BCWYWF… Part 8: Absent Friends

At 0800 hours the next morning, Kathryn Janeway walked into the ready room of her counterpart on the USS Resnick. “Captain Janeway,” he greeted her warmly. “It’s nice to see how well you’ve recovered. You’re looking much better than the last time I saw you.”

She shook his hand, but kept her distance. Tom hadn’t said much about his interaction with Captain Wheaton, but she knew some words had passed between them—enough to make Tom relocate all of Voyager’s crew back to their abandoned ship. Still, she had a lot to be grateful for where the Resnick and its officers were concerned. “Thank you, Captain,” she said. “You literally saved our lives. My crew and I owe you quite a debt.”

“It was the least I could do for Wes’s ship,” he said warmly.

She wasn’t following him. “Wes?” Wheaton looked surprised.

“Commander Wesley Cavit, your first officer,” he reminded her.

Janeway was instantly embarrassed at how long it had been since she had even thought of the dead man’s name. She had known Cavit all of three weeks before leaving on their mission to the Badlands, and he was killed before Voyager’s crew even realized what had happened to them. “Of course,” she said, trying to cover her lapse, “He was a fine officer. It was a terrible tragedy.”

Wheaton’s eyes hardened as he continued, “Yes, I suppose we have the Maquis to thank for that.”

‘Excuse me?’ she thought to herself. “Commander Cavit was killed when Voyager was pulled into the Delta Quadrant. The Maquis had nothing to do with his death.”

She could see Wheaton’s eyes harden. “Well, they were the reason you went on this mission in the first place.”

Janeway stiffened at the disdain she saw in his eyes. She knew there’d be no reasoning with him, but she wouldn’t allow his comments to go unchallenged. “I’ve never believed in holding someone accountable for the actions of another, no matter what the circumstances,” she said with some disdain. “Besides, as I’m sure you’ve been told, the former Maquis have been serving with great distinction as members of Voyager’s Starfleet crew. The Liberty’s captain has been my first officer for the past seven years.”

This reminder seemed to unnerve Wheaton, who remarked, “Yes, an ingenious tactical move on your part, Captain. What better way to undermine the threat they posed to you and your ship than to make them feel like part of the crew. I’m amazed you were able to keep them in line for so long.”

Alright, she thought, I’ve had enough of this. She didn’t have to defend herself or her people to this functionary. She decided to get on with her business.

“Captain Wheaton, I understand you have a message for me from Starfleet Command?”

He nodded. “Yes, Admiral Paris’s ship is in orbit of Starbase 32. He’s asked that you and your senior officers report to him as soon as we arrive.”

She was looking forward to seeing her old friend again. “Of course,” she answered. “What’s our ETA?”

The captain referred to his monitor, “We should get there tomorrow morning just about this time.”

He turned again to face her. “I suppose the Admiral is looking forward to seeing his son again. That poor man has suffered so much, what with his boy’s causing that accident, then joining the Maquis and getting thrown in jail. Not to mention all the rumors after Voyager disappeared.” She was not following him this time either, which he quickly realized. “Of course,” he said, “you wouldn’t know about that.”

Janeway’s brow was furrowed as she braced for yet another assault to her sensibilities. “About what?”

“When Voyager first disappeared, there were rumors throughout the fleet that your ‘observer’ had led you into a Maquis trap. Everyone was sure he set you up, led you into an ambush. Starfleet spent the longest time searching every Class M planet within striking distance of the Badlands, seeing if your crew had been abandoned by Paris and his friends. When Voyager was finally declared lost, I guess everyone just assumed he’d gotten you all killed.”

Things Tom had said were making sense to her now, and she was outraged. Was this the attitude her friend had faced while on the Resnick?

She also realized the larger implications. Voyager had been missing for over three years before they got a message back to the Federation. Three years during which most of Starfleet thought Tom Paris had gotten them all killed or captured. This story had clearly run rampant throughout the ranks. Did it even matter now that it hadn’t been true? How could Tom ever reclaim his reputation in the face of this kind of nonsense? It made her furious.

“Captain, Lieutenant Paris is a loyal officer and a fine man. He had nothing to do with our disappearance. The troubles he experienced when he was younger are in his past—and were the day he stepped aboard Voyager. I’ll be expecting you and everyone else to treat him with the respect he has earned during these past seven years.”

Wheaton was a little taken aback by her reaction. Clearly she had lost her perspective after working so closely with this bunch over so many years. “Well, I suppose with his father around to keep an eye on him, Thomas Paris is the least of our problems.” Janeway stewed, but let it go, as he continued delivering the bad news.

“I also spoke with Starbase 32’s chief of security, and she asked me to inform you that your non-commissioned personnel will be confined aboard Voyager during your stay at the base unless personally escort by you or a member of the base security staff. We’re in a militarily and diplomatically-sensitive region and we can’t take any chances.” This was getting more and more incredible to believe. “Chances on what? My people are experienced Starfleet officers? What risk could they possibly pose?”

Wheaton was becoming increasingly concerned about Janeway’s objectivity. “Forgive me, Captain, but your senior staff currently consists of three former Maquis—one of whom is a convicted felon—an alien of a species we know nothing about, a hologram, and a Borg drone. Not to mention the thirty other Maquis crewmen, and the survivors of the USS Equinox, all of whom are likely to face criminal charges when you reach to Earth. Starbase 32 is on the edge of the Neutral Zone in one of the most highly-volatile areas of space, and you’re asking me what risk they pose? I’m afraid you may be too close to these people to be thinking clearly.”

The scientist in Kathryn Janeway was beginning to make the mental calculations of exactly how long it would take her to suffocate this man with his own uniform. She couldn’t deny that—where her crew was concerned—she may well be biased. But she also knew this was just garbage. “Captain, I assure you, my people are no threat to Federation security. They have served for seven years on a Starfleet ship upholding Federation law. Their conduct has been above reproach. They’ve been stranded on Voyager, cut off from real communication with their friends and families for a long time. They’ve earned the right to make use of the base’s facilities. I can’t believe Starfleet Command won’t make allowances for the unique nature of their situation.”

Wheaton was unmoved. “That may be true. But until the formal hearings, their status is unresolved. Technically, Paris’s parole ended the moment your mission came to an end, and the Maquis are under indictment for almost a half-dozen crimes from piracy to hijacking to organized terrorism.” Wheaton could see the veins growing along Janeway’s temple, and decided to diffuse the situation. “Don’t worry, Captain. As long as they follow our security procedures, Paris and the other provisionals will be treated cordially, like any other guests of the Federation.”

“Pardon me, Captain, but these ‘provisionals’ are not ‘guests,’ they’re my crew. And they deserve better treatment than this.” This conversation was over, she decided. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a ship to tend to.” She turned on her heel and headed for the transporter room without looking back.

During their years in the Delta Quadrant, Janeway and her crew had turned their diverse and complicated backgrounds—Starfleet, Maquis, Talaxian, Borg—into their greatest strength. Each group, each person, brought to their mission a unique set of gifts that, when brought to bear in combination with the others, offered a piece of the complex puzzle that had been their fight for survival. Without trying, she could call up dozens of memories of how one or another of their talents had been the only thing to save them all from certain death.

Here, however, she was learning a lesson some of her crew had always known: that Starfleet thrived as much on order and rigidity as it did on inspiration and talent. Before she had left on this mission, she would have ardently defended Starfleet’s position. Now, in light of all they had been through, it somehow seemed short-sighted, bureaucratic, and beneath the lofty ideals she had always associated with the Federation. She didn’t know what to do about these conflicted feelings.

She was starting to realize something else: that her promise to get her crew home would mean more than simply leading them back to Earth. It would mean fighting for their dignity, their careers, and—in some cases—their freedom. She wondered if this battle would be just as hard as the ones they had fought to get out of the Delta Quadrant.

~*~*~*~*~

With Deck 1 still a hopeless wreck, Janeway called her senior staff to the mess hall for their first briefing since the accident. She quickly realized that—probably out of habit—Neelix had surrounded the table with nine chairs. It would take a long time, she knew, before their routines adapted to accommodate their losses, but she was just as glad in this case. A symbolic place for Tuvok and Harry seemed fitting for this gathering.

Kathryn had asked Chakotay to meet her a few minutes early. She needed to talk through her growing fears about the reaction her ‘provisional’ crew might face once they were home. The thought, like the word, made her furious, but she knew she had to prepare for the reality of their situation.

When her first officer walked through the door, she got her first good news of the day.

“You’ve gotten rid of your cane!” she said happily.

He was clearly favoring his left leg, but was able to walk without the crutch. “I spent the last two hours in sickbay,” he explained. “A few more rounds with the osteo-regenerator and the Doctor says I’ll be 100%.” He walked over to join her, but kept a respectful distance. Since they were alone in the room, however, he wasn’t above a personal comment. “You owe me a dance at Admiral Stewart’s house, don’t forget, and I want this leg fully recovered.”

She smiled, “As I recall, I owe you something more than a dance….” The memory of her promise made them both smile.

Chakotay was relieved at how comfortable Kathryn seemed to be with him this morning. This was their first extended conversation since she had fallen asleep in his arms the night before. By the time he woke up, she had left for her meeting with Captain Wheaton, and he worried that she might be uncomfortable with his decision to spend the night in her quarters. It made him happy to see her so at ease now.

He also knew that this meeting would also be a test, of sorts, of their revised ‘agreement.’ The new plan called for discretion instead of denial, and he was anxious to prove to her that their professional lives could go on as normal. Oddly, enough, he decided to take his cue from Tom and B’Elanna; in the three plus years they had been a couple, their personal relationship rarely interfered with their duties as senior officers (with the exception of a few alien-/hormonally-induced displays at the very start of their courtship). They proved that mates could function as officers and as professionals despite their close bonds. And Chakotay realized the stakes were even higher in light of his and Kathryn’s ranks.

So there would be no physical displays of affection, no acknowledgement of their off-duty relationship when they were outside the privacy of their quarters. And he would talk to Tom today about getting his own cabin. Still, she had been the one to mention her promise of a kiss in front of the Federation brass at their homecoming party—a promise she could only keep once his resignation from Starfleet had been accepted. He looked forward to that celebration for more than one reason.

And, while she had every intention of keeping her promise, Kathryn was now less sure that the welcome home party would even take place. She wondered how much any of them would even feel like celebrating in light of their losses, the uncertain status of the Maquis, and the prejudice she now feared they and Tom were likely to face.

She motioned for Chakotay to sit with her on the couch by the windows, and quickly filled him in on her conversation with Wheaton, the fury growing in her voice as she spoke. Chakotay, was less than shocked to find a bias against the Maquis and Seven of Nine. He was surprised at one part of her story, however. “Even when he was my pilot,” he told her, “I never really thought of Tom Paris as a Maquis. He was a mercenary, and we both knew it. After he was captured, I was sure he had been a Starfleet spy. To think that people in the Federation actually believed he had led you into a Maquis trap—it seems ludicrous.”

He was quiet for a moment as he thought of his own low opinion of their helmsman, just a few short years ago. He couldn’t figure out anymore whether Tom had become a different person or if he had just misjudged the man so badly. Probably some of both, he realized, though Chakotay knew he didn’t have the best track record in accessing character. (It was only after they landed in the Delta Quadrant that he discovered both Tuvok and Seska had been the real spies aboard the Liberty.) “Have you told Tom about this?” he asked Kathryn.

“Not yet. He’s had enough to deal with in the past few days. I don’t see what purpose would be served by telling him now.”

Chakotay respected her desire to protect Paris, but knew that she was risking Tom’s finding out from a less sympathetic source. “You need to do what you think is best, but it would probably be easier on Tom to hear this from you.”

At that, the topic of their conversation entered the room, with B’Elanna at his side. He couldn’t help but hear the tail end of Chakotay’s warning. “For Tom to hear what from you?”

The captain didn’t miss a beat. “That your career as my first officer was short-lived, I’m afraid. As you can see, I’ve declared Commander Chakotay fit for duty. Sorry, Tom.”

She was glad for the distraction when the doors opened to reveal Seven of Nine, with the Doctor close behind. The captain hadn’t seen Seven since the pre-mission briefing a week before. She knew from Tom that Seven hadn’t been herself since the accident. Kathryn was glad to see that—other than seeming a little tired—her friend was looking well.

For Seven’s part, the sight of her captain—smiling, in uniform, and clearly recovered from her injuries—was one of the best medicines she could have received. “It’s good to see you, Captain,” she offered, “I hope you’re feeling better.”

Janeway was touched. “Yes, Seven, thank you.” With that, Neelix arrived. “Shall we get started?” the captain asked.

As they took their places at the table it was almost as if they were waiting for their missing friends to arrive for the briefing. Everyone seemed uncomfortable with both the strangeness and familiarity they all felt. They knew Harry and Tuvok were gone, yet the two empty chairs were in familiar spots: to Kathryn’s left and Tom’s right.

Janeway knew, before any work could get done, she needed to acknowledge their pain. “I know everyone is probably thinking of the last time we were gathered around this table. We had a decision to make about our future, about who would continue forward with our mission to reach Earth, and who would stay behind. We made that decision together, unanimously, knowing there were huge risks involved. And we succeeded. But at a terrible price.”

She struggled with her composure as she continued. “But I want you to remember that Tuvok and Harry wanted this as much as anyone. They were willing to risk their lives to ensure our success, and their sacrifice will never be forgotten.” She took her coffee cup in her right hand and raised it into the air. “To absent friends,” she said haltingly.

Her friends quietly joined in her toast before she continued. “I’d also like to acknowledge the work you’ve all done in the past week while Commander Chakotay and I were recovering. Each of you rose to the occasion under the worst of circumstances. I’m grateful to you all.”

She knew she had to get on with business before they all got mired in their grief once more. She refocused the conversation on the task at hand. “Now our new mission begins: getting this ship put back together. B’Elanna, what’s our status?”

Torres was glad for the diversion of her report. “Structural integrity is at 78%. That’s the best we’ll do until we get to the base. We’ve put our energies into getting more of the replicators online, and to repairing the com system. We should start on the main computer next.” B’Elanna paused to check the look on Seven of Nine’s face before continuing. “That project is right up your alley, Seven. We could really use your help.”

She was relieved to see Seven take some interest in the project. “I would be…happy to assist you.” The words were intentionally chosen, B’Elanna suspected, to let her know things were alright. Or at least better.

B’Elanna continued her report. “The radiation levels on the mid-decks are dropping, but not enough for us to spend more than a few hours there at a time. We won’t be moving back into our quarters for at least another day or so.”

Kathryn realized that B’Elanna was mapping out a long-term strategy for making the ship habitable again. In light of their restricted use of base facilities, this was probably a wise move. The captain decided to frame the situation as a positive development. “We’ll be at Starbase 32 by tomorrow, and I’ve just been informed that they are in the middle of a security lock-down, so we’ll be able to stay board Voyager during our time at the Base.” No need to say why, she thought. “But I’m sure Starfleet will want to transfer us to Admiral Paris’s vessel for the last part of the trip to Earth.” Funny, she noticed, how she couldn’t bring herself to use the word ‘home’ these days.

Tom spoke what most of them were thinking. “Do we have to?” Kathryn thought he almost sounded like a ten year old being told to go to bed. His next words were just as simple, but more thoughtful. “I’d hoped we’d be here on Voyager when we finally cross into the Alpha Quadrant. We’ve come so far with this ship. I guess I just always imagined we’d take her all the way home.” Janeway looked around at the faces of her senior staff. They seemed to share Tom’s sentiments.

“Let’s see how things go when we get to the base,” she said. “But if there’s a safe way to do it, we’ll stay right here.” This required a few adjustments to their plans. “B’Elanna, make venting the mid-deck radiation the top priority. If we’re going to be on this ship for a few more weeks, I’m not spending my nights in the crew reading room, and I’m sure the rest of you would like to get back to your own quarters. Doctor, you’re the only member of the crew who can work on those decks for any length of time. Care to take a stab at a career as an engineer?”

The EMH was clearly unhappy, but he wasn’t in a position to say no. “Why not,” he said sardonically, “I’ve been a tricorder, an opera singer, and a starship captain. Might as well add Malon core worker to my resume.” Janeway laughed. He had a point.

“Thank you for your sacrifice, Doctor, but—until we make it back to Earth—everyone’s an engineer. B’Elanna, this is your operation. I think Commander Chakotay and I are going to need duty assignments.” The distraction would be good therapy for them all, she knew. And, as she always did when trying to hide from her pain, she would throw herself into her work.

But she had one final order to give before she could dismiss her officers. “Tomorrow, we’ll be saying a final goodbye to those friends who didn’t survive to see this day. Thanks to Lieutenant Paris, Starfleet has sent a Federation medical transport to rendezvous with us when we arrive. Their bodies will be transferred as soon as we reach Starbase 32. But I thought we could hold a memorial service tonight, before we send them off on the last part of their trip home.

“Commander,” she turned to Chakotay. “Would you be willing to officiate?” He’d become the closest thing the crew had to a spiritual leader, she knew.

“I’d be honored, Captain,” he said solemnly. “Though I’ll ask Neelix to help with the arrangements if he doesn’t mind.” Both Janeway and Neelix nodded.

“Then if there’s nothing else…let’s get back to work.”

~*~*~*~*~

At 1900 hours, the surviving crew of the USS Voyager gathered in Cargo Bay 4 for a tribute to their fallen colleagues.

With the permission of Captain Wheaton, Neelix had used the Resnick’s replicators to create a symbolic food item from the traditions of each of the deceased. He explained that many cultures—including the Delaneys’ Irish ancestors—considered a large meal an important part of their traditional ‘wake’ or period of mourning. In some cases, a specific food was dictated by religious custom (in memory of Crewman Weiss he’d prepared boiled eggs; for Ensign Y’Siad a basket Enob Y’Taem biscuits). Some of the dishes, Neelix admitted, had no religious or cultural significance, but were the favorites of a particular crewmember. This explained the apple pie, Tom realized—in traditional golden brown, he noticed, instead of Neelix’s usual bright green—that was put out in memory of Harry.

It was a nice tribute, even if no one was particularly hungry.

Neelix also contributed a Talaxian custom to the event. At his request, the room was decorated with personal items from each of their lost friends. The idea was to select a small, personal trinket which might evoke a specific memory of the deceased. (Kathryn had retrieved Tuvok’s meditation lamp, and Tom brought Harry’s saxophone.) As an item would remind someone of a happy memory, they were to share the story with those around them to conjure up the soul of the departed. While very few of the crew believed in the mystical aspects of the ritual, it was eerie the way they seemed to feel their friends’ presence whenever they began reminiscing.

When the crew had finished gathering, the captain took her place at the front of the room.

“We are here to pay tribute to our honored dead,” she said, beginning the customary Starfleet ritual of remembrance. “They gave their lives that me might make it home safely. Today, we honor their sacrifice with a moment of silence.” She closed her eyes and offered a quiet prayer for her crew, living and departed. After a minute, she stepped aside to give her first officer the floor.

“We all knew and loved the fifty men and women we pay tribute to today. They were members of our family. But some of us shared unique bonds with our friends. As I read each of their names, I’d like it if one of you could say a few quick words about those you were closest to.” He began reading the names in Standard alphabetical order. Allen… Ayala… Baytart… Culhane…

Some of the stories were poignant, like Mike Ayala’s secret crush on Samantha Wildman (or so said the Doctor, who claimed to witness the security guard’s accelerated heartbeat and flushed skin whenever they were in the same room). Some were funny, like Tom’s admission that it had been Harry who had masterminded all of the practical jokes the two used to play on their friends. Others were heart-breaking, including Crewman Jor’s revelation of her short-lived engagement to Lieutenant Tabor. But none was more unexpected that Seven of Nine’s tribute to Commander Tuvok.

Everyone just assumed Captain Janeway would be the one to speak of her old friend. But, at the last moment, Kathryn had asked Seven to have that honor. The room was silent now as she began her tribute. “Tuvok was my mentor and my colleague,” she said softly. “But his orderly mind and love of science drew us together as friends. I once had the unique opportunity to share a ritual mind-meld with the Commander—a very personal experience for a Vulcan…and for a former Borg drone—each of us accustomed to a life of emotional distance from those around us. For a moment during that contact, however, Commander Tuvok shared his deepest thoughts with me. I can tell you he was proud to serve with each of you, and considered many of you dear friends. I hope you will join me in remembering his wife, T’Pel, and his children in the time of their loss.”

She stepped back to the Doctor’s side, and soon felt the pressure of his palm on her back. She appreciated his silent support as the tributes continued.

Until this moment, Tom had always been dismissive of the customs surrounding death. As a child he had avoided funerals and memorial services out of fear of the unknown. Once he was older, he was able to rationalize his avoidance as a rejection of these traditions, saying they were a form of ritualized denial of one’s loss, and that the best thing one could do to honor the dead was to have treated them well while they were living.

Then at Caldik Prime, three of his friends died in an accident that was his fault, and he adopted his own “ritual of denial”: drinking heavily.

Now, however, he realized that the ceremonies and traditions each culture observed when a loved-one died weren’t for the dead at all; they were for the living. They existed to bookend the relationship, provide whatever closure one could find in such a loss, and allow the healing of the survivors to begin. With that revelation, however, he decided there was one last ritual he knew would have to happen before he and a certain friend of his could move on.

When the tributes had ended and the service was over, Tom whispered something in B’Elanna’s ear, then went to find Kathryn. This was for the captain as much as for him, he knew. When he explained his request, the look on her face told him he’d been right.

Janeway and Paris walked together to the end of the Deck 10 corridor, and Tom keyed in his security code. The shuttlebay was cold, the environmental controls adjusted to allow the room to serve as a short-term morgue. It was the first time Kathryn had come here since the accident, and the sight of fifty burial terminums arranged throughout the room was almost overwhelming to her. In one’s mind, the number could be abstract. In this room, there was only the cold reality. Fifty of her precious crew had lost their lives in her gamble to get them all home.

For his part, Tom knew now that he’d never enter this room again without thinking of Harry. He’d never forget the feeling of anticipation they’d shared when leaving for an away mission, or the hours they’d spent tinkering with enhancements or repairs to one shuttle or another—until they’d finally gotten to build the ship of Tom’s dreams. In the Delta Flyer, they could act out Paris’s heroic holodeck fantasies for real, whether diving to the bottom of the Monean ocean, or drag racing a beautiful-but-dangerous alien pilot just before she tried to get them all killed. In each case, Harry was his faithful sidekick, his co-pilot, his regular co-star in the adventure movie that had been their lives.

They wouldn’t be playing those games anymore, Tom knew. Harry would never captain his own starship, and they’d never sit back together as old men, reliving the adventures of their youth. For his second indelible memory of this room was of helping Vorik move his best friend’s body into his terminum, preparing Harry for the last leg of the trip back to his parents. There was no way he was going to let the Resnick’s captain leave his friend behind. One way or another, Tom was going to get Harry home. But before then, there was one other thing he had to do.

Tom led the captain to the far end of the room and stopped when he indicated they’d reached their destination. He unfolded the gold-topped uniform jacket he’d tucked under his left arm and turned to face the captain.

“For seven years of exemplary service as the chief operations officer of the USS Voyager, I hereby promote Harry Kim to the rank of lieutenant.” She reached over and placed a gold pip of a full lieutenant next to the ensign’s rank insignia already there. Tom then draped his friend’s jacket over the terminum, and watched as the captain placed her hand over it. She was quiet for several moments before Tom heard her soft whisper. “I’m sorry, Harry,” she said. “You earned this a long time ago. I hope you’ll forgive me for waiting until now to make it official.”

She stepped back and let Tom have a private moment with his friend. “Hey, buddy, you outrank me now,” he said gently. “No more Ensign Eager…” He looked away before he continued. “Thanks for choosing your own friends, Harry Kim.” He fingered the new pip before he stepped away. He liked to think that Harry knew and approved of this gesture, even if it did come too late.

He looked over at the captain, whose heart was clearly breaking. Yet he noticed there were no tears. Maybe she was cried out, he wondered. Or, maybe it was just time to start looking forward instead of back. He walked over to the other person who had taken a chance on him so long ago. “Thanks, Captain,” he said to her. She put her hand on his shoulder, and they walked the rest of the way out in silence.

~*~*~*~*~

As Janeway had come to expect, Voyager’s arrival at Starbase 32 was much different than the idealized ‘welcome home’ she had envisioned for so long.

The base personnel were gracious and accommodating, but there was an uncomfortable remoteness as she introduced Chakotay, Tom Paris, the Doctor, and Seven to the Starfleet staff. Whether it was the presence of the Maquis captain, the ex-convict, a Mark 1 medical hologram, or the reformed Borg—or just the overall strangeness of meeting people who had returned from the dead—there was a kind of distance, a tension she had felt earlier with Captain Wheaton, but hoped would be an anomaly. Their outmoded uniforms didn’t help them to blend in.

Clearly the others could sense it as well, for as they made their way through the corridors she heard Tom lean over to Chakotay. “Rip Van Winkle,” he said under his breath. “An old Earth story about a man who fell asleep under a tree for a hundred years, then tried to go back to his life. People thought he was a freak, too.”

It wasn’t until she walked into the Admiral’s temporary office that she felt their first truly warm welcome. As her crew was shown in and stood at attention, her old friend turned his chair to face them. She knew instantly that she would remember the look on Owen Paris’s face for the rest of her life: an unnatural combination of fear, awe, disbelief, and joy. And, she couldn’t help but notice that the admiral wasn’t returning her gaze. He was preoccupied, transfixed, as he took his first face-to-face look at the man his son had become.

She knew the Admiral well enough to expect protocol to take over quickly. This was a formal meeting first and a reunion second, and no one was more professional about official matters than her mentor. He slowly regained his control, but his expression stayed warmer than she had remembered. “Kathryn,” he said as he stood to walk toward her. For a moment, she thought he might hug her, but he extended his hand instead. “It’s wonderful to see you again.”

Her entire goal for this meeting was to make it through with her composure intact, but she instantly misted over in the presence of an old familiar face. “Admiral Paris. It’s good to see you too, sir.  I’d like to introduce you to my senior officers.

“Commander Chakotay,” she gestured in her first officer’s direction. She was glad to see no hint of judgment as the Admiral shook the hand of the man she had been sent to hunt down seven years earlier. “And I think you may recognize our Doctor.”

The EMH extended his hand. “Actually, I didn’t have the pleasure of meeting Admiral Paris on my previous visits to the Alpha Quadrant,” the physician chimed in, not realizing that she meant his resemblance to his creator, Louis Zimmerman, who the Admiral had undoubtedly met on many occassions.

“And this is Seven of Nine…” She was interrupted by the young woman she was introducing.

“My friends call me Seven,” she interjected softly, putting to use some of her well-practiced social skills.

“Seven it is, then,” the Admiral said as he warmly shook her hand.

Kathryn had entered ahead of her crew, and realized she had taken a step in front of Tom when introducing the others. She moved aside now in a gesture that felt very ceremonial. “And I think you’re acquainted with my helmsman…,” was all she could think of to say. There was an understandable yet uncomfortable pause as they all watched this most private and meaningful of reunions.

“Lieutenant Paris,” Owen said slowly, putting special emphasis on his son’s rank. It was a silent acknowledgement of how far Tom had come, and his son took it the way it was intended.

“Admiral Paris,” Tom returned genuinely—this time with no emphasis on his father’s title, for ‘Admiral’ had once been Tom’s way of reminding his father that he was often more a commanding officer than a parent. Owen also understood the significance.

Father and son smiled at each other, and the tension was relieved. “Welcome home, son,” he choked out as he embraced Tom warmly.

“Thanks, Dad,” was all Tom could say in return.

They all stood in silence for an awkward moment. Quickly, though, they returned to the official matters at hand. “Have a seat,” Owen indicated. He spent the next hour giving them a tactical briefing on all that had happened in the years they’d been gone—or at least the parts he was authorized to share with the group as a whole. He had also prepared a schedule for their return to Earth and a list of questions about Voyager’s condition: not only the damage but the enhancements—many of them Borg-inspired—they had made to the vessel while they were gone.

This reminded Janeway of her first official request. “Admiral, because of the unique modifications we’ve made to Voyager, I’d like to recommend that Seven and Lieutenant Torres, my chief engineer, supervise any Starfleet crews assigned to the refit.”

Her comments made the elder Paris shift uncomfortably in his seat. “First things first, Captain. Let’s get everyone home, get some things resolved, find out how extensive the damage is, then we’ll make a formal plan. But I will include your recommendations in my report.”

‘Of course,’ Janeway thought. If her two friends weren’t in jail or under the microscope.

Owen sensed the tension in her face and changed the subject. “I’ve heard a lot about your chief engineer. I’m anxious to meet her.”

Tom smiled, “I think I can arrange that, sir,” he said wryly.

“Well, then,” the Admiral offered, “I know how anxious everyone is to see their families. Let’s get the base crews working with your people to get that structural integrity field stabilized. Then we’ll put Voyager in gray mode, transfer you all to my ship, and we’ll get underway again. I’ve arranged for a maintenance tug to tow Voyager back to McKinley Station as soon as we’re ready, and you’ll all be given temporary quarters on the Scobee while we make our way home.”

Seven interjected before Janeway could. “Admiral, we prefer to stay aboard Voyager until we reach Earth.”

The elder Paris was surprised. “Based on Captain Wheaton’s survey, your ship is barely able to sustain the crew’s basic needs. I can’t believe you’ve stayed aboard as long as you have.”

Tom smiled. “You’d be amazed how much progress B’Elanna and her staff have made in just a few days.” Owen could see the pride in Tom’s eyes as he talked about his wife’s hard work. “Voyager won’t be flying under her own power for a while, but we’ve got everything we need to survive. She may be a little banged up, sir, but she’s our home.”

Owen always marveled at the way Tom could attribute human qualities to a piece of technology, especially if the machine could be flown, sailed, or steered. He knew enough Starfleet captains who shared that sentiment, though, and couldn’t think of any reason why he should deny their request. “Very well. We’ll act as your escort then, though I hope you’ll at least make use of our replicators and other amenities. I imagine life on Voyager is a little less than comfortable at the moment.”

It was and it wasn’t, Kathryn thought. Certainly more comfortable than the reception they had received from their Starfleet colleagues so far.

Owen continued. “Then if we’re finished here, Captain, perhaps I could meet the rest of your crew.”

Kathryn suspected the Admiral was just looking for an excuse to spend some time with his son, and meet his new daughter-in-law, but she was happy to oblige him. “Of course, sir. I’m sure Lieutenant Paris would be happy to show you around our ship.”

Tom was actually surprised at how much he looked forward to it. He loved the thought of showing off B’Elanna to his father. She symbolized all of the love and validation he had searched for so much of his life. She was proof that he had, in fact, done some things right. The couple had accepted one another—flaws and all—many years earlier and, in doing so, had given each other a new confidence and self-assurance. She was a part of his life—of himself—he was anxious for his father to see. “Yes, ma’am,” Tom said with his customary twang. “It would be my pleasure.”

~*~*~*~*~

They heard her before they saw her. “Vorik, what the hell is wrong with this dammed relay? I just replaced this whole assembly this morning. Do not tell me you shorted it out!” She slid on her back from under the panel, and right into the legs of her father-in-law. The Starfleet Admiral.

“B’Elanna, you’re going to have to watch that language once the baby’s born,” she heard her husband teasing from above her. “You’ll have to excuse her, Dad, she has a mouth like a sailor when she’s ripping an engine apart.”

She resisted the impulse to kneecap Tom with her hyperspanner, instead wiping her plasma-covered hands on her uniform slacks and trying to come to her feet as gracefully as possible considering her condition. She did shoot Paris the Janeway ‘death stare’ as he helped her off the deck. “Admiral Paris,” she said, now blushing from head to toe. “I’m sorry, I wasn’t expecting…”

The elder Paris laughed out loud and put her out of her misery. “B’Elanna,” he said pronouncing her name perfectly. “Call me Owen.” She looked slightly less uncomfortable, but would still have preferred a more formal introduction to this man who had loomed so large over her husband’s life.

“B’Elanna, I’m giving my dad a tour of Voyager, but he’s invited us to have dinner on his ship when you’re done here.”

She tried to be civil, though she still wanted to kick Tom in the shins, at least. “Sure,” she said. “Give me another half hour to replace this relay assembly and another to shower and change. I’ll meet you in our quarters in an hour.” She turned back to their guest. “It’s good to finally meet you, Admir—Owen.” The men smiled warmly at her before they turned to leave.

B’Elanna was happy to see how comfortable Tom seemed in his father’s presence, even if she decided to reserve judgment on this man who had done so much damage to the husband she loved. B’Elanna knew this was a pivotal time in her husband’s relationship with the Admiral, and she didn’t want her own feelings to get in the way of their reconciliation. She thought their easy banter was a good sign. Besides, she had to put her energy into plotting her revenge for Tom’s surprise inspection.

The Parises continued their tour of the lower decks before Tom decided to act on an impulse he’d had all day. “Dad, I’d like to show you something. Another one of my special projects, if you don’t a mind a little detour.” The Admiral was happy to oblige his son. He was hardly surprised when they’d made their way back to Deck 10 and the now-empty shuttlebay.

‘Someday walking into this room won’t be so painful,’ Tom thought as he heard the bay doors close behind him. ‘But not anytime soon.’

They walked to the far end of the room before Tom spoke again. “I wanted you to see my ship,” he said to his father softly. “We all helped refine and build her, but she was my design,” he said, though not boastfully. “I fought to get her built—at least the first time. This one is second-generation thanks to a little run-in with the Borg.” Owen noticed that Tom said this as if it were just another day in the Delta Quadrant. Maybe it had been. “But she’s a beauty, Dad. Parametalic hull plating, modulating shields, Borg-inspired weaponry, and enhanced thrusters for better maneuverability.”

His father wondered if this was what he had missed when Tom brought home his first supped up hovercar as a teenager. Owen wasn’t around much in those days, he remembered sadly. Perhaps if he had been…

Tom had already opened the hatch and was leading the way inside. “We had to gut her for parts to make the transwarp jump,” he said, only afterward realizing that his father probably already knew this. The plan had come from Starfleet and his father had been overseeing the Pathfinder project. He turned his attention back to his vessel. “I know she’s a low priority, but I’m anxious to get her space-worthy again.”

Owen stood back and watched as Tom climbed into the pilot’s seat, enjoying his son’s obvious pride in his handiwork. “So whatta ya think?” Tom asked a little expectantly as he spun the chair around. Owen wondered for a moment if this was some kind of test.

“I think you’ve got more talents than just piloting,” he said very sincerely. “If you’re not careful, you’re going to end up designing these ships instead of just flying them.” Owen feared for a moment that Tom would take that as his denigrating the skill that went into piloting. They’d had that fight before, too, he realized, and he’d meant only to praise his son’s engineering instincts. He was relieved to see Tom take it as the compliment he had intended. But there was also a cautious edge to Tom’s reply.

“I just hope I get the chance to choose,” Tom said, knowing that a substantial part of his future was out of his hands. Owen took the opportunity to take a slightly larger risk in his budding relationship with his son.

“I know you’re worried about what’s going to happen when we get back, but I don’t want you to be. I know the three admirals that will be making the recommendation on your status, and I could give them a call. With all that you’ve done with your life over the past seven years, I think they might see fit to expunge your criminal record and wipe your conviction off the books. Starfleet wouldn’t have any reason, then to—” Tom cut him off before he could continue.

“Thanks for the offer, Dad, but I don’t want you to do that.” The irony of the situation struck Tom hard. He flashed back to all of the times during his childhood when he had hoped and dreamed of his dad being there for him. Of his days at the Academy, when his father’s fears of looking biased caused Tom to be shortchanged out of grades, postings, and awards he had actually earned through his hard work. For most of his life, being the child of this admiral actually worked against him. Now, his father wanted nothing more than to pull rank on his son’s behalf—and Tom wanted no part of it.

“It’s taken me a long while to accept responsibility for the mistakes I’ve made in my life. It was always too easy to blame you or Starfleet—anyone but myself—for the things I did. I’ve learned to accept that I can’t undo the past. I don’t want to pretend now that it never happened. And I don’t want the Federation to pretend either.” Tom looked up into his father’s eyes. “If I’m going to stay in Starfleet, it’s going to be because they’re giving me a second chance despite my past. Just like Captain Janeway did.”

His father didn’t say anything, but Tom could sense that Owen was proud of the way he was willing to own up to his mistakes. It was a lesson Admiral Paris could have stood to learn himself back in his days as a young father. When his father nodded his approval, Tom decided to change the subject back to their surroundings.

“You know, Dad, I proposed to B’Elanna in this ship. I’m not sure what I’ll do if I have to let her go.” He told his father about the trans-stellar rally and the way B’Elanna had almost given up on him that day. While Owen listened carefully to the rest of the adventure that had led to Tom’s brief engagement, his mind started to focus on something else he’d wanted to do.

They were leaving the shuttlebay, when Owen made an unexpected request. “I’d like to see the bridge,” he said out of nowhere.

“Dad, it’s a twisted pile of junk. I don’t think…”

His father cut him off. “I need to see it, Thomas. Don’t fight me on this.”

When his father spoke his full name, Tom was preprogrammed to obey, and the familiarity of the feeling made him uncomfortable for the first time since their reunion. He couldn’t figure out why this was so important to the admiral. “Sure, sir. Right this way.”

They rode the turbolift to Deck 2, then climbed through the Jeffries tubes to Deck 1. Even with the path cleared by the salvage crews, it was an effort to make it inside the bridge itself. When they finally stepped through the briefing room doors, Tom could hear Owen draw in a deep breath. His father maneuvered past the exploded science station and down toward the viewscreen. He put his hands on the junk pile that had once been the conn. Tom still couldn’t tell what was going on.

“I can’t believe anyone survived this,” Owen said haltingly. “Is this where they found you?”

Tom took a step closer. “Yes. I must have been knocked under the helm console before the ceiling caved in,” he said softly, amazed himself that he’d been so lucky. “Dad, what is this about?”

Owen couldn’t look at him. “You could have been killed here,” his father said, silently thanking the gods for his son’s life.

“A lot of my friends were,” Tom offered with equal emotion. Father and son stood there silently for a long moment before Owen continued.

“I couldn’t be here with you. I couldn’t protect you from this.” He didn’t look at Tom has he continued. “But I wanted to see the panel that saved your life. I needed to touch it with my own hands. I’m not sure what I would have done if you hadn’t made it home safely.”

Tom couldn’t think of anything to say. Instead, he took a step closer and put his hand on his father’s shoulder. They stood like that, together, looking around the shattered bridge for a long while, before either spoke again. Finally Owen turned to face his son. “Do you want to talk about it?” he said gently.

Tom could only shake his head. He was too close to his pain, and too unaccustomed to baring his soul to his father, to open up this fast. “Maybe one day,” he said.

Owen nodded, then offered a chance to look forward instead of back. “Then let’s go find my daughter-in-law and have that dinner I promised you.”

They made their way back to the access shaft in silence. But something had changed. For the first time since he was eight or nine, Tom Paris once again felt like someone’s son.

~*~*~*~*~

“This is ridiculous, Doctor!” B’Elanna complained. “I’m transporting to a fully-equipped Federation starship. Tom will be with me the whole time, and I’ll never be out of contact. You’re overreacting.”

The Doctor kept working, adjusting the fetal monitor until he liked the settings. He had spent the whole day working on his temporary engineering assignment, and he was glad to feel like a physician again. “You’re either wearing the monitor or you’re not leaving Voyager. Take your pick.”

His patient stewed, but knew she was outgunned. As the ship’s chief medical officer he could put an end to her night out with one word to the captain. Her last hope was pity, “I’m meeting my father-in-law for dinner for the first time, and this thing makes a big bulge under my tunic. How is that going to look?!”

He wasn’t even slightly persuaded. “It will look like you’re very pregnant and that your Doctor takes good care of you. Besides, the big bulge under your tunic is your daughter. No one will even notice this tiny little bump.” This didn’t make B’Elanna feel any better, but she knew she’d lost the argument. He did try to soften the blow with some reason and common sense. “B’Elanna, I told you that the normal Klingon gestation period was thirty weeks. Human pregnancies last forty. You’re now at thirty-six weeks. You could go into labor at any time, and we have no idea how your unique physiology will react. Your daughter’s a quarter Klingon, you’re half-Klingon, and your husband is—well there has to be some genetic component to his unpredictable behavior. So humor your family doctor. Admiral Paris will understand.”

Why was it the Doctor could always weasel his way onto her good side? “Fine,” she said, not happy that she was conceding so easily. “But I think I’d know if I was about to go into labor.”

“Then you can stop by after dinner and say ‘I told you so’,” he said, making the last adjustments.

“I’ll do that,” she said snarled back at him. Suddenly she didn’t feel so sympathetic about the Doctor’s long day venting radiation from the mid-decks. As a matter of fact, she couldn’t help but wonder if there were other—equally ‘challenging’—duties she could have the captain assign him.

Her attention was diverted when the doors to sickbay opened and Seven and Icheb entered. B’Elanna smiled when she saw Icheb avert his gaze. One day, she thought, he’s going to get over this crush on me. She pretended not to notice the cadet’s nervousness, instead focusing on the concerned look in Seven’s eyes. “Is everything alright, Lieutenant?” she asked.

“I’m fine, Seven. I just have an over-protective obstetrician,” she said snidely.

“Yes,” Seven said, now looking into the Doctor’s eyes instead of the chief engineer’s. “He does hover a bit, doesn’t he? But I have come to view that as one of his many qualities.” The affection in her voice was obvious. B’Elanna was relieved to see that her advice to her friends might have worked. But she was in no mood to muse on the Doctor’s ‘qualities’ just now.

“Well, then, Doctor. I’ll leave you in the company of someone who does appreciate your hovering.” Her back was now to Seven, and she took the opportunity to wink at the Doctor. “And I’ll save my ‘I told you so’ for the morning.”

The doors closed behind B’Elanna as Seven moved to stand closer to the Doctor. She didn’t want Icheb to hear what she was going to ask. “Is there a problem with the baby?” The EMH smiled. Seven was taking a real interest in something besides her own pain.

“She’s fine, Seven,” he reassured her. “Though I wish I had a better sense of when she’ll make her appearance. I just want to make sure nothing goes wrong.” He didn’t say ‘this time,’ though he was thinking it. He wasn’t up to explaining to Seven the complicated story of his first and only other baby delivery. The fact that the Naomi Wildman he had helped into the world died shortly after her birth—while the doctor was overwhelmed with casualities from a Vidiian attack—was too painful for him to think about in light of the young woman her duplicate had become. The story would require too much explanation: the phenomenon that had copied Voyager and her crew, the death of their own Ensign Kim, and the painful choice the duplicate Captain Janeway had made to destroy her vessel to set them free. He wasn’t even sure he could explain how the duplicate Harry and Naomi had made it onto their ship. Suffice it to say his track record where infants were concerned was weighing on his mind at the moment.

Seven couldn’t know why, but she did sense the Doctor’s concern for his youngest patient. “She’ll be fine,” she said reassuringly. “And so will you.” Without moving, she reached down and took his hand into hers, and squeezed it gently. “Now why don’t you join me and Icheb for dinner.”

He smiled, happy to see this change in Seven. “I’d like that,” he said tenderly. Maybe this day would turn out alright after all.

~*~*~*~*~

Tom had seen his father off, then went to change into the civilian clothes he’d salvaged from their old quarters. While he knew his dad would be in uniform for their dinner, he and B’Elanna decided to dress less formally. He wanted to put himself and his wife at ease in what was an inherently tense situation, and he thought this might help. Their outdated uniforms had made him feel like even more of an outsider around the Starbase crew that afternoon. Besides, tonight he wanted to be a son, not a junior officer.

He was a little surprised to find their quarters empty when he arrived. His detour to the bridge with his father had given B’Elanna an extra thirty minutes. He had expected her to be waiting there impatiently for him to get home. As he dressed, Tom started to worry that she’d never crawled back out from under that relay assembly in engineering, considering how easily she lost track of time while she was working. He was about to hit his combadge when the doors to the lab opened. In walked a vision in aubergine velour—her favorite casual maternity outfit—looking more than a little miffed. “There you are,” he said enthusiastically. “I was afraid you were in the brig for punching out Vorik after that little scene in engineering this afternoon. Are you okay?”

B’Elanna’s anger was instantly redirected from the Doctor to her husband as she remembered his little drop-in visit earlier in the day. She’d get him back for that later, but for now she needed to vent a different frustration. “I was in sickbay getting this,” she said, raising up the purple top and revealing the fetal monitor flashing on her abdomen. Tom was confused. She’d been wearing a monitor ever since they’d beamed back from the Resnick. It was part of their agreement about her continuing to work.

“I don’t get it,” he said. “What’s the big deal?”

She rolled her eyes. “The ‘big deal’ is that it makes my already huge body look even bigger, and I wanted to look nice when I see your father. I don’t think he saw me at my best this afternoon, and I just don’t know why I can’t have a few hours without this thing sticking to me. So I ripped it off.” She was pouting now. “Which threw the Doctor into red alert, of course. He made me come up to sickbay so he could put it back on and readjust it.”

Tom smiled. “First of all, my dad thought you were delightful, which you were, by the way. He’s not even going to notice. Secondly, I thought you knew by now that—as far as the Doc is concerned—she’s just as much his baby as ours. I’m surprised he’s even letting you leave Voyager.” He stood up, walked over to his wife, and drew her into his arms as he spoke. “You look beautiful. Just the way you are.” Those words had special meaning to them now, and he gave her a quick kiss: the best way he knew to break a B’Elanna bad mood. “Are you ready to go?” he asked.

“I am,” she answered, “but you’re not.” She looked down to point out that he was still without his trousers and shoes. “I’m guessing you’re wearing more than that?” she asked in mock innocence.

“Yikes,” Tom said as he moved back to pick up his pants. B’Elanna was just as glad to have another few minutes to talk.

“So, it looked like things went well with you two today,” she asked as much as said.

Tom looked a little wistful as he nodded. “Yeah, it was kind of nice, actually. We didn’t really talk about anything—about the past, I mean—but I think we were both kind of surprised at how much we missed each other.” He smiled. “Go figure.”

He sat down on the bed to put on his shoes and B’Elanna sat next to him. “You’ll have plenty of time to work though the past,” she said gently. “I’m really happy for you.”

Tom realized that his reunion with his father must be reminding B’Elanna of her own unresolved relationships with her parents. Maybe, he thought, this could be an opportunity to let her share his own family, not to replace hers but to give her some taste of that kind of connection again—instantly feeling surprised at how reconnected he suddenly felt himself.

“He’s going to love you, B’Elanna.” He said softly. “They all will.” He kissed her again before standing up. “But he hates it when people are late for dinner, so let’s get moving.” He pulled B’Elanna to her feet, and they called the Scobee’s transporter room.

Tom noticed immediately that the crew of his father’s ship was a little friendlier than the staff of Starbase 32. Maybe it was working so close to the Neutral Zone, he guessed, that made the base staff so guarded. Or maybe the Scobee’s crew knew how much this reunion meant to their commanding officer.

As they were escorted to the Admiral’s quarters, Tom could feel the nervousness radiating from B’Elanna. He reached down and grabbed her hand, squeezing her fingers slightly. In all honesty, he was a little anxious, too. Not if the Admiral would approve of his wife, but whether B’Elanna would be able to forgive his father for the toll his poor parenting had taken on the man she loved. He was all too aware of the fact that sooner or later they’d have to move beyond small talk. But he was equally determined to be comfortable in his own skin, something Tom always found difficult when he was around his dad.

When the doors opened, Tom was glad to see they were the only guests. “Welcome,” Owen said as he showed them in. “B’Elanna you look lovely,” he offered sincerely. “Can I get you something to drink?”

She answered without thinking, “Some leola tea would be lovely.”

The Admiral looked at her questioningly. “Leola…?”

Tom laughed. “A Delta Quadrant delicacy. You’ll have to forgive us, sir. We’ve been on replicator rations and Neelix’s Talaxian cuisine for so long, it’s hard to remember what we used to eat before Voyager.”

B’Elanna blushed. “How about some grape juice?” she corrected.

“Of course,” Owen laughed. “What about you, son?”

Tom wanted a beer, but he didn’t want to revisit an old fight during his first five minutes in the room. “Coffee is fine,” he said instead. Owen got their drinks, then invited them to the living area.

Two seconds into the conversation, they all realized that even small talk was going to pose some problems.

It started simply enough: “B’Elanna, tell me all about yourself,” Owen said innocently—then realized how uncomfortable it might be for her to answer that question under these circumstances. She’d know he’d read her Starfleet file, as well as Captain Janeway’s logs. She and Tom probably knew he would have her whole history committed to memory by now. What could she tell him that wouldn’t be either painful or difficult?

“Well…” she hesitated.

Captain Proton to the rescue.

“B’Elanna’s the best engineer in the Fleet, Dad. She kept Voyager going for seven years on nothing more than the strength of her will. I’ve never seen anything she can’t fix. You know she even built me a 20th century television set out of components she replicated.” Tom was rambling a little, but Owen liked the look in his son’s eyes as he spoke about his wife.

“Captain Janeway agrees,” the Admiral interjected. “She’s asked that B’Elanna supervise the refit when we get to McKinley Station.” Oops. Another delicate subject, since no one knew if B’Elanna or Tom would even be allowed to stay in Starfleet—or out of jail—once they got back.

“I hope I get the chance,” B’Elanna said softly, then covered the awkward moment deftly. “You know, depending on when the baby arrives.”

Owen was just as happy to have the conversation turn to more personal matters. “I can’t believe you actually made it home before she was born. I wasn’t sure I’d ever see my granddaughter, much less be around for her birth.”

Considering they never dreamed they’d be home so quickly, Tom had to agree. “I know. We thought she’d be a Delta Quadrant baby. I’ll be just as happy to have her born on Earth. I hope we make it back in time.”

‘Me, too,’ B’Elanna thought as she began to feel a slight twinge across her lower belly. She was ready for this pregnancy to end, but she was looking forward to getting things a little more settled first. She couldn’t imagine bringing this child into the chaos that was currently their lives.

“So, I gather from your letters, Tom, that you two have been together for a long while. Did you meet on Voyager?” His question was answered with an uncomfortable silence before Tom finally spoke.

“No, sir. In the Maquis.” Oh. “We served together for a few weeks on Chakotay’s ship before….” He let his voice trail off. Before Tom was captured and convicted of treason. Owen already knew how to end that sentence, and wasn’t about to let the evening get derailed this quickly.

“So the two of you were friends before you ended up in the Delta Quadrant,” he surmised. Tom and B’Elanna both laughed out loud at the thought.

“Actually, Dad,” Tom chuckled, “she hated my guts. She would just as soon kill me as look at me in those days. I, on the other hand, found her totally fascinating from the moment I met her.” B’Elanna rubbed her hand across Tom’s knee as she listened to him repeat the mythology he had created around their relationship, conveniently forgetting that countless holograms, Megan Delaney, Sue Nicolletti, and Kes were also occupying his thoughts in the early days of their exile. She didn’t mind, though. She knew Tom’s attraction to her had been different. She wasn’t a consolation prize; she was the brass ring. And she had no complaints about how it had worked out.

Tom smiled back at her before he continued. “By the time we ended up on Voyager, B’Elanna thought I had been spying on the Maquis for the Federation, so she didn’t say more than two words to me for months.” Only Owen realized how ironic the idea was, but he kept that thought to himself.

“Three words,” B’Elanna corrected. “I’m pretty sure I used the phrase ‘You’re a pig’ quite a lot in those days.” She smiled. “Before I got wise to your act.”

Owen was fascinated. He had read the letters Tom exchanged with his sisters, and never got a clue that the couple’s relationship had so much interesting history. “So how did you finally end up…?” he started to ask. Once again he could tell he’d accidentally struck a nerve.

Tom looked off into space for a moment before he answered. “We were each best friends with the same guy. Harry. Harry Kim. He was our ops officer, fresh out of the Academy, and he had a habit of picking up strays. B’Elanna and I were his first two pet projects, so we couldn’t avoid each other. If we wanted to spend time with Harry, it was a package deal.”

Owen recognized their friend’s name from Voyager’s casualty list. He could see Tom was getting choked up at the memories, and was glad when B’Elanna picked up the story, her own voice full of emotion. “We ended up a threesome—pretty much joined at the hip. After a while, Tom and I got to be good friends ourselves. Then suddenly Harry mysteriously started having other things to do. He’d cancel on us at the last minute so we’d be stuck alone together. I think he knew something we didn’t.” She smiled sadly and checked to see if Tom had pulled himself together. Not quite, so she continued.

“Things just progressed from there.” She decided she’d leave out the parts about the Sakari caves, the Day of Honor, and their three-year-long fight to stay together through some incredibly painful times. But her words made Tom remember something the Doctor said several years earlier.

“It was the longest flirtation in Starfleet history.” He smiled at B’Elanna and let the look in his eyes tell her he would be alright.

As she smiled back at him, B’Elanna felt another painful twinge, this one on the other side and a little stronger. Her daughter didn’t seem to care for all this melancholy reminiscing, she surmised. Still, this didn’t feel like a kick.

Owen could tell there was a series of silent conversations passing between the couple, and he smiled. There was more than a casual romance playing out between them, he could tell. He’d known this kind of connection once in his life, though he hadn’t truly appreciated it at the time. There was a completeness now to Tom he hadn’t expected to find, a kind of quiet confidence that had always seemed to elude his youngest child in the past. “I guess it was meant to be,” he said supportively.

Tom laughed, pulled back into the moment. “Well, if it took getting trapped in the Delta Quadrant for seven years for me to find B’Elanna, it was more than worth it.” He grabbed his wife’s hand and kissed it, unaware that she was now experiencing the third of three unfamiliar pains across her abdomen. When her hand suddenly squeezed tightly around his, he could tell something was wrong. “B’Elanna, are you okay?”

There was no way this was anything more than her restless daughter’s Klingon side acting up, she decided. “I think the baby wants her dinner,” she joked, sending the Admiral to his feet.

“Of course,” he said. “I didn’t know what you’d enjoy, so I thought we’d just replicate something to your liking.” Tom smiled. His father was probably too afraid to make some Klingon cultural faux pas, he decided, not knowing that B’Elanna’s tastes ran more toward banana pancakes and chicken salad than blood pie and gagh.

“Let me do the ‘cooking,’ then, Dad,” he offered. “You two get to know each other a while.” He let go of his wife’s hand, not able to tell if the look she shot him was because of their daughter’s abuse or a fear of being left alone with her father-in-law. “I think I can come up with something we’ll all enjoy,” he said, deciding B’Elanna would forgive him either way.

As Tom moved into the dining area of Owen’s quarters, his father’s eyes couldn’t help but watch him go. He still had a look of shock and relief at the sight of his son, B’Elanna noticed, deciding she might have to forgive this man his transgressions after all. “Don’t be afraid,” she said, the Admiral not understanding her meaning. “He knows his way around a replicator.” They smiled.

Owen spent the next few seconds examining the young woman in front of him, and the scrutiny was making B’Elanna a little uncomfortable. Yet when he spoke, his words were about Tom. “I’ve never seen him like this,” he said gently, “so confident and at peace with his life. I’m guessing you’ve have a lot to do with that.”

She smiled at the compliment. “I hope so. We’ve come a long way together,” she said with some understatement. B’Elanna decided she would be honest about their situation, even if it was painful for Owen to hear. “Neither of us had an easy time before Voyager. I think it takes someone who’s experienced real pain to understand what it can do to your soul, to your view of yourself. But I didn’t ‘fix’ Tom, Admiral. As a matter of fact, in some ways I think he’s more responsible for ‘fixing’ me. Tom did a lot of growing up while we were away, and he’s the only one who can take credit for the man you met today.”

Hmm. Not only beauty, love, and loyalty, but eloquence, too. Owen could definitely see what Tom had come to love in this woman. “I understand, B’Elanna,” he said sincerely. “I’ve spent my entire life underestimating my son, and I won’t make that mistake again. But it’s more than that. I can see it in his eyes when he looks at you.” His expression turned sad as he continued, “I’m grateful that you and his other friends gave him a chance to start over. As strange as this may sound, I hate to think of what might have happened to him if Kathryn hadn’t taken him with her on that mission. If he hadn’t found friends like you and Harry Kim. He had to get stranded on the other side of the galaxy before he could come back to me, and I’m never going to let anything come between us again.”

“I know the feeling,” she said smiling, remembering making that same vow a few months earlier only for different reasons. Now it was B’Elanna’s turn to marvel. The man sitting before her wasn’t the two-headed monster she’d imagined when she’d contemplated her husband’s father so long ago. Yes, he had hurt Tom—in ways he might never be able to atone for—but he was imperfect like everyone else, she supposed. He’d clearly learned his lessons about the damage he’d inflicted on his son. And he clearly loved Tom, too. She decided in that moment to forgive him, as Tom was so obviously trying to do.

“Thank you,” she said gently, a quizzical look coming to Owen’s face. “For loving him,” she answered. “For missing him. For helping us get home.” She reached over and took the Admiral’s hand in hers. With that, the subject of this little heart-to-heart conversation reappeared from the far end of the room.

“Tonight’s menu is 100% leola root and pleeka rind-free,” he said for B’Elanna’s benefit. “Trust me, Dad, that’s a good thing. Are you two hungry?”

Owen helped his daughter-in-law to her feet and was glad when she took his arm. “The three of us are famished, right B’Elanna?” he said as he nodded toward his granddaughter. Tom smiled.

“Yes sir,” she answered before correcting herself. “Owen.” Maybe this would be easier than they thought.

Tom had outdone himself, taking full advantage of the unlimited replicator access his father’s ship provided. Their dinner included several courses, all perfectly prepared. They spent the next two hours talking about Tom’s sisters, his mother, and the restoration of her prized flower garden at the family home on the water near headquarters. It was a ‘family dinner’ conversation B’Elanna could have imagined the two men having a hundred times on lazy Sunday afternoons. Except she knew that had never been the case. At least not in the past decade, and probably not ever.

She enjoyed just watching Tom’s face as he got his father’s perspective on the men in his sisters’ lives, the latest canine addition to their family, and a very funny story about a family friend’s adventures in orbital skydiving. They also heard for the first time of the Parises’ learning the news that Voyager had been located—intact and with most of the crew alive and well—long after they’d all been declared dead. It was a rollercoaster ride of a conversation, and she knew it was going a long way toward repairing the decades of damage to this relationship.

As she watched the Paris men reconnect, B’Elanna also began to mentally track the regular contractions she now knew her abdominal pains to be. She would concentrate as each one came and went, carefully adjusting her breathing to keep this little secret to herself. Labor went on for hours—or even days—she knew, and she didn’t want to interrupt this most important of reunions unless she was sure it was time.

At one point, though, she thought she was going to cry out in pain, and quickly excused herself from the table. When she hadn’t come back in what seemed like a very long while, Tom got worried enough to check on her. He had barely gotten to his feet when his combadge sounded.

“Voyager to Lieutenant Paris.” He recognized the EMH’s voice and responded, but was confused by the doctor’s next words. “What are you waiting for?!” His friend was clearly annoyed and practically shouting.

“What are you talking about, Doc?” Tom asked, before mentally connecting his wife’s disappearance with his friend’s urgent message. “Oh, no,” he said under his breath as he took off for the bathroom door. “B’Elanna!”

He found her slumped against the bathroom wall, panting out a rhythm as the agony of the contraction overwhelmed her. B’Elanna could take an enormous amount of pain before complaining, so her inability to answer him let Tom knew how badly she was hurting. “Doc, I’ve got her. She’s having contractions.” Tom was shocked at what he heard next.

“She’s been having them for over two hours!” the doctor scolded. “You need to get her back here immediately.”

Owen couldn’t believe this was happening. “Let me get our doctor,” he said as he started to call out over the com.

Tom stopped him, “No, we’ve got to get her back to Voyager.” This was crazy, the Admiral thought, when there was an excellent Vulcan physician just two decks down. Tom could sense his father’s hesitation.

Owen wasn’t sure what to do. Voyager’s Doctor—no matter how much he had exceed his original programming—was a Mark 1 EMH, the only one still practicing medicine. “But the facilities…”

Tom cut him off, “B’Elanna and the baby will be in the hands of the best physician in the galaxy, who also happens to be a good friend. Besides, the Doc is the baby’s godfather. There’s no way he’d let anyone else deliver her. And, frankly, neither would we.” He saw the fear in his son’s eyes. “Dad, please…”

Owen called out to his transporter chief. “Three to beam directly to Voyager’s sickbay,” he called out. He saw the look of relief on his son’s face as they began to shimmer away.

They materialized in the surgical bay, and Tom quickly lifted B’Elanna onto the bed.  He moved to the control console and entered the command to reconfigure the unit into a maternity table. Owen moved himself out of the way, watching from a respectful distance as the Doctor covered his daughter-in-law with a sheet and removed her boots and trousers.

“Have you called Sam?” Tom was asking.

“She’s on her way,” the doctor said barely looking up from his readings. The physician’s pinched brow concerned him. “Why did you wait so long to get her back here?” he was practically spitting at Tom.

“She didn’t tell me,” he heard his son say in self defense. “Are they okay?” Tom asked nervously.

The doctor’s tone turned gentler when he realized Tom was not to blame. “Your daughter is fine: a strong heart rate and her blood oxygen level is normal.” He glanced at the face of the young woman on the bed. “Your wife, on the other hand, has probably had better dinner dates.” Only the doctor’s sarcasm told Tom that he shouldn’t worry. This was likely normal labor pain, and not life-threatening. B’Elanna was still panting, her eyes closed tightly, as she tried to will her way through the agony.

As the captain of a starship full of families with children, Owen Paris had been present at the births of several babies. But he never remembered seeing a single contraction go on for so long. He had never watched a half-Klingon give birth before, he realized.

He also couldn’t help but marvel at the fluid way his son maneuvered around the surgical bay, assisting the doctor without instructions and seeming to intuit the physicians needs without being asked. Apparently, he was a highly-skilled medic, his father realized. Still, he knew Tom’s appropriate role in this situation was as supportive husband and expectant father. He hoped this ‘Sam’ Tom had referred to was coming to assist.

As if the universe were reading his thoughts, the doors open and a young blond woman hurried past him. “I’ve got this, Tom,” she said as she took her station. Tom instantly dropped what he was doing and took his place at his wife’s side. Whatever actions he and the doctor had taken, B’Elanna’s face had started to relax slightly, and her breathing slowed to a more normal rate.

“So,” he heard his son say with mock annoyance as he brushed the hair out of his wife’s eyes, “we’re doing this the Klingon way, are we?” He thought for a moment that Torres might spit in his face. Instead, she grabbed Tom’s hand hard enough to make him visibly wince. Owen noticed that he didn’t let go, though. “B’Elanna, why didn’t you tell me you were having contractions?!”

The look on her face was amazingly gentle for the pain she had just been in. “I didn’t want to spoil your evening. I thought I could handle it.”

Tom just laughed. “What am I going to do with you?” he said as he leaned over the bed. His kissed his wife on the forehead, just before another wave of pain shot through her. “Doc—” The EMH answered him before he could ask.

“Her body is counteracting the effects of the medication. It’s normal in Klingon births. I’ve been prepared for this.” He adjusted a hypospray and injected B’Elanna’s neck. Almost instantly, she began to relax.

“What was that?” Tom asked. He noticed the Doc looking exceptionally pleased with himself. “A little treatment of my own creation,” he said proudly. “I’ve just tricked her body into switching from her Klingon to her human autoimmune receptors. It will stop her body from fighting off the painkillers. She’ll be able to tell she’s having a contraction, but the pain won’t be so severe.” He turned his attention to B’Elanna. “Feeling better?” he asked a little smugly.

She had to admit that she was. “Is it over?” she said, still dazed and misinterpreting the relief she now felt. Tom and the Doctor exchanged knowing glances, their medical training telling them exactly how far B’Elanna was from being done. “Soon,” Tom lied into her ear. “It will all be over soon.”

Seventeen hours later, her parents thoroughly drained and exhausted and her godfather beaming into her squinting eyes, Miral Kimberly was officially declared the newest member of Voyager’s crew.

Owen had long-since been joined by Kathryn Janeway, Commander Chakotay, and Mister Neelix, but the rest of the crew had been barred from all of Deck 5. He, along with these closest of friends, had taken turns walking B’Elanna around the deck between contractions, pouring coffee into Tom, spotting for Samantha so she could check on Naomi, and congratulating the doctor on his mastery of hybrid human/Klingon physiology. Seven had even joined them for a few moments, taking a turn holding onto B’Elanna as she paced the deck. But her friend soon realized that she could be more assistance to the couple by covering for Torres in getting that integrity field repaired and getting them on their way again. Icheb, barred from his new home in the sickbay biolab, had offered to help.

Moments after the first cries rang out from newly-filling lungs, Neelix had the pleasure of making the announcement to the rest of the crew. “Attention everyone: it’s a girl,” he said, symbolically and to no one’s surprise. “Miral Kimberly…ah…,” he looked at the couple, who then looked at each other. Somehow they’d forgotten to have this conversation. “Miral Kimerly Torres-Paris,” Neelix improvised. “Mother, father, and baby are all doing just fine.”

‘It’s all in the delivery,’ Seven thought, amusing herself as she heard Neelix’s final ‘baby update’ over the newly-repaired com system from her station in Main Engineering. She looked up to see Lieutenant Carey smiling at her. She found herself returning the grin. “From the crying in the background, it sounds like she has her mother’s sunny disposition,” Joe kidded.

“And her father’s loud mouth,” Seven added, surprising Carey with her willingness to joke with him. In that moment, listening to Neelix ticking off the baby’s weight, length, and other distinguishing characteristics, the two joined their ninety colleagues in a moment of unadulterated happiness.

In her first brief minutes in the full glare of the sickbay lights, this tiny little girl was handed into the loving arms of her sleepy parents, and, in the process, helped some very tired, beaten-down people reflect on the potential for a new and happier future. It was a life-affirming moment for a crew who had seen too much death.

Though it was only early afternoon, Owen Paris was well into his second day without any sleep. After kissing his granddaughter and congratulating his children, he transported back to the Scobee to get some rest. Before he headed for the bedroom, however, he took a moment to sit at his desk. He stared at the framed picture of a much-younger Tom Paris as he opened the datafile.

“Annie Paris, you won’t believe the day I’ve just had,” he said, composing a message for his wife. “Oh, and incidentally,” he said as if an afterthought, “you’re a grandmother again.”

It was almost another hour before he finished the letter, then finally settled down for a nap.

~*~*~*~*~

The arrival of their last-minute guest (and the disruption she had caused in their carefully-planned schedule) put the crew almost a full day behind in leaving Starbase 32. It did give them enough time to finish clearing Decks 6 through 9, however, and Voyager’s young parents were happy to be going back to their real home.

Tom was amazed at how immaculately their quarters had been restored. He had seen the disaster in this same room only a few days earlier, and realized Neelix and Icheb had gone to a lot of trouble. He held their daughter in the crook of his left arm as his right arm led B’Elanna to the foot of their bed.

“I’m not an invalid,” she said to him in what had become a familiar incantation for them over the past few months.

“I know,” he said flatly, “you’re Supergirl, able to leap tall warp cores while giving birth. Now just be quiet and sit down. Let me wait on you two for awhile,” he was almost fussing over her, she noticed as he continued. “I’ve been looking forward to this moment for a long time.”

As soon as his wife was securely seated, Tom gently swung his left arm in front of him and took another peek at the perfection sleeping against his elbow. “Welcome home, Miral,” he said as he pulled back the pink blanket lining his daughter’s crib. He moved his right hand to scoop up his daughter’s head and pivoted her gently into both hands. B’Elanna held aside the tiny toy ships suspended over her child’s bed, and watched as Tom kneeled and laid the baby gently onto the mattress. He pulled up the covers, then sat there—on his knees—staring at the sleeping child.

B’Elanna’s expression had quickly turned to one of wonder and amusement. “She’s going to be a ‘daddy’s girl,’ I can tell,” she said, smiling.

Tom looked up at her and grinned. “What makes you say that?” he asked. B’Elanna’s expression softened for a moment, and she suddenly looked a little sad.

“Because I used to be one,” she said softly. “I know all the signs.” Tom knew she couldn’t avoid thinking about her own father as she watched them, particularly in light of their decision to name the baby after B’Elanna’s mother. He wasn’t going to let John Torres ruin one more moment of his wife’s life, however. He pushed against the rail of the crib and lifted himself off the floor. He sat behind B’Elanna on the bed and put his hands gently around her before he spoke again.

“Well, you’re my girl now,” he said pulling her back against his chest and resting his chin on her shoulder. “You’re both my girls,” he added.

B’Elanna turned slightly to face him, and took a long look into his eyes. “Lucky us,” she said in all sincerity, and she let Tom rock her into his arms.

After a moment, he helped her into bed—grateful that she was now letting him pamper her a little, then he changed out of his uniform and into shorts and a t-shirt. He gently scooped up his daughter before settling into bed with his wife. “She can’t sleep with us,” B’Elanna chided. “That’s why you made the crib, remember?”

“I’ll put her down before I fall asleep,” he promised. “Besides, I was hoping the three of us could talk about something before too much time passes.” She was intrigued. They weren’t even in the Delta Flyer and Tom wanted to have a serious discussion. Must be important, she guessed, though she had a sneaking suspicion she knew where this was going. Better sooner than later, she knew, as she pulled herself up to a sitting position, and adjusted the pillows behind her back.

“Alright,” she said gently. “What do you want to talk about?” She could see Tom struggling to get the courage to say it out loud.

“Names,” he said finally. She wasn’t surprised. “Miral’s. And yours.” Okay, now she was surprised. She knew this was hard for him, however, and she let him finish uninterrupted. “I know I joked about this right after we got married, but I’d like you to consider us all having the same last name.” She knew he didn’t mean ‘Torres.’

B’Elanna wanted to be careful of his feelings before she spoke. “Tom, you’ve always been ambivalent about being a Paris. You’ve said it was more of a burden than a privilege. Why is this so important to you now?” As was his nature, Tom tried to turn his answer into a joke.

“Well, our baby has her mother’s good looks—at least she could have her father’s name.” Alright, she thought, now that he’s gotten that out of his system, the real answer shouldn’t be far behind. “B’Elanna, you’ve wrestled with your Klingon heritage all your life. You’ve tried to figure out what parts of that heritage are parts of who you are, and I think you’ve finally realized that it doesn’t make sense to run away from yourself.” He looked up into her eyes as he continued. “I think that’s what I’ve been doing: running from the Paris name and the pressures and expectations that went with it. Well, I don’t want to run anymore. Does that make any sense?”

More than he would ever know, B’Elanna realized. “Sure,” she said. “I can understand why you’d want your children to share that with you. But what does that have to do with my name?” she asked, though a part of her was coming to realize the answer.

“You’re the most important part of my family. I want to share that part of myself—not only with my daughter, but with my wife.” He knew how this boorish this must be sounding in a time when men and women had long-since moved beyond the customs compelling a wife to give up her very identity when she entered a marriage. And, despite his nostalgia for Earth antiquities, his request wasn’t in any way motivated by a desire to live in the past. “Look, B’Elanna, I know it’s a little archaic to ask you to change your name, and you know I wouldn’t ask you to give up any of who you are just because you’re my wife. But, for some stupid reason, I want this—for all of us. Does that sound shallow?”

As he was speaking, B’Elanna couldn’t help but notice the bat’leth hanging on the wall just over Tom’s shoulder, and she thought of the circumstances under which they’d acquired it. “No,” she admitted, her eyes moving to look into his. “It sounds sweet. And I guess if you can become a Klingon for me, I can become a Paris for you.” She stroked her daughter’s head as she leaned over to kiss her husband.

But she soon realized the intense emotions of the last few weeks were wearing her out. They had survived an unimaginable nightmare only to finally bring their daughter home, and she wanted nothing more than to feel like a normal couple getting back to their normal lives, if only for this one night. She knew the best way to make it feel like just another evening at home.

When she spoke again her tone had changed. “Okay, so let’s say I do become ‘B’Elanna Paris’—how in the heck is anyone supposed to know which Lieutenant Paris is which?” Tom realized she was agreeing to his request the moment she started to kid him, and he was happy to play along with the new game.

“Gee, you’re about a foot shorter than me, and then there are the breasts….” He tugged gently at the front of her nightshirt and she smacked his hand hard. He kissed her nose, then stood up to put the baby back in her crib. If this was going to get fun, he wanted both hands free.

“I mean over the com, you idiot.” He knew she was kidding, but he offered her a solution they could both probably live with. “Well, you can do what a lot of married officers have done. Just use Torres professionally and Paris in your personal life.” Actually, she thought, that’s not a bad idea.

That didn’t stop her from teasing him some more as he climbed back into their bed. “Now, let’s just be clear about this, Tom Paris: we can watch your 1950’s television and make out in your 1969 Camaro, and listen to any number of years of rock and roll, but this name business is the only 20th century gender stereotype you’re getting out of me.” Her expression was severe, but she had trouble suppressing a wide grin.

“Yes, ma’am,” he said, in his typical fashion when acknowledging orders from a beautiful woman. Of course, he couldn’t leave it at that. “Except for the clothes, that is,” he laughed. She threw a pillow at him, which he easily deflected.

“I am not wearing that ‘dog’ skirt!” she said now, practically laughing out loud.

“Poodle skirt, B’Elanna, and you promised you’d think about it once the baby was born.” Okay, so maybe she did have one ‘sock hop’ in her. At least the shoes looked comfortable.

“You’re a pig, you know that?” she said as she kissed him long and hard.

He pulled away just long enough to prod her on again. “And yet you love me,” he marveled, knowing it was true.

“Go figure,” she said, pulling his hand across her waist as she rolled over and leaned against his chest. Suddenly, she turned back toward him and tilted her head slightly. “How long did the Doctor say we had to wait before…”

Tom laughed and rolled her back over. “Goodnight, B’Elanna Paris,” he said softly in her ear, his arm wrapping significantly further around her than it had the last time they laid this way.

‘Six weeks,” he said to himself as he watched her fall asleep. ‘Six long weeks.’

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