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Take The Long Way Home

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So you think you're a Romeo
playing a part in a picture-show
Take the long way home
Take the long way home

Cos you're the joke of the neighborhood
Why should you care if you're feeling good
Take the long way home
Take the long way home

Supertramp, from the album, Breakfast in America, 1979
Songwriters: Richard Davies / Roger Hodgson
Take the Long Way Home lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

######

 

Tom attached the lid to the container and keyed the panel to lock, then walked it to the door and placed it beside the others. For someone who had only been aboard Voyager for a week before he died, Doctor Fitzgerald had a lot of stuff. Tom had moved the potted plants to the mess hall, and he’d left a stack of PADDs on the desk to deal with later. He’d placed the doctor’s pips in a velvet-lined box and packed it carefully away atop a handknit wool sweater. He'd almost recycled the uniforms: boots, shirts and regulation underwear included, but stopped himself. Until the ship was back to full power and the replicators were working, it was probable someone could use them, likely one of the Maquis crew. He would have to ask Chakotay, not that he wanted to ask him anything.

He’d tried not to think as he was sorting through the man’s belongings, tried not to look at the photos of his partner and their children. Blanked his mind as he’d thumbed on the ‘fleet issue PADDs and sorted the medical texts and reports from the personal letters and a copy of For Whom The Bell Tolls. It had, apparently, tolled for Fitzgerald.

It felt strange, Tom reflected, sifting through the detritus of a life: comb, hairbrush, razor, sonic toothbrush. He’d discovered a seashell on the bedside table: clam? mollusk? oyster? He carefully wrapped a model of a human head with a detachable skullcap, the brain divided and color coded, and placed it in a container. He’d found a ukulele, of all things. The doctor hadn’t struck him as being particularly fun-loving, but ukuleles don’t lie.

Strange to be sorting the last effects of a man who had hated him without first bothering with the time consuming process of getting to know him. It was almost the best revenge. Almost. But since Tom’s life hadn’t been particularly ‘well-lived’ he halted that petty line of thought in its tracks.

He held a crude statue of a fish and contemplated it. It was made of clay, with deep finger pokes for eyes, and scales made from buttons and bits of coloured glass shoved into the clay before it had hardened. He stood it in the corner of another crate, added a plaid bathrobe and a sports cap (the San Francisco Giants), and a pair of non-regulation ankle boots. And that was all. Six small crates of belongings that defined a life, but couldn’t come close to describing it.

He’d left the door to the corridor open, though it wasn’t strictly necessary, but he didn’t want to be accused of stealing from a dead man. As luck would have it, across the hall Ensign Jenkins, his new subordinate, was packing up Lieutenant Stadi’s belongings. He crossed the corridor and stood in the doorway—Jenkins had left the door open, too—and looked around. It was on the tip of his tongue to call out, anyone home? but he knocked instead. He didn’t see her, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t there. “Ensign?”

Nothing. He moved further into the room, passing two open containers on an anti-grav truck, neither full. A small box, a mate to the one he’d just packed, sat on the dining table near the door. A glance confirmed that Jenkins wasn’t in the sleeping area and, as he walked past the bed, he noted the open dresser drawers were empty. Stadi’s uniforms were piled on the stripped bed along with a stack of neatly folded blankets.

He heard a sound from the bath area, and paused. “Hello?”

“Umm. Sir! It’s okay.” Jenkins’ voice was high and a little unsteady.

Tom walked cautiously into the room, not quite knowing what to expect. Jenkins was seated on the bench beside the shower holding a light-brown furry object. She shot up when she saw him, pulling her body straight and sucking in a lungful of air. Her face was pink and blotchy, and her eyes were wet. Damn. She scrubbed at a cheek with the back of her hand.

Tom glanced at the item she held. She bounced it off her belly a few times before holding it out to him. “It’s a stuffed dog. It’s from her sister. Do they even have dogs on Betazed?” The toy had fluffy, reddish-brown fur and floppy ears.

Tom shook his head. “I don’t know.” He was on alert, careful, and he modulated his voice to be calming. Please don’t let her start crying, he thought. “I didn’t know you two were friends.”

She shook her head and sniffed loudly. “We’re not. Weren’t. I don’t really know anyone besides Harry. Ensign Kim. And Ensign Ballard.”

Tom nodded. He hadn’t met Ballard, but assumed the three had been in the same graduating class. “Voyager is your first posting,” he stated. Damn. If it really was going to take seventy-five years to get home, it was likely her last.

Jenkins nodded and pointed to a regular ‘fleet issue PADD lying on the counter beside the sink. “I shouldn’t have read it, I know that. But I needed to see if it was personal, you know, or something that was ship’s business. But it was a letter from her sister, congratulating her on being posted to Voyager and wishing her a happy birthday. Once I started reading I couldn’t stop. She must have sent it with the dog. And since it didn’t come from Voyager, I wasn’t sure if I should pack it with her…” she hesitated, “things, or not.”

Tom picked up the PADD and flipped it over. It had a seal on the back that read USS Copernicus. He wanted to put it in the crate, it and everything else that was personal to Stadi, but they might need that working PADD. “It’s okay,” he said, “I’ll take care of it.”

Her relief was obvious. “Thank you, sir.”

She scrubbed at her cheek again, then picked up a small bag from the counter, probably full of grooming items, Tom assumed. He thought for a moment of Stadi’s red lipstick, the clip she’d used to tie back her long hair.

“I don’t know what to do with her uniforms,” Jenkins said.

She was standing in the middle of the bathroom, awaiting orders. Guidance. Despite being the ranking officer in the room, and her direct superior at the helm, Tom didn’t feel qualified to tell her what to do. “I’ll find out,” he said. “This,” he swept his hand in a gesture that encompassed the bathroom and the room beyond, “wouldn’t be easy for anyone. ...Tricia?”

She nodded again and shot him a little smile.

“But I think you’re doing really well, considering the… the shock we’ve all had.”

“Thank you, sir.” She looked grateful, and Tom was glad that the words he’d just pulled out of his ass had been good enough.

He nodded toward the doorway and followed her out into the living area. She tucked the toy away, and he helped her close and seal the containers, then turned and glanced around the soon-to-be empty quarters. “Is this it?”

She nodded. “Yes, sir.”

“Then let’s load up the other containers and take them to cargo bay two, then you can go get changed. It’s dress uniforms for the service.”

Her chin wobbled, then firmed as she got herself under control and she nodded again: short, sharp and decisive. As Tom pushed the truck into the corridor and keyed the doorpad to lock, it occurred to him that he didn’t have a dress uniform himself. He wondered if Commander Cavit’s would fit him.

##

“There’s a poem that I’m sure many of you know called For the Fallen. It was written over four hundred and fifty years ago, and one of its verses is commonly read at times of remembrance. I thought a less familiar passage was appropriate for today.”

Kathryn Janeway stood before the assembled officers and crew in front of the bank of viewports in the ship’s lounge. Stars twinkled behind her. She was flanked by her command crew: Chakotay, Tuvok, Harry, Tom. The gaps were noticeable to everyone in the room. Tom watched her raise her chin, survey the room. She began to speak.

To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.

Tom closed his eyes and breathed. The service was for all the fallen, Starfleet and Maquis alike, even though there had been no Maquis dead aboard to memorialize. Their bodies had all been consumed in the explosion when Chakotay had rammed the Kazon warship with his fighter. Harry had told him earlier, in a hushed, scandalized whisper, that they were breaking with the tradition of ejecting the flag-draped coffins of the dead into space—they didn’t have enough torpedo casings, nor enough power to replicate them. Instead, the bodies would be transported off the ship using wide-beam dispersal, their atoms scattered. They would become stardust.

It was poetic, in its way, and Janeway’s choice of verse was appropriate. Of course, the more traditional passage would have worked just as well: They shall not grow old, as we who are left grow old, nor age weary them. He was pretty damn weary himself after today, and he wondered how old he would be before they made it back to the Alpha Quadrant. If they made it back.

The names had been read, the minute of silence observed, and Tom glanced from his captain to the gathered crew. The Maquis stood clustered together, near the rear door. Some had managed to scrounge dress uniforms, but none looked like they fit in. B’Elanna Torres stood between Seska and Miguel Ayala, another former ‘fleeter. She looked up just as he was staring at her, and their eyes held for a moment before she looked away. When he saw her on the stairs leading up the abandoned tunnel on the Ocampan homeworld, he hadn’t quite believed it was the same woman he’d known from his brief stint in the Maquis. She’d been slight, obviously exhausted, her skin too pale and waxy; she barely resembled the snappish, impatient firebrand he remembered from a year ago. But after they’d beamed to sickbay, once the holodoc had fixed her up and she’d changed back into her own clothes, she’d been every bit the B’Elanna Torres he’d remembered, from the fire in her eyes as she’d challenged the Captain’s authority on the bridge to those incredibly sexy boots. They, along with her dark eyes and full mouth, had haunted his dreams for months while he was in Auckland.

He hadn’t seen much of her in the few days since the two crews had merged, he’d been too busy catching up on ship’s specs and Voyager’s personnel, not to mention the people directly under him as the new head of conn, young Tricia Jenkins among them. Culhane, Baytart… damn, what was the name of the woman with the dark hair? Bennet! No, he was a guy.

He snapped out of his reverie as the captain called for the bosun’s whistle and the sound was piped through the ship. Janeway turned and faced the viewport, then ordered, “Energize.”

Tom would swear he saw a ripple, a glimmer, in the black beyond the windows as the atoms of the fallen mingled with the cold emptiness beyond the safe confines of the ship, and took their place among the stars. It was fanciful. No one could see individual atoms.

“Dismissed,” Janeway said.

Tom glanced back at the cluster of Maquis crew, some now turning and talking to each other in muted voices. He was certain that they would have their own, private memorial for their lost friends, something distinctly non-regulation. Something deliberately non-regulation, he’d bet. Harry touched his arm.

“Are you going to the mess hall?” he asked.

He didn’t want to. He’d known only one of the dead, a Bajoran Maquis named Riho. Tom had barely been introduced to him before he’d gone on the mission that had ended with his capture by the ‘fleet border patrol ship. It wasn’t like they’d been friends. Neelix, having read up on human funeral customs, had apparently prepared a buffet which had been laid out in the mess. Tom wasn’t hungry, and had no desire to mingle with the grieving, or the shell-shocked, or the curious, nibbling on ration bars and rehydrated coffee.

Harry looked resolute; he didn’t want to go either, Tom was sure. But this was part of duty, another burden that he’d assumed when he’d accepted his pips from Janeway, so he nodded and followed the younger man toward the exit.

As he passed the group of Maquis he heard his name and turned his head. Several were watching him. Seska was standing close to Torres, her head inclined toward B’Elanna’s, whispering into her ear. Torres was staring at him, and their eyes locked again, briefly, before he followed Harry through the door and into the corridor.

###

A loud, tonal chirp sounded, jerking him out of sleep, and he gasped. It took him a moment to identify the noise and to place himself. He was in his bedroom, not his cell in the penal colony in Auckland, not his narrow cot, but a much wider, more comfortable bed in his quarters on Voyager. The door chime sounded again, happy and almost hopeful as it signalled for his attention.

“Computer, what time is it?”

::The time is oh one hundred twenty seven hours::

Tom’s forehead scrunched in a frown as he expelled a long, slow breath. Who would be at the door this time of night? Harry? Did Harry even know which quarters were his? The chime sounded again, three times in quick succession.

“Okay, okay, I’m up. Computer, lights at twenty percent illumination.”

Tom threw off the blankets and climbed out of bed. He was wearing sleep pants, and grabbed an undershirt from a chair and pulled it on as he walked. He leaned against the doorframe and hit the panel, and the doors swished open.

It wasn’t Harry.

Torres stood in the corridor with one arm up, elbow braced against the wall, her head resting on her open palm. Her other arm was raised, hand curled into a fist that was in the act of knocking on his door. It sailed through the air in a downward arc and bumped Tom on the chest. He hastily stepped back, but her body tilted, and she followed him, staggering a step forward before regaining her balance. Her fingers spread on his chest, and she grinned.

“Oops. Sorry.”

He touched her forearm as she straightened. Her skin was warm and soft, and he realized that she was back in her civilian clothing: her Maquis ‘uniform’ of leather vest and tall boots. She was smiling a little, her eyes glowing in the bright light from the corridor.

He looked her up and down. “Torres? Do you know what time it is?” His tone held more of a whine than he’d intended but he was tired and it was the middle of the night.

“Time? It’s the perfect time, Paris.” Her voice was a lazy drawl. “It’s about time, don’t you think?” Her eyebrow rose.

She took a step forward and bumped him with her chest. He stepped back and to the side, and she walked the rest of the way into his quarters then turned to face him, a little smile playing on her mouth. The doors swished shut. “Past time, maybe.”

Had she been drinking? He was certain that the Maquis crew had spent the evening toasting fallen friends and telling old stories, likely in stark contrast to the sombre and depressingly uncomfortable affair the ‘fleeters had endured in the mess hall. He and Harry had stayed for forty agonizing minutes before slipping away, and Tom had gone back to his quarters to review crew files.

He stared at her and frowned even as she smiled wider. She was observing him, her head tilted slightly, right hand on her hip, the left straight down by her side as if she’d forgotten it was there. “Are you drunk?” he asked. Where had they gotten booze? Though he’d never known a captain who didn’t have a bottle tucked into a drawer in their desk, raiding Janeway’s ready room seemed too risky even for a Maquis.

She grinned, her eyes glittering, and paced toward him—prowled toward him—and he felt an immediate tug in his groin, a flush of warmth on his skin. Shit. He wasn’t wearing anything under his pyjamas, and he willed his little soldier to stand down before it made its presence known through the thin cloth. She stopped ten centimetres from him and tilted her head back to look him in the eye. He felt her heat, picked up the scent of alcohol on her breath when she laughed.

“It’s synthahol. I could be sober if I choose to be.”

It was true. In the right frame of mind, synthahol could give you the same buzz as a couple of shots of whisky, or a couple of glasses of wine. The difference was that you could ‘think’ yourself sober if you needed to. A good shot of adrenaline from a red alert klaxon worked, too.

“And you choose drunk?” He couldn’t blame her, really. Even envied her a little.

“I choose you, Paris.”

She surged against him, pressing her breasts against his chest, winding her arms around his neck. Tom sucked a breath in surprise and stepped backward. He came up against the wall. “Ah,” he stammered, “um, you probably really don’t.” His hands found her hips to push her away, but settled there as she moved her body against his in a sinuous, sensuous little stretch. “Torres…”

“You aren’t one of us,” she said, grazing her mouth along the point of his jaw, “and you’re not one of them.” She nipped his chin.

Well, when she put it that way…

She discovered her left hand again and trailed it down his chest to his groin; Tom gasped as she stroked him through his loose trousers. Her warm breath was on his throat, her lips nibbling the tender flesh under his ear, and Tom’s fingers convulsed on her hips as desire shot through him. He shook his head. “You don’t really want me,” he tried to pull away.

“Yes I do,” she mumbled into his shoulder. “I want this.”

She squeezed him gently—he didn’t know Torres could be gentle—and his cock surged in her hand. She scraped her teeth over the curve of his shoulder, making him shudder. His hands slipped up to her waist and he pulled her center hard against his. “This is a bad idea,” he said.

She looked at him then. Her eyes were almost black, soft and hooded, and she arched an eyebrow. Her mouth stretched into a little smile. “This is the best idea I’ve had all night.” She pulled away slightly, tilted her head again. “But, if you’re sure…” she shrugged, “there’s a junior engineer, Nowza, I think, he might like some company.”

Oh, no. No. Whoever he was, he could find his own gorgeous woman to keep him warm tonight. Tom gripped her waist, and she laughed, low and throaty. He dipped his head and kissed her, lightly at first, exploring her mouth, gauging her resistance. Her lips moved beneath his, relaxing and shifting from a grin to a slight pout, softening and opening to him. He pulled her closer, one hand sliding around her back, the other in her hair, anchoring her head while he deepened the kiss and slid the tip of his tongue along her lower lip. She tasted of the synthahol, something smokey and earthy. She’d been drinking whisky.

It had been so long, too long. Longer than the nine months he’d spent in Auckland, since even before he’d joined her Maquis cell. His brain leapt forward to the sex, to her, naked and willing, stretched out on his bed beneath him (or on top of him, or beside him). But as much as he’d missed the during, he’d missed the before too: kissing, touching, just looking at and appreciating. She didn’t seem to be in any hurry, and he was grateful.

He drew his head back and stared at her, his breathing ragged. Her eyes flicked to his, then she looked down, focusing on his chest. She stepped back a pace, and he loosened his grip on her just in time as she grabbed at the hem of his shirt and pulled it up his chest. He raised his arms and helped her pull it over his head. She dropped it to the floor. Her vest was next, quickly followed by her shirt. She wasn’t wearing a bra, and Tom watched, mesmerized, as her breasts bounced.

She stepped close to him again and rubbed herself against him, dragging her already hardened nipples along his chest hair, burying her nose in the hollow between his throat and his shoulder. She hummed.

Tom’s knees almost buckled. He cupped the back of her head, bumped her forehead with his nose, kissed her eye, her cheek, her mouth, finally. Her hands dropped to the waistband of his sleep pants and pushed. He kicked them loose, shoved them out of his way with his foot. It occurred to him that he was completely naked while she was still half dressed, and it flitted through his mind that she could be setting him up, that Chakotay or Ayala or some of the other Maquis may storm through his door at any moment and beat the living shit out of him.

His hand tightened in her hair and he tugged, tilting her head back so he could look in her eyes. He didn’t see deception there, just desire. She smiled again as she raked his chest with her fingernails, scraped his belly, laughed low and husky when his gut clenched. Her hand continued its downward trajectory, altering course to skim his hip, brush his thigh. She cupped his balls and he jerked. She was looking down, watching her hand’s journey, her forehead on his chest, and he threw his head back against the bulkhead when she wrapped her small, warm fingers around his erection.

She bent, her body sliding along his as she lowered herself to her knees, and Tom’s head snapped up, his eyes opened, and he looked down at her just in time to watch her part her lips and suck the tip of his cock into her mouth. She swirled it with her tongue, slid more between her lips, and his hips bucked involuntarily as the heat of her mouth swamped his senses.

His fingers clenched in her hair, his other hand dropped to her shoulder and he squeezed. He tried to concentrate on what his fingers were feeling: soft warm skin, silky hair. If he thought about what her mouth was doing to him, it would be all over.

She held his erection and began to lick it in one long stroke from base to tip. She did it again. And again. Pleasure zinged to the small of his back; heat gathered in his balls as they tightened. He squeezed his eyes shut, clenched his jaw. Then she swirled her tongue around the tip again, engulfed him with the heat of her mouth. Sucked.

He gasped and pulled out of her mouth, held her away while he panted. Thirty seconds and he was almost done. He didn’t want it to be over yet. He hauled her to her feet and kissed her again, wanting to be inside her, now! She evidently agreed because her hands were fiddling with her belt buckle, unfastening her pants.

He caught a glimpse of her smooth, toned belly, and reached for her, but she grabbed his arm and dragged him with her toward the couch. Tom looked toward his bedroom and that large, comfortable bed, and wanted to protest, but she shoved him and he found himself suddenly sitting on the couch. She climbed onto his lap, her small, warm hands landing on his shoulders, and pushed him back against the cushions.

Tom slid his fingers inside the waistband of her pants, and traced the curve of her waist. She arched her back, and he moved upwards over her ribs. His hands found her breasts, stroked them, squeezed. He brushed his thumbs over her nipples. He sucked one into his mouth, and she moaned. She ground against his thighs, pressed her belly onto his cock. It wasn’t good enough. He kissed his way up her chest and throat to her mouth, delving inside with his tongue, tasting her. He shivered, and pulled away, panting. Her eyes were closed.

“Stand up,” he said. She did, eagerly. He reversed their positions, standing and pushing her toward the cushions, then he dropped to his knees, folding his long legs under him. He slid his hands over her right leg, caressing her booted ankle and calf, working up to her knee, then bent over and kissed it through her pants. With one hand on her heel and one on her calf, he pulled her boot off and tossed it behind him. He did the same with her other boot, only regretting their loss for a moment, then pulled her suede pants down her legs.

He slid his palms over her thighs toward her hips, gripped her there and looked at her face. She was staring at him intently, then gave a tiny nod and shifted her hips forward. He skimmed her panties down her legs and smiled: they were Starfleet issue. They landed on the floor and Tom forgot about them.

He slid his hands back up her legs, appreciating her soft, smooth skin and the fine muscles of her calves and thighs. When he reached her hips he wrapped his fingers around them and stared at her. She was sitting with her legs demurely together, still, waiting. He ran his hands back down her thighs and hooked his fingers under her knees and pulled her toward him, sliding her ass along the couch. Her eyes flared when she realized what he was about to do. He was keenly aware that this might never happen again, thought it probably shouldn’t be happening at all considering how much the Maquis hated him. And he was determined to enjoy every moment of it, every bit of her, while he could.

He was still holding her legs, caressing her calf muscles with his long fingers, and he leaned forward and kissed first one knee and then the other. He looked at her again: her mouth was open, and she stared at him, frozen, anticipating his next move. He watched her as he pushed her knees apart, and his eyes locked with hers when he bent and slowly kissed his way up her thigh. Her breathing was becoming ragged, her face flushed, and he hadn’t really touched her yet…

He slid his hands under her bottom, lifting her and pulling her closer. She was gorgeous: dark hair mussed, its strands catching on the back of his couch glinting in the dim light in his cabin. Her fascinating cranial ridges cast soft shadows on her forehead. Her eyes were hooded, dark with arousal, and her mouth soft and full. He squeezed her ass cheeks, freed his hands and gilded them over the roundness of her hips to her thighs then back up over her mound, her belly, up her ribs to cup her firm breasts and pinch her pebbled nipples. Her body rose, undulating before him, and her legs came around his own ribs, her feet planting themselves at the small of his back as she pulled him closer.

“Paris…” she warned.

He leaned forward and touched his lips to her belly, and felt it clench. He placed warm, wet kisses along its curve, dipped his tongue into her navel, moved across to the point of her hip and scraped his teeth over her skin. Her legs shook.

“More,” she breathed, “please.”

She didn’t have to say please. He dipped his fingers into the dark curls on her mound, ran them downwards, tracing her lips, moving toward the soft flesh of her bottom. She bucked, and he slid one finger inside her. She was wet, hot, soft like liquid silk. She moaned and he watched her eyes close. He leaned down and kissed her, ran his tongue along the length of her, heard her gasp of surprise when he sucked her nub over his teeth. Her fingers landed in his hair and pulled, and she bucked against his mouth. He added another finger to the first, slowly pistoning them in and out of her hot center, feeling her muscles clench and release, feeling her thighs shake against his cheeks. He suckled her, brushing her nub with his tongue, his teeth scraping her delicate flesh. She grunted and her legs tightened around him. She gasped, and her body bowed as she came in a rush, bucking against his mouth, her inner muscles clamping onto his fingers.

She sagged back onto the cushions, panting. He grinned and straightened, stretching out his back. She raised her feet, sliding them up his ribs and drew him closer. “Now,” she demanded. “Now.”

He wasn’t about to argue. He raised up on his knees, about to stand, but she scooted to the edge of the couch, took him in her hand and guided him toward her opening. The couch wasn’t long enough for them to lie down, but this would work, and he didn’t want to wait. He put one arm around her back, trailing his fingertips along her spine, and held her thigh in a firm grip. He slid into her, pausing to catch his breath as her muscles clamped around him. She was hot. Slick. So incredibly tight he almost came right then. Her arms closed around his shoulders, pulling him closer, and he pushed all the way in.

She felt so good. He couldn’t remember ever feeling so good before. Ever feeling so much before.

He panted into her shoulder, his breath puffing against her skin. He kissed her wetly, moving his open mouth along the muscle, niping and kissing his way to her neck. She pushed her fingers into his hair and tugged his head up, claiming his mouth in a long, hard kiss.

He moved then, bucking into her heat, withdrawing just enough to change his angle and thrust fully back. She matched him, arching her hips, tightening her legs around his waist, her belly snug against his, her breasts brushing his chest every time he slammed back into her.

“Yes,” she breathed into his ear. “Oh, yes.”

Little sparks of pleasure zinged through his belly toward his spine and made his groin tighten, his thighs shook with strain. His knees were ground into the carpet supporting his own weight and most of hers as she slipped further off the couch. He held her tightly, his fingers slipping on her damp skin. He registered the sharp bite of her fingernails on his back, the harsh, hot, puff of her breath on his throat.

He was trying to hold on, but she was all heat and breath, and she was wrapped around him, squeezing him, anchoring him even as he started to fly apart.

He gasped, screwed his eyes closed, felt her body tighten, clench, heard her breath catch. He came hard, shuddering, spasming against her, his skin melding with hers.

She had sagged against him, her nose hooked on his shoulder, panting breath fanning onto his chest. He kissed her hair, pulled it from her face, and eased away from her. Her fingers clenched on his arm, then she pushed against him and flopped backward against the couch cushions.

He climbed to his feet, his knees still stinging from their contact with the carpet, and glanced at her. She had flung one arm over her head, her hand fisted. The other was resting on her belly, fingers splayed, pointing toward the dark thatch of curls between her legs. Her eyes were closed, and she had a little smile on her lips. Tom smiled, too. He looked around the living area and spied what he was after, grabbing one from beside his potted plant, and taking two steps to grab the other from where it rested on the floor near his dining table. He walked back to the couch to see her watching him through slitted eyes. She was sober now, the buzz from the synthahol fleeing with the last ripples of her orgasm. He watched her a moment, and smiled. He transferred her second boot to his left hand, then held out his right to her, flicked a glance toward his bedroom, glanced back.

She was grinning as she slipped her hand into his.

 

###

He’d overslept, of course. He hadn’t even heard his alarm. When his brain had finally blinked awake and he’d swum to consciousness, he’d thought it had been a particularly vivid sex dream. It made sense: sex and death, the primal urge to procreate in the face of your own mortality. He’d helped B’Elanna through the tunnel on Ocampa, pulled her up from the hole in the ground and supported her while she got to her feet and stumbled in the glare of the bright sunlight. He could still feel the imprint of her slim body against his. No wonder he’d fantasized about her.

Then he’d seen a long dark hair on the pillow, smelled her scent on his sheets, and knew it hadn’t been a figment of his imagination.

He lay there and smiled, counting up his assorted pains—an ache in his biceps, stiffness in his pectorals. The skin on his knees burned from scraping the living room carpet. He let the images of the previous night’s activities play out in his head until it occurred to him to ask the computer the time. He shot out of bed, showered and shaved in record time, and had barely made it to the bridge before Chakotay took his chair. His shift had been routine, no spatial anomalies or unfriendly aliens, but he’d been on edge all morning, imagining Chakotay’s eyes drilling a hole in his back, feeling the heat between his shoulder blades.

At lunchtime, Rollins relieved him at the conn, and Tom glanced at Harry, raising an eyebrow in a silent question. Harry shook his head and concentrated on his sensor display; Tom was on his own for lunch.

He stepped out of the lift and turned left, almost certain that he was headed for the officer’s mess. Of course, he could have picked up a ration pack and gone to his quarters—they were still on rations until the captain lifted her embargo on replicator usage—but he was hoping to run into B’Elanna, maybe see if she was interested in round two tonight, after shift.

And there she was, stopped dead in the corridor, absorbed in a PADD. His eyes roamed over her features, remembering the feel of her forehead ridges under his mouth, the high arc of her cheekbones, the subtle softness of her lips as they opened for him. His shoulders straightened as he drew a breath. He walked up to her and reached for her arm. “Hi.”

She jerked, shrugging out of his light grip and whirling toward him with a glare. There was enough heat in her expression to fire the engines, should the warp core go offline. “What?” she snarled.

She’d brought up a hand, warding him off. He frowned.

“Umm… I was just wondering if you wanted to join me for lunch. Ration pack number thirty-seven isn’t too bad if I remember correctly.” He tried a smile.

She stiffened, curled her lip. “Are you out of your mind, Paris?”

“Paris? Ah, I see. I get it.” He nodded, hurt flattening his mouth and tightening his jaw. He felt disappointed, and frustrated with himself for thinking she would want anything to do with him now that the synthahol was out of her system. He was an idiot. And fucking pathetic.

“Yeah, well you’d better.” She took a step away from him and glanced over her shoulder.

Tom sneered: she didn’t want to be seen with him, didn’t want to be caught by her Maquis friends talking to the traitor. It was fine to fuck him, to come to his quarters in the middle of the night when no one might catch her, but talking to him in the ship’s corridor was out of bounds.

He folded his arms across his chest and observed her for a moment. She was glaring at him, her expression half-way between exasperated and furious. Just like the B’Elanna Torres he used to know… And he was angry. He felt used. He felt dismissed.

He watched beyond her shoulder as Seska and Jonas turned the corner and paused, staring at them. B’Elanna followed his line of sight and caught her breath. She turned back to him and scowled. “Are we clear, Paris?”

The devil made him say it, though he did lower his voice. “You’ve had my dick in your mouth, B’Elanna, don’t you think we’ve moved past last names?” He shot her a little smirk, enjoyed watching her eyes go round, then pinch into hard slits.

She grabbed his arm and dragged him a few paces down the corridor, away from her friends.

“It was a one-time thing,” she hissed.

“Oh really.” He tilted his head and squinted, making a show of thinking. “Because I counted three times, but math was never my strongest subject.”

Her eyebrows drew together in a glare. Seska was watching them closely. “Unless it’s ship’s business, don’t talk to me.” Torres jabbed him the chest with a finger, then turned and stomped toward the two Maquis.

Tom leaned against the bulkhead, trying for nonchalant. He heard Seska ask, “What did he want?” B’Elanna’s reply was muffled, but he caught the word ‘asshole’, though he wasn’t sure which one of them said it.

He gave them a few minutes’ head start, then headed to the mess. He debated skipping it but since he’d missed breakfast, he was starving. It crossed his mind to grab a ration bar and go back to his quarters until his shift resumed, but screw it. He was part of this crew now, they were all stuck with each other. If he had to live with them, they could bloody well learn to deal with him.

Chapter Text

“I’ve got a girl back home.”
“So what? I’ve got five.”

Harry Kim and Tom Paris, Time and Again.

 

###

“C’mon, Harry, let’s go. I’m starving.”

“I’ll be another ten minutes at least.” Kim’s attention didn’t stray from his console and the numbers scrolling across the ops display.

“Harry, if we don’t go now all the good stuff will be gone.”

“It’s emergency rations, Tom, there is no ‘good stuff’.”

Tom frowned. “Okay, all the least disgusting stuff will be gone.”

Finally, Harry glanced up at him for a moment before returning his attention to his keypad and typing in a sequence of numbers. “Why don’t you go grab us a table? This won’t take long.”

Tom bit back a sigh. “Fine. But if some gorgeous, lonely ensign asks me to join her, you’ll be eating alone.”

“I’ll take the risk,” Harry shot at Tom’s retreating back.

Tom stepped into the ‘lift and called for deck two. He’d only eaten about half of his ration bar this morning and it was now past noon, so he was hungry. They’d never been his favourite. They stuck to his teeth, and the metallic undertaste from the added iron had made him gag, but he’d choked it down. His father would be proud. He was going to have to learn to love rations if engineering didn’t get more power to the ship’s systems so they could get the replicators back online. It crossed his mind that just maybe the replicators were fine, that this could be some plot that the captain had devised, a simple means to make the two crews bond over the shared misery of Starfleet rations.

Thinking about engineering and the Maquis crew made him think about B’Elanna, of course. She’d successfully avoided him all week. He hadn’t seen her, though he’d overheard several ‘fleeters complaining about her in particular and the Maquis in general. They were late to shift, abrupt, rude, and routinely answered an order with ‘sure’ instead of ‘yes, sir’. None of them except Ayala seemed to know the difference between rank pips. It was possible they didn’t care, but more likely that they were deliberately provoking the Starfleet officers. Seeing how far they could push.

Most of the bitching and moaning he’d overheard had come from gold uniformed ‘fleeters, and he’d assumed they were assigned to engineering considering they were bitching about B’Elanna Torres. Of course, it was possible that those complaints were justified…

He’d been headed to stellar cartography the other day and happened to follow two ‘fleeters who were recounting an argument between Torres and Joe Carey, the de facto head of engineering. Apparently Carey’s nose was out of joint because Torres hadn’t bothered to ask his permission before beginning repairs on the relays that had blown when they’d attempted to tie the holodeck emitters into the ship’s energy grid. Carey had chewed her out in main engineering, in front of everyone. Tom could just imagine how well that had gone over.

From what he remembered of their scant few weeks together in the Maquis, B’Elanna was more of an ‘act now, ask later’ person: someone who was very sure of her own competence, her own brilliance. Someone who didn’t like having her decisions second-guessed. And she had been brilliant, or maybe they’d all just been lucky.

He’d barely been with the Maquis a week when they’d been intercepted by a Cardassian border patrol ship that wasn’t where it was supposed to be. They’d opened fire, the shot taking out the Liberty’s main deflector and throwing their engines offline.

Tom had been scared shitless. Without the deflector, he knew that a piece of space dust could ram a hole through their hull, depressurizing the ship and killing them all. B’Elanna had had the deflector back online in under a minute. Long enough that he had sweated through his shirt but, thanks to Ayala’s aim on tactical, not long enough for the Cardies to finish them off. Another Cardassian fighter—reinforcements—had shown up just as she’d shouted, “Go, Paris!” He’d shot to warp as soon as she’d given him the okay.

Her eyes had lit with triumph, her grin had been infectious, and he’d been struck by how gorgeous she was in her victory. She’d curled her hand around his shoulder and squeezed, and her laughter had echoed around Liberty’s small bridge.

Tom smiled now, thinking about it. She was the first Klingon he’d met, and didn’t fit the image of ‘Klingon warrior’ he’d learned in exobiology in school. He’d been attracted to her immediately. She was snappish, intriguing, and incredibly sexy, and he had wondered that she hadn’t appeared to be with anyone. Really, were the brave and fearsome Maquis afraid of a few cranial ridges and a little bad temper? It was a shame he hadn’t had time to act on that attraction before he’d been caught by that ‘fleet ship. Of course, now they had seventy-five years…

Or not. She hadn’t told him to go but her meaning had been clear enough: she wasn’t interested in a repeat of their nighttime activities. Still, she’d been pretty damned interested in him at the time, interested enough to wake him in the middle of the night. Interested enough to stay until it was almost morning. All that Klingon passion needed somewhere to go, and better Tom’s bed than someone else’s. Maybe he could talk her around after a decade or two…?

Tom snorted as he imagined the look that she must have given Carey while he was chewing her out. Then Tom remembered the look on her face when he was chewing…

Best not to think about that. As it was, thoughts of her came to him, unbidden, despite his attempts to forget about that night. Stars streaking by at warp reminded him of the highlights in her hair, splayed out over his pillow. This morning, when he’d walked onto the bridge, he’d seen a dark-haired woman in a gold uniform bent over one of the ops stations, and he’d caught his breath. Then she’d turned and he recognized Lang, one of Tuvok’s security team. He’d felt deflated, flattened. So he’d decided to put that night firmly in the past and file it under ‘don’t think about it’. And here he was, thinking about it, thinking about her.

He had to stop. There were lots of other women on the ship; seventy-eight to be precise. He supposed he should cross Janeway off the list immediately. And Golwat: he didn’t think humans and Bolians were compatible, though, it might be fun to try. Never say never. Except, apparently, about B’Elanna Torres. Though she was more, never again.

But that still left seventy-six lonely women, in need of a little comfort. Okay, he could cross off the five that served under him at conn. And Kes was taken. He remembered Henley from the Maquis and didn’t like her or Seska. But as distasteful as Seska was as a person, he had to admit that she was attractive, and he’d enjoy getting it on with Chakotay’s girlfriend. He’d be obvious about it, too. The thought of pissing off the big man made him smile.

Right now though, he couldn’t even scrounge up a date for lunch. Since Harry was busy running checks on ship’s systems, Tom planned to choke down the ration pack du jour, then head to the hololab to work on a programme he’d started the other day. He’d spent his second semester at the academy in France, and he had fond memories of a little bistro near the docklands in Marseilles. He’d got the idea to recreate the place the other day, and he’d already laid down the basic room: the bar, tables and chairs, lighting. He was working on adding the pool table. It would give them something to do now that major repairs to the ship were almost finished.

He turned the corner and walked into the mess hall and immediately noted the buzz of conversation, but from the way people were huddled together whispering he assumed the ship they’d encountered in the singularity this morning wasn’t the main topic of conversation. A table near the door had been commandeered by Neelix, and was covered with ‘fleet ration packs and several stacks of glasses. He held a pitcher of water in his hand. It had been too much to hope that they’d been granted an eleventh-hour reprieve and the replicators had been fixed.

Tom stepped up to the table with a bland smile.

“Lieutenant Paris.” Neelix smiled flatly back.

Great, Tom thought, even the Delta Quadrant addition to the crew disliked him.

“Chicken curry or spaghetti with meatballs, Lieutenant?”

Yum. “The chicken, I think.”

Neelix handed him the foil pouch and looked beyond his shoulder at the door, anticipating his next ‘customer’.

“Thanks,” Tom said. He picked up a glass of water and turned toward the room, hoping to spot a free table. There were none, but there was one option that was better than solitude. He walked toward the wall of viewports and stopped at at table occupied by a slight, blonde woman. “Is this seat taken?” He smiled his best charming smile.

“Tom, hello. Please, join me.”

Kes gestured to the chair opposite hers, and Tom took it, happy not to have to eat leaning against the bulkhead. She’d been staring out at the anomaly, a PADD forgotten in her hand, and he gestured to it.

“Engrossing reading?”

She smiled. “I’ve been trying to learn about quantum singularities. I’ll admit I’m finding it confusing.”

“Well, it’s not exactly my area of expertise,” Tom admitted, “but the Delaney sisters in stellar cartography would probably be happy to tell you all about them.” He smiled back at her, and caught Neelix frowning at him. Irritation clawed at the back of his neck. It wasn’t like he was going to proposition her in the middle of the mess.

“Actually, Jenny Delaney was the one who showed me how to download the information onto the PADD.” She turned her head and stared out at space again. “It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”

Neelix’ frown had turned into a glower, and Tom’s inner prick took up the gauntlet. He flashed Kes his best seductive smile this time. “Yes, it is,” he drawled, his eyes never leaving her face. She didn’t notice, her gaze caught by the swirling colours outside the viewport. But her inattention didn’t matter because Neelix had noticed, which was entirely the point. He came bustling over, water jug in hand, but before he reached their table Tom had changed the subject.

“How’re the plans for your hydroponics bay coming?” he asked, pointing with his fork toward several small containers of what looked suspiciously like soil. “Botany isn’t my specialty either, but that doesn’t look like water to me.” This time his smile was genuine.

She laughed. “I’m just using them to start some seedlings. On Ocampa, we grew plants in soil, so it’s a method I’m familiar with. I have information on hydro-gardening that I’m studying as well.” She gestured to a smaller PADD beside the containers.

“Have you been down there?” Tom asked, his expression turning serious. “Cargo bay two is where we put the belongi—”

Neelix interrupted them, insinuating himself between them, turning his back to Tom. “Would anyone like more water? Sweeting?”

Kes laughed again. “We were just discussing water.”

Neelix glanced at Tom and frowned. “You were?”

“Yes, and the hydroponics bay.”

“Oh.” Neelix didn’t look convinced.

“Actually, I’m going down there now. Ensign Wildman said she would help me assess what we’ll need for light sources and containers. She told me that she and her husband had a small garden at their home on Kateria.” Kes stood and gathered her PADDS.

Tom shifted and reached toward her. “Really, Kes, maybe you should wait until it’s cleared out. Cargo bay two is—”

“It’s alright, Tom.” She looked into his eyes, her expression serene. “I know about the crates and what they hold. And it’s sweet of you to try to warn me but I don’t need to be sheltered from them. Actually, I think it will be a nice tribute to the lost crew: to turn a dead space where their possessions are being stored into a place full of life and colour. The plants we grow there will nourish Voyager’s survivors as you journey home together. What could be a more fitting memorial than that?” She smiled at Tom, then pecked Neelix on the cheek before she headed toward the door.

Tom glanced at Neelix and saw that he’d been effectively silenced, too. Kes was sweet and kind and quiet, but Tom was starting to wonder if she had a spine of durosteel beneath her soft exterior.

Tom opened his mouth, but Harry slid into Kes’ chair and tore open a foil pouch.

“Hey, Neelix.”

“Ensign Kim!” Neelix smiled broadly. “Which option did you choose for your lunchtime repast?”

Harry waggled the bag at him. “Spaghetti and meatballs.” He pushed his spoon into the bag and dug out a portion. He eyed the orangy goo critically, then took a cautious taste. “Not bad,” he pronounced.

“How can they call it spaghetti and meatballs when you can suck it through a straw?” Tom groused. At least his chicken curry had rice and chunks of…things that passed for chicken.

Harry just shrugged and swallowed another spoonful. Neelix moved on to another table, and Harry leaned toward Tom conspiratorially. “Did you hear what happened between Carey and B’Elanna?”

“Yeah. So she repaired some systems without checking with him first, big deal.”

“Systems?” Harry’s nose wrinkled in confusion. “No. She punched him.”

“What?” Tom became aware that his mouth was hanging open. He closed it, tried not to grin. “What happened?”

“How could you not have heard? The whole ship is talking about it. They got into an argument this morning about repairs. Lyndsay told me that B’Elanna wanted to realign the lateral plasma conduit to feed power to the main grid, and Carey said it would overload and blow out the whole system. She shoved him out of her way, he shoved her back. Then she punched him!”

Harry’s eyes were round as saucers, and he raised his eyebrows in emphasis before shovelling in another mouthful of his lunch.

“She punched him? In the middle of main engineering?” Tom couldn’t help the snort that came out of his nose.

“Broke his nose. Blood everywhere, according to Lyndsay.” Harry nodded.

Who was this Lindsey person? Tom wondered. There were a lot of people he hadn’t met yet. “So that’s what the captain meant when she gave Chakotay that look.”

“What look?”

“In the staff meeting when Chakotay suggested Torres for chief engineer.” Tom shook his head and chuckled. “I can’t believe the captain is even considering it!”

“Yeah, well, you don’t know her like I do.” Harry sounded a little riled.

“The captain?”

At Tom’s suggestively raised eyebrow, Harry clarified. “B’Elanna.”

Tom ‘knew’ her alright, just not the way Harry meant. Tom rolled his eyes. “I know her plenty,” he said. “I know her enough to stay out of range.” He did now, anyway.

“She’s not that bad. Sure, she’s got a temper, especially when she feels cornered, but she can be a very reasonable person. She’s vulnerable. I think she was lost before we got pulled into the Delta Quadrant.”

Tom snorted again. “You’ve got the soul of a poet, Harry. Torres is about as vulnerable as a kolar beast.”

“Very funny,” Harry chided. “Just because she’s half-Klingon doesn’t make her some sort of animal.”

Tom felt the reproach and sighed. “I didn’t mean it that way.” He studied his friend and his breath caught as he had a thought. “Harry, do you… are you interested in Torres?” Tom didn’t have a claim on her, obviously, but he’d hate for her to use Harry the way she’d used him, he’d hate to see Harry hurt by Torres’ cavalier behaviour, and he was pretty sure he would be.

Harry scowled. “I have a girlfriend back home, Tom. And I haven’t given up on the idea that I’m going to see her again. Funny thing is, I think B’Elanna was right about the plasma conduit.” He shrugged.

“Yeah, well, Torres is good at coming up with solutions that will do in the short term, but I don’t know how sustainable her ideas would be out here.”

Harry regarded him over the rim of his water glass. “I keep forgetting you were in the Maquis. So, you know B’Elanna?”

“I wouldn’t say I know her.” At least not in that sense. “But we did meet.” Tom grinned and winked. “You saw her in her Maquis get-up, Harry. Those boots aren’t something you’re likely to forget.” Especially after he’d seen her spread out on his bed wearing nothing but those boots.

Harry scowled again, catching his meaning. “Cut it out, Tom. Somebody might hear you.”

Tom was about to object when Chakotay’s voice came over the comm.

:Senior officers, report to the bridge.:

“B’Elanna must have that tractor beam online,” Harry said, climbing to his feet and leading Tom toward the door. Tom followed on his friend’s heels, trying to banish an image of tall boots, bronzed skin, and B’Elanna Torres’ sated smile.

#####

 

Torres and the captain had taken out a shuttle and were about to attempt to widen the rupture in the event horizon with a dekyon beam. He’d done the math several times. At full impulse, it would take them a little more than five minutes there, five back. Plus the time it took them to widen the crack. They’d been gone three. He wanted to move closer, but he’d been ordered to wait, so he watched the little craft as it flew toward the rift. Janeway must have muted the comm because they were getting nothing but silence. A breach of protocol, but rank did have its privileges. He’d love to know what they were talking about in there.

It occurred to him now that maybe B’Elanna’s little tete-a-tete this morning with the captain hadn’t gone as well as his had; it certainly hadn’t resulted in two rank pips on her collar.

When B’Elanna had entered the bridge after lunch, Chakotay’s sotto voiced ‘good luck, just be yourself’ had captured his attention. He’d watched her as she pressed the buzzer to Janeway’s ready room and entered, and had definitely noticed as she blasted back out a few minutes later. He’d been curious about what they’d discussed, what had gotten her so hot under that pipless collar.

He’d been surprised to see B’Elanna back in the briefing room later, seated between Carey and an empty chair, when he’d arrived from the bridge. She’d probably assumed he’d take the seat that was closer to the door. He hadn’t. Instead he’d walked around the table to the empty chair beside her. He hadn’t picked it deliberately to irritate her; that was his spot, he always sat there. Well, if four staff meetings in a row could be considered ‘always’.

She was close enough for him to reach out and touch, but she hadn’t even glanced his way. He’d thought maybe she was still pissed off at him, but he didn’t think even a half-Klingon would carry a grudge for a full week.

Tom didn’t have to be a counselor to figure out that she was unhappy about being included in the meeting. Pulled in on herself, arms folded across her chest, and wearing a frown that would ward off all comers, he’d had the feeling that being there hadn’t been her idea. At the time, he’d assumed she was sulking because her subspace tractor beam hadn’t worked—had, in fact, resulted in more damage to the ship’s already compromised systems—and he had wanted to tell her to suck it up. The word petulant came to mind.

Tom smiled remembering how she’d come alive when Janeway had asked her for ideas. And of course she had the answer. He’d tried to pay attention to what Torres was saying about ponds and ice, but she was walking around the briefing room with a sway in her hips, her hands moving animatedly, and his mind had wandered for the briefest of moments. At least the captain hadn’t outright laughed at him when he’d admitted he didn’t understand how a reaction could precede an action. Then again, he’d ‘reacted’ to B’Elanna long before he’d been able to act…

He’d been teasing Harry over lunch, but the truth was that he hadn’t been able to forget Torres in those boots and tight pants. Breasts were great, soft and warm and surprisingly sensitive. But Tom was more of an ass man, and B’Elanna’s ass had looked amazing in those suede pants. And her leather boots lead your eyes right there. Her legs looked great, too, especially when they were wrapped around him. He had to admit he also had an affinity for her waist, the soft flare of her hips. The curve of her belly. Her belly button.

Damn.

B’Elanna had met his eyes after the captain had turned down his offer to pilot the shuttle to the rift. She’d looked amused after Janeway’s criticism of his grasp on temporal physics, and she’d flashed him a faint smile before turning to follow Janeway to the ‘lift. A far cry from her mood earlier this afternoon.

He sighed, pushing away thoughts of B’Elanna, the sexy woman and concentrating on Torres, the engineering marvel. It was hard to believe that they’d been caught in the singularity for nine hours, but if her plan worked, they’d be out in a few minutes. He hoped.

Harry interrupted his internal monologue. “They've widened the rupture by almost thirty-five percent.”

Tom checked his readings. “They'll have to widen it twice that much before Voyager can make it through.”

There was a loud bang and Tom was jostled in his seat. He gripped the conn as Chakotay yelled for a report.

“The spatial distortions are increasing,” Tuvok said.

Hull integrity was dropping, too. According to the sensors, B’Elanna and the captain had widened the opening by sixty-five percent, and had turned around and were on their way back. Tom wasn’t sure it was enough. Two meters clearance on either side left very little room for error.

“Mister Paris,” Chakotay said, “as soon as we've recovered the shuttlecraft, lay in a course toward the rupture and take us out.”

“Aye, sir.”

Tom’s pulse was pounding in his ears, and he drew a steadying breath, centered himself. Two meters or two hundred, it didn’t matter, he could do this, easily. He was the best pilot on the ship, the best damn pilot in the quadrant.

His eyes flicked to his display and he read a message that the shuttle had docked. He engaged thrusters. He’d already plotted a course to the rift, and he was counting down the seconds until they reached it. He heard Janeway enter the bridge, calling for a situation report, and B’Elanna’s prediction that they weren’t going to make it. He wanted to tell them all to shut the hell up so he could concentrate!

A light flashed on his console. “I'm losing power to the port impulse engine,” he warned. There was no way in hell he was ‘getting out to push’ inside the anomaly! Sweat beaded on his hairline. His hands started to cramp.

“Keep it together, Mister Paris,” Janeway muttered.

He’d swear that the opening was getting smaller as he watched. Tom was reminded of a scene in a campy old science fiction movie he’d seen when he was kid, of a ship flying out of a cave mouth. The heroes realized that it was the mouth of some creature as the jaws started to close on them, jagged teeth a hair’s breadth from meeting and crushing their little ship. They had made it, barely, and he was determined that Voyager would, too.

Voyager punched through the rift, clouds of interstellar gas swirling on the main viewscreen, appearing to claw at them before rolling aside as the gaseous vapor slid along her shields. Then, suddenly, the stars of regular space filled the screen, and Tom swore he could hear the whole bridge crew expel a collective sigh of relief.

He’d have to remember the captain’s little bon mot; they still had a hell of a lot of the Delta Quadrant to travel through.

###

Tom thought about the little smile B’Elanna had sent his way on the bridge yesterday, when their eyes had met. Hers had softened as she looked at him, and he wondered now if she had softened toward him, too, if she’d changed her mind. He smiled at the thought. Maybe she just needed a little push? Or an excuse to talk with him. Well, he had that excuse right here.

Tom slowed only slightly as he approached the doors to engineering and they slid open to admit him. He did stop after a few paces, orienting himself, searching for her. No luck. He thought about just dropping the PADD on the desk in her office, but it would likely get lost amongst the pile, and he didn’t want her to accuse him of not filing the report.

He looked around but nobody was paying any attention to him, everyone absorbed in their own tasks and not bothering to note when someone entered the room. A dark-haired woman was working at a console near the warp core. She looked approachable, so he ambled over.

“Hello,” he took a peek at the pips on her collar, “Lieutenant. I’m looking for Lieutenant Torres.” The engineer straightened and turned, looked him up and down, her eyebrows rising as she apparently recognized him.

“She’s at the upper level, at her workstation.”

Tom glanced upward, not that it helped. “Over there.” The lieutenant pointed up and to her left, and Tom turned around; he still didn’t see Torres, but the upper deck wasn’t that large. He was sure he could track her down. He turned back to the engineer and smiled his thanks. “Thank you, Lieutenant …?”

“Nicoletti.”

“Tom Paris.” He extended a hand. She eyed it a moment then slipped her hand into his. It was cool and dry, a brief touch of her fingers to his palm before she withdrew.

“I know who you are.” She turned her back on him and became wholly engaged with her console again, dismissing him.

Tom bobbed his chin. Of course. Who said it was hard to make friends as an adult? But what had he expected, after all? He scowled and headed toward the open lift that connected the two levels of engineering, and punched the control to make it rise.

B’Elanna was easy to spot. She was staring at a console, frowning, her eyebrows drawn together. Her forehead ridges combined with her expression to create a deep V at the top of her nose and he had an overwhelming desire to reach out and stroke it. But he also wanted to keep his fingers, so he restrained himself. He paused well out of range and called to her.

“Hey, chief.” Her head snapped up and he extended the PADD. “My report.”

She stared at it, obviously confused. “Your what?”

“My conn report. I write them once a week. I’ve been giving them to Chakotay, but the chief engineer is supposed to get a copy, too. That’s you.”

“I know that.” She snatched the PADD from his hand.

He took a breath. “Congratulations. You, ah...” Tom hesitated. She looked suddenly suspicious and it threw him off his stride. “You engineered circles around Carey.”

He smiled.

She didn’t. “What's that supposed to mean?”

Her voice held an edge to it, and Tom stilled. “Nothing. Just a joke.”

“I earned this,” she snapped. “I deserve to be chief engineer. I’m quicker than Carey, I have better ideas. I mean, he’s fine if you want to stick to checklists but, out here, sometimes we don’t have the time to be by-the-book. We have to come up with solutions, get things done…”

He briefly wondered who she was trying to convince. Sometimes you just have to punch your way through. “Look, Torres, everyone knows that the captain made the right choice. And if some people are upset about that, just keep doing what you’re doing. You’ll prove it to them soon enough.”

She was still frowning, obviously gauging his sincerity. He was about to turn on his heel and leave when she spoke. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” Tom smiled. “Look, B’Elanna, Torres,” he corrected, “we’re going to have to work closely together for a long time. We’ll be in the same staff meetings; it shouldn’t be awkward. If you want, we can just forget about what happened the other night and we won’t let it affect our working relationship.”

She narrowed her eyes: back to suspicious. “We don’t have a— Fine.”

He noted the controlled tension in her body, the jut of her chin, the glint of anger and embarrassment in her eyes. She was gorgeous. She was also a department head, and a fellow officer, and he really should have been listening to that little speech he gave just now. He opened his mouth to say something, anything, when she cut him off.

“I heard about you and the Delaney sisters.”

It was an accusation. Funny, he couldn’t remember romping naked with them in the middle of the mess hall… “What about me and the Delaney sisters?” His own tone had taken on a sing-songy note and he was instantly on alert.

“Harry has a girlfriend back home,” she stated. “He loves her. Don’t drag him into your promiscuous, sophomoric behaviour.”

Her eyes flashed at him, and Tom barked a laugh. She had some fucking nerve accusing him of being promiscuous! He’d just started to formulate a response when his combadge chirped.

The Doctor to Lieutenant Paris.

He stared B’Elanna in the eye as he raised a hand and smacked his combadge. “Paris here.”

I’ve checked the duty roster and I see that you’re not on duty at the moment, Lieutenant. Please report to sickbay immediately for your medical training.

Damn. He’d hoped, in all the hubbub, the Captain had forgotten she’d made him a field medic. Torres’ eyebrow rose, but he didn’t bother to fill her in. “I’m on my way.” He stared at her a moment more, then nodded to her, turned, and headed for the door.

###

It's just heartbreaking
I should have known that it would let me down
It's just a mind aching
I used to dream about this town
It was a sight to see, the place to be
Where the living is easy
And the kicks can always be found.

Supertramp, from the album Breakfast in America
Songwriters: Richard Davies / Roger Hodgson
Gone Hollywood lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

Chapter Text

When lonely days turn to lonely nights
You take a trip to the city lights
And take the long way home
Take the long way home
You never see what you want to see
Forever playing to the gallery
You take the long way home
Take the long way home

Songwriters: Richard Davies / Roger Hodgson
Take the Long Way Home lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

 

####

The mesiofrontal cortex was connected to the cerebellum. The cerebellum was connected to the brainstem. The brainstem, presumably, was connected to the neck bones, which were connected to the collarbone, making him wonder if anything was connected to the shin bone. Tom’s head was certainly dancing around.

He’d started his day in sickbay not at the conn, and after quizzing him on the Talaxian cardiopulmonary system the doctor had handed him some PADDs loaded with information on Vulcan physiology and told him to memorize them. Tom had questioned why the doctor had decided to have him study Vulcans when there were only three onboard: surely the human body was a more reasonable starting point considering there were a hundred and forty of them on Voyager. But the doc had stated that their first medical emergency had concerned the ship’s lone Talaxian, and who could argue with that logic? Not Tom Paris, though he had tried. Tom was pretty sure that as a field medic he’d never be required to perform surgery on a Vulcan brain, but he was studying it anyway.

After about fifteen minutes of listening to Neelix complain that he was well enough to resume his duties, and Kes’ passifying assurances that he ‘needed to stay in sickbay just a little longer’, Tom had had enough and begged the doc to be allowed to study in the quiet of his own quarters. On his way, he detoured to the mess for a cup of coffee, hoping it would keep him awake.

The whole situation with Neelix had been bizarre; something straight out of one of those old horror comics he’d loved as a kid. Grotesque aliens who steal your organs and transplant them into their own bodies? It was pure science fiction! He sincerely hoped they didn’t cross the Vidiian’s path again.

The doors to the mess slid open and Tom lowered his PADD as he stepped into the room. Chell had agreed to take over the food prep while Neelix was recuperating and they were back to ration packs and rehydrated coffee, but it beat Neelix’ better-than-coffee. Tom took a pouch from the box on the counter, and turned to face the room. There were plenty of free tables, but his eye was caught by a dark-haired human woman in operations gold sitting near the viewport. He was still running into members of the crew hadn’t yet met, and he assumed she’d pulled the short straw and was on gamma shift.

He shook off the thought of organ-stealing aliens and headed toward the pretty young woman. She was reading a PADD, her wide mouth open in a smile, a foil pouch lying ignored on the table in front of her.

Tom took a shot.

“A gorgeous woman shouldn’t eat alone,” he said. She looked up at him, big brown eyes wide, her shapely lips still parted. “Mind if I join you?” Tom was already sliding into the chair opposite her.

“Oh, wrong, but nice try.”

She grinned at him, and Tom raised an eyebrow. “You’re not alone?” he asked. Of course. She was likely waiting for someone.

She flicked her ration pack with a finger. “I’m finished eating, but I don’t mind the company, Lieutenant Paris.”

Tom was only slightly surprised. “You know my name but I don’t know yours.”

“Yeah, well, you’re infamous and I’m not. Not yet, anyway.”

“Infamous?” Tom asked, wondering which part of his sordid past had reached her ears.

“Mm hmm. You, Harry Kim, the Delaney sisters…” She raised an eyebrow.

Oh. Well that explained B’Elanna’s reaction in engineering when he’d handed her his comm report. “Don’t believe everything you hear, Ensign…?”

She extended a hand. “Ahni Jetal.”

Tom nodded and grasped her hand. “Pleased to meet you, Ensign Annie.”

Ahni, with an ahhhhhhh….” She winked at him.

“I’ll remember that,” Tom nodded. Wow, funny and friendly. She had an expressive face, and Tom was glad he’d taken the risk and sat with her. “So, what are you reading, Ahhhhhhni?”

She laughed. “‘Three Men in a Boat’. It’s a nineteenth century satirical novel about these three friends and a dog who take a two-week boating holiday along the Thames, in England.”

“Does it turn into a seventy-five year trip?” Tom asked.

“No,” she grinned, “but there’s a funny scene where they stop to make lunch and realize that they forgot a can opener for the tinned food. They throw it around and bash it with rocks, but they can’t get it open. I was thinking that they’d probably love the Starfleet emergency rations.” She nodded at Tom’s PADD. “What do you find so engrossing, Lieutenant?”

“At the moment,” Tom’s tone shifted from polite to seductive, “you.”

She threw back her head and barked a laugh. “Wow. Did you study that in the Academy? Hotshot flying and seducing women seem to go hand in hand.”

Tom shook his head. “Well, if I did, it looks like I would have failed.”

“Oh, no, believe me, if I were attracted to you, that line would definitely have worked. Definitely. I’ll have to remember it.” She nodded. “You were very smooth.”

“If you were attracted to me…” He gave up on the idea of spending a little private time with the effervescent Ensign Jetal.

“You’re not quite smooth enough for me, if you get what I mean.” She tapped her cheek, then stared pointedly at her own breasts. “I get the feeling we’re going to be rivals, Lieutenant.”

“You like women?”

She nodded. “And so do you. So, what are you reading? Sir.”

Tom waggled his PADD. “Epigenetic Modifications of the Vulcan Neurological System.”

Ahni’s full lips pulled back in a grimace. “Geesh. And people think I have strange hobbies.”

Tom laughed. “You’re looking at Voyager’s new medical assistant. Are you sure you don’t want to play doctor?” He waggled his eyebrows.

She shook her head with a sigh. “Not even tempted, I’m afraid.”

“Did you know that Choriocytosis was a virus affecting the ability of blood cells to carry oxygen to the body's organs?” he asked.

“I did not. Which organs are we talking about here?”

Tom smiled. “All of them, one presumes. It was known to infect both humans and Vulcans. Symptoms in humans were no worse than a bad flu, but because of their copper-based blood, it was deadly to Vulcans. Thankfully it was eradicated a century ago.”

“If it was eradicated a century ago, why do you have to study it?”

Tom scowled. “Ask the doctor.”

She leaned toward him across the table, her voice dropping conspiratorially. “Is the EMH really as much of a pain as people say?”

Tom opened his mouth to deny it, but couldn’t. “Yeah, he is.”

“My boss is a hard-ass too, but she’s amazing. I did a shift with her the other night: blew me away. Say what you want about protocol and checklists, I’d rather have a dilithium refinery.”

“You’re assigned to engineering?” Tom was surprised; he’d pegged her for ops.

“I guess the uniform didn’t give it away?” She grinned.

“Torres works gamma shift?” Maybe that was why he hadn’t seen much of her? He’d thought she was avoiding him, but maybe she was just getting to know her crew. Engineering was the largest department on any starship, ten times the size of his own, and it had taken Tom the better part of a week to sort out the names and histories of his own staff.

“She’s worked all three shifts, sometimes non-stop.” She pointed at Tom’s PADD. “Does it say anything about Klingon stamina in there?”

“Not so far.” Though he wouldn’t mind learning about the inner workings of B’Elanna Torres. Wouldn’t mind finding out just how much stamina she had.

Jetal stood and gathered up her PADD and the empty ration packs. “I need to hit the sack. Alone, alas.” She winked. “Do you want my hardtack biscuit? You can dip it in your coffee.”

“No thanks,” Tom shook his head. “Did you know that Vulcan teeth include anterior tricuspids?”

“Really. Fascinating. Does that mean they don’t have to dip hardtack in coffee to chew it?”

“You know,” Tom’s forehead wrinkled in thought. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Vulcan eat cookies. Or drink coffee.”

She nodded toward his pouch of rehydrated java. “Lucky them. Have a good day, sir.”

“Good night, Ensign,” Tom replied. He watched her leave, then thumbed the PADD on again. “Chapter four, ‘Neural Diseases. Pa'nar Syndrome is a Vulcan neural disease that results in the degradation of the synaptic pathways…’”

###

 

“...and their heart is where the human liver would be.”

“Just the one?”

“Apparently. And they’re more sensitive to cold than humans,” Tom added.

“So are Klingons. And Andorians. And my aunt Mabel.”

“Harry, Harry, Harry, come on. I’m trying to scrounge up a little interest here. This stuff is dry enough without you pooh-poohing it. I’m counting on you to keep me focused.”

“I would think that the daily life or death struggle of the sickbay would be enough,” Harry said.

“Yeah, sure,” Tom snorted. “Baxter’s strained trapezius. Or the laceration Chell got to his thumb opening a container of rations. Riveting stuff,” Tom whined.

“But look how much you’re learning: you used the word ‘laceration’ instead of ‘cut’.”

Tom scowled. “I’d rather be using the words ‘Aye, Captain, warp seven.’”

Harry ignored him. “Hand me that isodine coupler.”

Tom frowned and turned toward the engineer’s kit balanced on a support strut of the Jefferies Tube junction. He stared at it a moment, then selected a slim silver instrument banded in red, and placed it in Harry's outstretched palm.

Harry accepted it, his attention still caught by the repair he was trying to finish on the power couplings, and aimed it toward the power cell. He jerked, and turned toward Tom with a scowl. “This is laser torch. I could have blown the whole compartment if I’d turned it on. You almost killed us both!”

“Gee, sorry, Harry. What with being the chief pilot and studying to become the new doctor, I haven’t had time to become the chief engineer too.” Tom’s tone was dry.

Harry snorted. “That’ll be the day,” he murmured.

“What, you don’t think I know anything about ship’s systems? I know how to run a complete diagnostic on the helm. And I can change the relays.” Harry didn’t look impressed. “You know, when I was in that penal colony back on Earth, I was assigned to repair the ground-fleet vehicles.” And the laser torch was a hell of a lot bigger and heavier and had the word ‘caution’ stamped on the barrel.

“Aren’t you supposed to be in sickbay right now?” Harry asked the guts of the console.

“I’m studying,” Tom countered. “Ah! Finally, something interesting.” Tom traced the words with a fingertip as he read them aloud from the PADD. “‘The most famous aspect of the Vulcan brain is its inherent telepathic abilities. Vulcans are natural touch-telepaths, though considerable training is required to use this ability to its fullest. Stronger minds are capable of non-contact telepathic projection and scanning, usually over short distances.’ Do you know what this means, Harry? Lieutenant Tuvok can probably read our minds while we’re on the bridge.”

“Tell me what I’m thinking right now, Tom.”

“Very funny,” Tom grumped. “Don’t you want to hear about the diseases Vulcans can get?”

“Nope.” Harry placed the coupler in the toolkit and snapped it closed before he lifted and fitted the cover plate in place on the wall. “Well, I’m finished, so I’ll see you later.”

“Harry, wait,” Tom implored him. “Pa’nar syndrome is—”

“I’m due on the bridge, Tom. Have fun with the psycho-suppression system or whatever it is you’re supposed to be learning.”

Harry clipped the strap to the tool kit and looped it over his shoulder, then started to climb up the ladder to deck seven and the turbolift. Tom sighed and sat back on the cold metal grate and thumped the back of his head against the wall.

####

 

Tom was enjoying being back at the helm the following day. Neelix and Kes had both been pronounced well enough to return to duty and had been released from sickbay, and with them gone Tom had also been granted his freedom.

The sticky blobs that had sucked up twenty percent of their energy reserves had been scraped off the hull, but they were poorer for their efforts to capture those omicron particles in that nebula. They’d lost more power with each phaser shot, not to mention an irreplaceable photon torpedo.

Despite engineering’s victory over the power couplings, and the now-working replicators, Neelix was back in the kitchen. And, as Tom’s morning meal suggested—confirmed by his even stranger dinner—every day in the Delta Quadrant was truly turning into an adventure.

Unfortunately, they’d just have to get used it. The replicators were back online, true, but they didn’t have enough reserve power to run them full time. The captain had instituted a system of replicator rations, but since a cup of coffee required one ration, there was no way his weekly allotment would stretch to provide three meals a day. Tom wondered how many rations he’d have to save up for a pepperoni pizza, thick crust, extra cheese. He sighed wistfully.

Harry had been disappointed with him at breakfast this morning, but Tom was certain that Janeway wouldn’t have appreciated an invitation to join them. What the crew needed from their captain right now was structure, leadership, not camaraderie, and bucking rank to invite your captain to sit with you wasn’t the way to show said captain that you respected her authority.

Though, now that the little surprise that Tom had been working on was finished, it might just foster a little esprit de corps for the crew and help to improve ship’s morale at the same time. But first, it needed a test run. He stopped in front of Harry’s quarters and pressed the door chime. No answer. He pressed it again and waited, then frowned. “Computer, locate Ensign Harry Kim.”

:Ensign Kim is in his quarters:

Hmm. Tom keyed in his medical command override and the door to Harry’s quarters slid open. The room was dark, but he could just make out Harry’s still form lying on his bed, under the covers. Tom frowned. It was only twenty-one thirty. Even the straight-laced Harry Kim wasn’t boring enough to be asleep already!

He paced quietly to Harry’s bedside and stifled a snicker. Seriously? Tom reached down and pulled up on the corner of Harry’s sleep mask. “Dark enough for you, Zorro?” he asked.

Harry started and blinked at him. “Whaaa…?”

“Get up, Harry,” Tom said.

Harry shoved the mask up his forehead and sat. “Are we needed on the bridge?” he mumbled.

“No. C’mon, there’s something you’ve got to see.”

Harry blinked and looked around. “See? How did you get in here?”

Tom just smirked. “You’d be surprised what you learn in prison. Get dressed, let’s go.”

Harry groaned and pushed back the covers.

#

“So, who’s Ricky?”

Harry’s question appeared casual but Tom was instantly irritated by it. Harry had liked the programme well enough despite the fact that Tom had beat the pants off him at pool, and had even suggested Tom open it up to the crew as a way for them to relax after shift. Tom was not only happy to do it, he was a little proud that Harry had agreed the programme was good enough to share. Holoprogramming was a hobby, not something Tom had ever had time to take seriously, and his stay in the detention centre in Auckland had blunted his programming skills. He was flattered by Harry’s encouragement.

But that didn’t mean he invited his snooping.

“She’s no one. Just a character I made up,” Tom replied. He was walking Harry back to his quarters before he turned in, himself. He’d been expecting gushing praise, not an interrogation.

“So she’s not based on a real person? An old girlfriend, someone who wasn’t a girlfriend but you wanted her to be?” Harry raised an eyebrow.

Tom scowled, annoyed. Why was he pushing this? “She’s my ideal woman, Harry. Smart, sexy—”

“And hanging off your neck? C’mon, Tom, even I know you’d find that annoying after a little while, and I haven’t known you that long. I agree with Sandrine, I figured you’d programme a woman who was more interesting.” Harry shrugged.

“Ricky’s plenty interesting.” Tom was starting to bristle at all the questions, though he wasn’t sure why.

“Sure. And all she talked about was you.”

“Maybe that’s because I’m interesting.” He raised his eyebrows at his pal, but Harry frowned.

“I just figured she was someone you knew. You did say she was your ‘little piece of home out here in the Delta Quadrant’.”

“Yeah, well, I meant the bar. Besides, there are a lot of ways to define the word home, Harry,” Tom grumped.

###

 

It’s alive! Tom almost expected thunder claps and lightning, though the plasma discharges that he’d had to dodge were close enough.

What were the odds of finding themselves inside yet another gigantic lifeform within two weeks? This wasn’t exactly the excitement he’d been craving after a week with the EMH. Was this entire bloody quadrant made up of colossal, amorphous lifeforms? Maybe they should just avoid every nebula and spatial anomaly between here and sector 001. Maybe the Delta Quadrant was itself one humongous lifeform, and they—and the Ocampans, and the Talaxians, and the Vidiians, and the Kazon—were merely fleas in its ear: an irritation it would eventually squash.

One thing was for sure: not only was there no coffee in that not-a-nebula, there was no pizza either. Tom stared at the amorphous lavender blob on his meal tray and curled his lip. Harry had taken a tentative bite and shrugged, then started to shovel it in with gusto. Tom had an inkling that he wasn’t exactly discerning in his culinary choices.

“I’m just saying, it’s ridiculous,” Tom groused. “It’s not enough that the Kazon want to blow us up, or the Vidiians want to mine our bodies for organs, now we’re running into giant life forms that are so alien that we can’t communicate with them at all.”

Harry shrugged. “We tried communicating with the Kazon, it didn’t help much.” He picked up a small, round, black thing from his tray and eyed it critically. It popped as he bit into it, and green juice dribbled down his chin. “Not bad,” he said.

“Not bad? Harry, we have no idea whether they’re bad or good until we end up inside them, that’s entirely my point here. Let’s count, shall we?” Tom dropped his fork onto his plate and started ticking off the various aliens they’d encountered so far on their short journey. “First,” Tom tapped his thumb, “there was the Caretaker, a giant, amorphous whatever it was. I’d call him bad considering he kidnapped you and Torres and experimented on you before stranding us here.”

“Actually, the captain stranded us here,” Harry pointed out.

“Yeah. Semantics.” Tom tapped his index finger. “The Kazon, who tried to blow the crap out of us.” He moved on to his middle finger. “Third, the Vidiians, who are pathological. That whatever-it-was that tried to digest us—”

“We flew into it, Tom, it was just defending itself with those energy-sucking blobs.”

Tom shook his tapping-finger at his pal. “The blobs were from the other gigantic alien life form, I’m talking about the one from a couple of weeks ago, before Neelix got his lungs ripped out.”

“They were surgically removed,” Harry deadpanned.

Tom paused and stared at him. “You say that like it’s a reasonable thing, Harry. Like it’s part of the risk of a life of adventure. ‘Join Starfleet and see the galaxy. Warning: you may run into some crazy aliens and end up with your lungs in a jar’.”

Harry rolled his eyes. “You eating those?”

He pointed at the small black spheres on Tom’s tray. Tom shook his head and pushed the tray toward the center of the table. “Be my guest. So what’s our count here; four evil aliens, one that was only defending itself, and Neelix and Kes.”

“Kes is good,” Harry pointed out.

Tom glanced at his tray and curled his lip. “The jury’s still out on Neelix.”

“You know,” Harry said, “he might like you more if you’d stop flirting with his girlfriend.”

“I only do it to irritate him.”

“Yeah, I know.” He plucked the little balls from Tom's tray and popped one into his mouth. “Speaking of girlfriends, are you running Sandrine’s tonight?”

“Sure.” Tom nodded.

“Good. Public or private?”

“I can open it up, if you think the crew would enjoy it.”

“Of course they will. Why wouldn’t they?”

Tom felt a flush of pleasure at the compliment. “Good. How about nineteen hundred? I’ll invite Jenny and Megan.” Tom grinned.

Harry picked up his mess tray and stood. “I have a girlfriend.”

“So do I,” Tom countered, rising and reaching for his own tray.

Harry rolled his eyes and started for the door. “Holographic girlfriends don’t count, Tom.”

####

 

He’d checked with the computer so he knew she was in there, so why wasn’t she answering? Maybe she’d asked the computer who was leaning on her buzzer at twenty-three hundred and was ignoring him. Maybe she was genuinely pissed off at him for whatever it was Gaunt Gary had done in the programme. “He’s a pig, and so are you.” The captain had heard her, and had laughed, and he’d felt the heat of his embarrassment crawl up his cheeks and prickle the back of his neck; he didn’t think it was funny. She’d left soon after, staying only long enough to watch Janeway resoundly beat him in four shots, smirking at him on her way out the door.

He pressed the buzzer a third time and was about to comm her when her door slid open. She was standing in the entryway, her hair mussed and her expression annoyed, squinting as the bright light of the corridor flooded her darkened quarters.

“Paris?”

So she hadn’t been ignoring him. The room behind her was dim, and he registered that she was wearing an oversized tee shirt and little else. Her toned legs and bare feet glowed in the light, and she looked soft and warm. Tom forgot why he’d been so pissed off at her a moment ago.

“I…um.”

She rubbed her forehead with a fist. “What do you want?”

Someone in sciences blue walked past and peered at them curiously, and Tom heard Torres curse before her hand closed on his uniform collar and yanked him inside her quarters. “Get in here before anyone else sees you.” The door hissed shut behind him.

“Well?” She had retreated a few paces, and had crossed her arms over her chest and was glaring at him.

“I’m sorry I woke you.” Tom shook his head. “I’ll come back later.”

“No. You won’t. Why are you here?”

She was scowling at him, and Tom felt his temper start to rise. “What did Gaunt Gary say to you?”

“Gaunt…?” She shook her head. “Like you don’t know; you programmed him.”

“To be a pool shark, yeah. But not to, well…” The gigolo was the character who was supposed to romance Voyager’s women. “Look, whatever he said to upset you, I’m sorry. I’ll run through his subroutines, see if I accidentally crossed him with the gigolo.”

She snorted, tightening her arms, making the finely sculpted muscles harden.

“It’s supposed to be fun, B’Elanna. You’ve heard of fun, right? That thing other people do when you're working all the time.”

Her eyes narrowed. “How do you know when I’m working? Are you spying on me?”

Tom couldn’t tell if she was angry or not but her eyebrows had drawn together in an imposing frown that only served to accentuate her cranial ridges. “I’m not spying—” His teeth came together with a click and he firmed his jaw. Fuck, she pissed him off sometimes! “I talk to people, B’Elanna. And occasionally people talk to me.”

“About me.”

“About everything! I’m a friendly guy.”

She snorted. “I don’t appreciate people talking about me behind my back.”

Tom looked heavenward and sighed. “It was a compliment, B’Elanna. They were saying how hard you work. How brilliant you are.”

That took the wind out of her sails. “Really?”

Tom chuffed a laugh. “Yeah. Really. You seem surprised.” He raised an eyebrow.

“I just know that some people weren’t exactly happy when the captain made me chief engineer.”

She was daring him to contradict her but, truthfully, he didn’t know what she was talking about.

“Then…I guess they’re idiots.”

She didn’t seem to know what to do with that compliment, and paused a moment before speaking, likely gauging the truthfulness of his statement. “Thank you,” she said, finally.

“You’re welcome.” Tom smiled. “The programme’s public, and the captain said I could leave it running so the crew can use it whenever they want. I thought I might organize a pool tournament tomorrow night, if you’re interested.” He watched as she hesitated; an indecisive B’Elanna Torres wasn’t something he saw very often.

“I don’t know. I’m not very good,” she admitted.

“You just need practice. I can teach you.” He really really wanted her to say yes. She snorted and curled her lip at him instead.

“That would be a little difficult with that Sli’Vak wound around you, wouldn’t it?”

“Sli—” Tom’s mouth dropped open. He didn’t know what the word meant—and apparently neither did the universal translator—but he he could tell it wasn’t complimentary. “You mean Ricky?” What the hell was wrong with everyone? Part of the fun of a holoprogramme was the characters.

“Oh, is that her name?”

Before the captain had shown up, when he’d been standing with Ricky at the pool table during his game with Chakotay, he’d seen B’Elanna bristle. Saw what he thought, what he hoped, was jealousy on her face when Ricky had been cuddled up to him.

“Ricky’s an old friend.” He was daring her to say something, goading her. What business of hers was it if he liked the company of hologrammes?

She snorted. “What, you can’t convince a real woman to be your friend?”

Her chin came up, and her shoulders drew back, ready for battle. Tom took a step toward her. “I haven’t really been trying.” His tone was smooth as silk, and he wasn’t lying; there were plenty of lonely women on the ship, ripe for the plucking, who would welcome him for a night or two, who would find comfort with him in their bed. But he didn’t want them. He wanted B’Elanna.

“That’s not what I heard.” She took a step toward him.

“I thought you didn’t like gossip.” He raised an eyebrow, moved a half-step closer to her.

“Sometimes it’s the only way to find out what’s going on.”

“And what have you been finding out about me?” He was instantly on alert.

“You just stay away from my staff. Ensign Jetal doesn’t need you to use her just because you’re lonely!” She poked his chest with a finger. “Go chase Megan Delaney.”

Tom clasped her hand to his chest. She tugged, but he refused to let go. She was glaring at him, and he watched her chest rise and fall with her anger, could feel her pulse beat in her wrist. “I’m not interested in Megan Delaney.”

His hand found her hip, his fingers spasming, slipping over the thin fabric of her tee shirt. It inched up, and he felt her warm, smooth skin, slid his hand over her thigh.

“Maybe she’s not interested in you.” Her warm breath puffed across his throat.

“You seem pretty interested in me,” Tom murmured.

He dipped his head, bumped her nose with his, then she was kissing him, melting against him. He let go of her hand and pulled her closer; she was warm and pliant in his arms. With him in his boots and her in her bare feet, she was little, tiny, and he had to crane his neck to kiss her properly even though she’d risen up on her toes. Her arms went around his shoulders. His hand slid down her back to her bottom. He felt the warm cotton of her underwear, the heat of her, and he lifted her and turned, pressing her back to the wall as her legs went around his waist.

He nipped her jaw, licked her throat, heard her ragged breath in his ear. “Tom…”

He pushed on the collar of her shirt with his nose, exposing the muscle of her shoulder and dipped his tongue in the hollow above her collarbone.

“No…”

Her voice was breathy and soft, and Tom lifted his head and brushed his lips against hers, opening her mouth as he kissed her again. She kissed him back, holding him tightly, digging her fingernails into his shoulder. He pressed his groin against her belly, nipped her bottom lip, but she stilled then pulled away, shaking her head.

“No. Tom, stop.”

It took a moment for her words to register. He opened his eyes and stared at her, brushed the hair from her face, trailing his fingertips over her cranial ridges. She wasn’t looking at him. She pushed against his shoulders and he lowered her until her feet reached the floor. “What?” he asked. His brain was fuzzy.

“I said, no.” She shook her head. “It won’t end well. You know that.” She bumped past him and stood with her back to him.

Tom frowned, confused. It hadn’t really started yet. And they had the next seventy-five years to figure out how it would end. He reached for her shoulder but she shrugged out of his light grip and faced him. Her chin was up, and that damned determined glint was in her eyes.

“I think you should go.”

This couldn’t be happening. He had a hard-on the size of the Caretaker’s array, she wanted him so badly she was panting, and she wanted him to leave?

He shook his head. “B’Elanna?”

“Go! Get out.”

She was angry now, glaring at him. She’d flung out an arm and was pointing at the door, as if he’d forgotten where it was. Tom felt his own frustration rising to meet hers. “You want this just as much as I do.” It sounded like an accusation; he didn’t care.

“No, I don’t.”

Her arms were folded across her chest again, raising her breasts toward the V neckline of her shirt. Tom could see the hard points of her nipples through the thin cloth. She didn’t look at all soft and warm now.

He expelled a breath, shook his head, and left.

#

He was still pissed off when the ‘lift arrived so he didn’t notice that it was occupied until he’d stepped in and called for his deck.

“What were you doing on deck nine, Paris?”

Goodie. Just what he needed to cap off his fantastic evening. “Seska.” He didn’t need to be a Vulcan to know what she thought of him.

She had turned to face him, belligerence twisting her features. “She isn’t interested in you, when are you going to realize that?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Tom said, blithely.

“B’Elanna. Don’t you think I’ve noticed the way you look at her? They way you’ve always looked at her.”

“You’re imagining things.”

“Am I? I don’t think so. Just because she’s stuck here with you, don’t imagine she’ll choose you.”

“I could say the same thing to you about Chakotay.”

Her eyes narrowed and the glare she sent him turned her pretty face ugly. “Just watch yourself, Paris.” She stepped off the lift on deck seven. “You may have fooled some people, but I know exactly who you are.”

Tom’s jaw clenched as he watched her walk away. As soon as the ‘lift doors closed, he called for deck six. It took almost no time for the lift to travel one deck. The corridor was empty but it didn’t really matter if anyone saw him. With the success of Sandrine’s, they’d likely assume he was working on another programme.

He entered the hololab and strode behind the console. “Computer, display Ricky character from the Paris-three programme.”

Tom glanced up at the grid as Ricky materialized, frozen in place. He smiled a little. He’d devised her while he was still in high school: a sexy, sultry older woman who hung on his every word and thought he was endlessly fascinating. He’d grown up over the years though she hadn’t, and he’d tweaked her a bit, made her more sarcastic, widened her knowledge base so he could actually sit and talk with her. Made her breasts smaller so she looked more like a regular woman and less like a teenage fantasy.

He still felt affection for her, like an old, childhood toy he’d brought with him into adulthood.

“Computer, adjust her parameters to the following specifications. Decrease her height by ten centimetres.”

:Modification complete:

Ricky shrunk slightly. “Good. Adjust her limbs to correspond with her height. Make her hair shorter, to her shoulders.”

:Modification complete:

Tom smiled. “That’s better,” he said. “Access the character’s subroutines. Make her more interesting.”

:Specify:

“Make her more intelligent. Give her an interest in temporal mechanics.”

:Modification complete:

“Computer, save changes and activate Ricky character.”

:Changes saved:

Ricky blinked and her posture relaxed. She inclined her head toward him and smiled, then looked around the room. “This isn’t your apartment, Tommy.”

She took a step toward him, and Tom came out from behind the console. “No. It’s my…office.”

“Your office? Funny, it doesn’t look like the bridge of a starship.” She smiled and ran her right hand up his chest, threaded the fingers of her left through his hair.

Tom slid his hands around her waist and pulled her closer. “This is my other office. I work here sometimes, writing programmes.” He kissed her throat, nuzzled her under the ear.

“Programmes for what?”

“It doesn’t matter,” he said. He kissed her, and she melted against him pressing her breasts to his chest, her arms going around his neck. Her belly cradled his groin. He pulled her more firmly against him, slid a hand down her back to her hip, followed the warm curve of flesh toward her bottom.

Then stilled. Damn. She wasn’t flesh. She was photons and force fields. Light and energy.

Tom straightened and reached for her hands, curling his fingers around her wrists and tugging her arms away from his shoulders. He stared at her for a moment, then shook his head. “I’m sorry.”

She frowned at him, confusion written on her perfect face. “What is it, Tommy? What’s wrong?”

“Computer, permanently delete Ricky character.”

:Confirmed:

“Tommy?”

Ricky blinked out of existence, and Tom sighed. She wasn’t real. She didn’t feel real. And he realized he wanted something more than a make-believe girlfriend.

###

 

Take a look at my girlfriend, she’s the only one I got
Not much of a girlfriend, never seem to get a lot

Songwriters: Richard Davies / Roger Hodgson
Breakfast in America lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

 

Sli’Vak: whore, from the DS9 episode, Penumbra. Worf says it to Ezri Dax though he’s really pissed off at Jadzia.

Chapter Text

###

Ah lately, I'm like a watch that's overwound
And I've got both feet off the ground.

Songwriters: Richard Davies / Roger Hodgson
Oh Darling lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

 

 

###

The loud crack of one ball smacking into another sounded over the noise of background chatter and tinned music, and caught Tom’s attention. He swallowed a mouthful of synthale and smiled.

Harry jumped backward and to the left, making a little high-pitched, strangled sound as his feet left the floor. An orange ball arced toward him, then shimmered out of existence as soon as it cleared the confines of the pool table. A sheepish expression crossed his face, but any further noise he might have made was drowned out by a loud peal of laughter. Ensign Ahhhhni, as Tom would forevermore think of her, had brought both hands to her mouth in a futile attempt to stifle her guffaws. Her eyes were round with surprise, and Tom couldn’t help laughing at both of them.

Neither could B’Elanna. She was standing near the rack of pool cues, leaning against the wall, and her throaty chuckle made him turn his head. Their eyes met and Tom stilled, but she grinned at him, and he took a chance and ambled over to her. He was a little surprised to see her here tonight; he’d figured she would have come up with some emergency that only she could handle, to wriggle out of attending.

“Hi.” Tom settled his shoulders against the wall then turned his attention back to the table where Jetal, Dalby, Harry and Carlson were playing. He grinned at Harry’s faux-outraged, “What kind of shot do you call that?” and Ahhhhni’s answering, “My grandmother always said, ‘go big or go home’.”

“I wonder if her grandmother ever dreamed it would take seventy-five years to get home?” B’Elanna said.

She sounded sad, her tone lending her statement a melancholy air that felt wrong in the middle of a party. Tom glanced at her. Her full mouth was twisted into a wry smile, and Tom wondered how much of that comment was a joke, and how much was resignation.

He hadn’t seen much of her over the last few days. The nature of their jobs rarely put them in the same room together. She hadn’t sought out his company but he didn’t think she’d been avoiding him, either, and he was relieved. He couldn’t help thinking about the night he’d introduced the crew to his Sandrine’s programme and what had happened after. What had almost happened between them in her quarters.

There had been one moment last week, toward the end of a very uncomfortable staff meeting, when Tom had wondered if they would ever get past that incident. She’d been seated directly across from him at the briefing table, wedged between Harry and Chakotay, and had managed to answer his question on the starboard impulse engine without once looking at him. She’d kept her head angled away from him through the whole meeting, and Tom figured it would serve her right if she ended up with a stiff neck. He thought she was being childish—she had wanted him, too, before she’d put the brakes on it—and he’d wondered if she’d go the whole seventy-five years without making eye contact with him.

When he’d gone to lunch a few hours after the meeting she’d been sitting at a table with Harry, and he’d hesitated before joining them. But she’d smiled at him rather sheepishly, and had mocked his choice of drink—spinach juice with just a touch of pear for sweetness—then had launched into some rambling story about staff relations in engineering and how important it was that the Starfleet and Maquis crew got along. He’d wondered at the time if something had happened in engineering that the ship’s gossip mill hadn’t yet brought to deck one.

She hadn’t been exactly friendly since then, but she hadn’t frozen him out, either. It was possible she’d been on the receiving end of a lecture on ship’s personnel relations. Whatever it was that had prompted her change of mood, he would take it, gladly.

As hard as it was to put it out of his mind, it was best not to dwell on what had almost happened between them that night, not if they wanted to work together. If she had forgotten it, he could too. Eventually. She was damned hard to forget. He hadn’t managed it in the nine months he’d been incarcerated in the Auckland correctional facility, and he certainly hadn’t forgotten anything about their night together a month ago, after they’d been pulled into the Delta Quadrant.

Tom observed her while she watched Harry’s game. Was she concentrating or pissed off? He had no idea. Her arms were folded across her chest, and her eyes had narrowed in a slight squint. Her jaw was tight, lips pressed together belying their lush softness. He wanted to kiss them open, tug on her bottom lip with his teeth, explore— Tom blinked and took a sip of his beer. Forget. Move on. Plenty of stars in the sky…

A change of subject was required immediately.

“You’re done quick,” he said, aware that his voice sounded a little high. She glanced at him, obviously confused by his statement, and he nodded toward the bar where Joe Carey and Mike Ayala were sharing a toast with synthesized beer.

“Yes, poor Joe. I warned him I’m not very good. I could only coast on his talent for so long.” She shrugged, then smiled. “Mike and Ensign Lang mopped the floor with us.”

“Well,” Tom noted, “it was getting a little sticky.” He grinned in return, relieved that her melancholy mood seemed to have lifted. “I know you weren’t planning to compete,” he began. To be honest, he’d never expected to see her in Sandrine’s again.

“Yeah, well, when the captain pulls rank and orders you…” She shrugged.

She looked more relaxed now, Tom thought, and he hoped she was enjoying the evening. Everyone was.

When he’d first had the idea of a tournament he’d imagined a small thing, five or six teams culled from a sign up sheet. He’d even mused on replicating a real sheet of paper, a pencil and a tack, and posting the sheet outside the holodeck door to make it more authentic. He’d run the idea past the captain at the end of that staff meeting, and she’d been the one to take the idea and run with it. He hadn’t even had to start his prepared speech on how it would foster crew comradeship, distract them from the worry and strangeness at being stranded seventy thousand light years from home as they focused on a little harmless rivalry between their new shipmates.

Janeway had made a ship-wide announcement, encouraging every one of Voyager’s departments to float a team. Tom had complained that engineering had fifty people to choose from, but Janeway, not above a little flattery, had countered that flight control would have him, and they’d agreed to not set limits on the number of teams from each department. It was all in good fun, afterall.

The tournament had taken longer than Tom thought it would to get started. It had been tricky to arrange with Voyager’s crew on three shifts, but each department had made allowances with scheduling. It was the second night of the tournament, and Tom had booked the holodeck for four nights in all. They didn’t need that much time, but he figured it would be more fun—more of an event—if it was drawn out. Harry’s game was the last scheduled for the evening, and Tom was looking forward to playing a game or two himself, just for fun.

They were into the third round of playoffs, with the small but stalwart team from stellar cartography, consisting of the Delaney sisters, knocked out of the competition early. They had commandeered a free table for a friendly game, and were being skunked by Lieutenant Chapman and Ensign Lang, but it didn’t seem to be dampening Jenny’s enthusiasm any.

It was anyone’s guess who would win the only competitive game still going: ops or engineering.

Because of the size of the department, engineering had eight teams in the tournament. They had played off against each other until they were down to the final two. Jetal and Dalby had taken on ops, while B’Elanna and Carey had been matched against Ayala and Lang, in security. B’Elanna’s team hadn’t lasted long though Joe had managed to squeak out one win of the four games they’d played against Ayala and Lang. If Tom were a betting man, he’d put a few replicator rations on security to win the tournament.

Another loud crack and a grunt from Harry brought Tom’s attention back to the game. The solid blue ball actually left the felt and bounced into the side pocket where Harry’s hand had been resting. He snapped it up out of the way, curling his fingers reflexively. It looked like Ahni planned to ‘stone’ Harry to death with the balls rather than rely on the skill of her partner in pocketing them. Both Dalby and Ayala were good. So was Chakotay. Tom idly wondered if ‘pool shark’ was a prerequisite for joining the Maquis. Maybe that was how they funded all those ships and weapons?

Jetal and Dalby. Carey and B’Elanna. Hogan and Nozawa. Jor and Chapman…

Another ball rolled into a pocket, sedately this time, and a “Yes!” from B’Elanna made Tom turn his head and stare at her. Though he had set up the schedule, deciding which team played who in the opening rounds, he just now realized that B’Elanna, or someone in her department, had taken care to match the players so each team from Engineering had one ‘fleeter and one Maquis. All but one: Seska and Jonas had paired up, though it hadn’t helped them win their round. At the moment, not surprisingly, there were no Maquis working at the conn, and really the nature of the job meant there was no opportunity for his staff to get into arguments or form resentments that they could work out over a pool table and a pint of ale. The same probably couldn’t be said for engineering.

“This was an excellent idea, Mister Paris.” Janeway and Chakotay interrupted his musings just as he was about to ask B’Elanna how things were going on deck eleven.

Tom turned his attention to his superior officer, accepting the compliment. “Thank you, Captain.”

It was an excellent idea, and had eaten up more of his down time than he would have admitted in front of his captain. Tom had expanded Sandrine’s to accommodate two more pool tables, and had added a bartender. He’d kept Sandrine, but she’d acted more as a hostess than wait staff.

“Yes, well done, Tom.” Chakotay didn’t exactly smile at him, but he wasn’t stiff with him, either. He and Chakotay had come to an unspoken peace, a tentative detente that ensured a smooth shift whenever they were together on the bridge. So long as Tom kept his attention on his work and didn’t try to be too chatty—something easier willed than performed when his shift consisted of unrelenting tedium—and spoke to Chakotay with the respect due a senior officer, the big man was happy. Or rather, less pissed off than usual.

But Chakotay had downright grinned the other day when Janeway had skunked Tom at pool again, and if it took being humiliated by the captain to buy a little good will with the man who was ultimately responsible for Tom’s duty assignments, Tom would bear it.

Janeway hadn’t joined any team, preferring to remain neutral for the sake of ship’s relations, but she had performed the ceremonial opening break—and sunk three balls in the process. Chakotay had paired with Rollins on a team from command, and they had beaten him and Jenkins 3-2.

Tom heard the plunk of a ball dropping into a pocket, then a triumphant, “Whaaa-haa! Victory! Victory is miiiinne!”

Ahni Jetal raised her pool cue in celebration, then almost smacked Harry on the head with it as she swept it in an arc and took a deep bow. Harry’s scowl made Tom laugh, but it quickly turned into a gasp as B’Elanna hollered a cheer of her own.

‘Ha! Engineering is still in, Paris!” she crowed. She’d tried to pretend that she didn’t care about the tournament, but Tom could see that she had a competitive streak that was revelling in her department’s win. Her expression was all defiance, and her eyes shone, exuding as much joy as if she’d won the round herself. Shit, she was gorgeous, he thought. She greeted Harry as he joined them and gave his arm a squeeze.

“Sorry, Starfleet.” She tried to send Harry a look of commiseration, but a grin made her mouth twitch.

Tom laughed again at Harry’s sullen expression, then turned to the chalkboard on the wall and drew a line through Harry’s team.

“Tough game, Harry,” he said.

“Yeah, well, you’re out too,” Harry answered. “I figured your team would do better, Tom. Since you’re such an ace pool player.”

Tom frowned. Sometimes Harry was touchy, and he didn’t appear to enjoy losing to the effusive Ensign Jetal.

“I guess Chakotay’s just better,” B’Elanna said. She’d thrust out her chin and she and the commander were sharing a smile. Tom didn’t like the warm look in her eyes. And he really didn’t like that it bothered him.

“C’mon, Harry,” he thumped his friend in the chest with the back of his hand, “rack em up and we’ll play a game.”

“I’ll be your partner, Harry.” Jenny Delaney curled her hands around Harry’s other arm.

Tom raised an eyebrow at the sight: Harry Kim, the most devotedly affianced man in the Delta Quadrant, with two beautiful women hanging off him, neither one of which was his fiancée. The universe was a mysterious place.

“Waddya say, pal?” Tom said. “Don’t blow this opportunity.” He looked pointedly at Jenny and smiled.

Harry looked resigned. “Fine.” Jenny whooped and started to gather the balls and rack them. “You know, you can just tell the computer to reset the table,” Harry grumped.

“More authentic this way,” Jenny noted.

Tom glanced at his command crew, who were watching them. “Captain?” He offered a cue to her, but she held up her hands and shook her head.

“I don’t think so. We’re going to go relieve Lieutenant Tuvok for a few hours. You carry on.” She nodded at their group, then headed toward the door, Chakotay following at her heels.

B’Elanna watched them go and sighed. “I should—”

Harry took the cue from Tom’s hand and shoved it toward B’Elanna. “C’mon, Maquis. If I have to do it, you have to do it.”

She wanted to refuse, Tom could tell, and likely would have if he had been the one to ask. Their eyes met and Tom saw the moment when she capitulated. She sighed again and accepted the pool cue, and glanced away.

“I’ll break,” Jenny announced. She whacked the cue ball but the results were less than spectacular. Few of the balls had moved very far, and none went into a pocket. Jenny glanced at Harry and shrugged.

B’Elanna looked at Tom, and he waved a hand at her. “Ladies first,” he said. She narrowed her eyes at him then turned her attention back to the table. Sheesh. This is what chivalry gets you, Tom thought. She was frowning, examining the position of the balls. Most were clustered at the foot, where they’d been racked, and there weren’t any easy shots.

Tom could see that the one she was trying for would be tricky: knocking the two into the three to sink it into the corner pocket. But he held his tongue and didn't even try to coach her. She was an engineer; he wanted to see if she could figure out the physics.

The cue ball hit the two with too much force, and Tom winced. It knocked the three straight into the foot rail, and it bounced back into the cluster of balls, sending them rolling. It didn’t go anywhere near the corner pocket she was aiming for, but it did almost sink the ten into the opposite corner.

Tom heard B’Elanna’s grunt of frustration. Harry nodded as he stepped up to the table. “Nice break, Maquis.”

B’Elanna scowled.

Harry tapped the cue ball, and the ten rolled slowly into the pocket. The cue ball bounced off the side rail, striking the twelve and sinking it in the side pocket. Harry smirked. “Stripes,” he said. Jenny whooped!

“Yeah, beginner’s luck.” It was Tom‘s turn to frown.

Harry surveyed the board, choosing a maroon ball that was close enough to the pocket that a well aimed cough would send it in the side. All it needed was a kiss of the cue ball… Harry missed, sending the white ball rolling past. He sighed elaborately.

“Show us how it’s done, Tom,” Jenny grinned.

It was nice to have a cheerleader. B’Elanna was staring at him, her expression flat. Tom sunk the five easily. The one was a breeze. He walked around the table to line up the six and grinned at B’Elanna. She rolled her eyes and snorted. At least it was a reaction. Tom leaned over the table, judging the angle. It was a little trickier to sink the six, but he did it.

“Save some for the rest of us,” Harry griped while Jenny applauded.

Tom smiled. Really, he was out of options. The best he could hope for now was to break up the board a bit to set up B’Elanna for her next shot while not making it too easy for Harry and Jenny. He sighted along his cue, then glanced up catching B’Elanna staring at him intently. That competitive streak was back, he could see it in her eyes. Jenny, who had cheered just as hard for him as she had for Harry, didn’t seem to care who won, but B’Elanna did.

Tom stilled, relaxed his shoulders, then with a quick jab sent the cue ball hard into the four. The balls bounced and ricocheted, leaving the seven on the lip of the corner pocket. B’Elanna couldn’t miss it if she tried. Of course, in her excitement, Jenny might just sink it herself.

Tom stepped back. Jenny surveyed the table frowning exaggeratedly, her lips twisted in concentration. “You’re going down, Paris,” she pronounced, lining up on the nine.

“Put up or shut up, Delaney,” Tom countered. He glanced at B’Elanna and smiled, but she was stone-faced.

Jenny bent over the table, stretching to make her shot. The nine was on its own, and she had a clear run to the corner pocket. “She’s got great shape for that shot,” Tom commented.

“What the hell does that mean?” B’Elanna snapped.

She was glaring at him, obviously pissed off. Tom was baffled. He glanced at Jenny who was still leaning over the table, her rather shapely backside aimed toward them. Tom rolled his eyes and snorted. “‘Shape’ means the placement of the balls on the table in relation to the pockets. It means the balls are in good position for her shot. Did you think I was—”

Jenny shushed them both, then slowly brought her stick back and shot it forward. The cue ball smacked into the rail and bounced, missing the nine entirely, then rammed into two balls sending them rolling. They came to a stop in exactly the right position to block B’Elanna’s easy shot on the seven. Jenny threw back her head and roared with frustration.

“Excuse me.”

B’Elanna slipped past Tom, her shoulder knocking into his chest and arm. He turned slightly, watching her. She had room to get by; she didn’t have to touch him. A little flutter of excitement curled in his belly. Maybe she was past whatever it was that had made her send him away last week. Maybe the competition—both the game and Jenny Delaney—had heated her Klingon blood. Given her a spark. Klingons liked to be challenged, didn’t they? Did she think there was something between him and Jenny? Was she jealous?

He could only hope.

B’Elanna walked around the table and bent forward. She glanced at him, and Tom’s mouth stretched in a slow smile. She smacked the cue ball with a little too much force, and it shot forward. It hit the two, which bounced off the protective casing on the pocket, dancing and juddering from side to side a few times before it fell into the hole. Tom released a breath. The cue ball came to rest on the foot rail, and Tom caught B’Elanna’s little smirk. An easy tap and the seven was home.

They were down to two balls on the table while Harry and Jenny still had five.

B’Elanna missed her next shot. Harry easily sank the fourteen, then missed. Tom, inexplicably, missed his shot, and B’Elanna scowled at him. Jenny sank the eleven in the corner. She immediately dropped the thirteen in the side and crowed! Tom couldn’t help but grin at her.

They were tied.

The fifteen rolled sedately into the corner pocket, and Tom’s mouth dropped open. Jenny looked shocked, Harry smug. B’Elanna simply looked stunned. Jenny sank the nine in the corner pocket, but the cue ball followed it in.

“Nooooooooooo,” Jenny wailed!

All the striped balls were off the table. B’Elanna would win or lose the game for them, and with their balls hugging opposite sides of the table, the shots wouldn’t be easy. Apprehension gripped Tom’s belly now. B’Elanna picked up the cue ball and hefted it, thinking. She placed it, then bent over the table, lining up her shot.

Talk about great shape…

“Not too hard,” Tom said, unable to stop himself from giving her advice. She sent him a death glare for his trouble.

She took the shot and the four dropped into the corner pocket. Tom couldn’t hold in his grin, even though the three would be almost impossible. “Now, you—” he began.

“Quiet,” she barked. The three went in, but so did the cue ball. It rolled back and forth across the table, bouncing three times before falling into the side pocket. Tom winced, but B’Elanna cursed out loud.

Ghay’cha’!” B’Elanna spat.

Unfortunately, the eight was resting squarely in the centre of the foot string, perfectly placed for an easy roll to either pocket. “Right corner,” Harry said, tapping it with his cue. He smiled at Tom, placing the white ball near the black. No one could miss that shot.

The eight sailed into the designated pocket and Tom groaned. It was followed by the cue ball, and there was stunned silence. Tom and B’Elanna had won by default. He glanced at her, but she wasn’t smiling. He agreed. As victories went, it was pretty hollow.

“C’mon, Harry,” Tom said, racking his stick, “let me buy you a beer.”

##

Chapter Text

 

###

 

“He's just one big hormone walking around the ship.” - Neelix to Kes, about Tom Paris. The Phage

##

B’Elanna had not changed her mind. She had not reconsidered, or missed him, or been feeling the thrill of victory. Or, if she had, it hadn’t been with him. He hadn’t expected her to leave Sandrine’s with him last night, but he had stayed awake on the off chance that she would press his buzzer. She hadn’t. His chime had gone unrung.

Tom was on beta shift this week, and though he’d luxuriated in sleeping in until oh eight hundred, his day stretched out before him with little in the way of entertainment.

He stepped out of the sonic shower and ran his fingers through his hair, smoothing it down. The sonic waves always left it fluffy, indulging its tendency to curl, which irritated him when it flopped into his eyes. He wondered how many replicator rations it would cost for a good, long hot water shower. He peered at himself in the mirror, then touched up his hair with his comb. He took a moment to look at himself critically. There was no trace of his shitty night’s sleep, interrupted by dreams of the enigmatic Lieutenant Torres, and his tossing and turning. He would do.

Everyone seemed to have enjoyed themselves last night. People had complimented him on the programme and agreed that the tournament was a great idea. And his captain had publicly praised his efforts. It felt good: to be complimented, to be appreciated. He couldn’t help the swell of pride that had warmed him. He had yet to draw up the roster for tonight’s games, but his mind was already toying with an idea for a new programme—a high seas adventure with sailing ships and cannons and pirates. Lots of pirates. And… his brain immediately envisioned B’Elanna in tight britches and tall pirate boots, a flowing shirt, tightly laced vest, a sword and pistols.

He shook his head, dispelling the image of the Sexy Pirate Torres. Seriously, he needed to stop fixating on her. He’d been turned down before, and by sexier women than her. No. Not sexier, but they’d been more conventionally attractive: taller, with more curves than Torres’ finely muscled body. And those women had actually smiled at him occasionally. He got over it.

Maybe it was because they were trapped on the ship together. Maybe it was because he had to sit across a briefing room table from her at least once a week. Maybe it was the fact that he insisted on tracking her down to hand her his helm report when he could easily send it to her workstation via ship’s comlink. But if he did that, he wouldn’t get to see her, to talk to her. He wouldn’t get to brush her palm with his fingers as he handed her the PADD…

Tom scowled at his mirror self. “Knock it off, Tommyboy.”

He could try his luck with the lovely Lieutenant Nicoletti. They hadn’t exactly had a stellar first meeting, but he shouldn’t let that put him off his game. She was smart, attractive, and he could probably go to her with any future temporal physics questions he had.

Yeah. Sure. If he could solve time travel, he’d go back to his weeks with Chakotay’s cell and straighten himself out; he’d show B’Elanna that he wasn’t the rum-soaked asshole she’d apparently believed him to be. If they’d started something then… she would absolutely hate him now for betraying her by accepting Janeway’s offer, instead of just being pissed at him for accepting her own. As if any guy would have turned her down that night.

Aw, who was he kidding? He wasn’t interested in the reserved Lieutenant Nicoletti.

Tom pulled on a uniform and found his boots. The Doctor had planned another quiz for him after lunch—the Bolian lymphatic system—but aside from that he was free until sixteen hundred. Ever since Kes had decided to become Voyager’s new nurse, the doc had eased up on Tom’s study load. Eased but not halted it.

His stomach growled. It would have more to complain about after breakfast, he was sure. He was raising his hand to his chest when his combadge chirped.

Kim to Paris.”

Tom grinned. He’d hoped to wake him, but apparently Harry hadn’t been able to sleep-in either. The curse of the shift change.

“Paris here,” he answered.

Are you awake? Want to get some breakfast?

“You read my mind, Harry,” Tom said. “Meet you in ten?”

Sure. Kim out.

There seemed to be no trace of Harry’s bad mood this morning, and Tom plastered a smile on his face as he picked up a PADD from his desk and sailed out the door of his quarters with a spring in his step.

#

There was a line-up. Gamma shift had just come off duty, and Tom had arrived in the mess hall as they were trickling in for their dinner. Harry wasn’t there yet, so it didn’t really matter how long he stood in line and he entertained himself trying to put names to unfamiliar faces. There was an older guy with grey in his hair in sciences blue who Tom would swear he’d never seen before. A serious-looking, dark haired guy in operations gold stood at a replicator. Tom’s brain supplied the name Dalby, but that was not Ken, the former Maquis pool shark, that was… Hurst? Hust? Dust? … Durst! Pete Durst. He was assigned to ops, Harry had mentioned him, but so far they had never been formally introduced.

Tom turned and searched for a table near the viewport. His eyes momentarily locked with a pair so dark they were almost black: Lon Suder. He was gazing back at Tom, his face composed, his expression flat. The man had obviously been observing him. Tom’s chin came up automatically. His shoulders went back, and he straightened his spine, tensing the muscles in his back and chest.

A Betazoid, one of Chakotay’s Maquis, Tom had met Suder while on the Liberty, almost a year ago. Tom wasn’t normally given to flights of fancy, but the guy creeped him out. He’d heard whispers that Suder wasn’t an empath like most of his species, that he couldn’t sense the feelings or desires of others, but that possibly hadn’t been what Tom had found so unsettling about him. Suder was quiet, still. He observed. Tom was pretty sure the man didn’t suffer from shyness. When Suder watched you, it felt like being watched by a big cat: you weren’t sure when he would pounce, but you instinctively knew that you weren’t going to get away without getting your throat torn out.

Tom nodded an acknowledgment at him to let him know he saw him, then casually turned back toward the galley. Just in time, as it turned out. He’d made it to the counter faster than he’d thought he would, and smiled a greeting at Trisha Jenkins as she turned with her tray and faced the room.

“Lieutenant,” she acknowledged him.

“Good try last night,” Tom replied.

“We’ll get ‘em next time, sir,” she said, then walked toward the mess with her tray.

Tom switched his attention to Neelix, whose lips had compressed into a thin line as he dumped a ladle-full of a sticky orange goo onto a tray with a splot!, then thrust it across the counter. Tom peered at his breakfast. He attempted to identify the white fibrous chunks mixed in with the bright neon sludgy stuff on his plate. He opened his mouth to ask what it was when Neelix picked up a bowl and garnished the mess on the tray with a goodly amount of coarsely ground grey powder.

It reminded Tom of an old nursery rhyme his mother used to chant to get him to eat his porridge: slop, slop, wonderful slop, wonderful slop with a cherry on top!. Or, in this case, ground gravel.

“Thanks,” Tom said.

Neelix ignored him and looked beyond his shoulder to the next person in line, his mouth stretching into a wide smile of greeting.

Tom picked up his tray and turned toward the replicator. It was the start of the week, and his ration account should have been refreshed. He could get a cup of real coffee to wash down his unappetizing breakfast.

“Neelix, that was incomparable.”

Tom didn’t recognize the voice, but there were still a few people onboard he hadn’t met yet. He was about to order coffee, then changed his mind. “Small spinach juice with a touch of pear,” he said. He’d programmed the selection into the replicator last week. A glass of bright green liquid sparkled into existence on the replicator tray.

“Why thank you, Ensign Ballard,” Neelix enthused! “I do my best to make the crew’s tummies happy.”

“Lyndsay, please. Gotta go,” her voice dropped conspiratorially, “I’m late for shift.”

What? Who? Tom jerked just as he was moving the glass to his breakfast tray and some of the juice slopped over his hand. He craned his neck in time to see a tall woman with reddish-brown hair stride out the door. “Damn,” he muttered, shaking juice off his fingers.

There was a free table, likely the one the mysterious Lyndsay Ballard had just vacated, and he claimed it. He poked at his breakfast with his fork, then changed his mind and picked up the juice glass.

“Tom, hello.”

Kes was standing at his elbow, and Tom smiled a greeting at her, genuinely happy to see her. “Kes.” He gestured to the empty chair opposite him. She sat and observed him.

“I thought you were on beta shift this week.”

“I am,” Tom nodded. “Unfortunately, my internal clock didn’t get the memo. I’ve been awake for a while. Did you enjoy yourself last night?”

“Of course.”

Kes and Neelix had attended the tournament, Neelix taking it upon himself to provide snacks. Kes had partnered with Samantha Wildman, and they had been defeated in the first round. Neelix, as self-appointed host, had declined a spot on a team, preferring to oversee the evening and get in the way, and drop real hors d'oeuvres on the holographic tables.

Kes shifted her gaze from Tom’s face to the glass in his hand. “That looks interesting. What is it?” Sometimes he forgot that everything was new to her, and the fact that she thought it was all fascinating warmed his scabbed and jaded heart.

Tom held up his glass. “Spinach juice with a touch of pear to sweeten it. I had an old girlfriend in the Academy, a real health nut. Susie Crabtree. She introduced me to it.” They had met in the school’s weight room. Tom, always slender, had taken one look at the more muscled specimens among the cadets and had decided he needed to bulk up. Susie had told him spinach juice would practically grow muscles on its own. By the time he found out she was kidding and referencing an old, twentieth-century cartoon, he’d developed a taste for it. They had dated for a while, sharing a penchant for twentieth century trivia and outdoor sports, and when they’d finally broken up—when she’d dumped him—he’d been devastated.

For a while, anyway. He reflected on Susie’s long, strawberry-blonde hair, her pert nose and hourglass figure, and… his gut still tightened when B’Elanna’s scowl transposed itself over the memory of Susie’s easy smile.

Kes was nodding, still focused on the bright green liquid in Tom’s glass. Tom concentrated on the present.

“Do you want to try it?” He offered her the glass.

“Oh, no. I can order my own.”

“But if you don’t like it, you’ll have wasted a replicator ration. Consider it a taste test. I insist.”

She smiled and accepted the glass, and took a tentative sip. “Ohh, it’s good!”

Tom chuckled at the look on her face: her eyes wide with pleasure, a delighted smile on her lips. He glanced toward the sound of the mess doors opening—Harry had finally arrived—and caught Neelix glowering at him.

“You have it,” Tom said. “I can get another.”

“No, I couldn’t. Besides, I have to report to sickbay and I don’t want to be late.” She placed the glass back on Tom’s side of the table.

Harry was at the counter now, getting his breakfast, and Tom could see the tension in Neelix’ jaw as he struggled to be polite to Harry while he disapproved of Tom and Kes’ apparently intimate conversation. “You actually like working with the doc?” Tom asked, hoping she’d stay a few more minutes. He wanted to see how long it would take Neelix to come over and hustle her away.

“Oh, it’s wonderful. I’ve already finished the latest lesson.” Kes smiled and stood, gathering the PADDs she had brought. “I’m hoping the Doctor will give me something a little more advanced today. I think it’s fascinating.”

Tom hadn’t found medicine, or sickbay duty, particularly fascinating. He’d been out of his element, and constantly afraid he’d screw up.

“Enjoy your day, Tom. And thank you for the taste test.” Kes left with a little wave, which Tom returned. He turned his head to watch her leave, and noticed Neelix glaring at him. Tom smiled, picked up the glass of juice, then turned it so he sipped from the same spot on the rim that Kes had.

Neelix’ glare turned into a glower. Tom’s view of the Talaxian’s cheerful countenance suddenly turned into one of Harry’s uniformed chest.

“Why do you do that?” Harry looked disappointed in him.

“Because she’s there, Harry.”

“You could get along with Neelix if you tried. He likes everyone.”

“It’s more fun this way,” Tom quipped.

Harry rolled his eyes and sighed. “So,” he began, “I noticed a few holodeck characters were missing from Sandrine’s last night,” Harry said.

Tom shifted in his seat. “Oh? I took out a few, to make more room for the crew.”

“I didn’t think Ricky took up a lot of space.”

“Yeah, well, I didn’t want the distraction,” Tom hedged. “Needed to concentrate.” He shoved a forkful of the orange goo into his mouth, and grimaced.

“Really? She wasn’t there the other day, either, when the commander beat your butt.”

“Is there a point to this, Harry?” Tom smiled blandly at his friend. His pal. Tension made his shoulders stiffen and start to climb toward his ears.

“Oh, nothing,” Harry sing-songed. “It’s just that I tell you I think she’s a little adolescent and suddenly she disappears.”

Tom’s shoulders relaxed and lowered. “Maybe you were right, Harry. Maybe I took your advice and turned my life around. Only real, live women for me from now on.”

Harry rolled his eyes and snorted. “That’ll be the day,” he said.

“So,” Tom did his best to change the subject, “what do you have planned for the day?”

Harry shrugged. “I thought if the holodeck is free we could get in a few games. Practice.”

Tom remembered that he still had to draw up the roster for the final games in the tournament. “Sure,” he agreed. He had nothing else to do.

###

Joy!

Joy bubbled in his belly, churning and frothing and threatening to crawl up his esophagus and choke him. His chest felt tight. He forgot to breathe.

There was stunned silence on the bridge. They had made contact with someone in the Alpha Quadrant.

Tom glanced at Chakotay. The big man had been standing at his elbow for the last hour checking sensor readings and running simulations. It had irritated Tom at first, Chakotay’s powerful, looming presence at his conn. Didn’t the man trust him to do his job? He’d gone above and beyond to show Captain Janeway that her faith in him hadn’t been misplaced, and he’d believed Chakotay had started to trust him too, until he’d moved into the console beside him and seemed to watch his every move.

Two months ago he’d been incarcerated in the Federation penal colony in Auckland, sweating under the summer sun while repairing ground vehicles in the relative freedom of the campus workyard. Tom Paris, Starfleet washout, fuck up, convicted Maquis sympathizer, had been entrusted with that responsibility. Only inmates who were deemed low-risk had access to tools. He’d felt pride for the first time in a long while. Not because of the job, which was mindlessly simple, but because of the trust.

It threw him, how quickly he’d come to consider this place on the bridge his. How possessive he’d become of his new life even though he wasn’t quite certain he’d earned the responsibility. Not that he would ever admit that to the captain. Or Chakotay.

Tom had eventually got used to Chakotay lurking at his side. Then, as he concentrated on sifting through the data on his sensor screens, he’d forgotten about him entirely.

B’Elanna and Harry had settled into the engineering station on the bridge, and though Chakotay’s body had blocked B’Elanna from his line of sight, Tom had listened as they’d brainstormed their way through the hurdles in implementing Harry’s plan to make voice contact with whoever was on the other side of the micro wormhole. They had both been calm and focused, and Tom had wondered how they had managed it: his own pulse had been racing at the prospect of contacting someone from home.

It was racing again now, hammering in his ears, providing a dull rushing sound that competed with the garbled message Harry was scrambling to clear up. And then, suddenly, it was like he was on the bridge with them.

::Please confirm. You said Delta Quadrant? In a Federation starship?::

Tom almost laughed at the disbelief in the man’s voice. Almost laughed anyway, from his own sense of wonder. They were speaking with someone in the Alpha Quadrant!

“Yes,” Janeway confirmed. “We were on a mission and we got pulled into this quadrant.”

::Pulled in? How?::

“It's a complicated story. Please, if you would just try deconstructing the phase shift of our hailing frequency you could verify—”

::You are undoubtedly still in the Alpha Quadrant. What are your coordinates?::

A little to the left of the ass-end of nowhere, Tom thought.

“I assure you I am telling you the truth. We are in the Delta Quadrant, seventy- thousand light years from you.”

Janeway was doing her best to make him believe her, her tone taking on a note of pleading, and Tom felt a curl of unease in his belly. The cargo ship captain wasn’t buying it. Wasn’t even entertaining the idea of believing them. Tom turned his chair and watched his captain. She looked far more calm than he felt.

::This is preposterous.::

It was, Tom had to agree. Preposterous. Ridiculous. Unbelievable. And Tom’s unease turned to panic when the ship captain cut off the comm signal.

::You are obviously lying. I am terminating communication.::

Silence engulfed the bridge again.

“Why would he have broken off transmission?” Chakotay asked.

Tom had been wondering that, himself. He was about to ask, was it something we said? when Tuvok broke in.

“Perhaps I can offer an explanation. The comm link signature of his transmission indicates the message originated from a Romulan ship. Further, there are no known shipping lanes in the sector he identified. Given the precise calibration of his signal I would suggest that he is, in fact, on board a science vessel.

Tom frowned. “Why would he pretend to be a cargo captain?”

The Federation wasn’t at war with the Romulan Empire, but the two powers hadn’t been on easy terms within Tom’s memory. His father was of the opinion that they never would be. The Romulans, xenophobic and isolationist, and the Federation were too different, didn’t share the same ideals.

“If he's engaged in some kind of secret research he might want to conceal that fact,” Chakotay said.

And if he were some sort of Romulan agent, he very likely wasn’t going to help them. Tom’s stomach sank.

“Just our luck.” B’Elanna’s tone reflected Tom’s own disappointment. “We raise one ship from the Alpha Quadrant and it has to be Romulan.”

###

“We would be deeply grateful for any efforts you might make to persuade your government to send our messages.”

::I cannot guarantee success, but I will try to persuade my superiors to make their decision quickly and positively.::

“Thank you.”

::I will contact you again.::

The transmission ended and the image of the Romulan captain was replaced with a field of stars.

It took a good portion of beta shift but they’d finally convinced him to accept their hail last night. In his excitement, Harry hadn’t even waffled about waking Janeway. Though they weren’t on red alert, the captain had ordered her more experienced senior staff back on alpha shift until the situation with the wormhole was resolved. Tom had grabbed a quick six hours of sleep, but he wasn’t tired; adrenaline and replicated espresso were keeping him alert. Harry appeared to be coasting on hope; Tom didn’t know if he or Torres had even slept.

They’d managed to establish a visual link with the Romulan ship, and Tom had watched as the man conversed with Janeway, searching his expression for signs of compassion. There weren’t any. But he told them he’d asked his government to relay messages to their families, and had admitted to missing his own while he’d been in space for the last year. Tom had wondered how the man would feel if he knew he was facing a lifetime away from home.

“Commander,” Tom heard Janeway addressing Chakotay, “let's assume he's going to be successful. Tell the crew to prepare personal messages and have them ready within the hour.”

“With pleasure, Captain.”

Chakotay didn’t have time to order the crew to write their letters before Torres came storming onto the bridge, insisting on speaking with the captain privately. The two had gone into the captain’s ready room, and B’Elanna had barrelled out a few minutes later with a huge grin on her face. She scooped up Harry and headed for parts unknown, and Tom felt the first wave of apprehension creep up his spine. He wondered what had made her so happy. Did she think that Starfleet had some sort of supership, able to fold space, or fly at warp 9.99? Did she assume that, once they heard Voyager’s crew was alive, that they would launch a rescue mission?

His imaginings had been wrong, of course. Tom received a data communication from Harry in engineering: they were going to attempt to reconfigure the phase amplitude of the microprobe to support a transporter signal. Torres wanted to piggyback a transporter beam onto the visual link and transport them all to the Romulan ship. It was risky. Crazy. And it could go horribly, irrevocably wrong. But if anyone in the quadrant could figure it out, it was Harry and Torres.

Tom tried not to get his hopes up. He reminded himself of why he was better off right where he was, at the conn of a state-of-the-art ship, head of his department, his old life left behind a lifetime away.

He almost convinced himself. But despite the trouble that was waiting for him—and Voyager’s Maquis contingent—a part of him thrilled at the idea at going home, away from the dangers and uncertainties of the Delta Quadrant. How long would it be before they ran into the Kazon again, or the Vidiians? Or some new danger? At least in the Alpha Quadrant, in the arms of the Federation, he knew who his enemies were.

Tom inhaled a calming breath and stretched the aching muscles in his shoulders. He’d been hunched over his display for hours, gathering as much information about the surrounding space as he could, just in case Torres’ idea worked and they were home by this time tomorrow. His report would be a parting ode to the Delta Quadrant.

He swung his chair and glanced around the bridge. Chakotay had finally reclaimed his seat, giving Tom a little much needed elbow-room. MacAlister had taken over for Harry at ops. Seska and Tabor were at the main engineering console. Ayala and O’Donnell were monitoring the aft security and engineering stations. Monheim was at the forward science station. There was he, Lang at tactical, plus MacAlister. The Maquis crew on the bridge outnumbered Starfleet two-to-one. Tom wondered if Chakotay had contrived it. It was a little late in the game to stage a coup.

A month ago, this would have made Tom uneasy. Once they had recovered from the initial shock of finding themselves stranded in the Delta Quadrant, a quiet desperation had settled over both the Starfleet and Maquis crew. And as the weeks went by and they’d accepted the reality of being seventy-five years from home, Tom had become more and more aware of the dissatisfaction rippling through the ship’s corridors. No one went so far as to blatantly question Janeway’s orders, but her judgement, her motives, had become fair game. The threat of mutiny had become a tangible thing. It hung in the air, making him wary and, as chief of security, likely Tuvok as well. And Tom had wondered: if things had gone differently after the Caretaker had brought them here, how would he have fared on a Maquis ship? Not well, and likely not for long.

But… there was a chance, a good chance, that they would get home in the next twenty-four hours. The microprobe that they had launched into the wormhole was already degrading, and they didn’t have the luxury of time or debate. They had to try; this might be their only chance.

There was an energy on the bridge that Tom had never felt before, even though everyone was quietly absorbed in their tasks. He’d even caught the stoic Ayala smiling. Tom shook his head. None of the Maquis should be happy about this. In Tom’s opinion, they’d been given a reprieve, just like he had.

He wondered again why B’Elanna was so keen on returning to the Alpha Quadrant. Did she think Janeway would pull over near the Badlands, let the Maquis crew off the ship at some neutral colony world with a pat on the back and a crate of rations, free to find their way back to the fight? It was laughable.

Captain Janeway would follow her initial orders and surrender the Maquis outlaws to the first Federation ship they encountered, and Chakotay, B’Elanna, Ayala, and all the rest would be housed in the brig until they could be brought to Earth to stand trial. The whole spectacle would likely be live-broadcast on the Federation News Network. Tom would be sent back to Auckland—if he was very lucky, back to his old, private cell—to await the arrival of his former comrades-in-arms. He could arrange a welcome, show them the best tables in the cafeteria, which sonic shower stalls to avoid. Give them tips on how to prevent chafing from the ankle cuff that they would soon be wearing…

Fitzpatrick appeared at his shoulder while Tom was still deep in thought. Another Maquis, Tom hadn’t met the man during his short tenure with Chakotay’s cell a year ago. He had transported aboard with the rest of the Maquis crew before Chakotay had sacrificed the Val Jean to prevent the destruction of Voyager by the Kazon. He was a good pilot, and had learned the intricacies of an Intrepid-class ship quickly.

“You look like you could use a break, sir. If you’d like to grab something in the mess, I can take over here.”

Tom stared at him a moment, his eyes caught by the man’s rank bar, a prideful, purposeful reminder of his commitment to a cause that Tom had never bothered to fully understand.

He shifted his gaze to the man’s face, composed, expectant, and nodded. He sought Chakotay’s eye, and the former rebel leader smiled at him. Tom stood, picked up the PADD sitting atop his console, and headed for the lift.

#

There was a buzz of conversation in the mess hall, punctuated by laughter. An undercurrent of excitement that was a palpable thing.

Tom stepped up to the counter and accepted a mug of better-than-coffee from a smiling Neelix who, apparently, was so flummoxed by the thought of transporting to the Alpha Quadrant that he forgot to scowl.

“Isn’t it wonderful news, Lieutenant? It’s so exciting! I never dreamed that I would actually get to see Earth—of course, up until I met all of you I didn’t know about Earth… But seventy years! I figured I’d be long dead before Voyager made it back. But we may transport in a few hours! Are you packed? I need to pack! Do you think the captain will allow me to bring my sauté pan?”

“I don’t think there’ll be enough room, Neelix.” Tom tried to sound consoling.

“Oh. I suppose not.” The cook turned and scanned his kitchen, his eyes alighting on a metal implement. “This is my favourite ladle.” He eyed it with affection, then his expression became more serious. “Of course, they have ladles in the Alpha Quadrant. Don’t they?”

“Yeah. I’m pretty sure they do.”

They also had working replicators and a reliable source of power. On Earth, anyway. There were many planets, many settlements, where they didn’t have a reliable source of anything, Tom had had a crash course in that concept when he had joined Chakotay’s band a year ago. “Speak of the Devil,” Tom murmured as the commander walked into the mess.

“Excuse me, Neelix,” Tom said, heading to cut off Chakotay before anyone else caught his attention. “Commander, do you have a minute?”

“Of course. I might even have a whole twenty-four hours.” Chakotay smiled and gestured toward a free table. “What’s troubling you?”

Tom sat, setting his mug and PADD on the tabletop, and tented his fingers. He took a moment to compose what he wanted to say. “If Torres’ idea works and we make it back, what do you think will happen to us?”

“Us?”

“Me. You. The Maquis.”

Chakotay frowned slightly, staring at him, and Tom fought the urge to shift uncomfortably under his scrutiny.

“You? I thought you’d be released…”

Tom chuffed a laugh. “The captain agreed to speak up for me at my next outmate review. That’s all. I still have over four months on my sentence.” One hundred and thirty-two days, but who was counting?

“I’m sure Starfleet will take into account the time you’ve spent on Voyager.”

Tom nodded. “In Captain Janeway’s custody.”

“They may see it that way,” Chakotay agreed. “When is your parole hearing scheduled?”

“Next month,” Tom said. Twenty-seven days.

“Well, I’m sure your record on Voyager will speak for itself. Your duty logs, my performance reviews, the Captain’s logs. You have nothing to be concerned about, Tom.”

But he was concerned, though not about himself. He was curious about his own fate, sure, but he chose to agree with his former Maquis captain: he would be granted parole. It was the fate of the rest of them that worried him.

“And you? The Maquis crew?” B’Elanna. How would she react to being caged inside that compound in Auckland? Not well, he was sure. And when they did let her out, she’d likely make her way to the Badlands as quickly as possible and rejoin the Maquis. Surely the Federation court knew that.

“I don’t know. The captain and I haven’t had time to discuss it.”

But he did know; Tom could see it in his eyes. “Well, if I don’t get parole,” Tom said, “and the rest of you are charged and found guilty of treason, maybe we’ll be roommates, Commander.” Treason, sedition, terrorism. The Adjunct Court for Criminal Maquis Activities could take its pick.

“If so, I claim the top bunk,” Chakotay replied.

Tom smiled. “Do you think Harry will visit?”

“Of course. And our moral officer.” He motioned toward Neelix with his chin.

“As long as he doesn’t apply to work in the kitchen we should be safe,” Tom quipped.

“We could always ask him to bring us some stuffed Cardaway leaves.”

Tom wrinkled his nose. “No,” he shook his head, “no packages from the outside allowed. It’s their way of limiting the black market.”

“Small mercies,” Chakotay replied. He pointed to the PADD on the table. “Are you done your letter?”

Tom tensed. “Not yet.” He hadn’t started one. He figured it would be enough for his family to be told that he was still alive and not the victim of a Badlands plasma storm or a Maquis raider’s photon torpedo. He had no idea who he would write to, anyway.

“Well, just in case B’Elanna’s idea doesn’t work, you should finish up and log it, Lieutenant.” Chakotay stood.

“Of course, sir.” Tom nodded. He recognized an order when he heard one. Chakotay smiled and took his leave.

Tom thumbed on the PADD and it glowed to life, his half-finished helm report popping up on the screen. He stared at it a moment, then raised his head and looked toward the viewport on the far wall. The Delta Quadrant stars were stationary, winking and twinkling in the far distance.

Ken Dalby was seated with his Maquis friends, staring toward the galley, and Tom wondered if his own face held the same expression as Dalby’s: flat, tired, apprehensive.

Their eyes met as Dalby focused on him, and Tom’s mouth twisted into an expression of commiseration. Dalby was sitting with Gerron, Jor, and Tabor, and none of them looked overly excited about their impending trip through the micro wormhole. Tom nodded slightly, hoping to show that he understood. Ken nodded back.

Tom took a sip of his coffee and winced at the slightly sour aftertaste. At least the Auckland Correctional Facility had real coffee in their replicator database. They also had fences, and ankle cuffs, and armed security. Voyager may be a small ship, but he had more freedom here than in the twenty-five acres that had been his previous home.

Tom’s mouth twisted ruefully; he hadn’t had a home in years. Even if they got back, Voyager was as close as he was likely to get to one for a long while.

He wondered just how far Chakotay would push about a letter. He hadn’t thought his family would want to hear from him, embarrassment to the Paris name that he was. Though, that wasn’t fair. His sister, Moira, had tried to visit him in Auckland and he’d refused to see her. Letters from Kathleen and his mother had gone unread. He wasn’t interested in their censure, and he sure as Hell didn’t want their pity or understanding!

He’d toyed with the idea of writing to Sandrine and telling her about his holodeck programme, what a hit it was with the crew, but she likely didn’t even remember him. Why would she, given the number of cadets who had hung around the place over the years?

He took a breath, opened a new file, and started to type:

Dear Dad, I’m not dead. Yes, I’m surprised, too. Sorry I didn’t die a hero like granddad, redeeming myself and upholding the legendary Paris name, but I did save the life of my former Maquis captain on a barren dust-bowl in the middle of nowhere so I hope that counts for something in your

Tom’s lips twisted. He stared at the blinking cursor for a moment, then jabbed at the button that erased the screen. He didn’t hope anything. He’d given up hoping for his father’s approval a long time ago.

##

Chapter Text

###

 

They’d performed more than a dozen transports of the test cylinder to and from the Romulan captain’s ship. Tom had watched it coalesce on the man’s desk, then disappear again in a sparkling shimmer of light. After each transport, it had been checked. It was fine. Perfect. A flawless copy of the original. He still wasn’t convinced that the transporter didn’t rebuild him from scratch each time he transported, rather than actually haul his atoms across space.

There was a time lag through the wormhole, just long enough to make an observer believe that something had gone wrong, that they’d never be able to make it work for people, but they had. The Romulan captain had transported aboard a few minutes ago.

Tom hadn’t expected to be called to the briefing room, but he’d given over his seat to Rollins and had been waiting, seated in his favourite chair, when their guest had followed Janeway and the others through the door. He’d risen and extended a hand in greeting when Janeway had introduced him to their mysterious new friend. Her expression had been sombre, and Tom had wondered why. He didn’t have long to wait before his captain had given him the bad news: the wormhole didn’t just warp space, it warped time as well. It exited in the year 2351.

It took most of his ‘fleet-bred control not to laugh out loud. That is, until he’d seen the look on Harry’s face. Then he didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

“There's no question that if we try to transport ourselves through that wormhole, we'll end up twenty years in the past,” B’Elanna said.

Her tone was clipped, angry, and Tom noted the set of her jaw, the way her mouth pulled down into a frown. He wondered if she felt she’d been had. One more little joke played on them by the Delta Quadrant.

“Then let's do it,” Harry insisted. “It's better than trying to spend the next seventy-five years trying to get back.”

Tom jerked, and stared at his friend. He couldn’t be serious! “How can we do that?” Tom frowned, unable to completely mask the censure in his voice. “We'd be going back to a time when you were only two years old.”

This was Time Travel 101, similar to the Prime Directive: leave no trace. A hundred and forty displaced crew would leave a hell of a trace. Even if they kept to themselves on some backwater little moon, never married, didn’t have children, grew their own food so they didn’t interrupt supplies intended for anyone else, what would be the point? They’d be stranded in time as surely as they were stranded now, in the Delta Quadrant.

“I know you're disappointed, Harry, we all are,” Janeway said. “It seemed we were so close. But clearly we can't go back. It would pollute the timeline to such an extent that the consequences would be unimaginable.”

But Tom could imagine it. They could warn the Federation about the Borg threat. Wolf 359 wouldn’t have to happen. Captain Picard and his crew wouldn’t suffer the horror of Picard’s assimilation into the Borg Collective.

So many things they could change. He could warn his father about the ill-fated Arias expedition, where he’d be captured and tortured by the Cardassians. Tell him that was the moment everything changed for their family. Would Owen have still followed his orders if he’d known, or would he have stuck to teaching and left the adventure of active duty to men without a family at home? He couldn’t refuse an order, but he could have resigned; valued his three children more than a fourth pip on his collar.

So many ways Tom could change his life, if he’d been forewarned. He could tell his child self to look out for a half-Klingon cadet when he was in his third year at the Academy, though he wouldn’t tell him what a firecracker she was in bed. Or maybe he’d warn himself to stay away from her.

He could warn himself about Caldik Prime. Convince himself that it was very important to never lie.

It was tempting, but it would be wrong. They couldn’t rewrite the past.

“In twenty years I could alert Starfleet not to launch the mission which sent you here,” the Romulan offered.

“I'm afraid that's not possible either,” Chakotay said. “We've already had a huge impact on this quadrant. People and events here would be drastically affected.”

If Neelix had never come aboard, he likely would still have his lungs, but without their help, Kes would still be a Kazon slave. Tom would have remained in Auckland, sweating under the relentless summer sun, counting the days until his release. B’Elanna would have died of that illness in the Ocampan underground habitat. The rest of the Maquis would probably be dead, too, killed as Chakotay rammed their tiny craft into the Kazon warship so they wouldn’t have access to the Array. Tom might be a selfish ass, but he couldn’t wish the last two months had played out any differently.

“I'm afraid we're left with our original request,” Janeway was speaking to their guest. “In twenty years, would you relay our personal messages to Starfleet?”

“Of course.”

The Romulan nodded, and Tom thought that his expression had softened as he observed their grief.

“At the proper time, I will transmit them. If you should find a way back within my lifetime, I'd be an old man, but I would welcome a message from you. I am Telek R'Mor of the Romulan Astrophysical Academy.”

“I promise you'll hear from us. Because we will get back.”

Tom heard B’Elanna’s breath hitch, and glanced at her. She was focused on Harry, across the table, and Tom turned his head toward him. Harry’s misery and disappointment were easy to read in his expression. Tom closed his eyes and breathed.

“In the meantime, would you care to try some Delta Quadrant cuisine? Our cook is a local, and I don’t think we’d be upsetting the timeline too much if he brought a meal to my ready room.”

The captain and Tuvok escorted R’Mor through the doors that led to the ship’s corridor, bypassing the bridge. A smart precaution: twenty years ago, the Federation was in the midst of a cold war with the Romulan Empire, and they couldn’t risk R’Mor taking advanced technology home to his superiors.

Tom glanced again at B’Elanna, but she was staring down at the tabletop. He started to rise when Chakotay placed a hand on his shoulder and gently pushed him back into his seat.

“Paris, B’Elanna, I still don’t have your letters. I’ll give you ten minutes to finish them.” Chakotay turned toward Harry. “If you’d like to add anything to yours, go ahead. The bridge will be fine for a few minutes.”

Harry nodded and stood. “I’ll go get some PADDS.”

The door slid shut on Harry and Chakotay, and B’Elanna jerked. She stood, her jaw firm, and Tom could see the strain on her face. “I’ll be in engineering.”

“Don’t you have a letter to write?” Tom asked.

She looked at him a moment then her lips twisted. “There’s nobody back home who wants to hear from me.”

“Me, either,” Tom admitted.

She stared at him, obviously not believing him, then moved around his chair toward the door. He reached out and caught her arm. “Tell me something.”

“What?”

“I don’t understand why you tried so hard to make this happen. Did you think Starfleet Command would forgive you and the other Maquis? Do you think they’ll decide that because you’ve played at being a good Starfleet officer that all is forgiven?” He heard the bitterness in his tone, but didn’t give a shit. She pissed him off. She came to his quarters in the middle of the night and fucked him six ways from Sunday, and now she couldn’t even stay in a room with him for ten seconds?

Her anger rose, threatening to boil over. He could see it in her eyes. “I did it for Harry! You know how much he wants to get home. You know how much he misses his family.”

“And what about the rest of us?” he insisted. “What about your Maquis family? The only thing waiting for us in the Alpha Quadrant is a jail cell.” Her chin jerked up, and she glared at him. He wanted to laugh. Instead, he raised his eyebrows, modulated his tone of voice to seductive. “Then again, if we’re lucky, maybe we’ll get to share…”

She pulled her arm from his grip and squared her shoulders. Well, if she preferred an argument, he was game for that, too!

“So we do a few months. So what. There’ll be plenty of fight left when we get out.”

“You don’t know that,” Tom scoffed. “For all we know, the fight is already over. Starfleet could have arrested all of the Maqis by now.” Those they’d left alive, anyway. The Federation didn’t take kindly to sedition. “B’Elanna, the only life we’re going to have is the one we make for ourselves, here, in the Delta Quadrant.”

They stared at each other for a long moment, then B’Elanna shook her head. “I can’t accept that.” She moved toward the door but paused before stepping through. “Seska was right, Tom. You were never one of us.”

The door slid shut behind her and Tom was left alone.

###

 

The secnd shoe had dropped. The cosmic comedian had taken a final bow. The Delta Quadrant hat trick had been scored. Telek R’Mor had died in 2367, four years before Voyager had left Deep Space 9 in search of Chakotay’s ship of rebels. He had never warned Starfleet Command about their fate, never assured the brass that they were alive, though lost. Never delivered their messages to their families.

Tom hadn’t intended to write to anyone, but with the clock ticking, and with Harry’s encouragement sprinkled with a light soupçon of guilt, he had composed a short, rushed letter to his older sister, Kathleen. Between her and Moira, she was the most level headed of the two, and he knew that she would take his rather terse message at face value instead of reading more into his words than he’d intended. He could count on her to share his news with Moira and their parents, knew that she was the only one with the balls to bulldoze her way past their father’s assistant and force him to listen.

Which was good since Tom didn’t have the guts to write to either of their parents directly. He hadn’t apologized for anything or explained, he’d simply told Kathleen that he had been on a mission to the Badlands with Kathryn Janeway, and that they’d been pulled into the Delta Quadrant and were now stranded. He said he’d see her in seventy-five years, and asked that she remember to feed his pet goldfish. It was a joke carried over from their childhood, though he could no longer remember what it meant.

He still stung from B’Elanna’s parting shot, and he was craving whiskey, the real stuff not what passed for alcohol on a Federation starship. Instead he lifted his glass and took a sip of synthesized beer. It wasn’t nearly the same but at the moment it was all they were going to get. B’Elanna was right, he’d never embraced the great Maquis cause, and he hadn’t been with them long enough to be indoctrinated. He thought they were naive at best, foolish at worst. No one could take on the Federation and win; politics trumped noble ideals every time.

Janeway had practically ordered him to resume the pool tournament, to ‘move on’ with their new lives, so Tom had dutifully finished the roster and posted it. Ayala and Lang were creaming Thompson and Andrews, and it looked like it would come down to Chakotay versus Ayala. Either way, it looked like a Maquis victory was imminent, Rollins, Jetal, and Lang were just along for the ride.

“Hey.” Harry eased onto a stool beside him. “It’s a bigger crowd than I thought it would be,” he noted.

Tom turned to face him. “Buy you a beer?” Tom asked. Harry looked like Tom felt: deflated, flat. The whole ship had taken on an air of melancholy.

“You never said who you wrote to,” Harry said.

Tom sighed. Of all the things he didn’t want to discuss right now… “My sister, Kathleen.”

“Not your folks?” Harry sounded startled, disbelieving. “You should have written to your father.”

Tom stilled, wondering just what the hell Harry thought he knew about his relationship with his father. Then he remembered Harry in a little tête-à-tête with Cavit and Voyager’s late doctor; them warning him that Tom wasn’t the sort of man a newly minted ensign with his eyes on a quick promotion should befriend. “I think it was harder on my father…”

“Trust me, Harry, he doesn’t want to hear from me.”

Harry stared at him a long moment, then his lips tightened. “You know, I think you should have reached out to him while you had the opportunity. That might have been your only chance.”

“Oh, no,” Tom countered. “He’ll be there waiting to say ‘you should have listened to me’ when we limp into Jupiter Station seventy years from now.”

Harry didn’t react. “B’Elanna told me that everyone who cares about her is here, on Voyager.”

Tom frowned. “Her parents are dead?”

Harry shrugged. “She doesn’t know. Her father left when she was five, and she has no idea where her mother is or, I guess, if she’s even still alive. They haven’t spoken to each other in ten years.”

“Really?” Tom stilled. Shit. No wonder she was so standoffish. So angry all the time. He snorted. Armchair psychologist, heal thyself! “She should consider herself lucky.”

Harry’s head jerked up, and Tom noted the tightness in his jaw, the way his mouth had compressed into a thin line. He read genuine anger in Harry’s eyes. Better than the well of self-pity he’d been drowning in.

“You don’t mean that,” Harry retorted.

“Yeah, I do. Look, Harry. Not everyone is lucky enough to have parents who love them unconditionally. Some of us…” Tom shook his head, “we can’t do anything right.”

“And sometimes parents are hard on their kids because they love them and want them to live up to their potential.”

Tom assessed his new best friend. “I can’t imagine your parents were ever hard on you.” There was an edge to his tone, and Tom hoped that Harry hadn’t picked up on it. It wasn’t his fault that his folks probably thought he shit gold-pressed latinum.

“So, you want that drink?” Tom raised his hand to get the attention of the holographic bartender, but Harry shook his head.

“I’m not in much of a party mood.”

Harry stood and Tom caught his arm. “Where are you going?”

Harry shrugged. “I thought I’d go see what B’Elanna’s working on. Give her a hand. See if she wants to talk.”

“You’re not staying? There’s a table free.” Tom gestured toward a pool table. Sandrine’s wasn’t empty, but the crew were seated at the cafe tables drinking rather than playing pool. It was a marked contrast to two nights ago.

“I was ordered to show up, I showed up. Now I’m leaving.”

Tom watched him move toward the swinging doors that marked the exit from the holodeck. He turned back toward the mirror behind the bar, and picked up his beer and toasted Harry’s reflection. It was progress. A month ago, Harry would have translated ‘make an appearance’ to ‘stay all evening’.

Tom surveyed the backwards image in the mirror. It was like a peep into another reality, another quadrant; like a window into his past. He half expected, if he turned around, to see everything changed, inverted. Alpha and Delta quadrants, Starfleet and Maquis, melancholy into insouciance.

He noticed a woman in sciences blue sitting alone at a table looking as miserable as everyone else. Her profile was reflected in the mirror, and her long, wavy auburn hair fell past her shoulders, obscuring her features. One of the Delaney twins, but he wasn’t sure which one.

He picked up his beer and made his way over. “You look like you could use some company,” he said.

She looked up at him and graced him with a little smile. “Hi, Tom.”

“Hi yourself.” Meg. He was sure it was Meg. “Can I get you a drink?” It was the only card in his deck, apparently.

“No thanks.” She shook her head.

“You know,” Tom began, “just because it didn’t work out this time doesn’t mean it won’t the next. We encountered one wormhole, so the chances of finding another are—”

“Astronomical.” She smiled and tapped her blue-clad shoulder. “I work in stellar cartography, remember?”

“Oh yeah.” Tom smiled sheepishly.

“It was sweet of you to try to cheer me up though.”

“Hey, it’s my new job: pilot, medic, and morale officer-in-training.”

Meg stared at him for a long moment, then looked back down at the tabletop. “My parents’ twenty-fifth wedding anniversary is next week. I bought them a gift at one of the little shops on the Promenade at DS9, when we were moored there before we left on the mission to the Badlands.” Her lips lifted in a tiny smile. “A bowl, made by a Bajoran potter.”

She was watching her fingers clench and unclench as she wrung her hands. Tom had the urge to cover them with his own to quiet them.

“Well, maybe you’ll still get the chance to give it to them.”

She shook her head. “It broke when the Caretaker brought us here.” She raised her head and stared at him. “I don’t want to be alone right now, Tom.” She reached across the table and covered his hand with hers, turning it until she could slide her fingers across his palm. She squeezed. “Come with me?”

Anticipation tightened his gut. Her expression was still, sombre. Her eyes glowed as she stared into his, a clear, cool blue.

“Okay.” He nodded, clasped her hand in his, and stood up from the table.

###

Well, what is your costume today?
Who are the props in your play?
You're acting a part which you thought from the start
Was an honest one.

 

#

Chapter Text

# # # # # #

Also, apparently it’s Cohen Mania Month in ficland, which makes this an odd coincidence. I bought my first Leonard album at 15, “Songs of Love and Hate” at a used record store. I wouldn’t call this a Cohen-inspired fic, though there is an Easter egg in here, referencing a different story I wrote that his lyrics did inspire. And if I’m doing this correctly, my story is here

How Bad is it? Chapter Two https://archiveofourown.org/works/16540745/chapters/38750174#workskin

With warm regards to Leonard Cohen.

# # #

Does it feel that your life's become a catastrophe?
Oh, it has to be for you to grow, boy.
When you look through the years and see what you could have been
Oh, what you might have been,
If you'd had more time.

Supertramp, from the album, Breakfast in America, 1979
Songwriters: Richard Davies / Roger Hodgson
Take the Long Way Home lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

# # # # # #

 

“Oh yes, lover. Don’t stop!”

She was on her hands and knees on his bed, her shapely backside in the air. He was behind her, bent over her, his chest pressed to her back, his nose buried in her hair. He was gasping, his breath coming in ragged pants, one arm propping him up so he didn't fall onto her, the other snaked between her breasts, his hand curved upwards clutching her shoulder, anchoring her to him. He was pounding into her, fucking her like she’d asked, like she’d ordered, trying to hold on.

“Say my name,” he demanded, his words rasping in her ear.

“P…Paris.”

She said it on a breath, exhaling the word on a puff of air, her head thrown back, her temple against his cheek. “No,” he growled, “my name!” He wanted this from her. He didn’t want to have to ask.

She laughed, harsh, guttural. “Lieu…tenant…”

Tom grunted, inclining his head, grazing his teeth over the soft skin on her shoulder, nipping her, warning her, and she gasped. It excited him, and he moved faster, losing his rhythm, forcing her forward on the bed and pushing her into the headboard. The glow from the lights painted her skin in bronze highlights and purple shadows.

“M-more! Tom!”

She slammed her hips backwards, rocking against him, grunting as his thrusts forced the air from her lungs. Her body stiffened and she started to shake. Her voice rose in a high keening sound that told him she was close. She arched her back, pressing against him, her muscles clamping onto his cock as she came. He was so close; he was almost there. She turned her head, nuzzling his hand that gripped her shoulder and sucked his thumb into her mouth, and he was gone. Done. He came in a rush of white light, his orgasm so powerful he couldn’t breathe for a few seconds; saw stars.

He flew, then fell. Burned.

He slumped against her, planting damp, open-mouthed kisses on her back. His hand moved to her breast, appreciating the texture of her hard, pebbled nipple against his palm. She lowered her head to the pillow and started to sway, and he pulled away from her, guided her down to the bed, then fell beside her curling his longer body around her smaller one. Her head pillowed on his arm. He fumbled for the sheet and pulled it over them.

He was still breathing heavily, sliding his hand across her belly, pulling her tightly against his chest and hips. Her skin was sweat-slicked, and heat rolled off of her. Her hair covered her face, and he reached to brush it back behind her ear but she turned her face into his arm. He lowered his hand, skimming his palm over her shoulder, her arm, the sweet curve of the underside of her breast. He flattened his hand on her belly once more, his fingers brushing her pubic hair, pulling her snuggly back against him, her ass against his groin.

“Don’t fall asleep,” she murmured.

Tom smiled, already anticipating how he would take her next time. He wanted her to ride him; wanted to watch her as she moved above him, her body swaying sinuously, breasts jiggling. He wanted to hold her by the hips, trace the curve of her waist, dip his thumb into her navel. The sight of her strong shoulders and finely muscled arms, the line of her throat and jaw, turned him on as much as her naked breasts or the thatch of dark curls between her thighs. He lifted his hand and brushed her long hair off her shoulder, slid his palm along her arm.

“You need to get dressed.”

Tom stilled. “What?” This wasn’t what he’d been expecting.

“You need to go,” she sighed, relaxing into the sheets. “My husband will be home soon.”

“What?” he said again, confusion clouding his brain. He eased away from her and pulled her onto her back. “B’Elanna, what are you—”

Her hair fell away from her face and Megan’s blue eyes stared up at him. She sighed again and smiled, raising a hand to cup his cheek. Lidell Ren’s voice addressed him, her tone conveying her regret.

“It’s been fun, but Tolen will be home any minute.”

Tom awoke gasping, his pulse hammering in his ears. His hands were clenched in the sheets, and he froze for a moment before he consciously relaxed his fingers. He felt a spasm of pain in his tendons as he straightened his hands. He held his breath, then let it out slowly as he sat up and threw off the covers. He slid his feet to the floor, hunched over and held his head in his hands. Shit. He couldn’t escape it, even in sleep.

Tuvok had cleared his name, proven that he was innocent through a little peek into his brain via a Vulcan mind-meld. And though the Baneans had removed the memory engrams, Tom hadn’t managed to forget. The sound of the rain, the flash of lightning on the knife. The dog yapping as it jumped around his—Ren’s—feet.

He hadn’t slept with Lidell Ren, but he had been seduced by her, fucked by her. She’d charmed him, then drugged him, a pawn in her game of ‘secret agent’. He wondered if she’d always worked for the Numiri, or if that Banean doctor who had implanted Ren’s memories of his murder in Tom’s brain had found her easy prey: the bored, beautiful, neglected wife of a distracted husband.

His heart was starting to calm, its erratic pounding starting to slow. Tom scruffled his hair, scrubbing his scalp with his fingernails until it tingled. He rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands.

“Computer, what time is it?”

::The time is oh five hundred hours forty three minutes::

Too early to get ready for his shift, too late to go back to bed. He was too shaky anyway, still keyed up from his dream. His body was still pulsing with the adrenaline rush that had accompanied his nightmare. He’d work it off, he decided. He hadn’t gone to the gym in weeks, since before he and Harry had embarked on their ill-fated adventure. They hadn’t even repaired the damned collimator.

“Remind me never to volunteer,” Tom muttered to himself. He pressed a hand to his gut as he stood, then walked to his closet. Next time, he’d stay on the ship, bored but safe, while Harry flew the shuttle himself.

He changed into his ‘fleet issue track pants and sweatshirt—he’d shower after his workout—and found a pair of ‘fleet issue track shoes. He needed to run, preferably in the holodeck while a programme of a nature park was running. Birds chirping, sun shining, trees swaying in the holographic breeze, safe and sound within the belly of his new home.

He pulled on his socks and sneakers, and reached for his combadge. “Computer, is there a free holodeck?”

::Negative::

Damn. “When’s the next available slot?”

::Holodeck one is available at thirteen hundred hours. Holodeck two is available at fifteen hundred hours thirty min—::

Tom scowled. “Nevermind.” He’d have to content himself with the treadmill in the gym.

#

The ship never slept, obviously. There was always someone around, walking along a corridor or stepping off the ‘lift as he entered it. He nodded at Pete Durst and Renlay Sharr, one of his fill-in pilots, as they rounded a bend in the corridor and moved to pass by him.

“Good morning, Lieutenant.” Sharr nodded back. Pete stared at him, then seemed to catch himself and glanced away.

Tom smiled. “Ensign.” It was fine. He was fine. Everything was back to normal. He tapped the pad to call for the ‘lift, his hand straying to his belly, his knuckles pressing into his sternum. The doors opened with a soft hiss, and he stepped inside and called for the gym.

He’d feel better after a run. He would.

#

Tom didn’t notice that there was anyone else there until a shadow moved against the wall. He paused mid-stride on his way to the treadmill and debated turning around and leaving. He wasn’t in the mood for company; he wanted to be alone, and had hoped the gym was empty. He could jog through Voyager’s corridors, instead.

Suder was still, balanced with one leg stretched behind him, the other in front, knee bent, taking most of his weight. His eyes were closed, and his hands were positioned in front of his chest with his palms together: he looked like he was praying.

Did Betazed have a religion? Tom couldn’t remember. He should know, though. His father had drilled him in protocol, facts and trivia about the Federation’s major worlds, so he wouldn’t disgrace himself on the rare occasions when, as a child, he’d accompanied the Admiral to events at Starfleet HQ. Tom thought again of leaving, but the other man’s eyes flickered open and sought his. They closed again as Suder shifted his weight, then lifted his leg and swung it to the side. He moved his arm through the air in a graceful arc and his body followed, a quarter turn to the left.

“Please, Lieutenant, don’t let my being here dissuade you from taking some exercise.”

His voice was gravelly, likely from disuse, and he spoke so quietly that Tom had to strain to hear the words. He couldn’t remember ever hearing Suder speak before. He’d met him a year ago on the Liberty, been introduced to him along with the others, but Suder hadn’t spent any time on the bridge, and he’d been warned by Diaz that the man was odd, off, and it was best to give him a wide berth.

He should say something. He needed to acknowledge the man. “Okay.” It appeared to be good enough. Suder moved slowly through a series of steps, his body seeming to flow from one pose to another. It wasn’t taiji, a meditative stretching and strengthening exercise that his old girlfriend, Susie Crabtree, had practiced as a cool down after a cardio workout. Whatever he was doing, Suder appeared to be wholly invested in it, concentrating on the moves, and he seemed to have forgotten Tom was even there.

It was fine with him.

Tom stepped onto the treadmill and started to walk, gradually increasing his speed until he was jogging at a moderate pace. With nothing to distract him, and only the bare grey wall of the gym to stare at, he couldn’t relax. He kept turning his head to glance at Suder, telling himself it was because he was curious about his routine, not because he wanted to keep an eye on him. There had been stories, rumours that Tom had heard about Suder even during his few short weeks with Chakotay’s cell. Stories about how he was an efficient killer of Cardassians, slitting throats, or breaking necks, once managing to leave a smoking hole through the body of a Cardassian guard, right where his heart had been.

There was one story that told how he’d kept a Cardassian hostage alive for days, carving off bits of him just for fun, not even attempting to get any intelligence out of him. Tom hadn’t believed it. Chakotay had his own violent streak that he kept controlled, hidden from view, and he had no love for Cardassians, but Tom couldn’t imagine him condoning torture.

“What was it like?”

Tom started and it took him a moment to register the softly spoken words. To realize they’d been directed at him. He slowed his steps, and the treadmill automatically slowed in response. He reached for the grab bar to steady himself and turned his head to look at Suder. “What?”

“I heard that you felt his death. That scientist,” Suder clarified. “I was wondering what it felt like.”

Tom shook his head. Unbelievable. “Halt.” He spoke to the computer, but he realized that he wanted Suder to stop, too. He stepped down from the treadmill’s raised belt and grabbed a towel. He was sweating, his face damp with perspiration though he hadn’t been working hard. He glanced again at Suder to find him watching him intently.

“I don’t talk about it.”

The other man blinked, but beyond that didn’t react. He was composed, his dark eyes focused wholly on Tom. It was unnerving.

“That’s a shame,” he finally said. “I’ve always wondered what it would feel like to die. And you know,” he cocked his head, “you’ve been given a gift, Lieutenant Paris, but you don’t appear to truly appreciate it.”

Anger slammed into Tom, clenching his gut, threatening to choke him. Tolen Ren’s memories had been no gift! They’d been an intrusion, an assault. A violation. Tom had been terrified: the memory of Ren’s murder had almost killed him.

Tom shook his head. “I—”

The doors opened and Walter Baxter stepped into the gym. He strode briskly toward the free weights, nodding at them both in passing. “Lieutenant, Ensign. It’s a fine day.”

Tom dropped his towel in the laundry disposal and walked out, being careful to keep his stride even. His ribs were hurting, and he fought the urge run.

# # #

His hair was getting too long. He wondered if Captain Janeway had assigned anyone as ship’s barber. He looked tired, drawn, and there were fine lines etched in the corners of his eyes and mouth. He’d assured the captain that he was fine, physically and mentally prepared for duty, because if he had to spend another day resting he’d go out of his mind.

He’d jogged back to his quarters afterall, running swiftly through the corridors to a turbolift at the other end of the ship. By the time he’d reached his deck, people had begun to stir so he’d had to slow to a walk, but he’d been out of breath anyway, and had a stitch in his side. He rubbed the spot now, just under his breast.

He’d showered and shaved, changed into his uniform and cleaned his teeth. Tried to tame his hair. He was meeting Harry for breakfast, and he realized he should have begged off, should have replicated something in his quarters instead. After spending the last week off the ship, then two days in sickbay, he had the replicator rations.

Too late to cancel now; Harry would know there was something wrong and would probably come by, try to get him to talk about it. He didn’t want to talk, he wanted to get back to his regular routine. Even if it meant facing Neelix’ latest breakfast surprise.

#

Harry was sharing a table with B’Elanna. He was waving his arms in the air, his eyes wide and expression animated, as he related a story. B’Elanna was smiling at him, listening in rapt attention. Harry’s eyebrows rose, and one arm shot upwards. Her nose scrunched, and her eyes crinkled at the corners as her smile widened. Harry must have reached the punchline because, suddenly, she laughed. Her body folded toward Harry, and she reached over the table and punched him lightly on the shoulder. He laughed with her, then looked up and saw Tom standing just inside the doorway. He raised a hand in greeting, and B’Elanna turned in her chair, the smile sliding from her mouth. Her expression sobered and she turned back toward Harry. Tom caught her profile: the twist of her lips, her eyelashes dark against her cheek as she looked down at the table and fiddled with her fork.

He turned toward the galley counter and accepted a bowl of porridge and a cup of coffee, though his stomach was already protesting the thought of eating.

She was getting to her feet, reaching for her tray, when Tom arrived at the table. “Leaving so soon?” he asked.

Her eyes flicked to his face, slid away. Her jaw firmed. “I have things to do. See you later, Starfleet.”

Seska appeared behind Harry and followed B’Elanna out of the mess hall. She smirked at Tom as she passed. He set his breakfast on the table and slid into the chair that Torres had just vacated.

Tom glanced at his bowl and forced down a spoonful of porridge. He heard the words ‘keep it in his pants’ and his head jerked up. He surveyed the room, but no one was looking directly at him. He had kept it in his fucking pants, despite the temptation Lidell Ren had offered him. She’d been every schoolboy’s fantasy: beautiful, buxom, and beguiling. But she had felt wrong in his arms. He hadn’t done what he was accused of. Tolen Ren may have been a fool, but Tom hadn’t helped to deceive him, and he certainly hadn’t killed him. His punishment hadn’t fit his crime.

Tom’s fingers strayed to his belly. For all their talk of justice and mercy, the Baneans were cruel: their punishment had been barbaric. He glanced at Harry to find he’d been watching him. “You’re seeing Torres later?” Tom asked.

“Probably. It’s a small ship.” Harry looked down at his tray. “I imagine I’ll run into her sometime in the next seventy-five years.”

Harry’s posture had stiffened, and he seemed far less relaxed than the man who’d been joking with B’Elanna mere minutes ago.

“You look like hell,” Harry observed.

He felt like it too. There was an edge to Harry’s tone, and Tom was instantly on the defensive. “I’m fine.”

“Uh huh.”

He wondered if Harry was angry at him, and felt his own temper start to rise in response. Then he remembered that Harry had also been held by the Banean police, apparently for days without food or water while they questioned him. And it was his fault.

“How are you feeling?” Tom asked.

“Just peachy, why do you ask?” Harry looked up from his tray and raised an eyebrow.

Tom sighed. “Look, I didn’t—”

“So Lieutenant Tuvok said,” Harry cut in.

“Harry, you know I—”

“Look, Tom, what I know is if you hadn’t been fooling around with Professor Ren’s wife, none of this would have happened.”

Tom shook his head. “I didn’t—”

“You did. You were bored and she was pretty, and you took advantage of that. As far as I’m concerned, you—”

“I what? Got what I deserved?” Tom tossed his spoon into his bowl, his appetite deserting him. “Was I bored? Yes. Listening to you two discuss nav relay specs bored me out of my mind.”

“So speaks Voyager’s chief pilot.”

Tom sighed. “Did I flirt with her? Yes. But I didn’t let it go that far.”

“So how far did you let it go? Nevermind,” Harry held up a hand, “I don’t want to know the details.” He leaned across the table, his volume dropping, as if he’d suddenly become aware of where they were. “When you put on that uniform, when you leave the ship, you represent Starfleet, whether you’re bored or not.”

Tom stiffened. “Well, we can’t all live up to your shining example of a Starfleet officer, Harry. Some of us didn’t choose to be here, remember?”

Harry’s jaw firmed and he started to rise, and Tom reached for his arm, instantly contrite. Why the hell was he pissing off his only friend onboard the ship?

“I’m sorry. I guess I’m still a bit thrown, you know?” Tom swallowed: his throat felt constricted. “I would never have even looked at Lidell Ren if I’d known what was going to happen.”

“Yeah, obviously.” Harry was softening, but he hadn’t forgiven Tom yet.

“Har, I never thought that anything I was doing would come back on you. When I found out you’d been held and questioned…”

Harry stilled. “Forget it,” he said. “It’s okay.”

“No, it’s not.” Tom shook his head. “I really am sorry, Harry.”

Harry nodded. “Okay.”

Tom smiled, relieved. He hadn’t been looking forward to seventy-five years of isolation. “So you're okay?”

Harry’s eyebrows rose. “I’m doing better than you.” He narrowed his eyes and squinted at him. “Did you get any sleep last night?”

“Yes, mom. I was carried away by the wings of Morpheus.” Then dropped from a great height.

“Huh,” Harry replied.

“Did you…” Tom paused, unsure if he should even ask, but the question had been bothering him since Ren’s doctored memory engrams had first been implanted in his brain.

“Did I what?”

Tom shifted in his chair. “Did you tell Professor Ren that I’d been in prison?”

Harry’s nose wrinkled in a frown. “No. Why would I? You barely came up.”

“Okay.” Tom nodded. “Yeah.” He must have told Lidell, though he couldn’t remember when. Or why. Had he thought it might impress her? Had he told her about his Maquis past? Embellished his time as a rebel freedom fighter, thinking a hero persona might attract her? He had no memory of doing so, if he had.

If they were going to discuss this, Tom had to come clean. “I didn’t mean it, you know.” At Harry’s raised eyebrow he clarified. “In the shuttle. When I said it was your fault. That you should have kept me from… you know, with Lidell. I was talking shit.”

“Yeah,” Harry agreed. “You do that sometimes. I figure it’s how you keep people from getting close to you.”

“Well, look what happens when I let someone in,” Tom joked. His brain flitted to B’Elanna and how she’d, yes, used him, then dumped him two months ago.

Harry was unimpressed. “You’re doing it again.”

Tom felt his ears grow hot. “Knee-jerk reaction.”

“Emphasis on the jerk,” Harry deadpanned.

Tom laughed for the first time in days.

# # #

Space. The final frontier. Stretching beyond the trusted security of Voyager’s duranium shell, the unexplored, uncharted expanse of the Delta Quadrant. You’d think it would be more exciting. Or at the very least, less boring.

This week, anyway.

The captain had left the bridge two hours ago for her ready room leaving Chakotay in charge. Tom slid his chair a few centimeters to the right and glanced at the readouts on his science station. He turned his head and peered at Chakotay; was he napping? The ‘lift doors opened, and Ayala entered the bridge and relieved Lang at the aft tactical station. Tom did a mental tally: feds still outnumbered Maquis today, not that it mattered. Everyone appeared bored: the ‘fleeters were simply doing a better job of hiding it.

“I’m getting…” Harry’s voice trailed off, and Tom could swear he heard him tapping at the LCARS display panel at his station. “This can’t be right,” he murmured.

“Enlighten us, Ensign.”

Tom heard Chakotay shift in his chair and pictured him sitting straighter. He checked the readings scrolling across his own display, wondering what had piqued Harry’s interest.

“I’m not sure, Commander. I’m reading traces of something. It has features close to Paralythium, Bemonite… Tricellite, maybe. It’s hard to pinpoint.”

Chakotay rose from his chair and headed toward ops. “Is there a reason for your confusion? Interference?”

Harry shook his head. “No. I just don’t recognize what I’m reading. Sir, I think it might be something new.”

“A new element?” Tom couldn’t suppress his skepticism, and he turned in his seat, his eyebrows climbing toward his hairline.

“Where?” Chakotay asked.

“Approximately twenty light years away,” Tuvok replied. “Heading three four zero mark five four.”

It seemed like the entire bridge crew had focused on Chakotay. He smiled and raised a hand to his comm badge. “Chakotay to Captain Janeway. Would you come to the bridge please. Ensign Kim has something to show you.”

Tom caught Harry’s eyes and smiled. He turned back to the conn and plotted a course, anticipating Janeway’s reaction to the news of a scientific curiosity.

“That's more like it,” Tom murmured as Janeway entered the bridge and joined Chakotay and Harry at ops. A moment later, she walked back to her own chair in the centre of the bridge.

“Lay in a course, Mister Paris. Let’s find out what Ensign Kim’s found, hmm?”

“Course already laid in Captain,” Tom replied. His hand hovered over his display.

“In that case, warp seven.”

“Aye, Captain.” Tom smiled and pressed the pad.

# # #

It was going to take about ten days to get there, but Tom wasn’t in a hurry. The mysterious readings were coming from a planetary system that was out of their way, but ten days here, ten there, who was counting? Their seventy-five year timeline to the Alpha Quadrant was a pipe dream, anyway.

Far-range scans had shown that the system held a class D planetoid, and a couple of gas giants, and it was possible they’d be able to mine them and the rocks in an asteroid belt for some much needed minerals. They might even get enough Verterium to power the replicators full time. He lived in hope.

Harry had booked the holodeck for a game of velocity, and Tom was looking forward to working up a sweat. He had an errand to run first, though.

He stepped through the doors to main engineering, and glanced around, but didn’t see Torres anywhere. He slapped a PADD against his palm as he moved toward the warp core. Maybe she was in her office?

Ken Dalby popped up from under a diagnostic console. “If you’re looking for the chief, Lieutenant, she’s in the forward deflector array changing out the anodyne relays.”

“Thanks.” Tom nodded and turned back toward the door.

“If that’s your helm report, I can take it,” Dalby offered.

Tom hesitated. He should just hand it off; it was easier, likely wiser. But he wanted to speak to her, clear the air. Maybe make her smile at him the way she smiled at Harry. She smiled at Harry a lot. Probably because she liked him…

Tom froze. Maybe she liked him. Maybe that thing with the micro wormhole, trying to get home, had less to do with Libby and more to do with pleasing Harry.

“Sir?”

Dalby was staring at him, waiting.

“Umm, no. Thanks,” Tom said. “I need to discuss… Thanks.”

Tom turned on his heel and strode out.

#

She wasn’t in the forward deflector array access junction. She also wasn’t adjusting the port attitude control thrusters, though Russell had told him she’d been heading there next. After searching both places, Tom finally saw reason and asked the computer for her location. She was in Jefferies tube 137 Apha on her hands and knees, head and shoulders into an EPS conduit. Her shapely bottom was pointed directly at him and she was humming tunelessly to herself. Tom paused to listen.

...people you had to meet, uggh! Without your clothes…

He raised an eyebrow at the lyric. It didn’t sound like any Klingon drinking song he’d ever heard. He watched her while he listened, appreciating the fine arch of her her back and the flare of her hips as she stretched deeper into the conduit.

Everybody knows mmm hmm loaded, everybody knows you umm hmm.. Stupid, fucking thing. Get. In. There!”

He leaned against the wall of the tube junction and smiled. She was reaching for something, or maybe pulling on something, and the fabric of her uniform slacks stretched snuggly over the flare of her hips and ass. He swallowed. He knew exactly what that ass looked like without that uniform. Exactly what it felt like under his hands, or pressed to his belly.

With ribbons and bows, piece of shit! Everybody knows.”

Tom’s smile stretched into a grin, and he felt the urge to laugh. Where exactly was that bow if she wasn’t wearing clothes? Then he realized that she wouldn’t be laughing if she caught him watching her. He carefully climbed back onto the vertical ladder and retraced his steps until his head was below the grid floor then, deliberately banging on the rungs with each step so he made a lot of noise, climbed back up to the junction. By the time he’d popped through the hole in the deck, she’d backed out of the tube and was waiting for him, an eyebrow arched and a bemused expression on her face.

“Oh, it’s you,” she said. “I thought it was a herd of targs.”

If you could eat them, Tom would welcome them. “Just me,” he said.

She turned her back on him and opened a panel on the junction wall. “What do you want?” Her tone was cool, dismissive.

Tom took a breath, squared his shoulders. “My helm report.” He dug the PADD out of the pocket in his uniform and extended it toward her. She flicked a glance at it, then looked back at the circuitry she was methodically stripping.

“You can just message that to me, you know. You don’t need to track me down.”

“Well, Bennet said she thought the starboard impulse engine is out of alignment.” B’Elanna still hadn’t accepted the PADD and Tom was starting to feel like an idiot standing there with his arm stretched out.

“Right,” B’Elanna nodded. “Because a pilot can feel when an engine is a little off. Sure.”

As a matter of fact… Tom let his arm drop back to his side.

“You haven’t even been here all week,” she muttered.

Tom frowned. It’s not like he’d been on shore leave. “Yeah, but I still read the conn logs. And I met with my team to discuss their concerns. It’s what a department head does.” Or so he’d been taught. He figured, if he did it enough times, he might even start to feel like the head of that department. Eventually.

She snorted.

“What?”

She glanced at him again, then shook her head. “Nothing.”

Tom bristled. Why was she so fucking mad at him? What had he done, what did she think he’d done to piss her off? He should just drop the PADD at her feet and leave, leave her to her bad mood. But since it wasn’t like him to not poke the bear…

“Did you miss me while I was gone?” he asked. She turned at that and looked at him. “Aren’t you glad I’m back?” he pressed.

“Thrilled.”

She crossed her arms over her chest, her mouth puckering into a thin line as she frowned at him. And just like that, Tom was furious! She had no idea what he’d been through, what had been done to him and, apparently, she didn’t care. He drew a breath and felt a sharp pain in his ribs.

He opened his mouth, but she cut him off. “They questioned Harry for days. No food, no water, didn’t let him sleep. All because of you and your adolescent behaviour. He was a mess when they finally let him go.”

Tom wanted to laugh. Yes, Harry had suffered, but missing a few meals and a few days’ sleep paled in comparison to what the Baneans had done to him. She’d turned back to the panel, and Tom caught the name ‘Jenny’.

“What?” He reached forward and touched her shoulder, and she stepped out of his reach.

“I said, if Megan Delaney isn’t exciting enough for you, maybe you should try Jenny. I hear she’s a little wild. Just keep Harry out of it.”

She was glaring at him, and Tom recognized that ‘affronted female’ expression when he saw it. He snorted. He wasn’t interested in Jenny. Or Megan, for that matter, despite the comfort they’d found in each other. And the woman he was interested in had only contempt for him.

But he could still salvage something for Harry. She was right: he owed it to him. “Why don’t you tell him how you feel, B’Elanna?”

Her eyebrows rose in confusion. “Feel?”

“Yeah.” Tom swallowed. Shit, this was uncomfortable. “If you’re, you know, with Harry, you should tell him.” Heat rose in his face, and his gut ached again. “It might take us seventy-five years to get home, but that doesn’t mean we should put our lives on hold. Anything could happen…” He saw dawning comprehension in her eyes, then she snorted and looked away.

“Really?” she said.

“I just think—”

“You just think that since I’m not offering you a repeat of… that night, it must be because I’m what, in love with Harry?”

Well, not when she said it that way, like he was crazy to have even considered it. Tom frowned, confused. Unlike that song lyric, he hadn’t heard any gossip about her love life: nobody knew if she was seeing anyone. If she wasn’t in love with Harry, then what had been holding her back? She liked sex, that had been obvious. And she wasn’t afraid of asking for what she wanted. And he’d made it pretty damned plain that he was up for it any time she wanted to go again.

She shook her head and looked back toward him, stared at him a moment. “You might as well just give it to me.”

Tom’s eyes popped. Absolutely. Any time. Right now, if she wanted, though he didn’t think the cold metal grille of the Jefferies tube would make a very comfortable bed. His mouth stretched in a smile and he took a step toward her.

She frowned again and reached toward his hand, and snatched the PADD away. She dropped it into her open tool kit, picked up a ‘spanner, then turned her back on him and slid back into the tube.

His mission fulfilled, he’d been dismissed.

# #

Harry’s elbow knocked Tom’s upper arm, and Tom staggered backwards, his back and shoulders hitting the wall. The air left his lungs in a grunt, and his shot went wild. Harry fired at the disk, and it ricocheted off the wall and struck Tom in the thigh before disappearing. Harry was in the lead, three-one.

Tom rolled his shoulder, trying to loosen the knot that had developed. When Harry had invited him to join him during his holodeck time Tom had suggested a game of pool, but Harry had insisted on something more physical. He’d agreed, thinking that working up a sweat would be a great way to dispel a few demons. But Tom didn’t remember velocity being a contact sport, and he was starting to think Harry was a man possessed.

The disk rematerialized at the starting position, and Harry’s shot sent it to the left. Tom had anticipated it, and fired seconds after Harry, nicking the disk along the edge and sending it spinning back toward the centre of the court. Velocity, Tom had discovered, was not unlike pool: it was all about hitting the disk at the right angle to get the desired trajectory.

Harry may have been the captain of his velocity team at the Academy, but Tom had already figured out how to read him. In a fair fight, he might even have held his own, but Harry wasn’t playing fair. He was crowding Tom, trying to keep him against the wall, instead of facing him across the court. He leapt backwards, and this time his elbow connected with Tom’s ribs. Tom gasped in pain and doubled over, his phaser slipping out of his hand as he dropped to his knees. Shit that hurt!

“Tom!” Harry finally noticed that Tom was on the floor. “Are you okay?”

Tom hissed and pressed a hand to his ribcage. It hurt to move. It hurt to breathe.

“Tom?”

“Yeah,” Tom panted. “Give me a minute here.”

Harry was bending over him now, concern in his eyes. The disk was still hovering, and Tom was tempted to use Harry’s distraction to send it crashing into his head, but he hurt too much.

Harry slapped his combadge. “Kim to transp—”

“No, Harry.” Tom pulled his friend’s arm down, then used it for leverage as he hauled himself back to his feet. “I don’t need to go to sickbay. I was just winded.”

Harry frowned at him, likely noticing that Tom was still leaning heavily on his arm. “Yeah, you’re just fine. Do you think I haven’t noticed you’ve been favouring your ribs all day? Did they… ”

Harry paused, and took a cautious breath. “Did the Banean authorities hurt you?”

More than he knew. Tom scowled. “They didn’t beat me, Harry. They were perfect gentlemen.”

“Well, I’m still taking you to sickbay. Computer, end programme.”

Harry wasn’t taking no for an answer, and since his side was still paining, Tom meekly followed him out into the corridor.

#

“It hurts.”

“There’s nothing wrong with you, Lieutenant, Kes has scanned you and I’ve scanned you.”

“But, doc, I can feel it. Here, where… where…” Where the knife had entered Tolen Ren’s body between his eighth and ninth ribs and punctured his heart. “It’s like an ache but sometimes it’s a sharp pain.” A stabbing pain.

“The pain isn’t in you ribs, Mister Paris, it’s in your head. The memory engrams are gone, but the memories themselves remain. Your brain is sending impulses to your pain receptors but the pain you’re feeling isn’t real. It’s in your mind.”

It felt real to him: sharp and so shocking that he’d caught his breath the first time he’d felt it. It had felt like the knife had gone clear through him. The blade had pierced his flesh, scraped across his rib bones and tore through his soft tissue. He’d felt the warmth of his blood escaping his body, the loss of equilibrium as he’d fallen to the floor.

The doctor’s tone softened. “You need a counsellor, not a doctor. You should talk to someone about your experience.”

He didn’t want to talk to someone, he wanted a hypo or a knitter to fix what he was sure was a wound in his chest. He closed his eyes, his mouth compressing into a thin line.

“Tom,” Kes slid her hand into his and squeezed. It was small and soft, and held a surprising strength. “Would you like to go to the mess hall with me? We could have some spinach juice. I can’t promise I can offer you any advice but I can listen if you’d like to talk about your experience. I’m sure Neelix would be happy to make us something special to eat.”

Talk about the punishment not fitting the crime… Tom shook his head. “Thanks, Kes, but no.” Raising the cook’s ire—a once-fun game for a bored Tom Paris—was even less palatable than one of Neelix’ culinary creations.

The doctor was peering at him, staring at him closely. “Are you still experiencing flashbacks? Do you find yourself losing time? Feeling panicked or anxious? I’ve cleared you for duty, but—”

“No!” Tom drew a breath, lowered his voice. “I’m fine. I’m fit for duty.” He huffed a laugh. “If anything, bridge duty is boring lately.” Too much time for introspection. Too much time for thinking.

“That may be so right now, but if the red alert klaxon sounds—”

“I’ll be fine, doc.” Tom jumped down from the biobed.

“The procedure the Baneans used on you was beyond anything we've ever encountered before, Lieutenant. There’s nothing even comparable in my database. The Baneans, the Vidiaans, it’s clear to me that Federation medical practices are like a babe in the woods in the Delta Quadrant. There was damage to your neural pathways, damage that I’d hoped would repair itself over time.”

“Okay.” Tom had no idea what that meant.

“The brain is a remarkable organ. I think what you need is a return to normalcy. Do what you usually do. Find something that brings you comfort. That should help.”

“Thanks, I’ll do that.” Tom headed for the door.

# # #

He needed a shower and a change out of his workout clothes, but he didn’t want to go back to his quarters. He should comm Harry, assure him that he was fine, but Tom didn’t think he could stand his concern. Megan might welcome him, but he shied away from that idea, not wanting to risk her reading more into his attention than he felt. He wandered the ship for a bit, just walking, avoiding the mess hall and the holodeck. He didn’t really want to be around people, to have them speculate about what he did or didn’t do with Lidell Ren. About whether or not he deserved what he got.

B’Elanna’s censure still rankled. As if he would put Harry in danger. As if he would deliberately do anything to jeopardize the safety of anyone on Voyager. She had a hell of a lot of nerve accusing him of anything! He and Harry were fine, they were good. They knew where they stood with each other. He’d apologized and Harry had accepted; Tom wasn’t aware that he was supposed to post it to the ship’s message system! Or maybe she expected him to beg her forgiveness too, for not clearing every little thing he did with her before he did it. And what made her the judge of moral character, anyway? She was a Maquis terrorist! He was just a fucking pilot.

He realized he was on deck nine, near her quarters, and he stopped abruptly in the middle of the corridor. His pulse was pounding, his heartbeat loud in his ears. He knew what he wanted, why his feet had led him here. He should turn around and go.

Instead he rounded the corner and took the corridor to the left: section twelve. He pressed her door chime before he could change his mind.

The door opened, and he barely registered her shocked expression before he brushed past her as he stormed into her quarters. He stopped halfway to her bedroom, and turned to face her.

“I didn’t sleep with Lidell Ren.” His declaration sounded more like an accusation. He knew she thought he had. Was certain she didn’t believe him.

Her chin came up, and her hands were fisted on her hips. “I’m sure you tried.”

Christ’s sake! Tom felt a muscle twitch in his jaw. “I flirted with her. That’s all. I was bored and she—”

“Was breathing?” She sneered, wrinkling her nose and pursing her lips in a fair imitation of her friend, Seska.

Tom swallowed a curse. “—was doing her best to seduce me so she could murder her husband and pin it on me!”

“And I suppose you never once led her on, never let her think that you were open to a little fun.”

“No. Maybe. Okay,” Tom dragged a hand through his hair and turned toward the wall. “She kissed me, and…”

“And you were just standing there, minding your own business, working on your conn report?”

Her sarcasm hurt almost as much as the pain in his ribs. Tom shook his head. “And when I shut it down, that’s when…” When she could have backed out. When she could have changed her mind and shown him some mercy. Instead, she’d deliberately, methodically, tried to ruin his life.

“When what?”

He turned back toward her. Her posture was rigid, tense. He wasn’t sure if she believed him, but at least she was listening. “That’s when she offered me a cup of tea with a sedative in it. Then she and her boyfriend killed her husband and I woke up in jail.”

He sank into her sofa uninvited, and buried his face in his hands. “I was just a means to an end for her. A tool she could use to get rid of Professor Ren. She didn’t give a shit about me. Or Harry.”

Christ, she’d been cold. Calculating. How long had she been waiting for just that opportunity? How many other fish did she have on the hook? Was it something personal, or had he just been convenient? The perfect patsy. He squeezed his eyes shut.

B’Elanna touched his arm, and Tom felt the warmth of her fingers slide along his shoulder to his neck; their callused tips sent a shiver down his spine. She’d knelt on the floor beside him, and he leaned into her, rested his forehead against her arm.

“Harry said—”

“What?” His head jerked and he stared into her eyes.

“That you were hurt. In the holodeck.”

She glanced down at his chest and her hand reached toward him. He grabbed at it, trapping it against his ribs. “I need you to believe me about Lidell Ren.”

“Okay.”

“I need you to say it.”

She paused a moment before she nodded, and he wondered what he must look like to her: some crazy man, half eaten up with grief.

“I believe you.”

But she didn’t. He had to convince her. “B’Elanna, why the hell would I fool around with her when you’re here?”

She drew a breath, and her lips parted, but she didn’t speak. Tom’s hand found her hair. He traced the shape of her head, the line of her jaw, brushed his thumb along her cheekbone. He buried his nose in her shoulder, and placed soft, open-mouthed kisses along her neck. She was warm and solid. His hands slid down her back, his fingers dug into her hips as he gathered her closer.

“Tom.” Her hands clenched in the fabric of his shirt.

He kissed her under her jaw, on the cheek, smothered any objection she might have voiced with a hard kiss on her lips. They parted under his, and he pushed his tongue into her mouth, tasting her, claiming her.

She felt right, soft and pliant. She was dressed in a red lounging outfit, and Tom’s fingers dug at the waistband of her pants, slipping them down her hips. He felt her soft skin, the curve of her waist, and he groaned and pulled her closer.

Her arms were trapped against his chest but she was kissing him back, her tongue tangling with his. His hand slipped under her shirt, and her skin was soft and smooth, her pebbled nipple rough in his palm. He wanted to taste it, wanted to touch her all over, feel her heat against him. Then they were on the floor, his pants around his ankles, hers gone, and he pushed into her, slammed into her, and he heard her gasp. She was all heat and breath, softness, and so tight as she wrapped around him. He pounded into her, his knees scraping on the carpet, his hands in her hair, elbows rubbed raw as they held him up. Then he was coming, his breath catching in his throat, a white light behind his eyes, her scent in his nose. He shuddered, shivered, his body spasming above hers. He panted, trying to catch his breath.

Awareness came back to him with each breath: her body, still under his, the stinging pain in his elbows, her hair in his mouth. He realized she hadn’t come. He felt her rigid beneath him, her hands fisted on his back, her legs drawn up and stiff, cradling his hips. He was usually so careful, but she hadn’t orgasmed. Had she even said yes? Had he asked?

What had he done?

“I’m sorry,” Tom whispered. He stiffened and pulled away from her, easing his weight off her chest. “I’m so sorry,” his words escaping on a breath. He rolled off of her knocking his shoulder on the couch and sat up, hugging his knees to his chest as he covered his face with his hands. “I didn’t mean…”

Her fingers were warm on his wrist, pulling his hands away. She sat up and cupped his cheek, threaded her fingers in his hair and tugged until he was looking at her.

“It’s okay.” She kissed his forehead. “It’s okay, Tom. I wanted it, too.” She smiled at him as she climbed to her feet. “I want you. I’m tired of fighting it.”

She pulled her shirt over her head and let it fall, and Tom watched her breasts bounce. She stood gloriously naked in front of him and held out her hand. “Make it up to me.”

He smiled, weak with relief, so fucking grateful that this was really happening, that it wasn’t what he’d feared. He took her hand and stood, and followed her to the bedroom, admiring her shoulders, the fine line of her back, and the sway of her hips. She turned and hauled his shirt up his chest and off, then shoved him onto her bed. He landed with a bounce. She climbed onto him, slid her slick heat across his cock. It was getting the message and twitched in interest. He reached for her breasts and found his wrists pinned to the bed, her breath hot in his ear as she leaned over him.

“Oh no.” She scraped his earlobe with sharp teeth. “We do this my way now.”

A frisson of excitement climbed up his spine. “Oh yes, please,” he grinned.

She laughed, and her nipples rubbed on his chest. She seemed to like that because she closed her eyes and moved over him, tilting her hips to glide over his cock once again, arching her back so her breasts dragged through his chest hair. She angled her head and nipped his jaw, and Tom hissed at the sharp pain.

“Your skin is so pale,” she noted. She pressed her weight against his wrists, then sat up, gliding her fingertips down his arms. He took the hint and didn’t move. “And I’ve never seen eyes that colour of blue before. How many women have fucked you because of your eyes?”

Her question should have shocked him, repulsed him, but it turned him on, instead. He shook his head. “They don’t matter.”

She smiled. “Don’t they?” Her fingernails dug into his shoulders, then scraped vivid pink lines down his chest. She leaned forward and buried her nose in his throat and inhaled. “You smell good.”

He did? Until this moment he’d forgotten that he must reek. “I catch your scent; on the bridge, in the briefing room, in the mess.” Her teeth scraped his throat, nibbled on his collarbone. She kissed the round of his shoulder. “It’s so hard to resist it.”

“Don’t try.” He smiled and she grinned back.

Her slick folds slid along his length, and Tom’s penis throbbed and his hibs bucked. She sighed as she rode him, and rubbed her clit against his base. He felt her shiver. He reached for her hips, but she leaned forward again and caught his hands, slamming them back to the bed. “Uh uh.”

She ground against him, gliding from base to tip, humming quietly to herself. Tom caught her musky scent, felt the wet heat of her centre, and thrust upward. He wanted inside her again, ached for her tight heat to engulf him, but she rose up onto her knees denying him the contact he longed for.

“Slow to one quarter impulse, Lieutenant,” she whispered in his ear, and Tom laughed.

Heat rolled off of her, and Tom could see a fine sheen of perspiration between her breasts. He ached to taste it, to lick her clean, to pull her nipple into his mouth. She settled back onto his groin and straightened. Her eyes closed, and she bucked her hips and slid along his length again. He was achingly hard, but she was right; slower was infinitely better.

“You owe me, Tom.”

He was more than willing to pay up. Her voice was silky and her words held a promise. He sat abruptly, flipping her off of him slamming her onto her back. He grasped her by the hips and jerked her toward him, then stretched out on the bed. She laughed, but it turned into a hiss as he bent over her belly and bit her mound. He glanced up at her and their eyes locked. She was still, waiting, anticipating. He curled his hands over the curve of her hips, enjoying the way they flared out from her narrow waist, then slid his palms under her ass and raised her toward his mouth. He watched as her eyes closed. Her body shook as his tongue traced her inner thigh; her hips tilted upward bringing her closer to his mouth.

He kissed his way to the thatch of curls between her legs and touched her with the tip of his tongue, dipping into her, tracing her folds, taking his time. Her breath caught, and she wiggled, but he worked his way downwards toward the flare of her ass cheek. He gave it a little nip, then a kiss, and she gasped. He smiled against her hot skin.

Her hand landed on his head and she tugged at his hair. “You owe ohhh...”

He closed his lips over her nub and suckled, scraping it with his teeth then soothing it with his tongue. She grunted and bucked her hips, and Tom leaned his weight against her thighs. He had a goal in mind, and he wasn’t going to get there if she wiggled away.

He slid two fingers into her heat and her muscles clenched around them. He pistoned them in and out while licking at her tender flesh. He gazed along the the dips and swells of her torso, from the flat of her stomach, up the ladder of her ribcage to the soft mounds of her breasts, the flare of her collarbone, and sharp point of her jaw. Her eyes were closed, her teeth sunk into her bottom lip. She was frowning slightly, concentrating, her body tense.

He curled his fingers inside her, and moved his hand faster, hoping her Klingon genes had made her in a way that was familiar to him. He sucked on her clit, and she grunted, gasped. One hand fisted in the sheets, the other landed on his head. He gripped her hard, pinning her to the bed, digging his fingers into her honey-brown flesh, and her legs started to shake. She bucked beneath him and gasped again, her breath coming in quick pants, her fingers tangling in his hair.

Gradually, she stopped squirming and her breathing slowed, and he leaned upward to plant slow, open-mouthed kisses on her belly.

“Mmmm,” she sighed. “How did you learn to do that?”

He raised his head and looked at her: eyes slit, her full mouth curved into a saited smile. Maybe those other women mattered, after all, Tom mused. In fact, he’d had a very demanding teacher.

He kissed his way up her body, stopping to lave her nipples with his tongue, to suck them, first one then the other, between his lips. He nipped the point of her collarbone, licked the sweet hollow below her throat, kissed a trail toward her ear. “Extensive reading,” he murmured.

She convulsed in a laugh, curling her body and thumping him on the chest. She sat, pushing him off of her, and turned around. She glanced at him over her shoulder, then raised her bottom in the air.

“We didn’t try it this way last time,” she stated.

Tom raised up onto his knees, sliding his palm along her back, trailing his fingers over the slight ridges on the base of her spine. She gasped and shivered. He filed that knowledge away for later. He loved the texture of her skin, the feel of her firm muscles under her softness. His hand moved around to her belly, holding her still, and he slid into her slick heat. Her internal muscles gripped him and fluttered as he pushed all the way inside her. His breath caught: she was incredible. She was everything.

She started to move, and he thrust into her. Her firm buttocks slapped against his belly. “Harder, Tom…”

It was like in his dream, but so much better, so much more because he was certain it was B’Elanna with him. His fingers traced her spine again, her shoulder blades, felt the sweat rise on her skin. He gripped her shoulder and pounded into her, and she grunted in response to his thrusts.

She moved a hand between her legs and started to rub there. He could feel her straining, feel her fingertips bumping his balls, and he pulled her body upward so her back was leaning against his chest. He wrapped his arm across her shoulders bracing her as he thrust into her, trying not to break his rhythm, and his hand joined hers between her legs. Their fingers tangled for a moment, then she pressed his fingers onto her clit, guiding him. Suddenly, her body bucked and swayed, undulating as she came. Her vaginal muscles gripped him, spasmed, and he felt a wash of heat as his own orgasm barrelled over him.

They landed sideways on the bed and he felt the urge to laugh. He’d rolled onto his back, still holding onto her shoulder, and she was sprawled half on top of him.

She turned and slid off of him, and moulded her body against his, stretching her legs along his. Her head was on his chest, her hair up his nose, and Tom brought an arm around her back and hugged her. Her eyes were closed, and he could feel her panting breaths warm and moist on his skin. She had one arm draped over his stomach, her fingers curled posessively around his hip. He wasn’t going anywhere. And if he had it in him, they’d be up all night.

He settled against her, his heart rate gradually slowing, his body relaxing. She was leaning heavily in his arms, and he felt happy and sleepy.

“How did…they kill him?” Her voice was quiet, her words tentative in the darkened room.

Tom sucked a slow breath. She was talking about Tolan Ren. “They stabbed him, here, through the heart.” His fingers found the spot on his chest between his ribs. Her hand closed over his, her fingers weaving between his own, sliding over his skin, probing gently.

“Did you feel it?”

“Yes. Not really.” He sighed. “The doc says it’s all in my head.”

Her hand pressed against his chest, then moved up to cup his cheek and draw his face toward hers for a slow kiss. “I’m sorry.”

He nodded. “So am I.”

“But they didn’t really hurt you?”

They had, but he knew what she was asking. “Not really, no.”

“So, physically, you're fine.”

He frowned, wondering why she was dwelling on his days spent in the custody of the Banean police. “Yeah.”

Her mouth pulled upwards in a little smile and her hand slid down his belly and over his thigh. She cupped his balls, gave them a gentle squeeze. “Good.”

Tom grinned and kissed her.

###

 

Everybody knows that you love me baby
Everybody knows that you really do
Everybody knows that you've been faithful
Ah, give or take a night or two
Everybody knows you've been discreet
But there were so many people you just had to meet
Without your clothes
And everybody knows

Songwriters: Leonard Cohen / Sharon Robinson
Everybody Knows lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

Chapter Text

Keep telling me you're feeling good
As good as you ever could
Please tell me that you'll never go
Ah ah no no...

Songwriters: Richard Davies / Roger Hodgson
Oh Darling lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

# # # # #

That which follows is…

 

# # #

“Would you like some more coffee, Lieutenant Torres?”

“Oh. Sure. Thank you, Neelix.” B’Elanna smiled at the jovial cook and presented her mug. He positively beamed at her as he topped it up, then turned to Harry.

“Ensign Kim?”

Harry nodded. “Thanks.”

Tom pushed his own mug a few centimetres toward the edge of the table, but Neelix turned his back on him and addressed B’Elanna again. “I’m sure you have lots of important ship’s business to discuss, but I could get you a little more lum’qat if you’d like. I know how hard you work, Lieutenant, and you sometimes get so caught up in that work that you skip lunch. Don’t think I don’t notice your absence.” His tone was gently chiding. “So, what do you say? I wouldn’t want you to leave my mess hall hungry. I can fry it extra crispy, just for you.”

“Um, no, thank you, Neelix.” Was that panic Tom saw in her eyes? He watched her reach for her tray and twitch her napkin so it completely covered the purply-grey tendrils that she’d left there, untouched. “Actually, the coffee will be fine.”

“I can put some in a container and you can take it with you if you like.”

“That…” Her eyebrows rose and Tom watched her nose wrinkle a little. “That would be great.” She nodded. Smiled.

Neelix positively beamed at her, then turned and headed back to the galley. Tom tilted his mug and watched the dark brown sludge that coated its bottom slowly ooze from one side of his mug to the other to form a dense puddle.

“You know, if you were nicer to him, he’d be nicer to you,” Harry berated.

Truthfully, all things considered, not being forced to choke down another mug of the cook’s noxious not-coffee could be the definition of Neelix being nice to him.

Tom had hesitated when he’d seen Harry and B’Elanna sitting together in the mess this morning. He’d left her quarters barely six hours ago. He would have stayed, if she’d let him, would have started the morning the way they’d capped off the evening, or rather, the wee hours of the night. But she’d been adamant that no one suspect that he’d been there. He’d tried not to take it personally, but he’d been instantly on the defensive.

“So, what,” he’d demanded, “you’re going to pretend this didn’t happen and ignore me again?” He’d wondered if she would come to him every two months, like clockwork, until they crossed into the Alpha Quadrant. She’d had the good grace to look chagrined.

“You know how people gossip on this ship. Tom, I’m the chief engineer. I can’t have my staff speculating about whether or not I’m… you know.”

The way the crew speculated about the captain and Chakotay. The way Neelix assumed he seduced anything that moved. Tom knew, and he understood. But he’d wondered where that left him.

“And are you planning to, you know, again any time soon?” He’d smiled as he said it, done his best to make it sound like he didn’t much care either way, but the ‘with me’ had made its way in there despite his faked nonchalance.

She’d reached out and trailed her fingers down his chest, scratched her nails over his belly and smiled. “I think that can be arranged.”

As long as they were discrete. As long as nobody guessed. He’d done more for lesser sex. And besides, he’d agreed that it might be fun to hoodwink everyone. The idea of deceiving Harry weighed on him a little, but since both Harry and B’Elanna had thought he was deranged for thinking they might be interested in each other, he decided that it wasn’t any of Harry’s business what his two pals did together in the privacy of their own quarters.

In the shower this morning, as he’d assessed the various scratches, punctures, and bruises on his body, he’d felt a little thrill of excitement and happiness. A little zing of anticipation. She hadn’t hurt him, if anything the sting of her nails scraping his back and digging into his ass had heightened his body’s response to her. He’d hoped he’d left a few bruises of his own for her to see: fingermarks on her hips, love bites on her throat that her uniform shirt hid from view. He wanted to know that they were there; that he’d been the man who’d put them there.

He’d heard about the legendary sexual appetite of Klingon women when he was in school and had brushed off most of the stories as either hyperbole or wishful thinking. Apparently they weren’t. B’Elanna was only half-Klingon, and though he thought he’d held up his end of their evening’s activities, if that was how half-Klingons acted in bed, he was glad she had those weak human genes to dilute that Klingon sex drive. She might just kill him if she were a full Klingon…

She kicked his ankle under the table and he yelped in pain, then turned it into a cough when he registered the look she sent him. He realized he’d been staring at her, he hoped without a stupid grin on his face.

“I said, is that alright with you, Paris?” She put a little emphasis on his surname.

Was what alright? That she was amazing in bed? That they’d fit together in a way he’d never experienced with a new lover? That he couldn’t look at her now without imagining her naked and willing?

“Ummm…” Tom flicked a glance at Harry. No help there.

“I was saying, I thought I’d take a look at that starboard impulse engine this morning. I thought you could fill me in on whatever that problem was you mentioned. In your conn report. Since…” she faltered for a moment, then rallied, “since you’re the chief conn officer.”

B’Elanna stared at him intently, narrowing her eyes as she squinted at him. Was she hoping to use mind-control on him? ESP? His psionic abilities were just about zero and, according to an old girlfriend, he couldn’t read a woman's mind to save his… newly punctured ass.

Why would she need him if she were checking the impulse engine? It was Bennet who’d said she thought there might be a lag. Actually, unless there was a major problem, a junior engineer could handle a preliminary… oh. Oh! Tom’s mouth lifted in the beginning of a smile, but he noticed the look in her eye and bit down on his lower lip. He sat up straighter.

“Of course, Lieutenant. Ensign Sharr can take my place for a few hours. I’ll have to clear it with Chakotay, but I’m sure it will be fine.”

She looked down at the table and busied herself with her tray, then stood abruptly. “Good. I, um, I have… I’ll meet you there in twenty minutes, Lieutenant.”

She summoned a small smile for Harry and headed toward the mess serving counter to drop off her tray. Tom watched Neelix hand her a thermos, likely full of his threatened coffee substitute. She sailed out of the mess hall like a ship in full sail, chin out, backbone straight. Tom turned back to Harry and noted his frown. “What?”

“I know she’s not your favourite person, but you could at least pay attention when she’s talking to you about ship’s business.”

“I promise, Harry, Torres’ll have my full attention from now on.” Oh boy, would she.

Harry scowled and finished his coffee.

# #

He’d simply told Chakotay that the chief engineer had requested his presence to discuss a matter relating to conn efficiency, and the commander had told him to report back to the bridge when he was finished. Easy-peasy. He’d half expected her former mentor and Maquis leader to question why B’Elanna would feel the need to have his questionable assistance with anything relating to ship’s systems, but the big man had taken him at his word. It was a good thing, because, during the short turbolift ride from deck two to the bridge, Tom’s usually agile brain had been unable to come up with any better explanation than, ‘ask her’.

He’d always considered himself to be a good boyfriend—not that B’Elanna was his girlfriend. He’d taken the time to plan interesting and fun dates—not that they were dating in the general sense of the word. He was thoughtful, considerate. He usually never showed up empty handed and he always remembered birthdays, though he didn’t have a clue when B’Elanna’s was or if she celebrated her birthday based on the Earth calendar or Qo’noS. To be honest, he couldn’t remember if a Klingon year was shorter or longer than a Federation standard year: she could be twelve or forty-two, for all he knew.

What he did know was that B’Elanna had insisted he meet her in a very out of the way, usually unoccupied section of the ship to ‘help’ her diagnose a problem that he was fairly certain she doubted existed. She kept a close eye on her engines; if there really was a problem with that impulse drive, she’d likely be the first to know.

Which meant she had another reason for requesting his company. He sincerely hoped she did, anyway. So, if they were meeting for a little romance—not that what they had was romantic in the general sense of the word—his brain insisted that he shouldn’t show up empty handed. And he certainly should bring something other than a copy of his latest conn report.

He popped into his quarters on his way down from the bridge and viewed his replicator ration account. It was moderately healthy, and could withstand a little indulgence. He could bring her a cup of real coffee, but it would likely grow cold before she had a chance to drink it. He knew first-hand that the replicator did a lousy job on tomato soup. Chocolates? He remembered that song he’d caught her singing in the Jefferies tube yesterday. He’d looked it up, before he’d met Harry in the holodeck. It had a line about everybody wanting a box of chocolates. His former instructeur had had a weakness for Belgian chocolates, the real thing, not replicated, but he could replicate a small box with a big red bow on it. Ribbons and bows… Of course, Susie, his Academy ex-girlfriend, had loathed chocolate.

He was uncertain. Stymied. Besides Bloodwine and gagh, what did Klingons enjoy? B’Elanna hadn’t enjoyed the lum’qat at breakfast, but that was more like squid than gagh. He stood there, staring at the replicator, conscious of time ticking away. Then he remembered the next line in that song.

Tom keyed in his request, and looked through the library of choices. His first impulse was too formal, a little imposing for the morning after their second night together. But this… technically, it fit the parameters of the song lyric. But it was more casual, more friendly.

Tom smiled. It was perfect.

# #

It didn’t carry a scent, but it was pretty, a bright red that reminded him of her lipstick, and he decided it was worth the three replicator rations he’s spent on it. He’d had the foresight to tuck it into his uniform jacket, and was glad that it was thornless as it pressed against his ribs with each step he took. He was careful to walk ramrod straight so he wouldn’t accidentally bend the stem or crush the petals.

There was no direct route to the starboard impulse engine relay room; it wasn’t like it was just down the corridor from main engineering. The impulse engines were housed in the pylons that joined the warp engines to the body of the ship. The relay room was situated in an auxiliary compartment just inside the nacelle pivot assembly, and he hoped the ship didn’t drop out of warp and the pylons retract while he was in the relay compartment. He’d taken the ‘lift to deck six, then a Jefferies tube to the strut junction. Chocolates next time, definitely. In a nice sturdy box.

“It’s about time,” she said, as he stepped through the door. She was leaning with her butt against a work interface console, and her arms were crossed over her chest.

“Well, I did have to beg permission to get out of bridge duty,” he said. “And I had an errand to run.”

“Oh?” Her eyebrow climbed in interest.

Tom unzipped his jumpsuit, anticipation of her delight warming him. He carefully pulled out the colourful flower and presented it to her. “For you.”

She froze, and the smile slid from her cerise lips. “What’s that?”

Tom’s own smile faltered. “A long-stemmed rose.” He paused waiting for a glimmer of recognition. Nothing. The silence stretched, and he felt compelled to fill it. “Technically, it’s a rosa rubrifolia.” Tom glanced at the spray of six small blossoms. They didn’t look like the classic romantic offering. Instead, they more closely resembled the simple yellow wildflowers, buttercups, that grew on the lawn of his childhood home each summer. The rose blossoms were small with a bright yellow centre, and five curved petals that gradually deepened in colour from a creamy white at the centre to a bright cherry red. Like her lipstick, which was why he chose it.

He felt like an idiot, standing there with his arm out, not unlike how he’d felt in Jefferies tube thirty-seven alpha yesterday. Though, he had to admit, on a scale from awkward to ‘everything coming up… roses’, standing there with a bouquet of rejected flowers beat an unwanted PADD every time.

“What am I supposed to do with them?”

Tom shrugged. She could eat them for all he cared, as long as she took them. They wouldn’t be any more strange than the stuff Neelix usually whipped up, and would likely taste better. But she wasn’t taking them; she was still standing there with her arms tightly crossed. Tom wiggled the stem a little, then looked around for a place to put it. He settled on a narrow shelf near a junction panel.

“I thought we should, you know, make a plan,” B’Elanna said. She looked sincere, all business.

“A plan?” Tom was confused. “For running a test on the impulse engine?” He raised an eyebrow, playfully, he hoped. She scowled.

“The impulse engine is fine. Pilots always think they can feel when something is wrong.” Her tone was dismissive.

Tom frowned, “Yeah, well—”

“If there was a problem, I would know about it.”

“Ohh...kayyyy…?” He drew out the word, anticipation lending a playful note to his tone. If they weren’t there, in an out of the way, seldom used—one might even say, hidden—area of the ship for the purpose of running a diagnostic on the engine, then they were there for another reason. A more fun reason, maybe? Well, well. He’d had his hopes, but hadn’t really thought she would dare fool around while they were on duty. But if she wanted to play, he was game. Oh yes, he was game.

He took a step toward her, and tried to rein in his grin. “So what sort of plan?” He was thinking Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays they could use his quarters, Tuesdays and Thursdays, hers. On Saturday, they could find an out of the way spot on the ship to fool around. Sunday, they'd probably have to rest up for the coming week.

“You need to keep dating Megan Delaney.”

“What?” She’d said it as if it were the most reasonable thing in the world, the way she might say, the deflector grid is important, or, humans breathe a mix of nitrogen and oxygen. There was no judgement in her tone, no recrimination. She’d simply been stating a fact. So, was this her way of telling him it was over? Fun and done?

“I need to what?” he asked.

“Date Megan Delaney.” She glanced down, to the right, back at his face. “If you don’t, people are going to wonder why you, you know, stopped.”

Tom’s mouth dropped open in disbelief. “So, you want me to pretend to date Meg so nobody will guess that we’re sleeping together?” He was careful in his word choice, careful to use the present tense, not the past.

She nodded, smiling. “Yes.”

Was she serious? B’Elanna wanted him to sleep with Meg to throw off suspicion that she might also be sharing his bed? Or… did she? He took a step toward her, lowered his voice. “Just what do mean by ‘date’?”

“You know.” A shrug.

Tom frowned and advanced another step. “Not really.”

“Umm, you could have dinner with her in the mess hall.”

“Okay.” Tom nodded.

“Or do something on the holodeck.” Her eyebrow rose.

Another step. “A game of pool?”

“Sure. If she wants.” She waved a hand.

“What if she wants to run the Risa programme?”

A twitch. Another glance at the floor. “If she wants to. I suppose.” Her chin jerked up and she bit her bottom lip.

“Ah. Okay.” They were close together now, close enough that she had to tilt her head backward to look him in the eye. “And should I walk her back to her quarters after these dates?” Tom asked. He raised an eyebrow.

“That sounds…” She swallowed. “That sounds reasonable.”

Tom touched her shoulder, trailed his fingers down her arm and laced their fingers together. “What if she asks me to hold her hand?” B’Elanna nodded. He leaned toward her, his nose bumping hers. “Or kiss her good night?”

“I’m,” she swallowed. “I’m not sure.”

He kissed her cheek, her jaw, nuzzled the soft skin of her throat. She was softening, sagging against him, and he brought his other arm around her waist. He murmured into her ear. “What if she wants me to fuck her against the bulkhead?”

He didn’t make a habit of using vulgarities, but she’d used the word on him last night; it had seemed to excite her, then. It had the opposite effect today: her body stiffened.

“You can do what you want.”

He touched her cheek, traced her ear. “What I want is to fuck you against the bulkhead, B’Elanna. Do you want that? Hard and fast like we wanted to last month?” When he’d come to her quarters after he’d introduced the crew to Sandrine’s. After they’d fought about Ricky. “Do you?”

“Yes.” She shivered.

He kissed her throat again, her cheek. Hovered at her lips before kissing them too. Her hands scrabbled at his chest.

The logistics of it might be difficult, Tom mused. But before he could ask, she’d stepped away from him, and pulled the fastener on her jumpsuit. She kicked off her boots, then shrugged her uniform off of her shoulders, shoved it down over her hips and stepped out of it. Tom stared at the puddle of dark fabric on the deck, then noted the pair of ‘fleet-issue grey underwear as they landed on top. She kicked them aside. Tom looked at her and grinned. Her eyes were bright with excitement, and she laughed. He’d never done anything like this before—a quickie in a deserted area of the ship, while still on duty no less—and he suspected she hadn’t either. Hoped she hadn’t.

He had to touch her. He cupped her hip with his hand, slid his palm along its curve toward her amazing ass and pulled her closer. She tugged on his zipper, her knuckles grazing his chest and belly, bumping his eager erection as she pulled the fastener downward. She shoved his uniform off his shoulders and down his arms. He pulled her shirt up enough to slide his hands inside; touched soft, warm skin. Her breast was heavy in his hand, the nipple already hard. He wanted to put his mouth on it, suck it over his teeth. Feel her shudder.

B’Elanna shoved his shirt up his ribs, scratched her nails through the red-gold hair on his chest, buried her nose there and inhaled. It was like an electric current straight to his spine. She wound her arm around his lower back and backed toward the wall, pulling him with her. His pants were around his knees, and he waddled toward her, trying not to laugh. Even last night he hadn’t been this excited. Anticipation, trepidation over being caught, the thrill of doing something forbidden: it made him shake, it made him need her, even more.

She grinned at him as her back hit the bulkhead, then dropped her gaze to his briefs as she freed him and shoved them down his hips. Her nails scratched him, and he bucked at the shock of it, his skin hypersensitive.

He picked her up and pressed her to the wall as her legs came around him. He had one hand under her bottom, and the other slid up her side to recapture her breast. He rubbed his erection against her folds. She was hot, already slick with moisture. His belly and chest moved against hers, warming him, and her legs tightened against his back. He felt her knees in his ribs.

“Now, To—oohhh…”

He slid into her in one smooth stroke, the angle perfect, the tilt of her hips exactly aligned to take all of him. It was perfect, perfect, and he froze for a moment and caught his breath. Her thighs were pressed tightly against his hips, her heels in the small of his back. He didn’t even have to hold her up. His hand roamed over the firm globes of her bottom, he dipped a finger into the little indentation at the base of her spine, grazed his fingertips over the slight ridges on her lower back. She bucked against him.

Warm, moist breath on his throat. Her hair in his nose. His lips tracing her forehead ridges. His heartbeat in his ears, deafening. He followed her spine up toward her shoulders, his palm cupping her ribs, hugging her body to his. Both hands were trapped under her shirt, his thumb on her spine, fingers curled around her shoulder blade. Her back resting on his arm. Her skin like silk. The heat of her. He’d thought it would be fast, rough, dirty. But he wanted it slow; he wanted to savour her. He pulled out just slightly, pushed back in, heard her whimper. He did it again, a little harder, a little more, so much better. He hadn’t thought it could get better.

He let go of her breast and slid his palm under her spread thighs, traced her sex with his fingers, felt his cock as he pulled out of her, rammed back in. His balls bounced against his hand. He held her, took her weight as the force of his thrusts pushed her against the bulkhead. It felt so good.

She was whimpering in his ear, her body was tense, vibrating, her fingers clutching his shoulders, and he was speeding up, losing his rhythm, so turned on by her reaction to him. He set his jaw, ground his teeth together, holding on. Then she was grunting in his ear, gasping, whining in the back of her throat, and her fingers must be bruising him this time. He came in a rush. It barrelled over him, blinding him, stealing his breath, making him weak. He leaned into her, pinning her to the wall, limbs shaking. Her legs were clenched around him so tightly, she may have cracked one of his ribs. He panted into her shoulder and chuckled.

“I… umm…”

“Yeah,” Tom agreed.

He was still holding her, his body still humming, though fatigue was starting to wash over his limbs.

“We, umm,” her rapid breath tickled his shoulder, “we probably shouldn’t do this again.”

“No.” Tom shook his head, agreeing with her.

Her fingers were in his hair. “In case we get caught.”

He raised his head and stared into her eyes; huge, and dark, and soft. “Yeah,” he agreed. He pressed his groin against hers and her eyes closed. Her hand fluttered at his shoulder.

“Tom, I—”

Carey to Lieutenant Torres.

Her eyes went wide, and she straightened her legs. Tom pulled out of her and dropped her to the floor. She grabbed at her uniform and hit her combadge. Tom froze, not wanting to make a sound.

“Torres here.” Her fingers trailed down his belly and brushed his half-erect cock. It twitched, and Tom pressed into her hand. She smiled.

Just letting you know, we’ve completed the realignment of the phase coils in transporter room two, and we’re ready to begin the adjustments on the emitter array. Did you still want to oversee it?

“Yes, I do. We’re almost done here.”

Did the impulse engine check out okay?

“Yes.” The look she shot Tom was positively wicked. “In fact, it’s performing above expected parameters.”

He grinned.

I’m glad something is. We’ll hold until you’re back.

“Give me ten minutes. Torres out.” She pressed her lips together, trying, and failing, to hold in a laugh.

Tom pulled up his briefs and smoothed his shirt, then poked his arms into his uniform sleeves and hauled it over his shoulders. B’Elanna was dressed and slipping into her boots. She smoothed her hair.

“I probably should check myself in a mirror.”

He wanted to tell her she looked gorgeous: pink and glowing, with her eyes bright and her hair mussed. And her lipstick smeared, and her uniform rumpled. Well, she could probably get away with the uniform a mess—engineers were in and out of tight places all the time. But pilots weren’t, usually.

She squinted at him, and he ran a hand through his hair. She brought her hand to his face and rubbed her thumb under his lip, then pulled her sleeve over her hand and wiped at his jaw. She laughed.

“We should go,” she said.

Tom leaned down and kissed her one more time, just because he wanted to. He turned toward the door but she caught his arm.

“You can’t leave that here.” She was pointing at the roses.

Really? She really wasn’t going to take them? She wasn’t even going to touch them? Tom unzipped his uniform jacket and slid the flowers back inside against his chest. What woman didn’t like flowers? This one, apparently. He wouldn’t make that mistake again.

“I mean, they’re lovely but… thank you. But I don’t…”

Tom nodded. She was right. What the hell did he expect her to do with them during her shift? He pressed the keypad on the wall and the doors obligingly slid open. He gestured for her to precede him. He wasn’t being gallant; he wanted another look at her prime ass. She entered the Jefferies tube first and he was more than happy to follow her; he figured, you couldn’t beat the view.

They climbed out on the ship side of the nacelle pivot assembly, and Tom closed the hatch. When he turned around, she was frowning at him, hands on her hips. She lead the way down the corridor, arms scissoring at her sides, impatience practically rolling off of her.

“I told you there was nothing wrong with the impulse relays, Lieutenant.”

Tom hurried to catch up with her. His eyebrow rose as they rounded a corner and waited for a turbolift. “I guess you were right,” he said.

She folded her arms across her chest and raised her chin. “I’m very busy, Paris. I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t waste any more of my time with your ridiculous, fanciful notions.” She stared at him, a little smile tugging at the corner of her mouth. “I don’t have time to cater to your every whim.”

Frank Darwin came around the corner and nodded to them both. “Lieutenant.”

Tom nodded back. “Well, I’ll try to rein in my imagination from now on, okay?”

The ‘lift doors opened and Carlson looked up from a PADD he’d been reading. B’Elanna strode into the ‘lift and turned, barring the door. Tom would have to walk around her to get on. He paused, about to take a step, and caught the barest shake of her head. She pursed her lips, jerked her chin to the left.

“Just stick to what you know and fly the ship.”

The ‘lift doors closed and Tom laughed. He turned, and went in search of the head.

# # #

His hair looked okay, but he had lipstick on his throat and jaw. She hadn’t really kissed him there, she’d pressed her lips against his skin, nibbled a path under his ear, scraped her teeth along his jaw. She’d done it last night, too. It was a startling turn-on.

Tom washed his face, allowing the cool water to tamp down his imagination. He wondered, if she really let go, just how Klingon she would be. He’d heard that a bite on the face was a prelude to sex, that it was a way Klingon women marked a potential mate. She obviously wanted to bite him, mark him, to warn off potential rivals. To show her claim. Maybe. But if that were the case, why tell him to date Megan Delaney?

Maybe it was just instinct, something she was suppressing. She hadn’t been worried about digging her fingernails into him, but maybe she didn’t realize she’d done it? He grinned at himself in the mirror. He wanted to experience the real B’Elanna Torres, the Maquis hiding under the Starfleet uniform. He might just nip her himself, next time.

#

He’d planned to slip in and leave it on the counter, then slip out. But it was looking slightly ill-used after it’s confinement under his uniform, and starting to wilt from lack of water. Neelix often had flowers on the mess tables, grown in Kes’ hydroponics bay, but the little bud vases he used would be too small for the rose’s long stem and likely tip over. He placed the bloom onto the serving counter and slipped into the galley. Maybe a water pitcher? Or a thermos like the one Neelix had filled with coffee for B’Elanna this morning.

His eyes roamed the counters and open shelving. Nothing. He didn’t really want to go digging through the cupboards. He eyed the stock pot critically.

“Tom. Is there something I can help you with?”

Tom started guiltily and whirled around. Kes was standing in the doorway from the mess, a brimming basket of vegetables in her arms. “Um, I… Here, let me help you with that.” He took the basket and set it on the counter. She smiled her thanks, then noticed the rose. Damn.

“Oh, how lovely. Did you see who left this here?” She picked up the flower and brought it to her nose. She didn’t seem to mind that there wasn’t a scent.

“Well,” Tom hedged. He wondered if he should start a rumor, a little canard of a mysterious stranger who left flowers around the ship, like a benign Scarlet Pimpernel.

“Is it yours? Were you planning to give it to someone? Ensign Delaney?” She smiled at him.

It had crossed his mind to give it to Meg, to lay on the charm in order to convince her to have dinner with him, by order of B’Elanna. But, it was B’Elanna’s rose, and though she hadn’t come right out and said it, she had liked it even if she hadn’t accepted it. He’d rather recycle it than give it to someone else.

“Actually, I came in for a quick drink of coffee and saw it there. I thought maybe it needed a vase but I can’t find one. It looks a little wilted.” Apparently he was going to encourage a rumor about a Cerise Rosa Rubrifolia.

“Oh, let me get one.”

Suitably distracted, Kes handed the flower to him, then bent and opened a low cupboard. Tom stood there, twirling the stem between his fingers. A petal fell to the floor. A little voice in his head warned him to leave, that it wasn’t worth playing out this little charade, but he didn’t want to be rude to one of the few people on the ship who had been kind to him, so he stood there while she retrieved a vase and filled it with water. He had just handed it back to her, and as she had smiled and said, “Thank you, Tom. It’s beautiful” Neelix walked through the galley door from the corridor. His eyes focused on the flower, on Kes’ smile. They narrowed as they switched to Tom, and Neelix’ mouth turned down in a scowl.

Well, B’Elanna had said she wanted him to act normal. What was more normal for him than antagonizing Neelix by flirting with his girlfriend?

# # #

Chapter Text

They’d stuck to the plan: hers, not his. Tom had shared holodeck time with Meg, Jenny, and Harry, and they had sat together for meals. Harry had needed convincing, so Tom had spun him a yarn about wanting to win back the affections of a disenchanted Megan and needing Harry’s help to coax her into accepting his company by pairing off with Jenny. They came as a set, after all.

He’d told Megan—who had no true romantic inclinations toward him despite their night together a few weeks ago—that he was trying to get Harry and Jenny together and, because of his devotion to the far-away Libby, Harry would only agree to date Jenny if he thought he was helping Tom in his pursuit of Meg.

Meg commented that she rather enjoyed being pursued by a love-struck Tom Paris even if it was all an act. She also thought that Harry and Jenny were a good match. Privately, Tom had disagreed, but he didn’t tell Meg that. He’d played up the idea that Jenny’s enthusiasm and joie de vivre were exactly what the staid and serious Harry Kim needed to loosen up a little. And that the often exuberant Jenny could use a dose of Harry’s reserve.

A sham, within a scam, within a plot. Tom should be enjoying all this skullduggery. But he wasn’t.

Two weeks ago, when B’Elanna had said they shouldn’t do it again, he’d been worried that she’d meant they shouldn’t do it again. But she’d been referring to them having sex in the open, where they might get caught by any stray ensign who happened to wander by, not to what they did in private. And, on the evening of their impropriety, he’d found her in his quarters waiting for him when he’d come come home after hours spent drilling his staff on emergency evasion tactics. He’d been halfway through a strain-busting neckroll when he spotted her standing in his bathroom doorway dressed in a towel and a smile, and nothing else. Talk about a stress buster…

She still wanted him, but only in private where no one would see them together. It should have bothered him. It did, a little. He felt a little used, but the sex was amazing and after almost a year without, he didn’t want to rock the boat. He’d hoped, in a little secret place inside his crusty heart, that seeing him with Meg might make B’Elanna jealous, and she had been less reserved lately. It was eye-opening, and had made him wonder if there wasn’t something to those ‘Klingon female’ rumours, after all.

But all that sexual appetite hadn’t made her abandon the plan or the secrecy. She appeared to be enjoying their little ruse, a bit too much in his opinion. Yesterday, while following Meg to a table in the mess, he’d passed Seska and B’Elanna snickering together while they eyed up Nozawa. It had set Tom’s teeth on edge.

Neelix still kept an eagle-eye on him, apparently still miffed over the flower incident. So, while Tom was fake-romancing Megan, he’d also gone back to flirting with Kes, a behaviour that Harry was currently lecturing Tom about.

“Maybe she wants to be treated like a person. You know, with thoughts and hopes and talents beyond being pretty.”

“It’s ingrained, Harry,” Tom bullshited. “I can’t help myself. Besides, she doesn’t even notice.”

“Does Megan? Maybe she’d be more receptive to you if stopped fooling around with Kes.”

“Umm.” That gave Tom pause. Perhaps it was the proverbial ’spanner in the works. The detail that would cause his ‘house of PADDs’ to come crashing down. “They both know I’m not serious.”

“So why do it?” Harry’s gaze shifted from Tom to Neelix, currently ensconced behind the serving counter in the galley. “To piss off Neelix.” He answered his own question. “Of course.” He sounded disappointed.

Tom shrugged. “A man needs a hobby. Besides, he’s made up his mind he doesn’t like me, so what’s the difference?”

“The difference is, I would never intentionally annoy the person responsible for cooking my food. But if you want to live for the next seventy-five years with the risk of food poisoning, go ahead and continue to flirt with his girlfriend.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Harry. Neelix is a reasonable man. I’m sure he won’t hold a grudge for more than fifty,” Tom countered. He sobered as he stared at his friend. “It’s good to have you back, Harry.”

Harry nodded and pushed his eggs around his plate. “It’s good to be back.”

Tom frowned. Before Harry had been lost in that transporter accident, Tom had been so caught up in riding the high of mind-blowing, sneaky sex that he hadn’t really been paying attention to his friend outside of his own machinations. Harry had been gone a scant twelve hours and, two days on and ready to resume his duties, appeared fine. But his disappearance had scared the hell out of Tom, especially when all of those cocooned bodies that had appeared on the ship had been dead.

He nodded, his mind transported back to two nights ago, after Harry had been returned to them through a subspace vacuole. Ten seconds later, and Harry would have laid inside an asteroid for eternity, or at least until his body had turned to dust. When B’Elanna, concerned about the integrity of the warp core, had suggested they leave the ringed planetoid, Tom’s stomach had dropped to his boots. The vacuoles were disrupting the magnetic interlocks on the warp core, and she’d feared they would lose antimatter containment. Janeway had just ordered him to go and he’d been about to input a course he’d calculated hours before, when a new vacuole had opened up and another body had appeared.

Tom had felt weak with relief when Chakotay had said the body was human. Then, when it was confirmed it was dead, he’d just felt weak.

“Hatil told me that the wraps had been in his family for six generations. I didn’t really think about what that meant: that they must have been left in the cenotaph after the body was transported to the asteroid through a subspace vacuole.”

Tom only caught about fifty percent of what Harry was saying, and gave himself a mental shake. Despite his claims to the contrary, Harry was upset about something. The captain had given him two days off to sort through his feelings, to ‘absorb what had happened to him’, and though Harry was eager to return to bridge duty, he was obviously still distracted by his experience.

“I even forgot that all the bodies we saw on the asteroid were naked.”

“Yeah,” Tom said, trying to play conversation catch-up, “but they were wrapped in a cocoon of those fibres, right?”

“Yes,” Harry snorted, “but I wasn’t. Nothing was transported with me. Nothing. Half the crew has seen me naked,” Harry hissed.

“You dog,” Tom drawled. “Which half?”

“Would you be serious for once?”

“Right.” Tom sobered. He’d shot Voyager to warp, running like the hounds of Hell were on their heels, just in case another vacuole opened up and sucked Harry back. After Harry had been released from sickbay, Tom had tried to entice him into dinner, but he’d turned Tom down, stating that he needed a little alone time. Tom had returned to his quarters to find them occupied…

They’d been in his bed, their bodies entwined and still sweat-slicked when B’Elanna had told him that Harry had arrived on deck twelve at the feet of a startled Ensign Swinn. He’d been dead and, yes, completely naked. ‘She see anything she liked?’ he’d teased.

He’d received a thump to the chest for his efforts, and a long slow perusal. When she’d made her way back to his face, she’d smiled. Then she’d slid on top of him, her groin firmly pressed to his, and leaned down to nip the point of his jaw, nuzzle his ear. Her breasts had pressed onto his chest, and her tone had been honeyed as she’d said, ‘I do.’

Then they’d stopped discussing Harry altogether.

Tom smiled, remembering.

“I don’t know why you think this is so funny,” Harry grumped. “I’m not just talking about my uniform; I lost my com badge, my tricorder. Remember what happened when the Horizon left a book on Sigma Iotia II?”

Sigma what? “Not one iota.” Stop thinking about sex with B’Elanna! he chided himself.

Harry frowned. “In 2168.” He waited, and Tom fought the urge to squirm in his chair. “It’s taught in the Academy.” He sighed in frustration. “When we study the Prime Directive. You do remember the Prime Directive, right?”

Tom drew a breath, for patience. “Yeah, Harry, I have a trifling knowledge of it.”

His father had fed him and his sisters a steady diet of General Order Number One, Starfleet’s non-interference regulation. By his count, Tom figured they’d broken it a dozen times already. His gaze wandered past Harry’s shoulder and focused on Kes as she replaced wilted flowers with fresh in the small vases Neelix set out on the mess tables. Thirteen times.

“The Horizon was lost with all hands shortly after leaving the planet. They’d transmitted their logs, but because they were using conventional radio at the time, it took a hundred years for Starfleet to receive the transmission.”

“Maybe they were sucked into the Delta Quadrant too.” Tom shrugged. “So, what? They confessed to leaving a book behind on the planet? Why didn’t they go back and get it? Why did they even bring it with them in the first place?”

“There was no Prime Directive then. They didn’t mention the lost book in their logs, Captain Kirk found it when the Enterprise was ordered to investigate the planet when the radio transmission reached Earth. The logs said that the inhabitants of Sigma Iotia II were intelligent and adaptable, and they had a talent for imitation. They’d just entered their industrialization phase of development when the Horizon made first contact, and Starfleet Command was worried about what might have happened to their civilization under the influence of the crew.”

“So, a hundred years later, Starfleet Command sent the Enterprise crew to check, who then contaminated their civilization further.” Tom nodded.

“You do remember.” Harry sounded surprised.

It had taken him a minute to hone in on the details but, yes, he remembered. The forgotten, or perhaps gifted, book had been a history of the Chicago gangs of 1920’s Earth. The people of Sigma Iotia II had not just read it, they’d iconized it. They had built a whole society around early United States gang culture—tommyguns, Model T Ford automobiles, and fedoras included. When he’d been reading about it in school, Tom had secretly thought that the premise would make a fun holodeck programme. He still did, and he filed away the idea for later. He’d love to see B’Elanna dressed as a gangster’s moll…

“The Enterprise’s doctor was a member of the away team. He forgot his communicator on the planet when they beamed back.”

As a result, Sigma Iotia II had advanced three hundred years in fifty. They had taken apart and studied the communicator, built copies, and used the transponder technology to mimic everything from weapons to transporters. There had been a war that had killed millions of people before they’d realized the value of peaceful cooperation. It had set back their evolution by a generation. And, just as Tom had graduated from the Academy, they had achieved warp flight. Last he’d heard, they’d petitioned to join the Federation. Tom figured they owed it to them.

He’d assumed that Harry had been musing on the afterlife; on the broader meaning of life and death; on the futility of existence if the essence that was ‘you’ was snuffed out after your sliver of time among the living was finished. Born, then gone, within the blink of a cosmic eye.

But, of course, Harry was concerned that he’d broken the Prime Directive.

“You’re afraid that you contaminated the natural development of the Vhnori to the point where their future society will be changed from what it was meant to be.” Tom took a breath. “Harry, you might have done that the moment you appeared in that machine. When you swapped places with Ptera and they assumed you came from their afterlife.”

“I denied it. I told them about the cavern and the bodies. I might have single-handedly destroyed their entire theological belief system. For all we know, they could have gone another thousand years, another ten thousand, believing that when they die they would be reunited with their families, with their bodies and memories intact. But I could have destroyed that.”

“Maybe they didn’t believe you,” Tom suggested. “Look, there’s no set future for any of us.” Once he’d graduated, Tom had certainly believed his future was set but, if the ensuing five years had taught him anything, it was that he had to learn to roll with the punches life flung at you. “Maybe they’ll cover up the fact that you were even there.”

“And maybe, if we return in a hundred years, they’ll have temples built in my name.” Harry scowled.

“Harry Kim, Messiah from the Next Emanation. Has a nice ring to it.”

“It’s not funny, Tom. Instead of a saviour, if they take apart my tricorder, I could be a… an angel of death.”

Tom glanced away. He wanted to joke, but it wasn’t funny. The Prime Directive made a lot of sense: Starfleet technology was dangerous in the wrong hands. “Look. It’s all in your report, right?”

“Of course.”

“And what did the captain say?”

“That it couldn’t have been prevented. But, Tom, I should have realized! I should have destroyed my equipment and burned my uniform before I went into that cenotaph.”

“You told me they took your gear, Harry, when were you supposed to destroy it?”

“I dunno. But I should have tried harder to escape, to get it back.”

Tom tried another tack. “You weren’t on the planet we were orbiting. Those subspace vacuoles could have brought you from anywhere. You have no idea how advanced the Vhonri are. You said yourself that you were confined to a building, you didn’t even get to see outside.”

“So?” Harry was stubbornly clinging to his guilt and misery.

“So, maybe they’ve already achieved flight. Transporters. Replicators. You don’t know.”

“How could they have that technology but let a young woman die of an easily curable brain tumour? Let a man walk around crippled after an accident? How could a race that advanced allow a man to be forced into committing suicide because of an injured leg?”

Tom opened his mouth but he had no answer. “I dunno. A belief system is a powerful thing, Harry. And they believe that the next emanation is like paradise. They think they’re sending their loved ones to a better place.”

“Well, they’re not. They’re sending them to rot on a cold hunk of rock.”

Jenny Delaney entered the mess hall and engaged Kes in a conversation, likely about the flowers since she took one from her. Tom watched as she tucked it behind her ear. She turned and waved, and Tom smiled back. The holodeck database didn’t have any programmes about asteroid fields, or even Roaring 20’s Chicago, but it did have something that might be equally entertaining.

“Harry, you need a change of perspective.”

“Oh. What did you have in mind?”

“Have you ever been to Venice…?”

# # # #

The computer had three versions of the programme in its database, but since none of them had the rations to replicate costumes they chose modern day. Not that the 13th century inhabitants would have noticed their uniforms, but Tom always felt a little out of place if he wasn’t dressed for the part, and it tempered his enjoyment of the programme.

Tom had chosen casual tan pants and a plain rust coloured shirt paired with his favourite patterned vest, and he’d arrived at Harry’s quarters ten minutes early just to make sure he’d changed into something more comfortable than Starfleet regs. He hadn’t. It had taken no small amount of Tom’s skill at flattery and manipulation to get him into civvies.

They met the Delaney twins outside holodeck two precisely at 20:00. The sisters had been waiting for them, and Jenny took Harry’s arm and squeezed before telling him how handsome he looked. Meg looked at Tom and raised an expectant eyebrow. Oh yeah.

“You look nice,” Tom said, oozing what he hoped passed for charm as he kissed her on the cheek.

“Thank you.” She smiled, observing him in return as Tom keyed in their programme request. “Do you own anything in blue?”

“Huh?” The holodeck doors slid open on a busy, sun-drenched stone plaza before Tom could formulate a response.

The sun was warm, the breeze cool. Fluffy white clouds chased each other across an azure sky. The scent of the Adriatic was in the air.

They heard seagulls and the low murmur of people in conversation, the sharp shout of children squealing in laughter as they chased pigeons around the square. Tom offered Meg his arm and they stepped through the doors. The sun was blindingly bright, reflecting off the marble buildings and the water in the canal that cut along the back of the piazza and flowed behind the Basilica di San Marco. Between the buildings, Tom spotted gondoliers dressed in traditional stripped tee shirts and straw boater hats as they ferried tourists along the canal in their sleek black gondolas.

“Oh, this is gorgeous…”

Meg’s voice trailed off as she let go of Tom’s arm and moved more fully into the square. She was staring, wide-eyed, at the ancient stone buildings that lined the piazza. Jenny let out a whoop and ran off toward a cluster of pigeons, dragging Harry behind her. The birds squacked and cooed, and boiled up into the air only to land a few meters beyond where they’d taken off. She flapped her arms and chased them again.

“I’ve always wanted to visit the Basilica,” Meg said. She stared at the enormous cathedral that took up most of the end of the square. “I love ancient architecture, especially churches. When we get home, I’ll…”

She paused, then turned and gave Tom a sad smile.

“You know,” he said, “it’s been standing for a thousand years. I’m sure it’ll still be there when we get back.”

“Fifteen hundred, give or take,” she corrected.

“Really?” Tom squinted at the stone behemoth. It had domes and columns, archways and pointy bits on top. It looked like a mish-mash of old and ancient, sprinkled with frippery. Tom’s head tilted slightly to the right.

“They began construction in 829 AD to house the remains of Saint Mark.”

“Pretty fancy tomb,” Tom said. Meg smiled.

“It became the private church for the Doge.” At Tom’s puzzled frown, she explained, “The chief magistrate of Venice. It didn’t become a true church of the people until 1807.”

“And now they just let anyone in.”

She smiled again, her features softening. “It’s still consecrated. It still operates as a place of worship, but mostly it’s a tourist attraction now.”

“I didn’t think there were that many people on Earth who still followed an organized religion,” Tom said. “If you’re so interested in ancient buildings, why aren’t you an architectural historian?”

She shrugged. “It’s just a hobby. Besides,” she flashed him a smile, “everyone knows that Starfleet is where all the adventure is.”

Jenny let out another whoop, and Tom caught Harry’s frown. He couldn’t be more stiff if he had a crenellated column stuffed down the back of his shirt.

“Whatta you say we get that dessert?” Tom suggested. “Then we can wander around your tomb afterward.” They had planned to get coffee and something decadently delicious at a historic cafe on the edge of the piazza. Tom’s replicator ration account could stretch that far, he hoped.

“Something chocolate?” Her eyes grew round.

“With chocolate sauce on top,” Tom confirmed. Meg laughed.

“Oh, guys, look!” Jenny had moved farther up the square and was pointing to the right, past the Doge’s Palace. “Gondola rides!”

“She’s got the eyes of red-tailed Indiana hawk,” Tom murmured.

Jenny had turned back to Harry and was eyeing him imploringly. “Come on, Harry, we have to!”

“I dunno. I get sea sick. And we might get wet.”

“It’s holographic water, Harry,” Tom said. “It isn’t really wet.” Tom and Megan had joined them at the edge of the square.

“Please, Harry. We can’t go to Venice and not ride on a gondola. Please.” Apparently, Jenny wasn’t above begging.

Harry sighed and looked heavenward. “Fine. Sure.”

Jenny whooped again. and grabbed Harry by the arm and pulled him toward the sleek black boat. It’s operator had begun to sing a slow, mournful aria in a powerful baritone. Tom looked at Megan, who had turned to get a closer view of the Basilica. “Gondola ride or chocolate?” he asked.

She glanced back at him with a sly smile. “Maybe just a little peek? It’s supposed to have stunning mosaics.”

“Really? You can’t tell from here.”

“That’s because they’re on the inside, smart guy.” She laughed.

Tom bent and gestured expansively. After you. Meg really was nice, Tom thought. Nice, funny, warm. It was too bad he wasn’t interested in a romantic relationship with her; he suspected it would run a hell of a lot smoother than whatever it was he and B’Elanna were currently doing.

Just the thought of her made him warm…

“There are five domes, and the church is built in the shape of a Greek cross.”

They stepped through the tall, ornate entrance doors into a cavernous, gilded room. He could barely take it in. It was stunningly beautiful, but so busy with columns and archways and colour, that he was having trouble making sense of what he was seeing. His eyes wouldn’t ‘land’. He wondered if the holo emitters were acting up.

“Tell me more,” Tom said. He’d researched Venice a little, so he would have something to talk about, but he’d had no idea that Meg was an amateur expert on old church architecture.

“It’s a mixture of Byzantine, Roman, and Gothic architecture. That’s all I know.”

Tom was staring at a stunning mosaic of men dressed in robes, just inside the entrance. The reds and blues and oranges glowed, and the colours swelled and deepened the longer he looked at them, as if his pupils were opening wider taking in more of their light. He wanted to reach out and touch it though it wouldn’t really do any good. The ‘mosaic’ wasn’t real, and he doubted the programmers had made it feel like stone.

The whole place glittered with gold paint and shining marble, and Tom found the colours shimmering and twinkling before his eyes. Then, suddenly, the interior of the church winked out and was replaced by the black and gold grid of the holodeck. “Must be a glitch,” Tom said.

“Harry, wait! I’m so sorry.” Jenny’s apology would have sounded more sincere if she hadn’t burst into a belly laugh on the last word.

Tom turned just as a sopping wet Harry Kim trudged past him. His shoes squelched with each step, and his hair dripped thin runnels of water down his cheek. He was headed for the door.

“Wha… ?” Tom said.

Jenny caught up to Harry and did her best to look chagrined. “Harry—”

“This was fun. Let’s do it again sometime.” Harry smiled tightly and called for the exit, not breaking his stride as he sailed out the door. Within two steps the holographic water had disappeared, and he paused and held out an arm as he examined his now-dry clothing. Jenny followed him out, apologizing profusely.

Tom watched them until they disappeared from view, then turned back to Meg. Her eyebrows had climbed toward her hairline, and her mouth was open. “I think they’re really starting to get along,” Tom said.

Her face dimpled with a grin. “I love my sister dearly but she can be a little over-eager.”

“Noooo…” Tom drawled. “Harry’s too stiff. Her… exuberance… is good for him.”

Megan shrugged. “Might as well call it a night. I can start on my report on that planetary system with the asteroids.”

“Yeah,” Tom agreed. They strode out into the corridor as Tom walked with her toward the lift. “A head’s up would be appreciated.”

“Sorry, Tom. I’m charting where we’ve been, not where we’re going.”

In his opinion, it didn’t seem like they were getting anywhere. Harry wasn’t exactly cooperating, and he felt like he’d dropped a couple of the balls he’d been juggling. The turbolift was empty, and Meg called for her deck. She looked at him, and her lips twisted in a moue of dissatisfaction.

“You know, Tom, I’m not sure this is working.”

Oh no. No no. Megan couldn’t back out yet. “We just need to give it a little more time. Harry likes her, I know he does. He’s just a little out of sorts after dying two days ago.”

She rolled her eyes. “It’s not just that. You know that Atan and I were seeing each other before, well…”

Atan? Did he know a Atan?

“Ensign Murphy?” She stared at him, looking for a reaction. “Tall, good-looking, dark hair. Works with me in Stellar Cartography?”

“Oh.” That Murphy. “Atan. Yeah.” Tom nodded. Shit.

“Well, we’ve been on the same shift for the last two weeks and I forgot how easy he is to be around.”

The ‘lift doors opened and Tom followed her out into the corridor. “I’m easy to be around,” he chuffed. “I am probably the easiest going guy on the whole ship.”

“Sure, and the most modest too.”

“Meg, believe me, nothing gets a guy’s attention like a little competition.”

She stopped in front of her door and turned to face him. He cut her off before she could say more. “One more try. Friday night, after shift.” He widened his eyes, tried to look imploring.

Meg sighed, then relented. “One more try. But if they don’t spark…”

“Then we’re done matchmaking. Scout’s honour.”

“You as a Scout. I’d love to have seen that.” She leaned up and gave him a peck on the cheek. “’Nite, Tom.”

“G’nite, Meg.” Her door closed in his face.

By Tom’s reckoning it was barely 2030. Now what? He could get a jump on his staff evaluation report but that held absolutely no appeal. He could peruse the ship’s library of classic novels, maybe read that Hemingway. The gym? It was too much to hope B’Elanna would be waiting in his quarters. But, she might be in her own.

He headed back toward the lift. Rollins passed him with a nod and a squint, and Tom smiled at him. Really, he shouldn’t be in a good mood after the fiasco this evening had devolved into, but he couldn’t help himself. He wanted to see her, ask her about her day. Maybe convince her to take a ride in a gondola. If he kept his hands to himself they would—probably—stay in the boat.

The ’lift doors parted and Tom stepped in. Tabor and Jor stepped aside, giving him room, and Tom smiled his thanks.

“Sir.”

Tabor looked at him, then glanced away. Jor hid a smile. Tom was about to call for deck nine but, being Maquis, it was possible they knew that was B’Elanna’s deck. The plan: subterfuge, misdirection. Right. “Deck four,” Tom said.

Jor glanced at him again, then glanced away. Did he have spinach in his teeth? They got off on deck six and Tom quickly called for B’Elanna’s deck, requesting a direct route so the ’lift wouldn’t stop for anyone else. He was in luck, the corridor was clear all the way to her quarters. He pressed the buzzer and waited. And waited some more. He pressed it again, and the doors slid open on her snarled, “What?”

“Oh.” She looked surprised to see him standing there.

“Hi.” Tom smiled and was about to take a step toward her when Mulchaey rounded the bend in the corridor. B’Elanna’s eyes went wide. Wandering ensign, indeed.

“What do you want, Paris?” Her tone was impatient, downright unfriendly. It reminded him of their first month in the Delta Quadrant.

“Umm…” Think, Tommyboy, he prodded himself. “I think that starboard impulse engine is acting up again. Or maybe the reactor coils.” He raised an eyebrow. “There’s a lag.”

“Really?” Mulchaey passed, nodding at them both. “And you couldn’t just put it in a report? You felt the need to interrupt my evening off?”

As a matter of fact…

Her fingers closed around his arm and yanked him inside her cabin. “Are you out of your mind? What’s Mulchaey supposed to think?”

“That he’s going to be assigned to check the starboard impulse engine tomorrow?”

“You can’t just drop by here whenever you want! Especially so early, when alpha shift is still awake. What if he tells someone he saw you here?”

Tom stiffened, his good mood starting to dissipate. “What if he does? I had a cover story.”

She snorted. She’d turned away from him and paced to her sofa, her arms crossed and her back ramrod straight. She’d stripped off the top layers of her uniform and was wearing a pair of slacks and her undershirt. He could see the tense line of her shoulders and spine, the bunched muscles of her upper arms.

“Are you okay?” Tom asked. She was certainly pissed off, but the question was, what about? Him?

“He can be such an arrogant, pompous… just such an asshole sometimes!” She grabbed a sofa cushion and tossed it against the bulkhead.

Mulchaey? Really, that could describe almost anyone. “He?” Tom took a tentative step toward her.

“Chakotay!”

She whirled back to face him and glared at a spot on the floor. No Maquis rebel captain there. The B’Elanna Tom thought he knew idolized Chakotay, was loyal to him no matter what. What had changed? Dare he come closer, maybe sit on the couch and coax it out of her?

“He was actually on my ass today about the deuterium reserves. As if it was my idea to vent them last month! What does he think, I can just replicate it?”

No coaxing needed then. Tom opened his mouth but she cut him off.

“You should have heard him this afternoon. I asked one question, made one little request, and you’d think I’d suggested we rob his family’s ancient burial plot or something.”

“What did you ask?” He was wary all of a sudden, not sure he wanted to know. He reached for her but she shrugged him off and paced toward her replicator.

“All I suggested was that we go back and beam up a little bit of that biopolymer residue from one of the asteroids. I could shield the warp core again, and we’d only be there for a minute.”

“What?” Tom was dumbstruck. “You what?”

“You weren’t down there; it was everywhere. I wasn’t suggesting we unwrap one of the bodies, it was ankle deep on the floor, hanging from the ceiling.”

Didn’t that stuff come from the Vhnori bodies, a byproduct of their decomposition? Tom’s lip curled. “Umm…”

“You were on the bridge when we were discussing it, just imagine what we could do with it.”

“But…” It’s people! Tom’s overwrought brain screamed.

“And suddenly he was all Archeologist Chakotay, telling me how I’ve disappointed him. Pompous, pedantic…And he wasn’t even right!”

“Huh?”

“On the asteroid, with Harry. He wouldn’t let us use our tricorders because it would disrespect the sanctity of the bodies. Oh, please. They’re dead, abandoned on a hunk of rock we don’t know how many light years from their families. That seemed pretty damned disrespectful to me.”

She’d paced back toward him, still frowning, and her mouth still tight. “I mean, what the hell could a tricorder do besides give us the information we needed? You know what he had the nerve to say?”

Tom shook his head, deciding on silence as the safest option.

“He said the fact that they were naked meant they didn’t believe in dressing their dead.” Her tone was derisive.

Well, he wasn’t wrong, Tom thought. Except, maybe he was. Only the bodies transported, according to Harry. Clothing was left behind in the machines.

“He made all these assumptions about how they don’t believe worldly goods can be taken into the afterlife. Maybe they didn’t leave them any clothing or artefacts because they didn’t believe in an afterlife at all! Of course, they do, according to Ptera,” she twitched, shrugged, “but he didn’t know that! He was just making assumptions based on naked dead people who looked like they were sleeping…”

Her voice trailed off as she looked at him. She frowned, her eyes narrowing, and she took a step toward him. She reached a hand toward his face, and Tom fought the urge to flinch. But instead of smacking him, she cradled his jaw and rubbed a thumb over his cheekbone. Her lips came together in a pout as she glanced at her thumb.

“How was your date with Megan Delaney?”

“Short,” Tom said. And your idea, he refrained from saying.

She was still frowning, holding her thumb under his nose, a smear of bright pink lipstick obvious. “Is that why she marked you? For later?”

Marked? Oh. Shit. Tom scrubbed at his cheek: Meg’s peck goodnight. No wonder Tabor and Jor had looked at him funny. B’Elanna snorted and rolled her eyes, and Tom felt his temper start to rise. It was her idea that he continue to date Meg, he’d always been a one-at-a-time kind of guy. He looked into her baleful eyes and sighed.

“I like the way you mark me better.”

He heard her breath hitch. “I don’t mark you.”

“Oh, don’t you? Should I take off my shirt and show you?” He raised an eyebrow.

He expected her to laugh, or to look a little remorseful, maybe embarrassed, but her chin came up. “Yes. I can smell her on your clothes.”

She could? Meg had been wearing perfume, something light and floral, but he shouldn’t smell of it. It wasn’t like she’d been hanging off of him. Tom slipped off his vest, testing to see if she was serious. She appeared to be. She took it from him and tossed it on the couch. He slid his hands down her bare arms, settled them at her hips. “You know, that was a pretty nice programme we tried tonight.”

“Why are you back so soon? I thought you had two hours.”

“We did. Actually there’s probably over an hour left if you want to check it out.”

She stiffened again and Tom cursed himself. He’d forgotten for a moment that she needed to be finessed. “There’s a whole square of historic buildings, an incredible church, canals. We can take a ride on a gondola.” If anything, she looked less enticed than she had a moment ago. “There’s even the oldest caffe on Earth, and I hear they serve incredible coffee and desserts.”

Bingo. Was that a twitch of interest he saw? Did B’Elanna Torres, Maquis freedom fighter and Klingon warrior, have a sweet tooth? “We could go sometime…” He knew not to push. He left the offer hanging in the air, hoping it took flight. It didn’t: it sank, instead.

“I’m not really that fond of water. When I was child, my mother took me back to the Klingon homeworld for a visit and I almost drowned.”

“Oh.” Tom didn’t quite know what to say to that. The idea that fearless, competent B’Elanna Torres would be afraid of anything had never occurred to him. “Well,” Tom cupped her shoulders again, ran his palms down her arms to her elbows, “what better place to learn to swim than the holodeck? With the safeties on, you won’t be in any danger.”

“I didn’t say I don’t know how to swim, my mother made sure I learned. I just don’t like to.”

“Okay.” Patience. “But there’s more to Venice than the canals. It’s a beautiful city, actually: marble palaces, ancient brick.”

“Photons and force fields,” B’Elanna huffed. “Besides, I’m the chief engineer of state-of-the-art starship. Ancient architecture isn’t really my thing.”

Tom swallowed his temper. She’d been irritable since Harry had disappeared and, though she was relieved that he was back safe and sound, her little run-in with Chakotay today had obviously soured her mood.

He leaned toward her and smiled, squeezed her upper arms. “So what do you want to do?”

Her eyes flicked past his shoulder to her bed, then to the open vee neck of his shirt. She reached up and rubbed her thumb over his chest hair. “Well,” she said, “since you’re here I thought we might…”

“You have the best ideas.” He leaned down and kissed her, enjoying the softness of her lips under his. Her hands moved up his chest and gripped him as she kissed him back. They parted to draw a breath, and she nuzzled his throat. She liked to do that, Tom realized, breathe him in. It was an incredible turn-on. His pulse started to pound, and his body hardened in anticipation of what was to come.

But instead of kissing him again B’Elanna laid her head on his shoulder. “A palace, huh?”

“Yeah. It was where the Doge lived, the magistrate of the city. Right across the canal is the prison, and they used to lead the prisoners across the Pointe dei Sospiri on their way to the palace to be executed.” She tilted her head up and raised an eyebrow. “The Bridge of Sighs,” Tom explained. “Apparently, there’s a little window in the bridge, and as they were being led across, the prisoners would have their final view of the city before they died. Kind of romantic, isn’t it?”

“So, they get one last look at all the things they can’t have? It’s cruel.”

He hadn’t thought of it that way.

Her fingers clenched on his chest, fingernails scraping the thin fabric of his shirt. She held his gaze, and Tom realized again how beautiful she was. Far more beautiful than an ancient city built on water.

“Why don’t you make me sigh, Tom?”

So he did…

# # #

 

Well, who do you think you're foolin'?
You say you're havin' fun,
But you're busy going nowhere,
Just lying in the sun.

Songwriters: Richard Davies / Roger Hodgson
Child of Vision lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

Chapter Text

“…een in a good mood lately.”

“Yeah no…roken noses in a couple of weeks…ust be gettin some.”

Tom glanced up from his PADD and frowned looking for the source of the conversation he was overhearing, but the way ahead of him was clear. He stopped walking and glanced behind him. No one. Strange, the carpet usually muffled sound, but sometimes the ship's curving ditanium walls could act as a conduit, bouncing the noise of voices down the corridor. He turned around and doubled back to the junction he’d just passed.

“Ha! Who’d be brave…nough for that?”

“…wouldn’t turn her down.”

“You wouldn’t turn anyone down. You can’t afford to be picky.”

Laughter echoed down the corridor, and Tom’s mouth thinned into a tight line. He recognized one of the voices, at least. Michael Jonas, one of the Maquis crew who Tom had met while he’d flown the Liberty a year ago. He hadn’t liked the man then, and hadn’t revised his opinion of him in the two months they’d been on Voyager together.

“You remember those boots she used to wear. If she wore those in bed—”

“She’d probably kick the shit out of you!”

Or Tom would do it for her. He cut left and followed the sound of laughter. B’Elanna. They were talking about B’Elanna. His back teeth ground together.

“You know what they say about Klingon foreplay.”

Jonas and Jarvin were both leaning against the wall laughing when Tom caught up to them. He had an overwhelming desire to knock their heads together. Jarvin had joined Chakotay’s cell after Tom had been picked up by Starfleet, so Tom hadn’t had the opportunity to meet him until they’d all landed in the Delta Quadrant, but he didn't much care for either man. The two were remarkably similar: self-pitying, whiney, and indolent.

“Gentlemen,” Tom said. They weren’t, not in either definition of the word. Tom’s voice was cold, hard, and the men straightened as they faced him. He wanted them to wonder if he’d overheard them while they were talking shit about their boss. “Isn’t there something you should be doing right now?”

Tom looked pointedly at the engineering kit in Jarvis’ hand. “Yes, sir,” he mumbled. The man had the good grace to look caught-out. Jonas didn’t, his expression was smug, as if he was daring Tom to accuse them of insubordination. It was tempting, and he might have if they had been discussing anyone but B’Elanna and, unknowingly, himself. He’d like nothing better than to rat them out to Chakotay, but if B’Elanna ever found out anyone was speculating about her sex life she would be furious. She’d probably tear them apart with her bare hands and, really, they needed all the crew intact and out of the brig. It was a shame though because right now he was fighting the urge to deck them both.

“Then why don’t you go do it?” Tom said.

They turned and slouched down the corridor in the opposite direction from the way Tom had come. A muscle jumped in Tom’s jaw, and he felt the strain of keeping his anger in check in his shoulder and neck muscles. He let out a slow breath, and reached back and squeezed the back of his neck. Should he tell her? Warn her? Probably. But you can't force someone to respect you, and Tom suspected those two pieces of slime still viewed B’Elanna as another Maquis, their de facto equal, instead of their commanding officer.

Plus, he was certain that if he did warn her, she would end things between them immediately, and he wasn’t ready for that. He wouldn’t be able to talk her out of it. He knew it would end eventually, but he hoped he could put it off as long as possible. And, if he were being honest, he wouldn’t mind it a bit if those boots of hers made another appearance in his bed. Naked was good too, of course, but those boots… He turned and resumed his trek to stellar cartography, thinking about B’Elanna’s leather-clad legs wrapped around him, her heels digging into his ass.

# # #

“So, I was thinking we pair up for a game of two-on-two parrises squares. It could be fun, and I wouldn’t mind seeing Meg in the suit.” Tom waggled his eyebrows. “Whadd’ya say?”

Harry rolled his eyes. He’d been doing that a lot lately, Tom noted. His friend’s mood had dipped again, and he’d been downright disgruntled. “You can’t play parrises squares with less than four per team.”

“Okay. How about velocity? If you say no to this, I’m going to start to think you were lying about being the Academy champ.” Tom gestured toward him with his fork.

“That was parrises squares.”

“C’mon, Harry,” Tom cajoled, “you promised you’d give Venice another try. We didn’t even get a chance to have dessert and coffee. Meg loves dessert.”

“So, take her back then. Why do you need me?”

Tom leaned across the mess table crowding closer to his friend, and lowered his voice. “You know why.” He raised an eyebrow.

“There must be somebody else you can double date with.”

“Maybe.” Tom tilted his chin in acknowledgment. “But they wouldn’t be as much fun. Besides, Jenny likes you.” His lips quirked a smile.

“Maybe a little too much,” Harry grumped.

“You have to admit it was a little funny.” Tom widened his eyes and smiled slightly. Harry was a tough nut to crack.

“It would have been funnier if it happened to you.” Harry smiled despite himself, then masked it by taking a sip of his coffee.

“Excuse me, Lieutenant.”

Simmons addressed him from across the long table, and Tom smiled at her. “Yes, Ensign?”

“I’m still having trouble with sequence beta ninety-three: pulling up after the roll? I was hoping we could go through it again.”

“Sure. I’ll check the duty roster and book a time in the lab.”

She nodded. “Thank you, sir. I know my score on the last test was below par. It just seems so much more important now to get everything right.”

Tom softened. Why were most of his pilots so damned young? “That’s why we practice, Ensign. And hope we don’t have to use evasive maneuvers.” He sent her what he hoped was a reassuring smile. “It’ll come.”

Simmons nodded again, and Tom glanced back toward Harry, but B’Elanna drew his attention. She was seated with Seska, at the next table over, and he had a clear view of her chair acrobatics as she twisted around and craned her neck to follow Murphy’s path from the mess counter to a table behind her. Her eyes were squinted in appraisal, and she wore a little smile of appreciation.

Tom’s mouth screwed up in annoyance. The ‘plan’, sure. He dates Megan Delaney, and B’Elanna oogles every other guy on the ship but him, and no one will clue in that they’re sleeping together. It was a masterpiece of subterfuge. He scowled into his breakfast.

It was bullshit. And he’d had almost enough of it. People knew something was going on, they just didn’t know what. He’d be fine with being open about their not-really-a-relationship, but B’Elanna had flatly refused. It was enough to give a guy a complex. He assumed that some day his self-respect would rise up and complain, but until that day Tom toed the line. Which made him think of toeing off his boots, which made him think of B’Elanna’s boots. Which made him smile into his reconstituted eggs.

“Harry?” B’Elanna’s voice was full of teasing, and Tom’s head jerked up. “Is it true about you and the Delaney sisters?”

Harry turned to face B’Elanna. “Is what true?”

“Come on, Harry,” Seska’s tone was mocking, as usual. “There aren't any secrets on a ship this small.”

Oh yeah? Tom smirked at his plate. He glanced up again to see Harry scowling at him in frustration.

“What have you been telling people?”

Tom played innocent: he shrugged. “Well, we did take that trip to Venice with them.”

Harry wrinkled his nose in a good impression of a dismissive B’Elanna Torres. “The holodeck? You've got to be kidding. That lasted all of fifteen minutes.”

“Yeah, you know, I've been meaning to ask you. What happened when you and Jenny Delaney disappeared in that gondola?” Tom focused on Harry, a tiny, mean part of him enjoying Harry’s discomfort.

“Nothing.” Harry shrugged. He made a little flapping motion with his hands as if Tom were a pesky fly he was attempting to swat away.

“Harry, we're your friends.” B’Elanna was obviously enjoying this a little too much. “You can tell us.”

She was oozing false comfort and assurance. Tom caught her eyes and saw the tamped down laughter there. She nodded just slightly.

“Nothing. We talked,” Harry paused, “and then I fell over the side.”

B’Elanna barked a laugh and Seska joined in. Tom couldn’t help chuckling as he remembered Harry’s sodden uniform and dripping hair. Meg had filled him in about Jenny’s enthusiastic advance and Harry’s hasty retreat: right into the canal.

“You fell out of the gondola?”

Seska’s delight sounded almost genuine, but Tom couldn’t help feeling it was forced. Nothing about that woman had ever felt genuine to him. He glanced at Harry, and noted his reddening cheeks. Harry’s embarrassment was certainly real.

“I think maybe Harry wasn't quite prepared for how voracious Jenny Delaney can be,” Tom teased. He hammed it up, laughing along with everyone else.
Harry rolled his eyes. Really, he needed to learn to lighten up a little.

Tom overheard, “I'm on my way.” and glanced up. The captain rose and motioned to him.

“Tom, Harry, with me. We’ve picked up a distress signal.”

Tom got to his feet, abandoning his tray on the table. He followed Harry toward the fore door, brushing against B’Elanna as she rose and headed aft. It was accidental, but that brief touch combined with his already racing pulse sparked his nerve endings and put him in a state of hyper alertness. They could be headed for anything from a planetary disaster to a battle with hundreds of casualties. Suddenly, teasing Harry wasn’t as much fun as it had been a moment ago.

# # # #

As disasters go, this one is certainly mild, Tom thought. In fact, it was shaping up to be pretty nice.

Gath, the Sikarian ‘ambassador’, having decided that the crew of Voyager was in distress, had invited them to enjoy shore leave on his planet. Sikarian hospitality was apparently renowned in the region, at least according to Neelix. Tom wasn’t about to argue. To say the last two and a half months had been stressful would be an understatement. But here, in the plaza on Sikaris’ capital city, it was sunny and warm. Birds were chirping, the natives were friendly, and they couldn’t have made the landing party feel more welcome. Tom had been offered food, drink, even a beaded necklace. He’d refused the jewelry, but when he’d thanked a server for a piece of fruit, he’d replied, with his lilting accent, “It is my pleasure”.

And he’d appeared to mean it. In fact, Tom was starting to feel like an honoured guest with each local he encountered smiling an acknowledgement, and offering to fulfill his every need. Like walking, talking, smiling replicators. It was only slightly off-putting. He chided his cynical side, and wondered why he was looking for the loophole that was surely here somewhere. No one really experienced pleasure in serving other people, did they?

Tom spied the captain and Gath perusing a colourful array of fabric, and he caught Gath’s “Is it so hard for you to accept a gift?”. He heard Janeway say something about a scarf as he moved away. Maybe he was being too hard on this planet and its people. Maybe they really did enjoy meeting beings from other places, spending time with them, serving them. It seemed odd, but who was he to argue?

“This place is fantastic.”

Harry had snuck up behind Tom, a look of wonder on his face. “It’s so good to breathe fresh air again. And everyone is so friendly.”

“Yeah,” Tom agreed. “It reminds me a little of Risa.” With a twist, he was sure. He wondered what the Sikarians would demand in payment for an afternoon taking in the delights they’d been pushing on the crew. Their power reserves? Or, since they had a spare, maybe one of the Delaney sisters? If he were really lucky, they’d demand all of Neelix’ better-than-coffee substitute.

“So,” Tom asked, “what did you find out?”

The away team had come down for a little recon: Neelix had tested the food and beverages, and pronounced them safe for Human, and Bajoran, and Vulcan, et cetera, consumption. The captain was being escorted around the city by Gath. Tom had no idea what Tuvok was doing, but he, Harry, and a handful of others were ‘acquainting themselves with the local population and the diversions they offered’. So far, Tom had discovered that they grew flowers, liked to feed people, made jewelry, and had bizarre looking musical instruments. Or sculptures. Or whatever that thing was.

“I was speaking with someone who told me they have kilometers of pristine beaches on the other side of the continent by a ring of dormant volcanoes. You can go windsurfing, paragliding, snorkeling. What d’ya say, Tom?”

“Yeah.” Tom’s mind was working, trying to formulate a plan. “Is there accomodation there?” Maybe he could find a hidden cove, sneak B’Elanna away for an afternoon. Or a night.

Harry gave him an odd look. “The Delta Quadrant’s answer to Risa and you want to have a nap?”

“I just thought it might be nice to take a few days, if I can. So, are you thinking of going to the beach?” The Devil made him say it, “Jenny Delaney in a bikini.” He grinned.

Harry looked at him like he’d lost his mind. “Forget it, Tom. You’ll have to persuade Megan to date you without my help.”

Harry wandered away and Tom sat on a curved bench that ringed a fountain. He hadn’t even thought of inviting Meg here. In fact, she was probably busy planning a romantic interlude with Atan Murphy right now. Screw it, Tom thought. The ‘plan’ sucked. He was done with it. If B’Elanna didn’t want to be seen with him in public, that was fine but he was done pretending to chase after another woman. He watched the captain, smiling at Gath, and Harry talking with a pretty young Sikarian woman. B’Elanna hadn’t even beamed down. He sighed and got to his feet. The Delta Quadrant’s answer to Risa was boring the shit out of him. He’d rather be back on Voyager, in an out-of-the way Jefferies tube, with B’Elanna.

#

The message light was blinking on Tom’s computer, and it caught his eye as he dressed for dinner. Maybe it was B’Elanna, setting up a rendezvous planetside. Even just a note with time and location would do. He could hope.

It was the Doctor, reminding the crew that if they wished to sample the delights of the Sikarians themselves, and not just the planet, they were required to stop by sickbay for a physical examination and a notation in their medical file, giving them ‘permission to mate outside their species’. Tom didn’t know whether to be amused or appalled. He wondered if B’Elanna’s father had obtained a doctor’s note before he’d married her mother. Permission or not, he was thankful she was half human and he wouldn’t have to see the doctor. He had enough notes in his permanent record.

Magistrate Gath was hosting a reception for Voyager’s crew, and the captain made it clear that she expected all of her senior officers to attend, in civilian clothing. Tom had to replicate a new shirt since nothing he owned seemed formal enough. He expected to be led to a dining hall, to be seated at a long table with deference to rank, maybe one ‘fleeter, one local, around the table, to keep the conversation flowing and prevent the bunching of ensigns. He mentally reviewed the numerous and boring receptions he’d been required to attend with his parents from the time he could stand up straight and fein an interest in the opinions of the assistant to the assistant to the secretary of whoever the hell Starfleet was courting that particular week.

He was surprised to find a relaxed affair set up outside in a large, paved pavilion alongside a beach. The sound of the surf was relaxing, hypnotic, and the dim illumination, courtesy of strings of soft lights, made for a far more intimate event than he’d been expecting. Low tables with scattered cushions for seating encouraged the guests to recline, and Tom spent an uncomfortable ninety minutes eating his way through four courses of Sikarian cousine, wishing he’d been seated at a table in the mess hall, instead. His body wasn’t built for lounging, apparently. Two of the locals, a stunningly attractive young woman named Leiara, and an older man called Jaret Otel, tried gamely to entertain him and to draw him out about his experiences since Voyager had been transported to the Delta Quadrant, but Tom didn’t feel much like telling them his personal history.

He hadn’t been able to finagle B’Elanna to accompany him to Sikaris for the party that evening—Harry had disappeared with that young woman Tom had spotted him with earlier—and without Harry to act as a buffer, B’Elanna wouldn’t beam down with him. Or sit with him at one of the small, intimate tables that dotted the courtyard hidden behind screens of richly coloured cloth and potted plants.

B’Elanna sat with the Captain, Chakotay, and Gath, and hadn’t stuck around for dessert. Tom had found his attention constantly drawn to her despite the soft warmth of Lieara’s hand on his thigh, and the plunging neckline of her clinging dress. When he realized he was appraising the dress, not the woman inside it, and wondering what it would look like on B’Elanna, he knew he had it bad. She had elected to wear her Maquis suede pants and a casual shirt though she’d foregone the boots. He still thought she was the most compelling woman in the room.

After dinner, he extricated himself from his hosts as soon as politely possible, and called for a beam out. He wanted to spend some quality time with B’Elanna, and he was hoping he could still salvage the evening. He tapped his combadge. “Paris to Torres.”

There was a pause, longer than he would have expected. Maybe she was busy. Maybe she had her arms stuck in a conduit? Maybe she was in the shower? He lingered on that thought for a moment.

Torres here. What do you want, Lieutenant?

Ah. She wasn’t alone. Got it. “That, um, starboard thruster is acting up again,” Tom said, modulating his tone of voice so he sounded confident, professional. “I figured, since we’re not at warp, now would be a good time to run a…” he smiled, “more thorough diagnostic.”

There was a pause. He could hear background noise that told him she was back in engineering: the thrum of the warp core, the sounds of booted feet on the floor grills.

I’ll send Lieutenant Nicoletti when she’s free. Torres, out.”

Tom frowned. He didn’t want the chilly Lieutenant Nicoletti. He wanted B’Elanna’s heat. Hadn’t she figured out his code? Did she actually believe he thought there was something wrong with the damn thruster? And what was she doing in engineering at twenty-one thirty?

He’d bet a week’s replicator rations that she was back in her uniform right now. He wondered, if they’d been open about their non-relationship instead of trying to hide it behind ridiculous subterfuge and misdirection, if she would have spent the evening with him, shared a table and maybe even a cushion, shared the flavourful, rich dishes that the Sikarians seemed to delight in serving, maybe taken a stroll on the beach after dinner. Maybe found a place to sleep—or stay awake all night—on the planet. She might even have worn a clinging dress.

He sighed and stared at the two wine glasses and the bottle of Sikarian wine he’d brought back with him from the planet, sitting on his coffee table beside a slim vase. He bent down and flicked his finger at a small blossom, sending a shower of petals onto the tabletop. “Rosie, I’m starting to think you’re a bad-luck charm.”

The rosa rubrifolia juddered in its vase.

Chapter Text

He’d slept in, and when he asked the computer for the time he jolted out of bed in a panic before remembering that it was his day off. He was alone, unfortunately, and he shuffled to the bathroom and stared into the mirror for a long time. He didn’t think, just studied his reflection. He looked like shit. He had bags under his eyes, and fine lines were already starting to form in the corners of his mouth. Worse than that, his hairline was starting to resemble his father’s. The last three years had taken their toll.

It wasn’t his birthday, but today could have been a day of rebirth for him, if the Fates had smiled on him and things had unfolded differently. If he were still in the Alpha Quadrant.

Of course, if he were to wish things had unfolded differently…

He pushed that thought away; what’s done was done, and wishing wouldn’t bring back those three officers. Everything that had happened to him in the last three years was his own fault, the result of decisions he’d made, paths he’d taken. Fate hadn’t played a hand in it.

Today was the day of his scheduled outmeet review in the Federation Penal Settlement, at Auckland. The captain had promised that she would speak for him, file a formal letter of recommendation with the review board on his behalf in exchange for helping her to track down Chakotay’s ship of rebels. Well, he’d found them. If she’d kept up her end of their bargain, he could have been released today, though likely with conditions. His mouth quirked thinking that one of those conditions was probably a ban on his leaving Earth.

He frowned. There was no point in dwelling on the past.

Two minutes later he was showered and debating between his red tee shirt and track pants and a trip to the ship’s gym, or his brown shirt and favourite vest with tan slacks. He might as well beam back down to the planet and see what was on offer. His combadge chirped, “Chakotay to Lieutenant Paris.” and he grabbed it off his bedside table. He wouldn’t put it past Chakotay to have arranged a little performance review of his own.

“Paris here.”

“The Doctor just informed me that Ensign Baytart is ill, Lieutenant. I’ll need someone to take his shift at the conn.”

Tom’s brow furrowed. “Is he alright? How long will he be off?” Baytart was scheduled to take alpha shift today, and the rest of Tom’s staff had been granted shore leave, himself included. He wondered if the man was hungover.

“The Doctor hasn’t diagnosed him yet. He has a headache, fever, cough. Sounded like a good old-fashioned cold to me.”

“Oh. Okay.” Likely a virus he’d picked up on Sikaris. “We can—”

“I’ll expect you at the helm at oh seven hundred. Chakotay out.”

Of course he did. There was a time when Tom had believed that being the boss meant that he could delegate, but despite being the chief conn officer, Chakotay was the one who made up the duty assignments. Which meant that Chakotay knew that today was his regularly scheduled day off, shore leave or no. Tom sighed and shoved his favourite vest back into his closet, then pulled out a uniform. Regulation black, it was.

#

He hadn't expected to be called to the briefing room but luckily he was already at his place at the helm when Janeway entered the bridge from her ready room and said, “Tom, Tuvok, with me.”

Harry and Chakotay were already at the table, and Tom slid into his favourite chair beside Harry and raised an eyebrow. His friend’s expression was flat, his jaw set. For a fleeting moment, he wondered if the Sikarians had offered to take them in, had offered them a new home. The thought of ending their trip home would certainly upset Harry, but Tom doubted the Captain would take them up on it even if they did offer. It was too early to give up hope.

“What’s going on?” he whispered.

Harry shook his head: a short, sharp sideways jerk. Tom’s brow pinched in thought. The Captain was unusually quiet, and wore the same stony faced expression as Harry. After last night’s lavish dinner party, was it time to pay the piper? Had the Sikarians demanded a sacrifice?

The doors to the corridor opened and B’Elanna strode into the room. “Sorry I’m late.” She sat across the table from him, and Tom tried to catch her eye. He’d woken at oh dark early to her hand on his chest and her naked body pressed against his. She hadn’t said a word to him, unless that low, throaty growl counted as speech. She’d moved over him, pinned him to the bed and fucked him, and he’d been so relieved, so damn grateful that he hadn’t questioned it. He’d overslept, and when he woke this morning, she was gone.

He stared across the briefing room table at her. She must have found its shiny surface fascinating because she hadn’t looked up from it since she sat down.

“Mister Kim,” Janeway directed.

Harry roused himself and took a breath. “I spent last evening with a woman named Eudora.”

Lucky man. Tom started to smile as the words, you dog, sprang to mind, but Harry’s sombre tone kept him mum.

“The Sikarians have a device they call a spatial trajector that folds space. Eudora and I travelled forty thousand light years to a planet called Alastria in the blink of an eye.”

“What?” B’Elanna jerked forward, her arm stretching across the briefing room table toward Harry. “How does it work? Do you think we can we modify it to transport Voyager?”

Harry glanced at her and shook his head, then looked toward the captain.

Janeway cleared her throat. “Magistrate Gath told me that their laws forbid the sharing of their technology. Once it’s out of their control…” She lifted her arms in a frustrated shrug.

Tom stilled. Here they go again: just when they got their balance back, the rug was yanked out from under them.

“I can't believe they're not going to help us.” Harry shook his head again and scowled. “Some kind of hospitality.”

“Forty thousand light years.” B’Elanna’s face was lit up with excitement; she didn’t seem to have heard Harry and Janeway’s disclaimer. “Even if that's as far as we could go, it would still knock about four decades off our trip.” She shared a grin with Chakotay, and Tom saw her eyes light with an inner glow.

Chakotay seemed just as excited as B’Elanna. “And the possibility exists that we could reconfigure the matrix at that point to take us another thirty thousand light years, right into Federation space.”

“Since they've already said no, this kind of thinking is only going to make you feel worse.” Tuvok’s cesure put a damper on B’Elanna’s zeal, and Tom watched her lips draw thin in a frown.

“It's the first time we've been on the other side of the fence,” Janeway mused.

“What fence?” Tom asked. He certainly felt like a kid peeking through the fence boards at something in the neighbour’s yard that he wanted but couldn’t have. Except, for him, that thing wasn’t the Alpha Quadrant. Janeway stood and moved toward the viewport, starting in on a lecture about the Prime Directive that was not unlike the ones his father used to spout at him when he was a kid. Owen Paris’ attempt to raise a good ‘fleet officer. Not unlike the lecture Tom had given Harry in the mess hall last week, after Harry had returned from the dead.

Janeway turned back toward the room, and Tom raised his head to focus his attention on her.

“It's all very well to say we do it on the basis of an enlightened principle,” Janeway was saying, “but how does that feel to the aliens? I'm sure many of them think the Prime Directive is a lousy idea.”

“Even we think so sometimes,” Tom added. For fuck’s sake. They were an advanced species, spacefaring. If the Sikarians wanted to be sure they wouldn’t use the technology to invade some peaceful world, all they had to do was read the Federation Charter.

“I know of many times when Starfleet personnel have decided on strong ethical grounds to ignore it.” Chakotay looked grim, even for him, and Tom heard the anger in his tone.

“Still,” Harry sighed. “There's a reason why it's Starfleet's General order number one. On the whole, it does a lot more good than harm.”

Tom wondered if he was still moping about his brush with death on the Vhnori homeworld. Most people would be glad for a second chance at life, god knows Tom was, here, on Voyager. His gaze slid to B’Elanna, and he wondered again why she was in such a hurry to get back into the Maquis’ skirmish with the Cardassians.

“Maybe they want something. Maybe they'll bargain,” Chakotay suggested. He folded his hands and leaned across the table.

Tom frowned. “But what do we have to offer? They seem to have everything they need.” Plentiful food, beautiful cities, all the beaded necklaces and clingy dresses they could possibly desire.

He studied B’Elanna’s posture. She had withdrawn into herself, curling into a tight ball of anger. It was irritating, sure, to be on the losing end of another species’ good intentions, but just what did she think would happen if they made it back to Earth? That Starfleet Command would slap them on the back and say, good job!

“Stories,” Harry was saying. “Stories are an important part of their culture. They seem to provide more than entertainment.”

Shit, if they wanted stories, Tom could talk their ears off with the sordid stories of his own past, starting with that weekend when his parents were away when he was seventeen. He idly wondered if B’Elanna would be jealous if he recounted his past loves.

“From what we've seen of them,” Janeway was saying, “they're a remarkably pleasure oriented people. They might appreciate a gift of literature. I'll arrange to meet with Gath. As Magistrate he has the authority to make this decision.

B’Elanna had come alive again, and she shared an expectant grin with Chakotay. Tom realized that he wanted her to smile at him like that: the arch of her eyebrow, that little twitch at the corner of her mouth. A conversation in a glance. “In the meantime,” her voice was rich with mischief, “I'm going to take a look at that trajector platform. Maybe I can figure out how it works.”

“You'll do nothing of the sort, Lieutenant,” the captain censured her. Janeway’s expression hardened. “If I find this law is negotiable, I'll make every attempt to get the technology, but until then we won't do anything that might violate their canon of laws as we understand it. That's all.”

Tom heard the dismissal and stood. He glanced again at B’Elanna, who was still in her seat. She had frozen, her posture slumped and defensive. He had been publicly reprimanded by his captain before, and knew exactly how she felt. Harry moved near her, and Tom watched him bend toward her and speak, but his voice was pitched too low for Tom to make out what he said. They were friends, he realized, in a way that he and B’Elanna would likely never share. He hoped Harry could talk her out of her sudden embarrassment.

He stepped onto the bridge a few paces behind Chakotay, and forced a smile as he tapped Rollins on the shoulder to let him know he was ready to take the helm. As he slid into his seat, he heard the briefing room doors open. He wondered what Harry and B’Elanna had said to each other; wondered which of them was more disappointed by Gath’s pronouncement. And he questioned, again, what the hell Chakotay and B’Elanna could possibly be thinking if they truly believed that Starfleet would let them go on their merry way when—or if—they ever made it home.

Chapter Text

B’Elanna had stayed on the ship all day. Shore leave was still in effect and after his half shift on the bridge Tom had shown up in engineering—his first mistake—claiming he needed B’Elanna to help him talk Harry into doing ‘something fun’ planetside. The half-formed excuse was lame and, he later realized, his second mistake but it was the best his brain could come up with on the spur of the moment; his ham-handed attempt at enticing B’Elanna to come down to the surface with him. It hadn’t worked. She had flatly refused, calling him Paris and claiming that she was busy, and that she was sure Harry’s new friend would provide all the fun he could handle.

In truth, she was busy. Though she’d been generous in granting shore leave to her staff, she had elected to stay behind on Voyager to do some maintenance that was usually done in drydock. Apparently, she was taking advantage of the warp engines being powered down while the ship was in orbit.

Seska had smirked at B’Elanna’s rejection, but Ken Dalby had been clocking off and had taken pity on him. He’d invited Tom to come rappelling with him, Ayala, and Jonas at a range of sheer cliffs on the southern edge of the continent. Ahni Jetal had overheard and invited herself along, linking her arm with his. Tom had smiled at her, his eyes lighting up, but by then B’Elanna had turned her back to them, so his effort at flirting with the lovely and completely uninterested Ensign Jetal was doubly wasted. Ahni had punched him lightly in the arm and hauled him along with her out the door.

They were forty minutes into their climb when Tom recognized it for the setup it was. He was glad to have a ‘fleeter along, on his side. He’d been perfectly safe: the equipment provided by the Sikarians was in good condition, the rope knots and safety anchors secure. Their climbing ropes had been set before they’d come, taking a bit of the thrill out of the ascent. They would pull themselves up, then slide down, not having to worry about driving the pitons that secured their lines. There had even been helpful staff who made sure they were belted into their harnesses correctly before they started. Easy. Or so he thought.

Tinkering with the ground fleet vehicles in Auckland hadn’t done much to add muscle to his frame, he realized, and he felt weak, his biceps and calf muscles felt like jelly. The pace that Mike Ayala had set had been punishing and as he puffed and panted his way up the cliff face Tom realize that Ayala’s congenial smile hid a mocking glint in his eyes. Jonas had outright laughed at him when, upon reaching the first plateau, Tom had laid flat on his back while he gulped air.

Ahni had been slightly more sympathetic, offering to train with him in the gym.

“I thought we were going to beam to the top of the mountain then glide down,” Tom wheezed.

“You can call for a beam out.” Dalby shrugged.

Tom had known him in the Maquis. Quiet, reserved, angry. Like many of Chakotay’s band, Dalby had kept to himself or, at least, he hadn’t said much to Tom. Not that Tom had cared: he hadn’t been interested in male company. Unfortunately, the female contingent of the crew hadn’t paid Tom much attention, either. It had been a blow to his ego and his pride.

He slanted a look at Jonas and Dalby: they were sweating, too. He didn’t feel so bad. Tom’s eyes caught Jonas’ for the briefest of moments before the other man looked away, and Tom was glad that his rope was secure. He’d bet a month of replicator rations that he hadn’t been woken in the middle of the night by a gorgeous woman climbing onto his dick, so Jonas could, well, go fuck himself if he didn’t like him. He sat up and climbed to his feet then and with his back to the cliff face, he took a long pull on his waterskin.

It was possible that Jonas was still embarrassed by being caught yesterday, talking about B’Elanna. Really, Tom should have put both him and Jarvis on report. But he suspected it wasn’t embarrassment that had soured Jonas’ mood, but resentment, maybe a bit of envy. He knew how it appeared: that he’d either been Starfleet’s spy in the Maquis, or Janeway’s bed warmer since she’d plucked him out of Auckland. Neither rumor could be farther from the truth. He’d been given his commission, temporary as it was, because the captain had had no other options. Despite his detour to the Maquis through the Exeter’s sickbay and a Starfleet court-martial, he was the pilot with the most experience at the conn of a ‘fleet ship. Even despite his nine months in Auckland and his total lack of bioneural gel pack training, he was still the best choice—the only choice—for head of helm control in this uncharted, mostly unfriendly sector of space.

And he knew that some people resented that fact, Jonas and Commander Chakotay included. Well, that was too damn bad. And that brought him back to the ‘fuck themselves’ line of thought.

“It makes you want to jump, doesn’t it? To see if you could fly.”

“What?” Tom’s head snapped around. Ahni was standing near the cliff edge, looking down at the ground below. Despite the fact that she was still harnessed, Tom slowly edged up beside her, and stopped half an arm’s length away. He took a quick glance down. The low buildings of the basecamp looked like toys, and Tom could just make out people milling around.

“You're a pilot, Lieutenant. Haven’t you ever dreamed you could fly like a bird?”

He had, but in his dreams it felt more like floating, and those dreams usually ended with the ground rushing up toward him.

“The only flying I’ve done is while I’m safely inside a ship,” he hedged. He took a step back from the edge.

“Are you scared?”

He saw a teasing glint in her eyes, and shook his head. “Of heights? No.”

“Don’t worry, I’m not going to jump until we’re at the top.” Her wide mouth stretched in a grin as she looked out at the valley before them.

Scenic was a word for it. Stunningly beautiful were two more. It was certainly one hell of a view, and it poked Tom’s holoprogramming muse. The holodeck had standard programmes featuring nature parks where you could hike, or swim, or picnic. They were made standard issue for all starships, once the effects of deep space missions on the mental stability of the crew had been studied. But he could model a new holoprogramme on the Sikarian homeworld, and on this continent in particular.

The topography of the area was stunningly beautiful, with the few man-made structures placed in sympathy with the surrounding woodland and rocky outcroppings. Constructed without sharp angles of what appeared to be natural materials, the buildings blended with their surroundings and seemed to flow and ebb in and out of the forest.

He looked out at a sea of treetops, the bright greens and golds and oranges of the foliage reminding him of autumn in Marseille. He could hear birds singing, and if he strained he could just barely make out the sound of the surf where the mountain’s foothills met the ocean. Last night at the banquet, Leiara had told him about a lovely, secluded cove with lush tropical plants and a pink-tinged sandy beach tucked into a spit of land, ideal for lovers who were seeking a quiet rendezvous. It was only after he’d been back in his quarters, showered and ready for bed, that he’d realized that when she’d offered to show it to him, she’d been offering something else as well.

He’d spent the requisite vacation time on Risa, both as an Upperclassman and during his first posting after graduation. He’d enjoyed it, a little too much, maybe, and he certainly wasn’t averse to a little fun between consenting adults. Sikaris Prime did remind him of Risa. The whole planet was beautiful, perfect for a vacation, with delights to entice every palate…

Now, he couldn’t help but wish B’Elanna would take him up on his offer to beam down together, to spend a little time alone together in this paradise.

“So, have you made up your mind? Are you going to take a leap?”

“What?” Tom started, and he wondered for a moment if Ensign Ahni had been reading his mind.

“When we get to the top. Have you decided if you’re going to jump or climb back down?” Her eyes sparkled as she grinned at him.

“We have to get there first,” Dalby said. “Ready?”

Ayala and Dalby were back on their feet, starting their ascent. Tom took another sip of water, secured his flask, and followed them up.

#

The mug of real, hot coffee had been worth the ration. He was physically tired after his climb, and his body was starting to seize, his overtaxed muscles burning. It felt good though, and Tom decided that from now on he would obey the ‘fleet dictum of four hours a week of strenuous physical exercise, and bulk up a little. He hadn’t forgotten everything that Susie Crabtree had taught him.

He’d had dinner on the planet with Ahni after their climb, but he hadn’t really enjoyed it. While the food was meticulously prepared, he found it didn’t agree with his palate: too salty, too sweet, too highly spiced. It had made him long for the plain old tomato soup of his Academy days. Not that he could get it: Voyager’s replicators didn’t have the recipe. They’d been joined by a party of locals, all of them friendly, all inquisitive about their personal histories and the story of how Voyager had ended up stranded so far from home. Ahni had regaled them with stories of the Caretaker and Voyager’s abrupt journey into the Delta Quadrant, and the merging of the two crews. She’d left out his own criminal past. He’d sat quietly and let her talk, and at the end of the meal, she’d gone off with two young women, both exceptionally pretty. Tom had refused their invitation to join them. He suspected that that Ensign Jatal had seen the Doctor and was now the proud holder of a certain letter.

He was seated in the mess hall between Harry and B’Elanna, Seska, her guard dog, at her side. It was late, past twenty-two hundred, and he’d been half undressed getting ready for bed when Harry had commed him and told him he needed to talk to him. Urgently. Harry’s friend, Eudora, had put him in touch with none other than Jaret Otel, who had agreed to trade the trajector technology to them for Voyager’s cultural database. Despite the beauty of their planet and the many pleasures it offered, they appeared to be a people starved for fresh diversions. Tom had to wonder who had been entertaining whom for the past three days.

“I don't know what to do,” Harry implored.

Fear, cold and hard, curled in Tom’s belly and sat like a stone. He didn’t want to voice what he was thinking, didn’t want to take away from Harry’s hopeful enthusiasm, but he was uneasy. He didn’t want to go home. He’d been given a second chance on Voyager, the opportunity to atone for past missteps far from the judgemental eyes of his father, to live up to the promise that so many commanding officers had seen in him. He had just begun to feel at ease in his role as Voyager’s chief conn officer and he was afraid that if they made it home, he would revert to the ship’s con again. He didn’t want to go back.

“I know we'd all like to get that much closer to home,” Harry continued, “but I don't think Captain Janeway is going to go for getting the technology like that.”

Tom was certain she wouldn’t. Harry had requested a meeting with the captain, and the four of them were huddled around a table in the mess, waiting for him to be called to Janeway’s ready room. Tom felt his own frustration rise. It was obvious to him what her answer would be. Despite being on the losing end of the regulation this time, after her defence of the Prime Directive he knew she would never agree.

“Maybe she will,” B’Elanna said, her expression intent. “After all, it's a Sikarian who's making the offer.”

Tom thought she was trying very hard to make herself believe her own words. He leaned closer to Harry, dropping his volume so they wouldn’t be overheard. “But it's not above board,” Tom stressed. “The Captain is only going to deal with an official representative.”

Rollin’s voice came over Harry’s communicator. “Bridge to Ensign Kim. The Captain can see you now.

Tom could feel Harry’s anxiety like a tangible thing. “Just tell her everything you know,” he advised. “Let her take it from there.”

“Right.”

“I'll walk you part way,” he offered. Harry nodded and stood, and Tom got to his feet with him, leaning forward as he rose, his words meant for B’Elanna. “I'm headed for bed.” He was hoping she would take the hint and take him up on his offer, but she remained sitting at the table, and he caught Seska’s head tilt as she moved closer to B’Elanna.

“I just hope she listens,” Harry muttered as they left the mess.

He didn’t know what to say. The captain had been raised at his father’s knee, and he was absolutely certain that Owen Paris would never consider going against protocol, damn the circumstances. Janeway would never do anything to undermine the local laws of an alien society. Hell, if Tuvok hadn’t proven Tom innocent of Tolen Ren’s death on Banea, she would have enforced their punishment. She would have let him die.

Tom walked Harry to the ‘lift and wished him a sincere, “good luck” when the doors parted. Tuvok strode out as Harry entered, and nodded to both him and Tom before turning toward the mess hall.

Tom stiffened and called to him before he changed his mind. “Tuvok?”

The older man paused and turned back toward him. “Is there something I can do for you, Lieutenant Paris?”

“Actually, you already did and I didn’t thank you properly.” At Tuvok’s raised eyebrow, Tom clarified. “On Banea. That whole business.”

“If you are referring to the murder of Professor Tolen Ren by his wife and associate, and your conviction and subsequent punishment, we have already discussed the matter.”

“Well, yeah,” Tom searched for the right words, “but I can’t help wondering if your opinion of me has changed now that you’ve seen all the dark places in my brain.” Tom felt the need to know that Tuvok didn’t believe he belonged in jail, that he had changed and was worthy of the second chance he’d been given on Voyager.

“On the contrary. Not only did I not have an opinion of you to alter, I did not, as you put it, see all the dark places in your brain. I limited the mind meld to the engrams implanted in your short-term memory by the Baneans.”

“Well, whatever you did, it was enough and I’m grateful.”

Tom was rewarded with a very Vulcan head-tilt. “I do not require your gratitude, Mister Paris, but after living with humans for many years I understand your need to offer it. I accept.”

The ‘lift doors parted to reveal an empty car. Tom stepped forward. “Good. Well, good night.”

Tuvok inclined his head and turned away, then paused as his combadge chirped. “Janeway to Tuvok. Report to my ready room.

Tom motioned for him to take the ‘lift. Harry must have already told the Captain about Otel’s offer, why else would she be calling for her security chief? It took less than a minute for another ‘lift to arrive. Tom stepped inside and pressed the heels of hands against his eyes. He was exhausted, and longed for a hot shower and his bed.

“Deck four,” he said.

Chapter Text

Tom closed his eyes and rested his forehead against the wall of the sonic shower. He tried to blank his mind, to let the hum of the sonic waves lull him into a state of relaxation. He’d done his best to dissuade Harry, to keep his expectations from taking off at warp speed; he couldn’t see the captain going for it. Janeway was too by-the-book, too tied to Federation strictures and the Prime Directive to even consider what Harry was proposing. But Harry wanted it so badly, he was blinded by his desire. Tom understood the feeling. But wanting doesn’t make things happen no matter how much you try to fool yourself into believing it will.

They were back to the same old argument: getting home. He’d meant it a month ago when he’d asked B’Elanna what reaction she’d expected from Starfleet Command when they got back. Did she think they’d throw them a parade? Fireworks over the Golden Gate Bridge? The absolute best they could hope for was to share a jail cell in Auckland. Of course, there was a slim chance that he would be paroled, that the few months that he’d served on Voyager would be considered custody, and that they would let him go. It wasn’t very likely, though.

He sighed and ran his fingers through his hair, wishing he could have a good old-fashioned water shower. When he’d come aboard Voyager, before they’d entered the Badlands, he’d almost run the taps dry. He hadn’t enjoyed a real water shower in what felt like forever. After a year kicking around the Alpha Quadrant on freighters and backwoods space stations, followed by nine months as a guest of the Federation, he’d revelled in the feel of hot water sluicing down his body, steam filling the air. Once they were stuck here, Chakotay had put forth an edict prohibiting the use of water for anything but drinking and cooking. Tom got it: the sonic shower took less energy. But it wasn’t nearly as satisfying in his opinion.

He heard a sound and stilled. Fingers touched his ribs, a warm palm glided up his back toward his shoulder. Another slid around his middle. Tom smiled as soft breasts pressed against his back, and warm breath puffed onto his shoulder.

“You took so long, I thought you weren’t coming.”

“Seska wanted to talk some more,” B’Elanna said.

Tom turned in her embrace and looked at her. She was staring down at the floor, frowning, her expression pensive, her body tense. He wasn’t sure what was going on inside her head, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that the little chat she’d had with Seska had something to do with it. He could only imagine…

He hadn’t liked Seska during his short stint with the Maquis, and his opinion of her hadn’t improved since he’d been stuck with her on Voyager. She was self-centered, manipulative, and he detected a cruel streak beneath her contained exterior. He didn’t like that B’Elanna seemed to value her as a friend; had to remind himself that it was none of his damn business who her friends were.

“What did she want to talk about?” he asked.

B’Elanna cocked her head and stared him in the eyes. “Do you think Janeway will say yes? Do you think she’ll agree to take the trajector technology without the Magistrate's express permission?”

He couldn’t read her, didn’t know if she was hoping he would say yes or no. He slid his hands down her arms to the sweet curve of her waist, drew a breath, shook his head. “From what I know of her, no, I don’t.”

Her lips quirked. “What do you know of her?”

He shrugged, telling himself it didn’t matter anymore. A lot of things didn’t matter anymore, including the fact that he would never live up to Katie Janeway’s shining example in his father’s eyes. “She was my dad’s science officer when I was a kid.”

“I didn’t know that.” B’Elanna paused, frowned at him. “Do you think that’s why she…”

She didn’t finish, there were some things they didn’t talk about, but Tom knew what she was going to say anyway. “Why she asked me to help hunt down Chakotay? Probably.” He suspected she was more interested in getting Tuvok back than in capturing Chakotay and his Maquis crew but she’d kept her own counsel on that point.

“If we can get the technology, if we can integrate it into Voyager’s systems, do you think she might let us go? I mean, she could give us some shuttles when we’re close to the Alpha Quadrant…” She peered at him a moment, then shook her head. “Yeah. You’re right.”

“I’m sure she’ll speak up for all of the Maquis, file letters of support. She’ll probably request that you be given suspended sentences.”

B’Elanna huffed. “What good would that do?” She bristled a little. “They would know that we’d just go back to the Badlands. Nothing’s changed, Tom.” She looked at him again, and he watched as her eyes took on an apprehensive expression. “You could come with us. Join us again. I’m sure Chakotay would…”

Tom’s mouth had firmed. Chakotay would want nothing to do with him. Chakotay barely tolerated him on a ship with fifteen decks. He’d never permit him on his own little Maquis raider. Especially if he knew that he and B’Elanna were seeing each other.

B’Elanna shook her head, answering her own question. “Yeah. I know. She would never let us go anyway. And you know what the worst part is?” She scowled at him, balling her hands into fists where they rested on his chest. “She’d actually believe that her recommendations would matter.”

“Yeah,” Tom agreed. He pulled her more snuggly into his arms and rested his chin on the top of her head. Maquis activity had heated up since he’d been caught and sentenced, he’d heard the rumours while he was in Auckland. He doubted any of the Val Jean’s crew would get the same light sentence he had: eighteen months. The Federation council was set on ending the Maquis threat quickly. They would want to make an example of them, of Chakotay, the former ‘fleet officer turned traitor, the same way they had with Will Riker’s ‘transporter twin’, Tom. They’d throw the book at the Maquis crew, provisional ranks be damned.

B’Elanna’s shifted closer to him, pressing her body against his, her back arching as she tilted her head and tucked her nose behind his ear. She spread her fingers on his chest and inched them toward his shoulders. “Tom,” her voice was low, her tone seductive, “if she does agree to take the trajector, we may not have much time left.”

This was true. Tom smiled as he leaned down to kiss her. Her lips were soft and warm, and they parted under his as she thrust her tongue into his mouth. She rose up on her toes and pushed him against the wall of the shower; her breasts slid over his chest, and he raised a hand to cup one, to pluck the nipple with finger and thumb.

She moaned low in her throat and raised a leg, hooking her knee on his hip and rocking her warm center against his thigh. He could tell she wanted it right now, here, standing against the wall of the shower, and there was something to be said for the way the sonic vibrations heightened his pleasure as they danced across his skin. But if he could manoeuvre her to his bed there was a slim chance she would stay longer before she dressed and left. Not until morning, but he might get a cuddle, maybe even a round two. She was hit-and-run, and if they really were running out of time, he wanted as much of her as he could get.

He kissed her temple, her cheek. “B’Elanna?” His fingers dug into her hips, steadying her, attempting to still her movements before he lost all train of thought.

“Mmmm…?”

Her teeth scraped his throat, moved to his shoulder, nipped not quite hard enough to hurt. He felt it in the small of his back, a zing of electricity and heat, and he bucked against her. She chuckled.

“The bed. Let’s move to the bed.” He pushed her, and she fell back a step. His hands closed around her hips and he backed her out of the shower stall and against the bathroom wall. “I want you in my bed,” he murmured against her temple, “spread out under me like a feast.” If he was headed back to Auckland, he wanted to take that vision with him.

She laughed again, and he remembered watching her at the banquet last night. She’d been sitting with the Captain and Chakotay, laughing at something Chakotay had said to her. He’d felt a flare of jealousy, and it had soured his mood.

He gripped her waist possessively, his fingers digging into her flesh. He kissed her shoulder, her throat, nuzzled the silky skin behind her ear. She braced one hand on his shoulder then her leg wound around his hip again, and her small, strong fingers wrapped around his cock and angled it toward her opening.

Tom backed away. “No. Not yet.”

She growled again, her hand tightening on his sensitive flesh. He hissed, more from fear than pain, and looked her in the eye. “If you break it, it won’t be any good to either of us.” She narrowed her eyes and he saw fire flame there. Anger? Passion? He wasn’t sure. Her leg muscles tightened as she tried to pull his pelvis toward her, her heel pressed against his ass.

“The bed,” he insisted. He debated saying please.

Her jaw firmed, lips peeling back from her teeth, and he was certain that he’d pissed her off. Her fingers curled into his biceps, nails biting into his skin. He bent his neck and nuzzled her temple. “I want to taste you. I want to feel your skin against mine.” He wanted her heat surrounding him. He wanted to mark her. He wanted to make her forget every other man she’d ever been with.

She made a noise low in her throat that could only be a growl, and Tom’s cock jumped in response. Her eyes narrowed, and he wondered for a moment if she was going to hit him. There was tension in her, an energy that scared him a little but thrilled him too. He moved his hands to her shoulders and pushed.

“Don’t tell me what to do, Tom.”

He couldn’t read her: was she pissed off? Excited? Irritated?

She backed up, her hand still wrapped around his cock, and pulled him with her. There was a glint in her eyes that was calculating.

“Computer, end sonic shower,” he said.

They stepped into the living area and he realized that he was following her, not leading her. He didn’t care as long as they ended up in his bedroom. His hands slid down her arms and tightened, pulling her toward him for another kiss. He could never get enough of her mouth. She let go of his cock and shoved him away, and darted around the coffee table. Tom rocked back a step to regain his balance and turned. His eyes landed on the sofa—not the most comfortable place for sex but it would do in a pinch—then jerked back to her. She was balanced on the balls of her feet, bent slightly forward with her shoulders back and arms out. She looked like she was prepared to fight. Her expression was pure defiance.

He didn’t know what was happening. She made a little growling sound again and her eyes flicked toward the right. He felt it in his chest, felt the pull of desire in his belly, but raised his hands placatingly. “B’Elanna,” he began.

She backed toward his sleeping area. “Come and get me, Paris.”

A huff of laughter escaped him, and his mouth curved in a grin. He took a step toward her, and her lips lifted, but he wasn’t sure if it was a smile or a snarl. Another step, and she glanced behind her at the bed. He reached for her, and she ducked beneath his arm and ran back toward the bathroom. ‘Uh, uh,’ Tom said. He spun around and grabbed her around the waist, thinking of how her body would feel pressed to his. She turned and kicked out at him, and he was falling, his legs suddenly jerked out from under him. His back hit the carpet and the breath left his lungs with a grunt. Shock reverberated down his spine. She landed on top of him and he found his arms pinned above his head.

He froze. What the hell? The expression on her face was feral, and Jonas’ words came back to him, the mocking insinuation in his tone obvious, “You know what they say about Klingon foreplay.” She was grinning, her panting breaths puffing warm air across his forehead. Her breasts bobbed near his mouth, and he felt her slide down his body, felt the prickle of her pubic hair on his cock. It was like a repeat of last night, and he wanted more than that this time.

He gathered his strength, and pushed upward and rolled her onto her back pinning her to the floor with his weight. “I said not yet.” He looked into her eyes as she squirmed beneath him. She arched her spine and pressed her breasts into his chest, bucked her hips and her slick centre slid against his cock. He gritted his teeth and climbed off of her, grabbing her hands and pulling her up with him. She attempted to hook his ankle with her foot again, and he crouched and slung her over his shoulder. He took the four paces to his bed and dropped her down onto the mattress, landing on top of her. He wondered what the hell had gotten into him!

She laughed as the bed bounced.

Her eyes glittered under the orange glow of his night lights. They were hooded, her mouth slightly parted, lips full and pouting. Her body was tense beneath his, waiting, wary, and he sensed a coiled energy in her, waiting to be released. He kissed her cheekbone, skimmed his teeth over her jaw and down her throat, and her body rose under his. He wound their fingers together as he moved lower: her shoulder, collarbone, the soft curver of her breast. Her chest was heaving with her harsh exhalations, and Tom felt like he could come from just looking at her. God, she was gorgeous with her skin glinting with bronze highlights, shadows sculpting her body. He could look at her forever.

His lips closed around her nipple, tongue seeking its rough surface, teeth gently nipping. She hissed, bucked, her fingers gripping his with punishing strength. He wanted inside her, wanted to fuck her: pound into her so that the only memory she’d have of being on Voyager was of being with him!

But waiting made it better.

He moved to her other breast, sucking her nipple over his teeth. She gasped and her body jerked. He kissed between her breasts, licked at the sweat that had beaded there, traced an intricate pattern on her skin with his tongue. She squirmed beneath him. He kissed a path to her belly button, dipped his tongue inside. She tasted sweet, fresh. Her skin was soft and warm on his lips.

“Get on with it, Tom,” she growled, wiggling her hips.

He raised his head from her belly and arched an eyebrow. “With what?” He grinned.

She didn’t.

She squirmed again, her knee coming perilously close to his groin. He pushed her legs apart and settled between them, then slid his hands under her firm ass and cupped each glorious cheek as he raised her to his mouth.

She moaned, low and throaty, her body relaxing, her hands slack and limbs languid, hips tilting as she thrust her hot flesh against his mouth. He could do this all day, just for the pleasure of watching her. She undulated beneath him, her body moving sinuously with her pleasure. Her fingers wound into his hair and tugged, her teeth sank into her lower lip. He hoped the captain said no: he wanted a full seventy-five years of pleasuring her, of her body welcoming his.

He tried to take his time with her, teasing, tasting, but she was highly responsive, insistent, her hands clenching in the sheets, breaths quickening, her voice a high, keening moan.

She came then, her thighs tensing between his cheeks, body bowing upward, neck bent and head thrown back against the pillows. He sucked on her sensitive nub, watching as her orgasm washed over her. She was glorious! He tightened one hand on her hip to keep her in place, but he slid the other up her side and appreciated the sweet curve of her waist, the angle of her ribcage. She was gasping for air, shuddering, her body squirming before she fell back to the bed, panting.

He grinned. He loved that he could bring her to this. Loved to watch her writhe with the flood of pleasure that he had given her. He especially loved the look in her eyes while she waited for him, afterward…

He crawled up the bed, sliding his body over hers, wanting only to sink into her softness. She offered her mouth and he kissed her slowly, lazily, sucking her lower lip into his mouth, running his tongue along it’s tender inner flesh. Her body arched into his, warm sweat-dampened skin sticking to his. They’d need another shower when they were done. He thought of fucking her, hard and fast, against the shower wall. Slow was better.

He slid his palm down her arm, appreciating her firm, taut muscles and the silky softness of the skin of her wrist. He laced their fingers together. Her hand was small in his, her fingers slim and delicate. He lowered his weight onto hers, knowing that she liked it. Her other arm came around his back, callused fingers gliding along his ribs and up his spine. He shuddered, sparks shot straight to his groin. The sole of her foot eased over his calf and up his leg, and he had only half a second’s warning before her body tensed and she flipped him over in the bed and climbed onto him.

Tom laughed. They tussled for a minute, him bucking beneath her, but she pulled his arms over his head again and pinned him with a surprising strength. He kept forgetting that she was half-Klingon; to him, she was just B’Elanna. Her eyes glowed, and she grinned as she leaned down and nuzzled his throat. He closed his eyes and rocked into her, memorizing the moment: the slight weight of her on top of him, her slick centre sliding along his cock, pebbled nipples brushing his chest, her warm breath puffing against his temple, in his ear. Her lips kissed a trail along his jaw, down his throat.

She angled her hips, and he slid inside her tight channel in one slow, smooth stroke. It stole the breath from his lungs. He heard her moan and her hands tightened in his, her short fingernails digging into the flesh on the back of his hand. She rocked on him, her hips moving slowly forwards and back, and he stilled so he could concentrate on the sensation of her slick heat sliding along his sensitive cock.

He wanted more. She sat up, pulling his hands to her breasts, bracing herself with her palms on his chest, and jerked her pelvis against his. “Please, Tom,” she whispered.

She only had to ask. He gripped her hips and thrust into her, and pleasure rocketed through him. Just the sound of her low, throaty moan made him almost lose it. He wanted to take it slow, but they moved faster, both gasping, grunting, pounding against each other almost violently, striving for the same goal. He wanted, needed, to see her come, and he brushed a thumb against her nub, urging her closer. Her hand gripped his, and she pitched forward, rocked off balance by the force of his thrusts. Her hand hit the mattress near his ear as she leaned above him, and her hair brushed his cheek.

Sweat slicked his shoulders and gathered at the top of his spine. It prickled his chest and thighs. He pulled her down onto him and held her against his chest while he thrust up into her. Her forehead pressed against his, their warm, moist breath mingling, and he registered the slight pain of her boney cranial ridges digging into the skin on his forehead. Her breasts were crushed to his chest, erect nipples scraping, her thighs cradling his ribs, her softness all around him. His hand found her head, fingers digging against her scalp, fisting in her hair, her head thrown back now, her throat at his mouth. He kissed her there, licked her skin, bit down, and her body jerked. She was coming, her body undulating then drawn rigid, fingers digging into his shoulders painfully, her breath coming in harsh pants.

He didn’t want it to end, but he couldn’t hang on anymore. His orgasm was blinding. Jaw locked, his teeth grinding together. His eyes squinted closed, and his body rigid as his ass left the bed, knees locked, heels dug into the mattress. They rose up together as he clung to her, his fingers digging into her back, tracing the ridges on her spine, clutching her to him.

His back hit the mattress with a soft whump.

She was boneless above him, heat and sweat and soft breath binding them together. Her hair tickled his cheek, and her open mouth was on his throat, her teeth gently pressing on his skin. He wanted her to mark him above the line of his collar where everyone could see. He wanted her to really let go with him, but she wouldn’t.

She shifted, sliding off of him and settling at his side with a contented, sleepy-sounding sigh. He hugged her and let his eyes drift closed. Selfish bastard that he was, he willed the captain to say no to Harry’s request.

#

“What do you think they’re doing right now?” Her voice was low, muffled by his shoulder.

Tom’s brain blinked awake, and consciousness swam up through a thick fog of post-sex legarthy. “Sleeping?” His arm tightened around her. “Who?”

“The Maquis. Our… my friends. In the Alpha Quadrant.” Her fingers curled on his chest, fingernails combing through his chest hair. She liked to play with it, liked its roughness against her breast and lips.

Tom inhaled then stilled. Fighting? Dying? Making love? Hanging on for another day. Or maybe Starfleet had already cleared them out, like ants on a picnic blanket. Picked up the corners of the quadrant and given it a cosmic shake. He imagined the little fighters, wasps and runabouts, jury-rigged cargo vessels and purloined ‘fleet shuttles, being flung into space, tumbling and careening in the blackness.

Then he saw bodies and explosions, and closed his eyes.

“I keep thinking, if we can convert this technology to work with Voyager, we could get home, and with an Intrepid-class starship…

Tom jerked and raised his head from the pillow to stare at her. “B’Elanna, are you talking about taking the ship?” Mutiny? It was a long-shot. The ‘fleeters outnumbered the Maquis three-to-one. But maybe the Starfleet crew and their captain had been lulled by a false sense of security and camaraderie. It was only logical that the two crews band together against a common enemy: the Delta Quadrant.

“Of course not.” She was quick with her denial, but her body had stiffened against his. “I was just thinking, if Janeway hadn’t made it, if Chakotay had been in charge, things might be different.”

Voyager a Maquis ship? Things certainly would have been. He likely wouldn’t be here now. Sure, he had joked that Chakotay had owed him for saving his life when he’d hauled him up those stairs on the Ocampan homeworld, but without Janeway, and Voyager’s security team, would Chakotay have been able to honour his word that Tom was safe aboard the ship? Likely not.

“B’Elanna, you do understand that—”

Kim to Paris.

Tom’s combadge chirped, then Harry’s voice came through. Damn. He couldn’t ignore him, but he could curse his timing. B’Elanna pulled away from him, and Tom sat up and reached for his combadge. “Go ahead.” He watched B’Elanna as she drew the sheet more securely around herself.

There was a pause, and Tom wondered if there was something wrong with the com system.

The captain said said no. She refused to use any means that weren’t sanctioned by the government. She’s planning to speak with Gath in the morning.

Tom’s gaze slid back to B’Elanna. She’d stiffened and slowly pulled herself up until she was sitting.

“She might talk him into it. If she can make him understand how import—”

I don’t think so. Jaret Otel was pretty clear that Magistrate Gath has no intention of helping us.

“I guess we’ll know in the morning,” Tom said. He was still watching B’Elanna but she was staring at the sheets.

Yeah, I guess so. Good night.

Harry signed off, sounding defeated, and B’Elanna immediately threw off the covers and reached for her clothing, in a pile on the floor.

“I have to go,” she said, pulling on her undershirt.

“No, you don’t.” Tom scooted over on the mattress and reached for her arm. His fingers wrapped around firm muscle and warm skin.

“Yeah, I do.”

“There’s nothing we can do until morning.” There was nothing they could do anyway.

She slipped her arm out of his light grip and reached for her underwear. Tom watched her pull the regulation grey cotton up her legs and over her hips, hiding the thick thatch of dark curls between her thighs. He reached for her, his palm gliding over her waist, thumb dipping into her navel. He bent and kissed her warm skin, scraped his teeth over the point of her hip. “Stay,” he implored her.

He heard her breath hitch, and she swayed toward him before her hands dropped his shoulders, her fingers squeezing the muscle as she pushed him away. She straightened and stepped out of his reach. “I can’t,” she said. “Both Swinn and Dorado are out sick. I need to get back to engineering.”

“They probably just had a little too much shore leave,” he said, thinking of the unopened bottle of red wine on a shelf in his closet.

She frowned as she fastened her uniform and stepped into her boots.

Tom let her go.

Chapter Text

He’d lain awake last night indulging in some good old fashioned self-pity. He shouldn’t have answered Harry’s hail. He wouldn’t have, if they’d been back in his shower. He wouldn’t even have heard it. It was bullshit, her excuse of being two men down. She didn’t want to stay longer because she didn’t want to fall asleep and be seen leaving his quarters in the morning. He was certain, after the initial wave of gossip, that no one would give a damn that they were sleeping together. And they were the same rank, from different departments, so the captain shouldn’t have a problem with it either. Chakotay might—likely would—but Tom was certain he’d come around, given enough time. And unless the captain agreed to take that technology, they had plenty of time.

He should give her an ultimatum: tell her it was over unless they were open about their relationship, but… B’Elanna was just stubborn enough to never let him touch her again.

Her scent was on his sheets, the indentation of her head was on his pillow. The indentation of her fingernails on his wrist. Proof enough that she’d been there, he supposed. Eventually, he fell asleep, drugged by an exhausted body and good sex. There just hadn’t been quite enough of it.

His oh six hundred alarm was jarring, and it insisted he get up even though he didn’t want to. He dragged himself to the shower still wondering what had really made her run off last night, rolling options around in his head. He was pretty sure that being down two men wasn’t the reason. And speaking of, he made a mental note to check with the Doctor about Baytart’s condition. Maybe B’Elanna just didn’t want to like him—and he was pretty damn sure that she liked him! He’d noticed her slips, when she’d caught herself while she was talking about her Maquis friends, her what-if in case they somehow got home soon. They would never accept him, he knew that. But really, it was the other way around: the former Maquis needed to realize that they were the ones who needed to be accepted by the rest of the ship. And, if they did make it home, by the Federation.

Harry was churlish at breakfast, still moping about his meeting with Janeway and Tuvok last night. B’Elanna, seated with Seska and Joe Carey, hadn’t joined them. Tom hadn’t really expected her to sit with him anyway; she tended to put a day’s distance between them after they’d fucked the night before. He recognized the bitter tinge to his thoughts, but didn’t give a damn. He could match Harry’s disgruntled disappointment with his own pissy attitude, self-pitying thought for self-pitying thought.

He watched Seska handle an isolinear chip, rubbing it like it was a good-luck charm. The three of them were talking quietly, and though from his angle he couldn’t see Carey’s expression, B’Elanna didn’t look too happy by what he was saying to her. Maybe their overhaul had turned up a problem in engineering? She’d tell him if it affected propulsion, surely?

Chakotay’s voice came over the com: “Attention all crew. Shore leave has been cancelled and the Sikarians have requested we leave their space. Alpha shift, report to stations.

Tom sighed and stood. So much for his dream of that hidden cove and B’Elanna in a bathing suit. He’d commed the Doctor on his way to the mess: Baytart was still out sick and now so was Sharr. Maybe it was a good time to get out of Dodge, after all.

#

“Mister Tuvok is on the surface now, Captain,” Chakotay said. “He says the remaining away teams should be on board in fifteen minutes.”

Tom had plotted their course to the Alpha Quadrant, taking the planetary system into account. There was a gas giant on the outer edge of the system that looked interesting, with a large moon that was ringed with asteroids. He had expected the captain to want to take a peek, but she’d ordered him to ‘plot the quickest route out of here’, so he’d obeyed. She had seemed pretty cozy with Gath the other day, and Tom wondered what had gone wrong. It was one thing to stick to their principles regarding the safe-holding of advanced technology, quite another to order supposedly valued guests away simply for asking that they share.

“Are the food supplies secured?” the captain asked.

Chakotay answered her, confirming that their holds were full. Kes had told him that the Sikarians had been generous with both foodstuffs and seeds, and that she was anxious to get started seeing what would take in her new airponics bay. Tom had to admit that a fruit that he’d tried at the reception—with the flavour of a plum but sectioned like an orange—had been juicy and sweet. Leiara had told him they grew on bushes not trees as he’d assumed, and that the leaves made a delicious tea. Tom was hoping that Kes would have good luck with them, and that they would ‘take’. Neelix did his best, or maybe his worst Tom supposed, but it was hard to screw up fresh fruit.

Janeway commed B’Elanna in engineering, and Tom felt a familiar warmth rush through him at the sound of her voice.

Torres, here.

“We’ll be leaving orbit within minutes. Ready all propulsion systems.”

Tom sat up a little straighter and studied his astrogation readings, running the numbers one more time.

We’re ready now, Captain.” B’Elanna answered.

Well, whatever she and her breakfast buddies had been discussing, it couldn’t have been too serious. Tom glanced behind him at Harry. He was focused on the LCARS displays at his station, but Tom thought the set expression on his face had more to do with his disappointment at leaving Sikaris than his concentrating on the scrolling information. His own panel beeped, and he read an alert from security that all crew were finally on board. Since they couldn’t beam people through the planet’s core, he’d spent the last two hours maneuvering Voyager from continent to continent, pole to pole, in order to get them within transporter range. It had been good practise in precision flying, but he was ready to get moving now.

Janeway called B’Elanna. “We're ready to leave orbit. Thrusters online.”

Tom prided himself on his growing ability to read his captain. There was a note in Janeway’s tone of voice that betrayed her own disappointment, and he couldn’t help wondering how the crew would react, and what the ricochet would be and what she would do to repair it. It was too soon for another pool tournament. B’Elanna’s answering, “Aye, Captain.” sounded clipped. Shoreleave was supposed to relax and refresh a crew, not make them more depressed and anxious.

“Mister Paris, take us out of orbit. Four thousand kph.”

“Aye, Captain,” Tom acknowledged. He tapped his screen to input the commands, and his console trilled at him. He frowned. He tried again before shaking his head and swiveling his chair to face the command team. “There's no response. Thrusters are offline.”

The captain scowled. “Janeway to engineering. What's going on, Lieutenant?” Her tone was short: she looked like she was stifling the urge to scream.

We've got a phase variance in plasma conduit three. I'll have to check it out before we can engage thrusters.

That was sudden. Didn’t she spend most of shore leave doing routine maintenance? Tom turned his chair back around to face the viewscreen.

“When did this problem show up?”

Just now, Captain. It's only a slight variance, I'll have it fixed in a minute.

B’Elanna definitely sounded strained to Tom. He sat and waited for her go-ahead, keeping one eye on the viewscreen, the other on his readings. Nothing yet. Harry’s confused, “what the…?” made Tom turn his head, then an alarm started to sound and the bridge shuddered.

“Captain,” Harry called, “I'm showing an unstable plasma manifold. We're heading for a breach.”

Tom jerked in his seat and turned to stare at his friend.

“Bridge to Torres. What's happening? We're reading a warp core breach up here.”

We're on it, Captain. No time to talk.

B’Elanna cut the feed abruptly, but not before Tom heard the hiss of escaping warp plasma. The ship shuddered again, and his console lit up with notifications of compromised systems.

“Mister Kim, report!”

“I… I don’t know, Captain. I’m reading… This can’t be right.”

“Use your words, Mister Kim.”

Tom had swung back to observe Harry, and he watched his face flush pink at the admonishment.

“I’m reading anti-neutrinos in the injector manifold. But that’s not possible. Where did they come from?”

Tom glanced back at his own display and saw the warning that Harry had mentioned just before the levels flatlined. What the hell... ? The alarm shut off abruptly, but Tom’s console continued to beep and prrurp with minor complaints.

“Breach averted, Captain,” Harry said, unnecessarily. He sounded as baffled as Tom felt.

“Thank you, Harry,” Janeway said. “Now find out what the hell just happened.”

###

Rumours fly faster than a starship at warp nine. Harry sent him a text message from ops, and Tom’s eyebrows soared to his hairline when he read it.

Someone had got ahold of the trajector technology and attempted to integrate it into Voyager’s systems without running a full series of tests. B’Elanna? Seska? Joe Carey, maybe? Was that what they’d been discussing so earnestly in the mess hall this morning? Their master plot to trade Voyager’s library of stories for the means to jump forty thousand light years closer to home? It hadn’t worked, of course. Tom didn’t know why, but he was pretty certain that B’Elanna did.

She was in the captain’s ready room with Tuvok and Janeway right now. She’d arrived on the bridge five minutes after the whatever-it-was that had just happened, three minutes after she’d got the thrusters back online and Tom had taken them out of Sikarian space. She had presented herself in front of the captain and requested that she speak with her in her ready room. Tom had risked a peek over his shoulder. Her back was straight, her chin up: Classic B’Elanna Torres fighting stance. But she didn’t appear to have any fight in her.

He heard the ready room doors open and turned, trying to catch her eye, but she was already up the stairs and heading out the door. That was the fastest explanation—or reprimand—for a near core breach that Tom had ever witnessed. No one followed her out. Chakotay caught his eye and frowned, and Tom turned back to the helm and kept his nose in his display.

##

He found her in her quarters, and he had to lean on the door chime for a full ten seconds before the door opened. She was seated on her couch, curled up in the corner hugging her knees to her chest. He hesitated in the doorway, and Pete Durst walked by. He slowed as he eyed their tableau, and Tom stepped into her quarters and let the doors close before Durst could ask what was going on.

He stood there a moment in silence, just watching her. “Hi,” he finally said. “I didn’t see you at lunch.”

She snorted and shook her head.

“Yeah, well, you didn’t miss anything. Neelix made something he called pokkel berry stew, but I don’t think they were berries.”

She opened her mouth, shook her head. Tried again, “I… I’m not in the mood, Tom.”

He took a step toward her and she flicked a glance at him. He dared another step. “In the mood for what?”

“For you to...nevermind.”

“B’Elanna, what happened? How did you get your hands on the trajector technology? And why did you try it? Surely, it could have waited until you’d run some—”

“It couldn’t wait.” She looked up at him, finally, and her eyes blazed with intensity. “The neutrinos were amplified by Sikaris’ quartz mantle. If we had any hope of making it work, we had to try before we left orbit.”

A little warning would have been nice, Tom thought. But with warning, Janeway would have shut them down immediately.

“So, how did it go with the captain? You’re not in the brig.” He grinned, hoping to lighten the mood, but she was unmoved.

“No.”

Tom sobered. “What did she say?”

Something had happened. He had come to her quarters expecting them to be in a shambles, furniture broken, cushions thrown, and B’Elanna in a raging temper. But she was quiet, still.

She shook her head and sighed. “She said I disappointed her. And if I stepped out of line again, I won’t be an officer anymore. She’ll take engineering from me.”

“Oh.”

The reproach from the captain had obviously upset her, and Tom understood. There was something about Janeway that made you want to please her, to earn her praise, not her censure. He certainly wouldn’t want to be on the end of her understated anger. But it could have been worse. He tried a smile. “I guess you’re not getting that promotion to admiral any time soon.”

One corner of her mouth lifted, but Tom wouldn’t call it a smile.

“How did you get the trajector, anyway? I thought you were in engineering. I didn’t even know you’d beamed down.” She glanced at him quickly, then away, her eyes not landing on his. “Oh,” he nodded and sat on the other end of the sofa even though she didn’t offer it. “It wasn’t you. Who was it? Carey? Seska?”

“It doesn’t matter. I’m the chief engineer. It was my decision to use it. So I took responsibility.”

“Oh come on, that’s not fair.” He reached for her knee and gave it a little squeeze. “I suppose you’re on report.”

She shook her head. “No. Not according to Chakotay.” She sighed and looked at him. “In a way, that makes it worse.”

It did. At least a punishment ended. “How about we grab Harry and go to the holodeck? We can run Sandrine’s, or maybe one of the nature programmes. We can go rock climbing. I went with Dalby and Ayala on Sikaris. It was fun.”

She shook her head, and he saw her regret. “I’m not in the mood.”

“Okay.” Tom cupped her shoulder and squeezed. “In that case, I have a few extra rations, we can have dinner here…”

“That’s sweet, but I don’t think so.”

“Does Chakotay have you on bread and water?”

“No. I thought he’d at least dock me a month’s replicator rations, but,” she lifted a shoulder in a half-hearted shrug, “he didn’t.”

“So you’ve condemned yourself to a month of Neelix’ cooking, instead? That seems unnecessarily harsh.” He tried a smile.

Her mouth twisted, then she sighed. “I knew I was disobeying orders when I tried the trajector. I did it anyway, so I should have some sort of punishment.”

Tom paused, her words making his gut tighten.

“Seska wanted to cover it up,” she continued, “to erase the logs and pretend it was a systems failure in the warp engine, but I wouldn’t let her. I had to tell the truth. So I went to the captain and I admitted that it was my fault.”

“Oh.” It was all he could come up with. She’d told the truth, taken the blame. Unlike him. His brain slid away from that line of thought. He thought of their little conclave at that secluded table in the mess hall, and remembered how Seska had played with that chip. But Seska wasn’t a doer; she was a manipulator.

“Seska didn’t get the trajector. Was it Carey? Someone must have helped you.”

She shrugged. “Does it matter?”

“Yes, it matters.” He stared at her for a moment, trying to will her to confess, then it hit him. “You said yourself that Seska was pushing you to get that technology. B’Elanna, if she talked you into this she should share the blame.”

“No.” She shook her head. “I’m the chief engineer. It was my decision, my fault.” She shrugged, then shook her head. “It would never have worked anyway. Voyager’s systems are incompatible with—”

She stopped abruptly and shrugged.

“I can handle a little science, you know,” Tom teased. “It’s when you start talking about alternate dimensions and time loops that I don’t want to think about it.”

Her lips quirked, and she shook her head. “It doesn’t matter. I don’t want to talk about it anymore.”

He cupped her shoulder, trailed his fingers over the firm muscle. “What do you want to do?”

She studied him for a long moment, then raised up on her toes, sliding her palms over his chest. “I just want to be alone.”

He studied her for a moment longer, and his heart lurched at the expression in her eyes: guilt, sadness, regret. But sometimes, you don’t want to feel better, he knew that better than most people.

“Okay.” He gave her arm another squeeze, then stood. “But you know where to find me if you do want to…” he hesitated, “talk.” He stood and walked to the door.

##

He’d been reading, reviewing technical manuals, when his buzzer sounded. “Saved by the bell,” he murmured. “Come. Harry, I hope you brought— Oh. Hi.”

B’Elanna stepped into his quarters, hesitating near the door. A replay of when he’d visited her after shift. “If you’re busy,” she began.

“No! No, nothing that can’t wait.” He dropped the PADD on the coffee table beside the remains of his dinner and stood. “Did you change your mind about the holedeck? I can comm Harry and—”

“No. No,” she shook her head. “I don’t want to go to the holodeck.”

“Okay.” He stared at her for a moment—composed, quiet, flat—and felt a ripple of unease. He closed the space between them. “B’Elanna, what—”

She flashed him a little smile and took a step toward him at the same time. She studied him for a long moment, sliding her palms up his chest. “I don’t want to think about it anymore, Tom. Can you help me with that?” She leaned up to kiss him, and he did.

#

Afterward, he lay awake for a long time: past when her body relaxed against his, past when her breathing evened out. He felt the pressure of a full bladder but waited, willing the urge to urinate to the back of his mind. He didn’t want to disturb her. Eventually, it got to be too much, and he gently eased his arm out from under her neck, careful not to jostle her. He slowly climbed out of bed and padded quietly toward the bathroom.

On the way back, he noticed that the message light on his computer was blinking. He glanced toward the sleeping area, but there was neither noise nor movement. He could see B’Elanna’s form in the bed, though. She was still asleep. He tapped in his code and pressed the screen to call up the message.

To: Commander H.R. Dupont, New Zealand Penal Settlement, Auckland, New Zealand, Earth.

From: Captain Kathryn Janeway, U.S.S. Voyager

Copied To: Vice Admiral Georgann Gromek, Adjunct Court For Criminal Maquis Activities, Starfleet Command, San Francisco, California, Earth; Commander Jenzo, LCP, New Zealand Penal Settlement, Auckland, New Zealand, Earth; Admiral Owen Paris, Starfleet Command, San Francisco, California, Earth; Lieutenant, jg, Thomas Eugene Paris, U.S.S Voyager

Subject: Thomas Eugene Paris, THX-113847

 

Since stardate 48341.2 Thomas Eugene Paris has served as a loyal, and valued member of my crew.

On stardate 48397.8 Thomas Eugene Paris was granted a field commission of Lieutenant, jg, and made my chief conn officer. My faith in him was not misplaced. He has demonstrated a natural ability as a leader in both the training of his staff and safeguarding their morale, and through his skill as a pilot he has saved Voyager and all of her crew on numerous occasions.

He has proven himself to be honest, dependable, and loyal. As a member of my senior staff, I have come to rely on his insight and unique perspective.

I strongly recommend that his sentence be commuted to time served both within your facility and under my supervision on Voyager, and that he be released from confinement immediately upon our return with whatever conditions you deem appropriate.

Captain Kathryn Janeway, U.S.S. Voyager.

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Your light in the dark is real
And I know that you know it is how I feel
When I see the reflections that's in your eyes
Is it mine, is it mine, is it mine to know?

Songwriters: Richard Davies / Roger Hodgson
Babaji lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group