by A. Magiluna Stormwriter

DISCLAIMER: I don't own them, as much as I wish I did. Cuz if I *did* actually own them, things would be a lot diffferent, and CONTINUITY would be a given. BTW, this story deals with f/f type issues. If that bothers you, or you're not old enough to read it, DON'T. Thanks.

The italicized lyrics that begin B'Elanna's "manifesto" are gratefully taken from Sarah McLachlan's wonderful song "Full of Grace," which was partly responsible for this piece.

AUTHOR'S NOTES: This story was written during a 4 hour period, during which I had no idea where it would lead me. I simply followed and wrote as I was directed to. The original ending was incredibly dark, but for some reason, B'Elanna and Kathryn chose not to let it go there. It was their choice, but it still makes for a damned compelling story.

SPECIAL THANKS go out to the best bunch of Fuh-Qers around [and y'all know who you are], who got the very first glimpse at this, as well as hearing me bitch about being tired but unable to sleep till thisstory was finiished.

And EXTRA SPECIAL THANKS go to Auntie Ruth, who suggested the title.

DEDICATION: This story is lovingly dedicated to anyone who's ever been in the position B'Elanna's in, feeling like they're just not good enough and wondering when the novelty is gonna wear off.

B'Elanna Torres stood just beyond the range of the door sensors. She wasn't sure she wanted to be detected yet. *Eventually you'll have to be, B'Elanna,* she reminded herself. *She's waiting for you in there.*

With a heavy sigh, B'Elanna forced a smile to her lips, stepped forward to allow her detection, then stepped into what had become home to her the past couple of months.

"B'Elanna? Honey, is that you?"

Just the sound of her voice nearly sent the half-Klingon to her knees. *I don't know if I can do this,* she bemoaned inwardly. *How do I continue living this lie?* But she took a deep breath and did it anyway. "Yes, Kathryn, it's me. Sorry I took so long. Refits were trickier than I'd planned. The engines just don't seem to want to work with the new circuitry Seven's trying to integrate."

And then her breath caught in her chest at the sight of Kathryn coming out of the bedroom, dressed in a simple blue t-shirt and leggings, hair tucked haphazardly behind her ears. She turned her most endearing lopsided grin on B'Elanna, causing the younger woman's chest to constrict even more painfully than it already was.

Kathryn studied her lover with a critical, but tender eye. It was obvious the young woman was distressed, but she had no idea what the source was. Perhaps it was just the stress of the refits, as she'd offered. "You look exhausted, love. Why don't you go take a nice long soak in the tub while I get dinner ready?"

Too tired to fight, B'Elanna simply nodded, dutifully stopping to receive Kathryn's kiss on her cheek before heading to the bathroom. So intent on what was going on inside of her, she missed the look of intense worry crossing her lover's face.

Once in the bathroom, she closed and sealed the door. *Nothing Kathryn can't crack open if she really wanted in.* The thought insinuated itself into her brain, into her soul, as she stripped. As if on a whim, she called out softly, "Computer, one notepad and pen to be created into this room. Charge to my personal account."

The items appeared on the counter top within seconds. Ignoring them for the moment, B'Elanna ran the water into the tub, studiously ignoring the lavender-scented bubble bath Kathryn loved. Instead, she sought out a small bottle of a harsh Klingon-scented soap, pouring it liberally into the water. She didn't care for the smell, but then again, it fit her current mood to a T. Slowly, she slipped her uniform off, removing the rank bar and communicator before tossing it into the 'fresher.

One hand still clutching the rank bar, she grabbed for the note pad and pen, then slipped into the painfully hot water. She was certain Kathryn wouldn't be joining her any time soon, so the intensely hot water was sufficient for her. Perhaps by the time Kathryn joined her, if Kathryn did in fact join her, the water would be at a more tolerable temperature for her more delicate human system. At the moment, B'Elanna didn't really care either way. Join or not, it just didn't matter.

Setting the three items on the ground next to the tub, B'Elanna sank further into the ungodly hot water until even her chin was submerged. For long moments, she just lay there silently, staring, unseeing, at the wall across from her. And then, the thoughts began crowding into her mind again, overpowering any semblance of calm and decency she'd tried to hold onto.

**You don't know what you're doing.**

**You have no right to even think of doing this.**

**You're no match, no equal. You don't even deserve the right to be the dirt underfoot.**

**This is purely pity. There's no real feelings there, just pity.**

**She could do better....lots better.**

**You're simply a distraction. Once the novelty wears off, you're history.**

**Why would anyone see anything more to you than what you are? Why would anyone want to?**

**No one will see you the way you want to be seen. It's just not possible. Why do you even try to think it will happen?**

And on and on the thoughts continued, spiraling about in her mind until she thought she'd scream. But she didn't. She only barely allowed the tears slipping down her cheeks. And then, the thoughts took on voices. The voices of those aboard the ship who were against her relationship, against her rise to Chief Engineer [still], against her Maquis past....against her being there in the first place. It took everything in her to stop the trembling long enough to pick up the note pad and pen and begin writing.

Finally finishing, she set the items aside. Emotionally spent, overwrought, depleted. Tears still slid down her cheeks, but she paid them less heed than she had all their predecessors of late. The water was beginning to cool, at least to her, so she reheated it to the nearly-painful temperatures of earlier. Taking a deep breath, she slid further down, allowing the water to close in over her head, completely submerging herself.

B'Elanna felt the water searing into her flesh, seeking entry into her system. She forced her body to relax, rather than fight the heated water. She could feel her lungs start to fight her for oxygen, but knew she could hold out just a bit longer before truly needing that next breath of air. It was her only way of truly owning some part of herself, controlling some part of her life. And so she exerted control over the pain building in her body, stroking it, allowing it to swell, attempt to attain the same level as the pain in her soul. And just as it neared that point....

"Just what in the hell do you think you're doing, B'Elanna?" The voice was harsh in her ears, bitter, angry. She longed for the solitude of the water around her. And then she was being shaken, her face slapped. "Breathe, damn you! Don't you dare even THINK of doing this to me, B'Elanna!"

She took an odd comfort in the painful sting of the blows Kathryn struck against her face, trying to force her to breathe again. And yet she didn't breathe. Didn't feel the need to, didn't want to. And so her body fought her, craving the oxygen, as Kathryn fought to keep her head above the water. B'Elanna didn't exactly fight her, but didn't help her either. Her body was simply there, limp, unyielding. Her eyes were closed, shutting out reality. Her lips and nasal passages were closed, shutting out the oxygen her body craved. Only her ears were open, listening to the sounds of Kathryn screaming at her, slapping her.

And she did nothing about it. Just let it happen.

"God damnit, B'Elanna, don't do this! Why are you being like this?" Kathryn growled. She paused only to bark out a command to the computer to drain the water from the tub.

B'Elanna felt angered by that. This was her bath, her time. Why did Kathryn have to do that? And then, her body's need for oxygen overtook her almost maniacal need to deprive it of said oxygen, and she passed out.

When she came to, she found herself in the bed, dressed in warm clothes and bundled up under the covers. She didn't open her eyes, unable to face the reality she knew awaited her. She could hear Kathryn moving about the room, felt the bed shift as the redhead sat next to her, felt the gentle hand on her forehead and cheek, heard the pained sigh. It was nearly enough to bring tears to her eyes....but not quite.

"Why, B'Elanna?" she heard Kathryn's soft voice plead. "There is no reason for this. At least none that I can readily see. Your letter, your manifesto, lies on the night stand, untouched, unread. I can't bring myself to read it, not right now. Perhaps it will give me some insight into why you tried what you did, but I fear that I am the reason. And I just can't bear to read that." At that, Kathryn's voice cracked, her emotions getting the best of her. "My god, B'Elanna, do you know what you mean to me? Do you know what I felt when I opened the door to find you completely submerged, completely still? Do you have any clue what it did to me?"

She paused for a long minute. B'Elanna could tell by the vibrations of the bed that Kathryn was struggling with her emotions, trying to suppress the obviously painful ones at the surface. She struggled internally with the guilt starting to wrack her soul. But it was quelled by the return of the loathing taunts of earlier. The internal war raged again and she almost missed Kathryn's next words.

"I'm at a complete loss as to why you would do this, B'Elanna. I thought you were happy with me. I thought we had something pretty damned special. I fought for five years the idea of opening up like this to anyone. I chose to open up to you, allow you to see the real me, see into my heart." And then Kathryn's voice took on a bitter, angry tone. "And this is the thanks I get? The reward for laying bare my soul to you? Finding you in the tub, trying to drown yourself? What in the hell did I do to deserve this, B'Elanna? I want you to wake up and tell me just what the hell I did to deserve this! Perhaps I should read your little note, see what you had to say? See what you were hiding from me? Perhaps this is just some damned game to you? Bring the indomitable captain down a peg? Is that it?" Her next words shocked B'Elanna to her very core. "Maybe I should have left you in that tub, let you die like you so obviously wanted to. Then I'd be through with this mess."

"Maybe you should have," B'Elanna murmured, barely above a whisper, a tear slipping past her eyelashes to track down her cheek.

Before she knew it, she felt the sharp sting of Kathryn's palm flat against her cheek. Sharp enough to force her eyes open in pain. "Don't you EVER let me hear you say that again. Do you understand me?" Utterly shocked, B'Elanna simply nodded, eyes caught in the piercing, angry stare of her lover. And then, she was enveloped in Kathryn's arms, crushed tightly to the redhead. "Oh god, B'Elanna, don't ever say anything like that again. Please?"

Again B'Elanna nodded, overwhelmed by the sensations whirling about her brain. "I'm sorry, Kathryn," she murmured over and over, tears spilling down her cheeks in earnest.

After several moments, Kathryn leaned back, tipped B'Elanna's chin up to gaze into the dark eyes. "Want to tell me what you thought you'd accomplish by that little stunt of yours?" The words were harsh, but the voice gentle.

"I don't know," came the honest reply, her eyes dropping to her lap. "I just....it was too much. I don't know if I can do this."

"Do what? Us?" Once again she felt her chin being lifted, but she fought it. "Look at me, B'Elanna. Please?" When B'Elanna complied, she continued. "If you're having doubts about our relationship, you have to let me know. I can't read your mind, love, so I don't know what's going on in there unless you tell me." A minor pause, a deep intake of breath. "Are you reconsidering our relationship?"

"I'd rather leave before the novelty wears off and I'm not needed anymore," she mumbled, suddenly not sure if she believed it anymore.

"What? What novelty? B'Elanna Marisol Angelina Torres, you are no novelty to me. Do you understand me?" B'Elanna nodded, but didn't exactly feel it. "I didn't accept you so intimately into my life simply to be a novelty item. I love you, B'Elanna, and I want you in my life. Isn't that what you want?"

B'Elanna nodded, but wouldn't lift her eyes from her lap. "I do, but I'm afraid. I hear what they say when I pass by. After a while, it starts to sound like the truth."

"Who is they? And what exactly are they saying?" In a slow, hesitant voice, B'Elanna began to relate the things said in her presence. With each word, Kathryn's eyes darkened. "So I wasn't exactly off on my earlier comment. It just wasn't you saying it." She sighed heavily. "I'd have thought after this many years, the animosities would have been resolved." And then she turned tender eyes on her lover, reaching up a hand to caress the tear-dampened cheek. "But no matter what 'they' say, I love you and I want you in my life as my partner, my equal."

"But I don't deserve this....don't deserve you. I'm just that freaky half-breed. Hell, my father couldn't even stick around for me. Why should anyone else?"

"Your father obviously had his reasons." When B'Elanna began to protest, Kathryn placed a gentle finger over her lips, silencing her. "But I'm sure he loved you, no matter what his reasons were. Just like I love you. B'Elanna, I don't care a thing about this 'half-breed' garbage. When I look at you, I see a beautiful, intelligent, ingenious, creative, wonderful young woman whom I happen to adore completely. I see the most beautiful smile when you're happy, and the most heart-wrenching sorrow when you're not. I see the incredible mind that keeps my ship running and in one piece in a region of space where the resources are rather limited for what we need to do. And most of all, I see the love and pride that shines from your eyes when we are together, when you hear me tell you how much I love and treasure you in my life. I want to see that again, B'Elanna, because it makes me feel special, makes it that much easier for me to deal with the situation we're all in out here so far from what we once called home."

She paused then, reached for the notepad on the night stand. "Will you let me read this? See what was going on in your mind at that specific moment that you chose to do what you did?"

B'Elanna nodded then, feeling embarrassed suddenly by what she'd done, grabbed it from Kathryn. She clutched it to her chest for a moment, unwilling to give it up. Glancing up at Kathryn, she smiled sheepishly. "I feel foolish now for what I did. I feel so foolish for believing what was said without talking to you first."

Again, Kathryn's hand gently caressed her cheek. "It's understandable, love. And you have no idea how it makes me feel to hear you say that, to know deep down in my heart that you mean it."

"I do mean it, Kathryn. Please believe me when I say that."

"I do, my love, I do."

B'Elanna stared into Kathryn's eyes for a long moment, seeing and feeling the honesty of Kathryn's words. Looking down, she pulled the notepad away from her chest, looked at it. "Would you like to see what I wrote?" she asked softly, painfully shy and a touch fearful.

"If you want me to," came the reply. "I would very much like to see it, but only if you want it."

Instead of speaking, B'Elanna simply handed the notepad to Kathryn.

The redhead gazed at the paper for long moments, flipping through the written-upon sheets before looking up at B'Elanna again, tears in her eyes. "Oh, B'Elanna," she murmured, pulling the brunette into her arms again, the pad falling to the bed.

B'Elanna gratefully accepted the comforting strength of Kathryn's arms around her, shedding tears of her own. When she finally looked up at her lover, she began to recite the words written so painstakingly on the pages of the notepad.

"I feel just like I'm sinking, and I claw for solid ground. I'm pulled down by the undertow, I never thought I could feel so low, and, oh, darkness, I feel like letting go. If all of the strength and all of the courage come and lift me from this place. I know I can love you much better than this: Full of grace, Full of grace, my love. I know I can love you much better than this. It's better this way."

She took another deep breath, then began reciting the words that filled the rest of the pages, written over and over again.

"No matter what anyone else says, Kathryn loves me. I belong to her, completely and irrevocably. She owns my body, my heart, my soul. She loves me and I love her. Nothing can come between us. No one can come between us. I am hers and she is mine. No one can come between us. I love you, Kathryn."

She repeated the words once more, with much more feeling, eyes boring directly into the tear-sparkled blue eyes of her lover. "No matter what anyone else says, Kathryn loves me. I belong to her, completely and irrevocably. She owns my body, my heart, my soul. She loves me and I love her. Nothing can come between us. No one can come between us. I am hers and she is mine. No one can come between us. I love you, Kathryn."