DOTS#4: Dreams & Nightmares, Part 3

RATING

R

SUMMARY

Another in my ongoing series of “Connect the P/T Dots” stories, immediately following “Resolutions.” Things are changing, not only for Tom and B’Elanna, but for Voyager’s captain and first officer. Is this the beginning of a new life, or just a prelude to another nightmare?

TIMELINE & SPOILERS

“Resolutions” through “The Basics”

CODES

P/T, P&T&K, T&C

DISCLAIMER

Michael Piller wrote a wonderful two-part Voyager episode called “The Basics,” much of which is described in this story. It is not my intention to claim credit for his well-crafted work.

NOTE

This story is crying out for a J/C companion piece. Apologies to my J/C friends who get only a taste of satisfaction from my references to this budding relationship. (Update: rumor is that one of my J/C friends is going to write the companion stories for this series! Details to follow…) Also, for the record, I don’t intend to include references to every episode shown. Only those that, in my opinion as the author of this opus, advance the Paris/Torres relationship. There are several reasons for this, not the least of which are my desire to have a life and my impatience to get to the “good stuff”…

THANKS

As always to the best betas a girl could have: Bobbie, LA, Linda, Liz, and the new token man on the team, Devin.

Text Download: CTDdreams3


Of all the decisions she was forced to make as a responsible adult woman, there was one that drove B’Elanna absolutely crazy: what to wear to a formal event. Clothes held no particular interest for her, and her instincts told her to run in the opposite direction from any situation that required a sense of fashion. In many ways, she was glad to have a job that required a uniform—she usually didn’t even have to think about coordinating colors or if her shoes matched her outfit.

Tonight was a special occasion, though. Captain Janeway and Commander Chakotay were cured of their virus and safely back aboard Voyager, the Vidiians were nowhere in sight, and Voyager was back on course for the Alpha Quadrant. In honor of their rescued command team, Neelix had planned a formal ‘welcome home’ dinner. The captain seemed rather subdued after the whole experience and had talked him out of a grand party for the whole crew, but agreed to an intimate gathering of the senior staff. They were expected in Holodeck 1—dressed appropriately—at 2000 hours.

It was one of the rare moments when B’Elanna wished she were closer friends with some of the other women on the ship. Her entire life, the few close friends she’d had were almost always men—usually safe men at that—and her pattern was proving true again on Voyager. Kes was the closest thing Torres had to a girlfriend these days, and she couldn’t see herself asking for fashion advice from someone who was barely two years old. Besides, the little B’Elanna did know about her preference in clothing told her that she and Kes had very different taste.

So she was on her own.

Complicating the decision was a question she couldn’t even admit to asking: elegant or sexy? The second the thought came close to her consciousness, she tried to shake it off. This was a professional gathering. Sure, she’d be surrounded by people she knew better than her own family, but this wasn’t the time for a conspicuous display. Still, she knew she wanted to feel pretty—as pretty as she ever could feel, all things considered—and part of her was almost ready to admit why:

Somewhere, crawling out from the deepest shadows of her fears, was a growing interest in impressing Tom Paris.

In the last month (during their journey back to the planet Chakotay and the captain had named ‘New Earth’), she and the helmsman had taken up a new sport: stealth flirting. Not the sort of name-calling, taunting flirtation they’d played off and on for the past year. This was a more understated—and more frightening—dance. Tom had stopped trying to fix her up with every unattached crewman; she’d stopped reminding him that she wasn’t looking for a relationship.

But the closer they got to acknowledging their mutual interest, the more they both seemed to watch every single step. There were no more meals without Harry, no more casual dances, and no admitting that they’d stopped looking at anyone else. It was as if—by not speaking about it or acting on it—they were protecting the possibilities. And for now, that was enough for B’Elanna.

However, this was a special occasion, and she wanted to look nice. Finally just closing her eyes and punching a code into the replicator, she decided to take her chances. Besides, she told herself, she could always recycle it if it were hideous.

But it wasn’t. In her hands she now held a sleeveless velvet dress in a deep shade of violet. It was on the short side, with a square neckline and just enough in the way of tailoring to conform to her well-toned body. She decided to keep it.

As she got dressed, part of her felt ridiculous for getting this caught up in her appearance. However, that didn’t stop her from checking her makeup five times before heading to the holodeck.

~~

Tom checked the chronometer. Harry would be picking him up in less than five minutes. Which was fine, because he’d been ready for the last fifteen.

He was looking forward to this party. It had been two and a half months since they’d been forced to leave the captain and Chakotay on ‘New Earth.’ Those months had almost changed everything—in ways that would have made their seventy-year trip home feel twice as long. Not the least of which was the thought of serving indefinitely as first officer on a ship with Tuvok in command. Despite his respect for the Vulcan, Tom could hardly imagine a less interesting job or two officers less likely to agree on how Voyager should be run.

Thankfully, the command team was home now, and Tom’s only duty was to pilot the ship. He’d worked the last of his double shifts two days ago, and was anxious for the opportunities his extra free time would now give him.

He’d been thinking for almost a month about something Harry had said: that Tom should admit that he was crazy about B’Elanna and ask her out on a real date. Until now, Paris had been too busy to even consider it. But he’d also needed time to get comfortable admitting his attraction to Torres to himself. This was a totally foreign feeling and he needed to test drive it for a while.

Sure, he’d had serious relationships before, including two different ‘head-over-heels’ romances at the Academy. But in retrospect, they had been the starry-eyed infatuations of youth—all hearts and flowers, very little substance. As he slowly allowed himself to think about the feelings he’d been having recently, he realized he was in new and uncharted space.

First of all, he could be himself around B’Elanna. She’d been his friend for over a year—a close friend for over six months. She’d seen him at his best and worst and seemed to accept him either way. He didn’t have to turn off his sense of humor or his wry view of the world to fit some narrow definition of a responsible man. Yet she was comfortable enough with him to give him hell when he was being a jerk.

He also knew that—unlike some of his other relationships where one person or the other had dominated—he and B’Elanna were an equal match. She met his verbal jousts parry for parry, she was as good at the job she loved as he was at his, and he was pretty sure they’d be even odds in a barroom brawl. She wasn’t intimidated by him, and he liked that.

They were the same in other ways, too, that Paris was only vaguely able to admit. They’d both been abandoned by the fathers they once adored, B’Elanna literally, Tom emotionally. They both believed at some core level that their abandonment had been their fault. And they both wore shields of armor that kept everyone else at a safe distance. She also had a depth that Paris had rarely seen in anyone so young. Somehow he knew he could spend years trying to peel back the layers of complication and contradiction that made up B’Elanna Torres without ever getting bored with the challenge. There were stories inside her; stories he wanted to know.

He knew long before he’d ever had an inkling of romantic interest that B’Elanna was someone he wanted in his life. Yet, in a way, their close friendship had complicated things: fear of alienating her had stopped him from taking the kinds of chances necessary to move their relationship to a new level.

And even though they probably made the most unlikely couple in the Delta Quadrant, they both seemed to be considering a deeper relationship. At least Tom hoped it was mutual; B’Elanna had been surprisingly responsive when his hinting around kicked into high gear a few weeks earlier. Maybe tonight he’d get the courage to find out.

Five minutes early—as usual—the most punctual ensign in Starfleet showed up at his door. Appropriate to their instructions, Kim was wearing an elegant gray suit with a banded collar. “Hey, you clean up well,” Tom said at the unusual sight of Harry dressed to the nines. “Too bad Jenny Delaney won’t get to see you in that.”

Kim faked a scowl. “For the tenth time, I am not interested in Jenny Delaney!” Looking over Tom’s impeccably tailored jacket and vest, Harry had his own ammunition. “Besides, I don’t think I’m the one who dressed to impress someone.”

Knowing when to quit while he was behind, Tom headed for the door. Kim was right on his heels. “So, are you gonna ask her tonight?”

Paris glanced around for eavesdroppers. “I don’t know. I’m just gonna play it by ear and see how it goes.”

Harry laughed. “You’ve been playing it by ear for over a month now. Maybe it’s time for a formal plan of attack.”

Tom was getting agitated. “First of all, Harry, I don’t think you’re in a position to give me advice about my love life. Second…shut up.”

Harry was taken aback. “Hey, I was only…”

“Shut up!” Tom insisted, nodding down the corridor. Neelix and Kes were heading toward them from the other direction. “Neelix,” Paris tried to sound casual as they met at the holodeck doors, “how did it turn out?”

His friend was beaming. “It’s perfect, as I would have expected from someone with your skill as a holoprogrammer. Thank you for the suggestion.”

Neelix keyed in a security code and the doors opened to reveal the elegant cabin of an old sailing ship. In the center of the room sat a dining table with eight china place settings. “It’s beautiful,” Kes said as they stepped inside. “What is this place?”

Tom’s pride was showing when he answered. “It’s a Clipper ship. They were used as merchant and cargo vessels in Earth’s 17th century, but later they were revived and adapted for passengers. This one is called the Lady Chesapeake.”

“If you think that’s something,” Neelix said as he opened the cabin door and led them onto the deck, “take a look at this.”

They now stood under a starlit sky, a cool breeze blowing from off the water, and the lights of shoreline illuminating the horizon. The ship was decorated with dozens of small lanterns, each throwing off just enough light to keep the guests from tripping over the rigging. They could hear the music from a distant orchestra and the steady thumping of the sea against the hull. The boat was at anchor, and rocked gently with the lapping of the waves.

“Tom!” Kes gasped. “This is amazing. Where are we?”

Paris moved to lean against the railing. “Earth. Just off the coast of Cape May, New Jersey, circa 1943.” He pointed to the shoreline, which was dotted with gingerbread homes and large, elegant mansions. One in particular seemed to be lit up for a party. They could see the bandstand just off the large veranda. “That’s the historic Chalfonte Hotel. Tommy Dorsey and his orchestra are playing there tonight.”

Though they didn’t know Tommy Dorsey from Tom Thumb, his friends were impressed nonetheless. Except for Harry, who was holding onto the railing. With each gentle rock of the boat, Kim turned the palest shade of green. Tom was about to ask him if he was okay when they heard the cabin door slam. Paris turned around to see B’Elanna and Chakotay step onto the deck arm in arm.

Neelix was eager to greet them. “Welcome, Commander! One of our guests of honor! I don’t suppose you ran into the captain on your way here? It’s not like her to be late.”

Chakotay suddenly looked uncomfortable. “No, Neelix, we didn’t see her. I’m sure she’ll be along any minute.”

He wasn’t the only one suddenly uncomfortable. Tom realized that the sight of B’Elanna on another man’s arm was suddenly making him a little green, too. She caught his eye and seemed to realize how things might look. Her hand dropped to her side and she took a step away from the first officer.

As Neelix and Kes engaged Chakotay in conversation, B’Elanna walked over to her two best friends. “Hi,” she said tentatively.

“Hi,” Paris answered, sounding a little more upset than he’d known he was.

They stood there for a moment, no one sure what to say. Harry, suddenly feeling like a third wheel—and needing to get the bobbing shoreline out of his line of sight—excused himself. Without knowing why, B’Elanna felt the need to explain.

“I ran into Chakotay just outside the holodeck,” she said casually. “He seems a little down.”

“Oh.” Tom wanted to sound like he didn’t care. Somehow that’s not how it came across.

Before she could say anything else, they heard Neelix’s booming greeting. “Captain! And Mister Vulcan, so happy you could join us!” Tom couldn’t help but notice that Janeway looked supremely uncomfortable, her face a mask she seemed to be hiding behind. She stood next to Tuvok, and Paris thought an uninformed person might wonder which one was the expert at controlling their emotions.

“Thank you, Neelix,” Janeway said softly. “I hope we haven’t kept you waiting long.”

“Not at all, Captain,” the Talaxian lied. “You were right on time. Now if everyone would like to step inside, dinner is served.”

Neelix held the door as the officers filed in. As Torres stepped away from the railing, Tom called to her. “B’Elanna.” A little afraid of what he would say after their uncomfortable greeting, she turned around slowly. She was happy to see that he was smiling. “You look really nice tonight.”

She returned the smile. “You, too.” She stepped back toward him and tucked her hand under his elbow. Tom crooked his arm and led her back inside.

Neelix had insisted on a formal seating arrangement, and the officers each found their name spelled out in a handwritten script. Captain Janeway and Chakotay, as the guests of honor, each sat at opposite ends of the table. B’Elanna was to the commander’s left, across from Tom. Harry was next to B’Elanna and across from Kes. Neelix and Tuvok sat next to the captain.

“Where’s the Doctor?” Kes asked.

Neelix made a face. “He called me this afternoon to make his regrets. Apparently, he’d scheduled a parenting class with Ensign Wildman and didn’t want to cancel it. Sometimes I think that man forgets exactly who little Naomi’s godfather is!”

The officers smiled. The growing tug-of-war between Neelix and the Doctor for bragging rights to Voyager’s first baby was turning into a full-fledged competition.

“Neelix,” Tom changed the subject. “What’s for dinner?”

On cue, holographic waiters appeared from the galley. In keeping with the nautical theme, the menu was mostly seafood, starting with a rich crab bisque. As the soup was set out and the wine poured, Tom thought he heard a thump under the table. Suddenly Neelix was nodding at Tuvok, who glared back at the morale officer, but who nonetheless raised his glass.

“I’d like to propose a toast,” the lieutenant said stiffly. “To Captain Janeway and Commander Chakotay. We know the last few months may have been filled with hardship. We hope that your days in exile brought you a new appreciation for this ship and her crew and for each other. We welcome you home.”

There was a strange and uncomfortable silence, as Tom noticed that Janeway looked like she might cry. Suddenly, Chakotay spoke up. “Thank you, Tuvok,” he said, his eyes never leaving the captain’s. “Cheers.”

“Cheers,” they joined in, as they raised their glasses. Suddenly Paris felt like they were intruding on a silent, private drama. As always, Neelix seemed a little oblivious, but could be counted upon to try and keep things festive. “So, captain,” he said jauntily, “Would you and the commander like to share any stories about your time on New Earth?”

Chakotay interjected almost immediately. “Actually, Harry, I was hoping to hear about your little encounter with the Vidiians. I understand you and Tuvok gave them a surprise or two.”

As Kim jumped in with the details of the story, B’Elanna caught Tom’s gaze and rolled her eyes toward the captain. Paris looked and once again saw that Janeway seemed to be holding back tears. He couldn’t help but notice that Chakotay, who had asked to hear about Voyager’s adventures, barely seemed to be listening. The commander’s attention was riveted on the woman who sat opposite him, as if he were sending her quiet reassurance with his eyes.

Suddenly Tom suspected that he and B’Elanna were asking themselves the same questions: What had really happened during their command team’s exile? And why did they both seem a little disappointed that they had been rescued?

These were questions that couldn’t be asked or answered, and which were soon lost in the din of multiple conversations that lasted through all three courses.

As dinner ended, the crew moved onto the deck for drinks and dessert. B’Elanna found Chakotay standing alone at the dark stern of the ship, looking out into the blackness of the ocean. “Hey,” she said softly, trying not to startle him. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say you were avoiding us.”

Her friend smiled, but she could still see the sadness in his eyes. “Never. You’re welcome to join me.”

Torres took a few steps closer and leaned on the railing next to him. “You know, I’m a pretty good listener,” she said softly.

“Well,” Chakotay answered, “if I ever have anything I need to say, you’ll be the first person I call.” He was evading her attempts to draw him out, they both knew. Still, she didn’t want to push. Much.

“Chakotay, why do I get the feeling that you wish we hadn’t gotten that cure from the Vidiians? You are happy to be back here, aren’t you?”

It took him a moment to answer. “I appreciate everything you went through to rescue us. I’m sure the captain does, too.”

Torres looked at him for a moment, trying to decide how much deeper she should dig. Chakotay was a private man, and she suspected she was getting pretty close to some deep secret he was choosing not to share. Before she could finish her deliberation, he changed the subject.

“I haven’t seen that dress before,” he said out of nowhere. “Is it new?”

Now it was her turn to squirm. “Yes, I just replicated it. Neelix said tonight was formal, and I didn’t really think my Maquis leathers would be appropriate.” She was trying to make light of her choice, but he saw right through her, as always.

“Well, I don’t think I’m the only one who thinks it flatters you.” The corners of his mouth were curling up in an expression B’Elanna knew was about to lead to some way to torture her.

“What do you mean?” she asked.

He was outright smiling now. “Well, I wouldn’t turn around if I were you, but someone can’t seem to take his eyes off of you.” B’Elanna didn’t have to look to know that Tom Paris was standing behind her talking to Kes. She’d been tracking his movements the whole time. Not that she would admit it.

“You’re imagining things,” she said to her friend.

“Well,” he teased her, “I’m a pretty good listener if you ever need to talk.” Her own words thrown back at her, B’Elanna felt herself blush as she turned to look out at the water. Chakotay continued, “Gee, a Maquis and a Starfleet brat. I’m not sure I would have predicted that.”

She didn’t look at him as she answered. “Any stranger than a Maquis and a Starfleet captain?” she said provocatively. She knew she’d struck gold when he didn’t answer. She turned back to face him. “Chakotay, what happened with you and the captain on that planet?”

It was his turn to lean on the railing and look out over the sea. But he didn’t answer her question. After a minute, he pushed back and turned to her. He picked up her hand and kissed it, and looked into her eyes. Then he smiled sadly and walked away.

She was watching him go as she felt Tom come up behind her. B’Elanna turned to face him, prepared to explain. “Something definitely happened down there,” she said, as if she needed to justify anything he might have seen. She was relieved when—this time—Tom didn’t seem at all jealous.

“Yeah, I think you’re right. I’ve never seen the captain like this.” He leaned his back against the railing and looked back at her. “I’m beginning to wonder if we interrupted something.”

“I don’t know,” B’Elanna said. She was torn between her desire to protect Chakotay’s privacy and her need to talk about her own observations with someone she trusted. “It almost seems impossible. I mean, they could barely stand to be in the same room with each other when we were first stranded out here. Do you think it’s possible that they actually started to have feelings for each other?”

Paris was staring at her as he answered. “If you’re asking me if I think two people who used to be enemies can end up falling in love…” he let the word dangle in between the two of them for a moment “…then I guess I’d have to say yes.” B’Elanna looked back at him, now suspecting that they weren’t talking about Chakotay and the captain any more.

Suddenly they heard the sounds of an orchestra and a baritone voice drifted over the water.

“You must remember this. A kiss is just a kiss. A sigh is just a sigh.
The fundamental things apply, as time goes by…”

“What’s that?” B’Elanna asked, not sure if she was grateful for the interruption.

Tom began walking with her along the starboard side of the boat, pointing to his handiwork along the nearby shoreline. “They’re having a U.S.O. show at the Chalfonte Hotel,” he explained. “That song is from a great movie called Casablanca. It’s a classic love story from Earth’s World War II era.”

“A love story set during a war?” she asked. “Sounds romantic.”

“Oh it is,” he said, trying not to sound too excited by her interest. “Boy meets girl. Boy loses girl. Boy loses girl again.”

She wrinkled her nose. “I thought you said it was a love story.”

“It is,” he answered. “I guess you’d have to see it to understand.”

The breeze was starting to pick up, and he noticed B’Elanna rubbing her arms. “Are you cold?” he asked. The program was set for summer, but the Atlantic coast could get chilly at night, even in August.

“A little,” she admitted, though the truth was—in her sleeveless dress and with her Klingon intolerance for brisk weather—she was more than a little cold.

“Here,” Paris said, removing his jacket. He held it open for her and she slipped her arms into the sleeves. As she wrapped herself in the rust colored fabric, she noticed that she could smell Tom’s scent all over it. She pulled it tightly around her, hoping the smell of him would linger on her clothes. She was lost in the thought when he picked up their conversation.

“You know,” he said haltingly, “We could watch it together if you’d like to see it.”

She was so wrapped up in his coat and his scent that she forgot what they had been talking about. “See…?”

“Casablanca,” he reminded her. “You could come over to my place and…”

“Engineering to Lieutenant Torres.”

If Tom could have reached her commbadge, he would have tossed it into the ocean. Unfortunately it was now buried under his coat. B’Elanna reached inside and tapped it gently. “Torres here,” she sighed.

“Sorry to disturb you chief,” they heard Carey say. “But I’m reading an imbalance in the magnetic constrictors. I’m pretty sure it’s just a faulty sensor, but I need your clearance codes to reset the system.”

B’Elanna looked up at Tom as she answered. “On my way,” she sighed. “Torres out.” She stood there for a moment just looking at him. “I have to go,” she said dejectedly.

“Yeah,” he nodded. “Well, maybe I’ll see you tomorrow at breakfast.”

“Sure,” she pouted. “Goodnight.”

“Goodnight.” He watched her walk through the cabin then heard the whoosh and clang of the holodeck doors. He’d gotten so close…

Harry staggered over to him as Paris watched her leave. “So did you ask her?” he pressed.

Tom shook his head. “Almost. But she got called away before I could.”

“Where’s your jacket?” Harry wondered. It was only then that Tom realized B’Elanna had forgotten to take it off before she left. He decided not to answer, instead noticing his friend’s blanched skin.

“Are you alright, Harry?” he asked. “Maybe it’s the moonlight, but you look a little green around the gills.”

Kim nodded. “I think I’m a little seasick. I never did too well on boats.”

Paris laughed. “Well, I’d install some inertial dampers, but I think they’d ruin the mood.” Harry tried gamely to smile, but instead he just closed his eyes and tried not to lose his bisque. “Come on,” Tom said, walking toward the cabin. He held the door open for Kim as his friend staggered through.

As Tom was about to follow him, he saw two figures standing alone on the now-deserted stern of the ship. They were leaning on the rail, looking out across the dark ocean, only their shoulders touching. Though they were in silhouette against the moonlight, he could see clearly that it was the captain and Chakotay.

‘Could former Maquis and Starfleet enemies find love in the Delta Quadrant?’ he wondered. As he turned to leave, only one thought ran through his mind: ‘I hope so.’

~*~*~*~*~

Of course, by the time B’Elanna reached engineering, the problem had corrected itself. She would have given Carey hell if he hadn’t been doing exactly as she instructed. While she was there, she thought she’d run a level two diagnostic of the system sensors.

She was leaning on a console watching the display when she felt six sets of eyes on her. “What?!” she demanded as she turned around, catching Joe and the rest of the beta shift crew staring at her.

“Um, nothing Lieutenant,” Carey said hesitantly. Feeling a little brave, his sense of humor took over and he added. “Nice outfit.”

Torres looked down to see Tom Paris’s oversized jacket totally covering her tiny cocktail dress, making it seem as if that was all she was wearing. B’Elanna felt the blush rising from her toes, slowing making its way up and over her shoulders and to her cheeks.

Without acknowledging his comment, she let the jacket slip off her shoulders and into her hand, revealing the violet dress underneath. As she caught Carey’s eye, she saw him smile and wink at her. Any other night, she might have considered slugging him. Tonight, despite herself, B’Elanna smiled back.

She finished up in less than twenty minutes, but knew she had missed the rest of the party. Tired and with a full day ahead of her, she headed back to her quarters, Tom’s jacket dangling by one finger over her left shoulder.

She walked into her cabin and threw the coat on a chair, then got ready for bed. Holding her warm red pajamas in her hand, B’Elanna stopped for a moment and reconsidered her choice. She slipped the pajamas back into the drawer and pulled out a pair of silky shorts and a camisole—the only sleepwear in her entire wardrobe that was more about form than function. When she finished changing, she walked back to the chair, slipped Tom’s jacket back on and climbed into bed.

She lay there for a moment, her eyes closed, imagining that she had actually wrapped herself in the arms of its owner. She could smell him all over her—not just on the jacket now, but on her skin. She tried to imagine for a moment what it would be like to lay there with him, and when she let her mind go, she could almost feel him next to her. She grabbed a pillow and pulled it to her, draping her arms across it as she might his chest.

“Good night, Tom,” she said out loud. Then she let herself drift off into a very pleasant dream.

~*~*~*~*~

As it turned out, B’Elanna had to skip breakfast the next morning. The mysterious misalignment had turned into a full-fledged sensor glitch, and she’d needed to run some tests on the entire network. She’d discovered the problem—a faulty relay—and had fixed it by mid-morning when the call came: a senior staff meeting in five minutes.

Torres wondered how it was that it took her less time to get to the briefing room from Deck 11 than it took the majority of the senior staff to walk from the bridge. Yet, as usual, she was one of the first to arrive. Tom was already deep in conversation with Neelix, but he looked over when she walked in and smiled. Almost simultaneously, the doors to the bridge opened and Tuvok, Chakotay and Harry came in. The captain was only a moment behind them. B’Elanna could tell from the look on Chakotay’s face that something was seriously wrong.

Still, she was stunned when she found out why they were meeting. Seska, B’Elanna’s old friend and Chakotay’s old lover had left an automated distress call on a message buoy claiming that she and her newborn child were in danger. Everyone knew Seska had forcibly extracted a DNA sample from the commander when the Kazon captured him a few months earlier. She told Chakotay at the time that she intended to conceive his child, and Tom had verified her pregnancy during his undercover mission. Now Seska was claiming that Maje Culluh, after learning that the child she carried wasn’t his own son, had threatened to kill the baby. It was all too much to believe.

Even more amazing: Voyager was about to launch a rescue mission to save the child.

One ship against a Kazon fleet. Granted, Voyager was a highly advanced vessel built for combat, but they would be drastically outnumbered. They would need some creative thinking and a fair amount of luck to pull this off.

Neelix had located a Talaxian mining colony along their route and his people agreed to help if Voyager were attacked. Harry had devised a way to project additional sensor echoes, making it appear as if friendly reinforcements were already on the way. And—of all people—the Doctor had suggested projecting holographic Talaxian ships into space, all in an effort to appear a more equal match for the Kazon fleet.

But there were huge risks. One third of their plan was speculative, one third experimental, and one third down right ridiculous. The captain was right, however—they needed every tactical advantage they could get if this was going to work.

B’Elanna was assigned to work with the Doctor on deploying holographic ships, and Tom set a course into Nistrim space. In less than an hour, their mission was underway.

~*~*~*~*~

Four hours into the plan and there were already complications. Voyager had picked up a badly-damaged Kazon shuttle with a critically injured man aboard. Chakotay recognized their new passenger as one of Seska’s personal guards. Tierna was a ruthless thug, or so Chakotay had told them, and Voyager’s discovery of the battered ship had the smell of unlikely good fortune. But, after a thorough examination of the injuries to the Kazon and the damage to his ship, neither the Doctor nor B’Elanna could find any evidence that the story Tierna had told them was untrue.

The man claimed Seska was dead—murdered by Culluh in a rage. The child—Chakotay’s child— had been taken to a slave labor camp to be raised as a servant. Tierna claimed to have bribed a guard to let him escape, and had barely gotten away when his ship was damaged and he was left for dead. The man claimed outrage at Culluh’s treatment, and reluctantly offered to help Voyager locate the infant. But he was still a Kazon and they were still ‘Federations’ and tensions were running high.

Tensions that were testing Chakotay’s already thin patience.

Then the attacks began. Nothing major, nothing that endangered the ship’s key systems, but curious nonetheless. Voyager was, Tierna told them, in a region of space full of Kazon factions loyal to no Maje, so the unprovoked attacks weren’t surprising. But they were curious. Each one seemed to focus on Voyager’s starboard ventral, causing significant damage to the ship’s secondary command processors. It seemed impossible that dozens of unaligned Kazon ships would all choose the same minor system as their target.

Though the ship itself was in no significant danger from these hit-and-run attacks, B’Elanna and her crew were overwhelmed with repairs. She could barely keep on top of the damage. Somehow she knew she should be able to reason out why the ventral should be of such great interest, but each time she devoted any mental energy to the question, another minor system was damaged and her attention was pulled to more pressing matters.

To top it all off, she was charged with getting their new holographic decoy system up and running. She was going in ten mental directions at once, all of which were starting to give her a headache. Still, after the most recent hit, she knew they should have a few hours of peace before being attacked again. She intended to put that time to good use.

Still lost in her thoughts, B’Elanna looked up to see Tom Paris standing in front of her with a plate in one hand, the other hand behind his back.

“What are you doing down here?” B’Elanna realized her surprise had caused her to sound angry and she tried to moderate her tone. “We’re on red alert.”

Paris smiled. “We’ve got some time before the next attack, so the captain ordered us on break. Mine is over in exactly fifteen minutes, so you’d better hurry if you’re going to have time to eat this before I have to leave.”

B’Elanna looked down at the sandwich on the plate in his hand. She couldn’t believe he was spending his break looking out for her. It was sweet—but she didn’t have time to think much less to eat. “Tom, I appreciate the gesture, but I can’t.”

Paris was adamant. “You barely ate anything at dinner last night, and I know you skipped breakfast this morning. Now, you’ve already wasted two minutes of your valuable time arguing with me. Trust me: this will go much faster if you just surrender and eat the sandwich.”

She couldn’t argue with his logic. Sighing loudly enough to make her point, B’Elanna motioned for him to follow her into the engineering alcove, picked up the sandwich from the plate and took a bite. She wasn’t quite prepared for the taste. “What is this?” she asked.

“Peanut butter and jelly,” Tom grinned. “Neelix is on security duty so the mess hall is closed. Do you like it?”

B’Elanna had to admit she was enjoying the unusual tastes, but she also noticed it was becoming harder to talk. “It’s…sticky. But it’s good.”

With that, Paris brought his other arm from behind his back and handed her a now lukewarm cup of raktajino. “You need something to wash it down with,” he explained.

The look on B’Elanna’s face was as much thank you as he would need. “Yes!” she said as she took the mug from his hand and smiled. She took a long gulp, then picked up the other half of the sandwich. “You know,” she said as she ate, “you didn’t have to do this.”

Tom smiled. “I wanted to do it. Besides, someone needs to look out for you if you won’t look out for yourself.”

Normally that kind of patronizing comment would have earned Paris a smart rejoinder. Today it got him only a smile. B’Elanna shoved the last bite of the sandwich in her mouth then took another drink of the coffee. “Thank you,” she said as she handed the cup back to him. He noticed it was only half empty.

“Finish it,” he said. “It’ll keep you on your toes.” She smiled and took the mug back, taking another sip as he watched.

He wanted to linger for a minute, to tell her they were going to get out of this stupid mess with the Kazon, and get on with the lives they were only just starting here in the Delta Quadrant. He wanted to make plans for their first date, tell her again how great she looked in that violet dress, and to ask her if she knew how she made this whole crazy journey to the wrong side of the galaxy that much more bearable for him just by being along for the ride. They were on a crazy—perhaps suicidal—mission, and somehow he wondered if there would be another chance to say anything at all to each other.

But this wasn’t the time or place. So he just smiled. “I’ll see you later,” was all he could say before B’Elanna returned his grin and got back to work.

Tom recycled the plate then headed back to the bridge. On the way, he thought about all the things he would say, finally, if they ever got out of this mess.

~*~*~*~*~

He wasn’t on the bridge long before sensors picked up their next attackers. As the others had, these ships also went after Voyager’s starboard ventral. Tom tried a serious of counter-maneuvers to keep their port forequarter facing the fire, but the smaller ships were more maneuverable and there was nothing he could do.

Harry gave them the bad news: the secondary command processors were officially fried. They’d be offline for two days at least. This was the final straw. The captain ordered Paris to reverse course. If this was some elaborate Kazon game, Janeway was about to change the rules.

To no one’s surprise, in less than an hour eight large carrier vessels were within sensor range. This was it.

For a few moments, their crazy strategy seemed to be working. Half of the attacking vessels went off in search of the ghost echoes Harry had created with the deflector. The remaining four vessels divided their energy between Voyager and the holographic simulations. With a direct hit from Voyager’s phasers disabling one of the Kazon cruisers, Tom thought for a moment that the tide might be turning their way.

Then all hell broke loose.

“There’s been a massive explosion on Deck 8,” he heard Harry say. Tierna’s quarters. He must have done something to trigger the blast. Harry chronicled the damage, including the rupture of a major plasma conduit. Systems were failing left and right. B’Elanna was in the middle of a report on their condition when she was suddenly interrupted by a loud noise.

“B’Elanna, are you all right?” the captain called over the com. They were all relieved to hear Torres respond.

“Yes, but the reactor injectors were hit.” That sealed it; there was no way they could hold off the Kazon with Voyager in this condition.

The commlink to engineering was still open when Tom had an idea. “Captain, if I can get a shuttle through the crossfire I can go back and get the Talaxians to help us.”

Janeway agreed, and Paris bolted from his seat to the turbolift.

He was gone less then ten minutes when Harry noticed the Kazon bearing down on the shuttle. “Voyager to Paris, please respond” he called. Kim’s sensors were now reading a radiation surge from the small ship’s last known position. “Tom can you hear me?” There was no reply, no debris, and no sign of the pilot or his ship. Only static. “I’ve lost contact with the shuttle…” Harry reported, not wanting to think about what had just happened to his best friend.

He didn’t have time to dwell on it. Voyager was being boarded.

~~

B’Elanna and her crew were rounded up and pulled from their stations by well-armed Kazon soldiers. Though her own impulse was to rip their heads off with her bare hands, as chief engineer she ordered her staff not to resist. In a matter of minutes, she found herself huddled on the floor of the cargo bay with the rest of Voyager’s crew.

It was over. They’d lost the ship. But B’Elanna knew Tom had taken a shuttle and gone for help. She wasn’t sure what good a fleet of Talaxian mining freighters could do now that the Kazon controlled Voyager. Still, it gave her hope to know that Paris might have escaped.

She saw Harry sitting about three meters away. She wished she could get to him, to ask him if there was any news about Paris’s shuttle. But she couldn’t risk angering the already-agitated Kazon soldiers who were just waiting for a reason to open fire on the crew. Instead she concentrated, trying to use her strength of will alone to force Harry to turn around and look at her. Never known for her telepathic abilities, B’Elanna was disappointed that Harry didn’t search her out on his own. Then it occurred to her: he was intentionally avoiding her gaze.

Harry knew something. And as long as he didn’t meet her stare, she suspected, he could pretend it wasn’t true. B’Elanna closed her eyes and tried to breathe. She knew then: something happened to Tom’s ship.

~~

Paris felt the warp engines engage just as he was hit. That last phaser blast did some serious damage, but he was now off the Kazon’s sensors and out of immediate danger. Voyager wasn’t so lucky. He tried not to think of what the Nistrim were doing to his friends.

Suddenly, the blast-weakened sensor panel exploded in a hail of sparks, and his warp engines disengaged. “Damn it!” Tom screamed to no one as he climbed out of his seat to check it out. He didn’t have time for this…

~*~*~*~*~

The next ten hours were surreal for B’Elanna and the rest of the crew. The Kazon had landed Voyager on a planet Chakotay would later tell her was Hanon IV. While the atmosphere was breathable, the landscape was littered with active volcanoes and the soil was almost barren. There were no visible lakes or streams and the volcanic activity made the temperature almost intolerably warm.

Maje Culluh escorted Janeway’s crew to the surface, eager to see their faces as he handed down their punishment for daring to defy the Kazon Nistrim. As they were herded together, B’Elanna took the opportunity to find Harry.

She wasn’t surprised that her friend continued to avoid her gaze.

“What happened?” she whispered to him under her breath.

Kim kept his voice low as he answered. “Seska happened. It was all a trap. She and the baby were fine. She’s probably on the bridge gloating right now.”

B’Elanna didn’t bother to ask her next question, instead saying what she could tell from Kim’s face was true. “Tom’s dead. His shuttle didn’t make it.” The finality in her voice finally got Harry to look at her.

“There was an explosion. Then I lost contact with him.” He wouldn’t bother to tell her about the surge of radiation. “But I couldn’t find a debris field. He might have made it.” Kim’s voice trailed off. They both knew a Kazon disruptor blast probably wouldn’t leave much debris when vaporizing a small shuttle. The odds of Tom getting through that intense crossfire were slim.

Even though B’Elanna had been expecting the bad news, it still hit her hard. Not only was Paris almost certainly dead, any hope they had of being rescued had died with him. They’d be trapped on this molten rock until they all succumbed to the same fate. For a moment, she wasn’t sure who had it worse: Tom, who almost undoubtedly felt nothing as his ship was vaporized, or the rest of the crew, who would die slow deaths from dehydration or exposure or whatever other horror awaited them behind the distant rocks. Somehow, she had trouble summoning any real fear about what was about to come. Instead, Torres felt herself go numb.

Culluh made quite a show of stripping away their commbadges and taunting them about their new technology-free existence. Then he and his troops retreated back aboard. Voyager’s crew had barely begun the long hike for shelter and supplies when they watched their ship—their home—lift off the surface and head out of the atmosphere. Their lives, as they had known them, were over.

~*~*~*~*~

Tom had gone over the system diagnostics five times, yet he still couldn’t find the problem. The computer was saying that the shuttle’s stabilizer acceleration sensor was malfunctioning, but Paris couldn’t seem to correct it. He’d ripped apart every component and still there was no sign of the trouble.

He was a better engineer than he ever liked people to know. Aboard Voyager, too many talents often lead to too many assignments and Paris liked to put his energies into the things he enjoyed. While he loved ripping apart 20th century cars, 24th century engines were sterile and boring, and—when it came to starships—he preferred flying them to rebuilding them any day.

And there were limits to his skills. Tom found himself thinking that B’Elanna would have had the stupid stabilizer fixed in about ten seconds. She had a gift for engineering that Paris could never claim to understand. She found it instinctual in the same way he found piloting. And she’d almost convinced him that ripping apart a plasma coupling could be as interesting as replacing a carburetor on a Nash Rambler. Almost. Now he wished he had paid more attention.

Time was running out. There was no way Voyager would be able to hold off the Kazon fleet in her condition. He had to get to the Talaxian colony and convince them to come back with him. He only prayed there was someone left to rescue.

~*~*~*~*~

If their first day on Hanon IV was any indication of the weeks to come, Voyager’s crew was in for a difficult time. Already Ensign Hogan—one of B’Elanna’s best engineers and an old friend—was dead, killed by some creature that lived in the planet’s caves. Their ‘shelter’ was an exposed overhang, they had found no source of potable water, and had also discovered a primitive native people watching them from a distance. Harry and B’Elanna were able to find some wild vegetables and eggs, though. Enough to sustain the crew for the moment.

The captain was barking orders in full-fledged survivalist mode, and Chakotay, who B’Elanna was sure felt responsible for their predicament, was working himself into a deep depression. He kept hovering near Samantha Wildman and baby Naomi. This planet was no place for humanoid adults, much less children, and the infant was starting to show signs of a fever. This was one rolling nightmare after the next.

Yet, B’Elanna felt strangely detached from it all. Though she was freezing, she sat on a rocky outcropping away from the fire and looked up at the night sky.

Despite the smoke from the nearby volcano, her view was clear and she could see thousands of stars. Hanon IV had no moon, and the darkness made each speck of light a brilliant dot. You could never see this many stars with the naked eye from Earth. The thought made her remember the times when she’d tried.

Sitting on the roof of her doom at the Academy, wondering what the hell she was doing there, B’Elanna would look up into the stars and focus her mind on finding answers in the night sky. Back then she’d wondered why she’d ever thought she could fit in to a rigid, disciplined Starfleet life. She’d thought a lot about her father in those days. She knew he was still in the service, though she had no interest in finding out where he was stationed. But she’d wondered if he knew his little girl had been accepted to the same engineering program he’d been through twenty years earlier, wondered if he would be proud of her, if he would even care at all. Just as she had all those years ago, B’Elanna felt a wave of anger and pain wash over her at the thought. Why had he left her? What had she done that had caused her to lose the one man in the galaxy she loved more than life?

She couldn’t stop that thought from leading her to another. Another night sitting under the stars. Another man who was gone. She let her imagination take her to a holographic beach beneath a carnival pier. She closed her eyes and imagined the smell of the salt air mixing with the sweet smells of the carnival and of him, of tripping on a seashell and landing in his arms. She followed the memory to another ending—to a young man leaving his ship and friends in disgrace after sabotaging every relationship he had built. She remembered his return as a hero, and the way her heart and mind struggled to make sense of another new reality.

B’Elanna remembered a second night under the stars, this one recent enough that she could still feel the fabric of his coat and the scent of his soap as they enveloped her, the look on his face as he told her about some silly old movie, and the way she was sure he was about to tell her that he wanted to be more than just her friend. But there wasn’t time. And now he was gone again, this time—in all likelihood—for good.

Tom hadn’t abandoned her, though. She scolded herself for even making the comparison. But he was just as gone. And she was just as miserable.

And misery loved company, apparently, since Chakotay had moved to join her on the rock. “You should come sit by the fire,” he said gently, snapping her out of her thoughts.

“I’m fine,” she said unconvincingly.

Chakotay sat there quietly for a moment, taking his own opportunity to look into the heavens. B’Elanna realized the incredible burden her friend now carried, and wanted to reach out to comfort him. But she couldn’t make herself move. They sat there quietly for a moment, both lost in their individual pain.

“I could have killed her with my bare hands,” he finally whispered. B’Elanna didn’t know what to say. “Seska,” he continued. “She marched onto that bridge with that smug look I used to see her give the Cardassians after we’d raid their depots. She planned this whole thing. I could have murdered her where she stood without ever regretting it.” Chakotay closed his eyes, the fury he was feeling overwhelming him.

B’Elanna reached out and put her hand on his shoulder. “We had to try, Chakotay. We couldn’t just abandon your son.”

He shook away the thought. “My son,” he said solemnly. “How could I put everyone I care for at risk for a child that was never even in danger? I should never have agreed to this. I should have insisted we keep going.” He paused and collected his thoughts. “She did this for me, you know.” B’Elanna was now confused, but assumed he would explain. “Kathryn. She did this all for me. And she lost everything in the process.”

B’Elanna was only just beginning to understand the change in Chakotay’s relationship with the captain. Whatever had happened on New Earth, things were profoundly different, to the point that Janeway had risked the entire ship to rescue his child. And he was now carrying the burden of letting down not only his captain, but the woman he cared for.

“We’ll get out of this,” B’Elanna found herself saying. “Tom will bring back help. You’ll see.” Her friend looked back to her, suddenly aware that he wasn’t the only person in pain.

“Of course,” he said softly. “I’m sure he’s on his way right now.”

They sat there quietly for along while, neither one believing for a moment that Paris was even alive to help them, both trying to be strong in the face of the other’s grief.

~*~*~*~*~

After finally fixing the acceleration sensors and dispatching a Kazon scout ship like it was target practice, Tom was finally in com range of the Talaxian mining colony.

Neelix had mentioned Commander Paxim to Tom before their briefing. The man had a reputation for generosity and Tom could see the concern on Paxim’s face as they spoke. But, along with his compassion, the Talaxian brought him bad news. “Voyager has been taken by the Kazon Nistrim.” He tried to break it gently, but there was no good way to tell the young officer that his ship had been seized by a brutal enemy. Apparently, however, subspace was flooded with the bravado and bragging of the Nistrim’s celebration of their victory over the ‘Federations’.

“Is there any word on the crew?” Paris asked. He held his breath waiting for the answer.

“I’m afraid not,” Paxim apologized. The news only added to Tom’s determination.

It took some convincing and an exaggerated plan, but Paris was able to persuade the commander to help him repair the shuttle and go back to engage the Nistrim. They’d rendezvous in an hour, by which time Tom needed to come up with a viable plan of attack.

Paris closed the commlink and tried to think of any vulnerability that might give them an advantage. The biggest one, of course, was the inexperienced Kazon crew. They were over their heads in their attempts to keep Voyager up and running in her weakened condition. He knew he’d have to find a way to incapacitate dozens of Kazon soldiers at one time. But how?

Every plan he could think of would require an accomplice aboard the ship. Even if Voyager’s crew were still alive, they would have been removed from their stations and confined. ‘Think!’ he ordered himself, suddenly imagining his friends wounded and depending on him. The moment of self-flagellation brought with it an inspiration: the Doctor. He was integrated into the ship’s systems, and couldn’t be confined to anyplace but sickbay. Tom assumed that the Kazon would have wounded who needed assistance, and that the Doctor would be kept online as long as he was of value.

In that instant Paris had his plan: he’d damage the primary phaser couplings while the Doc shorted out the secondary systems from his console in sickbay. When the Kazon switched to the backups, they’d ignite a systemic power surge that would disable the ship, and electrocute anyone touching a computer interface. The overload would not only create a diversion, it could knock out the bulk of the Kazon crew, seriously evening the odds.

Now that he had his plan, Tom couldn’t stop his mind from wandering back to his crewmates. Even though he knew he had done the right thing, part of him felt guilty for leaving them behind. The Kazon were sadists, he knew, and whatever punishment they decided to mete out would likely be slow and painful. The only upside to this horrible thought: it made a mass execution of the crew unlikely. Still, whatever his friends were facing now, Paris knew it would be horrific.

Tom checked the chronometer: 2100 hours. How was it possible that only one night earlier he had been dressed in his best suit, looking into the face of a woman he adored, and imagining a happier future for them both? Twenty-four hours ago, his only problem had been finding the courage to tell B’Elanna how he felt. Now their worlds were turned upside down again, and he had no realistic hope of ever seeing her or any of his shipmates again.

Paris knew he shouldn’t give in to the demons his mind could create. But it suddenly occurred to him that he could be trapped for the rest of his life alone in the Delta Quadrant, all of his friends dead or hopelessly lost. He forced himself to block out the thought, determined instead to replace it with a promise to them and to himself: he’d find Voyager’s crew. And when he did, nothing would stop him from telling B’Elanna how he felt once and for all.

Emboldened by his determination, he found the rendezvous point with the Talaxians on his long-range sensors and set a course.

~*~*~*~*~

The morning dawned the way the evening ended: with Neelix and Kes missing and Chakotay and Tuvok on a mission to find them. B’Elanna had wanted to go—anything to take her mind off of her situation—but Chakotay knew she was too sensitive to the cold night air to be of much use. Instead, she’d spent the night leaning against the rock face, back to back with Harry Kim, each protecting the other from harm as they took turns sleeping.

B’Elanna had been awake for several hours, and she watched the sky turn from black to purple to crimson. Now she could see the hint of the Hanon sun rising in the distance. She was surprised and grateful to have survived the night.

She felt Harry shift behind her, and she turned around carefully so as not to wake him. Kim shifted positions again and she let his head come to rest on her shoulder. Torres could only see a glimpse of his face as he nestled in beside her, but she smiled as she realized how young her friend looked. Harry was still a baby in so many ways. He’d started this trip as an innocent. B’Elanna wondered how many more nightmares it would take before Kim started to show the toll on his face.

She was glad he was so nearby. Though B’Elanna had always considered herself closest to Chakotay, she’d known for a while that they were growing apart. Perhaps his duties as Voyager’s first officer—or his growing closeness to Captain Janeway—had forced him to pull back from their friendship. They would always be there for each other, she knew, but they were both forging new and deeper bonds with others in their lives.

Chakotay wasn’t the only one distancing himself, she understood. B’Elanna had moved on as well, and was only beginning to realize that her closest connections were now with Harry and Tom. And, with Paris gone—and probably dead—she felt herself needing to be near the only other person who would feel the loss as deeply.

The sun had cleared the horizon and Torres could feel the change in temperature almost instantly. This was the best time of the day to work, she knew, before the sun got too high and the air too hot. Hating to disturb what little rest he would get, B’Elanna reluctantly jostled her shoulder and ended Harry’s peaceful sleep.

“What?” she heard him mumble. She half-expected him to ball his fists and rub his eyes like the five-year-old he appeared to be. Instead he sat up and looked down at her shoulder, wondering how long he’d been resting there.

“Good morning,” she said. “Sorry to wake you, but the sun is up. Time to get to work.”

Kim was resting his head on the rocks now, his eyes closed again. “Ten more minutes,” he said groggily.

“Five,” she said, happy to take a few more minutes before forcing herself to her feet.

Kim was only half awake, she could tell, and his eyes were moving behind his closed lids. “Harry,” she said, “don’t fall back to sleep. Talk to me. What are you dreaming?”

He was mostly unconscious as he answered. “We’re in Sandrine’s. Tom just ordered a round of beers and we’re sharing the biggest steak dinner you’ve ever seen.”

“I don’t like steak,” she teased him, knowing he could barely hear her.

“In my dream you do. And the beer is so cold. I can actually taste it.” Kim was slipping back under, and B’Elanna tried a new tact.

“What’s the occasion?” She needed Kim’s mind to start working so he would wake up.

“I can’t tell,” he was drifting out.

“Well, what are we wearing? Uniforms? Are we dressed up? What?” She could see he was barely registering her words.

“I can’t see what I’m wearing. But Tom is in that ugly stripped vest and that orange shirt he wears everywhere when he’s off duty.” B’Elanna smiled. She hated that vest, too, though she’d never said anything to Tom. Harry was continuing to mumble. “And you’re in that blue jumpsuit Tom is so crazy about.”

If B’Elanna wasn’t awake before, she was now. “What did you say?”

“The jumpsuit, you know, with the strings up the front. The…” Maybe it was the act of concentrating on how to describe the outfit to her, but Harry’s brain seemed to be kicking into gear. And he suddenly realized what he had said. His eyes opened slowly, and he saw B’Elanna lean her head back against the rocks and close her eyes.

“I’m sorry,” he said softly. “I didn’t mean to upset you.”

She didn’t open her eyes as she answered. “You didn’t upset me.” He could tell she was lying. “So,” she said as she recovered her composure. “Tom’s crazy about my jumpsuit.” Her voice was flat as if she were trying desperately to hold herself together.

Harry knew this wasn’t his place, but in light of everything that had happened, there was something he wanted his friend to know. “B’Elanna, he’s crazy about more than just the jumpsuit. But you know that, don’t you.”

She looked away, but didn’t answer. She didn’t have to. “He’s coming back,” Kim reassured her. “You’ve got to keep believing that.”

She nodded her head. “Let’s go.” Before he could say anything, Torres was on her feet and heading out of the rock shelter.

‘Way to go, Harry,’ Kim thought to himself. Still, he wanted to believe that this was the last morning he’d have to wake up on this godforsaken dust ball. And that Tom, and salvation, would be showing up at any moment.

~~

In a life that had been equal parts great fortune and horrible luck, things were finally going Tom Paris’s way. Working with no sleep and a taped-together shuttle, he and the Talaxians had executed his plan with precision, and Voyager was once again under Starfleet control. Sort of. Well, it was mostly under Talaxian control, but Paris was in command. His first order of business: getting the ship to accept his command codes. It had taken him the better part of two hours just to be able to access the navigational logs. But once he’d cracked the code, he’d found paydirt. The crew—minus one—had been stranded on a planet in the Hanon system. Tom used the internal sensors to verify that there were no living Kazon left aboard, then had the Talaxian pilot lay in a course. In the meantime, he’d survey the damage to the ship.

It didn’t take him long to find Seska’s body. She’d died just inside the ready room door, her arm outstretched as if reaching for something. Paris was surprised that he took no joy in her death. Instead, he felt only relief that she would never be able to hurt them again.

His next stop was sickbay. Tom wanted to thank the Doctor for his help in retaking the ship, yet when he walked into the medical bay, Paris found the holographic imaging computer melted and scarred by phaser burns. The EMH systems wouldn’t initialize, and Tom was left wondering exactly how those secondary phaser couplings had been rigged if the Doctor was offline.

His answer came when he entered Main Engineering. At first, he saw only the bodies of a dozen or so Kazon left lying where they fell after the overload. Those that hadn’t died from their injuries seemed to have been phasered by their retreating colleagues, perhaps to prevent them from talking. Then he saw the man lying prone at the weapons control station.

Lon Suder—former Maquis, former serial killer, former prisoner—was lying dead from a disruptor blast to the back. Paris realized then that Suder had been the one to shoot the Kazon and come to his aid. Tom could only wonder what the last few hours of the man’s life had been like, and marveled that someone so troubled should have come to such a noble and selfless end.

The Talaxians were now in the process of clearing the dead and beginning repairs to the systems shorted out by the phaser overload. Tom made a note to tell the captain about Suder’s bravery, and decided to put himself to work getting the sickbay holoimager repaired. If they did find Voyager’s crew, there might be injuries, and Paris wanted the Doc in perfect working order in case he was needed to save their lives.

Tom stepped into the engineering bay and leaned down to grab a tool kit, when he saw it lying on the floor in the corner: the raktajino mug he’d brought B’Elanna yesterday. He picked it up off the deck and held it for a moment, somehow using it as a conduit for all his fears about her fate. He noticed the faint lipstick marks on the rim and remembered her smile as he’d forced her to take a moment and eat lunch.

‘Hang on, B’Elanna,’ he thought to himself as he sat the cup on the console. ‘I’m on my way.’

~*~*~*~*~

Day two on Hanon IV was shaping up to rival day one. The baby’s fever had gotten worse overnight, they’d lost another crewman to the creature in the caves, and B’Elanna, Ayala, and Redmond had been forced to outrun a group of angry natives in an effort to lure them away from the place where Chakotay, Tuvok, Kes, and Neelix had been trapped. Now, they stood in the face of an erupting volcano, watching as the ground beneath them rocked from the incredible energy of the geological forces as they were unleashed.

On the up side, Chakotay had rescued one of the native women who’d become trapped in the lava flow, and—in the process—had allowed them to develop a truce with the tribe and its people. Their leader had even prepared a kind of poultice to help Naomi’s labored breathing, and Kes was convinced the child’s fever was finally breaking.

They’d climbed to the top of a rock outcropping and watched as the magma wound its way past them on the ground below. They were safe—for the moment—but B’Elanna was beginning to wonder if it wasn’t just a matter of time before one of the forces conspiring against them finally won.

She was so wrapped up in her thoughts that she didn’t hear the unmistakable sound of starship thrusters cutting through the atmosphere. It wasn’t until she heard the furious grunting of the native next to her that she even looked up into the sky. What she saw there was almost too good to believe.

Coming right for them, crossing over a distant mountain peak, was Voyager. Carefully skirting the plume of the volcano, the ship sat down gently about a half a kilometer from their position.

The captain and Chakotay had joined the rest of the crew on the ledge, and saw the final moments of the ship’s approach. With no way to be sure, the officers watched the grace and precision of Voyager’s landing and allowed themselves to believe that only one person could have set the ship down with such care and finesse. There was no Kazon at the helm for that maneuver. It had a distinctive flourish unique to Tom Paris.

Still, they had to be cautious. The odds against Paris single-handedly retaking Voyager were astronomical. Janeway ordered the engineering and security teams to approach the ship with caution.

The boarding ramp had been extended by the time they got there, and Janeway and Harry led the team to the bridge. When the doors opened, they found themselves staring at a half-dozen Talaxians and one beaten up but very alive human.

Harry watched as the captain shook Paris’s hand and congratulated him on a remarkable accomplishment. Kim made a point of greeting his best friend before heading to his station and getting back to work. He knew B’Elanna would be in engineering by now, and that the Talaxians would have filled her in on Tom’s success. But Kim still wished he could talk to her, to tell her he had seen Tom with his own eyes and that everything was going to be all right. They’d been handed yet another new beginning, Kim knew, and he suspected that no one would enjoy it more than his two best friends.

~~

As soon as she saw the first Talaxian, B’Elanna knew Tom had pulled it off. She allowed herself ten seconds of unadulterated relief, as she let herself stand down from a two-day-long internal red alert. Everything now—her exhaustion, the damage to her ship—would all be made right in time. They were safe and home once again.

But she was now fighting back a totally unexpected emotion: fear. She’d never allowed herself to feel it on the planet. She’d been too worried about Tom—too wrapped up in her grief—to let herself be afraid. So why now, back at her post and about to leave Hanon IV behind her for good, was she suddenly so afraid?

She pushed the emotion aside and got down to work.

~~

After verifying that the ship was in passable shape, Captain Janeway had seen off the Talaxians and thanked them for their assistance. Tom was at the conn when she returned, and had gladly followed her instructions to resume their journey home. But after two hours at the helm, he must have started to nod off, because he suddenly felt a warm hand clasp his shoulder.

“How much sleep have you had in the last thirty-six hours, Mister Paris?” the captain was saying into his ear.

“Um, none, Captain.” He’d not allowed himself a moment’s rest, even as the Talaxians repaired his damaged shuttle.

“Mister Baytart,” he heard her say. “You have the conn.” She leaned over and squeezed Paris’s shoulder. “Get some rest, Tom. That’s an order.”

He smiled as he turned around in his chair. “Yes, ma’am,” he said gratefully. “Thanks.”

He barely remembered the trip in the turbolift or the walk to his cabin. Once inside, Paris stripped off his filthy uniform and fell face first into his pillow. He was asleep in seconds, finally putting an end to the nightmare that had been the last two days.

~*~*~*~*~

Paris slept for twelve hours and awoke to find a message in his personal database relieving him of duty for the next two days. He stayed conscious just long enough to realize he could go back to bed, which he did almost immediately.

Despite the critical repairs they needed to make, the captain had insisted that everyone work no more than ten hours in any one day. The crew had been though a terrible ordeal, and Janeway was determined that they not try to medicate themselves with work. It was an escape too many of Voyager’s crew used far too often. Particularly her chief engineer.

So Torres was forced to leave her station with no way to occupy her overactive mind. Harry was leading the engineering beta shift so she had barely spent a moment with him since they’d been rescued. And rumor was that Tom Paris had been asleep for the better part of the last two days—she hadn’t even seen him once since he’d come back for them. Chakotay was still dealing with the emotional fallout of both Seska’s death and the news that their entire rescue mission had been to save a child that wasn’t even his; the doctor had confirmed through DNA analysis that the boy had been of mixed Cardassian/Kazon heritage.

So B’Elanna was alone with her thoughts. And with a nagging fear that had been with her since the moment she stepped back aboard. The sense of dread followed her as long as she was awake, so she tried to avoid spending time alone. With Harry, Tom, and Chakotay out of commission, however, she was getting a little desperate for company. She grabbed a stack of engineering PADD’s and headed for the mess hall.

The room was crowded with crewmen, but B’Elanna found a quiet spot by the viewport. She was trying to focus on the plasma relay diagnostic reports when she noticed she was no longer alone. “Mind if I join you?”

She looked up into the smiling face of Ensign Freddie Bristow.

“Um, sure. I mean, no, go right ahead.” She put down the PADD and motioned at the seat across from her.

Bristow was handsome, she had to admit that, but he was a bit of a windbag. Torres knew he was interested, but she’d never enjoyed the time she spent in his company. She was pretty sure she wasn’t going to start now. But she was lonely, and desperate for anyone to help her pass the time.

They talked for a while about their adventures on Hanon IV, about his frustrations with the way the pilots were left without assignments while Tom Paris was off duty, and his anxiousness for life to get back to its normal routines.

Maybe because she was lonely, maybe as a result of her unnamed and growing fears, B’Elanna found herself forgetting that Freddie was a boring jerk who got on her nerves. She actually sat there for over an hour almost paying attention to everything he said. But she was getting tired and knew she needed to get some sleep.

“Thanks for the company, Freddie,” she said as she stood up to go.

Bristow stood when she did. “Um, B’Elanna, do you think we could have dinner together tomorrow? If you’re not busy?”

Before she knew what she was saying, B’Elanna heard herself answer. “Sure. That would be nice.” Then she turned to leave.

“Great!” she heard him yell across the room as she walked away. “It’s a date.”

She was almost to the mess hall doors when it sank in: she’d just agreed to go on a date with Freddie Bristow. How in the hell had that happened? She tried not to think about it as she walked back to her quarters.

As she stepped inside, she was tempted to do what she had for the past two nights and fall into bed without even getting undressed. But she was just as restless as she was exhausted, and B’Elanna took a moment to change out of her uniform, then grabbed a handful of engineering PADD’s and moved to her couch.

That’s when she saw it, draped over the arm of the sofa right where she’d taken if off several mornings—or was it a lifetime?—ago. She’d folded Tom’s jacket carefully, intending to return it to him at breakfast. A breakfast she’d never made it to.

As she sat down on the couch, she picked up the coat and couldn’t resist pulling it to her face. She could still smell him on it, faintly, and she let the memories his scent brought come flooding back. Yet unlike the comfort and anticipation they had given her a few nights earlier, her thoughts about Tom Paris now made her edgy and uneasy. The fear that had gripped her ever since they’d been back was out in full force again, and she needed to get away from it and quickly. Before she even thought about what she was doing or why, she carried the jacket to the refresher and threw it inside.

She sat back down on the couch and tried to focus her mind on the data flashing past her on the PADD. But she was distracted now, and decided to get some sleep instead.

More exhausted than she realized, B’Elanna was asleep before she had time to think.

~*~*~*~*~

Tom was groggy in that way you get when you’ve had too much sleep. He knew he’d be paying for his indulgence the rest of the week as his body struggled to get back to its normal circadian rhythms. But his exhaustion had gotten the better of him, and he was glad the captain had given him some time to recuperate from his ordeal.

But now it was just after midnight and Paris was in the mood for…breakfast. He pulled on a clean uniform and made his way to the mess hall. Beta shift was just ending and he knew the place would fill up fast. He was feeling lucky when the doors opened to reveal only a few crewmen.

Megan and Jenny Delaney were playing poker with Geron and Rollins, and Nicoletti and Bristow were huddled over a cup of coffee, sharing what Tom hoped was a very intimate conversation. Paris couldn’t think of any two people more perfect for each other than the cold fish and the little worm. He and B’Elanna had both dodged bullets where those two were concerned, he realized, and he wondered what either of them had ever seen in Sue or Freddie.

Paris grabbed a cup of coffee and a plate of leola whatever, and took a seat by the viewport. Instead of looking cold and lonely, the stars were once again showing him possibilities, and Paris decided to enjoy the view. But he was happy for the interruption when Harry appeared.

“Hey, Sleeping Beauty,” Kim teased. “Did your princess finally kiss you and wake you up?”

Tom smiled as he answered. “I haven’t seen my princess yet, unfortunately. But I intend to fix that as soon as possible.”

Harry chuckled. “Don’t let B’Elanna hear you call her that, if you know what’s good for you. And I’m betting she’s sound asleep by now. She’s had a rough couple of days.”

Tom was sorry he hadn’t woken up a little earlier. He had already started planning their first real date in his mind, and was anxious to see B’Elanna—to make sure with his own eyes that she was safe. But he was glad to hear she was getting some rest. And Paris was just as glad to get a chance to talk with Harry first.

“How is she?” he asked his friend. “I mean, I didn’t get to see much of Hanon IV, but what I caught on the viewscreen didn’t look too inviting.”

Kim got quiet. “It was pretty bad. We lost Hogan and Martinson. There was almost no food or water. I’m not sure how long we would have lasted if you hadn’t made it back.” Harry looked down at the table before he continued. “We thought you died, Tom. I saw an explosion hit the shuttle and then you just disappeared.”

It was the first time Paris realized they’d been as worried about him as he was about them. “The blast hit me just as I jumped to warp. I didn’t realize…” Tom thought about how hard it must have been for his friends, thinking their only hope of rescue had been lost. It must have been particularly tough on Harry and B’Elanna, and Tom now wished he had taken the time to go see her before he’d gone to sleep.

But he’d fix it all soon enough. They were both on alpha shift the next day, and could catch up over a long dinner. Maybe in his quarters. Maybe followed by a private screening of an old World War II love story. He was silently planning the night in his mind when Megan Delaney sat down next to Harry.

“Hey, Tom, I just wanted to thank you for coming to our rescue. I’m not sure what we would have done without you.” Paris was flattered, but hoped the crew wouldn’t make too much out of his role in their rescue. Somehow he wished Megan would just say her thank-yous and move on, but he suspected that was too much to hope for. He was right. “Tom, Jenny and I were wondering if you and Harry would like to join us for dinner tomorrow night. I have some holodeck time reserved and we thought we could…”

Tom didn’t mean to be rude when he cut her off. “Gee, thanks, Megan, but I have plans with B’Elanna tomorrow night.”

Delaney’s eyes got wide. “B’Elanna?”

Tom almost blurted out, ‘You know, beautiful, half-Klingon, could wipe the floor with you in a fight.’ Instead he just repeated her name. “B’Elanna. Torres. I’m sure you two have met.”

Megan smile turned wicked in a way he would have expected more from her twin, Jenny. “I don’t think so, Tom. B’Elanna has a date with Freddie Bristow tomorrow night. I was sitting here less than an hour ago when she made it.”

Paris wondered for a moment if the feeling in his gut had shown up on his face. B’Elanna had made a date with Bristow. B’Elanna and Bristow. Miss ‘I’m Not Interested in a Relationship’ and the Worm. He tried to cover his obvious shock. “Well, I must have my days of the week confused. My mistake.” Tom sat there quietly, watching Bristow and Nicoletti, wondering how much time he’d have to serve for shoving the man out an airlock. He didn’t even notice that Megan hadn’t left.

“So, since you’re free, why don’t you join us?” she had a hopeful-puppy expression, which Paris didn’t even register.

Harry Kim, who had been a witness to his friend’s derailment, snapped out of his shock and covered for Tom. “Actually, Tom, don’t you remember? You and I are working on that project for the captain tomorrow night?”

Paris didn’t even look up.

“Sorry, Megan,” Harry continued. “Maybe some other time.” Harry could see Delaney’s disappointment as she turned and headed for the doors. When she was gone, Kim leaned over and tried to pull Paris back to reality. “Tom, I’m sure Megan misunderstood. B’Elanna’s not interested in Bristow. She can’t stand the guy. There has to be some kind of mistake.”

Tom turned back and looked at the food now getting cold in front of him. He’d lost his appetite. “Sure,” he said as he put down his fork. “Harry, you know I’m really beat. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Paris picked up his tray and headed to the recycler. Harry wanted to call out to him, but he knew there was nothing he could say.

~~

Tom was now wide-awake and all alone. As the doors to his cabin closed behind him, he flopped down on his couch and stared at the wall. What had he missed?

Was he that out of practice at pursuing a relationship that he had so totally misread all the signs? Had he gone too fast? Too slow? Had he said the wrong things? He replayed the last week in his mind and could find only positive signs in all of his memories. What the hell had happened?

He thought about trying to sleep, but knew that was a hopeless idea. He’d slept too much already—slept right through B’Elanna’s decision to see another man. Maybe something had happened between Bristow and B’Elanna on that planet. Maybe the Worm had been there for some critical moment while Paris was off chasing the Talaxians. None of it made any sense.

Desperate for something to occupy his mind, Tom walked to his desk and searched his database for something to distract him. What he found was more a kind of self-abuse than a balm, but he couldn’t stop himself once he saw it. Carrying the portable display to his coffee table, Paris sat the machine on the glass top and activated the screen. While it cued up, he grabbed a pillow from his bed and lay down on the couch, watching the monitor turn from color to monochrome. Soon he saw the long-out-of-date map of Africa appear on the screen, and the rousing music of intrigue and danger, followed finally by the moving strains of Le Marseilles. He then watched a ridiculous representation of the Earth, its major landmasses and bodies of water labeled as if on a globe. And the ominous voice began:

“With the coming of the second World War many eyes in imprisoned Europe turned hopefully—or desperately—toward the freedom of the Americas. Lisbon became the great embarkation point, but not everybody could get to Lisbon directly. And so a torturous, roundabout refugee trail sprang up: Paris to Marseilles, across the Mediterranean to Oran, then by train or auto or foot across the rim of Africa, to Casablanca in French Morocco. Here the fortunate ones, through money or influence or luck, might obtain exit visas and scurry to Lisbon, and from Lisbon to the New World. But the others wait in Casablanca, and wait, and wait, and wait…”

Paris tortured himself with the story of Rick Blaine—a criminal, a fugitive from his own life—and the lovely Ilsa Lund, a perennially strong but beautiful woman who seemed to carry deep secrets inside her sad eyes. They were refugees in a city of refugees, who had lost one another only to find and lose each other again. Tom tried to get caught up in the story, to ignore the odd and troubling parallels to his own situation. But it was no use.

Before long he watched as Ilsa explained her secret past to Rick, who tried his best to understand why the woman he loved had left him waiting, alone, in the pouring Paris rain.

“It’s still a story without an ending.” Blaine was saying. “What about now?”

Ilsa was struggling, Tom could tell. Struggling with emotions that were conflicting and overwhelming. He thought for a moment of how this woman had run away from a man she had loved—for reasons that seemed right and noble at the time—only to see the inevitability of their destiny. They belonged together. She saw that now. But she didn’t know what to do to make things right.

“I can’t fight it anymore,” Ilsa answered. “I ran away from you once; I can’t do it again. I don’t know what’s right any longer. You have to think for both of us. For all of us.”

They were sitting close now, her head on his shoulder, as they considered their next steps. “Alright,” Rick said, finally. “Here’s looking at you, kid.”

Tom sat up and flicked off the display. He’d made an instantaneous decision to stop at the movie’s most hopeful scene, the lovers reunited and committed to finding a way to be together no matter what. He knew what was coming. He knew how this movie ended. He knew how it would make him feel.

Still not tired, he decided to head to bed anyway. Maybe, like Rick and Ilsa, he’d have to do the thinking for both himself and B’Elanna. He wasn’t ready to surrender the possibilities yet. And, despite Casablanca, he still believed in happy endings.

~*~*~*~*~

Continued in Part 4…

NOTE: Please remember, I am not the one who kept them apart for so long, and that this saga follows canon. If you’re groaning now, remember that I am groaning with you!

CREDITS:
“The Basics” written by Michael Piller
“Casablanca” screenplay by Julius J. & Philip G. Epstein and Howard Koch, from a play by Murray Burnett & Joan Alison

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