence,” Janeway said. “Do you … understand?”
B'Elanna swallowed hard. “Yes,” she answered. “I understand.”
She waited until Janeway’s eyes drifted closed before she allowed the fever to pull her into sleep, the captain’s hand still clasped loosely in her own.
It was the racking, bubbling cough that woke her.
“Captain?” B'Elanna croaked. God, her throat was dry, and her head ached fiercely.
A faint moan and another cough were her answer.
“Captain!” Momentarily forgetting about her knee, B'Elanna shot upright, then howled at the agony. Her vision darkened, her stomachs flipped, and she had to tip her head back and pant harshly until it all subsided.
Only then could she turn to the injured woman at her side.
The captain was pale as milk, pain etched across her features. She was breathing quickly through cracked lips, and despite her broken clavicle she had curled slightly onto her side, one arm clamped across her midsection.
“Shit!” B'Elanna slid over beside her. “Captain, can you hear me?”
“I’m … here.” Janeway’s eyes opened slowly. “Abdomen hurts.”
“Okay.” B'Elanna tried frantically to remember the very basic medic training she’d been forced to learn in the Maquis, but her brain was sluggish. Chasing down a coherent thought was like pushing through molasses. “Okay. Um, maybe we missed an injury. Can I take a look?”
Janeway nodded slightly, her arm sliding away from her waist. B'Elanna lifted the undershirt carefully and swore. Beneath it, there was a swollen bump, the skin purplish and taut.
“Internal … bleeding,” Janeway whispered. “Kidney.”
“What do I do?” B'Elanna asked, helpless.
“Nothing.” The captain managed a faint smile. “Wait … for help.”
“I can’t just do nothing!”
“No choice.” Janeway opened her eyes wider. “Keep me … awake. Tell me … a story.”
B'Elanna stared at her. “Okay. Uh, okay. I … did I ever tell you about my first anniversary on the job?”
“The day you made me chief engineer, Chakotay said there were four complaints lodged against me. I mean, he didn’t tell me that until much later, but the thing is, I had no idea about it until that first year had passed. Turns out it was Carey, Nicoletti, Ashmore and Durst.” She watched the captain’s face carefully as the words spilled out. “Anyway, the week leading up to my anniversary, all these strange things started happening. Good things, I mean. Like, a bunch of flowers left on my workstation, or extra replicator rations appearing in my account. A holodeck becoming available right when I came off shift. You know. I started to get suspicious. I thought the universe was saving up something really bad for me and I’d get hit with it right when I was least expecting it.”
Janeway’s lips curled.
“I mentioned to someone in passing that I wanted to recalibrate every EPS monitor on the ship – I had this idea for an upgrade that would increase power flow efficiency by point seven per cent – and the next morning when I turned up at work, it was already done. That’s when I really blew my stack.”
B'Elanna chuckled at the memory.
“I was furious. I demanded to know who’d been fixing things behind my back – how dare they make my life easier without my orders? I was halfway through tearing strips off Vorik when I heard someone clear his throat behind me. When I turned around, there was Carey holding a huge cake with one candle on it. He confessed to everything – it was him and the three others who’d lodged formal complaints that were behind the flowers and the gifts and everything else.”
Janeway managed a short huff that passed for a laugh.
“I couldn’t understand it. I assigned the four of them the worst and most tedious jobs, and I was like a bear with a sore head for the rest of the day. Finally, one of them must’ve called Chakotay, because he strong-armed me out of Engineering an hour before end of shift and explained it all to me.”
“They respect you,” Janeway murmured. “And they … love you.”
“I still don’t know why,” B'Elanna admitted. “I’m bad-tempered and I hold them to high standards. I’m a bitch of a boss.”
“You’re … the best at what you … do,” said the captain. “And they’re … smart enough to … know it.”
“You knew it,” B'Elanna said, softly. “And I resented you for that at first. I didn’t want to feel like I had standards to live up to again – I mean, anybody’s standards other than mine.”
“You have … exceeded all my … expectations.” Janeway curled her fingers over B'Elanna’s.
The engineer shook her head. “But I’ve let Chakotay down. I let you get hurt.”
“Not your … fault…”
“He trusted me,” B'Elanna interrupted. “He told me to bring you back unharmed, or he’d toss me in the brig. He said without you, Voyager and her crew wouldn’t survive.”
“Shouldn’t have … said that.” Janeway was glaring at her. “He had … no right. You are … designated survivor.”
“In case of … command team all dying,” the captain forced out, “you have to … live. It’s you that … keeps Voyager going. Anyone can be captain … Chakotay, Tuvok … Tom … Nobody can do … what you do, B'Elanna. Nobody.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” B'Elanna almost shouted.
“We agreed.” Janeway’s voice was slurring now, her eyes half-closed. “Chakotay … and I. You have to … survive, B'Elanna. You have … to live.”
B’Elanna jerked her head up, ignoring the sharp twinge in her neck.. “Captain?”
There was a harshly indrawn breath, a rattle and a gurgle, and B’Elanna shot upright in alarm.
“Captain, are you okay? Captain!”
Janeway’s face was drained and grey, her hair plastered to her forehead with sweat. She half-opened dull eyes as the engineer bent over her.
“Take it easy,” B’Elanna shushed her when the captain tried to speak, but the captain shook her head. Her fingers twitched, and B'Elanna craned closer.
“Tell Chakotay,” Janeway whispered. “Tell him –”
“No way,” B'Elanna snapped. “You can tell him your goddamned self, because you are not dying today. Do you hear me?”
Janeway’s lips twitched at the corners. “Good day … to die,” she husked.
Her eyes closed on a bubbling exhale, and B'Elanna screamed.
B'Elanna blinked open her eyes.
“How are you feeling, Lieutenant?”
“Doc –” her voice croaked, and she coughed. “Doctor?”
“Good to have you back with us,” the EMH said dryly, “thanks, of course, to my exemplary skills. I’ve treated you for dehydration, infection and a moderate tear of the anterior cruciate ligament. You’re right as rain, though I recommend you rest that leg for a day or two.”
B'Elanna shot up so quickly that even the Doctor’s enhanced reflexes barely moved him out of her way in time. “The captain?”
“Right over there.” The EMH indicated the biobed across the room. B'Elanna made to slide off her bed, but was stayed by a hand on her arm. “I recommend you give them a few minutes,” the Doctor said quietly.
Only then did B'Elanna register Chakotay’s presence; he was sitting by Janeway’s bed, his hands clasped on his knee as though he was forcibly restraining himself from touching her. They appeared to be communicating, though they spoke only occasionally.
B'Elanna subsided onto her own biobed. “How long has he been here?”
“We transported you and the captain aboard a little over three hours ago. The commander arrived in sickbay five minutes later and has been here ever since.”
“Was I –” B'Elanna cleared her throat. “I only vaguely remember the beam-up.”
“Hardly surprising. The alien infection had spread throughout your bloodstream and your temperature was almost forty-two degrees. I’d be amazed if you’d remembered your own name at that point.”
“Did I –” she tried, and failed again.
“Don’t worry, Lieutenant,” the Doctor smirked. “You were delirious. I won’t hold anything you may have said or done against you.”
B'Elanna huffed through her teeth. “Very considerate of you, Doctor.”
“All part of the service,” the EMH said blithely. “You’re done here, Lieutenant. Straight to your quarters for a good night’s sleep, please.”
“And the captain?”
“Her injuries were more severe. I’ve ordered her off-duty for three days, which means she’ll probably be back on the bridge tomorrow. I’ve insisted she stay overnight, at least.”
B'Elanna’s gaze strayed to the other biobed, where Janeway’s eyes were closing. As she watched, Chakotay stood, carefully pulling up a blanket and tucking it around the captain’s form. He leaned over her as though he was intending to kiss her forehead, clearly thought better of it, and straightened, turning to head toward B'Elanna.
“Thank you, Doctor,” Chakotay addressed the EMH, who nodded and disappeared into his office.
“Hey,” B'Elanna offered warily.
“Hi.” Chakotay leaned a hip against the bed beside her. “How are you doing?”
“Fine,” she said. “Look, Chakotay, I’m so sorry –”
“Stop.” He held up a hand. “I was wrong to threaten you the way I did. The captain has already said as much.”
“Ah.” B'Elanna couldn’t help the smile that twitched at the corners of her mouth. “Remind me never to get on her bad side.”
Chakotay grinned, but it faded quickly. “Thank you,” he said seriously.
“I know you were pretty badly off yourself. But you did everything you could to keep her alive, and I’m grateful.”
“It’s okay,” B'Elanna said gruffly.
“Walk you to your quarters?”
“Actually, could you give me a minute?”
“Sure.” Chakotay rested a hand on her shoulder briefly. “I’ll wait for you outside.”
B'Elanna waited until the Sickbay doors had closed behind him before she moved over to Janeway’s biobed. The captain’s face was smoothed-out and tranquil, her complexion back to its usual peaches-and-cream.
“Are you awake, Captain?” she asked softly.
Silence greeted her, but it wasn’t the kind she’d sweated through over the past few hours, the kind that’d made her breath clutch and her heart stutter. This was the silence of peace.
“I’ll leave you to rest, then,” B'Elanna murmured. “I just wanted to say thank you for trusting me. And I won’t let you down.”
She hesitated, then gave into impulse and leaned down to press her lips lightly to the captain’s forehead.
“Sleep well,” she whispered, then turned to leave, her steps buoyant with relief.