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27 Kisses

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Before and After: It Started with a Kiss

She was so lost in thought watching the blips and dashes rising and falling in a syncopated cadence, that she nearly missed the chirp of her comm badge. It was the voice – his voice – that finally distracted her attention from the warp core variance that had been occupying her time for the entire shift.

“Hey,” he said, a single syllable infused with warmth, any annoyance he might feel mitigated by affection. B’Elanna let out a small gasp as she remembered exactly what his hail was about. Tom had reminded her at least a dozen times over the last three days about Jenny Delaney’s birthday party tonight.

“I’m on my way,” she said guiltily.

“Uh huh,” Tom said.

Really.” B’Elanna moved her hand to power down the console, but then another variance caught her eye. The blip was still there, but just barely there but it had been joined by another seemingly inconsequential glitch. All systems seemed to be working well within parameters. Resolving the issue could wait, couldn’t it?

She pressed her lips into a straight line as she contemplated the question. A few months ago, she would have stayed up all night until she discovered the source of the variation, but now she was thinking twice about whether to go or stay. Perhaps one way to split the difference would be to join Tom on the holodeck for a drink or two, wish Jenny a happy birthday and then come back to Engineering to take another look at the issue. But she also knew that a couple of cocktails – which were decidedly not synthehol – would certainly not make it easier for to spot what ailed the warp core. B’Elanna was still considering her options when Joe Carey placed his hand on her shoulder.

“I’ve got this,” he said, indicating the data in front of her. “You went off duty about two hours ago.”

“When did you start keeping track of my schedule?” she said, staring at him. It was rare for Joe to be so pointed in his remarks. Then her eyes widened in realization. “Tom called you, didn’t he?”

Joe’s expression was sphinxlike, and instead he jerked his thumb towards the doors to Engineering. “It’s a quiet evening, not a lot going on. Take the opportunity to relax while you can. And I’ll keep you informed on status.” And then he repeated, more firmly, “Go, I’ve got this.”

B’Elanna hesitated but then nodded. She and Joe were not friends, per se, but they had grown together over the past three years into an easy enough camaraderie and she did respect his skills as an engineer. Plus, now that she had other demands on her time, maybe she could learn to delegate more. She flashed him a quick smile. “Thanks.”

She made her way quickly through Voyager’s serpentine corridors. When she first came aboard Voyager, she had constantly consulted various schematics to figure out how to get from one point to another. Now, she knew every inch of the ship by heart; she was sure there wasn’t a centimeter of it that she hadn’t gone over at one time or another.

It was hard to believe that in just over two short years, she considered this ship – a Starfleet ship! – to be home. It wasn’t just that she had a bed to call her own, but that she also had someone to share it with – something she hadn’t ever considered in years. She wished she could pinpoint that moment when she started to look at Tom Paris differently, to consider him more than an annoyance, more than a friend, but rather the first person in just about forever that she wanted to share everything with. Even after four months of dating, it was a strange sensation, knowing someone wanted her as much as she wanted him.

She sped up as she saw the doors to Holodeck Two in front of her. The doors slid open and she burst into the resort program. The sunlight cast a warm light across the adobe walls, and she saw Tom standing with Kes and Ensign Kozlowski on the patio. Tom beamed at her, the curve of his smile reaching the edges of his eyes.

“Tom, I’m sorry I’m late,” she said breathlessly, turning her face up to his, reveling in the feel of his lips against hers. He snaked his left arm around her, his hand resting on the small of her back while his right arm found a home on her right hip. She curled her fingers around his forearm, loving the strength she found there.  He pulled her closer, his arm resting possessively across her shoulders, as if unwilling to break off physical contact.

“You must be B’Elanna,” Kes said.

B’Elanna exchanged a look with Tom at Kes’ odd greeting. There was no drink in Kes’ hand.

“Well, the last time I checked…” B’Elanna said light-heartedly.

Tom, however, took the more direct route. “Is something wrong?”

“Actually, there is something wrong,” Kes said.

And then there was a flash of light. B’Elanna blinked in bewilderment. Kes was gone. Before she could ask Tom what happened, the klaxons blared, a sure sign – even without Janeway’s “Red alert, all hands to battle stations!” – that the gathering on the holodeck was over.

 

Chapter Text

The ground trembles, and you stiffen instinctively. You can still feel a very slight breeze, which means air is still circulating. Still the rumble makes you nervous. You turn towards your companion. She is slightly hunched over, her grey tank top stained with sweat and blood. The gash across her shoulder looks nasty. You wish you had a dermal regenerator, a bandage, an antibiotic cream or anything at all to help her. There is one thing, you do acknowledge, but now isn’t the time. You pick your way carefully through the cave, the musty air mixing with earthy odors. You think about asking when she developed a love for rock climbing, maybe about some of the places she’s been before. There is so much you want to know about her, and it both thrills and scares you to acknowledge that. So, you settle for safer ground.

“We're almost to the next passageway. Can you make it?” you ask. B’Elanna nods; in the dim light given off by your flashlight, you can see the exhaustion in her eyes.

“Not much choice,” she puffs. She has a point.

Behind you, you hear the fall of rock. Dust rains down on you. You take shallow breaths to avoid breathing in any of the particles; gallicite isn’t particularly kind to the lungs. You clear your throat and cast a glance towards B’Elanna. She’s hunched over, her hand braced against the cave wall for support. As if sensing your scrutiny, she straightens up.

“It's all right. We'll find a way out,” you say, the reassuring words meant for both of you. The instability of the cave is a growing concern and it’s clear you’re not the only one with that thought. She casts a look around, sees the pile of rocks blocking your escape.

“We should use that weapon. It's worth the risk now,” she says.

“I might agree with you if I still had it. It's buried somewhere under all that.”

“What?” she snaps.

“Sorry. Try to stay calm.” You try to sound soothing. You think about that class you had at the Academy, the one that examines unusual away missions and the decisions commanding officers made. In this cave, you are the commander in charge of the health and well-being of one half-Klingon, temporarily crazed by an induced Vulcan pon farr. Later, when all is well, and you are back on Voyager, you plan to scour the databases to understand just how pon farr could possibly be transmitted and why there isn’t a protocol addressing a ‘biological imperative’ that affects nearly five billion Vulcans, a significant percentage of whom serve in Starfleet.  And as you put your hand to your cheek, where the skin still burns a bit from where her teeth tore into it, you know you’ll also research the cultural meaning of Klingon bites. “I know it's hard.”

She presses up against the wall, her face contorting in pain. She spasms over, her arms wrapped protectively around her chest. “You don't know anything,” she says breathlessly. “I feel like I'm crawling out of my skin. I need to do something. I can't take this.”  With sudden force, she pushes you to the ground, straddling your hips, her hands on your shoulders. You can feel the rocks jutting up under your shoulder blades. You push back forcefully.

She laughs disdainfully. “You've never been hard to get, Tom.”

“Well, I'm making an exception,” you gasp, suddenly breathless at her aggression. “I can't let you do this.”

“Oh, I'll bet you wish you could,” she sneers. “All those invitations to dinner. And on the holodeck, the way you would stare at me when you thought I wasn't looking and get jealous when I'm with someone else. You can't tell me you're not interested in me.”

You know she has seen through you, subtle as you thought you might have been. Over the years, you’ve managed to build an armor to shield you from emotional hurt, but for once, your arsenal of quips fails you; there’s no ready wisecrack to extricate you from the truth. She’s close enough to touch, something you’ve fantasized about on many an insomniac night. “You're right. I can't.”

“Then don't push me away,” she says softly.

You find yourself responding honestly, “Oh, believe me, I'd like to, but I know this isn't really you. You've made it clear that you're not interested, and I have to accept that's how you feel, even now.”

“No. No, it isn't,” she says softly, even gently. “I was, I was just afraid to admit it. You see, I've wanted this for so long.” Her lips meet yours. In all your fantasies of what a first kiss with B’Elanna would be like, this scenario never rose to the top of the list. “Just let it happen.” She kisses you again and you resist only for a few seconds before your fingers are on her face, and her breath is warm on your skin. You think about tracing the line of her jaw with your lips, you think about gently nipping at her ear, but you can’t pull yourself away from her lips.  It feels impossible to stop, now that you’ve finally tasted what you’ve been dreaming of for months now. And you know she knows she has you where you want to be; no doubt she can feel your erection against her. She is pressing down against you, and you realize you’ve reached an inflection point. If you follow through you realize, what happens next will never truly belong to you and you aren’t looking for just one moment; you want more than that. You wrench yourself away, and raise yourself to a sitting position, then sag against the cave wall.

It’s hard, but you get the words out, hoping she realizes what you mean, what you eventually want. “I hope someday you'll say that to me and mean it.

Fury sparks in her eyes. “You'd let me go insane rather than help me?”
 
“You know that's not true.” Pulling away from her, in fact, one of the hardest things you’ve had to do.

She points angrily. “You just stay away from me.”

You tip your head back as she stumbles away from you. She pulls herself up, curls into a ball in the corner, her arms wrapped protectively around her knees. You keep your distance even though it’s the very last thing in the quadrant you want to do. Instead you watch, wait, knowing all the promise of the last few months of flirting and dancing around each other may have come to an end in this cave on Sakari.  

Chapter Text

B’Elanna took a deep breath, squared her shoulders, and assuming a bravado she didn’t quite feel, she entered the Mess Hall. Janeway, Tuvok and Chakotay had already arrived and were standing by the viewports, while Neelix bustled around making sure the table was set with the proper number of chairs. The evening’s meal had been tastefully arranged on the light blue square places usually reserved for special occasions.

“Lieutenant Torres,” Neelix said, beaming broadly at her. He gestured towards the table. “You’re right on time. I’m so glad you could make it.”

 B’Elanna bit back a smile. An invitation – by the captain herself – to Tuvok’s promotion ceremony wasn’t exactly something she could miss.

“Everything looks beautiful,” she said truthfully.

Neelix’s grin broadened even more. “You really think so?”

“I do.”

“You’ve fully recovered from your ordeal?” Neelix asked.

“The benefit of redundant organs,” B’Elanna said lightly. She’d spent the equivalent of a single shift in Sickbay recovering from oxygen deprivation and after the Doctor had verified she had sustained no long term injury due to her misadventure, he’d released her to her quarters. Yesterday, she had returned work for a full shift, and spent the entire time in Engineering; she’d begged off Harry’s invitation to join him and Tom for dinner in favor of replicating dinner in her quarters. Today, she’d managed to evade two more meals, but staring at the nicely set table, B’Elanna knew her time was up. Sooner or later, she would have to face Tom Paris. “But yes, I’m feeling fine. Thanks for asking.”

It was then she saw Tom come in from the opposite door, Harry a few steps behind. B’Elanna scuttled slightly off to the side so that Neelix blocked her from view. It was, she knew, a futile gesture, and within a few moments, Tom could easily be by her side. But she was saved by the captain stepping in front, her hand coming to rest lightly on Tom’s forearm. Chakotay leaned in close, and soon the three of them were deep in conversation. B’Elanna let out the breath she didn’t know she was holding.

A minute later, the Doctor arrived, breathlessly going on and on about how Freddy Bristow, Joe Carey, Michael Ayala and Tabor had gone sailing on Lake Como and capsized their boat; everyone was fine, just a little bit bruised and banged up, but really, didn’t anyone have the sense to know how to sail before trying such a thing?

“Well, we’re glad you were able to make it,” the captain said in her husky voice. She gestured to the table. “Please, everyone, take your seats.”

B’Elanna sank into the seat closest to her. Tuvok was directly to her right, at the head of the table, while the Doctor settled at her left. Harry Kim took the seat opposite her, and Tom Paris was next to Harry. For this, B’Elanna was glad; it meant she didn’t have to make direct eye contact with Voyager’s chief helmsman. She could, however, feel the weight of his glance upon her and she shifted in her seat, angling her body so that she focused all her attention towards Tuvok.

The captain made a little welcoming speech, announcing the reason for the evening’s festivities: Tuvok’s promotion to lieutenant commander. Chakotay spoke a few words about how he and Tuvok were settling into a cordial working relationship after a relatively rocky start. Chakotay’s words seemed distant as B’Elanna picked at the food on the plate in front of her – some long thin vegetables that resembled green beans, a corn, cauliflower and red pepper salsa, along with some marinated olives and vinegar – all served on the side of a grilled chicken breast. The food was tastier than anything she’d replicated in the last two days, but B’Elanna found it difficult to swallow. She finally put her fork down just as Chakotay finished talking.

“Mr. Paris,” the captain intoned.

B’Elanna’s heartbeat sped up. Damn it. Now she would have to look at him. She decided instead to focus her gaze on Chakotay’s shoulder as Tom began to speak. But despite that decision, she realized she couldn’t not look. And so she did. Tom seemed comfortable enough, leaning back in his chair, his shoulders relaxed, as he gestured and grinned through his story of the prank he and Harry had played on Tuvok. B’Elanna remembered the occasion; a few months previously, Tuvok had come down particularly hard on a couple of members of both Tom and Harry’s teams. They’d asked B’Elanna if she wanted to participate, but with an arched eyebrow she’d politely declined the invitation, never actually thinking they’d have the guts to go through with it. And yet, as they were now boldly sharing with the entire table, they had.

“So we rigged the security console so that every time Tuvok accessed the internal sensors it would play a little message,” Tom said with a little chuckle.

“’Live long and prosper,’” Harry intoned.

Tom’s grin grew even wider. “No matter what button he pushed, that’s all you heard, live long and prosper.”

Harry added, “Naturally, no one was available to fix the malfunction.”

This B’Elanna also knew. Somehow, Tom and Harry had managed to reroute the calls from Tuvok’s comm device so that they never reached Engineering. There had been some other unintended consequences of that rerouting such as not receiving the call to repair the captain’s’ replicator. B’Elanna and Joe Carey had tracked down the perpetrators quickly enough; Tom and Harry hadn’t done much to hide their tracks.

Even though he had been caught in the act, the joy of triumph was clear in Tom’s voice as he said, “So Tuvok had to stretch his Vulcan patience to the limit for the rest of the day.”
 
Harry nodded. “I swear you could hear him grinding his teeth from across the bridge.”
 
Tom held up his hand. “And just when he thought it was over, when he went back to his quarters and ordered a cup of Vulcan tea, the replicator says…” he paused in anticipation.

The group chuckled appreciatively and B’Elanna had to bite back a smile. Sometimes Harry and Tom’s jokes were decidedly juvenile, but there was nothing malicious about what they did. And if she was being honest with herself, their sense of humor, and more specifically Tom’s, was endearing. As the thought crossed her mind, her gaze abruptly met Tom’s. For a moment, the laughter in his eyes disappeared, replaced with an expression she couldn’t quite bring herself to acknowledge, and she was grateful when Harry burst out with, “Live long and prosper!”

After the laughter died down, Janeway began to speak. “The first time I met Tuvok he dressed me down in front of three Starfleet admirals for failing to observe proper tactical procedures during my first command. My human ego took a little bruising, but, of course, he was right.” She rose from her seat and circled the table to come to stand next to Tuvok. “Over the past nine years I've come to rely on his insightful and unfailingly logical advice. For outstanding services, Chief Tactical and Security Officer, it's my pleasure to grant you the rank of Lieutenant Commander. Congratulations, Tuvok.”

After graciously accepting the third pip on his collar, Tuvok bowed his head slightly, before addressing the group. “Thank you, Captain. Had I known this commendation entailed ritual humiliation, I might have declined. However, I accept it with gratitude and will honor the increased responsibility that comes with it. During my three years on Voyager I have grown to respect a great many of you. Others I have learned to tolerate.” Laughter punctuated this comment. “As your Tactical Officer, I will continue to do my best to ensure a safe passage home. As a Vulcan, I share the following sentiment. Live long and prosper.”

“Bravo. Well deserved,” Janeway said.

After another round of applause, B’Elanna pushed her chair back. She noticed the others were mingling, but the sooner she could get back to her engines, the better.

She’d almost made it out of the Mess Hall doors when she heard steps behind her and then Tom called her name. Oh hell. But then she remembered her confession, that she had had enough of being a coward. She slowed her step and turned to face him, her back against the wall.

“B'Elanna, this is ridiculous. It's been three days and we haven't said a word to each other,” Tom said.

“I know, I know. We have to talk.” She did her best to keep her voice light, non-committal. She crossed her arms across her chest. He was doing that thing where he talked with his hands. How he always managed to be so animated and at ease, even in awkward moments like this, was another one of those things that she appreciated about him.

“About what you said. I mean, the part about being in love with me. I realize you were suffering from oxygen deprivation and we were literally seconds away from death, so I know you probably didn't mean it…”

“No, no, I meant it,” she said, quickly. “But I don't expect you to reciprocate. Really, you can just pretend that I didn't say it.” The words tumbled out one after another, but she wanted to give Tom the opportunity to back away. After all, when she’d said she loved him, his response was “You picked a fine time to tell me.” Over the past three days, she’d replayed the line in her head repeatedly, wondering what he meant by it and had come up empty.Maybe she had indeed made a mistake. Tom was a great guy, a friend, and maybe she had misread the extent of his interest in her. “In fact, let's just pretend that I didn't—"

“Shut up.”

And his hands were on her shoulders, pushing her back against the wall, his lips hot against hers. She could feel his tongue lightly outlining her lips, the taste of him sparking heat deep inside of her. She felt his hand against her cheek, and she reached out to caress his neck with her fingertips. How long had she wondered what it would be like to touch him? She inhaled his scent, as she let herself ride the wave of the kiss, her eyes closing. She was lost in a world that belonged only to her and Tom. And his kiss assured that that she had not misread anything.

“Mister Paris, there you are!” the Doctor sang out. Tom jerked away from her, and B’Elanna felt the heat rising in her cheeks as she turned toward the wall, wishing she could magically vanish. She took a moment to compose herself, and then slipped past Tom and the Doctor, not making eye contact with either of them.

“I was just leaving. Lieutenant,” she said breathlessly. She went down the corridor, thoughts churning in her head. How much had the Doctor seen? Heard? Would he be discrete? B’Elanna turned down the first intersection she came across and was waiting for the turbolift when Tom caught up to her.

“Hey,” he said. “I’m sorry about that.” He had the grace to look abashed. “The Doctor, he had something he wanted to discuss with me.”

“It’s okay,” she said. She could still feel the pressure of his lips against hers and staring into those blue eyes, it was difficult to keep her thoughts coherent. “I get it.”

Tom stepped closer to her but didn’t make any move to touch her. “What you said earlier,” he said, “about me not reciprocating? Well, I guess you know that’s not true.”

B’Elanna laughed shakily. “I guess so.” Wasn’t there an old Terran expression that about actions speaking louder than words? It was probably time to stop ruminating exactly what his response to her declaration of love meant. “I wasn’t sure—”

He put his finger to her lips. “Look,” he said, “I’m on Gamma tonight for Bridge duty, and then I need to work a shift in Sickbay right after that—”

She arched her eyebrow in surprise. “A double shift? Why?”

“The Doctor needs a replacement for Kes and I guess I’m the one he chose because I served as first responder on a couple of practice missions back at the Academy and then on the Exeter,” Tom said. “Anyway, I need to report at 0600 hours but—” he stroked her cheek lightly with two fingers but then pulled away quickly as Pablo Baytart rounded the corner and then passed them without a second glance. “But I’d like to see you.” With a slight smile he added in a voice that sent tingles down her spine, “Privately.”

She swallowed hard, her heartbeat quickening at the suggestion in his tone. “I’d like that too,” she said softly. “In my quarters? When you’re free?”

The turbolift arrived then, the doors opening with a swish. B’Elanna stepped into the turbolift and before the doors closed, she heard Tom said, “It’s a date then.”

Chapter Text

Three hours into his shift, Tom sees his opportunity. Sickbay is finally empty, inventory has been taken, and all necessary instruments have been sterilized. It’s now or never. He cautiously approaches the Doctor who is intent on reviewing some medical record on his PADD.

“Doc,” Tom begins cautiously. “I've got to go run a few errands. I'll be back soon.”
 
The Doctor jerks to attention. Who knew a hologram could be such a strict taskmaster? “Not so fast, Mister Paris. Can't these errands wait until the end of your duty shift?”

Tom shuffles his feet a bit, not quite meeting the Doctor’s eyes. Holograms, he’s learning, are also very good bullshit detectors and the EMH Mark One is no exception to the rule. But he’s Tom Paris who’s managed to lie himself out of more than a dozen hairy situations; for the sake of his nascent love life, he hopes he can pull off one more miracle. “Well, it's my flight conn report, actually.” He hope his expression reflects the right ratio of contrition, concern, and duty.“I just realized I forgot to turn it in, and Chakotay gives me a hard time when it's late.”

The Doctor looks aggravated at this revelation. “You've been here all afternoon.” Scorn at Tom’s apparent absent mindedness drips off his words. “Didn’t this occur to you before?”

“Well, we've been so busy that I guess it just slipped my mind,” Tom says. He decides not to make the case that he’s still learning to juggle both sets of official responsibilities – helm and sickbay – but rather chooses to pointedly glance at the biobeds that have been (thankfully) devoid of patients for the last hour. They are in a quiet area of space (though the vicissitudes of space exploration mean expectations must be managed accordingly) and no away missions or extra-vehicular activity have been planned for the next twenty-four hours. The biofilters are working perfectly which means an outbreak of the Tarkellian flu is highly unlikely.

The Doctor considers and then nods. “I see. Well, since it's an emergency, don't let me stand in your way.”

“Thanks.” And before the Doctor can change his mind, Tom is in the corridor, the doors to Sickbay swishing close behind him. He quickens his step as he makes his way down the hall, pondering how to make up for last night. Lost in thought, he barely acknowledges Kristine Fernandez as she passes him on her way to the Bridge. A few meters later, he is relieved to discover the science lab is unmanned; the Delaney twins must be off shift and their replacement hasn’t yet arrived. He smiles to himself as he enters and immediately makes his way to the nearest computer panel.

Tom runs his fingers over the LCARS panel, and after a few strategic inputs, he locates the object of his desire. A small smile plays across his lips as he says, “Computer, lock onto these coordinates. I need a site to site transport. No, wait. Access the central replicator files first.” He quickly carousels through the available options before selecting one which will cost him a week’s worth of rations. “Ah, perfect.”

Five seconds later, he materializes in the conduit just outside the junction where B’Elanna is working. Her boots echo on the metal grates of the Jefferies tube and he extends his arm down into the opening, flowers held out first.

B’Elanna turns her face up to him. “Are those supposed to make up for cancelling on me last night?” she asks, before turning away. Tom quickly scrambles down the ladder towards her. She’s already directed her attention back to her instruments, the blue light off the console illuminating her features. Tom sucks in his breath.

“I got stuck with an extra shift on the bridge. What could I say?” Tom attempts to look remorseful. This apologizing thing is new to him and he wants to get the tone exactly right. “`Sorry, Captain, I've got a date with B'Elanna?’”

This gets her attention and she rises to her feet, the instruments clattering from her grip to the metal grate floor. She’s smiling now, backed up against the wall.

“And what about right now? Aren't you supposed to be working in Sickbay?” B’Elanna queries, her voice holding a seductive invitation. For the second time in thirty minutes, Tom takes a chance. It’s early days into their relationship, but he’s guessing he’s been forgiven. He closes the distance between them, resting his hands gently on her hips.

“I said I had to go deliver a conn report.” He inclines even closer now. He catches a whiff of her perfume; the scent reminds him of a tropical breeze ruffling the palm trees on a Tahitian beach.

“Not bad, but he'll be expecting you back,” she says, and the silk in her voice sends shivers down his spine, as does the delicate touch of her fingers against the curve of his back. She’s pulling him closer, her breath warm on his face as he leans down towards her.

“He can wait,” Tom says. He presses his lips against hers, loving the taste of her. Her arms snake up his back, pulling him closer. He tips his head, pausing only for a moment to catch a breath and then he’s holding her tighter, pressing his body against hers. His left-hand rests on her shoulder as his right takes a bit of liberty and moves lower on her ass. At that moment, B’Elanna gasps.

“What is it?” Tom asks. Concern surges through his body; it’s a new enough relationship that he’s fearful of any missteps. 

“I just had the feeling that somebody was watching us. I must be completely paranoid about getting caught in a compromising position.” She giggles and he finds it adorable.

“Kind of exciting, isn't it?” he says breathlessly as he catches her lips between his again. He deepens the intensity of his kiss and her response equals his fervor, her arms moving around his neck, her fingertips plying at the soft skin at the base of his neck; just that most delicate of touch increases the sense of anticipation. But again, he pauses to check. “If you want to stop though—”

“No,” she says with an enthusiastic confidence he thoroughly appreciates. Tom feels himself drowning in her eyes and he pauses just long enough to unzip her jacket. She shrugs out of it, as he runs his fingers down the length of her arm.

“I was hoping you’d say that,” he answers. Maybe it’s not the date night he planned – gourmet meal with wine in his quarters, following by some slowing dancing, perhaps, and then the grand finale – but given how their schedules conflict, he knows they have to take their moments when and where they can. He places a long series of kisses down the curve of her chin, and down her neck. B’Elanna sighs, tipping her head back. He pushes aside the straps of her tank top until the top of her breasts are exposed. Her breath comes fast now, her hands running through his hair as he bends to caress first one breast and then the second. He tugs at the bottom of her tanktop, and she lifts her arms so that he can lift it off her. She trembles as he takes the nipple in his mouth, running his tongue over the tender skin.

She’s fumbling with his jacket, her fingers jerkily pulling down the zipper, then pushing the garment off his shoulders. There’s an intensity to the way she’s moving. He matches her, feeling the curl of emotion rising deep within. There’s an electric sense of urgency bursting through every cell in his body. He’s not quite sure where his relationship with B’Elanna is going, not quite sure what he’s started, but as he feels his pants sliding down his hips, he knows it’s like nothing he’s ever experienced before. It’s as if he cannot get close enough to her. In a flash, he’s out of his clothes and helps free B’Elanna from hers. He presses her up against the wall, lifting her slightly so she can wrap her legs around his waist. She’s hot against him, as he thrusts up into her. Passion roils through him as he surges. B’Elanna presses her face against his shoulder, her teeth nipping lightly at his skin. He is reminded of the last time she bit him, remembers what his research told him; it’s instinctive for Klingons to draw blood while lovemaking, to mark their mate forever. It’s impossible to think coherently in the present moment, but he’s careful not to draw too many conclusions about the future.

He thrusts one more time and his world dissolves into colors. Sensations ripple through his body and he can feel B’Elanna shuddering around him. He kisses her, his hands cupping her face. She holds onto him fast before slowly releasing her grip on him and sliding to the ground. In the blue light from the engineering console, he lazily traces a circle across her stomach, and she quivers under his touch. He will never get tired of looking at her, but he knows they both have responsibilities to return to.

“So?” he asks softly as he hands over her clothes. “Am I forgiven?”

Her eyes gleam as she glances towards the bouquet lying just off to the side. “This time,” she says with a sly smile. She glances off to the side, concern etched across her pretty features. “I don’t know what’s the matter with me, but I just can’t shake that feeling we’re not alone.”

“Relax. There’s no one here,” Tom says. He’s gotten his pants back on and pulls his shirt over his head. He reaches over one more time to kiss her again. “But just think about it – the excitement that maybe we could be found out helped make things pretty intense, right?”

She considers for a moment and then a slow smile spreads across her lips. She’s fully dressed now, but the way she curls her arm around his neck, pressing the full length of her body up against her, he knows she won’t say no if the opportunity arises again for a tryst in an isolated sections of the Jefferies tube.  

“You’d better get back to the Doctor,” she says. “You wouldn’t want him to ask questions and find out where you really were, would you?” And then she adds in a tone that makes his toes curl in anticipation, “My quarters. Tonight.”

It’s not a question. He might outrank her in the chain of command, but in this relationship, she has the upper hand. Tom realizes he’s completely and thoroughly okay with it. “Tonight then.”

“Don’t be late.”

As if he could even consider it. He gives her one last lingering kiss and then asks the computer to beam him back to his quarters.

Chapter Text

Scientific Method #2: Do Not Delete the Kisses

 

“Mr. Vulcan! How can I ever thank you?” Neelix’s hearty voice belied what had been, just a few minutes earlier, a rather serious situation. It had only been by chance that Tuvok had passed by the Mess Hall when the brawl between Lieutenant William Chapman and Ensign Freddy Bristow had broken out. While he would never admit to being startled, Tuvok knew Chapman and Bristow were relatively mild-mannered and for the two to come to fisticuffs was indeed an unusual circumstance. Tuvok had immediately stepped in between the two men – a red-faced Chapman on his right and a panting Bristow on his left – and the fight between the erstwhile friends was over before it had quite begun. “You were in the right place at the right time!”

“Indeed,” Tuvok said. He watched as Bristow slumped in a chair, his hands pressed to his face; Tal Celes hovered nearby, her pretty face etched with concern. Meanwhile Chapman had retired to the opposite side of the Mess Hall to be consoled by Pablo Baytart and Susan Nicoletti. “I trust the situation is now defused and you may return to your duties.” He waved off Neelix’s additional (and effusive) gratitude and headed towards the door. On his way out, he caught sight of Jenny Delaney, surrounded by at least seven plates, all piled high with food. Tuvok raised his eyebrow but then he supposed it was none of his business on how Ensign Delaney chose to spend her rations.

Out in the corridor, Tuvok continued on his way to Engineering. It had been more than an hour since Lieutenant Torres had made her request, but there had been no urgency behind it. Still, Tuvok prided himself on being prompt, and as such, he kept his acknowledgement of fellow crewmembers to a single, socially correct greeting, until he came upon Samantha Wildman shedding her shirt; her jacket was lying in a pool at her feet.

“Ensign,” Tuvok said.

“Oh, Commander,” Sam said, her cheeks turning a deep shade of pink. She guiltily reached for her jacket and fanned her face with her face. “It’s hot in here, isn’t it? I asked Ensign Kim about the environmental controls, but he said they are operating within normal parameters.”

“It is expected you be dressed appropriately at all times,” Tuvok said sternly.

“I know,” Wildman said apologetically, as she zipped her blue-shouldered jacket back up. “I don’t know what’s the matter with me. One minute I was fine, and then the next—” she stopped short. “I’m sorry, Commander. It won’t happen again.”

“See to it that it doesn’t,” Tuvok said. He continued his way, noted the long line in front of the holodeck, and frowned; had the reservation system broken down? Still, it was an unusual number of people all trying to get in at once and it reminded Tuvok that it had been at least a month since their last shore leave. Perhaps it was time to suggest to the captain that another break was clearly indicated. And then next thirty seconds proved that his instincts were on point as a minor scuffle broke out between two of the waiting crewmen.

“It’s my turn!” Michael Ayala said hotly to Mortimer Harren.

I have been waiting longer than you!” Harren responded.

“Hey, cut it out!” Megan Delaney said, scowling at both men, and then she caught sight of Tuvok. “Commander.”

Tuvok raised his eyebrow but acknowledged Delaney with a curt nod of his head.

He entered Engineering and when he queried the whereabouts of Lieutenant Torres, Joe Carey nodded towards the upper decks.

“She’ll be glad to see you,” Carey said. “There have been some unusual readings in the power relays, occasional spikes, but no rhyme or reason to it. Hopefully the data you brought can shed some light on the situation.”

“I shall endeavor to help,” Tuvok said gravely. He noted that Engineering seemed to be operating efficiently, with all personnel properly dressed and at their stations. He would commend Lieutenant Torres for maintaining order and discipline. As he stepped out onto the upper level, he heard loud beeping sounds coming from the console. As he approached, he was greeted by the unusual sight of Lieutenant Torres leaning backwards upon the console, her hands pressed against Lieutenant Paris’ chest, their faces separated only be centimeters.  Paris was pressed against her, practically straddling Torres, and his hands firmly gripping her upper arms. They were kissing with a fierce abandon. Suddenly, Paris reared back, and Torres scrambled up off the console, her cheeks bright with color.

“Commander,” Paris said, the usual cocky note missing from his voice.

Tuvok kept his features evenly composed as he focused his attention on Torres. “Lieutenant. Here is the power usage data you requested.”

B’Elanna seemed momentarily confused by his comment, before she recovered her composure. “Right. Of course. I didn't expect it quite so promptly. Which I guess I should have, er, coming from you. I, I mean I'm grateful that you got the data to me so quickly. Thanks.”

“You’re welcome,” Tuvok said. He cast his glance first at Paris and then at Torres. “If that is all, I believe you have a console to reset.” He retraced his steps and after a quick assurance to Carey that he had indeed turned over the data to Lieutenant Torres, Tuvok headed into the corridor. He had only made it halfway down the hall when he heard footsteps behind him. It did not take an expert practitioner of logic to deduce to whom those footsteps belonged to. Tuvok stopped and waited for Tom Paris to catch up to him.

Slightly out of breath, Paris said, “Tuvok. Tuvok, I guess that was kind of embarrassing.”

Tuvok thought about the day’s curious parade of events, including finding Samantha Wildman in the hall trying to remove her shirt. “I don't experience embarrassment.”

Paris gave a nervous chuckle. “Right. Well, then I guess there's no harm done. It's not like there was a security violation or anything.”

“None that I am aware of,” Tuvok said gravely. He made a mental note to review Starfleet regulations on displays of public affection.

“So, I guess there's nothing that would have to go on any kind of report.”

“You want me to conceal what I've observed of your relationship with Lieutenant Torres,” Tuvok said flatly.

Clearly his directness took Paris by surprise. “Well, I'd certainly never ask you to be dishonest,” Paris said in a tone of voice that clearly implied that he did, in fact, expect Tuvok to lie.

“Certainly not,” Tuvok said. He nodded in Paris’ direction. “I will consider what you have said.”

“Thanks, that’s all I ask. You must remember what it’s like, don’t you?” Paris asked. “Meeting someone, those first few days, weeks, months… it’s a dream.”

“I do not share details of my personal life,” Tuvok said firmly, but he did remember and the memory of the last time he had touched his wife elicited a tinge of sadness.

“Well, of course not, but I thought if anyone could understand—” Tom stopped as they neared the holodeck. The line to enter was now twice as long as before. “But I’d really appreciate it if you could—”

Tuvok held up his hand. “The personal lives of the crew are not in my purview,” he said. “However, there are strict standards for behavior while on duty—”

“It was one time, Tuvok!”

“Perhaps,” Tuvok said, deciding not to voice his suspicion that the kiss he had witnessed between Paris and Torres was not a one-time incident. In fact, he was sure if he queried the crew, he would uncover other possible flagrant displays of affection between the two. “But you must assure me that it will not happen again. While there are no regulations per se regarding romantic relationships between officers, your activities with Lieutenant Torres could be considered a disturbance to order in a critical area of the ship. See that it does not happen it again.”

Paris blanched, but then nodded. “Understood.” He paused, and then inexplicably, started speaking again. “And it was my fault, you know, for interrupting Lieutenant Torres—”

“You both bear responsibility for your actions,” Tuvok said, feeling a rare note of impatience prick at him. He attempted to swallow his exasperation, but it was difficult to maintain an even keel. Trusting that all his training in emotional control over his 110 years of life wouldn’t betray him, Tuvok said, “Given your seniority and areas of responsibility on this ship, it is imperative you cease this behavior immediately.”

And before Lieutenant Paris could say another word, Tuvok turned away and briskly strode away, maintaining a singular focus on returning to the Bridge. Strictly speaking, oversight of personnel belonged to Commander Chakotay and Tuvok normally was reluctant to interfere in someone else’s domain, however it now seemed necessary. Clearly, Chakotay had let things slip or at the very least given up on enforcing discipline and order. It was an unacceptable turn of events. As he entered the turbolift, Tuvok’s irritation with the first officer had grown considerably. As he emerged onto the bridge, he decided it was time he and the first officer had a talk.

 

Chapter Text

B’Elanna smoothed the velvety material of her dress with her sweaty palms as she stood in front of Tom’s door, glancing nervously to left and then to the right as she waited for entry; she’d already run into Susan Nicoletti on her way and while Susan hadn’t said anything, there had been a look of intense curiosity on her face. B’Elanna had squared her shoulders and marched on. After all, she didn’t owe anyone an explanation, did she? But she would be hard-pressed to deny that the the temptation to call for a site to site transporter was very high but the last thing she wanted to do was explain to Tuvok the reason why she had chosen that method. As far as she was concerned, she and Tom – and their relationship – had already endured enough scrutiny. Right now, all she wanted was the dinner Tom had promised her a couple nights back. Taking a deep breath, she signaled for entry and the doors slid open promptly.

Like her, Tom had chosen to go with civilian attire for the evening. She’d never seen the red shirt he was wearing or the tweed vest over it; it struck her that he may have replicated an entirely new outfit for their date. Just as she had.

“You look beautiful,” Tom said as the doors swooshed closed and he enveloped her in his arms. B’Elanna turned her face up to his, their lips meeting softly at first, and then with increasing passion. “I’m so glad to see you.” Tom took a slight step back, his gaze running over her. There was something in his look that sent a tingle of electricity down B’Elanna’s back.

“You don’t look so shabby yourself,” she said lightly. He curled his fingers around hers, pulling her to the sofa.

“Any special requests for dinner?” he asked.

B’Elanna considered. “Surprise me.”

Tom arched his eyebrow. “Are you sure?”

“I trust you.” The words slipped out before she’d pondered the impact of them. She thought back to their conversation in the turbolift the previous day, when she’d pointed out that Tom seemed to be envisioning a future for the two of them.  It had been a revelation for her at that moment, just like this sentiment was now. To lighten the weight of what she’d said (and what it could possibly mean), she quickly said, “It’s just dinner after all.”

“Well, why don’t you have a seat, and I’ll see what I can do.”

B’Elanna sank into the beige sofa. She resisted the urge to kick off her shoes; she wasn’t quite that comfortable around Tom yet. And then she wondered how long it would take to get to that level of familiarity. She’d only had a relationship that had progressed this far once before – with Max Burk, nearly a decade previously at the Academy. It had taken several months before she’d accepted his offer to wear his blue sweater with class insignia on the back to ward off the chill in the San Francisco night air.

“Here we are,” Tom said grandly, setting a large plate of salad on the coffee table in front of her – a veritable explosion of color and textures against verdant leaves. A second later, he handed her an empty wine glass.

“You’re spoiling me,” she said, biting back her curiosity on just how many rations he’d expended on this evening.

“Wait until we get to dessert,” Tom said, the tip of his tongue running seductively over his lips as he settled onto the sofa next to her, his leg warm against hers. “Wine?

“Please.  After the last few days of being treated like lab rats, I can’t think a better way of relaxing,” she said.

“No?” Tom asked softly.

B’Elanna felt the heat rising in her cheeks. She sensed where Tom wanted the evening to end, and she knew she wanted the same thing. But hadn’t they agreed to calm things down a little bit? She decided to quickly change the subject to more neutral ground. “It was nice you could get the night off.”

“Nice had nothing to do with it,” Tom said as he poured the wine into her glass. “I switched shifts with Ensign Wildman which means tomorrow I'll pull a double duty on the bridge and with the Doc.”

“Well, I appreciate the sacrifice.” B’Elanna caught a whiff of the wine’s scent; she eyed the deep and rich red color swirling in her glass appreciatively. “Tell me about the wine.”

“Ah. Ktarian Merlot, 2282. You might want to let it breathe first.”

“We've got all night to let it breathe,” she said suggestively, and Tom’s receptive glance proved that yes, they were indeed on the same page. The aliens might be gone, but the giddy feelings remained. For this, B’Elanna was grateful. She swirled the crimson liquid gently in the cup, let the circles come to a stop, before inhaling the earthy tones of the Merlot. She took a sip of the wine, enjoying the smooth taste Ktarian wines were famous for, just as her comm badge beeped.

“Engineering to Lieutenant Torres.”

She recognized Lieutenant Chapman’s voice immediately. “Torres here.”

“We're having a problem with the plasma manifold,” Chapman continued. “I thought you'd want to take a look.”

Chapman was a competent enough engineer, but sometimes, he lacked the confidence to solve problems that he should really know the answers to. B’Elanna made a mental note to discuss this with him in the morning.  “I don't,” she said resolutely.” Lock it down for now, I'll deal with it in the morning. Torres out.” She smiled at Tom. “Sometimes it's nice to be the chief engineer.

Tom gestured towards the food on the table. “Try the salad, Chief.”

B’Elanna scooped an assortment of vegetables and cold chicken. The lettuce was crispy, the tomatoes just the right amount of sweet, the pomegranate seeds had just the right amount of tang, and the sesame seeds provided the crunch. It was a delightful escape from whatever concoction Neelix served on a daily basis. “Hmm,” she said appreciatively as she swirled her tongue over the edge of her lips. “This is really delicious.”

Tom’s azure eyes twinkled at her. “Oh, thanks. I replicated it myself.”

“Mmm, you're too good for me.” She leaned closer to him, but the movement was interrupted by the sound of the door chime. B’Elanna cast a warning look in Tom’s direction. “Ignore it.”

“Right.” But then the door chime sounded again, and Tom let out a small sigh. He rose from the sofa. “I'll get rid of them.”

When he opened the door, Harry stood there, a sheepish grin on his face. B’Elanna wondered if some of their friends – likely Susan Nicoletti, that gossip – had sent Harry on a scouting mission.  

“Oh, hi, er, sorry to interrupt,” Harry said in a tone that implied the exact opposite sentiment. He fluttered his fingers in her direction. “Hi, B'Elanna.”

“Harry, I'm not home,” Tom said.

Harry handed over a PADD. “I just wanted to return this.”

“Thanks.”

“Smells good,” Harry called out, arching his neck to get a better look at the food on the table. Tom rolled his eyes and promptly shut the door.

“That's it. No more interruptions.” Tom turned towards B’Elanna, removed his comm badge, and placed it on the dresser behind him. B’Elanna hesitated for a moment, and then followed suit. She sucked in her breath as Tom sat down next to her. Might as well clear the air, she thought.

She began cautiously. “You know, I've been thinking about what the captain said…”

Tom’s gaze met hers. It was unwavering. “Thinking maybe she was right? Me, too.”

B’Elanna gave a little laugh. “We have been a little out of control lately.”

“Do you think we really were?”

“What?”

“Out of control,” Tom said, his voice a bit casual as he leaned closer to her. He was making himself quite at home in her personal space, and she found that she didn’t care. In fact, her heart skipped a beat as he inched even closer to her. “Those aliens could have just been messing around with our hormones just to see what would happen.”

B’Elanna’s eyes widened as his hand landed lightly on her upper thigh. “You're right, they could have. And we don't know how long they were on board. They could have been tampering with us for months.”
 
“Well, when you think about it, you did have a pretty abrupt change of heart a couple of weeks ago.” Tom’s eyes were very serious. Very blue. It made it difficult to concentrate, to put a coherent thought together. “What made you realize that you love me all of a sudden?”
 
B’Elanna shrugged. “Just a feeling.” It was such a small word that didn’t quite encapsulate the reaction Tom elicited from her. She wished she could pinpoint the moment when everything changed for her, when a day spent with Tom was infinitely better than one not. She paused, picking her next words very carefully. “So our whole relationship might be based on some alien experiment.”

“You never know,” Tom said softly, his eyes gleaming.

B’Elanna thought about all the things she’d done the past week with Tom that she’d never ever imagined herself doing. The giddy feelings that bubbled up whenever she saw him, the rush of attraction, and lack of inhibition that seemed to manifest any time he was within a few meters of her. She had never before exhibited such wild abandon and a part of her was relieved that the lack of judgement the captain had called her on was possibly not her fault. But then there was that other part of her that never wanted those feelings to stop. “Well, I think that explains it,” she said, leaning in closer to Tom.

He mimicked her body language. “I guess we should just call it off, then.”

“I think so,” she said breathlessly.

His lips were only millimeters from hers. So close. Her toes curled and she knew it was time to kick off those shoes.  

“Thank God we found out in time,” Tom said, sotto voce.

“Thank God,” B’Elanna agreed. And then Tom’s fingers were on her face, stroking her skin, his lips hot against hers. The kiss tasted like merlot, felt smooth like the wine too. It was intoxicating in every way. Her eyes closed for the briefest of moments, as she reveled in the sensations of touch and taste.

As Tom traced the curve of her jaw, he broke slightly away from her. “I don't know about you, but I'm curious to see how this experiment turns out.”

She could only nod as her lips met his again, this time with greater intensity. There was an urgency in his exploration, the way his hands roved over her body, as if he wanted to touch her everywhere all at once. And arching her head back, feeling his mouth on the curve of her neck, she returned the favor. The curious sensations she’d experienced while possibly under the aliens’ influence repeated but this time she knew it was for real. She leaned back, pulling him down on top of her. Dinner could – and would -- wait.

Chapter Text

It was just after 0600, when the first hunger pangs struck me. I straightened up from the console I’d been hunched over for the last three hours and put my hand on my abdomen. From the look Susan Nicoletti shot me, I knew she’d heard the growl too. But she handed me the hyperspanner without mentioning it.

“Try it now,” she said, but there was little energy in her voice. I could see the bags beneath her eyes, the slumping lines of her shoulders, the way her wisps of hair had escaped from her ‘do. “It should work.”

I lined the tool up with the console, and then shook my head. “I’m still reading that variance.”

“I don’t get it,” Nicoletti said. “We’ve tried everything.”

I started the power off sequence on the console again. Maybe a hard boot would clear the memory banks and eradicate the issue we were seeing. I always hate dealing with intermittent issues like this one – they cannot be reproduced, cannot be explained, but can never be ignored. Over time, these intermittent issues blow up and become something larger and more consequential. During the last few months, especially when we had some downtime, I had been impressing upon my staff the importance of taking care of the little things up front, and for the most part, the message had gotten through. The hard part came then when it came to tackling what Tom called gremlins in the system. And it seemed as if Nicoletti and I had come face to face with one. One and a half shifts in, and we still hadn’t figured out how to resolve the problem. 

“All right,” I said finally. “I’ll talk to Joe about this.” I gestured towards the door. “Why don’t you get some rest?” Nicoletti looked uncertain but I said, a bit more firmly, “We probably need some fresh eyes on this one. It’s a doozy.” I smiled a bit to myself. It was both comforting and unnerving to know how much of Tom’s vocabulary was slipping into my own. I busied myself with cleaning up the area and inputting some parting instructions for when Joe Carey would arrive at 0700 hours. My actions echoed those of the rest of the night staff; a few, like Nicoletti, had been on duty for more than 12 hours now, and the weariness showed.

Joe arrived a few minutes before seven and I briefed him on how the night went, and the confounding problem Nicoletti and I had been working on. He promised to take a look. Knowing I was leaving Engineering in good hands, I made my way to the Mess Hall. I had made plans with Tom the previous evening to meet for breakfast. Lately our schedules never seemed to coincide, especially with Tom now working both at the helm and the Sickbay. But it seemed for one hour today, our days would line up and I was looking forward to seeing him. I wanted to watch his eyes light up as he talked, the way his hand motions would punctuate his sentences, and the easy laughs that seemed to slip out every now and then. There was something so easy about being around Tom; no gremlins there.

As I’d guessed, the Mess Hall was crowded with the stragglers from Alpha shift just leaving, and those coming off Gamma coming in for a meal before heading off to their quarters for rest or the holodeck for downtime. I still managed to find a table for two by the windows, and Neelix brought me a cup of coffee as well as a tray of food. Fifteen minutes passed and no Tom. I commed him and there was no answer. I frowned, wondering where he was. At 0730, I commed again. Silence reigned again. I pushed my chair back, and recycled my tray, and bid Neelix goodbye.

I made my way down to the deck four, section 3 and signaled for entry into Tom’s quarters. On the second attempt, the doors finally opened and there stood the object of my affections, bleary-eyed, tousled hair, and still in his robe. He put his hand on the door jamb, his expression adorably confused.

“Hello,” he said in a drowsy voice

“Good morning. Sleep well?” I asked, not doing a terribly great job at hiding my irritation.

“Not really.” He frowned. “What are you doing here?”
 
I shrugged as he stepped aside to let me into his quarters. The doors closed behind me. “I just thought I'd stop by and ask you why you didn't meet me for breakfast.”
 
Tom looked momentarily panicked. “Breakfast? What time is it?”

“Seven forty.”

Sudden realization crossed his face. “And we were supposed to meet at oh seven hundred!”

It was difficult to keep the irritation out of my voice. He’d overslept and that’s why he missed our only time together in what seemed like weeks? Now we’d have to go through the exercise of comparing schedules and figuring exactly when the next time we could see each other was. And after more than 12 hours in Engineering, with every muscle in my body aching from strain and fatigue, I didn’t really have the patience to figure out the next time the stars and moons would align for us to spend time together. “I was there. Right after I got off the night shift. I waited, and I waited, and I called you on the comm.”

Tom shifted from foot to foot, not quite meeting my eye, but also looking properly guilty. “I, er, I didn't hear you. I was having this wild nightmare. I was out like a light. I'm sorry. I'll get dressed right now.”

As much as I appreciated the sentiment, it wasn’t really practical. By the time he got to the Mess Hall, he would have to just turn around and return to the bridge. And after the night I had in Engineering, I was both mentally and physically fatigued. “You don't have time,” I pointed out. “You're due on the bridge at oh eight hundred and I've got to get some sleep.”

Tom ran his hand through his hair, rumpling it even more. “I hate this!” he exclaimed. “We never see each other.”

I softened. At least he felt the same way about the situation as I did. It did seem that just as we were both in a space we could freely acknowledge our feelings for each other, it appeared impossible to be in the same place at the same time. And there was something decidedly unromantic about having to negotiate romance. “I'm off Friday night,” I ventured.

Tom’s face brightened. “Great. Let's go skiing. How about Saint Moritz?”

I grimaced. Tom really loved the Saint Moritz program, and while snow-capped mountains under the brilliant blue sky offered a spectacular view, I wanted something with a little less gear and a lot less snow. “We went skiing last time.”
 
Tom leaned in closer to me. “And you loved it.” Loved, in my opinion, was a bit strong. “You're getting really good, you know.”
 
“I just thought maybe we could run a program where the wind chill factor wasn't thirty below zero. Like Fiji, or Samoa.” I had, in fact, recently replicated a new two-piece swimsuit that Tom had yet to see. And I wasn’t opposed to seeing him in a swimsuit.  
 
“There's nothing to do there,” Tom said.
 
“And you can be warm while you're not doing it,” I pointed out. A moment passed and it was clear we were at an impasse. The thought occurred to me as to whether there was a future in our relationship: we couldn’t coordinate our schedules enough to see each other, and when we were together, we couldn’t even agree on what to do. He lived for speed while I loved nothing more than just hanging out in a luxurious environment.

“How about a compromise?” Tom said and by his tone, I wondered if he had the same realization I did, that our inability to navigate through the easy decisions didn’t bode well for the difficult ones. “Er, spring skiing in Chile? Much warmer.”

“A compromise?” I thought about warm tropical winds, a cocktail in hand, and bare feet squishing through the sand. “How about Tahiti?”

“Tahiti.” Tom looked serious and then his face softened as he nodded. “As long as I can go water-skiing, fine.”
 
Water skiing was easy enough to program in and I knew I would enjoy watching Tom zip across the clear blue waters, the sunlight ripping across his chest, and illuminating his hair. And perhaps, afterwards, we could go for a swim. “You're on,” I said, draping my arms around his neck and lifting myself up on my tip toes. Our kiss was gentle, sweet, but held the promise of so much more on Friday. Reluctantly, I broke away. “Now go get dressed, so you'll still have some time to stop for some coffee.”

“I'll see you Friday night,” Tom called after me.

I smiled back at him as I left his quarters. As exhausted as I was, I detoured to the holodeck to make our reservation.  It promised to be a long week in front of us, but it would make the couple of hours on the beach that much sweeter.

Chapter Text

In the days/weeks/months that followed, she remembered. Shards of memories jabbed at her at the most inopportune times. This time the memory assaulted her in front of the warp core, when she was gritting her teeth over a fluctuation that she couldn’t quite pinpoint and it reminded her that that was exactly what she’d been doing before she’d found Tom  – no, no, Steth – in her quarters, casually holding a golf club and putting the ball as if it was nothing out of the ordinary. She’d been exhausted at the end of a long, fruitless shift, and then here was Tom (no! Steth!) tapping the ball into the hole, as if he had no care in the world. She’d been instantly irritated.

What do you think you're doing?

It was the question she’d asked then, and now it resonated as she placed her palms flat on the console, her breaths coming out slow and steady like Tuvok had advised. The sound of the warp core, like a distant heartbeat, blotted out all the other sounds in Engineering. She lifted her head to look at the pulsing blue light in front of her. Everything seemed normal except it wasn’t. Just like then.

Tom… but not Tom.

She should’ve known, should have realized that something was wrong. But she’d been tired and irritated. She hadn’t even bothered to hide her annoyance, directing it at the man she now knew was Steth. The details of that conversation were lost to her in their entirety, but every now and then she would remember snippets.

That is a sand wedge. It’s used for getting out of traps, Steth-as-Tom said, charm dripping from his voice as he knocked another ball into the hole.

“Chief?”

B’Elanna turned to see Nicoletti standing behind her, PADD in hand.

“The navigation report you requested? Lieutenant Fernandez just brought it by.”

B’Elanna blinked. “Okay, great. Thanks for letting me know.”

Nicoletti shifted from foot to foot. “Are you going to review it now?”

“No, no. Just,” B’Elanna frowned and then pointed, “just leave it on my desk. I’ll get to it later.”

Nicoletti’s footsteps echoed as she walked away and B’Elanna turned her attention back to the warp core. A variation in the phase modulation, just outside of the regulation three standard deviations, spiked up on the line she was monitoring. What she wanted – no, needed – was a smooth sine wave, with an angular frequency well within specification. The solution she’d stumbled upon in the past eluded her now. She pressed the heel of her hand against her forehead, scrunching her eyes closed.

I am sorry if you are bored because Steth is gone, but that doesn't mean that you can just walk in here and pretend like you haven't been shutting me out.

She jerked back to attention. The line in front of her was demonstrating an acceptable oscillation - for now. To clear her mind, she went to pick up the navigation report. In a way, she was glad Fernandez had been the one to deliver it; if it had been Tom, surely he would’ve reminded her of their date tonight. He wanted to show her something, he’d said in passing that morning at breakfast. “Meet me in the holodeck at 2100 hours?” he had said

Steth-as-Tom said, his voice dripping with charm and apology, “I realize it's only a few extra hours, but they're hours I want to spend with you.” The sincerity in his gaze melted her irritation as he reached for her hands.  

In the Mess Hall that morning, his eyes pleading with hers, Tom caught her hand in his, his fingers gently caressing her knuckles.

Holding her hands, Steth-as-Tom’s lips brushing across her palm.

The unwelcome image paralyzed B’Elanna. Tom asked again about meeting him, with some increased urgency, and she finally spit out an affirmative answer; she needed to get away from him. Tom’s lips turned up into a broad smile as he leaned forward to kiss her lightly.

“See you tonight,” Tom had said as she pulled away. But it was too late; Tom’s little gesture had reminded her of Steth. Steth who had been gone for only twenty-four hours now.

B’Elanna had then gone straight to Engineering then and spent the first hour of the shift with Joe Carey, catching up all the issues and concerns from Gamma shift. It was then Carey pointed out the issue with the warp core.

“Catch the little things while they are still small,” Carey had told her with a little smile, and she wondered when her staff had started to use her own words against her. And so, she’d stationed herself in front of the warp core, and until now, that’s where she’d remained.

His lips against hers, his hands in her hair. He seemed a bit tentative at times as they tumbled into bed, asking her what she wanted, what she liked. He spoke to her in Tom’s voice, touched her with Tom’s hands, guiding her into an unfamiliar position, and she wondered where he had learned these new techniques, but the sensations overtaking her body had silenced the question dancing at the tip of her tongue; she did not want him to stop. She’d found herself soaring with him, her back arching to meet his thrusts, feeling for the first time in days that they were in the same place. Later, as they lay in bed, on their sides facing each either, Steth-as-Tom asked her if she was satisfied. She’d licked her lips. Yes, she said, and then added, “I’ve missed you.” And then Steth-as-Tom made her a promise.

“This is only the beginning of us, sweetheart,” he said to her. “There’s more to come.”

Tom had never called her ‘sweetheart’ before, and B’Elanna wondered if this was advice Steth had given him. It didn’t matter as he pushed her on her back, shoving her legs apart with his knee, his hands braced against her shoulders. She closed her eyes in bliss as she kissed Steth-as-Tom’s mouth. 

B’Elanna blinked back the image. With the helm report in hand, she took the lift to her workstation on the second floor. Her back was aching from the many hours of standing and leaning over consoles, and she dropped into the seat in her office, shrugging out of the lab jacket she occasionally wore these days. She turned on the PADD, but it was impossible to concentrate on what was written there. The words blurred together. She sighed.

B’Elanna Torres had survived many things before. Her father leaving her. The loneliness of the Klingon monastery. Max Burke’s self-interested relationship with her. Leaving the Academy. Joining the Maquis. Fighting the Cardassians. Finding the bodies of her Maquis friends mutilated, naked, eyes open and glazed, mouths contorted into a final grimace of pain. Knowing more of those friends – who until Voyager, were the only family she’d known -- were also dead, the stark realization she could never forgive herself for abandoning them. She still had a small scar on the inside of her forearm from a Hirogen who had chosen her as his prey in a scenario she thankfully had no memory of.  And then Steth arrived.

She leaned forward, her elbows resting on her thighs, her hands pressed to her face. She remembered the summons to the transporter room, Steth-as-Tom waiting there for her, with a fully packed picnic basket. This was a joke, she remembered thinking. And yet, it wasn’t. And then there were his fingers again, tight on her chin as he jerked her head, an ugly sneer on his face.

You're a real disappointment to me, do you know that? I don't know what I ever saw in you.

And then Steth-as-Tom had left, a scowl etched on his face. B’Elanna’s feet felt heavy, unable to move out of position. And even though she knew now that it hadn’t been her Tom who had said those words, a part of her wondered just how much of Tom was in Steth. Tom had been growing away from her in recent weeks. Only three weeks had passed between the end of the Hirogen takeover on Voyager and Steth’s arrival. In that time, B’Elanna had been busy with ship repairs, not leaving much time for Tom. So, it made sense, didn’t it, that he had started to find other ways to occupy his attention?

“Paris to Torres.”

The PADD clattered to the ground. B’Elanna swallowed hard. Cleared her throat.

“Torres here,” she said, injecting a brisk note into her voice. As if she hadn’t been distracted. As if she hadn’t heard Steth-as-Tom’s summons to the transporter room, the same as just a couple days previously.

“Just wanted to make sure you were still meeting me at the holodeck.”

“Yes, of course.” She glanced at the chronometer. Damn it. It was 2100 hours. All those hours on shift and she had nothing to show for it; the warp core issue remained, and she hadn’t even been able to absorb something as routine as the navigation report. She considered telling Tom she had a headache, that something had come up and that she couldn’t meet him after all. But then he’d offer to bring her an analgesic hypo for the headache or help her in Engineering. Eventually he would ask questions that she didn’t want to have to answer. She gritted her teeth and squared her shoulders. Steth-as-Tom would just have to be another bullet point on the list of things that happened to B’Elanna Torres – and that she had survived. “I’ll be right there.”

Tom’s voice was silky smooth as he said, “I can’t wait to see you.”

B’Elanna shivered.

Chapter Text

B’Elanna approached the holodeck cautiously. She had no idea what Tom had in mind, and she hoped it wasn’t Lake Como or Tahiti or any of the other stock romantic setting holoprograms. Since she was already running late and he hadn’t asked her to dress in a certain way, so she decided to stay in uniform. 

“Hey there.” Tom was standing by the control panel. He was wearing blue coveralls B’Elanna had never seen before. So clearly Tom didn’t have a beach destination in mind and at the opposite extreme, not the alpine skiing program he liked either. “When I didn’t see you here, I thought you’d forgotten.” There was a hesitation in his manner towards her. As if he knew. “Or maybe you were still upset with me.”

She gave a shaky laugh. “I lost track of time,” she said. An easy answer. That’s what she wanted, needed, right now. Something easy.

“Well, I have something I want to show you,” Tom said quietly. “Computer, load program Paris Gamma Beta Chi.” The holodeck doors slid open, revealing a large garage, its metal door closed. B’Elanna stared in surprise at Tom and then back at the garage door.

“What’s this?” she asked.

His only response was a smile as he lifted the handle, pushing the garage door open. The odor of gasoline wafted out while a radio blared a song about California girls. Inside sat a sleek car – black with two thick white stripes running down the hood. Tom looked expectantly at B’Elanna.

"So this is where you've been hiding? A garage?" B’Elanna didn’t quite know what to think. She rounded the car, running her fingers across its sleek smooth surface. A car seemed so… tame. Ordinary. She’d been expecting something more risqué, something more illicit, something that could explain Tom’s recent distance from her. But a car? He couldn’t tell her about a car?

"It's more than just a garage!" Tom said. “This is a monument to hundreds and hundreds of hours—” he leaned on the hood – “that I probably should have spent with you." His smile was apologetic.

B’Elanna narrowed her eyes. “`Probably’?”

"Definitely,” Tom said quickly.

"It's a lovely garage, Tom,” B’Elanna said, her lips twisting slightly as she took in the setting, “but I still don't understand why you brought me here."

"Consider it a symbolic gesture. It's my less than subtle attempt to—” he paused, looking somewhat uncomfortable “-- let you in."

"I see," B’Elanna said quietly. "To make it clear that I mean almost as much to you as a—” she looked at the lettering on the front of the car—"A Cahm-a-ro."

"It’s a mint condition 1969 Camaro,” he said as he opened the driver’s side door and climbed inside. B’Elanna considered and took the hint; she opened the door on her side and slipped inside on the black leather bench seatShe edged closer to Tom. He gazed at her. “And yes,” he said, “you mean a lot more to me.”

B’Elanna almost believed him. She leaned in for the kiss. His hands, as usual, drifted to her face, his thumbs caressing the underside of her jaw. After a few seconds, allowed herself to respond to the urgency of his touch. She closed her eyes as he pushed her down onto the seat. She let her hands drift to the back of his head, running her fingers through his hair. As she felt his weight shift, an intense feeling of claustrophobia came over her and she pressed her hands against his chest.

“Stop,” she said. “Please.”

“What? Is something wrong?”

“Um,” she said, trying to sit up. “I’m—I’m sorry. I can’t.”

Tom stared at her. “What did I do?”

“It’s not—you, you didn’t do anything.” She pressed on the door handle and then wiggled it. “How do you open this thing?”

Tom leaned across her and released the door. “B’Elanna—”

“Look, I appreciate this,” she said. “Really, I do. I mean, I don’t know what I was expecting, maybe the slave girls from Planet Ten, I don’t know. But not this—”

Tom looked bewildered. “Is something wrong?”

“I just can’t.” B’Elanna got out of the car. She leaned down to look at Tom. “I’m sorry.”

“You don’t have to apologize for anything,” he said. “I’m the one who messed up. If you’re still mad, I get it.” He paused. “Just give me a chance to make it up to you.”

B’Elanna knew he was right but she still don’t know how to say what she had to say. And she also knew, intellectually, that she couldn’t quite blame him; how was he to know that Steth was a body-swapping alien who’d tricked his girlfriend into having sex with him? But then again, Tom in his irresponsibility had also let his guard down, had missed any cues or hints Steth might have given about who he really was.

“I will,” she said softly, “but you have to give me time.”

Tom’s expression turned bewildered. “How much time?”

“Why are you pushing me?” B’Elanna said snappishly.

“Isn’t this what you wanted?” Tom looked perplexed. “More time together? I’m trying to apologize, and you push me away.”

B’Elanna didn’t move. “I know.” She put her hand flat on the hood of the car. Breath in, breath out. Just as easy as that. One foot in front of the next, one step into a second one. This is how the minutes/days/weeks would pass for her. And over time, Tom-as-Steth would become a faded nightmare.

Tom got out of the car and rounded the trunk to come stand next to her. He held up his hands, as if in surrender. “Okay, I get it. You’re still upset,” he said, frustration evident in his voice. “Whenever you’re ready. That’s fine.” He turned to look back at his toolbox. “I might as well get some work done…”

B’Elanna stood rooted to the spot. The words – or was it a confession? -- were at the very tip of her tongue. She watched Tom, almost frantic in his movements, as he rifled through his toolbox. She’d admitted her love for him to reclaim her honor before likely death. In that moment, in the emptiness of space, and nothing left to hide behind, she’d told him the truth. She’d been resolute in her desire to never hide again, to always make sure the air between them was clear. But now she wasn’t sure how he would react if he knew she’d had sex with Steth. And if she was truly being honest, she was still angry. Angry at Tom for putting her in that position, angry at Steth for taking advantage of her, angry at herself for not realizing something was wrong. God, B’Elanna, you’re pathetic

B’Elanna cleared her throat. “I need to get back to Engineering. There was a problem with the warp drive and I, I really can’t let it go much longer. Carey couldn’t figure it out and now we’re on beta shift and I don’t know if Vorik will be able to handle it.”

“Okay.” Tom put his hands on her shoulders. Concern radiated from those blue eyes. “And really. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have shut you out. I shouldn’t have let Steth occupy so much of my time. I guess I was so caught up in my thoughts that I missed seeing him for who he really was.” The name itself forced a sinking feeling in the pit of B’Elanna’s stomach. And then Tom said in a rush, “I could come with you to Engineering. Help you. What was it that you wanted to do? Realign the manifolds?”

“No, you, you have holodeck time. You work on the car.” She forced a smile. “I’ll see you later.”

Tom flashed her a smile, one filled with that famous Paris charm, the one that normally made her weak in the knees, but this time she felt nothing.  “I’m counting on it,” Tom said with sincerity that if she let herself, she could believe. “I mean it, B’Elanna. I’m not going anywhere.” Gently, she lifted his hands off her shoulders.

“I have to go,” she said softly. She didn’t look back as the holodeck doors closed behind her.

Chapter Text

Kathryn Janeway smoothed away the imaginary wrinkles on the skirted tunic of her dress uniform. Just a few meters away, Harry Kim, along with Freddy Bristow and Daniel Chapman, were setting up their trio’s instruments. Behind the serving counter, Neelix poured champagne into fluted glasses; the golden liquid bubbled and danced in the light. Janeway turned to the man standing next to her.

“Everything looks lovely,” she said to Tom Paris.

Tom Paris’s mouth turned up at the corners. “I’ve got to give Susan Nicoletti a lot of credit,” he said. “She worked with Neelix to make sure everything went smoothly.” His gaze drifted towards the closed doors at the far end of the Mess Hall. “But all of this, these are just details.”

Details. Janeway remembered spending time on those just before taking command of Voyager. The conversations with Mark had been casual enough. A small wedding, they agreed, in the Janeways’ backyard in Indiana; the white gazebo would be an intimate but informal enough setting. Twenty to thirty guests, at the most; her sister Phoebe would be her only attendant and Mark had asked his cousin to stand up for him. They had discussed a chocolate cappuccino torte as the piece de resistance and had selected white calla lilies and roses for the flowers. Invitation would be a throwback to traditionalist style: simple white linen cards, embossed with silver script; while they’d agreed on the design, they were still working on the wording. It was a task to be completed after Kathryn returned from the Badlands.

“It is still a significant achievement to pull off something on this scale in just a few days,” Janeway said. “I thought you might want to wait a while after you got engaged…” She and Mark, after all, had dated for several years before deciding to make it official, and of all the details they had debated, an actual date and time was never set. She blinked back an unexpected wave of emotion.

Tom gave a nervous chuckle. “The one thing we’ve learned for sure in the Delta Quadrant is that nothing is for granted. So why put off for tomorrow what you can do today?”

The sentiment caught the captain off guard. If anyone could understand the reality behind Tom’s words, it was Kathryn Janeway. Details. She sucked in her breath; she hadn’t thought of Mark in a long time, had put that chapter of her life behind her. And yet…

“I wonder what’s taking so long,” Tom said, shifting his weight from one leg to the other. He wiped his palms against his uniform, jiggled his shoulders slightly, as he looked again towards the door.

“Relax, Tom,” Janeway said. As she said the words, she glanced over to Kim, Bristow and Chapman; Kim had just raised his clarinet to his lips. In the galley, Neelix was taking out white-frosted cakes of differing sizes . The EMH, Seven of Nine, and Tuvok were clustered together – a rare moment of socialization for the three of them. Janeway turned her attention back to Tom. “You still have two minutes.”

The band struck up then, some light jazz tune Janeway didn’t recognize. She wondered if Nicoletti was also responsible for the music selection. She watched as Pablo Baytart pushed the cart with the cakes on it to the opposite side of the Mess Hall, next to the table set with platters of fruit, cheese, and other hors d’oeuvres. Nicoletti was passing around little cachets of rice, while the EMH had pulled out his holo cam. Janeway smiled. It was, she thought, the perfect day for a wedding.

At that moment, the doors opened, and Chakotay and Torres – both in dress uniform – appeared. Immediately, Kim’s trio switched to Wagner’s “Bridal Chorus.” Janeway glanced sideways at her chief helmsman; his gaze was riveted on his bride to be.

Sotto voce, Janeway said, “This is it, Tom. Your bachelor days are over.”

“Not a moment too soon.”

She paused, thinking about just how quickly Tom and B’Elanna had gotten engaged, how swiftly this wedding had been engineered. She wondered at the impulsiveness of the act, at whether the two officers were governed by immediate emotion versus a careful contemplation of what their future together would look like. She ventured, cautiously, “Second thoughts?”

Paris’ eyes had a dreamy quality to them as he responded, “Second, third, fourth…”

Chakotay and B’Elanna were in front of them now. Tom took B’Elanna’s hands in his, and they both turned towards the captain as a hush fell over the room. Janeway cleared her throat.

“We're gathered here today, not as Starfleet officers, but as friends and family, to celebrate the marriage of two of Voyager's finest,” Janeway said. She bestowed a smile upon the couple. “B'Elanna has asked me to forego the rigors of Klingon pain sticks in favor of a more traditional ceremony.”

A wave of laughter swept the room as Harry Kim said, “They're saving the pain sticks for the honeymoon.” In response to that comment, B’Elanna looked down at her shoes, as Tom’s face flushed.
 
“As Captain, the honor of joining these two people has fallen to me. But before I declare them husband and wife, Tom and B'Elanna have prepared their own vows.”

Tom held B’Elanna’s hands in his own. “I still don't know what I've done to deserve you. But whatever it is, I'll try to keep doing it. And I promise to stand by you, to honor you, till death do us part.”

“Ensign?” Janeway nodded at Harry.  

Harry looked startled. “Hmmm?”

“The ring.”

“Oh!” Harry hastily handed the ring to Tom. Tom carefully slipped it on B’Elanna’s finger.

“May this ring be the symbol of our eternal love,” Tom said.

Their hands still intertwined, B’Elanna said, “You stood by me when most people would have run for the nearest airlock. You were willing to see past my shortcomings, and to take all the bumps and bruises that came along with it. You made me a better person, even though I put up one hell of a fight.” Her voice cracked slightly. “I look forward to our journey together.”

Janeway tipped her head towards her first officer. “Commander.”

At the cue, Chakotay handed the ring to B’Elanna who then put it on Tom’s finger.

“May this ring be the symbol of our eternal love,” B’Elanna said softly.  Tom leaned in for the kiss, but Janeway shook her head.

“Not so fast,” Janeway said with a smile. “Lieutenant Thomas Eugene Paris, Lieutenant B'Elanna Torres. With the power vested in me by Starfleet Command and the United Federation of Planets, I now pronounce you husband and wife.” She cast a meaningful look int the direction of her chief helmsman. “Now, Tom.” As Tom kissed B’Elanna, Janeway saw the genuine happiness etched on the faces of those gathered to watch the ceremony. She joined in the applause. “Bravo.”

B’Elanna tossed her bouquet into the crowd where it was promptly caught by Seven of Nine. Seven’s expression was puzzled, and Janeway made a note to explain the symbolism of the gesture later. Her eyes instead were drawn to Tom and B’Elanna, locked in an embrace, as they savored their first kisses as husband and wife.

“Lovely ceremony,” Chakotay said.

Janeway smiled as she watched Tom and B’Elanna move apart and hand in hand, head towards the doors, kernels of rice raining down on them. “Of all the people on board to fall in love and get married…”

“You would have never suspected the two of them?” Chakotay asked.

“Still, one finds happiness in the most unexpected of places,” Janeway mused. She tipped her head towards the galley. “Champagne, Commander?”

“After you.”

Janeway took her glass and then offered Chakotay another one. “Perhaps this marriage is the first of many,” Janeway said. “Jor and Tabor have seemed pretty serious as of late, and I do wonder about Susan Nicoletti and Pablo Baytart.”

Chakotay’s dimpled smile flashed. “When we first set out on this journey—”

Janeway held up her hand, shaking her head ruefully. “I know, I remember what I said.” She twisted her lips into a wistful expression. “We left a lot of loved ones behind and perhaps, I was wrong to discourage the crew from forming personal attachments.” She watched as a very pregnant Ensign Harper walked by. “We’ve become a family, Chakotay.” She lifted the glass to her lips. The champagne danced lightly across her taste buds as she swallowed it. “Everywhere I look, I see chance to reclaim what was lost to us when the Caretaker pulled us into the Delta Quadrant.”

Chakotay’s dark eyes were intent on her. “And does that include the captain as well?”

Janeway didn’t flinch under his scrutiny. “Obviously there are considerations—"

Chakotay waved her comment away. “Details.”

Janeway stiffened. There was that word again. Details. “Responsibilities—”

Chakotay cupped her elbow in his palm, leaned close to her so that his breath was warm on her cheek. “There was a wedding aboard Voyager today, Kathryn. The first in more than five years out here. You can forget about responsibilities. Just for this moment.” He straightened up as the band struck up a standard Janeway recognized as ‘All the Things You Are.’

“Something to think about. Later,” Janeway said, lightly putting her hand on Chakotay’s forearm. “Come,” she said. “Neelix is passing out the cake and you know how good his Jibelian fudge is.” As she took a bite though, she knew it wouldn’t – couldn’t – hold a candle to the chocolate cappuccino torte. Resolutely, she pushed that thought away. She would indulge in the moment, as Chakotay had recommended, but only for now. The journey of going home stretched in front of her; she would not, for any reason be distracted from that goal.

Chapter Text

It’s a careful line to walk, he knows, this space between hovering and distance. He’s tried detachment before, but he realizes now he can put a galaxy between B’Elanna’s anger and himself and it would make no difference. He still feels the heat of her rage, how it burns bright and furious. But he convinces himself anger is better than nothing. At least he knows when the color flares onto her cheeks, when her voice gets tight, he knows she feels enough to react. She hasn’t attempted to hurt herself in months, but still he’s wary, careful, always watching. And so when she breaks the Doctor’s holocam, he doesn’t retreat but watches her pace the length of his quarters, her fingers opening and closing into fists, as she turns sharply on the well-worn path.

“Three times!” she says. “I told him three times to leave. We were in the middle of a critical diagnostic and he was in the way! And Chakotay reprimands me?” she pauses, runs her hand through her hair.  He’s perched on the arm of the sofa, his gaze flittering between B’Elanna and the rapidly cooling dinner sitting on the table.

“The Doctor was interested in what you were doing—”

She whirls on him. “Don’t tell me you’re on his side.”

He tries to backtrack, but it’s too late. He reminds himself as the doors close behind her retreating figure that this is an improvement. She is still working through her depression, her hurt and sadness, built up over the years. So this is better than it was. But it’s little comfort as he dumps the romantic dinner into the recycler and replicates himself a slice of cheese pizza instead.

He hears stories throughout the day, little whispers that reach him about how B’Elanna seems as brittle as a dry tree branch, threatening to snap under the mildest squall. He thinks about checking on her, but then knows she’ll bristle under his scrutiny. Stop hovering, she’ll say, I’m fine. But at least she makes eye contact when she says the words. These are the little reassurances he hangs on to these days. He tries not to think about what will happen if she never stops raging.

He is cautiously intrigued when Chakotay orders Tuvok to teach B’Elanna meditation as a method to control her temper. One never orders B’Elanna to do anything, he knows, and he wonders how she will react. And true to form, she’s in his quarters, wearing a familiar path in the gray carpet. Today, at least, she’s removed her boots, shrugged her jacket off; there’s hope she will stay after she’s done protesting this latest injustice.

“At 0900 hours! After my shift! The last thing I want to do is spend that time with Tuvok,” she says. “And what do Vulcans know about anger anyway?”

“It could be helpful,” he ventures. He’s standing behind the sofa today. He hasn’t replicated dinner yet. “And Vulcans do undergo a lot of training to control their emotions.”

“So you’re saying you want me to be more like a Vulcan?”

He sighs. “No, that’s not what I said. What I want is for you to be able to handle whatever it is—”

B’Elanna’s eyes flare with anger. “You don’t trust me.”

“I didn’t say that either.”

But it’s too late. She grabs her jacket, shoves her feet into her boots, and is gone. He sighs, ruffles his hair with his left hand, and stares balefully at his replicator. 

He hears from the Doctor that B’Elanna is going on an away mission to the Malon fighter. One thing that has remained constant over the last six months is B’Elanna’s intense dislike of the Malon. He wonders how she will cope on a ship brimming with theta radiation, her animosity blazing with the light of a thousand suns, threatening to ignite the situation past salvation.

“I gotta go, Doc,” he says, putting the hypospray down on the tray.

“Your shift isn’t over.”

“I know,” he says. “I’ll be back.” His gaze falls on the holocam on the Doctor’s desk; B’Elanna begrudgingly replicated a new one for him the other night, even though she was quite capable of fixing the one she broke. The Doctor looks in the same direction and it’s clear the hologram understands. “There’s something I have to do.”

The distance between Sickbay and the transporter room has never seemed so long, but he breaks into a jog whenever he can and finds the object of his pursuit in the corridor outside.

“B'Elanna. Aren't you forgetting something?” he asks, catching his breath.

She seems surprised to see him, but doesn’t slow down. “I don't think so.”

“A goodbye would be nice.” Ever since they started dating, they’ve made a point of making sure to see each other, even for a moment, prior to embarking on any away mission. That she’s ignored this tradition tells him she’s still mad at him. “‘So long’? ‘See you soon’? Something along those lines.”

“I didn't want to risk it.” B’Elanna might be nearly twenty centimeters shorter than him, but it still takes some effort to keep his stride even to hers.
 
“Risk what?”

“Starting an argument.”

“Argument? Us?” he keeps his voice light. He thinks about the network of whispers that have gotten back to him throughout the day. The problem, he realizes, is that everyone else runs from her anger. He makes a different choice. “So, I hear it's been a short fuse kind of day.”

B’Elanna holds up her thumb and index finger a few centimeters apart. “About this long.”

“Nothing you can't handle.”
 
“If you think so.”
 
“I know so.”

B’Elanna lets out her breath, and when she speaks, her tone is more conciliatory. “I suppose it's always going to be like this.”
 
“Like what?”
 
“Me against the galaxy.”

The intimacy of the confession startles him. He knows without question that this is the emotion that has been plaguing B’Elanna for her entire life, that this is what she has been running from. Meditation, he knows, won’t change the way she sees the world. So instead, he chooses to acknowledge what she’s said. “Well, the galaxy doesn't stand a chance.” He puts his hands on her shoulders. “Now, promise me that you're going to be careful over there. No stopping to have fun.

“Fun?” The tiniest of smiles plays on her lips.  “On a Malon freighter?”

He leans forwards, kisses her lightly; they are, after all, in public and still on duty. Her intense gaze locks onto his, and he sees some softening in her face, feels the tension easing out of her deltoids.

“See you soon,” he says gently.

Later, he isn’t surprised when she shows up at his door, this time with a bottle of wine. She hands it to him without preamble.

“Ktarian 2282,” he says with a smile. This Merlot evokes a time when the waterfall of emotions spilling over them were intense passion that was still new to them both. A time before the Mari, before the news of the Maquis’ deaths, before the Hirogen, before he was lost on the demon planet, before B’Elanna dwindled to nothing more than a shadow to him. 

“I owe you for all those dinners I haven’t been eating,” B’Elanna says, brushing by him. She’s not wearing her uniform, but a velvety brown sleeveless dress. Over dinner – replicated from a menu previously created but not sampled – she tells him about what happened on the Malon freighter. She tells him of coming face to face with the vihaar. She tells about the failed negotiation. She tells him of how it felt when her metal pipe struck the creature whose scar tissue rendered him unrecognizable as a Malon male. B’Elanna speaks without interruption. She ends by saying, “I owe you an apology,” she tells him. “Thank you for believing in me. When no one else – not even Chakotay – did.”

He looks down at their intertwined fingers. There’s a softness in that touch, a recognition that this is healing. And he knows that this is why he stays.

Chapter Text

Stardate 53143.86

I woke that morning with a sense of dread. I rolled over in bed, but there was an empty space next to me. B’Elanna had declined my invitation to stay the night.

“I have to a few things to take care of,” she said, her hand cupping my cheek. “I’ll see you tomorrow. In Sickbay at 0800.”

As I blearily stared at the chronometer, I realized I had about ninety minutes until I had to watch my girlfriend starve herself of oxygen to recreate her trip into Klingon hell. I flopped onto my back, rubbed my eyes. Everything about her plan was insane but I knew once she set her mind on something, there was no telling B’Elanna Torres otherwise. She was completely casual about it, as if it was the most rational thing in the quadrant. I only hoped she would find what she was looking for.

After a quick shower, I changed into my uniform, and then contemplated meeting Harry for breakfast in the Mess Hall, but then thought better of it. I wasn’t really in a chatting mood and Harry – perpetually a morning person – would want to know more about what B’Elanna was doing. Talking about B’Elanna’s attempt to reclaim honor for her mother wasn’t going to ease the tight ball of tension resting heavy in my stomach. So instead, I spent a couple of rations on a mug of black coffee and a slice of peanut butter toast. The peanut butter toast was dry, hard to eat, and the coffee burned at my stomach lining. I finally dumped the entire meal into the recycler.

My mouth felt dry, my voice creaky, as I made my way to Sickbay. Gamma shift was just ending, and Alpha was starting and so there were plenty of people passing by, wishing me good morning; I could barely muster a response. I’d asked Kristine Fernandez to take my place at helm this morning so I could be in Sickbay. Pablo Baytart had been scheduled for Beta, which meant I would take Gamma as today was Emma Jenkins’ day off. I hadn’t had a chance to ask B’Elanna who was taking her place in Engineering while she was journeying into hell.

The Doctor was in his office when I arrived at Sickbay, but my gaze immediately drawn to the main medical bay where B’Elanna was setting up candles. She was wearing her uniform pants and regulation tank-top; her yellow-shouldered jacket had been tossed to the side. I frowned. It was an odd wardrobe choice; I highly doubted Starfleet would sanction such an adventure as B’Elanna was undertaking. She glanced at me as I approached.

“Good morning,” she said, as if nothing was out of the ordinary. It took all of my will power not to grab her by the shoulders and try to shake some sense into her.

“Good morning,” I answered. I counted the candles, more as a mechanism to collect my thoughts than anything else.

“I’m glad you’re here,” she said.

“I wouldn’t miss it.” Like this was a birthday party, or a promotion ceremony.

B’Elanna’s eyes narrowed as she lit the first candle. “I didn’t think you were completely in agreement with me on this.”

It was an opening, so I took it. It’s the lying that’s gotten me into trouble before, so even though I suspected I might end up in hot water, I decided to try honesty. “I’m not,” I said.

“This is something I have to do.”

Something about that tone of voice made me crazy. She could explain it all a million times, and maybe as a human, I can’t understand what it means to be a Klingon and all of the intricacies of the culture and religious practices. But still, the dismissive quality to her statement made it seem as if nothing I said even mattered. And more than anything, I wanted to matter.

“That’s what you’ve said, but I think what you’re doing is irrational,” I told her. It was all I could do to keep my voice even. Her gaze cut right through me, as if I wasn’t even there. And this was another bridge I hadn’t dared to cross. For months, I had tiptoed around B’Elanna and her moods. Wanting to be there, to be supportive, but this time it was clear that I didn’t matter to her.

“The captain doesn’t agree with you.”

I scoffed under my breath. “I can't believe the captain is allowing this.” I watched as she resumed lighting those damn candles. “One minute you're in a coma, the next you're a born-again Klingon? I just don't get it.”

To my surprise, B’Elanna’s reaction was calm. “I'm not sure I get it, either.” She looked pensive. “I just know this is something I have to do.”

There was that damn statement again. So I tried a different tack. “There must be an easier way for you to explore your spirituality. Go to church, or something?”

“It wouldn't be enough.”
 
“Look, I'll read the scrolls, I'll learn Klingon. We'll figure this out together.”

“Next time,” she said firmly.

I took a deep breath and voiced the fear that had been hovering in my gut ever since she had brought up this plan. “I just hope there is a next time.”
 
She held my gaze as she laid down on the biobed. “There will be.”

I opened my mouth to remind her not to make promises she couldn’t keep, but my thought was interrupted by Janeway striding into Sickbay.

“Report,” she said sharply. In response, the EMH emerged from his office.

“I've examined the sensor logs from the shuttle mission,” he said soberly. “I should be able to recreate the exact conditions that triggered her near-death experience.”

Should? I gaped at him. The lack of certainty in his words did not inspire any confidence. I turned to the captain, willing her to put an end to this escapade, but her focus was elsewhere.

“Good,” Janeway said briskly. “Good. B'Elanna?”

“I'm ready.”

I figured I could try one last plea. “Be careful.” I leaned over her, held her gaze with mine, and then kissed her. I could feel her breath warm on my cheek. It was a sign of life that I appreciated. I waited a moment, but she said nothing more. Janeway was standing by my side.
 
“You'll have an hour to do whatever it is you need to do,” the captain said. “At the first sign of trouble, we're bringing you out. Understood?”

B’Elanna nodded. And then her eyes closed. I made my way to the far monitoring unit. The sensors positioned all around the main medical bay were on and functioning within normal parameters. I checked all of B’Elanna’s life signs. Heart rate registered as normal, as did respiratory and other vital signs. I tightened my jaw, my glance shifting between the readings in front of me and the woman on the biobed. I was barely aware of the Doctor giving the command to isolate the surgical bay and to begin the process of decreasing the oxygen concentration within. But I did hear his pronouncement that B’Elanna was unconscious.

I kept my tone neutral as I reported, “Neural activity is decreasing to 87 percent. Sixty two percent.” I swallowed hard as I realized what these readings meant. “Synaptic function is failing.” In response, the Doctor adjusted some of the environmental settings, and I saw a slight recovery in B’Elanna’s neural readings, which I immediately reported. It felt good to have something to do. I couldn’t help B’Elanna understand or repair her relationship with her mother, but at least by making sure she stayed alive, I wasn’t completely useless in this endeavor.  In the background, I could hear the Doctor and Janeway talking in low tones, and every now and then, a snatch of their conversation made it back to me.

The minutes ticked by oh so slowly. Without the medical instruments, it was impossible to know that B’Elanna was actually breathing. I wondered what – no, where – she was every time I noticed a change in her neural activity. Had she returned to Grethor? If so, what was it like? Had she found her mother? Had they managed to reconcile?

When we’d talked about it, B’Elanna had never mentioned ‘reconciling’ with her mother and so it surprised me that I thought about that now. She rarely, if ever, mentioned either of her parents, had never voiced a desire to even talk to them. I, on the other hand, had spent many hours contemplating my father, vacillating between the desire to be the son he always wanted or to continue to be the man I had become. From that viewpoint, I could completely understand why B’Elanna had chosen to undertake such a dangerous task. After all, if I had the chance to see my father again and try to make the past right again, wouldn’t I?

As I pondered the question, I gradually became aware that her neural activity, which had manifested itself as a very slight squiggle on my console, was now increasingly flattening out. I looked at the Doctor in alarm. “Her neural patterns are breaking down!” I banged the heel of my hand against the computer in frustration.

“I'm initiating emergency resuscitation!” the Doctor cried out. “Vent the ionized particles. Twenty milligrams cordrazine, now!”

Janeway said, “I'm deactivating the forcefield.”

“She's not responding to the cordrazine!” the Doctor called back.

I barely registered Janeway standing next to me. I was focused on the steady line, one that showed little to variation at all. It was clear to me that all of the Doctor’s activities were having the opposite of the desired effect. B’Elanna was slipping away from me, and I was helpless to stop it. I repeated the words I’d said shortly after we’d rescued her from the shuttle. “We’re losing her.”


The Doctor flashed a look at me. “We have to stabilize her synaptic functions. I'm attempting a direct neural resequencing.”

I could hear the pounding of my heart in my ears; my fingers shook as I tried to keep track of all the things the Doctor was doing bring to B’Elanna back to me. It was the most impossible situation and I realized we were within minutes, maybe seconds, of pronouncing B’Elanna dead. So I refocused my mind on the numbers, on her life signs. Because there were still life signs. I wasn’t going to give up on her.

“Neural activity is at twenty-three percent!” I called out. I was at the Doctor’s side now, hovering over B’Elanna.

“Initiate cortical stimulation. Pulses at fifty millijoules.” I complied with his order, but to no effect. In frustration, the Doctor ordered the dose to be increased by an additional twenty millijoules.  

The captain, her fingers steepled together under her chin, stared at B’Elanna. I could see the tension in her jaw. I wanted to lash out at Janeway. You could have prevented this, I thought angrily. B’Elanna was going to die, and Janeway was the one person who had the power to make B’Elanna listen.

“Come on, B'Elanna,” Janeway muttered.

The Doctor administered another dose of cordazine and then increased the rate of neural resequencing. I could see the wildly fluctuating patterns as new synaptic activity formed and then dissipated. It was baffling. B’Elanna was not responding to any of the protocols. I put my hands flat on the console, bent my head down, took deep breaths. It was easy to blame Janeway, but I could see where I too had gone wrong. I had made a mistake in keeping my distance, thinking I was giving her space to heal, but really making it possible for her to push me to the edges of her life. I should have forced her to see me.

My vision blurred and then I jerked to attention as suddenly all her life signs returned to normal. I blinked. And then, B’Elanna was sitting up, confusion clouding her eyes.

“Mother?” she gasped. She turned, saw us all standing there watching her. “Oh god, I’m alive.” And then she pitched forward into Janeway’s arms.

“Welcome back,” Janeway said softly as she hugged her.

As if I had weights in my boots, I moved to B’Elanna, and placed my hand flat on her back. I could feel her body heaving beneath my palm. After a few minutes, she twisted around, her legs hanging over the end of the biobed. Her eyes locked with mine.

“I saw her,” she said. “I saw my mother.”

I swallowed hard. “And?”

“She sent me back.” B’Elanna slid off the bed but waited patiently while the Doctor scanned her with a tricorder. “It wasn’t my time to die.” Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Janeway watching us. In time, I thought I would get over my anger at her. But for now, only one person occupied my attention.

“I almost lost you,” I said shakily.

“But you didn’t.”

We stood staring at each other until the Doctor cleared his throat.

“While I cannot explain how this is true, and I will need to examine this phenomenon in detail later, I’m relieved to tell you that you’re in perfectly fine health, Lieutenant,” he said. “You are released.” And then as an afterthought, he added, “Mr. Paris, perhaps you’d like to see Lieutenant Torres to her quarters.”

I could tell this wasn’t what B’Elanna had in mind, but she accepted the pronouncement. Out in the corridor, she said, “I can’t expect you to understand—”

“I do,” I told her. “You got a second chance with your mother, and you had to take it.” I hesitated. “I understand that.”

“It’s been ten years, Tom, and I’ll never speak to her again. This was the one thing I could do for her…” her voice trailed off.

We were standing in front of her quarters by then. I said quietly, “I’m just glad you’re back safely.”

“I was willing to die for her.”

It was a stunning admission. I let out breath slowly and then I said, “Tell me everything. I want to know where you went.”

B’Elanna offered me a thin, lopsided smile. “Is that all that you want from me?”

I thought about how she reached for Janeway first when she emerged from her coma. I decided to be direct. “No. I want you,” I said honestly. “I never wanted anything other than just you.”

She tipped her head as the doors to her quarters opened. “Let’s go inside,” she said. “I have so much to tell you.”

 

Chapter Text

The cup of coffee was doing nothing to ease B’Elanna’s headache, nor was it doing anything to ward off her fatigue. As run-down as she felt, she knew Tom must be feeling like hell. It had been just twelve hours since he’d been extracted from Alice’s embrace, and after a few hours in surgery for neural re-sequencing to eliminate all traces of Alice’s control from his brain, he’d been released to his quarters. B’Elanna had left him to sleep and came here to the Mess Hall for a cup of whatever it was Neelix was calling coffee this morning.

She massaged her temples with the tips of her fingers, still feeling the imprint of where the Doctor had affixed the neural transmitter to enable her to bypass Alice and literally get into Tom’s head. The entire sensation of forcing herself into Tom’s thoughts, focusing on what she needed to say to get him out of danger, was still unnerving. Even though the two of them had recently made great strides in their relationship, especially in the aftermath of her journey into Klingon hell, it still felt like an intrusion. She was still lost in thought when she became aware of a presence at her elbow. She turned and came face to face with Naomi Wildman. Her mother hovered discretely in the background.

“Lieutenant Torres,” Naomi said, her manner very formal for such a young child. B’Elanna found herself smiling. She rarely interacted with Naomi, but she knew Tom had occasionally taken the girl – with Sam’s permission – on short shuttle test flights and had even let her input some minor course corrections.

“Good morning, Naomi. How are you?”

“I’m good.” Naomi shifted her weight from one foot to the other. “Is Lieutenant Paris all right? My mom told me he was beamed to Sickbay last night.” Sam Wildman had indeed been in Sickbay yesterday, running tests on some samples recovered on an expedition the previous week. Even though it was late, and her shift long over, Sam had stayed to help the Doctor gently disconnect Tom from the neural interfaces. B’Elanna had only been tangentially aware of Sam’s presence while she’d stayed at Tom’s side for the several-hours long procedure, her fingers intertwined with his. So many times, Tom had watched over her while she’d recovered from some ordeal, most recently from her trip to Grethor; it had been an odd – and unwelcome – revelation to experience the other side, the uncertainty of waiting, wondering how long it would be till he regained consciousness, and if there would be any long term effects to his brain from what Alice had done.

“He’s going to be fine,” B’Elanna said now, both for Naomi and Sam’s benefit, but also for hers. “It’ll just take some time for him to recover.”

“Then it’s true that he was really flying a spaceship with his thoughts?”

B’Elanna nodded. “Yes, it is.”

Naomi’s eyes widened. “That’s incredible.”

“It really is.” B’Elanna exchanged a look with Sam; hopefully the ensign would address the dangers of neurogenic devices with her daughter later.

“I made something for him,” Naomi said. She pushed a folded piece of paper towards B’Elanna. “I hope he likes it.”

B’Elanna’s voice caught in her throat as she examined the drawing. Finally, she managed to say, “I think he will.
He’ll be glad to know you’re thinking of him.”

“He promised to take me out in the Delta Flyer,” Naomi said. “When he’s better, of course.”

Naomi,” Sam said in a reproachful voice.

“I’m sure he will,” B’Elanna said. She attempted a smile. “Tom is very good about keeping his promises.”

“Naomi, we better let Lieutenant Torres finish her breakfast,” Sam said. She put her hand firmly on her daughter’s shoulder. “Please give our best to Tom.”

“I will.” B’Elanna drained the last of the coffee. It was an hour into Alpha shift, and Joe Carey had assured her that he had already scheduled Vorik to cover for her through Beta shift; Susan Nicoletti would do the honors for Gamma shift. B’Elanna pushed her chair back, returned the coffee mug to the recycler, and made her way to Tom’s quarters. She hesitated for a moment and then punched in her access code. The doors slid open and immediately her gaze fell on his empty bed. “Tom?”

She ventured in cautiously and was relieved to hear the sonic shower going. She settled herself into the corner of his unmade bed and waited. After about fifteen minutes, Tom emerged from the bathroom, a towel loosely around his midsection. He had shaved and his hair had been trimmed and combed back in accordance with Starfleet regulations.

“Hi,” she said, eyeing him critically. Tom seemed steady on his feet.

“I thought I heard someone come in,” he said, a hint of his old self in his smile. She was relieved that his speech seemed clear. “I’m glad it was you.”

“Is there someone else who has codes to your quarters that I should know about?” she asked teasing.

“No.”

B’Elanna watched as he opened the closet and pulled out a fresh uniform. “How do you feel?”

Tom shrugged. “A little off-balance, to be honest, but it feels good to be clean.” The towel fell to the floor, and B’Elanna took the opportunity to admire the view; looking at Tom was something she would never ever tire of. “The Doctor asked me to stop by at 0900. He wants to ensure my neural pathways are regenerating as expected.” He smiled wearily as he pulled on a pair of boxers. “It’s a hell of a headache, that’s for sure.”

“I’ll go with you,” B’Elanna said.

“Aren’t you supposed to be working now?” Tom pulled his uniform out of the closet and dressed quickly in his pants and grey t-shirt.

She shook her head. “Don’t worry about it.” She stood up and crossed the distance between them as he put on his jacket. She carefully helped him zip it up.

“Thanks,” he said. He shook his head, his expression turning apologetic. “B’Elanna—”

“Neelix to Torres.”

B’Elanna frowned at the interruption as she reflexively tapped her comm badge. “What is it?”

“I think you left something in the Mess Hall.”

Naomi’s drawing. “I’m on my way,” she said. “Torres out.” To Tom, she said, “I’ve got to pick something up. I’ll meet you in Sickbay.”  

B’Elanna rushed back to the Mess Hall. Neelix had the drawing and promptly handed it to her.

“Thanks,” B’Elanna said.

“I know you didn’t intentionally leave that behind. Naomi worked very hard on that,” Neelix said soberly. “She’s very fond of Tom, you know.”

“I do.” She sensed Neelix wanted to talk some more, but she quickly excused herself. “I’ve got to go. I promised Tom I’d meet him in Sickbay.”  

By the time she returned to Sickbay, she found Tom sitting on the edge of the biobed while the Doctor scanned him with a mediwand. B’Elanna reached his side and listened to the recital of Tom’s vital signs. It seemed as if Tom’s recovery was proceeding on schedule.

“You'll need a few more days to fully recover,” the Doctor said. “Think you can manage to stay off your feet for that long?”

“If he doesn't, I'll break his legs,” B’Elanna said.
 
“Well then, I'll leave you to B'Elanna's tender mercies,” the Doctor said and true to his word, he drifted back to his office.  

“I've got something for you,” she said, showing him the drawing. “It's a get-well card from Naomi Wildman.” She smiled, indicating the two figures on the front of the card. She quirked a smile. “It's a pretty good likeness of you, but I don't think she quite captured my eyes.”

Tom took the card, but he seemed unfocused. “I'm sorry. For everything.”
 
“It wasn't your fault,” B’Elanna said. She inched closer to him.
 
“But I remember all of it.” Tom’s blue-eyed gaze focused on her and he had her full attention. “Everything I said, everything I did. It was like I was sleepwalking.” He shivered slightly as if he was still trapped in a dream.

“The important thing is, you woke up.”

“Yeah.” Tom shook his head as if in disbelief. “Thanks for being my alarm clock.”
 
“Any time,” B’Elanna said, though she sincerely hoped that there wouldn’t be another time. But she knew Tom, knew just how easily he was attracted to the new and shiny. She was close enough to touch him now, and the urge to comfort him, to let him know that she was there, was incredibly strong.

“From now on, I promise no more affairs with strange ships,” Tom said softly. B’Elanna’s lips turned slightly up at the corner; she recognized the apology and accepted it.

“What about the Delta Flyer?” she asked him, teasing a little bit.

Tom’s shoulders relaxed as he fixed his gaze on her face. “We're just friends.” She leaned forward to kiss him. There was an urgency in the way he reached for, a sense that he was never going to let go of her. B’Elanna snaked her arms around his neck, pushing herself up on her toes at the same time. It felt good, this affirmation, that he needed her just as much as she needed him. She tipped her forehead against his, traced his jaw with the tips of her fingers before pulling away.  

“Let’s go home,” she said softly.

Chapter Text

Day One

Tom slung the bag over his shoulder and then looked expectantly in B’Elanna’s direction.

“That’s everything,” he said.

She eyed the bag curiously. “That’s all you need for two weeks?”

“There is a replicator aboard the Delta Flyer, B’Elanna.”

She considered. “But there are four of you; you don’t want to overload the circuits with unnecessary energy outlays.”

Tom laughed lightly and caught her by the hand, pulling her close. “We’ll work it out.” Tom leaned down and kissed her deeply. She wrapped her arms around his neck. She wanted to memorize the feel of him, the taut stretch of muscles across his upper back, the broad expanse of his chest, his long legs, the comfort of his arms around her. The last time they had been apart this long had been when Tom had been sent to the brig for thirty days. At least this time, they would still be able to communicate via subspace.

“Come on,” Tom said after a long and delicious minute. He gently pulled away. “The team is waiting for me in the shuttle bay.”

Out in the corridor, B’Elanna kept the conversation casual for the benefit of anyone passing by. They were two years into this relationship, but she still felt a certain amount of possessiveness; it was no one’s business but theirs how they felt about each other. “Pre-flight check done?”

“Twice.” Tom’s eyes twinkled as he glanced at her. “In fact, I left all of the diagnostics with Fernandez, in case you want to see them.”

“No, that’s ok,” B’Elanna said. “You know, this mission would have been good experience for Fernandez. You didn’t have to volunteer.”

“I know, but I was worried about the ferocity of the ion storms around Elettra Five. The gravimetric sheers are coming in at a variety of angles and no one knows how the Delta Flyer handles better than me,” Tom said. “Plus, it’ll be good for Fernandez to have a couple of weeks of running the helm. She needs the experience in order to step up. The way Joe Carey has been so effective for you.”

B’Elanna understood exactly where Tom was coming from. Kristine Fernandez, Pablo Baytart, and Emma Jenkins were all competent and skilled pilots, but Voyager was their first posting. Over time, they had grown in confidence, but when the going got tough, none of them could step into Tom’s shoes. In Engineering, however, Joe Carey could manage very well in B’Elanna’s stead, and ninety-eight percent of the time, Joe made the same call B’Elanna would have.

“I’ll miss you,” B’Elanna said as they approached the shuttle bay. She stopped just shy of the doors.

“With all this time on your hands, what are your plans?” Tom asked lightly.

“There’s a warp core diagnostic Carey has been wanting to run and I’ve been putting off that hardware upgrade and re-setting the data compression algorithm,” B’Elanna said, ticking off items on her fingers. “I’ve booked some time on the holodeck for rock climbing, and then Susan Nicoletti invited me to a get together in her quarters.”

“That sounds like fun, but beware of Chapman’s poker face; I’ve lost plenty of rations to him in the past.” Tom put his fingers under her chin, his blue eyes intense on her. “I’ll see you in two weeks.”

“Be careful out there.”

His kiss good-bye was delicate against her lips. “I will be.” And then he was gone.


Day Three

B’Elanna exhaled in exasperation as she scrolled past the listings in the database. Over the years, Voyager had gradually accumulated more and more files, and now the databanks were close to full. She’d made do over the past six years by regularly compressing the data into smaller packets, but it was now clear that the “bubble gum and string” approach would no longer work. Responsiveness had slowed and it was increasingly likely that vital files would be corrupted. It was no longer possible to put off the hard drive upgrade, and with Voyager in a relatively benign area of space with minimal signs of bad “weather”, Captain Janeway had agreed that the upgrade could go ahead.

“What are these?” B’Elanna asked Susan Nicoletti.

Nicoletti frowned as she looked at the files B’Elanna was pointing out. “`The Untouchables’,” she read out loud. “You know I remember Freddy Bristow talking about a program he was running on the holodeck with that name.”

B’Elanna arched her eyebrow. “`The Untouchables’?”

“I don’t know anything about it,” Susan said hastily.

“It’s a television program from the mid-twentieth century about a gangster named Al Capone,” William Chapman put in. B’Elanna jerked back in surprise. The lieutenant was generally pretty quiet, kept to himself, and she had been unaware that he’d been listening. “It’s pretty good. I’ve watched a couple episodes of it.” He then added, “There are a whole bunch of videos for television from that time period. Sometimes it’s nice to get away from the holodeck, you know?”

B’Elanna stepped aside. “So all of these are television programs?” she pointed to the file directory so that William could take a look.

After a scan, William nodded. “Yeah. I’ve seen a lot of these. The Roadrunner cartoons are fun.” He shrugged. “A different kind of relaxation, you know?”

“So how do you watch these?” B’Elanna asked.

“On a PADD.” Chapman moved out of the way. “The bad part about that is that it’s not very comfortable to watch it with anyone else at the same time, but usually I only download a program when I’m not feeling very social to begin with.”

B’Elanna scrolled through the listing. Now that she knew what she was looking at, she was surprised at how extensive Voyager’s database of programs was.

“You aren’t thinking about deleting these to save space, are you?” William asked suddenly.

“No, no, of course not,” B’Elanna said hastily. “Now that I know what the files consist of, we’ll save them. I imagine if you’ve been viewing these programs, others have as well.” She turned to Nicoletti. “Let’s consider this cluster complete and move on.”

 

Day Six

B’Elanna curled up on the sofa, PADD in hand, and with a warm snuggly blanket thrown over her legs. She’d checked in with Tom; he’d reported all was well aboard the Delta Flyer, and that the planetary scans were proceeding as planned.

“Neelix has harvested a lot of interesting items,” Tom said. “He has a lot of recipe ideas but with cooking facilities not exactly available on the Delta Flyer, he hasn’t been able to try any of them. He plans to talk to you about upgrades to his kitchen when we come back.”

B’Elanna grinned wryly. “I look forward to it.”  She’d asked Tom if he’d ever heard of a holodeck program called “’The Untouchables.’”

Tom shook his head. “I haven’t heard of it, sorry. I thought it was a television program. It sounds like something I’d enjoy though. Maybe Freddy will be willing to share when I come back. Captain Proton for a gangster scenario. That sounds like a fair trade.”

Now, B’Elanna turned her attention towards another subject: the history of the television.

Tom had mentioned television to her once or twice, but it had never quite registered to her. Now she understood the device to have first developed using cathode ray tubes for both transmission and reception in the early third of the twentieth century. She furrowed her brow as she read about the development from monochrome to color screens. She absorbed the information about I-Q modulation with great interest, as well as the requirement to vary phosphor blends to obtain the proper coloring. Given that holo-vids and holodeck programs were the main form of entertainment, it seemed incredible to B’Elanna just how influential this relatively primitive form of technology was.

After a moment, she got up from her seat and went to her private workstation. “Computer, pull up file ‘The Untouchables.’”

“Please specify.”

B’Elanna frowned. “You heard me.”

“Please specify the exact file.”

Gritting her teeth, B’Elanna manually navigated to the file folders where she’d found ‘The Untouchables’ earlier. Within, she found more than one hundred programs; the first one was subtitled ‘Pilot.’ The name made her smile and she selected it. Black and white images filled the screen. She watched for a few minutes before stopping the programming and finding a Roadrunner cartoon. As the night went on, B’Elanna kept delving into the list of programs. Before long, she had transferred more than two hundred files to her personal database. Now what?

 

Day Eight

B’Elanna sat back on her heels as she surveyed the pile of plastic and metal components in front of her with satisfaction. The floor of Tom’s quarters was covered with 26 tubes, five different types of video amplifiers, a high voltage rectifier as well as the high voltage regulator and a demodulator driver. She’d also managed to replicate a chroma sync detector, a UHF oscillator, and a blanking damp. She quickly checked off each component on her checklist, and realized she was short a focus rectifier.  She glanced at Tom’s replicator. She was out of rations; it had taken all of hers to replicate all of the parts she required. And then she remembered tonight was Susan Nicoletti’s party. She hadn’t intended to go, but now it seemed a change in plans were required.


Day Nine

B’Elanna smiled as the viewscreen came to life and Tom’s face appeared in front of her. He smiled at her, and she reached out to touch the contours of his face lightly with her fingers, imagining she could feel the strong line of his jaw. 

“Hey,” he said. “I just have a minute. We’re about two hours or so from Elettra Five and I want to relieve Chakotay soon.”

“Everything going well?” B’Elanna asked. She really wanted to ask if everyone was still getting along on that trip – it was an awfully long time in very close quarters, especially with only one bathroom – but she had no idea who was within earshot.

“Yes. And on your end?”

“It’s been good.”

“Keeping busy?”

She managed to resist the urge to look over her shoulder at the focus rectifier that was sitting on her table. She’d won just enough rations at Nicoletti’s poker party to replicate that last part. Of course, she knew she could have come up with another solution, but that would have been less than authentic.

“Yes, it’s been quiet, so I’ve been getting a lot done,” she said.

“Don’t tell me you’ve been pulling double shifts.”

“Only one. We had a plasma leak the other day and Vorik needed back-up.”

“Ah ok.” Tom’s expression softened. “We’re making really good progress, and I’m really proud of what we’ve accomplished, but I’m looking forward to making the rendezvous with Voyager in five days.” His lips twisted wistfully. “The only alone time I get is in the sonic shower. The bed is too narrow and hard and Harry snores in his sleep.”

Having spent a few nights on the Delta Flyer, B’Elanna knew exactly what he meant. “Be careful. Let me know when you’re past Elettra.”

“It might be late.”

B’Elanna thought about all the parts lying on the floor of Tom’s quarters. “That’s ok. I’ll be awake.”


Day Twelve

The picture snapped off, the pixels slowly disappearing into a single dot on the center of the screen. B’Elanna smiled with satisfaction. She’d spent practically every off-duty hour putting the television together and after some missteps, she’d managed to get it working. It was an odd combination of furniture and instrumentation but all the research she’d conducted said that the heavy wooden cabinet was appropriate for 1956. She had taken a couple of 24th century liberties with the set though, by adding a small hard drive at the back which had all the programs loaded onto it. With Chapman’s help, she had culled through Voyager’s massive database and in addition to the 120 episodes of ‘The Untouchables’, she added a variety of cartoons, and other period dramas. The total number of files far exceeded the initial 200 she had downloaded.

She’d even invited Chapman to come see the television for its inaugural run.

“This is really great,” Chapman said, his eyes wide as she demonstrated how the television worked. “You could watch it together. Just like they did back then.”

B’Elanna hadn’t quite thought about it that way. “I suppose. Tom and I have different tastes though.”

Chapman laughed as he got up from the sofa. “If you don’t mind, can I have the schematics? When I have enough rations, I’d like to try to build one myself.”

“Sure. In fact, you can have it now.” B’Elanna handed him the PADD she’d been using. “It includes the parts list.”

“How long did it take you to build this?”

B’Elanna calculated in her head. “About fifteen to twenty hours.”

“I hope Lieutenant Paris appreciates what you’ve done here.” A wistful expression crossed his face. “It’s a great gift.”

A great gift for a great guy, B’Elanna thought. She thought about how loyal and supportive Tom had been over the last two years, and especially the past twelve months as she’d fought through the cloud of depression that had hung over her. Others might have fled, but not Tom.

B’Elanna glanced at the viewscreen embedded into a heavy wooden cabinet. “It’s good to hear you say that,” B’Elanna said.

Chapman rounded to the back of the device and surveyed the hard drive she had installed. “How are you going to handle switching from one program to another?”

B’Elanna contemplated the question. She’d strived to maintain authenticity because Tom Paris, twentieth century history buff, would appreciate that, and as such the primitive dials on the front of the television were rather clunky to switch from program to program.

“I’ll do some research,” she said finally. “I’ll let you know.”


Day Fourteen

B’Elanna placed the remote control on top of the television and then surveyed Tom’s quarters with a keen eye. She had made sure to put all his furniture back where it belonged, and then she’d pushed the television into a spot in front of the sofa. As she had for the last two hours, she checked the chronometer. The last status check from the Delta Flyer had implied that Tom and the rest of the team would be landing in the next fifteen minutes. B’Elanna left Tom’s quarters and headed to the shuttle bay.

She could feel anticipation surging through her body. She’d talked to Tom the previous evening and the strain edging the corners of his eyes told her that the trip was starting to get quite old and that the others were finally getting on his nerves. “I can’t wait to see you,” he’d told her. And she’d responded with some feeling, “I know the feeling.”

The EMH was already waiting outside of the shuttle bay when B’Elanna arrived.

“Remember, Lieutenant,” the Doctor said in a sing-song voice at B’Elanna’s questioning look, “Starfleet protocols mandate crew physicals after any away mission longer than eight days.”

“I’m sure you can make an exception in this case,” B’Elanna said.

“Perhaps you can stretch the rules in your department, Lieutenant, but I assure you, my Sickbay is in complete compliance,” the Doctor said proudly. At that moment, the shuttle bay doors opened and Tom, Harry, Chakotay and Neelix spilled out. “Ah, the travelers return.”

B’Elanna sprang forward, wrapping her arms around Tom’s neck. He arched towards her, his lips meeting hers. Forgetting that they were in public, she pressed herself up against him, cupping her hand on his face, savoring the feel of him for the first time in fourteen days. His arm wrapped around her waist, swinging her around slightly. There was a possessive strength in his grip that she appreciated. She closed her eyes, inhaling the scent of his aftershave, before pulling away.

“I should go away more often,” Tom said in a teasing voice as they started walking down the corridor. B’Elanna linked her arm with his; it was impossible to stop touching him. Every now and then, her fingers touched the skin just above his sleeve; the sensation was electric. When they were finally alone, B’Elanna knew she would be able to show him just how much she’d missed him.

Harry announced, “I'm not going away for a long, long time.”

B’Elanna shot Harry a curious look. “Homesick, Harry?”

 Harry, his expression clearly showing just how over the 14-day away trip he was, answered, “Let's just say I'm looking forward to a hot shower and a comfortable bed.” He veered off to the right, which caused the Doctor some consternation.

“Don’t forget to stop by Sickbay for your checkup!”

“Check-up? For what?” Tom asked. B’Elanna shot him a look; don’t you dare, she thought.

“Away team protocol. Crew members are required to submit to a physical if the mission lasts more than two weeks. Now, who's first?”

With a light chuckle, Chakotay said, “I'll let you know in the morning, Doctor.” And with that, Chakotay disappeared down the corridor.

“Why put off till tomorrow what you can do today? Commander? Mister Paris?” the Doctor called out.

Tom shook his head as he smiled down at B’Elanna. B’Elanna tightened her grip on Tom’s arm, as he quickened his stride.

“It’s so good to be back home,” Tom said. “The sonic shower went offline a couple days back and who knew Neelix knew so many drinking songs?”

B’Elanna smiled. “Seems like you guys got to know each other really well during the last two weeks.”

“Too well, if you ask me. I’m looking forward to spending some quiet time with you. Maybe a bottle of champagne?” he asked, wagging his eyebrows at her.

“That sounds good,” B’Elanna answered, thinking about her dwindling rations. Maybe Tom had enough for champagne. As they approached Tom’s door, she said coyly, “I've been working on a little surprise for you.”

“Oh? Naughty, or nice?”

B’Elanna punched his arm lightly. “Close your eyes.”

The corners of his mouth turned up in anticipation. “I like it already.”

“Come on.” B’Elanna carefully guided Tom into his quarters and stopped him in front of the television set. “So what do you think?”

Tom’s eyes widened in surprise. “Oh! A television set.” He dropped the bag to the floor and settled on the sofa.

It was impossible to keep the note of pride out of her voice as she slipped next to him. “Circa 1956. I replicated the components, but I assembled it myself.” She handed him a slim rectangular device. “This is the remote control. You select what you want to watch by pressing this button.”

Tom furrowed his brow as he regarded the remote control. “A slight problem. There were no remote controls in the 1950's.”
 
B’Elanna shrugged, a smile playing lightly around her lips. Her eyes shone as she leaned forward to touch her lips to his. “I took a little poetic license.” He returned her kiss, and then came in for a second one, his mouth tracing hers. The touch after so many days apart felt so good, as if all was how it should be again. She closed her eyes, leaned in closer for what she hoped was another kiss, deeper and more passionate, when Tom abruptly jerked away.

“Cartoons!” Tom enthused.

Tom’s excitement was enough to erase any irritation she might have over their interrupted kiss. Perhaps a snuggle on the sofa watching a cartoon or two might lead to other things eventually. And it was, she had to admit, a very sweet reunion.

Chapter Text

Chakotay approached B’Elanna’s workstation with a sense of purpose in his stride. Alpha Shift wouldn’t start for another hour, but true to form, the computer had noted that B’Elanna had already arrived in Engineering. He found Voyager’s chief engineer, deep in thought, as she traced schematics with her index finger. Chakotay cleared his throat lightly to get her attention.

“Good morning,” he said.

B’Elanna puffed out a breath as she lifted her gaze to look at him. “You’re early. I’ll have the personnel report done by 1300 as you asked.”

“I’m actually here on another matter,” Chakotay said. He tipped his head towards the main Engineering doors. “Your presence is needed on the Bridge.”

“What’s this all about?” she asked, but Chakotay maintained a closed-lip silence. “You’re sure this isn’t something that can wait?”

Chakotay shook his head.

B’Elanna cast one last glance at the document she was working on and then slowly nodded. As they left, she quickly gave instructions to Vorik, and let him know that she would be back shortly to review the day’s activities with Joe Carey.

 When they entered the turbolift, Chakotay finally relaxed. “I just thought you’d want to be there when Tom received his pip this morning,” Chakotay said casually. He leaned against the turbolift wall, his arms crossed against his chest.

B’Elanna’s eyes widened. “Today? Does he know?”

Chakotay shook his head. “No.”

B’Elanna smiled broadly. “This is great.” She added, “It’s been a long time coming.”

“He’s performed admirably over the last year,” Chakotay acknowledged. “Even with double-duty at the helm and Sickbay. The captain and I have been discussing his performance regularly and we saw no reason to delay reinstating him as a lieutenant.”

“When did you decide?”

“A few days ago. We let Tuvok know yesterday, and now you.”  Chakotay paused. “We wanted it to be a surprise.”

“Well, he certainly will be! He was resigned to remaining an ensign for the rest of our time in the DQ. But to be honest, his official rank may have changed, but the way people saw him… that never changed.” B’Elanna bit her lip. “The captain was well within her rights to demote him for disobeying a direct order, but that didn’t mean he didn’t have plenty of supporters who thought she was too harsh on him.”

Chakotay kept his expression neutral. He’d heard plenty of rumblings among the crew when Tom had been demoted in the aftermath of his attempt to rescue the Monean homeworld, so B’Elanna’s sentiments were nothing new to him. What was new was the fact she was sharing the opinion with him now. Truth be told, he’d expected B’Elanna to come speak to him after Tom had been confined to the brig for thirty days, but she’d stayed away, only engaging in professional conversations with him and the occasional chitchat. She never mentioned Tom by name, and it had made Chakotay wonder exactly what was going on in B’Elanna’s head. She’d rarely been a mystery to him and had always been quick to express her opinions. And yet, when it came to Tom, she’d held back.

“And you?” Chakotay asked. “Do you share that opinion?”

She shrugged. “It doesn’t matter now that he’s getting his pip back.” B’Elanna lifted her chin defiantly in a gesture that told Chakotay exactly what her true opinion was. “Tom is a fine officer. He’s made some mistakes, but he’s not the only one.”

“I agree.”

The relief on B’Elanna’s face was palpable. The turbolift doors opened onto the Bridge and Chakotay let B’Elanna enter first. Chakotay came down the ramp and approached Janeway.

“I’ve had helm control transferred to Tuvok’s station,” she said, nodding towards the empty station at the helm. Out of the corner of his eye, Chakotay saw Emma Jenkins exiting; no doubt the young relief pilot was happy to end her shift a little early. Janeway handed him a small box which he placed on Tom’s seat the helm. As he sat down in his usual seat just to the left of the captain, he smiled.

“Mission accomplished,” he said in a low voice.

“Thank you.” Janeway leaned forward, the tips of her hair brushing against her cheeks. “I’ve asked Harry to report to the Bridge immediately. I imagine Mister Paris will find himself alone at breakfast quite soon.”

As if on cue, Harry Kim entered the Bridge and immediately took his station. Now they just needed the chief pilot to show up. There was little conversation on the bridge as they waited and finally, the doors to the Bridge opened, and Tom Paris emerged.

Janeway stood. “You’re late, Mister Paris,” she intoned.

“Ma'am?” Tom appeared confused.

“According to the ship's chronometer, by twenty-two seconds,” Tuvok added. Tom threw a pleading look in B’Elanna’s direction, but she quickly shook her head and turned her attention back to her station.
 
“I'll make it up at the end of my shift,” Tom said in an incredulous tone.

Chakotay took the cue to rise to his feet. “See that you do.”

Still in that no-nonsense tone, Janeway said, “Take your station.”

Tom approached his chair and then stopped short. Chakotay knew he must have spotted the small box lying there.

“Open it,” Chakotay said, crossing to stand next to Tom. “That's an order.” He watched as Tom opened the box; the younger man gaped at the contents. Chakotay smiled. “Not only late, but improperly dressed. That belongs on your collar, Mister Paris.”
 
Janeway stepped forward. “Allow me.” As she lifted the pip, she said, “As ship's captain, I hereby reinstate you to the rank of Lieutenant, with all the privileges and responsibilities therein. Your performance on this ship over the past year has been exemplary. I expect more of the same.”
 
A broad smile cut across Tom’s face. “You won't be disappointed.”

B’Elanna came down the ramp from her station and kissed Tom. It was a rare public gesture of intimacy. B’Elanna generally shied away from showing Tom affection when others were around, but Chakotay guessed that for a reinstatement – following a demotion she likely didn’t believe Tom deserved – she was making an exception. 

“Congratulations, Lieutenant,” B’Elanna said, her hand lingering on Tom’s cheek.

In the background, Harry called out, “I didn't notice a little box on my chair.”

Chakotay chose to ignore the ensign’s comments. The subject of Harry’s promotion had come up once or twice, but it remained a subject of some sensitivity. After all, there were others onboard with more experience - and possibly better performance records - who were not eligible for promotion currently for a variety of reasons. Janeway had mentioned more than once that she needed to resolve the situation, but it was an issue that kept being moved to the back burner as other more urgent matters took precedence. Realistically, given the long timeframe to return to the Alpha Quadrant, it was impossible to follow the schedule for promotions for the entire crew; otherwise they would be a ship full of admirals. Still, the lack of promotion did affect morale and he made a mental note to discuss it with the captain later. At that moment, however, a beep sounded.

Paris, his hand still resting on the small of B’Elanna’s back, frowned. “Did Neelix hide a cake in the console?”

Chakotay looked down at the computer readings. “Looks like a distress call.”

“Put it through,” Janeway ordered.

“I'm getting a carrier wave but no message,” Chakotay said. He tried to amplify the signal but nothing happened.

“Origin?” Janeway asked.
 
“An asteroid approximately two light years from here,” Tuvok reported. Janeway and Chakotay exchanged looks.

The captain laid her hand on Tom’s shoulder, the determined line of her jaw tight. It went against Janeway’s grain to ignore a distress call, Chakotay knew, but he also knew that such a decision was not cut and dried. There was always a possibility of a trap, of suddenly finding themselves in a situation that was worse than the relatively calm environs they were currently in. But it was one of the things he most admired about Captain Janeway, and this crew: their sense of right and wrong, their adherence to duty. And so he didn’t protest when Janeway finally gave the order: “Yellow alert. Set a course for that asteroid and let’s see for ourselves what this is all about.”

Chapter Text

B’Elanna surveyed the collection of clothes lying on her bed. She had selected several dresses, including the tropical dress she’d worn to one of the luau parties several years previously, as well as the blue sleeveless one she’d worn on her date with Tom after they had discovered the aliens who had been experimenting on them. She’d replicated two new nightgowns – one a black lacy marvel of engineering, and the other a silky slip in a vivid shade of pink – and a new two-piece swimsuit in red.

She went into the bathroom to start throwing her toiletries into the case, but she paused as she caught sight of herself in the mirror. She touched her fingers to her skin. It had been sixteen days since her return from the Borg cube, and the sensation of the tubules stabbing into her skin had finally started to dissipate. Sixteen days of watching – waiting – for her skin to return to its normal color, for her hair to grow back, and her vocal cords to recover. Today – the first day of her weekend away with Tom – was the first time she’d felt normal since she’d volunteered to be assimilated.

Tom had been patient enough during her recovery, though she sensed a bit of tension from him. One night as they sat in front of the television – him with a bowl of popcorn in his lap, she with a blanket wrapped around her shoulders – she asked him about it.

“Is something wrong?”

“Huh?” he said, not even turning away from the television. The roadrunner was making a fool out of the coyote. Every episode was the same.

“You’ve been quiet lately,” B’Elanna said.

“I’m fine.” Tom sprawled out, his legs stretched out in front of him, his eyes glassy as he stared at the television. “Just tired. You know? Working a double shift for the last few days… I haven’t gotten much sleep lately.”

She knew exactly why he hadn’t gotten much sleep: in his free time, he’d been by her side, administering painkiller for the headache which never seemed to go away, testing her blood to assess the trace amounts of nanoprobes that reminded, soothing the still sensitive and fragile skin that had been punctured by assimilation tubules. He hadn’t been happy when she’d volunteered for the mission, had even asked her to reconsider, but she’d been determined to see it through. When it was time to finally leave for the cube, Tom had hovered nearby, but there had been a faraway look in his eyes, as if he never expected to see her again. He’d been casual enough in his good-bye (“So long”), had kissed her on the cheek, just quick and perfunctory. He was upset, B’Elanna knew, but as she’d settled herself into the Flyer, she convinced herself he’d get over it. And sure enough, on her return, Tom had been happy to see her.

“I’ve been thinking,” she said, “that it’s been a long time since we’ve gotten away.”

Tom threw her a quick sideways glance. “You just came back from the Borg cube.”

“That wasn’t a vacation, Tom.”

There were more antics on the television and then a giant box marked ‘ACME’ on it fell on top of the coyote. B’Elanna frowned.

“We should go away. Next weekend,” she said.

“Sure. Sounds good.”

And so she’d started planning. She’d begged, borrowed and bartered, until she’d managed to get forty-eight consecutive hours on the holodeck. She’d prevailed on Joe Carey, Vorik and Susan Nicoletti to pull extra shifts for those two days. She’d worked out deals with Emma Jenkins, Kristine Fernandez and Pablo Baytart to cover all of Tom’s shifts at the helm. The Doctor, a pained look on his holographic face, had considered, at her request, if he could do without Tom’s presence in Sickbay, and had agreed with Chakotay’s decision that it would be fine.

Now, looking at herself at the mirror, and satisfied that there was no visible trace of Borg left, B’Elanna smiled. Already, she could feel the crumbly sand against her toes,  and the heat of the sun beating down on her shoulders. She imagined walking hand in hand with Tom across the beach and into the tropical rainforest alive with color and sounds, ending up at a cool waterfall to splash in. She thought about wrapping her arms around Tom, feeling the heat radiating off his body as they leaned into each other as the sun set on a distant horizon. The Borg would be far away this weekend.

She had started putting her clothes into the duffle bag when her comm beeped.

“I know you’re about to go on leave, Lieutenant, but I’d really appreciate it if you could come down here,” Joe Carey said in an apologetic tone. B’Elanna paused. Technically she was on leave already, but at last check, Tom wasn’t scheduled to return from the Delta Flyer’s test run for at least another four hours and she was nearly packed. “There’s an alignment issue with the plasma manifold. It’s causing a leak in the tertiary relay. We want to replace it but—”

“But it will involve shutting down the coolant injector valves,” B’Elanna said. The procedure itself wasn’t complicated, but it did require a certain amount of precision and teamwork to make sure that the warp core didn’t go critical.

“We could use an extra pair of hands,” Joe said. “I’ve got Sue monitoring the plasma levels to make sure the leak doesn’t get out of hand and Vorik is ready to remove the gasket covers, but we’re having problems balancing the internal warp core temperature.”

“I’ll be right there.”

B’Elanna put her uniform jacket back on and cast a look at the stuffed animal lying on the pillows on her bed. “I’ll be right back,” she told Toby the Targ. “This shouldn’t take more than an hour.”

The procedure did indeed take less than hour, but the ensuing paperwork and documentation took a little bit longer. Before she knew it, more than two hours had passed. She finished recording her thoughts and then, still reviewing, she slowly crossed in front of the warp core when someone stepped in front of her. Startled, B’Elanna looked up into Tom’s blue eyes.

“Hi,” Tom said softly.

B’Elanna blinked. She hadn’t been expecting him back quite yet. Perhaps he’d cut the test flight short in anticipation of their weekend away. “You're early,” she said in delight. She grabbed him by the hand and pulled him into a secluded corner. She lifted up on her toes and kissed him – a preview of what he could expect on their vacation. “You packed? “

Tom held her close, her hands nestled against his chest. He cleared his throat. “Not yet. Actually, there might be a little problem.”

“Problem?”

“I have the chance to pilot the Flyer in a race. A really unique race and the captain thinks it's a great idea, and I guess I got so excited I forgot about our plans,” Tom said. And then in a rush, he added, “But I don't have to do it. The captain would understand.”

B’Elanna swallowed hard. By invoking Janeway’s name, Tom had backed her into a corner. It was all but impossible for her to ask him to drop the race in favor of their weekend together. And given the animation he’d displayed when telling her about the race, she knew he’d be distracted their entire time together. She knew there was only one thing to say, though it came out a bit harder than she liked. “It's all right.”

Tom looked penitent. “No, no. I should have remembered. This just seemed like such an amazing opportunity. Pilots from all over—”

“I said, it's okay,” B’Elanna said softly.

Tom’s eyes widened in surprise. “Really?”

It took an extraordinary amount of effort to maintain her composure. “The holodeck will always be here. This race won't.”
 
Tom kissed her again deeply, but it was hard to reciprocate. “I do not deserve you.”
 
She knew what he meant, but somehow the words triggered another thought in her. Flatly, B’Elanna replied, “You're right about that.”

Tom pulled away from her. He was gesturing with his hands as he spoke, the way he did when he was excited. She just wished that she was the reason for his excitement. “So, we'll plan this vacation for another time.”
 
She thought about all it had taken just to pull this one weekend off and barely managed to get her one-syllable answer out. “Sure.”

“I'm going to make this up to you, I promise,” Tom said and then he was gone. B’Elanna stood still, breathing in short bursts, as she tried to make sense of what had just happened. Had Tom really chosen a space race over her? She waited a minute or two, and then without a word, she left Engineering to return to her quarters. She stared at all the items still laid out, and then slowly began scooping up all the clothing and dumped them into her dresser without heed.  

 

Chapter Text

All the way to the shuttle bay, Tom basked in the well wishes of his colleagues.  The atmosphere aboard Voyager was nothing short of euphoric, and he could feel adrenaline coursing through his veins. It was impossible to stop smiling. He hadn’t participated in a race in a very long time, and it felt good to represent the Federation in such a monumental event celebrating galactic peace. This is why I joined Starfleet, he thought. He stepped slightly to the side as he came across Freddy Bristow and William Chapman standing by the shuttle bay door.

“Good luck, Tom!” Freddy Bristow called out.

“We’ve run the Flyer diagnostics,” William Chapman added. “All systems are in proper working order and I tested the fuel blend in the converter. Looks good.”

“Great,” Tom said. He was a little surprised B’Elanna had sent Bristow and Chapman for the pre-flight check, but he supposed that the reason she had been unable to attend the pre-race reception – a sticky valve in the injector coil assembly – was also why she hadn’t come to check out the Delta Flyer herself. “Thanks a lot, guys. Have you seen Harry?”

Chapman shook his head. “Sorry.”

Tom frowned. He and Harry had agreed to meet here ten minutes ago and it wasn’t like Harry to be late.

He stepped into the shuttle bay and circled the Delta Flyer II with a sense of pride. He had helped design the initial craft, and now this replacement – quickly rebuilt post-Borg encounter – was a thing of beauty. Tom drew his fingers across the cool plates that constituted the hull of the ship. They had upgraded the shielding in this version of the Delta Flyer to better withstand attacks. The game of cat and mouse with the Borg Queen had lasted less than four hours and had ended on a positive note – they’d survived, and successfully severed some drones from the Collective.

Still, Tom had been frantic that the entire time, his heart beating fast, and nervous energy making it impossible to sit calmly at the helm. It took all his effort to focus on piloting Voyager, and not think about what was happening to B’Elanna aboard the Borg cube. What if she was permanently assimilated? What if they never got her back? What if, what if… it wasn’t the first time Tom had faced the possibility of a future without B’Elanna and it wasn’t the first time she’d decided to take reckless action without discussing it with him. As he’d waited aboard Voyager for word about the fate of B’Elanna, the captain and Tuvok, he knew something had to change for the future.

He never got the chance to tell her what he was thinking. His relief at getting B’Elanna back in one piece was followed by 48 nerve-wracking hours in which the Doctor carefully removed the Borg implants. Thankfully the assimilation had been ‘shallow’ and not completed fully and so the only side-effects of this particular adventure were the trace concentration of nanoprobes that would remain in B’Elanna bloodstream for the rest of her life.  In the days that followed, Tom felt like he was compressed, flat as pancake, unable to breathe properly. Any conversations he’d meant to have with her were sidelined. Now as he took in the sleek shape of the Delta Flyer II, he felt as if he was alive again. The last time he’d performed this pre-flight check, it had been to send the woman he loved on a suicide mission.

Tom hit the button on the side panel next to the main hatch and the door opened. He went inside and started the pre-flight system start up. While the systems kicked in, he took time to review the race flight manual one more time. He was starting to be able to visualize the course in his head and as he sat in the pilot’s seat, he tipped his head back, his eyes closed, as he thought about the course and instinctively started to plot his angles of approach and optimal velocities. He was still thinking about maneuvering through a nebula buffeted with unusual crosscurrents when he heard steps behind him.

Without opening his eyes, Tom said, “Harry, where the hell have you been? Do you know what time it is?”

Instead he heard B’Elanna’s voice. “Say Q'apla!”

Tom whirled around just as B’Elanna snapped a picture. Three questions flew through his head in rapid succession: 1) What was she doing here? 2) And did the Doctor know she had borrowed his camera? 3) And damn, did she look hot in that flight suit.

“It means success,” B’Elanna explained as she put the camera down. “I just wanted to capture the moment. Not to mention that cute bewildered expression.”

“What are you doing in that flight suit?” Tom asked.

“There's been a change of plans. I'm your new co-pilot,” B’Elanna said as she slid into her seat.

Tom gaped. “Look, I don't have time for practical jokes.”

“Neither do I.” Her expression was serious. “Ready to bring that impulse drive online?”

“B'Elanna.” Tom didn’t bother to hide the exasperation in his voice. He hadn’t talked or seen her since he’d cancelled their weekend getaway in the holodeck. She’d declined his pre-race dinner invite to work on something in Engineering with Joe Carey and hadn’t asked him at all how race preparations were going. But now, she was here, dressed in her flight suit, without even bothering to give him a head’s up? He and Harry had spent hours studying and strategizing for the race and B’Elanna’s casualness rankled. Did she not understand that this was serious? You didn’t just switch co-pilots without notice, especially not when you were planning a glorious triumph.

B’Elanna rose from her seat to check some readings on a console on the back bulkhead. It took a moment, but she finally said, “Okay. I was upset that you cancelled our weekend.” A shadow crossed her face, and she quickly continued, “But then I realized, why should we spend this time apart when we can be together doing something you love?”

Tom stiffened. If she was upset about the cancelled weekend, why hadn’t she just said so? In fact, if he recalled the moment correctly, she’d told him it was fine. He had so many questions, but he finally settled on the one least likely to set off an argument. “What about Harry?” Tom asked.

B’Elanna smiled slyly at him. “I assigned him to a level five diagnostic in Engineering.”
 
Tom groaned. “Oh, that's terrible.”

“I'm just kidding,” B’Elanna said. “I told him how hard it was for us to get time together and he understood. Anyway, the way I see it, you're trading an Ensign for a Chief Engineer.” She struck a little pose, her red lips alluring, and her hip jutting out just enough. Tom licked his lips. He had to admit, when she looked like that, it was a tiny bit distracting and a whole lot of sexy.
 
It only took a few strides to cross the distance between them. “Well, you don't have to convince me,” Tom said, placing his hands on her waist, and then sliding slightly down on her hips. “I couldn't ask for a better co-pilot.” He pulled her closer, relishing feeling all of her against him. She returned his kiss passionately and he tasted victory on her lips. As he released her to return to his seat, he said, half-jokingly, “Now, just remember, we're not on vacation. The point is to win.”

B’Elanna nodded, her eyes sparkling with the thrill of the chase, as she slid into her seat. “And you know how much I hate to lose.”

This was true. B’Elanna’s competitive spirit was second to none, and come to think of it, they did work well together. With a renewed sense of optimism, Tom took his spot at the helm. Glancing over his shoulder at B’Elanna, and then back at the view screen, he issued the first command of what he thought would be a highly successful endeavor: “Thrusters online. Opening shuttle bay doors.”

Chapter Text

“Approaching the pulsars,” Tom announced. Three hours into the race and the second set of landmarks he’d drilled B’Elanna on the previous evening were finally making their appearance. He glanced down at the readings the Flyer was picking up; the pulsars were emitting radiation at nearly 1000 pulses a second, and the rapid radio wave frequency had the potential to interfere with the shuttle’s sensor systems. Tom had calculated a very precise route to navigate through this obstacle to avoid any adverse issues due to the pulsar.

 “Straight through the gate,” B’Elanna said from the engineering station, her cadence clipped and low-key as she recited the rhyme Tom had created to ensure she remembered exactly what it was she had to do. At this critical juncture, making any other impulsive decisions could cost them the race. While he appreciated B’Elanna’s initiative, he also needed her to precisely follow the strategy he’d come up with for the course.

“Then re-modulate,” Tom reminded her. There was a 0.004 phase variance required to compensate for the radio waves, and he’d also cautioned her to make sure the shields were operating at full strength to prevent any potential radiation exposure while they were near the pulsar pair. B’Elanna had notably bristled at his instructions.

“You don’t think I know how to handle a pulsar?” she’d asked incredulously.

“It’s a race, B’Elanna. There’s a lot to think about,” Tom had answered. He thought he was being reasonable, helpful even. “As a team, we have to be on the same page.”

“Right,” B’Elanna had said. And then she’d repeated, “`Straight through the gate, then re-modulate.’”

Now, Tom saw that B’Elanna had indeed compensated for both the radiation and radio waves. The variation that had initially crept into the sensor readings when they’d first approached the pulsars had now smoothed out.

“Harry sure had that glow, didn't he?” B’Elanna asked idly, her attention still on her console readout.
 
Tom furrowed his brow. “What glow?”

“You know, that look you get when you first meet someone.”
 
“Yeah,” Tom said with a little chuckle, “his cheeks were a little redder than usual.”
 
“We're through the pulsars,” B’Elanna said, and within seconds, Tom saw she’d returned the variances back to standard. Everything looked good and there were no obstacles approaching for at least the next couple of hours. “Harry and Irina are right behind us.”

“Ease up off the thrusters now,” Tom said; he dimly wondered where Assan was. “I want to conserve some fuel for the final leg.”

“If circumstances were right, they might even have a future together.”

Tom nearly twisted around. B’Elanna sounded contemplative, and he found it odd that she was thinking about something other than the race now. “What?”

“Harry and Irina.”

Tom gave a dismissive scoff. “They just met. It's a little early to be planning a wedding.”

“No, I meant that some people just fit together without having to work at it,” she answered, and it was that same soft voice. “And other people, no matter how much they try…”

Tom blinked. Who exactly were those `other people’? There were other couples aboard Voyager, sure, but B’Elanna wasn’t the type to speculate on their relationships. He was the one more likely to gossip, so it wasn’t likely that B’Elanna knew something he didn’t. No, in this equation, there were only two possible variables. He took a stab at trying to unravel the mystery. “Are we talking about them or us?

“What? No, I didn't mean…” B’Elanna appeared a little rattled by the question – a reaction that confirmed that yes, something was up and whatever that something was, it made him uneasy.

“If something's bothering you, let's talk about it,” he said evenly.

“We should concentrate on the race.”

Tom’s attention was momentarily distracted by the flight map in front of him. The marker showing Harry and Irina’s position in the race had slowed considerably. Tom wrinkled his forehead as he contemplated what the data was telling him. He said, pointedly, “Maybe Harry and Irina aren't such a great team after all. They're falling behind.”

B’Elanna frowned. “Well, maybe it’s part of their strategy. Lull everyone into complacency and then come from behind.”

Tom shrugged. “That’s a terrible approach; lots of ground to make up and while this is an uncomplicated part of the course, there isn’t a whole lot of room for error coming up. Near perfect flying is required, so this is not the time to take a break.” He flicked a couple of switches to adjust the Flyer’s flight path when another thought hit him. “Or maybe they got caught up in other things. You know how Harry is when he falls in love.” Tom took a chance and twisted around in his seat. B’Elanna’s expression was opaque to him.

“I suppose,” she said evenly. “I’m sure whatever it is, they will catch up. Harry is just as competitive as you are.”

“Well, we’re now thousands of kilometers ahead,” Tom answered. He scrutinized the next part of the racecourse. “Given the obstacles we’re facing, I’d say if they don’t pick up speed soon, they’re out of contention.”

“I hope nothing is wrong,” B’Elanna said, her voice carrying a trace of concern.

“I’m sure we’d have heard from him by now if there was,” Tom said. “He and Irina are probably just… getting to know each other.”

“If that’s the case, and he has fallen for her… well, when you feel a certain way for someone, it’s hard to move on.”

“Harry’s a big boy. He knows what he’s doing.” Tom turned back to look out the viewscreen, but it was hard to keep his concentration. He kept thinking about B’Elanna’s remark: some people just fit together without having to work at it. Of course, it was easy to make a relationship appear uncomplicated when it was less than 24-hours old, like Harry and Irina’s. But staying together for three years, like he and B’Elanna, now that took effort. The more he thought about the comment, the more concerned he became over what it could possibly mean.

“If you say so,” B’Elanna said.

There was something in her voice that caught Tom’s attention. He turned slightly. “Whatever it is, it’s not going to be anything more than a fling.”

“How can you be so sure?”

Tom frowned. Wasn’t it obvious?  “It’s not likely that Irina is going to want to join us on our trip back to the Alpha Quadrant and even less likely that Harry will want to stay here.”

“But if they love each other, then one of them will make that decision. Whatever it takes to get to their happily ever after.”

“I hope you’re right.” Tom checked the course map; the Delta Flyer was making good time, and he thought perhaps they were even slightly ahead of where he’d thought they would be. “I just think you’re giving them too much credit.”

“I’ve just never seen Harry that happy in a long time. It’s a feeling I miss.”

Tom jerked. “What did you say?”

B’Elanna’s eyes widened. “That Harry is happy?”

“No, after that.” Was she saying she wasn’t happy? Where the hell was this all coming from?  He put it together with what she had said earlier. The combination of the two sentences caused a sharp pain just below his left breastbone.

There was a pause and then B’Elanna said, “We're past the last marker. Time to deploy the thrusters?”

Irritation bubbled up; he knew she was dodging his question. “Whatever you say,” he said neutrally.

“What happened to `I'm the pilot’?” B’Elanna asked.  

Tom twisted his head slightly to look at her. “That really bothered you, didn't it?” he asked. “It's why you think we don't fit together as well as Harry and Irina?”

“Could we talk about this later? Assan is gaining on us.”

Tom bit back his frustration. He couldn’t read her mind and he really did want to know what she was thinking. But she also had a point: they had a race to win. “Well then, I guess you'd better deploy the thrusters.”

“Thrusters deployed,” B’Elanna said. A beat passed and then she said, “This isn't about the race anymore, is it?”

It was a rich question to ask. After all, she was the one who was calling their relationship into question.

“You tell me,” Tom said quietly. “You’re the one who brought it up. You’re the one who thinks we don’t fit together—”

“I didn’t say that.”

“You implied it.”

“That’s not fair.”

“You know what’s not fair? It’s telling me that you’re okay with me cancelling our weekend together when you weren’t and then blindsiding me by showing up as my co-pilot for this race—"

B’Elanna’s voice rose in volume as she said, “I thought if we could do this one thing together, something you cared about, that it might help our relationship.”

Tom’s eyes widened. Sure, they had problems; didn’t all couples? But the way B’Elanna was speaking, it sounded as if their situation was more dire than he suspected. “I didn't know it needed help.”

“That's part of the problem!”

Tom thought quickly. He knew what his issues were: B’Elanna spent more time working than with him. When he protested something she was doing – like trips to Klingon hell – she roundly ignored him. There were moments when he thought he existed on the periphery of her life, not quite the participant he wanted to be. But that’s when he fell back on his arsenal of distractions. And for all of this time they had been together, he’d thought it was a pattern that worked for them. “What's the rest?

“You know the rest.”

Tom winced a bit. He didn’t actually know what B’Elanna was thinking. He decided to take a stab at the other issue that had plagued them throughout their relationship, and even in their early days of friendship and flirting. “So, we scrape shields occasionally. It keeps things interesting.”

“Maybe `interesting’ isn't enough for me,” B’Elanna said.

Tom had already been on yellow alert before this comment and now in frustration, he brought the Delta Flyer to a stop, keeping thrusters on minimal power to maintain position.

“What are you doing?” B’Elanna asked. The Flyer shuddered as a ship thundered past them. “That was Assan. Why are we just sitting here?”

Tom slammed his fist down on the console. He’d never felt as resolute as he did right then. “If we've got a problem, we're going to resolve it right here, right now.”

Now? In the middle of the race?”

“When else do you want to talk about it, B’Elanna? When you’re in the middle of a crisis in Engineering? When you decide to volunteer on a suicide mission to a Borg cube?” He fixed his gaze squarely on her face, daring her to look away. To her credit, B’Elanna didn’t draw back. It was one of the things he loved about her: the ability to meet any situation straight on without flinching. “Or is this something else you’re going to ignore? Brush me to the side?”

“Tom—”

“All you have to do is tell me what you want, B’Elanna,” he was pleading now. “If you wanted me to give up the race, you should have said so.”

Color rose in B’Elanna’s cheeks. “Hey, I never asked you to give up this race, or anything else that you care about. I never asked you to stop being yourself.”

“The only self that I want to be is the guy you're in love with,” he said, his voice cracking with emotion.

“Wow.” B’Elanna sat back in her seat. “I didn't know you felt that way.”

He thought about all the times he had hovered by her side in Sickbay wondering if she would live through her latest accident. He thought about all the times he’d been sure to see her off before an away mission because it could be the last kiss. He thought about all the late-night dates, the replicated bottles of wine. It seemed incredible to him that she could even doubt him. “How can you say that?”

“Well, you always seem to have other priorities. “

“I'm showing you my priorities right now.”

Now but not when it matters. Whether it’s a new shuttle or a new friend or a space race or whatever, you brush me to the side and expect me to still be waiting when you come back.” She rose from her chair and headed to the back console to check on something. She turned back to him, crossed her arms against her chest. “I don’t want to wait anymore, Tom.”

“Why didn’t you say anything before?”

“I have, and it seems to get better for a while and then something comes along and you forget again.” B’Elanna’s shoulders slumped slightly and her lower lip trembled. She sank to the floor, hugging her legs against her chest. “When you said you forgot about our weekend, it reminded me of all the other times you’ve forgotten our plans because something else attracted you more than me. It makes me think that I’m an afterthought to you.”

Tom inhaled sharply. It was true that on more than one occasion he’d been distracted by something new and shiny, but he’d always justified it by thinking that B’Elanna always had a challenge or two in Engineering to keep her occupied. And as of late, it had seemed that she didn’t take him into consideration. “That’s not true. That’s never been true,” Tom said. “And you’re always in Engineering. How many dates have you cancelled because of work?”

At this, B’Elanna just looked annoyed. “It’s my job, Tom, it’s not the holodeck.”

“So, I get distracted on occasion,” he said. He decided to close the distance between them, and he squatted in front of her. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s not just that you were distracted. We talked about how important this weekend was. How much we needed it after the Borg,” B’Elanna said. “And you forgot.”

Tom hung his head slightly. “I guess I let my excitement get the better of me and I wasn’t thinking clearly.” He squared his shoulders as he looked at her. “I’m never not thinking about you.”

He could tell the sentiment landed where it needed to. B’Elanna’s face softened. “How come you never talked to me about this before?”

He ran his hands gently over her calves. “Well, you've got that tough Klingon exterior. And I didn't think you liked the mushy stuff.”

“Do I look that tough right now?” B’Elanna asked, her voice subdued. Tom recognized an opening when he saw one. Her shields were down, it was time to go in.

“Does that mean you're in the mood for some mushy stuff?” he asked softly.

“Maybe.”

“Exactly what kind of mush are we talking about?” Tom asked.

“You tell me,” B’Elanna said.

Clearly, she wasn’t going to make this easy on him. Tom pondered only for a second before deciding to go with one of the things he liked best. “Well, there's, um, kissy stuff,” he said. He leaned over and kissed her. She responded with interest, which was a relief. He stroked her cheek lightly with his fingers.
 
“That was nice,” she breathed.

Tom considered. It was a good start, but he was going for something better than nice. He took a deep breath, thinking about her previous comment about not knowing he just wanted her love. He figured if there was ever a time to be direct, now would be a good time. “And there's the, ‘you're the most important person in the world to me’.”

A faint smile played across B’Elanna’s eyes. “I like that one, too.”
 
Still going strong, Tom thought, but it wasn’t the time to rest on his laurels. He decided to take a gamble, possibly the biggest one of his life. It was something he had thought about occasionally, had seriously considered, but had never quite gotten around to discussing with B’Elanna.  If she was questioning his commitment to her, well actions spoke louder than words. So, he plunged forward, his voice dropping an octave as he said, “And then there's the ‘happily ever after’.”

B’Elanna’s smile was less tentative now, and she chuckled lightly. “How does that one work?”
 
“Well, traditionally it requires a proposal…” Tom began but broke off when a sensor started beeping in the background. They both scrambled their feet and B’Elanna reached the helm control first. Her fingers moved rapidly as she pulled up the sensor report.

“We’re being scanned by some kind of modulating pulse!” She glanced at Tom, pointing to a slow-moving blip on the screen. “It's from Irina's ship.”

“They must be wondering why we stopped,” Tom said.

“There's something odd about the amplitude.”

Tom wrinkled his nose as he examined the amplitude. He could see a pattern slowly emerge. “Wait a minute.” He watched a few more waves and then intoned, “Dit dit dah. That's Morse code. Harry and I use it in the Captain Proton holoprogram.”

“What's it saying?”

“Fuel converter rigged. Eject. What does he mean by `rigged’?” Tom flashed a look of alarm in B’Elanna’s direction. She immediately ran back to the Engineering station.

It didn’t take more than a minute for her to realize what was happening. “The converter's leaking veridium isotopes!”

Startled, Tom faced her. “Why didn't the computer warn us?” He remembered seeing Chapman and Bristow in the shuttle bay, listening to their assurances that all was well with the Flyer. A leaking converter would have showed up on their scans for sure. A cold sensation settled in the pit of Tom’s stomach. Whatever had happened on the Flyer had happened after the pre-departure check. Whether it was a system error or – worse – sabotage, was too early to know. Leaking veridium isotopes were bad enough with having other things to deal with.

“The online sensors have been tampered with,” B’Elanna said.

“Can you contain the leak?”

“Too late! The veridium is already reacting with the warp plasma.”

Veridium was occasionally used as a catalyst to increase the thermal efficiency within the warp core, but that was usually a very controlled and lightly used procedure for good reason. “That'll cause a warp core breach,” Tom said.
 
“In less than a minute!”

“Then do what Harry said! Eject the converter!”

“It's too late! I have to eject the core.”

Tom stared at her. “Here? We'll never survive the blast.” And then another realization dawned on him. “And neither will anyone else within a million kilometers.” He slipped into his seat, barely registering the computer’s countdown to warp core breach in the background. Thanks to his eidetic memory of the course, he knew an option lay just off to the starboard side. He quickly plotted the course and upped the speed to warp 7. With a little bit of luck, he thought they could possibly pull this off. He would never bet against B’Elanna’s engineering expertise and he knew he had the skill to get them to the nebula in time.

“Where are we going?” B’Elanna asked.

“A J-class nebula filled with ionized gas.” He paused, before adding the next part, hoping against hoping that his theory was correct, “Should contain the explosion.”
 
“I can't get the ejection subroutines online,” B’Elanna called out. In the background, the computer continued its pedantic countdown to destruction.

Tom took a breath. His hands were firmly on the flight controls, and he didn’t want to risk looking away from the viewscreen. But time was running out and he had to know. “So, what's your answer?”
 
“My answer?”

“Will you marry me?”

“You're proposing now?”
 
“It's as good a time as any,” Tom said.
 
And just as the computer announced ten seconds left before warp core breach, B’Elanna called out, “Subroutines back online.”

A moment later, the warp core drive decoupled from the Flyer and ejected. It cartwheeled through space, top over bottom.

“Clear!” B’Elanna yelled. “Go!”

Tom didn’t need to be told twice. He whirled the Flyer around, knowing he only had a few seconds to get away. He quickly calculated maximum impulse power versus time and knew he was cutting it very close. For the second time in three years, he and B’Elanna were stuck in space, explosion imminent, and their lives in the balance. And both times, the warp drive was at the core of their issues. He took a deep breath and floored it. Exactly three seconds later, a large wave shook the Flyer and he felt himself sail across the cabin and hit the wall on the far side. He lay still for a moment, mentally taking stock of all of his aches and pains and determined nothing was broken. He then looked up to see B’Elanna had tumbled out of her chair and was lying near him. Her eyes fluttered open.

“B'Elanna,” he said gently.

She groaned as she looked at him. “I guess we lost.”

“That depends.” He returned to the helm to do a quick check on what systems remained operational.

“On what?”

He turned to face her, his hands resting on his thighs. “On how you answer my question.”

A wary expression crossed B’Elanna’s face as she slowly got to her feet and took the seat opposite him. “I thought you only asked it because we were about to explode.”

Tom didn’t waver. Three years ago, he had confronted B’Elanna outside of the Mess Hall, wanting to know if she really felt for him what she did. And now he was doing the same thing. “Well, we're still alive and I'm still asking.”
 
B’Elanna’s shoulders hunched as she leaned forward. “How come you never asked me before?”

She had a point, he knew, and he wished he had a good answer. The truth was, he’d never gotten around to it. After their heady first few months, there had been that long year when she’d been struggling with depression. Then there had been the incidents – most recently, when B’Elanna had chosen to accompany Janeway and Tuvok aboard the Borg cube – where he’d questioned his place in her life. But the one thing he’d been sure of since that very first kiss outside of the Mess Hall was that he wanted, no, needed, her in his life.

“How come you're still avoiding the question?” he asked, leaning in even closer to her. His heart was beating so fast, whether still from their near-death experience or from the anticipation of her response, he couldn’t be sure.

“I'm thinking.”

“Think faster,” he whispered. This was his heart on the line after all.  

But still, B’Elanna hesitated. “Why? You going to withdraw the offer?”

Tom reached forward, his fingers caressing her cheekbones. “No, but I might start to beg.” He was millimeters away from her face now. “It could get embarrassing.” And then he kissed her. Long, deep, passionate, intense. He caught his breath briefly, and it was enough to hear B’Elanna’s answer.

“You don’t have to beg,” she whispered between kisses. “I’ve thought about it.”

“And?”

“Yes. I will marry you.”

And Tom, his pride intact, felt his heart soar.

Chapter Text

B’Elanna looked down at the simple gold band on her finger. She couldn’t stop twisting it this way and that.

“That looks good on you,” Tom said as he passed her on the way to helm. They were back on the Delta Flyer, no warp core, and only impulse engines, but it would have to do. Assan had recommended his home world – about six hours away from their current location at impulse – for the honeymoon. He had described glorious white-capped mountains that swooped down into the rugged coastline with sparkling blue waters. Perfect for boating and other adventures, Assan had said. But B’Elanna wasn’t inclined to be picky. A weekend honeymoon never leaving their quarters would have been just fine too.

Tom started the pre-flight checklist, and B’Elanna turned her attention back to her monitor. There were a few issues with the Delta Flyer stemming from the ejection of the warp core, but nothing serious that couldn’t wait until after their honeymoon. As she ran through all the system checks, the light bouncing off the ring kept catching her attention. When Tom finally announced all was well and the okay came from the Bridge to launch, B’Elanna leaned forward eagerly. In just six hours, they would be at the resort Assan had recommended.

“You ready to go?” Tom asked.

B’Elanna just smiled at him. “I’ve been ready for a long time,” she said.

Tom’s gaze turned momentarily serious. “Me too.” He reached across and squeezed her fingers quickly before turning his attention back to the console to gently guide the Flyer out of the shuttle bay and then arced gracefully away from Voyager. About ten minutes later, Tom turned on the autopilot and headed to the back of the shuttle. A minute later, he returned with a bottle of champagne and two glasses.

“Wedding gift courtesy of Harry Kim,” Tom said grandly as he slid back into his seat.

“That was nice of him,” B’Elanna said. She had used all of her rations for the cancelled weekend on the holodeck, but Tom had had enough to replicate their wedding bands. She’d assumed given they would use rations until they got to the resort, but apparently their best friend had come through for them at least on one level.

“There’s more where that came from too,” Tom said. “The crew have all pitched in and have ordered a variety of treats for us, including chocolate-covered strawberries.” He held the champagne bottle at an angle and expertly popped the cork. The champagne bubbled over the lip of the bottle. He reached his arm out to B’Elanna. “Why don’t you come over here? I’d like to kiss my wife.”

B’Elanna smiled as she made her way over to him and settled on his left knee. Tom nuzzled her neck, his breath warm on her skin. She turned her face towards him, her lips landing on his cheek. Her gaze fell on the open bottle of champagne that Tom had placed on the console in front of him.

“Shouldn’t let this go to waste,” she said. She quickly poured them each a glass.

Tom tipped his glass towards hers. “To the winners,” he said, and then his voice turned contemplative. “B'Elanna Paris. That has a nice ring to it.”

B’Elanna laughed and laid her hand against her shoulder. “Thanks, but I already have a ring. Anyway, I kind of like the sound of Tom Torres.”

Tom said with mock indignation, “I hope you're kidding!”

B’Elanna turned to face him. “Hey! It is the twenty-fourth century!” She put her glass down on the floor, and Tom followed suit. She leaned towards Tom, her hands braced against his chest as their lips met. It wasn’t their first kiss as husband and wife – that had happened in Janeway’s ready room a few hours previously – but this one was longer, deeper, and tasted like champagne. It was the last first kiss of their honeymoon and it was sweeter and more satisfying than she could have imagined. Tom’s hands were on her lower back, holding her close, and she could feel her heartbeats quicken as the intensity of the kiss increased.

Tom broke away for a moment to ask, huskily, “Should we…”

There was no need for him to finish the question. B’Elanna slid off his knee and extended her hand to him and led him to the bunks at the back of the Flyer. They would finish the champagne later.

Chapter Text

On the one-week anniversary of our wedding, I rolled over in bed, and saw B’Elanna curled up on her side, her back to me. The strap of her blue nightgown had slipped halfway down her arm, revealing the curve of her breast. It was tempting to reach for her, but I also knew she’d come in only a few hours beforehand. I leaned over and gently kissed her cheek before sliding out of bed.

It promised to be a relatively easy day – or as ‘easy’ as days go in the Delta Quadrant – as I only had a single shift on tap. Eight hours at the helm, and then I was off duty for until Alpha shift picked up tomorrow. I assumed B’Elanna’s nearly twenty-hour shift in Engineering probably guaranteed her a few hours off.

I took a quick sonic shower and then got dressed. Harry was waiting for me in the Mess Hall. His plate was full of some yellow mush that Neelix insisted was scrambled eggs, and with enough ketchup, it certainly could pass muster.

“The texture is right,” Harry said with a grin. He glanced down at my hand. “So you’ve been married for one week now. How does it feel?”

“Feels pretty good,” I said. “But to be honest, it’s been so busy around here that we haven’t been able to spend a lot of time together.” After we’d returned from our brief honeymoon, B’Elanna and I had spent a couple of days consolidating our belongings and moving into a new, slightly larger set of quarters than either of us had had previously. We’d barely gotten settled when there was a major leak in the plasma conduit that caused cracking in the hull plating. Four days into our marriage, and I hadn’t exchanged more than a few pleasantries with my wife since we finished moving in. Thanks to thirty-six hours’ worth of EVA walks, the fractured hull plating had been replaced, and the plasma conduit replaced.

“Well, you should certainly do something to commemorate your one-week anniversary,” Harry said. He cast a dismayed look at the remnants of his breakfast. “I hope you have some rations left, otherwise you’ll be eating more of Neelix’s cooking for your celebration.”

I did, thanks to a very lucrative poker night Sue Nicoletti hosted on the holodeck a couple days back. B’Elanna had been in Engineering, trying to shut down the plasma injection system, and so I’d taken an opportunity to test my luck at cards and the payoff had been well-worth the late night.

After breakfast, Harry and I made our way to the bridge together. I was tempted to stop by my new quarters and check on B’Elanna but I restrained myself; she needed sleep. And it was a quiet day at the helm. Chakotay was in command while Janeway spent much of the shift in the Ready Room. Ayala took Tuvok’s usual spot at the tactical station while Tuvok ran the operations staff through a security drill down on deck eight.

It was easy for my mind to drift. Seven days married. Thirty days ago, I hadn’t even anticipated this was where we would end up. At that time, I was rejoicing over finally getting my second pip back and my status as lieutenant reinstated; all of my excitement over that would dissipate when B’Elanna decided to volunteer to accompany Tuvok and Janeway onto the Borg cube.

I don’t know when I’d started to consider marriage. It was a thought that had flitted through my mind every so often during the three years we’d been together, but we’d never had a serious conversation (or hell, even a humorous one) about the subject. I just assumed B’Elanna was happy with the status quo and I didn’t want to rock the boat. We’d been through so much together, and we’d finally, finally, reached a spot where we were comfortable with who we were as individuals and as a couple.

It was towards the end of the shift I made up my mind. On the way back to our quarters (I love saying ‘our quarters’, by the way), I made a detour to the holodeck and made a reservation. And then I went home.

B’Elanna was awake and sitting at the table, a stack of PADDs next to her. She smiled as I came in.

“Happy anniversary,” I told her as I leaned down to kiss her cheek.

B’Elanna arched her eyebrow. “Anniversary?”

“One week today…”

B’Elanna’s lips puckered into the shape of an O. “You’re right…”

“So, if you’re not too tired, I’ve made some plans.”

B’Elanna put her PADD down. “`Plans’?”

“Yup. This is our last first week anniversary. We’re going out.”

An hour later, B’Elanna emerged from the bathroom wearing a sleeveless brown velvet dress that showed off her arms, nicely toned by hours of wrenching together components in Engineering. I went with a blue tunic-style shirt. She smiled as I presented her with a bouquet of flowers that I’d replicated while she’d been in the shower.

“You look nice,” she said. “I like that shirt.” She stood on her toes, put her arms around my neck and kissed me.

“Thank you,” I said, reluctantly breaking away, but holodeck reservations are short, and I wanted to make the very best of the time we had. “Shall we go?”

She hooked her arm into the crook of my elbow as we walked into the corridor.

“Fresh flowers? An afternoon on the holodeck?” B’Elanna sniffed at the flowers in her hands. “It almost feels like we're dating again.”

I grinned, mentally making a note to thank Harry later for the idea. “The secret to a lasting marriage. Keep the romance alive.”
 
B’Elanna said with a smile, “I'm not complaining.”

We arrived at the holodeck and I punched in the reservation code and the doors slid open for us. We entered the movie theater and I gestured to B’Elanna to go in front of me. In the lobby, I ordered us a couple of sodas and a tall box of popcorn (extra butter, of course).

B’Elanna turned to me in bewilderment. “Lecture hall?”

I shook my head. “Guess again.”

“Opera house?” A look of panic crossed her face. “Not another one of the Doctor's performances!”
 
“This is a movie house,” I said quickly. “This is the Old Palace Theatre in Chicago, built in 1932.” I pointed to the ceiling. “Look at the detail on that crown molding.”

B’Elanna frowned. “It doesn't look very functional.”

I stifled a chuckle. Of course, B’Elanna with her ever practical engineering brain would make that distinction. There were times when I appreciated that perspective, when it firmly grounded me. This wasn’t one of those times. “This place isn't about function,” I told her. “It's about fantasy.”

My timing was bad though when B’Elanna stepped into something sticky. She groaned as she looked at the bottom of her boot and there was a nice wad of something pink. It was clear the fantasy was broken.

At her questioning look, I said, “Chewing gum.”

“There is such a thing as too much authenticity.”

“Attention to detail. That's what makes it fun,” I said as we sat down. I handed her a pair of glasses – white paper frames around brown lenses.

“Protective lenses?” B’Elanna asked.

“These will make the images on the screen appear three-dimensional.”

B’Elanna looked thoughtful. The gears in her brain were back in overdrive. Finally, she said, “Let me get this straight. You've gone to all this trouble to program a three-dimensional environment that projects a two-dimensional image, and now you're asking me to wear these to make it look three-dimensional again?”

It was the type of commentary that reminded me exactly why I love her. “Great, isn't it?” I asked with a grin. The lights started to dim, and the film began. I put on my glasses and B’Elanna followed suit; she looked adorable. The title, Revenge of the Creature, appeared on the screen. I stretched out and put my arm around B’Elanna’s shoulder.

“Crick in your neck?” B’Elanna asked.

I scooched a little closer to her. “People didn't go to the movies just for the movies, you know.”
 
“Really? What did they go for?” B’Elanna’s voice was equal parts curiosity but also innocence.

“I'll try to demonstrate.” Our kiss tasted like salt and butter. I cupped her face with my hands, leaned into it to show her exactly how I felt about our first week together as man and wife.

“I can see why this was so popular,” B’Elanna said, a bit breathlessly

A row in front of us, a woman shushed us. B’Elanna frowned. “Maybe this would be more fun if we were alone,” she said.

I didn’t disagree at all with her assessment. The fact that we were on the same page assured me that we were starting week two of married life on firm footing. “Computer, delete the audience.”

Chapter Text

I.

The day his life changed forever started ordinarily enough for Tom Paris. He spent Beta shift at the helm, and Harry Kim was sitting in the Big Chair. Scans of the sector showed no interesting phenomena or planets – and more importantly, no potential enemies – for several light-years. It made for a relatively laid-back shift on the Bridge and Tom put the helm on autopilot.

“Any plans for later today?” Harry asked. There was a wistful quality to the question that Tom immediately picked up on. He tried to remember the last time he and Harry had done anything together, just the two of them, and he came up blank.

Tom shook his head as he twisted his chair around to face Harry. “I got a few hours in Sickbay later on with the Doc,” he said, “and B’Elanna mentioned she wanted to go rock climbing this afternoon.”

Harry wrinkled his brow. “Rock climbing?”

Tom shrugged. “You should try it sometime, Har.”

“No thanks. I am making some modifications to the race car simulation though. If you’re interested.”

Tom scoffed. “If?” Of course, he was interested. “When is the program going to be done?”

“In a few days, I think.”

“Sounds good. Let me know when it’s finished, and I’ll join you.” Tom paused. Maybe he shouldn’t be so quick to promise; ever since he and B’Elanna got married, he’d spent less and less time with Harry. These days, he found himself eager to get back to their shared quarters – when their schedules coincided – to make dinner so they could eat together. He loved waking up next to her, loved watching her sit at their table reviewing engineering reports. These were the little details that made up his life now, and he found he didn’t want to miss a moment. But at the same time, he didn’t want to neglect his friend. “You know, Friday afternoon might work.”

Harry’s face immediately brightened. “I’ll get it done by then.”

Tom chuckled lightly under his breath. He swung his chair back around to make sure the laid in course was still clear. The rest of his shift passed uneventfully and at its conclusion, Kristine Fernandez came to take his place.

“It’s been quiet,” Tom said. “Hope it stays that way.”

Fernandez’s lips twisted into a wry grin. “Just between you and me, Lieutenant, I hope we’ve seen the last of the Borg and the Malon and the Hirogen. Not necessarily in that order either.”

Tom nodded. He understood the sentiment perfectly. Their most recent experiences with those species had all involved his wife putting herself in harm’s way. “Well, at least we haven’t seen the Kazon in a few years,” Tom said lightly. He handed over the helm and gave a curt nod to Chakotay who was just coming on duty.

On his way to Sickbay, Tom hailed B’Elanna. She answered him sleepily.

“Good morning,” he said, ducking into a quiet corridor. “Still waking up?”

“Yeah. Were we supposed to meet for breakfast?”

“Don’t worry about it. Get your rest.”

“I don’t know what’s the matter with me. I just feel exhausted.”

When they were just dating, Tom had never really made a fuss about B’Elanna’s long hours in Engineering. Now that they were married, he felt legally obligated to point out that sixteen hours in front of the warp core was rough, even on the toughest of Klingon constitutions. Still, he knew B’Elanna would bristle at his over-protectiveness, but there was something about the gold band on his finger that brought that out in him. “I’m on my way to Sickbay. I’ll check back in a couple of hours. Still up for rock climbing later?”

“Sure. I do have to stop at Engineering to check on a few things.”

Tom inwardly groaned. Of course. “I’ll move our reservation back then.”

“Thanks.”

Tom closed out the channel as he turned back into the corridor and took a left to head towards Sickbay. Thankfully, it was another quiet day and after an hour or so of sterilizing equipment and updating medical records, the Doctor let him go. Tom thought about grabbing a cup of whatever Neelix passed off as coffee would also be helpful; he could feel his eyelids growing a little heavy and he knew he needed to be alert for his rock-climbing date with B’Elanna later.

He stopped by the Mess Hall, grabbed the ersatz coffee, and then was headed back towards home when he ran into B’Elanna going the opposite direction.

“Hey,” he said. “On your way to Engineering? I’ll walk with you.”

“You’re not too tired?” she asked.

“Quiet day today.”

“Glad to hear that,” B’Elanna said. She smiled as Emma Jenkins passed them in the hall. “Good morning.”

Tom raised an eyebrow. “You’re in a good mood.”

“It’s another beautiful day in the Delta Quadrant.”

Tom gave her a bemused looked. “What did you have for breakfast?”

B’Elanna smiled coyly, rose up on her toes and gave him a quick peck on the lips. “I'll see you tonight.” And then she disappeared into Engineering.


II.

“She’s beautiful,” Tom said as he stared at the holographic image of the baby spinning. B’Elanna had gone quiet. Tom put his hand on her shoulder as he stared at the image the Doctor had created for them. The baby appeared healthy, with delicate ridges, curly brown hair, and pudgy cheeks. She had the Paris chin too.

“Forehead ridges?” B’Elanna asked.

“Yes,” the Doctor said.

“But she’s only a quarter Klingon,” B’Elanna said.

“Klingon traits remain dominant for several generations, even with a single ancestor,” the Doctor said airily.

Tom squeezed B’Elanna’s shoulder gently. He was unable to take his eyes off the baby. As unprepared as he had been for this pregnancy, now he found himself completely transfixed. “Oh, she looks just like her mother,” he breathed. “She’s perfect, isn’t she?”

B’Elanna turned away abruptly. “I guess we’ve seen enough,” she said. “You said the surgery will take place tomorrow?”

“The sooner the better. I can schedule you right before Alpha Shift. It shouldn’t take more than an hour, though I suggest you take a day or two—” the Doctor began.

B’Elanna held up her hand as if to forestall any further suggestions. “I don’t need to take any time off.”

“All right, suit yourself,” the Doctor said.

Out in the corridor, B’Elanna seemed a bit tense, but Tom suspected she was just as worried about their daughter’s deviated spine and the surgery as he was. The surgery as he understood it was straight-forward, still, it was nerve-wracking experience for him. Cross-species propagation was never without risks, and he knew this wouldn’t be the last time an issue came up that would cause him concern.

“You ok?” he asked.

“Yeah, I’m fine.” She paused. “What about you?”

Better than fine, Tom thought. “I just have to figure out the way to break the news to Harry. Looks like I’m going to have a lot less hours to spend on the holodeck now.” And then he added, “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

“I guess so.” B’Elanna appeared pensive and then she said, “I need to check on something in Engineering. I’ll see you tonight?”

Tom grinned. “Yes.” He kissed her gently and then went in the opposite direction to find Harry. Maybe he could convince his friend to babysit.

 

III.

They returned to their quarters shortly after Tom had caught B’Elanna manipulating the Doctor’s program. Post-fight adrenaline was still coursing through his body, but he willed himself to stay calm. B’Elanna was noticeably subdued, her eyes rimmed with red. He could tell she also hadn’t quite shaken the emotion of the previous hour. So, he asked her if she wanted something to eat. He didn’t have an appetite, but he felt like he had to do something, and offering food seemed to be the easiest and least volatile thing to do.

“Fried chicken, salad, mashed potatoes, you name it,” he told her.

She was still in her gray tank top and shorts, curled into a corner of their sofa, a blanket held tight to her chest. Her eyes were still rimmed with red from crying. He thought about suggesting a trip to the holodeck – maybe Tahiti? – but then he remembered her reaction when he’d proposed it earlier as a neutral ground on which to work through their disagreement about the baby. It was the less exotic option, but maybe a quiet evening at home was what they needed to clear the air and ease the tension between them.

“Salad,” she said finally, and he was pleased that at least she was responding to him again. Tom quickly replicated her favorite salad and put it on the table. B’Elanna slowly made her way over to her chair and sat down heavily. She picked up her fork, twirled it in her fingers. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s all right,” he said, even though he wasn’t sure if it really was. Tom thought about B’Elanna’s last bout with depression, how it had taken nearly a year for her to come out of it. “What happened between you and your father, that’s tough for any kid to take.”

“And it’s just as vivid today as it was then,” B’Elanna said. She put her fork down. “I don’t know if I can ever move on from that.”

“No one is asking you to,” Tom said gently. “But you can’t confuse what happened with your parents to who we are or what this child means to us, or however many kids we decide to have.” He placed his hands on her shoulders, kneading the muscles with his fingers. He could feel the stretch of tension between her shoulder blades, the knots that were hard beneath the skin. If he was being truly honest with himself, what B’Elanna had wanted to do to their child was horrifying. But it was impossible for him to truly be angry with her. He’d always known that her father leaving had been a watershed moment, but it was the detail – that one little detail of her last words to him – that had taken his breath away.  It was as if everything he had known about this woman, everything that he loved about her, had been reduced to a single defining moment. And if acknowledging that was what made B’Elanna Torres who she was, then he knew he had to accept everything that came along with it.

“So, two or three?” B’Elanna asked suddenly. He could hear an almost-smile in her voice.

“Something like that, sure,” Tom said. He glanced around their quarters. “Not sure where we’d put them all, but we’ll figure it out.” He leaned down, resting his chin lightly on her shoulders, as he kissed the curve of her jaw. “Can you imagine how much fun we’re going to have? You’ll take her to Engineering, show her how the warp core works, and I’d teach her to fly the Delta Flyer, just like I’m teaching Naomi.”

“You have to wait until she’s at least eight or nine years old!” B’Elanna protested.

Tom grinned at her reaction. “And then rock climbing, and hockey…” he let his voice drift off. “We’re going to have a great life together, B’Elanna. You, me, and this baby.”

B’Elanna twisted to look up at him, her eyes watery with emotion. “I like the sound of that.”

Beyond a shadow of a doubt, Tom Paris knew that nothing would be ordinary ever again and he wouldn’t have it any other way.

Chapter Text

Eight hours after his return to Voyager, Tom Paris began to remember. It came in bits and pieces at first, tiny memories that pricked at him. While on Quarra he’d had moments like this – disjointed, without warning – where he would think of something, someone, but without any reason why. And now, resting in Sickbay, the same thing was happening. The Doctor assured him this was normal.

“I assure you the protocol to recover the reprogrammed engrams is quite sophisticated,” the Doctor said with pride, as he pushed the hypospray against Tom’s neck. “As you can see, it was quite successful with Lieutenant Torres.”

Tom rubbed at the spot where the hypospray had made contact. There was a tingling just below his fingers, as if all of his neurons were firing at once. It was a distinctly unsettling feeling. He inhaled sharply. “If you say so, Doc.” Tom frowned. He had the unsettling feeling that he spent more time in Sickbay than most people did. He glanced around, realizing he knew the names of every instrument on the tray next to him. Slowly, he repeated, “Doc.”

The hologram beamed. “The protocol is working.”

“I guess so,” Tom said slowly. He appreciated the Doctor’s validation that he was getting better but at the same time he wished he remembered something more meaningful than a nickname. “My quarters are on deck 9.”

“Yes.” The Doctor nodded. “Keep trying to remember. You’re doing very well.” He tipped his head in the direction of the other biobeds. “I will be back to check on you shortly.”

Tom laid back on the biobed, folding his hands on his chest. The lights above were harsh, glaring. He closed his eyes. He didn’t know how long he slept but when he woke, Sickbay was sharply in focus. He slid off the biobed, took a cautious step forward. I am Thomas Eugene Paris. I was born on Earth. My father is an admiral. I’m a pilot on the starship Voyager. I am married to B’Elanna Torres. In a few months, I will be a father.

“Lieutenant?” the Doctor called as Tom headed straight for the door. “Lieutenant!”

Tom, clad in slippers and blue pajamas, made his way down Voyager’s mostly empty corridors. He didn’t need to stop at a computer to check where he was or where he was going; he knew the way to Engineering.

He entered Engineering and paused for a moment, looking around. He then spotted B’Elanna seated off to the side, her back to him. She was wearing her uniform. He took a few more steps towards her and then B’Elanna turned to him. Her mouth opened, then closed, and then after a few seconds, she said in a tremulous voice, “Hey. I-I thought you were Harry.”

Tom managed a small smile as he took another step towards her. “I hope you’re not disappointed.”

B’Elanna shook her head but she still seemed a bit wary. He wondered what she was thinking. Hadn’t the Doctor said she’d recovered her memory? Anxiety churned within; what if she didn’t remember him too?

“Um, no. I thought- does the Doctor know you’re here?” B’Elanna asked. Her hair was mussed, and there was a smudge of grease on her cheek. She’d rolled the sleeves of her jacket up, and he noticed a few new cuts on her arms, a bruise or two; likely she hadn’t even felt them herself.

“I was concerned you may have forgotten about me and as Voyager’s medic, I declared a medical emergency in Engineering to check on you myself,” Tom said. His lower lip trembled, his eyes crinkling at the corners as he stared at her. “You look tired.”

“Three weeks without any engine maintenance and an encounter with a space pirate or two can create a lot to catch up on,” B’Elanna said. She reached up to tuck a strand of hair behind her ear. “Let me take you back to Sickbay.”

“There’s no need,” Tom said. His long-legged stride closed the gap between them, and his hands were on her face, tilting her head up towards him. His lips against hers were soft, warm, tentative, and a sense of relief washed over him as she snaked her arms around his neck. He pulled her closer. “I remember Voyager. I remember you. I remember us.”  He buried his face in the crook of her neck, inhaling her scent deeply. And then she turned her face towards his, and he gladly met the kiss. He knew he would never take this kiss for granted again.

In a shaky voice, she said, “If this marriage is going to work, we’ve got to cut back on the traveling.”

He chuckled softly, tightened his grip on her. “Let’s go home.”

He didn’t remember much of that first night home. After a joint sonic shower, and then falling into bed, he’d taken his time to relearn every inch of B’Elanna’s body. Sleep had come heavily after that, and when he woke the next morning, B’Elanna was gone. The computer said she was in Engineering, but before he could check in with her, the Doctor’s enthusiastic voice rang over the comm.

“Mr. Paris, please report to Sickbay for your check up.”

Tom frowned. “I feel fine, Doctor.” More than fine, to be honest. He gazed at the baby cradle at the foot of the bed. “I remember everything.”

“I need an updated neural scan for your medical file. Without that documentation, I cannot confirm that you are fit for duty.”

Tom rolled his eyes but let the Doctor know that he would be on his way. He chose to dress in off-duty clothing, a blue shirt and matching pants that he remembered wearing to a movie date night with B’Elanna some months before. He took the clothes he’d worn on Quarra and stuffed them down the recycler.

On his way to Sickbay, he ran into Kristine Fernandez and Freddy Bristow. Both were talking animatedly, possibly walking a little closer together than normal, and Tom knew they had both recovered their memories and more. He made a mental note to check in with the other members of his staff – Pablo Baytart and Emma Jenkins – as soon as he was done in Sickbay.

Sickbay was still full when Tom arrived, but with relief, he noticed that most people seemed to have recovered their memories. There were a few – Megan Delaney, for instance – who still seemed a little confused, and Jor was unusually quiet, staring down at her hands when Tom tried to talk to her. Samantha Wildman was there with Naomi, as were William Chapman and Vorik.

“Full house, huh, Doc?” Tom asked.

The Doctor offered him a pained smile. “I am pleased to report that nearly everyone has regained at least fifty percent of their memory back, if not more. There are a few cases that are taking longer than expected, but I can adjust the protocol accordingly. Don’t worry, Mr. Paris. Patience is required at this moment, but I assure you, everyone will be back to normal.” He pulled out a mediwand. “Now, hold still, Mr. Paris.”

Tom held himself rigid as the Doctor scanned him. The scanner made beeping noises, and the Doctor kept pausing, furrowing his brow, and then checking his readings again. Something about the Doctor’s demeanor made Tom worry. What was taking so long? Anxiety churned in his gut as he caught Sam Wildman’s eye over the Doctor’s shoulder. The exo-biologist looked weary, her face a bit thin, and he wondered what had happened to her in Quarra. No doubt in the days to come, the crew would have many stories to tell about their three weeks on that planet.

“Well, I’m happy to report, Lieutenant, that you have achieved nearly ninety percent recovery,” the Doctor said.

“I feel fine,” Tom said. “I’m not missing anything.” He lifted his chin defiantly. “I don’t know why you’re making me wait.”

“Traumatic brain injury is not something to be taken lightly. You should be ready to return to duty tomorrow. In the meantime, return to your quarters and rest.”

Tom looked around. There were still plenty of patients in Sickbay. Somehow the idea of returning to his quarters to rest was anathema to him. “Do you need any help?”

The Doctor’s eyes flickered slightly and then he nodded. “I suppose you can.”

It was good to keep busy and Tom restricted himself to relatively simple tasks such as sterilizing hyposprays and replicating the drugs the Doctor needed for the protocol. He chose not to measure or administer any drugs himself; he might be mostly recovered, but he still didn’t trust himself.  After an hour or so in Sickbay, the Doctor asked him to check on the crew who were recovering in the Mess Hall, which had been set up as an auxiliary medical bay. There, Tom came across a nearly recovered Pablo Baytart.

“Ninety-eight percent,” Tom marveled as he looked at the readings on his tricorder. “That’s good progress.”

“I’m ready to get back to work,” Pablo said. He gestured at his clothes. “I’m ready to wear the Starfleet uniform again.”

Tom remembered that most of the crew had been assigned to work in the power generation facility on Quarra and thus had worn grey or brown jumpsuits. He’d lasted one day in that uniform before ending up in Umali’s restaurant.

“I know the feeling,” Tom said. He clapped Pablo lightly on the shoulder. “Come back in a few hours and we’ll if we can get you officially cleared to return to duty.”

He spent another few hours scanning patients and marking more than a dozen who could likely return to work if the Doctor certified them. By the end of the shift, the Doctor gave Tom himself a clean bill of health.

“No more foggy moments?” the Doctor asked.

Tom shook his head. “No, nothing. Honestly, I haven’t had this much clarity in a long time.”

“Glad to hear it.”

Back in their quarters, Tom settled on the sofa with a bowl of popcorn. He turned on the television and selected a cartoon. Before long, he was lost in the silly story of the coyote chasing the road runner. He was barely aware when B’Elanna came in and disappeared into the bathroom. He dipped his hand into the bowl again and took another scoop of popcorn. The popcorn was buttery with just a hint of salt – just like he liked it.

He was still watching cartoons when B’Elanna placed a soft kiss on his cheek. It was a delicate kiss, and it got his attention, especially when she placed a second kiss with a bit more force on his jaw.

"What was that for?" he asked, surprised, as B'Elanna settled down next to him.

"For taking care of me even when you didn't know who I was."

Tom smiled at her but then she startled him with a punch in the arm. "What was that for?" he asked, wincing and rubbing at the spot.

"For flirting with your customers!" B'Elanna answered but her eyes danced with mirth.

"I was a victim of mind control," Tom protested.

"Uh huh," B'Elanna said teasingly as she helped herself to some of his popcorn and snuggled closer.  Tom slipped his arm around her, pulling her close. He loved the way she fit comfortably against him, the warmth of her body against his. This was the life he had almost lost to Quarra, and he was damn sure that he was never going to take a moment of what he had on Voyager for granted again.  

Chapter Text

 

Joe Carey carefully shaped the piece of wire and then attached it to the mast. It was delicate, painstaking work, and in the process of learning how to build a perfect ship in the bottle, he had snapped many toothpicks and smashed many a glass. His father had built ships in bottles and Joe had often stood off to the side with bated breath, watching as his father delicately and deftly maneuvered all the pieces into place. Joe had never had the time to take up the hobby until his unexpected sojourn into the Delta Quadrant. Once he was off shift, he retired to his quiet quarters, and he had all the time in the world to develop the craft.

This attempt at a schooner was the closest he had actually gotten to finishing and he was determined to take his time in getting it right. He had just managed to get the mast upright on to the ship’s deck when the annunciator rang. Joe gritted his teeth as the mast fell over. He stared in dismay as the annunciator rang again.

With a sigh, he pushed his chair back. “Come in.”

He was surprised to see Commander Chakotay standing there, PADD in hand. He couldn’t remember a time Chakotay had come to his quarters. He immediately thought about his superior officer. Was everything all right with B’Elanna?

“At ease,” Chakotay said.  He held out a PADD. “I am assembling an away team and I need an engineer.”

Joe took the PADD. “You usually take Torres.”

Chakotay’s expression remained unchanged. “Not this time.”

Carey scanned the PADD quickly. The task ahead seemed simple enough: retrieve the famous Friendship One probe from a planet, heavily contaminated with radiation. “I assume we’ll need inoculations.”

Chakotay nodded. “Report to Sickbay in an hour. We leave at 1600 hours for the planet surface.”

“I’ll be there.”

There was just enough time to fix the fallen mast before he needed to leave for Sickbay. When he arrived, he saw Neelix and Chakotay were already there, both of them perched back to back on the same biobed. Tom Paris was filling hyposprays at the far end of the room.

“Mister Carey,” the Doctor said in a jovial voice. He pointed towards the middle biobed. “Have a seat.”

Joe sat down. “You seem to be in a good mood, Doctor.”

“Just excited to be doing my part for our first official mission, Mister Carey,” the Doctor said, pressing the cool head of the hypospray against Joe’s neck. The hypospray discharged with a hiss. Joe had gotten these inoculations before and the initial injection always felt like a small electrical shock. Wincing, Joe put his hand to his neck. As the feeling ebbed, Joe watched Chakotay and Neelix get their inoculations from Paris.

 “An inoculation a day keeps the radiation away,” Tom said conversationally. “I looked at those atmospheric readings. Thermal eddies, gravimetric sheer. You're going to need your best pilot.”
 
Chakotay arched his eyebrow. “Are you volunteering?”

Paris glanced sideways at the EMH. “If the Doc can spare me.”
 
The EMH’s mouth twisted into a wry grin. “I'll muddle through.” The Doctor paused as the doors opened and Lieutenant Torres walked in with a determined stride. Carey knew the look in her eyes. B’Elanna Torres was on a mission and he had a feeling it was the same one he had just been assigned to. The Doctor said, “If you're here for your fetal resonance scan, you're a day early.”

Torres shook her head. “I'm here for my inoculation.”

At that, Paris jerked to attention. “You are not going on this mission.”

“Chakotay said he needed an engineer.”
 
“He's already got one,” Paris said, pointing directly at Joe.

“Now he's got two,” Torres said with a huff.

Joe had never quite seen the look that crossed Paris’ face; it was equal parts frustration and determination. The chief helmsman cupped his wife’s elbow with his hand. “Will you excuse us?” he said, but it wasn’t really a question.

Sotto voce, Neelix asked, “Any bets on this one?”
 
“My money's on B'Elanna,” Chakotay said.

From his vantage point, Joe could see Torres and Paris arguing in the Doctor’s office. He had been privy to plenty of their arguments in Engineering and he’d always managed to keep his opinions about whatever they were fighting about to himself. But this time, he was emphatically on Paris’ side. He and Paris weren’t particularly close, but he did recognize that they had something in common: a deep and abiding love for their wives. When his wife, Anne, had been pregnant with their first child, Joe had felt overwhelmingly protective of her. Anne was strong, he knew, but he couldn’t help worrying. And that tendency just got more intense when she was pregnant with their second. Anne would tell him to quit hovering, that she could take care of herself. He knew that was true but still. Everything he held precious in this galaxy was contained within that woman and the children they had created together. He bit back a sigh; it had been nearly seven years since he’d seen his family. Those boys would be ten and twelve years old now.

He was still watching when he saw Paris and Torres exchange a kiss. Clearly, they must have come to an agreement and he was surprised when they emerged with smiles, with Paris leading the way.

“I think Joe can handle this,” Torres said to Chakotay. Chakotay blinked as Torres turned to Joe. “Keep me informed.” And with that, she left Sickbay.

“What did you say to her?” Neelix asked.

Paris shrugged. “The truth.” He tipped his head to the side, baring his neck, so that the Doctor could give him an inoculation. “And she has a lot of faith in you, Joe, and your abilities to bring the probe back to Voyager.”

“She can count on me,” Joe said. Losing the chief engineer spot to Torres nearly seven years earlier had rankled, and it had taken some time to get over that sting. Over time, Joe had grown to respect Torres’ work ethic – even if it was a little bit intense – and he knew she relied on him to blunt the edges of her temper when it came to the staff. “I have to say, I’m looking forward to getting my hands on that probe. Touching a piece of history…” his voice trailed off. If successful, this was an away mission he would want to record in his logs to share with his sons.

“Me too,” Paris said. His eyes took on a faraway look. “We’ve heard so many stories about Friendship One. It’s incredible that we get this chance to find out what really happened.”

“Well, you’ve got about thirty minutes before we depart,” Chakotay said, breaking into their conversation. “We depart promptly at 1600.”

“Yes, sir,” Paris said. “I’ll meet you in the shuttle bay; I’ll prep the Flyer for departure.”

Joe decided to detour to his quarters before meeting the rest of the team. Once there, he threw a few items into a pack, and then for good measure, threw in an extra tool kit. This was something he had learned from his wife: always take a backup for the job you’re about to finish. All these years in the Delta Quadrant, he’d never forgotten that instruction and more than once, he’d been grateful for having a tool that worked when the primary one failed. In his next letter home, he looked forward to telling Anne about how he retrieved the Friendship One probe. It’d be a great story for her to tell their boys.

Before he asked the computer to dim the lights, he took one last look at the ship in the bottle he had been constructing.

“See you later.”

 

 

Chapter Text

B’Elanna put her hand on her abdomen; the baby was kicking hard today, possibly in reaction to the breakfast of banana pancakes. Murmuring under her breath, B’Elanna said, “You’re a lively one today, aren’t you?”

Having passed the six-month mark of her pregnancy, and with approximately four to five weeks to go, she was finding it more difficult to find a comfortable position for sleeping. New aches and pains manifested every day as the baby became larger and more active. Still, B’Elanna was determined to maintain her schedule in Engineering. As she would frequently remind Tom, she was pregnant, not an invalid, thank you very much.

And for that reason, she found herself agreeing to Janeway’s request to recalibrate the dilithium matrix even though it was a painstaking, time-consuming process. It was something that had to be done on an annual basis, and B’Elanna had always overseen the task herself, usually with Joe Carey backing her up. But Joe was gone now.

Just thinking of Joe made B’Elanna breathe in sharply. A month had passed since Joe’s murder, but she still found herself comming him. She still looked for him in the corners of Engineering. When it came to an important task to delegate, she still hadn’t figured out who she trusted as much as she had trusted Joe Carey. In the end, she rotated that honor between Susan Nicoletti, Vorik and William Chapman. Which is how she found herself staring into a plasma conduit with Vorik at her side.

“I am detecting elevated levels of thermal stress across all of the conduits in this section,” Vorik said. “It is causing the cracks Lieutenant Nicoletti discovered earlier to propagate.”

“I see,” B’Elanna said, pressing her lips together into a thin line. The hairline fractures were webbing across the conduits and would require patching. They weren’t severe enough to warrant replacing the entire conduit, but if they didn’t discover the reason, this small problem would become quite a headache in no time at all. “Has the operational temperature been raised?”

Vorik nodded. “Every sixty to ninety seconds, I’m detecting a rise in system temperatures of nearly 147 degrees before it returns to normal.”

The plasma conduits were constructed of materials that general had a fifty to sixty-degrees worth of safety factor built in. Vorik’s readings meant that the materials were being stressed above normal operating parameters, and thus starting to fail.

“The plasma surges have to be coming from one of these relays.” She turned to Vorik. “Try realigning the deuterium manifolds.”

Vorik nodded and a second later, there was a small spark and a noise. B’Elanna huffed as she inspected the blown relay. Clearly the easiest and most obvious solution to the problem was not the answer; she was racking her brain for another option when her husband’s voice came over the comm system.

“Paris to Torres.”

“Go ahead,” she said, wondering what he was going to remind her about now.

“Can you pull yourself away from engineering for a few minutes? I've got a shuttle down here with faulty deflector array.”

B’Elanna frowned. A shuttle with a faulty deflector array was a problem, but not as big of a problem as plasma surging through critical systems. “I'm a little busy right now.”

“It's kind of urgent.”

B’Elanna sighed. She handed her hyperspanner to Vorik. “Shut down this section,” she said, “and run a scan of surrounding conduits. I’d like to get an idea of how widespread this problem is. Maybe if we can map out the pattern of the surges and the thermal dissipation, we can find the relay that’s causing all of these problems.”

“Yes, Lieutenant.”

B’Elanna offered him a thin smile and then left Engineering. A few years ago, she would have never thought of assigning Vorik key responsibilities in Engineering. In fact, if she had had her way, after his pon farr attack on her, she would have banished him to deck 15 to sit in the relay room with Mortimer Harren. But Chakotay had insisted that Vorik wasn’t to blame for what he had done and that she needed to give him a second chance. So B’Elanna had swallowed her anger, and over time, had managed to find a way to work with Vorik and even encourage him in his career. But he would never be what Joe Carey had been to her.

Still deep in thought, B’Elanna arrived at the shuttle bay to find her husband working on the Tereshkova. The Tereshkova was a class six shuttle, generally reliable, but not always up to the rigors of the Delta Quadrant. Still, the shuttle saw plenty of use, but it was not one of Tom’s favorites. Which begged the question as to why he was working on it. And also, why he was out of uniform, and wearing a bright red shirt with a white floral pattern on it over casual brown pants.

“What's this?” B’Elanna asked, perplexed by the scene in front of her. Tom grinned at her as he pulled two containers out of a bag at his feet.

“Well, I thought you'd enjoy a romantic lunch under the glow of a red giant.”

“Oh, you replicated potato salad,” B’Elanna said breathlessly. As of late, she couldn’t quite get enough of the dish.

“With extra paprika,” Tom said, flipping the lid off to show her the sprinkle of red across the salad, “just the way you like it.”

“This is so sweet.” B’Elanna bit her lip. “But I can't.”

“Sure you can,” Tom said, rising from his seat. He closed the distance between them quickly. “I've already cleared it with Chakotay.” He peppered her neck and the line of her jaw with kisses before moving back to her lips. There was a sweetness to his attentions that B’Elanna appreciated and it was tempting oh so tempting to forget about her responsibilities and fly away with him. Still, there was the promise she had made to Janeway and with the problems in the plasma relays setting her timetable back, B’Elanna knew she had to stay the course.

Regretfully she said, “I told the captain I'd have the dilithium matrix recalibrated before she got back.” She inhaled his scent, loving the way he reminded of a clear spring day in the mountains. She could never get enough of him. She kissed him back.

“You know, this might be our last chance to be alone for the next eighteen years,” Tom whispered as he continued to kiss her.

Reluctantly, B’Elanna broke away. “I will make some time before the baby comes, I promise.” She pressed her cheek to his. If only she could keep this moment forever. But duty called. “I’ve got to get back.”

With that she stepped out of the shuttle, not trusting herself to look back. She would make it up to Tom. And it occurred to her that once the baby came, she would have to juggle these responsibilities even more adroitly. The idea of having to give up time with the baby because of a major engineering problem she couldn’t delegate twisted B’Elanna’s heart. By the time she returned to Engineering, she’d decided who her second-in-command would be.   

Chapter Text

It’s been 50 years since Voyager returned to the Alpha Quadrant, but the ship’s Doctor remembers each moment of that 7-year journey as if it was yesterday. His clarity shouldn’t be surprising; he is a hologram, after all, and over time, his holo-matrix has been enhanced to such a degree that he can process and retain a quadrillion bytes of data at any given moment. Despite being such marvelous feat of technology, the Doctor – who now goes by the name Joe Zimmerman – is refreshingly down to earth.

He lives in a beautiful home in Encinitas. His wife, Lana Zimmerman, is an architect and she designed the home with tall windows to let the sun in. The furniture is beautifully arranged throughout, stark white with spots of blue and green throughout. Fresh flowers abound.

“Joe thrives in natural light,” Lana says, smiling at her husband. They’ve been married twenty-five years now. She tells me that many people questioned her choice to marry a hologram, but “there was something about Joe that grabbed my heart and wouldn’t let go.” And it’s clear that they aren’t letting go. Sitting, side by side, on the sun-drenched patio, facing out towards the Pacific Ocean, Lana’s hand remains possessively on Dr. Zimmerman’s knee.

The Doctor is full of stories of his days in the Delta Quadrant. He talks animatedly about the time the entire crew of Voyager was kidnapped to serve as workers on a planet called Quarra. “It was lonely for me,” the Doctor says. His lip trembles, and it’s as if he’s back in that moment again. “Can you imagine how it felt? To be the only hope for 140 people?”

The ending, like so many others, is a happy one. The Voyager crew was rescued and Captain Janeway awarded the Doctor a commendation for his bravery.

“But not just for your bravery, dear,” Lana says. She takes a sip of her pink-hued cocktail, gaily decorated with a sprig of basil. “You also cured everyone, restored their memories. In fact, your protocol is now accepted as the standard treatment in Starfleet Medical facilities across two quadrants for those who have undergone some kind of neural injury.”

“Yes, yes,” the Doctor says quickly, flicking his hand to the side. In his office at Starfleet Medical, an entire wall of his office is covered with awards and plaques. There is no doubt this man has made his mark on the medical profession, but there are no trophies on display in his home. It seems to be a curious omission. But he explains quickly that he prefers to keep his work and home separate. It’s a sweet sentiment and the Doctor is nothing if not sentimental.

His gaze is misty-eyed when he talks about Captain – now Admiral – Kathryn Janeway. He displays a special affection for the former Borg drone, Seven of Nine, known these days as Annika Hansen. As he reminisces, he mentions that Commander Chakotay often missed his check-ups, that Harry Kim, now captain of his own ship, was punctual for every appointment. He says B’Elanna Torres was one of the smartest people he’d ever met, and that her husband Tom Paris eventually became the best medic he ever served with. It’s clear that even after fifty years, Joe Zimmerman misses his family.

Lana brings out cookies and tea. Homemade, she says, passing over a PADD with the recipe she developed herself. “It’s all about the proportion of sugar and milk and butter,” she says with pride. The cookies are elegantly decorated and soft, and the tea fragrant. She has just taken a sip of her tea, when she blinks. As if remembering something, she turns to Dr. Zimmerman. “There is an award in the guest bedroom. The commendation you received when you rescued Janeway from the Overlookers.”

“Oh yes.” The Doctor’s cheeks pink up slightly. “We don’t need to talk about that one.”

“But it’s such a great adventure. You were so brave.” It’s clear Lana delights in her husband’s accomplishment as much as he does. She leans forward, her blond hair framing her face. “I want to hear it again.”

It’s clear the Doctor, who has showed such strength of command in so many difficult situations, has met his match. He smiles indulgently and says, “There’s not much to tell. The Overlookers took me and Janeway hostage on our way back from a medical conference. The price of her release was Voyager’s warp core and I had ten hours to deliver it.” At this, Lana gives a tiny gasp, though it’s not clear just how many times she’s heard this story. The Doctor nods. “So, it was incumbent upon me to rescue the captain.”

He leans back against the sofa, his arm draped casually across his wife’s shoulders. He looks relaxed as he recounts how he had to impersonate various members of the crew in order to pull off the caper. “Commander Chakotay realized something was wrong when I was impersonating the captain on the Bridge,” the Doctor says. “I immediately overpowered him and gave him a very strong sedative. I hid him in the morgue. Yes, I understand that this seems like quite an extraordinary action to take against one’s commanding officer, but you must understand, the situation called for it. That’s what command is all about, you know, making difficult decisions at the right time for the greater good.” The strong set of his jaw shows determination. It is easy to see how the Doctor would have been so focused back then.

Lana leans forward. “And then what?”

“The subterfuge would have been challenging for most people to carry off…”

“But not you,” Lana interjects. She leans closer to her husband, her hand cupping his face in a quick caress.

“There was one moment when my ruse was nearly revealed,” the Doctor says. He clears his throat. “It was when I was cornered in Engineering by Tom Paris.” He pauses for a moment, collecting his thoughts. “I was impersonating his pregnant wife at the time.” He holds up his hand, as if to forestall any protests. “No, I assure you, I did not injury Lieutenant Torres to take her place. I lured her away from her station with a report of a problem with the captain’s replicator. No one had more problems with their replicator than Kathryn Janeway! In fact, the tale of a malfunctioning replicator was not in any way suspicious. It was the perfect way to remove Lieutenant Torres from Engineering without risking any harm to her or her baby.”

This is just another example in which the Doctor is clearly the personification of the Hippocratic Oath. He clearly practices what he preaches.

“And then what happened?” Lana asks. She delicately takes a bite of her cookie; a few crumbs fall on to her blue-skirted lap. “Weren’t you concerned when Tom Paris almost blew your cover?” And then she puts her hand over her mouth, as if realizing she has beaten him to the punchline. “I am so sorry.”

Zimmerman doesn’t seem to mind that his wife skipped ahead in his story. “I did think when he came bearing a plate of fried chicken that he would see through me immediately, just as Chakotay had. And then the opportunity to rescue the captain would be lost. You must understand, the captain’s safety was of the utmost concern to me. I could not let her down.” His fingers clench and unclench. “I still remember what I said to him when I saw the fried chicken. `A pregnant woman shouldn't eat this kind of food. Do you want to give me an arterial occlusion?’” the Doctor’s mouth turns up in a wide grin. “But Mister Paris… do you know what he said? `A drumstick won’t kill you’. And then, then,” Dr. Zimmerman sputters a little bit, as if he still can’t believe it. “He said ‘I won’t tell the Doctor if you won’t.’ Can you believe it? Shouldn’t there be perfect honesty between Doctor and patient? How can I do my job if my patients are hiding the truth from me?” His indignation is real, heartfelt. Lana pats his knee gently.

“Dear, dear,” she murmurs. Her voice and touch have an immediate and soothing effect on the Doctor. “Of course, you’re right. You have the awards to prove it.”

The reminder perks the Doctor right up. He straightens up a bit, clearly displaying that prideful posture so evident when he’s at his office in Starfleet Medical. “So, I suggested to Mister Paris that we save the chicken for a romantic dinner at home, and he did take my suggestion, and then,” the Doctor pauses, casting a look at his wife. “He kissed me.”

“You’ve never told me that part,” Lana says indignantly.

“It didn’t seem important. I was trying to maintain my cover, you see,” the Doctor says, adding, a bit unnecessarily, “He thought I was his wife, after all!”

“I see,” Lana says in a tone that implies the exact opposite. “When we started dating, you told me you’d never kissed an organic before.” She says the word ‘organic’ with a bit of scorn, as if describing something other than herself.

“Lana, dearest, surely that didn’t count.” The Doctor looks pained. It’s a dissonant note in a carefully crafted harmonious life.

Lana doesn’t seem entirely convinced. However, she doesn’t forget her next line. “Go on.”

“There’s not much else to tell. After Mister Paris left, I continued with my mission to rescue the captain. I manage to eject the warp core, and then I left a clue hidden in the notes of `The Blue Danube’ for the crew to find me. And as you can see, I was once again successful.” He looks down at his fingers. Lana’s hand still rests on his knee.

At the end of the day, how does one measure success? By all account, Voyager’s EMH has lived a charmed life, a career that any organic doctor would be envious of. He has collected numerous awards, been commended by multiple captains and admirals, has written hundreds of papers, and his protocols are widely studied and adapted. And he still makes time to for the key initiative bearing his name: The Zimmerman Institute for the Study and Progression of Photonic Beings. But here in the house in the cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean, all those accomplishments recede into the horizon, for Doctor Joe Zimmerman has triumphed in the way most never expected him to; he has found love.

Chapter Text

B’Elanna uploaded the schematics into the main monitor over her engineering panel. Vorik, Nicoletti and Chapman clustered around her.

“Wow,” B’Elanna said softly as she manipulated the image, bringing different sections into focus.

“I’ve never seen anything quite like it,” Nicoletti breathed.

B’Elanna nodded. “Amazing, isn’t it?”

Vorik, his features composed, said, “You have yet to reveal the origin of these designs, Lieutenant.”

B’Elanna shook her head. “That’s confidential, but if this works… if we can successfully integrate these schematics into Voyager’s main systems, there’s a possibility,” she paused, holding up her hand, “we could return to the Alpha Quadrant in a matter of days.”

Chapman gaped. “Days?”

B’Elanna had the sudden feeling she might have tipped her hand a little too much. Janeway had requested a certain amount of discretion. Captain Janeway, that was. “Something like that.”

“And this is technology has been thoroughly vetted? I’ve never seen microcircuits like these before. I wonder where they came from,” Nicoletti said. She pointed towards the bottom right corner of the screen. “I wouldn’t even know where to begin with the integration process. We’d have to upgrade even our most basic systems to compensate for whatever technology this is, otherwise, we risk blowing everything out.” Concisely, Nicoletti began outlining her concerns regarding power consumption, which ultimately led to some ideas on how to best meld the new technology. Her approach seemed sound and B’Elanna approved it. Not for the first time, she was glad she’d chosen Susan to be her second-in-command. 

“And remember,” B’Elanna said, “instruct your teams that this is a confidential project—”

Chapman gave her a wry smile. “Might be too late for that, boss.” He gestured towards a trio of engineers clustered off to the side, clearly gossiping.

“I don’t want to get people’s hopes up,” B’Elanna said. “We’ve been here before, you all know that, tempted by new technology or a wormhole or whatever, and it’s failed.” She hesitated. “Vorik, I can’t reveal the identity of the person who gave me these plans, but you should know… I trust her implicitly. So, I’m cautiously optimistic this time… this time it will work.” She took a deep breath. “You all know what to do.” Vorik and Chapman immediately departed for their respective tasks, but Nicoletti hung back.

“What is it, Susan?” B’Elanna asked.

Nicoletti shrugged. “A part of me had given up on ever seeing the Alpha Quadrant again. And now you’re telling me that we’ll be there in days.” She bit her lip. “I don’t even know what to expect. For years, I dreamed of seeing my family again, but we’ve been disappointed every time. And now here’s another opportunity for homecoming to become a reality. It’s hard to keep my emotions in check.”

B’Elanna nodded. “I know, it’s a bit overwhelming to say the least.”

“What about you? Are you worried?” Nicoletti asked.

“About what?” B’Elanna asked a bit sharply.

“If this actually works. If we get home. Aren’t you worried?”

B’Elanna frowned. She sensed Susan was hinting at something specific. “Not in particular.” She straightened up. “I guess I haven’t thought about it.” And then she decided to be direct. “Is there something I should be worried about?”

“You’re a former Maquis—”

“I though we’re past those distinctions now” B’Elanna said.

“Maybe we are, but what about those in the Alpha Quadrant?” Nicoletti picked up the PADD with her instructions on it. “You know what, I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said anything.”

“No, no, it’s ok,” B’Elanna said. She managed a half-smile. “I imagine we will all have a lot to think about in the coming days if we are successful.” She turned away from Nicoletti to study Admiral Janeway’s plans in further detail. Still, Nicoletti’s comment stuck in her mind. What would it be like back in the Alpha Quadrant? From their recently re-established communications with Starfleet via Pathfinder, they knew that the Dominion War had left a wide swath of the Alpha Quadrant devastated. The Breen attack on Earth had killed millions, and other battles had taken their toll as well. It was clear the Alpha Quadrant they returned to would be quite different than the one they had left seven years prior. It was impossible to guess what the attitudes towards a defeated and defunct group of freedom fighters were now.

B’Elanna laid her hand on her stomach, momentarily distracted; the baby was kicking hard now. For the last few days, B’Elanna had felt what the Doctor termed Braxton Hicks contractions – false labor. B’Elanna bristled at the description as this pain felt real enough to her.

“Lieutenant?” Chapman said as he approached.

“What is it?”

“I believe that the relays will be over-stressed if we proceed with this as is,” Chapman said, a bit hesitantly.

B’Elanna shifted her hand to the small of her back. “Because of the excessive voltage?”

Chapman nodded. “My modeling shows the wires will melt three minutes in.” He didn’t have follow the thought to its logical conclusion. “We’ll need two extra relays for every single one we currently have to handle the additional load and spread the thermal energy across the system. If even one relay goes down, we risk a chain reaction and the excessive heat could cause a catastrophic system failure.”

B’Elanna made her decision quickly. “Go ahead, install new ones. I don't want this whole system crashing because of one faulty relay.”

“Yes, ma'am.”

Realizing the implications of incorporating the additional relays, B’Elanna turned towards Nicoletti, who was working at the next station. “And I need an update on the inductor capacitance.”

“Yes, Lieutenant.”

B’Elanna whirled around to face the warp core. All of the readings seemed to be in line with the specifications. She wanted it to stay that way; they would likely have enough problems as it was with this new, untested technology. She hadn’t said anything to her team, but likely they would only have one chance to get this right. Hopefully this armor technology the Admiral had brought would live up to its billing; they would need all the help they could get to navigate through Borg space. She was still lost in thought when she heard Tom call her name.

B’Elanna looked at him in surprise. Their proposed course through the nebula and into Borg territory would require some very tricky and precise flying, and she’d assumed Tom and the other helm officers would be spending this time planning their route and running simulations. “Shouldn't you be on the bridge?’

“Is there something wrong with the pilot requesting a system’s report from the Chief Engineer?” Tom asked.

“The last I heard, the comm system was working perfectly,” B’Elanna said airily, as she circled halfway around the warp core.

“Okay, you caught me,” Tom said, offering her a smile. “I'm checking up on you.”

“I'm fine,” she said.

“How’s your back?”
 
She thought about repeating her earlier assertion and then decided on the truth. “I'm ignoring it,” she said, moving with her usual alacrity across Engineering as if to prove to Tom that she really was fine. But her husband had given up any pretense of not hovering and followed her.

“Well, I would offer to give you a massage, but then everybody would want one.”

B’Elanna considered the offer. “You know, for a Starfleet flyboy, you're pretty sweet.”

“So how's it going?” Tom nodded towards the PADD she held.

“This armor technology that the Admiral brought? It's incredible. I hate to sound like Harry, but we might actually make it this time.”

“Well, you don't seem too happy about that.”

B’Elanna thought again about what Susan Nicoletti had said, but then she decided that was a conversation to be had in greater privacy. “Oh, I'm happy. It's just that I'd actually gotten used to the idea of raising our daughter on Voyager. And now I might end up delivering her at Starfleet Medical instead of the ship’s Sickbay. “

“That wouldn't be so bad, would it?”

“Not as long as you're with me,” B’Elanna said, striding off to the left to check the status of the installation. “And I want the Doctor to be in charge of the delivery. I don't want some stranger.”

“You would have to take him offline to keep him away,” Tom said, only half-jokingly.

B’Elanna leaned over the console, her gaze focused on Tom’s face. The closet they had ever come to discussing the Alpha Quadrant had come when the pitcher plant had convinced them that they were on their way home. Tom had been ecstatic at the time, thinking he’d received the piloting gig of a lifetime in Australia. Even then, however, B’Elanna had been unsure of what her next steps would be. Tom hadn’t asked but she’d assumed they’d go to Australia together. In the end, it had turned out to be than another case of false hope.
 
B’Elanna took a deep breath. Might as well start with an easy, logistical question, versus the weightier ones that would eventually follow. “If we do make it home, where do you think we'll live?”

“Well, we could always stay with my parents for a while.” Tom grimaced. “You're right. Bad idea.”

Thinking about Australia, B’Elanna said lightly, “Of course, it probably doesn't matter to you anyway. You flyboys are all the same. You'll probably take the first piloting assignment that comes along and leave me home changing diapers.”

Tom braced his hands on the console and leaned forward. His breath was warm on her face. “Not a chance,” he told her as their lips met. The kiss they shared was sweet, full of promise for the future. For the moment, any concerns she’d had vanished. She smiled at him. How far they had come. “Besides, maybe you’ll be the one to run off the first opportunity you get to work on a new, state of the art starship.”

B’Elanna thought about it for a moment. “You really think Starfleet would take a chance on me?”

Tom shrugged. “Why not?” He gave her another peck on the lips. “With your skills and resume, keeping Voyager together under extenuating circumstances? Starfleet would be crazy not to want you.”

“I hope you’re right.”

“I know I am.” Tom squeezed her hand lightly. “I have to return to the Bridge. We’ll talk more later. After we’re through the nebula and in the Alpha Quadrant.” And then he raised his voice a little louder, “Thanks for the comm report, Lieutenant.”

“You’re welcome,” said B’Elanna, knowing they weren’t fooling anyone. She watched Tom’s retreating figure and then she turned her attention back to the upgrades in progress.  The entire crew of Voyager, and especially its captain, were counting on her and her team. She would be damned if she let them down.   

Chapter Text

“So, any second thoughts about what you said back there?” Tom said, jogging to catch up with Harry. The meeting in the briefing room had adjourned about thirty minutes earlier, and Captain Janeway, along with Admiral Janeway, had retired to the Ready Room. B’Elanna, one hand on her constantly aching lower back, had said she needed to return to Engineering. Tom had taken the time to brief Pablo Baytart about the change in plans, before deciding to take a quick break to grab a meal in the Mess Hall. As he exited the Bridge, he saw Harry headed towards the turbolift.

“Yeah. As much as I want to get home, I want to be able to live with myself when all is said and done,” Harry said soberly. “So no, no regrets.” He grinned as the ‘lift doors slid open. “I guess I’ll just have to wait a little bit longer to get that second pip.”

“Hey. It will come.” Tom followed Harry into the turbolift. “You deserve it.”

“Yeah, but not right now, as otherwise we might up end with an entire ship of captains and admirals. Isn’t that how the saying goes?”

“Something like that.” Tom leaned back against the wall, his arms crossed against his chest. Seven years ago, Harry Kim had been a kid. And now, the toll of those years and their accumulated experience was etched across his still youthful features. Tom had no doubt that Harry’s experience and performance aboard Voyager would have earned him a promotion several times over back in the Alpha Quadrant. “I guess we’ve all made a sacrifice or two out here.”

“I guess so.” Harry bit his lip. “On my way to the briefing, I was thinking about my parents, how good it would be to see them again. Being back on Earth – there are a couple of places on campus I wanted to visit and some friends I wanted to see again but,” he shrugged, “it’s been seven years. I can wait a little bit longer.” He cleared his throat. “Deck three.”

“I don’t know how I feel about our change in plans,” Tom said quietly. “Going back into that nebula to destroy the transwarp hub is risky but going back to the Alpha Quadrant… there are risks there too.”

“You’re worried about what will happen to the Maquis, aren’t you?” Harry’s eyes narrowed slightly. “I’ve heard a few people talking about it.”

“Yeah.” Tom let out a breath. He had exchanged a few letters with his sisters, but when it came to real time communication, he’d given his spot in the queue to Harry; Tom’s opportunity to speak to his parents face to face was still a few months off. However, he’d heard stories from other crew members about what the last few years had been like back home and knowing that the few surviving Maquis members were in prison – it made him afraid for what the future might hold for the Maquis aboard Voyager. Plus, his own status was uncertain; he’d never made his parole hearing, after all. “Doesn’t matter. We have to get past the Borg before facing whatever is waiting for us in the Alpha Quadrant,” Tom said, trying to sound casual about it. He thought about his earlier conversation with B’Elanna back in Engineering when she said she’d gotten used to the idea of raising their daughter on Voyager; if he was being perfectly honest, he hadn’t thought of the AQ as home in quite a while.

“Maybe your father could give you an idea of what to expect when we get back,” Harry said, his voice brimming with optimism. “Then you wouldn’t have to speculate.”

Tom considered. The last thing he wanted to bring up in his first conversation with his father in more than seven years was the fact that he was a convicted felon and that his wife had been a member of a terrorist organization. But Harry did have a point. “I guess I could ask him.”

Harry’s gaze was reproachful. “You can’t ignore him forever, Tom.”

Tom muttered under his breath, then aloud, he said, “I’m not ignoring him, Harry, I just chose to give my time to a good friend who wanted to wish his mother happy birthday.”

“Look, if anyone has answers to the questions you have, your father will,” Harry said firmly and with confidence.

“You’re right,” Tom said. “And there’s a lot I want and need to say, but it’s more than can be covered in three minutes.”

“Well, three minutes is a start,” Harry said. “He probably wants to talk to you too, and eventually he’s going to want to hear about his granddaughter.”

Tom’s face softened. He held up his hands in mock surrender. “You’ve convinced me. I’ll talk to him.” He considered for a moment. “Whether we get home now or later, the Alpha Quadrant isn’t the same place we left. We can’t just walk back into the life we left back there and expect things to have stayed the way we left them. I can’t even imagine what it must have been like during the Dominion War and how that changed places, people. We have a lot to learn about what happened.”

“It’s not like we had it easy either,” Harry said pointedly. The turbolift lurched to a stop and the doors slid open. “We have plenty of stories to tell too.”

“It’s not a contest.”

Harry shrugged. “I’m just pointing out the facts. Whether we get home now or not.”

Tom clapped Harry on the back. “Well, for what it’s worth, Har, I’m proud of you.”

Harry offered him the slightest of smiles. “Let’s just hope my mother understands.”

“She will,” Tom said. He had no doubt that his father certainly would. The Admiral’s code of morals was very clear. In fact, Tom’s childhood had been filled with lectures on ‘doing the right thing versus the expedient thing’. He’d internalized those lessons and under Janeway’s tutelage, he’d found it easier to walk the straight and narrow. “See you later, Harry.” Left alone in the turbolift, Tom continued to Deck Two. On his way to the Mess Hall, he passed crew members who had become friends to him during the last seven years. He was nearly at the door when his comm badge beeped.

“Sickbay to Lieutenant Paris.”

Tom paused. “What is it?”

“I believe Lieutenant Torres is in labor,” the EMH said excitedly.

With that, Tom turned on his heel and rushed back in the opposite direction. The turbolift to Deck Five seemed to take forever. As soon as the doors opened, he ran down the corridors, trying not to collide with anyone unfortunate enough to be in his path. As he entered Sickbay, he heard his lovely wife threaten to rip the Doctor’s holographic head off.

“I hope you don’t intend to kiss your baby with that mouth,” the EMH said pointedly. He tipped his head in Tom’s direction.

“Tell me this isn’t another false alarm,” Tom said breathlessly.

“This isn’t another false alarm,” the Doctor said obligingly.

Standing by the biobed, he stared down at B’Elanna, who had changed into the traditional blue hospital gown. She groaned.

“I can’t believe it,” Tom said, equal parts excited and nervous that the momentous occasion had finally arrived. The baby’s impending arrival drove all other thoughts out of his head. He squeezed B’Elanna’s hand.

“Oh, believe it!” B’Elanna’s grip on his hand tightened as a spasm of pain contorted her face.

Something suddenly occurred to Tom. “I might actually win!” he said.

B’Elanna’s eyes widened. “What?”

“The baby pool. I picked today, fifteen hundred hours.”

“I'm so glad I could accommodate you,” B’Elanna practically spat the words out.

“Don't celebrate yet,” the Doctor said as he reached for a hypospray. “Klingon labor sometimes lasts several days.” B’Elanna let out a blood-curdling cry that would have perfectly fit on the battlefield. The Doctor hastened to add, “Of course, I'm sure that won't be the case here.”

In an exquisite example of unfortunate timing, at that moment, Janeway’s voice crackled over the comm. “Bridge to Lieutenant Paris. We're ready to get underway.”

Tom looked stricken as he stared down at B’Elanna. “Captain, I'm afraid—”

“Go,” B’Elanna said before he could finish his sentence.

“But—”

B’Elanna’s expression was serious. “No buts, flyboy. If this mission is going to succeed, we need our best pilot at the helm.” She was right, he knew, but it was still hard to pull himself away from her side. Especially when he had promised he would be there. Regardless of any other concerns he might have about what the next hours held for him, he knew that his entire world – his home – was this woman and their soon to be born baby. “Don't worry,” she said. “The Doctor will be here with me.”

Still he hesitated. He knew staying with B’Elanna to be there when their daughter was born was the selfish decision. He knew none of the other pilots – Baytart, Jenkins or Fernandez – was up to the task of the precise task of navigating Voyager into Borg space. B’Elanna was right; they had a better chance of survival if he was at the helm. But still, it felt like an impossible choice, not unlike the one Harry had made in the briefing room only an hour or so before.

“Is there a problem, Mister Paris?” Janeway asked, a hint of impatience edging her tone. Tom cast another desperate look in B’Elanna’s direction and then he made his decision.

“On my way, Captain,” he said. He leaned down and cupped B’Elanna’s face in his hand, kissing her deeply on the lips. The expression in her eyes told him she understood and for that, he was grateful. He caressed her belly lightly, and then before he could change his mind, he headed for the Bridge for what he hoped would be Voyager’s final victory over the Borg.