BALANCING ACT

By Shayenne

Disclaimer: Paramount owns everything but I doubt they want this.
Rated G
Set in Season 2, immediately post Dreadnought. My Spring Fling match requeste: "I'd like to request a story/ficlet that focuses mainly on Janeway and B'Elanna. Not in lust/love with each other but friendship or mentor kind of thing. And it can be any other kind of situation the author would like to come up with, angst or fluffy or action or silly whatever. Up to the author to use any other characters as necessary."

"I said, I'm not going."

The words were muffled by Voyager's bulkhead as B'Elanna Torres lay on her back, a pile of burnt relays beside her. She concentrated on the tricorder. "Now, if that is all, Chakotay, I have blown relays all over the ship as well repairs to the outer hull to-"

"It's not a request, Torres, it's an order. You have five minutes to get cleaned up, into your dress uniform and down to the transporter room before the captain notices you're missing."

Swiveling out of the relay box, she glared up at her friend, heat in her eyes. "I said, I'm not going!"

"Fine." Chakotay glared down at her. "Then report to Tuvok and tell him you have two days' brig time for insubordination. I'll tell the captain why."

"You p'tak! You can't do that! I have work to do and-"

Chakotay crouched, resting a hand on her shaking arm. "Don't be a fool, B'Elanna. Go and change and I'll stall Janeway for a couple of minutes. I'll see you in transporter room one."

Rather than call for a site to site, she jogged the length of the corridors. Where was the damn turbolift? Frustrated, she gave the door a hard slap, making her hand sting. She made her quarters in three minutes and pulled out a dress uniform then smoothed her hair with a shaking hand. Feted as a hero by the Rikosan First Minister. She couldn't do this; she wouldn't do this. Janeway could put her on report, restrict her holodeck time, lock her in the brig--after the repairs were complete. Anything, rather than smile, and stand around like a mannequin for dress uniforms, and nod when the Rikosans told her what a hero she was, how she had saved their world from the rogue missile, Dreadnought--the missile she had programmed to destroy a Cardassian base. The missile had developed a fault in its guidance system and had come within minutes of detonating on the Rikosan homeworld. The missile she had nearly been unable to stop.

She'd nearly destroyed most of their planet. She was no hero.

She swallowed hard and left her quarters, trotting all the way to transporter room one. Janeway and Chakotay were there, standing close together as they conversed. Absently, she thought they made a fine looking couple.

"B'Elanna, you're here. Good." Janeway nodded to the ensign at the controls and stepped up to the pad.

"Captain, a word if I may?" It was a last-ditch attempt and from the frown on Chakotay's face, he wasn't happy she was trying it.

"Make it swift."

"Captain, I can't do this."

The look on Janeway's face was quizzical, and she tilted her head to one side. "B'Elanna, Voyager won't fall apart without you. You've briefed Carey?"

"Yes, but-"

"Then that's fine. Now, we're already late."

Defeated, B'Elanna stepped up next to her. The usual split second of dissociation and they rematerialized in a crowded city square. Around them, thousands of Rikosans cheered and stamped their feet in approval. B'Elanna's eyes narrowed; this was so much worse than she had expected.

"Well," said Janeway, satisfaction coloring her voice, "This makes a change from being shot at."

Chakotay chuckled and moved up to his usual place behind her left shoulder.

First Minister Kellen greeted them, introducing them to the crowd, then led them away. Inside an opulent great hall, he explained that there would be a banquet in their honor and then a street parade tomorrow. "Perhaps, Captain, you and your engineer would give speeches this evening? We would enjoy hearing first hand how you saved our planet from the errant weapon."

The coil of tension spiraling its way through her chest threatened to explode. How ironic if she combusted right here in mimicry of Dreadnought, splattering the Rikosan's finery with her blood. The air in front of her eyes vibrated hot and red, and she concentrated on breathing slowly through her mouth so as not to lift the Minster by his ornate collar and shove him back against the cream embossed wall.

Janeway shot B'Elanna a warning glance and inclined her head to the minister. "We would be delighted."

"Wonderful! Then I will show you to your rooms so that you might prepare."

B'Elanna's room was the size of the messhall. A wide, soft bed dominated the center, and there was an opulent bathroom with a tub resembling a swimming pool. Such luxury, such extravagance, such comfort. Such a fraud. Whirling, she grabbed the nearest item -- a crystal decanter of some bath oil-- and hurled it hard into the tiled wall. It shattered in an arc of vibrant green and ran down the walls in viscous runnels. Like Vulcan blood, she thought, and snatched up the next and the next, hurling them against the wall as if it were a row of Cardassians, so that the wall took on the hue of a grotesque, distorted rainbow.

She ran out of oils and whirled, seeking another missile, when she saw Captain Janeway standing motionless by the door.

"Enough," said Janeway quietly. Walking into the room, she took the carved soap holder from B'Elanna's suddenly nerveless fingers and placed it back on the side. "I think you need to tell me why you've been acting so strangely--and rudely--since we received the Rikosan's invitation."

Back in the main room, Janeway headed for a counter where there was an array of bright liquids. After running her tricorder over each in turn, she poured two glasses of a dark purple juice.

"Sit," she said, gesturing to the couch and picking up one of the juices and tasting it. "This is really quite pleasant. Try it."

"Is that an order?"

"You don't do sarcasm very well, B'Elanna. On balance, I think I prefer your anger."

"And get myself thrown in the brig? Well, isn't that ironic." She started to laugh.

Janeway waited until she'd finished. "I understand from Chakotay that he had to threaten you with brig time to get you to come. Care to explain why?" As B'Elanna's jaw tightened, Janeway added, "You can consider that an order."

"I'm not a hero!" The words burst from her, harsh and unforgiving. "I'm the one who programmed Dreadnought. I'm the one who made it so damn unstoppable. It nearly destroyed half of the cities on Rikosa. Voyager was a few seconds away from autodestruct. And yet the Rikosans are treating me like a hero." She faced Janeway. "I don't deserve it."

"Had Dreadnought found its target, the Rikosans who survived would have blamed Voyager," said Janeway, quietly. "Even though Voyager had nothing to do with the missile."

"You can't have it both ways," snarled B'Elanna. "You can't claim to be a hero and then say that Voyager had nothing to do with it."

"The bridge crew, you, and I have the truest awareness of what actually happened. Of all of us, the Maquis understand more than most, and you know most of all. But even you can't know everything."

"But I-"

"You don't. You couldn't know that its targeting scanners would become scrambled. You couldn't know it'd end up in the Delta Quadrant. How could you? That was one thing none of us predicted." Janeway took a deep breath. "And while we could argue from now to the Alpha Quadrant about the rights and wrongs of programming Dreadnought in the first place, what matters is that at the time, you completely believed in what you were doing. And you had some justification for your actions."

B'Elanna stopped, open mouthed, the anger sucked out of her by curiosity at Janeway's words. It was the closest she'd ever heard Janeway come to saying she believed in the Maquis cause.

Janeway noted her bemusement, and her mouth twisted up at one corner. "A captain can't always voice what she, personally, believes. Sometimes you have to take the party line, whatever that may be. It comes with the job." She paced to the couch and sat next to B'Elanna. "Starfleet is a contradiction that way. On one hand, it wants you to take the initiative, think on your feet, show leadership. On the other, it demands unquestioning, unthinking obedience. It's a case of finding a compromise you can live with."

"Is that what you did?" The words were out before she had a chance to consider if they were wise. Janeway wasn't a friend; she was her captain, and that meant she would never be a confidante.

"It's what I do a lot of the time. And B'Elanna, it's what I'm asking you to do right now."

"It's not the same."

"It's similar. It's about considering the wider picture. The Rikosans are offering us very real help and friendship. I don't know about you, but I'm very tired of being shot at, manipulated and betrayed. We're getting an offer of friendship. For once, I hope it's uncomplicated and genuine. I would hope that none of my crew say or do anything to affect that."

"Of course, if it's an order, I'll have to toe the line, won't I?" snarled B'Elanna, "I guess only the bit about 'unquestioning obedience' applies to me."

"Is that what you think?" Janeway's words were low, almost reflective. To B'Elanna's eyes, she looked almost serene. "You know, I promoted you to chief engineer because of your initiative and ability to think on your feet. I don't think I was wrong." She rose, and took a couple of steps toward the door. "It's your decision. I'll see you at the dinner in a couple of hours. I trust you haven't forgotten about your speech."

And Janeway was gone, her straight back and clicking heels carrying her swiftly away.

~ ^ ~ ^ ~ ^ ~

The dinner was B'Elanna's worst nightmare. A large room, hundreds of people, and herself, up there at the top table surrounded by Rikosan dignitaries. Janeway was half a dozen people away to her right, Chakotay the same distance past the captain. She toyed with her glass of wine, ate far more of the excellent food than she intended and tried to end the dinner by mind power alone.

It didn't work.

Eventually, after seven courses, rather too much wine, and endless hours of conversation, First Minister Kellen rose and made a short speech, honoring Voyager. "And now," he concluded, "Captain Janeway will tell you how she was prepared to sacrifice her ship -- and herself -- to save Rikosa. Then, Chief Engineer B'Elanna Torres, will relate how she managed at great personal danger to disarm Dreadnought."

B'Elanna fiddled with the PADD on which she'd written her speech after Janeway had left. Its labored hackneyed phrases and clichés made her wince, and she'd left out details of the actual Maquis involvement. It was a dull speech, but she thought Janeway wouldn't take her to pieces over it. She'd written screeds of detail about the minutiae of Dreadnought's internal workings and security systems. Better to bore the Rikosans than make herself out to be some kind of hero.

Mercifully, Janeway's speech was short, although B'Elanna heard very little of it. She came back to the present when Janeway wound up her speech, saying, "I'll now hand you over to B'Elanna Torres, the real savior of your planet." And Janeway led the applause, before sitting down and reaching for her wineglass.

B'Elanna stood slowly, and without looking at her audience thumbed on her PADD.

"Ladies and Gentlemen," she read. "Dreadnought was a machine of war, a fearsome weapon designed by the Cardassians, a brutal warrior race who for decades terrorized the peaceful races in the Alpha Quadrant. Once programmed with a target, Dreadnought was unstoppable until it destroyed its intended destination in a fireball of devastation. Its security features were highly advanced and designed to calculate all possible scenarios that might interfere with its mission.

"We can only surmise that Dreadnought was brought to the Delta Quadrant the same way that Voyager was: via the Caretaker's array. For all of Dreadnought's sophisticated technology, it was never programmed for the scenario that it might end up here. So the computer scrambled itself trying to sort out its location. It presumed it was still in the Alpha Quadrant, and its targeting scanners locked on to what it thought was its target. Only, it wasn't the target, it was Rikosa."

Even to her own ears, her speech sounded dull and contrived. She sneaked a glance along the table. Chakotay wore the expression of vague interest he used when Neelix had him trapped in the messhall relaying his latest difficulties with foodstuffs. She knew it disguised his boredom. The Rikosan First Minister did look interested, but she suspected he'd had more practice. Grimly, she plowed on.

"The only way I could think of to stop Dreadnought was to beam aboard the missile and try and shut it down. I'd had some experience with this type of weapon, so I volunteered for the job." Yeah right. There's the understatement of the year right there. Her voice petered out. She couldn't do this. Taking a deep breath, she threw the PADD down on the table. For several seconds, she was silent, forcing herself to look around the room. Hundreds of Rikosan faces stared expectantly back at her. Hundreds of innocent people. Wasn't her speech a form of deception? Painting herself and Voyager as innocent do-gooders?

The silence stretched and still the faces stared, waiting to applaud the savior of Rikosa, waiting to laud her and fete her.

"I can't do this," she said aloud.

There was a vague murmur of surprise from the rows closest to her. She stole a glance toward Janeway, and saw she looked composed, idly toying with her glass as if she hadn't a care in the world. Well, Janeway could take her apart later, but right now, she had the floor, and these people deserved to know the truth.

"I can't do this," she repeated, louder, more forcefully. "I can't keep giving you this sanitized version of the truth. Instead, I'm going to tell you the real story of Dreadnought. When I've finished, I doubt you'll think much of me, but that's all right. Just remember, that this is my story, not Voyager's, not Captain Janeway's." Placing her hands flat on the table, she looked steadily out into the audience. "Dreadnought was everything I've just told you in my extremely dull speech, but what I didn't tell you was that I was the person who programmed it. I was the person who did such a good job on its security that when the targeting scanners scrambled, it was impossible to get the missile to stand down. It read my attempts as deception. It assumed I was being coerced, as it knew that I would never try to stop it from reaching its target--my enemies, not Rikosa. I beamed aboard to try and stop it, simply because I didn't know any other way. I designed it, I was responsible for it, so I had to be the one to try and stop it.

"Yes, I succeeded in stopping it. I forced the core to overload by drilling through the casing with my phaser. If Voyager hadn't got a transporter lock on me, my molecules would now be spread around your atmosphere along with Dreadnought's. But that's not the point. The point is, I'm the one who caused the crisis in the first place. Yes, it worked out in the end: Captain Janeway didn't have to use Voyager to prematurely detonate Dreadnought. I survived, and most importantly, so did your planet, although I'm so very, very sorry for the chaos and panic it caused.

"So please, stop treating me as if I've done something wonderful and brave. Can't you see that really, I'm the person who caused the problem, not the person who fixed it." Her voice rose higher and cracked on the end of the last word. Slapping her hand down hard on the table, she said fiercely, "I'm not your savior."

For a minute longer, she looked around the room, seeing the frozen countenances of the Rikosans. She didn't dare look at Janeway.

"You probably want me to go now. So I'll leave, beam back to Voyager and let you enjoy the rest of your evening in Captain Janeway's and Commander Chakotay's company. They're the real heroes."

Head down, she turned and pushed back her chair in the silence, but she found her way was blocked by First Minister Kellen. Face vivid with emotion, he grabbed her hand in both of his and turned her back to the audience.

"Ladies and Gentlemen," he boomed. "Here is a rare person indeed. A highly skilled, intelligent, altruistic person. A modest person. An articulate person. But more than all that together, here is an honest person. One who is not afraid to lay herself open to censure, to say what she feels to be right, even though there was every chance she'd disrupt the friendship between Rikosa and Voyager." Releasing her hands, he snatched up a glass from the table. "Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you B'Elanna Torres of the Starship Voyager!"

Through her confusion, B'Elanna saw Janeway on her feet, leading the applause from the top table, as the entire banqueting hall thundered its approval.

~ ^ ~ ^ ~ ^ ~

"I said, I'm not going."

The words were muffled by Voyager's bulkhead as B'Elanna lay on her back, a pile of burnt relays beside her. She concentrated on the tricorder. "Now, if that is all, Chakotay, I have blown relays all over the ship-"

"Some things never change," Janeway said in amusement. "There'll always be some maintenance to do for Voyager and you'll always use it as an excuse."

"Captain! Sorry, I thought you were Chakotay. We had a velocity game scheduled and I told him I couldn't spare the time."

Janeway crouched. "I know; he told me when I asked him why he was still keeping me and the reports company instead of playing velocity."

B'Elanna swiveled out of the relay housing and shrugged. "Velocity can wait. These need replacing."

Janeway arched an eyebrow. "We're in space dock and half the crew are on shore leave, thanks to the Rikosan's network of allies. I think the relays can wait for an hour. Besides, Chakotay gave me his holodeck slot and told me to go and dig you out. If you won't come, I'll have to go back to the reports, and top of the pile is Neelix's report on foodstuffs we can forage for in the next sector. I was hoping Chakotay might have finished that one before my return."

B'Elanna grinned. "Well, when you put it like that..."

"Good. I was hoping not to make it an order."

"As long as you don't order me to lose!"

"I'd never do that." She gestured for B'Elanna to precede her out of engineering.

Janeway looked relaxed, the tight lines of worry that often bracketed her mouth absent. "The crew are enjoying this particular shore leave," she said. "The Rikosan allies have been very welcoming." She stopped in front of the holodeck doors and turned to B'Elanna. "I never said how proud I was of your speech."

B'Elanna looked down at her hands. "I thought you'd chew me out for jeopardizing the Rikosans' friendship."

"You found a balance you could live with. I don't know anyone who could have done it better. Now," and Janeway's tone turned brisk. "Do you prefer the red or blue disks? I hope you're prepared for a hard game."

"You bet I am! And I'll take the red disks. "

Together, the two women walked into the holodeck.

(((FIN)))

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