Once Neelix found out about Tom's departure, there was no keeping it quiet. In fact, Harry Kim was about the last person to hear about it. He heard a couple crewmen gossiping in the hall as he walked to his quarters after a double shift.
"Tom- leaving- couldn't handle it here."
Harry's head snapped up, and his stomach dropped. He was tired and thought he’d heard wrong, but no. Three other people brought up Tom's name in the hall. It seemed clear that Tom was abandoning Voyager.
Harry’s mind whirred. Why hadn’t he told Tom how he felt when he had the chance?
Well, that was simple. He was afraid. Afraid of rejection. Afraid Tom wouldn’t feel the same way. Afraid it would ruin the friendship they'd built. But now Tom was leaving and it didn’t matter.
Harry sat heavily on his bed, burying his head in his hands. His mind jumped from one speculation to another.
He hadn’t tried hard enough to help Tom fit in. Someone else put Tom up to it for reasons unknown. If Harry had told Tom how he felt, Tom would have stayed.
A message from the captain interrupted his thoughts.
“Yes.” His voice sounded thick, and he tried to clear his throat. “Yes, Captain.”
“I’ve had a request from Mr. Paris. He wants you at the console when he transports. Since you are his closest friend, I told him it was alright. Is your schedule free that day?”
“Uh-let me check, Captain.” He walked over to his computer and pulled up his duty roster. His heart gave a painful tug as he noticed each day he and Tom were assigned the bridge together. There were a lot in the next couple weeks.
“I am, Captain. I’ll be there.” His voice wavered dangerously.
“Thank you, Ensign. That’s all for now.” The message chimed and she was gone.
Harry collapsed on his bed again. Now he was the one sending Tom away. His chest constricted painfully as a small sob escaped. He couldn’t do this. Tom was his friend, and Harry had fallen for him hard. Sending him away was torture. But if it was what Tom wanted, Harry would do it.
Eventually , his double shift caught up to him, and he fell asleep thinking of ways to make Tom stay. Most of them included finally getting up the courage to tell Tom just how much he liked him.
Could he do this to Harry?
That was the only doubt running through Tom’s mind as Janeway explained his mission. Could he leave his best friend thinking he was insubordinate and couldn’t be bothered to care?
The answer was a resounding no, but Tom didn't have much of a choice. The traitor wouldn't stay in the shadows forever. He had a duty to protect the crew, especially Harry. The plan went forward the next day and Tom hated every second.
A handshake. That was what Tom offered him. If this was the last time Harry would ever see him, that wasn’t going to do.
Harry pulled him in for a hug, and Tom regretted everything he’d done over the past few months. It made this that much harder. Those eyes staring at him, asking a million questions. Tom nearly admitted everything, but he backed off. A lot of lives depended on him. He couldn't think about Harry Kim right now.
It was over far too quickly. Tom pulled away and gave Harry his comm badge. Harry wanted to hand it back as soon as he touched it. Tom needed it. What if he got in trouble? What if he changed his mind? What if he wanted to contact Harry?
Biting back everything he wanted to say, he walked to the controls. Tom stepped on the transport and was gone without another word.
It wasn’t until Harry got to his quarters that he realized Tom’s badge was still in his hand. It was warm, and he’d gripped it so hard it had left an imprint. Harry stared at it. His eyes stung, but he blinked back the tears. Taking a few shallow breaths, he walked the badge to the communications center to turn it in for reprogramming . Then he wandered around the ship . His feet led him to the mess hall after a while, where he picked at dinner before reporting to a late engineering shift.
The next day Harry followed B'elanna to a meeting about the core temperature. He was only half paying attention until Chakotay brought up Tom.
“-decided who’s going to replace Paris?"
“I have several people in mind. Baytart is one. Hamilton.” Janeway grimaced after each name as if they left a bad taste in her mouth.
Harry saw an opening and spoke up. “Captain, do you think… I mean it’s possible Tom might change his mind, to come back. Maybe you shouldn’t replace him so quickly .”
But the Captain wasn’t hearing it. “Harry, Lieutenant Paris made his decision with no indication he had any doubts about it or that he might change his mind in the near future . We have to accept that and move on.”
Harry knew better than to push when the captain used that tone. He let it drop, but it was hard.
Harder still, was learning from the Talaxian that Tom had been captured. Harry's knees buckled, but he braced himself against the console and was able to make it through his shift.
Tom was resourceful. He would get himself out or take the Kazon down with him. At least, that's what Harry told himself on repeat for the next few hours.
Hardest of all though, was hearing Neelix accuse Tom of working for the Kazon.
Tom wouldn’t. Never. No. He wasn’t a liar. He wasn’t Seska. Tom had done his share of time on the wrong side, but not now. Voyager made a better man out of him. Something was wrong, and Harry needed to find out what. He set off to find answers.
News travels fast around Voyager. In less than thirty minutes of Neelix being informed of Tom’s mission, everyone else was, too.
Harry was on level 4, investigating, when he heard two other engineers talking about it.
“I can’t believe it was all an act. You know, I was there when Chakotay pushed him. I thought they were going to kill each other,” one laughed.
“I just wish I could have seen Chakotay’s face when Janeway told him. That would have been priceless,” the other joked.
Tom. They were talking about Tom! He wasn’t a traitor or a spy. It had all been an act… for the Captain. Everything made sense now. Harry raced to his station on the bridge. They needed to get Tom home.
The Kazon were persistent. Tom could give them that. As another shot hit his shuttle, he tried not to think about what it would be like to explode. More specifically , what it would be like to explode before he had a chance to explain himself to Harry. Tom’s one consolation was that Janeway would tell the crew what happened if he didn’t make it. Harry might even forgive him for lying, one day.
Harry’s heart beat a mile a minute. The shuttle took a beating, but Tom made it out. He was alive and safe, and Harry wasn’t going to wait another second. Racing to Transport Room 2, he ran almost straight into the Henderson at the console.
“Captain- said- I should - do this transport.- Could be tricky- you- report to bridge,” he panted.
Henderson looked at him like he’d lost his head, but listened. Harry put in the coordinates. A figure appeared, and a wave of relief washed over him as he ran to Tom.
“Harry,” Tom breathed.
Harry threw his arms around him and felt Tom wince. “Are you okay?” He couldn’t keep the hint of panic out of his voice.
“I’m fine, Har,” Tom said looking at him. “ Just a bruise from the Kazon. They never let a guest leave without a gift.”
Realizing he was still holding onto Tom, Harry shifted away and blushed. “Sorry. I -”
Tom pulled him back in by the waist and grinned. “It’s okay. Actually, I could get used to you doing that.”
“Really ?” Harry looked into Tom’s eyes.
“Really,” he said, as he leaned in and planted a kiss on Harry’s lips. He wasn't going to waste anymore time, either.
Harry gasped and pulled Tom closer. Unfortunately, bruises don’t disappear, and Tom winced again.
“It’s fine,” Tom tried to say, but he had paled and began to sway.
“I’m getting you to Sick Bay. Then I have to get back to the bridge. I told Henderson to take my place, but I doubt the Captain wants him at the helm right now. He’s not great under pressure. Come to my cabin once the Doc has you patched up, okay.”
“Mmm,” Tom mumbled.
Sick Bay was fairly empty, but the Doctor wouldn’t let Harry stay. He gave Tom a peck on the cheek, blushed, and made his way back to the Captain.
There was a buzz at Harry’s door. “Come in.”
“Hey, Har.” Tom hesitated in the doorway, but he looked better than he had in a long time.
“Hey.” Harry motioned for him to come in, and Tom smiled.
They sat down on the bed, “You watched Neelix’s interview?”
“You’re not mad?” Tom shifted his gaze down to his lap.
“No! Tom, the Captain made an announcement before we got you. Everyone knows what you did for us.
“Oh. Good.” Tom’s voice was far away.
“What is it?”
“I thought- On that shuttle, I thought you might not know. I thought it might go back to how it was on Earth. That people might not trust me again,” Tom sighed.
Harry took both his hands and looked into his eyes. He got lost in those beautifully clear eyes, bright even when Tom was worried. “I would never let that happen, Tom. I’d have fought for you. You know that.”
“I know, Har.” Tom leaned his head onto Harry’s shoulder.
They sat and Tom explained every detail of his mission to Harry. He wanted to get it off his chest.
Harry listened and nodded. When Tom finished, Harry caught him up on how Voyager had fared without him.
“Ha, you guys couldn’t last a week without me.” Tom chuckled, and Harry felt the last bit of tension leave his shoulders.
Then, looking at the time, Harry offered, “Do you want to get some dinner?”
Tom took a breath. “Sure. Wait does this mean you're asking me on a date?"
Harry laughed and helped Tom to his feet. "I guess so."
Blush spread across both their cheeks as they walked down the hallway hand in hand.
Everything felt right again, and the miles between Voyager and home didn’t seem so lonely.