DOTS#2: Dreams & Nightmares, Part 1

RATING

R for some violence.

SUMMARY

Part of a series of canon-consistent back-stories for Tom and B’Elanna. Picks up immediately after “Barriers” left off. Tom and B’Elanna’s relationship has gotten a little chilly. Leave it to something cold to bring back the warmth. And remember: just like “Captain Proton,” this is a multi-installment saga. Don’t expect all the little threads to get tied up in any one story.

TIMELINE

“Deadlock”

CODES

P/T, P&T&K, a little P&C

SPOILERS

Just “Deadlock” (oh, and a little “Faces” and “Investigations”)

DISCLAIMER

This story is a speculative expansion of plotlines and dialogue created by the staff writers for Voyager, specifically, in the case of “Deadlock,” Brandon Braga. It is not my intention to take credit for his or anyone else’s work.

DEDICATION

To Briar Rose, who inspired a lot of the little touches in this story. (To see what I mean, check out her two stories “With a Cherry on Top” and “The Words That Remain Unspoken”.) Thanks, BR, for seeing the same Tom Paris I see.

Text Download: CTDdreams1


Watching one of your best friends die is horrifying; feeling his hand slip from yours while you try to summon the extra strength it takes to hang onto him—knowing you’ll wonder for the rest of your life if his death wasn’t partly your fault for being too weak to pull him back—was the stuff nightmares are made from.

 

Nightmares B’Elanna would probably have if she ever got the opportunity to sleep again. But she wouldn’t be resting for a while, if ever. Voyager, what was left of her, was a burned, twisted hunk of junk. The bridge was uninhabitable, the warp coils—her new warp coils—were fused, and there was a gaping hole in Deck 15. A hole through which she’d watched Harry Kim being pulled from her grasp to his death.

So she couldn’t help but marvel at the surreal nature of her life: for now, only a few hours later, she sat behind a battered engineering console looking at a healthy and very much alive Harry Kim on the engineering viewscreen. Harry—that Harry—was on the bridge of an intact Voyager, a duplicate of her own ship.

How it had all happened was still a bit of a mystery. They’d been hiding in a plasma cloud, desperately trying to avoid detection by the Vidiians whose territory they’d stumbled into. Just as they were about to escape, something had happened—the warp engines stalled and they’d lost power. For some bizarre reason, they were losing the antimatter necessary to operate the ship’s key systems. Then they’d been slammed by some kind of proton burst—the exact kind of burst they had hoped to use to stem the antimatter drain. None of it made sense.

That was until B’Elanna received an encrypted message with a Starfleet emergency code—her code. Minutes later, she was watching her own face in the background as another Captain Janeway told them that Voyager, and everyone aboard, had been duplicated. All of the matter on both ships now existed in two slightly out of phase portions of the same physical space. Only their antimatter was untouched—explaining the systems failures and power drains. Two starships were running off the same energy source. Worse—if they didn’t correct the problem almost immediately, both ships would be destroyed.

Nothing they’d tried had worked. The situation was growing desperate.

B’Elanna realized it before either Captain Janeway had—only one Voyager could survive. And her ship had been brutalized: the hull was barely holding together, most of their systems were offline, and their Harry and the newborn daughter of their Samantha Wildman were both dead. The other Voyager—besides its compromised power supply—was virtually undamaged. If a sacrificial lamb were required, surely her ship would be the logical choice. B’Elanna took it upon herself to run a diagnostic of their secondary power systems. There was enough energy to launch an emergency self-destruct. It was only a matter of time before the captain gave the order. Then she heard Tom’s voice from behind her.

“Captain, we’ve got a perimeter alert!” A Vidiian ship was closing on their position. Without shields or weapons, Voyager—both Voyagers—were defenseless.

B’Elanna fought off the panic that almost instantly overwhelmed her. The Vidiians had brutalized her in the past. Her Klingon DNA held some of the only phage-resistant properties the disease-ridden race had ever found. If they boarded the ship, her friends and crewmates would be killed instantly, their organs harvested for transplant. She, on the other hand, would likely be saved for experimentation. She’d kill herself before she let that happen again.

She heard the ‘other’ Tuvok’s warning. The Vidiians were firing. Everyone braced for impact.

~~

Tom Paris was sitting at the helm when he heard his own voice. “Captain, we’ve got a perimeter alert!” He checked his own navigational sensors—sure enough a Vidiian ship had just dropped out of warp and was closing on them.

No shields, no weapons, and no way to escape. They were sitting ducks. Paris then had the bizarre experience of hearing two Lieutenant Tuvok’s complete each other’s thought. “Captain, they have fired an energy weapon,” the Vulcan on the viewscreen in front of him warned. Over his shoulder, the logical conclusion, “All hands, brace for impact. Damage control teams stand by.”

The blast practically knocked him off his chair. Within moments, they felt the jolt of the Vidiian ship as it parked itself over Voyager. Once again, Tuvok gave the bad news. “They are cutting an access route through the hull on Deck 5.” Voyager was being boarded.

Tom flashed back to his time in the Vidiian prison camp. In need of free labor to tunnel through the rock, their captors had allowed him and Pete Durst to survive by working in the mines—at least for a while. But a Vidiian scientist had tortured B’Elanna, splitting her into her Klingon and human genetic components. After they were finally reunited with the human B’Elanna, the guards had murdered Durst. Vidiian cruelty had no limits.

Paris also knew that—here in space—Voyager’s crew were nothing more than unwilling organ donors. Not needed for their labor, he and his shipmates would likely be dead within the hour. But they wouldn’t go without a fight.

“Tuvok, Paris,” he heard the captain shout, “Get down to Deck 5 and try to contain them.” He grabbed the hand phaser from his console and headed for the turbolift.

On the short ride down, he thought about B’Elanna. He wondered if she was scared at the thought of being subjected to such cruel experiments once again. At least her valuable DNA might save her life, he hoped. Still, he wished he could be with her as they faced this nightmare from their pasts.

~~

B’Elanna heard the other Tuvok’s warning to brace for impact. She clutched her console and closed her eyes. But there was nothing.

“What happened?” she heard the captain ask. “They couldn’t have missed.”

Chakotay said what Torres was thinking. “Maybe they hit the other Voyager.”

The captain was at B’Elanna’s side in a moment. “Hail them.” She had already started to. But there was silence. The blast had disrupted their fragile communication with the other ship.

“I’ve lost the comlink again,” she said, her fingers frantically trying to reestablish the connection.

There was never a good time to be attacked by the Vidiians, but the timing of this attack couldn’t have been any worse. Moments away from a permanent—though deadly—solution to their duplication, the other Voyager would have seen its power restored and could have stood a fighting chance, if only they’d gone ahead and destroyed her ship in time. Now both crews were in danger.

~~

They’d stopped the turbolift at Deck 4, picked up additional arms from the weapons locker, and decided on a plan of attack. Tom followed Tuvok’s instructions and took his detail down through the Jeffries tube to the aft corridor: they’d come at the Vidiians from either side, try to box them in.

Amazingly enough, Paris had sympathy for the plight of his attackers. The phage was a disgusting, debilitating disease, which literally ate away at the skin, organs, and muscles of its victims. He also knew enough, now, to realize there were innocents among the Vidiian people; he’d met Denarra Pel, a Vidiian doctor rescued by Voyager only a month earlier. Their EMH had actually fallen in love with this kind, desperately ill woman, and Tom had loaned the doctor a romantic holodeck program to enjoy with this new companion.

And while Paris knew it wasn’t Doctor Pel’s fault, he couldn’t help but be struck by the unfairness of it all. Voyager had rescued and—with the help of some donated DNA from B’Elanna—prolonged the life of their Vidiian guest. Now the physician’s own people were dispassionately killing Voyager’s crew. The thought made him furious.

He thought again about B’Elanna, wished he could see her one more time. Things had been difficult between them the past month. Paris had helped the captain and Tuvok identify a crewman who had been spying for the Kazon, but his mission required him to isolate himself from his friends, and to behave in some ways that were less than professional. He’d said and done some things—out of necessity—that had been hurtful to B’Elanna, Harry and Chakotay. He quickly mended his fences with the men after his mission was over, but—whether because of the insane hours she’d been forced to work or some decision she’d made to back away from their friendship—Tom had never really gotten the chance to talk things through with B’Elanna. Now he would probably never get the chance.

He wished for one more opportunity to apologize before the inevitable came, to tell her he was grateful for her friendship—maybe say some other things he’d wanted to tell her for a long time.

As it turned out, the inevitable was just around the corner. Paris and his crew walked head on into a Vidiian boarding party. He shouted for Parsons and Henderson to retreat, to find a defensible spot and take cover. It was the last order he’d ever give.

As he ducked Parsons’ phaser fire, Tom was struck in the back by the blast from a Vidiian weapon. The bolt instantly paralyzed him, and Paris hit the deck face first. He was conscious, but unable to move. Seconds later, he felt it as his attackers rolled him onto his back and began assessing the suitability of his organs for harvesting. Their device—part weapon, part scanner, part transporter—caused an almost excruciating agony throughout Tom’s body, yet he couldn’t even cry out in pain. Mercifully, it only took a moment before the instrument located its target organs and tissues and transported them away, taking with them Paris’s life. Death was preferable to this kind of suffering, and Tom was now out of his misery.

~~

It felt like it took forever to reestablish the comlink, but B’Elanna was ultimately successful. But, with the reappearance of the other Kathryn Janeway, their worst fears were confirmed. Over three hundred Vidiians were now taking control of the other Voyager. The odds—and the strength of the enemy forces—were too great to overcome.

B’Elanna scanned the duplicate Voyager’s familiar faces, wondered what they must be feeling. She could see Harry, frantically scanning his displays, Chakotay watching as deck after deck was lost to them. It was then that she noticed Baytart at the conn; Tom had been sitting there only a moment earlier. When Janeway paced to the starboard side of the bridge, Torres noticed that Tuvok was missing as well. The captain must have sent them to fight the Vidiians, she realized. The horrible thoughts that ran through her mind made her steal a glance over her right shoulder. Tom—her Tom— was helping Chakotay scan for signs of Vidiians on their ship. He was fine—as fine as any of them could be under the circumstances. Still she had an awful gut feeling that, like Harry, there was now only one Tom Paris on their two Voyagers. She silently thanked the gods that it was hers.

That thought led her directly to her counterpart, the ‘other’ B’Elanna Torres. She imagined for a moment what she’d be feeling, wondering if that B’Elanna would make the same decision she’d just been contemplating. She didn’t have long to wonder about her mirror-self’s fate, as she became aware of the conversation now taking place between the two Kathryn Janeways.

Torres had been vaguely aware of hearing her captain’s offer to send a security detail across the rift to help fight off the attack. The Janeway on the viewscreen declined; she had another plan. A plan that would not only end the Vidiian invasion, but would solve the problem of Voyager’s duplication. “I’ll destroy this ship,” B’Elanna heard her say.

It was almost too much to take in. Torres had been preparing for her own death, for her own Voyager’s destruction. Now, if everything went according to plan, she and her ship would be the ones to survive. It almost seemed unreal. It would get more so in an instant.

“I’m going to send Harry Kim through the rift with Ensign Wildman’s baby,” she thought she heard the other captain say. “Somehow it seems only fair.”

B’Elanna turned away from the viewscreen. She’d watched Harry die. Her Harry. How could it be that her friend could just be replaced so easily? Yet she felt a twinge of guilt as she realized how happy the thought suddenly made her.

“We’ll be waiting for them,” her captain said.

The look on the duplicate Janeway’s face was almost peaceful as she made one final request of her counterpart. “Just make me a promise, Kathryn. Get your crew home.”

“I will,” B’Elanna heard her captain say. “I will.”

~~

B’Elanna had been on her way to the bridge when the reports of the Vidiian infiltration came through. She hit her combage and called to Joe Carey. Her crew was trying to hold them off, she heard. They’d sealed all primary entrances with emergency forcefields. Still, before she could instruct the turbolift to head back to her station, she heard Carey’s voice yelling instructions to the crew. Within seconds, engineering was overtaken, the Vidiian voices now replacing Carey’s over the open com channel.

Something about hearing the sound of those voices: the distinctive, drawn, almost muffled tones of throats and faces damaged by the phage, sent a wave of fear through the chief engineer. Suddenly, all she could think of to do was to find a place to hide.

Her own reaction stunned Torres: she’d never felt fear like this in battle before. Yet she knew there were reasons—that more was at play here than the normal threat of death. She’d been captured by the Vidiians before, ripped into her component parts, tortured like some kind of laboratory specimen. She’d be damned if she’d let herself go through that again. She’d kill herself first. But before that moment, she’d take as many of her tormentors with her as she could.

B’Elanna stopped the turbolift on Deck 4, and made her way to the weapons storage locker. A hand phaser now fastened to her belt and a phaser rifle at point in front of her, she opened the vertical Jeffries Tube access and headed for Deck 5—the Vidiian’s point of entry and the place she suspected she’d find the most targets for her rage.

She found something else instead: the bodies of Lieutenant Tuvok and Ensign Davies—and no sign of Vidiian troops. She didn’t need a tricorder to know they were dead; the Vidiians never left wounded. B’Elanna had long-since realized that Voyager would lose this battle. Still, seeing her crewmates dead, the shells of their bodies littering the corridors, she was almost overwhelmed by her anger.

She didn’t have long to think about it. As she worked her way aft, Torres recognized the next victim from a distance. Her heart dropped from her throat to her toes. Tom was lying on his back, his eyes open. She tried not to think about the last thing he had seen before he died.

Suddenly, B’Elanna felt the fight drain out of her. She was battling for a hopeless cause, she realized, and she knew there would never be enough time or weaponry to even the score for all she had lost. All she’d still lose. Facing a choice now about how she would die, Torres flung the phaser rifle across her shoulder and began dragging Paris’s body out of the central corridor and into the open door of the science lab. The door’s circuitry permanently fused, there was no way to lock herself in, so B’Elanna found a spot on the floor where she could watch for any Vidiians who might come looking for new victims. She pulled Paris beside her, his head and shoulders now draped over her knees.

Absentmindedly, she began to brush the hair from his forehead with the tips of her fingers. She’d done this once before, she realized, as she watched Tom almost die from an allergic reaction after his transwarp flight. That was just over three months earlier, she calculated. Three months during which just about everything between her and Voyager’s helmsman had changed.

They’d gotten to be friends, were on the verge—for a fleeting moment—of something more, then had somehow allowed a series of massive misunderstandings to get between them. Tom had begun an undercover mission at the captain’s request, a mission which forced him to concoct an elaborate personality change that made him behave like an insensitive idiot. They’d exchanged some hurtful words. But before either was willing or able to admit the ways they’d wounded each other, time and opportunities for reconciliation had passed. She’d spent the last few weeks avoiding being alone with him, sharing nothing more than the most casual conversations.

Now Tom was lying dead in her lap as she waited to die herself—any chance she’d ever have to fix what had gone wrong was gone for good. Her friend had died alone, without ever hearing her apology. Only one of her many regrets.

She let her fingers stroke his lips, only then letting herself admit that she’d had dreams of kissing them. “I’ve missed you, Tom,” she said to no one. “I’m so sorry.” Even though it was now an empty gesture, she promised herself she’d never let him be alone again.

~~

Tom leaned on the sensor panel, his left hand supporting his weight, as he let his head rest on his raised arm. There was nothing to do at the moment; he and his shipmates were simply marking time until the duplicate Voyager’s destruction. Hopefully, when it was all over, his ship would be intact and free from the Vidiians. There were hundreds of unknowns, however—none of which he could control. Paris wished he had something to do to keep his mind off of his helplessness.

He must have sighed out loud, because suddenly Chakotay turned and looked into the pilot’s eyes. “Hang in there, Tom,” he said gently. “We’re going to make it through this.” Paris was grateful for the pep talk from a man who—only weeks ago—could barely stand to be in the same room with him.

“I was thinking about our Harry,” Tom said softly, not wanting B’Elanna to hear. “And the rest of them. We’re all going to die, Chakotay. Those people on that Voyager—this morning, they were us.” He turned to make sure Torres was still occupied with her work. “And if the Vidiians hadn’t shown up, we would have been the ones facing that countdown. I just can’t help thinking…”

His first officer interrupted him. “Tom, you’ve been in Starfleet long enough to know you never ask ‘what if.’ We’ve got to play this as it comes to us. Try to stay in the moment. Everything will be alright if we just stay focused on what we have to do.”

Paris nodded. It didn’t escape his notice that Chakotay had called him Tom—twice—for the first time in over a month, since it was revealed that Paris had been ordered to provoke his first officer into a series of convincing arguments that were all a part of his undercover mission. Maybe this crazy day would help them both move on once and for all.

Their conversation was interrupted by Captain Janeway’s instructions to B’Elanna. “Lieutenant Torres, go with Mr. Tuvok to Deck 15. We’ve got to be ready in case Ensign Kim makes it back with the baby.” Tom shared a look with B’Elanna as she moved to the door. He could tell they were thinking the same thing: she’d watched Harry die before her eyes earlier that day. If luck was with them, she was about to see him ‘reborn’ at virtually the same spot. ‘Make it home, buddy,’ Paris thought as he watched Torres go. ‘Please, make it home.’

~~

B’Elanna could hear someone coming. She pulled the phaser rifle to her chest, took aim at the door and held her breath.

Luckily she recognized the uniform before she fired. “Harry!” she called to her friend. Torres noticed he was carrying a baby that must be Samantha Wildman’s. “What’s going on?”

Kim barely took a step inside the door. When he did, his eyes were riveted on the man B’Elanna held on her lap. “Tom, is he…?”

Torres nodded. “What are you doing?” she asked, still confused at the sight of Kim holding the infant.

She could tell Harry was in a hurry. “The captain is going to blow up the ship. She ordered me to take the baby and get to the other Voyager.” She could tell an idea was occurring to him. “Come with me, B’Elanna!”

For a second, she almost considered it. “I can’t,” she said to her friend. “There’s already a B’Elanna Torres on the other side of that rift. Besides, I made a promise to Tom that I’d like to keep.” She reached down and brought Paris’s hand into hers. She was barely making sense, even to herself. “Go, Harry!” she heard herself urging. “Go while you still can.”

“B’Elanna!”

“Go, Starfleet! That’s an order! I’ll be there waiting for you. I promise.” She saw the conflict on her friend’s face, and she was glad when he finally disappeared from the doorway.

It was only then that she wished she’d said one more thing to Harry before he’d gone—something she wished he could pass along to that other B’Elanna Torres when he finally made it through the rift. Something she’d figured out only moments earlier, and much too late.

Torres looked down at the young man whose cold hand she now held. She knew that the other B’Elanna would just have to figure it out on her own. Hopefully, before another ‘too late’ came her way.

~~

B’Elanna was pacing the Deck 15 corridor. Part of her wanted to jump through the rift, to go looking for Harry until she found him, and to pull him to safety—something she’d been unable to do earlier in the day. She’d never been a patient person. Waiting for her friend to come back from the dead only made things worse.

She looked at Kes and Tuvok. “Where is he?!” she said, just before a shimmer opened in the empty corridor in front of her.

“It’s about time!” she heard herself blurt out; not exactly the warm greeting he deserved. B’Elanna just stood there for a moment, trying to prove to her disbelieving mind that Harry was alive and standing a foot in front of her. She heard Tuvok’s confirmation that this wasn’t a dream.

“Ensign Kim has made it through the rift—with the infant,” he said to the captain over the com. Just in time, she realized, since the other ship was set to self-destruct in a matter of seconds. B’Elanna watched as Harry handed the baby to Kes, then looked around at his new, battered home. She couldn’t help but notice the odd expression in Kim’s eyes when he turned to face her, like he wanted to say something, but was holding back. They stood that way for a few seconds when Tuvok interrupted. “I believe the captain will be expecting us in engineering,” the lieutenant said, before turning to follow Kes down the corridor.

“We’ve got our work cut out for us,” B’Elanna told Harry as they walked several paces behind their senior officer. She was aware of how strange and uncomfortable she felt, despite the fact that she was talking to one of her best friends.

Harry seemed equally awkward. They continued in silence for a moment before he finally spoke up. “B’Elanna, where’s Tom?”

Torres suddenly wondered what Harry had seen on the other side of that rift, and remembered the odd sense she’d had earlier that something had happened to the other Tom Paris long before the ship exploded. “He’s in engineering with Chakotay and the captain.” Her intuition told her there was something more Kim needed to hear. “He’s fine, Harry.” She noticed that he seemed to relax a bit. Maybe she wouldn’t be the only one to watch a friend rise from the dead today.

~~

Tom thought he was prepared. Still, as he watched his sensors, the moment of the explosion still came as a shock: a spike in energy and radiation signatures, followed by a clean sweep of the area. “Captain, the Vidiian ship has been destroyed,” he reported. He knew something else before he heard Chakotay say it.

“So has the other Voyager.” Paris realized it was a sensation they were all sharing: the knowledge that some version of themselves had just died. The worst-case scenario had just come true, ending the lives of people who were as much Voyager’s ‘real’ crew as they were.

Tom had never cared much for temporal or dimensional theory. Like Captain Janeway, the complex intellectual, moral, and scientific questions raised by alternate timelines or realities gave him a headache. Yet, here he stood, mourning his own death, his captain’s, B’Elanna’s—while thanking the fates that he and his version of his friends had been the ones to survive. For some reason, it made him feel a little guilty.

Paris was wrestling with these mixed emotions when he felt a hand on his shoulder. “Still with us, Tom?” Chakotay asked. It was an unintentionally ironic question, but the lieutenant was grateful that the first officer was reaching out to him.

“Yes, sir,” he answered half-heartedly. “I’ll be fine.” He confirmed this by checking the sensors for new Vidiian ships—there were none. The one remaining Voyager was out of immediate danger.

Chakotay gently squeezed Tom’s arm before turning back to his console. Somehow, the commander’s calm confidence helped Paris refocus on his work.

~~

B’Elanna timed her pace so that Harry walked through the doors to engineering ahead of her. She knew that there were a lot of people who’d want their own confirmation that Kim was indeed back among them—not the least of whom was a mutual friend—and she wanted everyone to see the walking, breathing evidence as quickly as possible.

She saw Tom look up, smile, then close his eyes as if saying a silent prayer of thanks. She couldn’t see Harry’s expression from where she stood, but watched as the men stopped and stared at each other. Just the look on Paris’s face as he made eye-contact with his best friend made B’Elanna anxious for the time when the three could spend a few hours talking through their shared nightmare, helping each other feel normal once again.

That wasn’t likely to come anytime soon, however.

“Welcome, Mr. Kim,” they heard the captain say before turning to address them all. “Ladies and gentlemen: let’s get to work.”

~*~*~*~*~

It had been a grueling three weeks during which B’Elanna had worked double shifts for nineteen straight days. What breaks she took were used to strategize plans to get Voyager back in one piece. Even her dreams were full of visions of plasma conduits and hull plating and power couplings. Twice she’d woken up with inspirations about how to solve key systems problems, solutions that occurred to her only after her chaotic thoughts found order in her sleep. Most nights, though, the litany of repairs played like a looped recording over and over, interrupting her rest.

Tonight, however, she’d be leaving it all behind her. It was Harry Kim’s birthday, and he had invited her and Tom over to his quarters for dinner.

Ever since she’d watched him step through the spatial rift onto her Voyager, B’Elanna had felt a kind of distance between herself and Harry. She felt a little uncomfortable around him, still. She’d also noticed that Harry seemed to feel the same way around Tom.

Tonight, though, they’d take a stab at reconnecting. Voyager’s Three Musketeers (she really did have to read that book to find out what Paris’s pet phrase for them implied) would be going on a new adventure tonight: a quest for the comfort they’d once known in each other’s company.

Harry had made a few requests: casual clothes, no shoptalk, and no verbal jousting from B’Elanna and Tom. Not that they’d been sparring much recently. Hell, before they were duplicated, Paris and Torres had barely spoken in a month. After they’d survived Voyager’s split and the Vidiian attack, they’d all been too busy to spend more than a few minutes together.

B’Elanna had been just as glad. She’d needed time to get some perspective on her feelings about Voyager’s pilot. It was clear to her now that friendship was the most she wanted from Tom Paris—or any man—at this point in her life. But she did want Tom as a friend, and she’d have to repair some old wounds to make that happen. This clarity simplified her situation and made her anxious to reconnect with him.

Because of the extent of the damage to the ship, replicators were reserved for provisions and spare parts only, so she’d have to owe Harry a real present. B’Elanna did persuade Neelix to let her replicate a bottle of wine—technically a provision—since she couldn’t go to a birthday party empty handed. Grabbing the bottle, she headed for her cabin door.

Just before it opened, she stopped, turned around, and headed back into her bathroom, and to the only mirror in her home. She took a look at her hair, her dress, and her makeup—though she wasn’t even sure why she cared how she looked. It was just Harry and Tom, right? Laughing at her newfound vanity, she shook her head at the woman in the mirror, then headed out the door without looking back.

~~

Tom had been feeling a little useless. With warp engines offline and the bridge in shambles, he’d been spending his primary duty shift working with Chakotay to repair and recalibrate the navigational sensors, and his secondary shift as in stellar cartography, trying to chart a course that would give Vidiian space a wide berth. All the while, he’d been unable to shake his fixation on the fate of Voyager’s duplicate crew.

Paris had never been afraid of dying. In fact, his reputation as a daredevil made some of his colleagues wonder if he had a death wish. These days, however, some part of his soul told him to hang on and fight for this new life he’d been given—that better days were coming.

After nearly ruining his reputation and relationships in the quest to find Voyager’s spy, Tom was now almost two months into his rebuilding plan. Hell, he’d almost become the model officer: early for his shifts, showing initiative, volunteering for extra duty. His boots were polished, his hair was neat, and his attitude unassuming. He’d even toned down his off-duty behavior. Once again, Tom Paris had something to prove, and he was determined to get it right this time.

The last three weeks also seemed to mark some kind of turning point in his relationship with Commander Chakotay. Tom was unaccustomed to thinking of anyone as a mentor. He’d been around the galaxy more than a few times, and had once figured he had very little left to learn. From his first officer, though, Paris was discovering something new: how to shepherd a crew, how to nurture young talent, and how to embrace life as a Starfleet officer without giving up your own ideals. His whole life, Tom had sneered at command and those who sought it. As personified by Chakotay, however, it almost seemed noble. And, maybe in trying to put the rough weeks of his undercover mission behind him, Tom had found a new and deeper respect for a man he’d once written off while in the Maquis.

Chakotay had also noticed Paris’s preoccupation with the destruction of their duplicate counterparts. He’d gone so far as to offer some counseling sessions to give Tom a chance to talk about his feelings. Not sure he was ready for that kind of direct examination of what made him tick, Paris instead suggested they shoot some pool together at Sandrine’s as soon as this repair crisis had passed, and the commander agreed. Tom was surprised to find he was actually looking forward to it.

Not as much as he was looking forward to tonight, however. Harry’s birthday was the excuse he and his best friends needed to make some time for each other. Tom had hoarded and borrowed replicator rations all week, preparing his little surprise just before he left. He grabbed the satchel and started to leave his quarters, then stopped just short of the door.

Walking into his bathroom, he took a look at himself in the mirror. Did his clothes match? Was his vest buttoned properly? When he realized what he was doing, Tom shook his head—it was just Harry and B’Elanna. What did it matter how he looked? Feeling a little embarrassed at having checked himself out, Paris grabbed Harry’s birthday surprise and headed out the door.

~~

B’Elanna was approaching from the opposite end of the corridor when Paris reached Harry’s door. He waited for her before ‘ringing the doorbell,’ taking a moment to appreciate the violet dress now caressing the chief engineer’s hips and winding its way around her shapely legs. Tom averted his eyes before she could realize he’d been staring.

“Hi,” Paris said, almost nervously as she approached.

“Hi.” Torres seemed a little tentative, too.

Rather than prolong the uncomfortable moment, Tom reached over and hit the announcer. Seconds later the doors swished open. Harry was sitting on his couch in workout pants and a t-shirt, a datapad in his hand. It only took the lieutenants a second to realize that they were both a bit overdressed in comparison.

“Harry, you said casual dinner, not slumber party.” Tom was wondering if he’d misunderstood the dress code for their little get-together, when he noticed that Kim looked a little upset.

“Sorry, guys. I just got caught up in something. I didn’t realize it was this late.” Harry stood up and walked to his wardrobe. Give me a few minutes—I’ll be right out.” Kim took some clothes out of the closet and walked into his bathroom. Tom just looked at B’Elanna for a moment, realizing their night hadn’t gotten off to a smooth start.

“Well,” he said, killing time and feeling awkward, “unlike the Birthday Boy, you look wonderful tonight.” He was consciously trying not to leer. Yet she did look…wonderful.

“You clean up pretty nicely yourself,” B’Elanna returned the compliment before changing the subject. “I wonder what’s wrong with Harry.”

Paris sat his satchel on the dinner table and moved to pick up the PADD his friend had left lying on the couch. He wasn’t above snooping into Harry’s personal database to get the answer to their questions.

“Hey!” B’Elanna chastised him for invading their friend’s privacy, before sneaking a look at the bathroom door and moving to peek at the screen herself. “What does it say?”

Tom’s expression had turned serious. “It’s your report on the hull breech—the one that killed our—the other—Harry Kim.” He felt a little bad for a moment for thinking of the dead man as ‘their’ Harry. One of many unproductive feelings this entire night was supposed to help them overcome.

B’Elanna’s expression fell. She’d read that same report several times over the past few weeks, trying to come to grips with the bizarre reality they all now faced. “I feel so bad for him,” she said, almost under her breath. “Yet, in a weird way, I know how he feels.”

Tom nodded. “I know. I can’t stop thinking about all of them. Those last few minutes must have been awful. And he saw it all.”

B’Elanna didn’t mention Harry’s asking about Paris after he’d come through the rift. She did wonder, though, exactly what Harry had seen that night.

She took the report from Tom’s hand and buried it at the bottom of a stack of datapads on Kim’s desk. “Let him go looking for it later, if he wants—but I’m not going to let him spend his birthday making himself depressed.”

Torres noticed the bag on the table. “Is that dinner?” she asked.

“Dinner and dessert,” Paris answered as he began to unpack the insulated containers. “Pizza—half pepperoni for us, half—yuck—anchovies for Harry. Though it is his birthday, so I guess I shouldn’t critique his taste in food.” Tom was pulling out the last two containers, which he sat on the sideboard, out of the way.

“What’s in there?” B’Elanna asked.

His grin was almost evil. “Dessert. Which is a secret—so don’t touch!”

Never able to resist a challenge from Tom Paris, B’Elanna was about to reach behind him—risking a serious hand-slapping—when the bathroom door opened, and the guest of honor emerged.

“Now, there’s the handsome Harry Kim we all know and love,” B’Elanna said teasingly, before walking over to him. “Happy birthday, Starfleet,” she said before giving him a big hug.

The funk he’d been in when they arrived seemed to have lifted a bit, and Harry smiled and returned the embrace. “Well, don’t expect me to hug you, Harry, but happy birthday,” Tom teased. “Now I don’t know about the two of you, but I’m starving. Let’s eat.”

B’Elanna opened the wine she’d brought and filled three glasses. They spent the next hour devouring the pizza, comparing notes on their best and worse birthday gifts, and trading jokes at each other’s expense. After dinner, they moved from the table to the living area—B’Elanna and Harry on the couch, Tom sitting sideways in a chair, his legs draped over the arm. It was a fun, relaxing night that accomplished its goal of reconnecting these three close friends.

The bottle of wine was almost empty, when it suddenly occurred to B’Elanna’s stomachs that Tom’s surprise dessert was still sitting untouched on the counter.

“Aren’t you forgetting something, Paris?” she reminded him, moving her foot to kick his dangling leg as she spoke.

“Oh, I see,” he said as he gently kicked her back. “It’s Paris again. Well, then—Torres—maybe there’s no dessert for you.” She was pushing back against the pressure of his leg in what could only be described as an impromptu game of footsie. They were staring each other down at the same time, each daring the other to escalate their competition.

It was B’Elanna who noticed the change in Harry’s expression out of the corner of her eye. He was suddenly very far away, and his mood had gone south almost instantly. She dropped her foot from Tom’s calf, and reached over to touch Kim’s arm. “Harry, what’s wrong?”

Her touch seemed to snap him back into the moment, and he plastered a forced smile on his face. “Nothing. I was just wondering if you two were ever going to stop messing around and get that dessert.”

Tom looked over at B’Elanna, and could tell they were both wondering what had really been running though their friend’s mind. By silent mutual agreement, they didn’t press it. “Well,” Paris proclaimed as he stood up and walked to the sideboard. “I’m a birthday traditionalist, myself, so I thought we’d honor an old Earth custom.” He was now holding one of the two containers in front of him, and began to ceremoniously remove the lid.

“Cake,” Harry said flatly. “That’s original, Tom.” B’Elanna was grinning, as Paris explained the significance. “My mother’s personal recipe, if you must know—chocolate fudge cake with chocolate chips, and whipped cream icing.” His friends still seemed less than impressed. “It took me four hours to program the recipe into the replicator,” he said, sounding a little defensive. Harry and B’Elanna just chuckled at his earnestness.

“I’m sure it’s delicious,” she said as she stood and patronizingly patted Paris’s arm before moving to get plates and forks from the replicator. As she turned to set the dishes on the table, she remembered the other container. “What’s in that one?”

Tom took a deep breath and sat the cake on the table. “I’m not sure I’ll let you have any of that, after your unenthusiastic reaction to my masterpiece.”

Harry had joined them and grabbed Tom’s shoulder. “Thanks for the cake,” he said with mock sincerity. “Now tell us what’s in there before we toss you into the corridor and lock the door.”

Forced to risk culinary rejection one more time, Tom lifted the insulated container and turned back toward them. He slowly pealed back the lid. The look on B’Elanna’s face made him glad he’d shared his second creation. “Ice cream!” She was practically squealing.

Harry and Tom looked at each other, each breaking into a wide grin at the site of B’Elanna’s giddiness. “Well,” Tom said as he handed her the container, “it looks like someone approves.”

B’Elanna snatched the tub from his hands and reached into the now-melting bowl with her index flinger, which she unashamedly used to scoop a big dollop into her mouth. As he watched her lick her finger clean, Tom thought for a moment that he might have to sit down. Harry seemed less impressed. “B’Elanna! For godssake, would you use a spoon?!”

Torres ignored his scolding, but handed Kim the container. “Vanilla bean with chocolate chips,” she was purring. “Good job, Lieutenant.”

Tom didn’t seem to notice that he’d regressed even further from Paris to Lieutenant. She seemed to mean it as a compliment, anyway, and he was still trying to get the image of her sucking the ice cream off her finger out of his mind. Harry broke him out of his stupor by reaching past Tom for a knife.

“Wait!” Paris yelled as he saw the knife head for the cake. “You didn’t make a wish!”

Harry rolled his eyes. “Yeah, and I haven’t done that since I was, what, ten years old? Besides, there’s no candle.”

Tom reached into his vest pocket to solve that problem. He placed the tiny candle in the middle of the cake, then grabbed the laser welder from the bottom of his satchel. Seconds later, a little flame danced in front of Kim’s face. “Voila!” Paris offered, a little proud of himself. “Now make a wish and blow it out.”

Harry looked back and forth from Tom to B’Elanna several times, then a small smile raised one corner of his mouth. “Got it,” he said cryptically, before a gentle puff of breath put out the flame. “Can I cut it now?”

Tom resisted the urge to ask what his friend had wished. Not only did superstition say a shared wish wouldn’t come true, he suspected Harry’s entreaty had something to do with him and B’Elanna. He wasn’t sure he wanted to know.

Carrying plates piled high with ice cream-covered cake, they moved back to their original spots in the living area. Harry seemed more at ease than he had all night, and their conversation immediately took a turn for the silly.

“If you were a flavor of ice cream,” Tom was asking, “what would you be?”

B’Elanna rolled her eyes. “Give me a break! That’s a ridiculous question.” Still, she seemed to be thinking about her answer.

Harry was laughing. “I know what you’d be, Tom: Rocky Road.” For some reason—maybe her three glasses of wine—B’Elanna thought this was hysterical.

“Oh, really, Harry?” Tom feigned indignation. “Well, you are so orange sherbet, it isn’t even funny.”

This, too, seemed to tickle B’Elanna’s funnybone. “Oh, gods, you are so right!”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Kim asked, laughing—but totally clueless.

“It means,” Tom explained, “that you don’t even have the guts to be ice cream.” He turned to the almost-snorting woman sitting across from him. “B’Elanna, on the other hand—” he smiled at Harry, and then men spoke in unison:

“Hot fudge sundae!” It was Harry’s turn to howl at their mutual observation. It was B’Elanna’s turn not to get it. Tom saw the confused expression on her face, but was almost afraid to explain.

“Well,” he started off slowly, all sorts of unspeakable imagery coming to his mind, “you’re equal parts hot and cold, and every man on board thinks you’re delicious.” He’d blurted out this last part without really thinking. There was an awkward pause for a minute as B’Elanna decided how to take his last comment.

The look in her eyes made Tom sigh in relief. She was laughing. Her next look made him duck: she had scooped up a melting clump of ice cream, and was turning her spoon toward him. “You wouldn’t!” he growled.

“Wouldn’t I?” she purred. And with a flick of her wrist, Tom Paris was now wearing B’Elanna’s dessert as an accessory. The vanilla ice cream—speckled with cake crumbs—was now dripping from his face to his shirt, with a little bead running in a stream down his neck. Too bad for him that he’d eaten so quickly. Paris was now unarmed.

His look back at B’Elanna was equal parts annoyance and admiration. “If you’ll both excuse me for a minute,” Paris said as he stood up, the one solid clump of ice cream now bouncing down his vest and onto his shoe, I think I need to wash up.”

As he watched his giggling friends, Tom headed for the bathroom, grateful that he’d only gotten ice cream instead of a fist in his face. ‘Hot fudge sundae,’ he thought to himself. ‘I can’t believe I said that.’

Harry and B’Elanna were sitting alone on the couch, while Tom washed the ice cream off his face, hands, vest, and shoes. She was barefoot and leaning against Harry’s shoulder, with her feet on the edge of what had been Tom’s chair. Exhausted from the wine and the ice cream fight, they knew the evening was winding down. Harry took the opportunity to ask B’Elanna something he’d wanted to know for a while.

“You blame yourself, don’t you?” he said unexpectedly.

Kim’s comments made her sit up and turn to face him. “Blame myself for what?”

Harry couldn’t look at her. “‘Ensign Kim was holding onto the Jeffries tube ladder, when I called for him to give me his hand.’” She recognized the words: he was quoting her official report. “‘I thought I could pull him back, away from the opening, but the force of the vacuum was too strong. His hand slipped out of mine and he was gone.’” For the first time, Harry looked up into her eyes. “You blame yourself for losing your grip on his hand, don’t you. For his death.”

B’Elanna looked away. “I guess maybe I did. For a while. I’m sorry about that Harry. I tried to pull you back. I would have held onto you if I could have. I hope you believe that.”

He turned to look her in the eye. “I know you did everything you could. But it wasn’t me, B’Elanna. I wasn’t the person who got sucked out of that breech. And if you had been able to pull him back in, I’d be dead now.”

She hadn’t thought about it that way. B’Elanna understood now how hard this must be on Harry. Somehow, his words helped relieve the nagging guilt she’d had since the moment of the accident. In a bizarre way, that Harry’s death had saved her Harry’s life. It was only then that she realized she now thought of the man sitting in front of her as ‘her’ Harry once again.

The moment made her feel close to Kim in a way she hadn’t since he’d stepped through the rift. She took advantage of that feeling to ask him her own difficult question. “Before you came aboard,” she said softly. “You saw something, didn’t you?”

Harry nodded, but he didn’t speak. She pressed on. “You saw us, Tom and me?” He looked away from her once again. “It’s alright. Whatever happened, Harry, we’re here now. We’re both okay.” Still, he couldn’t meet her gaze. “Do you want to talk about it?”

Kim closed his eyes. Part of him seemed to want to unburden himself, yet she could see him struggling. “I ran into you after I got the baby from the Doc.” Still he hesitated. “I wanted you to come with me. You said you couldn’t—that there was already a B’Elanna Torres waiting for me here. You ordered me to leave without you.”

B’Elanna realized that Harry’s burden and hers had been very similar. She reached out and touched his hand. “That must have been hard for you,” she said softly. “To leave us behind.” Something about the word ‘us’ caused Kim to flinch. She didn’t need to ask; she’d already suspected that Tom was dead at that point.

She did have one question—one she wasn’t sure why she wanted the answer to. “Was I with him when he died?”

Harry closed his eyes again; B’Elanna could see a tear forming under his lashes. “I don’t think so. If you had been, they would have killed you, too. But once you found him you wouldn’t leave him behind. So I left. I took the baby and I left without you.”

She pulled her friend into her arms as they both tried to wrestle these feelings to the ground. Harry hugged her tightly, as she held and rocked him gently.

Tom stepped out of the bathroom significantly less sticky than when he’d gone in, but a little wetter. He was about to make some joke about Torres licking him clean when he saw them sitting on the couch. Harry was leaning against B’Elanna, she seemed to be comforting him. Maybe she’d finally gotten him to talk about the accident, Tom guessed. He hoped that’s what had happened.

Still, the sight of his two best friends in this very private moment made him feel a little like an interloper. They were sharing something he couldn’t, and he considered stepping back into the bathroom to give them some more time alone. Instead, though, he just stood and watched, becoming aware of another feeling that was creeping under his skin.

He was jealous. Not that he believed there was anything sexual about their embrace. Hell, even if there had been, what business was it of his? It was their emotional connection he envied. They were sharing parts of their souls, he could tell—a kind of emotional intimacy that Paris found incredibly difficult to achieve, even with his closest friends. He could never seem to put down the mask or the jokes long enough to share a real emotion with anyone. And, at this moment, as he watched the connection his friends were sharing, that realization made him very sad.

Paris noticed Harry open his eyes, then pull back uncomfortably at the sight of him—like he’d been caught doing something wrong. Tom covered the awkward moment in typical fashion. “Well, I’ve learned my lesson about sharing my ice cream with the two of you,” he said lightly.

B’Elanna sat up and turned to face him. It looked to Tom like she might have been crying. He’d never seen her cry before—wasn’t sure she was even capable of it. That thought made him feel ridiculous. She had deep feelings, he knew, and a lifetime of accumulated pain. Of course she cried. Still, she seemed just as anxious as Harry to cover up her tears. “Yeah, well,” she said flippantly, “you use what weapons you have at the time.” She stood up and looked for her shoes. “Now if you two will excuse me, I have got to get some sleep.”

“Me, too,” Tom said, suddenly glad they could go their own ways for a while. “Happy birthday, buddy,” he said to Harry as he picked up his now-empty satchel and headed to the door. He smiled, which seemed to make Kim feel a little bit better about the scene Tom had just interrupted. “Night, B’Elanna,” Paris said as he turned to leave.

“Wait, Tom,” she called to him as she slipped her shoes back on. “Walk me home?” He was surprised, but tried not to show it.

“Sure.” He watched as B’Elanna gave Harry another hug—a little longer and a little tighter than her standard goodbye, then she wished him a happy birthday and joined Paris at the door.

Tom noticed before he turned away that Harry was giving him a strange look, like Kim knew something Paris didn’t know about himself. “Thanks for a great party,” Harry said as they left.

Tom wondered for a moment what his friends had been discussing. B’Elanna didn’t seem inclined to share. “Is he alright?” Paris finally asked her.

“He’ll be fine now,” she answered quietly.

Tom gave her a chance to say more, but she didn’t. “Are you alright?” he wondered.

B’Elanna seemed a little uncomfortable, but she didn’t back away from the question. “I’ll be fine, too.” She didn’t elaborate, and Tom didn’t ask.

As they got in the turbolift, B’Elanna turned to face him. “Tom, I’m sorry about the way I treated you during the whole Jonas thing. I should have realized you were up to something. And I should have said something after you came home. I didn’t mean to avoid you—I was just busy with the repairs. Then it just seemed too late to say anything. I feel really terrible about the way I treated you.”

This was all pouring out of her in a stream of words. Unexpected words—her apology seemed to come out of nowhere. Still, it was an opportunity, which Paris seized.

“No, B’Elanna, I’m the one who’s sorry. I hated lying to you, but that was no reason for me to scream at you like that. You were only trying to help—to be my friend—and I should have found a way to leave you out of it. I hurt your feelings, and I never meant to do that.”

They’d each blurted out their rambling apologies without really thinking—the wine and the emotions of the past few weeks catching up with them. They now stood facing each other, neither quite sure what to say next. The lift doors opened, offering the distraction they both now needed.

As they walked to B’Elanna’s door, Tom thought for a moment about the scene he’d stumbled into a few minutes earlier. He took a chance and said something he’d been thinking since that time. “I’m glad you were there for Harry,” he said softly. “This whole thing has been really hard on him—feeling like an outsider on his own ship.”

She hadn’t realized until then how much Tom had seen when he’d left the bathroom. “He was there for me, too,” she said. “He was there for both of us.” This last comment was cryptic, but he didn’t ask what she meant.

They were outside her quarters now. “Night, B’Elanna,” he said as he turned to leave.

“Tom,” she called to him as he started to walk away. “The cake was delicious. And the ice cream, too.” She managed to call up a fairly wicked expression considering their serious conversation a moment earlier. “Better put those clothes in the refresher before they stain.” She smiled at him one more time, then let her cabin doors close behind her.

Paris just shook his head. So maybe he and B’Elanna weren’t as comfortable baring their souls as she’d been with Harry. Somehow he knew they had their own private language, where a look and a touch said more than their words. Still, the universal translator hadn’t been programmed for this one. He hoped, one day, he’d feel surer of his internal Torres to Paris dictionary.

~*~*~*~*~

B’Elanna changed out of her dress and into pajamas. She thought for a moment about the look on Paris’s face when she’d hit him with the ice cream, then remembered why she had thrown it. So, she was hot and cold and delicious, huh? She loved and hated this description all at the same time. And, of course it was ridiculous. She’d never been a particular favorite of the men in her company. Not unless it was to satisfy their curiosity about Klingon women. Still, Paris had said it with a kind of sincerity that forced her to take it as a compliment.

And she’d had a fun night. She and Harry had finally gotten a chance to talk about their own forms of survivor guilt, and she and Tom had actually apologized to each other for their long-running cold war. As her head hit the pillow, a slowly sobering Torres realized she hadn’t felt this way in a long while: calm, peaceful, and happy.

~~

Tom barely let his cabin doors close before he stripped out of his damp, stained vest and shirt and threw them in the refresher. He didn’t even stop to pick up a change of clothing before heading into the shower—water tonight, not sonic.

A jumble of images was running through his groggy mind: B’Elanna in that purple dress, Harry looking depressed and dejected when they’d arrived, his friends faces as they shared stories over dinner, her expression when he uncovered the ice cream, the room spinning when he watched her taste it, the evil expression she wore just before she launched her frozen assault, the sight of Harry and B’Elanna embracing as he walked in on them. It was all confusing and confounding.

He reached for the soap and lathered his face and hair, letting the water pour over his head as he tried to make sense of the memories. For some reason, he started picturing the look on B’Elanna’s face as he’d left her at her door. She was almost flirting with him. Must have been the wine.

He leaned over and hit the shower controls. It only took a second for the water to turn cold. ‘I can’t believe I called her delicious,’ he berated himself. Still, that didn’t mean it wasn’t true.

~*~*~*~*~

End Part 1

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