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She met pain at a young age. She had survived losing her father, blowouts with her mother. Before she had reached her majority, she had felt the pain of her people rejecting her. She had entered Starfleet, left Starfleet, fought against Starfleet, been branded a traitor and an outlaw and had been flung to the outskirts of society, hiding in the dark. She liked it that way. Always going in her own direction, doing things her way without someone telling her that she was wrong.

She had made friends, some good, some not so good. She had fought for a cause that she believed in and she had found what she thought was her place in the galaxy.

Then her world had been turned upside down. With a single energy wave and a command given by a woman who, at the time, stood against everything the half Klingon believed in, B’Elanna Torres, half breed who didn’t fit into either world found herself trapped, once again subject to whims of someone else. Trapped on a ship with Starfleet personnel, still not fitting in with those around her.

Then she found herself being placed at the head of a department, given a chance to make herself one of the crew.

She had fought, against herself, her former beliefs, the rules being set forth by Captain Janeway. She had fought to be accepted and to prove herself. Days turned into weeks, weeks into months and months into years.

She had made friendships, survived betrayals and learned her engines as if each warp conduit and sensor coupling were her own precious children.

Now she found herself being tempted with everything she could ever want. A husband, a family, a place of belonging. But was it worth the risk. The accident in Engineering this morning, costing two of her crew members their lives, was enough to make her pause. Did she deserve happiness when her decisions had led to families in the Alpha Quadrant being delivered a letter rather than their loved ones?  Did she dare take the chance? Could she accept Tom’s proposal knowing that one day the Captain may be telling him that she wouldn’t be returning?

She was so lost in her thoughts that she did not hear the sound of the doors hissing open behind her. She didn’t realize that she was not alone anymore until she found herself looking down into a cup of steaming black coffee. Her eyes raised to meet the amber eyes of the ship’s Morale Officer.

“Hey Neelix.” Her greeting came out hoarse, her inner conflict evident.

“Good Evening, Lieutenant. How are you doing?”

“I am fine.” Her response was automatic, no emotion, no inflection.

The Talaxian tsked at her, moving to sit in the chair beside her.

“You know, it’s funny. I have been here for six years. I have seen many many things since I came on board.” His voice was soft, floating in the recycled air of the empty mess hall. “I have loved a woman and lost that woman. I have made many friends and attended many funeral ceremonies. Each one left a scar. Each scar had added to the strength that I have inside.”

“Neelix, I don’t think it is the same. I gave that order. I sent them into that Jeffries Tube. I caused their death.” Her voice began to rise, panic and regret wrapping around them.

“And you saved the rest of our lives in the process, B’Elanna.” He cut of her off, reaching over to take her hand in his. 

Denial rose inside the dark haired woman, regret fueling her rage, hope for something better fluttering in her chest. She shook her head violently.

“I should have found another way. I should have tried something else! I sent them to their deaths.” The tears that she had been fighting filled her eyes, overflowing to run down her face. She fell into the Talaxian’s arm, sobs racking her body.

She felt Neelix’s hands rubbing up and down her back, could smell the various herbs that he used in his daily duties in the kitchen, each sensation serving to give her a rope of security, a stable branch to pull herself back from the edge of darkness.  

Words tumbled from her lips, sharing her story with him. Each memory adding a little stability to the chaos in her mind. He didn’t interrupt her, asked no questions offered no thoughts. He simply sat there, beside her, his arm wrapped around her shoulders, listening. B’Elanna was unsure of how long they sat together in silence after she had finished speaking. She only knew that for the first time in years she felt…clean, free.

Neelix stood, crossing the room to the replicator and returned with a fresh cup of tea, handing it to her.

“You know, Bel, I have watched you since I came aboard. I saw you push everyone away, even the Commander. I saw you struggle with the rules on board, the regulations, the new positions, the crew. I watched you begin to gain confidence. In yourself, in your crew, in your knowledge of your position. I watched you grow up. You have become everything that I believe a Starfleet officer should be.”

He paused, taking a drink of his own cup.

“You have made a life for yourself here, regardless of your past. Captain Janeway values you and your opinion. And I know that I can speak for anyone else, but for myself, I value your friendship. You are a strong woman who deserves a...how do you Terrans put it…’happily ever after’, I believe it what is called.”

B’Elanna raised her head, smiling slightly at him, nodding her understanding. Neelix leaned over, taking her right hand in both of his.

“Tom is a good man. He loves you. All of you, your heritage, your differences, you temper, all of it. What happened this morning was a tragedy, but it could have been worse. You gave the best command that you could and you saved a lot of lives. Those crewmen knew what they were signing up for when they put on that uniform, we all know that we may be asked to give everything for the crew and the ship.”

Tears fell over her eyes again, falling onto their joined hands.

“B’Elanna,” Neelix began again quietly, “Don’t let their sacrifice be in vain. If you don’t live, and live fully, then their deaths have meant nothing.”

His words sank into her mind, the truth behind them wrapping around the hope in her chest, giving her the knowledge of tomorrow. She stood, throwing her arms around the Talaxian.

“Thank you Neelix.” She said quietly, laying her head on his shoulder. She pulled back patting his arms. “I have to go find Tom.”

She turned, practically running out the door.

Neelix chuckled lightly, shaking his head and began to gather cups from the table.

He turned when the doors hissed open again, nodding to the red head standing in the open door way.

“She will be fine Captain. She understands now.”

Kathryn Janeway crossed the mess hall to stand beside her friend. They stood side by side, staring out at the stars as they passed, lost in their thoughts of the friend that they had almost lost today, the weight of their roles a little lighter, hope flaring within them.

“I think a wedding is just what the crew needs, Mr Neelix.” The captains smile was evident.

“I believe you may be right Captain.”

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