DOTS#5: Dreams & Nightmares, Part 4

RATING

R

SUMMARY

Another in my ongoing series of “Connect the P/T Dots” stories, immediately following “The Basics.” For the third time in less than a year, Tom Paris might be gone for good. What does that mean for B’Elanna?
TIMELINE & SPOILERS: “The Chute”

CODES

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

DISCLAIMER

The dark and disturbing episode “The Chute” was written by Kenneth (We Thought He Was Santa But He Was Really Scrooge) Biller, based on a story by Clayvon C. Harris. The performances of Garrett Wang and Robert Duncan McNeill are absolutely amazing, and I consider it one of the ten best episodes of Voyager ever made.

NOTE

There was never supposed to be a “Dreams & Nightmares, Part 4,” but I realized “The Basics” and “The Chute” each needed their own treatment. And I just want to remind everyone that this is a canon story, and it’s not my fault that Tom & B’Elanna didn’t get together until “Day of Honor.” Be patient! We are only a few epsiodes away from the “Blood Fever” arc and the start of the good stuff. Stay tuned.

Text Download: CTDdreams4


Paris’s body was still trying to figure out what time it was when he forced himself out of bed. He was back on duty this morning and—even though it felt like the middle of the night—he headed to the mess hall for breakfast.

He was both relieved and unnerved to see B’Elanna sitting alone at a table in the corner. He hadn’t seen her in almost five days, and—despite the rumors of her upcoming date with Freddie ‘The Worm’ Bristow—Paris decided to act like nothing was wrong. They’d come so far from their days of ‘hit-on and run,’ he just refused to let her retreat one more time.

Grabbing a cup of coffee and an apple, he walked over to her table.

“Hi,” he said tentatively. “Long time no see.” He wanted to smack himself for sounding so flip, but he was nervous and he’d just blurted it out. “Mind if I join you?”

B’Elanna was hesitating, he could tell, but she nodded, “Sure.” She had been reading an engineering report, which she put aside. “How are you feeling?”

He smiled. “Better, thanks. I just needed some sleep.” He could tell she was getting more and more uncomfortable the longer he sat there, which led Paris to ask, “What about you? Are you feeling alright?” The question seemed to make her even more anxious.

“I’m fine. I just have a lot on my mind…work, repairs…you know.” B’Elanna averted her eyes. For the first time since they’d known each other, Tom could tell he was making her nervous. Not the playful, teasing nervousness they’d both felt as they got to know each other, but tense, uneasy. As a result, she seemed to be erecting some kind of wall around herself and he was watching it go up brick by brick.

“I’m sorry about the mess I made,” he joked, trying to lighten the mood. She didn’t seem to understand. “The phaser overload. The Kazon. I’m sure you’ve heard about them; it was in all the papers.”

She was looking down at her coffee cup now. “You did what you had to do to rescue us. Everybody understands that.”

That sealed it. Tom had given her an opening, a blatant opportunity to tease him and give him hell for wreaking havoc with her precious ship, and she’d walked away from it. Something was definitely wrong.

Maybe it was time for a more direct approach. “B’Elanna, have I done something to upset you?”

She was fidgeting now. “No, of course not. Everything’s fine. But I’m running late. I have to go.” She gathered her PADD’s and stood up.

“Will I see you later?” Tom asked, partly to see how she’d answer.

“I’m not sure. I’ll probably work through lunch, and then I….” She was taking a lot of short, shallow breaths and for a moment Paris thought she might hyperventilate.

“…you have other plans. I understand. Maybe tomorrow.” He knew he had just let her off the hook, but he couldn’t stand seeing her so uncomfortable around him. And—after all she’d been through in the past few days—she might need a little time to adjust.

“Maybe,” she answered. “Bye, Tom.”

“Bye, B’Elanna.” And she was gone.

~~

When Torres got into the corridor she flopped against the bulkhead and tried to catch her breath. What in the hell was wrong with her? Why, suddenly, did the very sight of Tom Paris make her break out in a cold sweat?

And what was that “you have other plans” comment? Did he know about her accidental date with Bristow? The whole stupid mess made her want to scream.

She forced herself off the wall and started heading to the turbolift, the whole time wondering what she was doing and why. Why couldn’t she stop herself from hurting someone she really cared about? Why was she sabotaging the one thing that had finally gone right in her life?

She was feeling out of control in every possible way. And, more than anything else, B’Elanna hated being out of control.

When she got to engineering, she threw her PADD’s on the workstation and started barking orders. It was barely 0800, and everyone who reported to Voyager’s chief engineer was about to have a very long day.

~~

Seeing B’Elanna again had been the only thing Tom had thought of for the better part of the past week, yet things hadn’t exactly gone the way he’d planned. Still, they’d talked. But he knew now that, once again, they’d taken another step backward. This time, though, he had no clue as to why.

His morning got even better when Megan Delaney slipped into the seat B’Elanna had just vacated.

“Hi, Tom,” she said in that voice that made him want to yawn. “Is everything alright between you two?”

He was not going to have this conversation. Not with Megan. “With me and B’Elanna? Sure, we’re fine. Just fine.”

It was soon clear that Delaney wanted to talk about something besides his relationship with the chief engineer. “You know,” she started provocatively, “Jenny has been bugging me about getting together with you and Harry. I think she really has a crush on him, but she’s too shy to do anything about it. So, I was thinking…what if you and I try to help things along?”

That was ridiculous and Paris knew it. Jenny Delaney was anything but shy. And though Tom suspected Harry had feelings for Jenny, too, he just couldn’t think of anything worth spending another evening with Megan, particularly not in light of the delicate state of his relationship with B’Elanna. “Sure,” he lied. “But not this week. I have so much to do for this special project for the captain. But soon, I promise.”

He watched Megan mope back to her table. ‘Over my dead body,’ he thought as she left.

~*~*~*~*~

Why was it, B’Elanna wondered, that on the days when she was in no mood to put up with a lot of crap, her staff always seemed to leave their common sense at home? It had been a long, frustrating shift, and the only thing she wanted to do now was go to bed. But there was the small matter of dinner with Freddie Bristow to live through—the perfect ending to the perfect day.

This was ridiculous. She didn’t want to see Bristow, didn’t want to have dinner with him, and certainly didn’t want to leave him with the impression that she was interested in him. As she walked back to her quarters she made her decision: she’d cancel, say that something had come up. She’d let him down gently, replicate a quick dinner for herself, and put this day to a swift and merciful end.

She had barely set foot in her cabin when she saw the message flashing on her computer display. From Bristow. He’d reserved holodeck time at 1900 hours, and would be training the junior science staff on emergency shuttle procedures until just before then. Since he’d be out of touch until their date, he wanted to make sure she knew where and when to meet him. ‘You don’t know how much I’m looking forward to this,’ his message ended. ‘See you tonight.’

Damn! She was stuck and now had three hours to kill, with nothing to do but dread what was to come. At least she didn’t have to make an excuse to wear her uniform; Bristow wouldn’t have time to change. Still, her vision of this evening had never been more than a fast meal in the mess hall. How had she gotten herself into this?

~~

Harry was on the alpha shift again, and grateful to be back on the bridge. They’d finally finished repairing the relays shorted out in Tom’s attack on the Kazon, as well as the twenty-five minor systems Suder had sabotaged in an effort to keep Seska and her thugs occupied during the hijacking. It had been a long and exasperating process, but life was slowly starting to get back to normal.

At least in most respects. There was still the little matter of Tom and B’Elanna and her sudden interest in Ensign Bristow. This was all a mystery to Harry. He knew Torres—or thought he did—and would have sworn the feelings between her and Paris were mutual. Now he’d encouraged his best friend to take a risk and admit his interest only to watch him get hurt in the process.

So he reminded Tom over lunch about their ‘project for the captain’—the cover story Harry had created to dodge Megan Delaney—and told Paris to meet him in the holodeck at 2100 hours. Not only would a boys night out help to get Tom’s mind off his troubles, it would keep him far away from the mess hall during prime date time.

Though he could tell his friend’s heart wasn’t in it, Kim was glad when Paris agreed.

~~

Anxious to get this over with, B’Elanna was waiting outside Holodeck 1 at exactly 1900 hours. Freddy was right on time.

Bristow activated a program and opened the doors, leading B’Elanna inside. She had to stop herself from groaning when she saw where they were.

Every Federation starship came with certain stock holodeck programs for those crewmen without the talent or imagination to come up with their own. The scenarios ranged from practical training programs to template social events. Torres recognized this one as ‘Candlelight Dinner.’ Its setting: Paris.

To be more specific, a stereotypical French bistro on the banks of the Seine. There were only three programmable narrative parameters, one of which allowed the operator to choose between a bustling restaurant and a private dinner, and Bristow had obviously selected the latter. He was overestimating her interest, she could tell, and for a moment B’Elanna considered putting an end to this date right away.

But somehow she didn’t have the energy. Better to just eat, make her excuses, and get the hell out of there, she figured. And so she bit her tongue and played along.

There was a period of time when Torres found herself wondering if they’d encountered a temporal rift. She knew Freddie only had two hours of holodeck time reserved, yet she could have sworn they’d been on this ‘date’ for at least six or seven. Clearly, time itself had slowed down. Maybe she should contact the bridge…

They’d finished their meal: a rich, gamy goulash that had been an old Bristow family recipe—and which was making B’Elanna very aware of her redundant stomachs as both turned flips inside her. As she should have expected, Freddie was now indulging in his favorite leisure time activity, prattling on about his assignments and complaining about his supervisor: Tom Paris.

“His training regimen is completely redundant, and he comes up with these tactical scenarios that are thoroughly impractical. This morning he had my shuttle assimilated by the Borg. The Borg! What are the odds of that happening?”

B’Elanna was coming to the end of her patience. “Maybe he’s just trying to be creative. Keep things interesting so you and the others don’t get bored.” Part of her wondered, though, if Tom wasn’t just playing out a little personal fantasy of seeing Bristow get himself assimilated.

“I don’t experience boredom,” Bristow bragged. B’Elanna wished she could say the same thing. “I can always think of ways to fill my time. Physical and mental discipline are the key. I like to keep myself in top condition, ready for anything. I don’t need Paris’s silly simulations to stay sharp. A good game of Velocity or Parrises Squares, and…”

“You play Parrises Squares?” B’Elanna marveled. It was a game that required not only physical stamina but also a kind of mental agility she couldn’t imagine that Bristow possessed.

“Yes. I don’t like to boast, but I believe I could probably beat any man on this ship.”

She wondered for a moment if she heard him correctly. “Any man?”

Bristow smiled in a way that implied he was going to impart some wisdom to the poor unenlightened woman across from him. “Now don’t get me wrong, B’Elanna. I’ve met a few good female players. But the typical humanoid female body has its limitations. Statistically, women are shorter and lack the upper body strength of most males of the same species. In a game like Parrises Squares, a man definitely has a tactical advantage.”

She couldn’t believe what she was hearing. “So you think you’re a better player by virtue of your gender?”

He chuckled. “Well, it seems obvious, doesn’t it?”

She’d had about all she could take of this idiot. “Bristow, I could wipe the floor with you in Parrises Squares, Velocity, hover ball…” She was prepared to tick off a dozen physical contests when he issued his challenge.

“No offense, B’Elanna. I mean I know you’re half-Klingon, but I’ve played every other day for the last ten years. I really don’t think…”

“So you’re afraid to play me,” she blurted out.

“No,” Bristow jumped in. “I’d love to play you, if you think you’re up to it. How about Saturday, 0200?”

“You’re on!” She’d show him, that insolent little…

It took B’Elanna less than ten seconds to realize she’d just made her second date with Freddie Bristow. How in the hell had that happened?

Before she could think of a way to get out of it, she heard the ensign’s commbadge chirp. Their time was up. Finally!

She couldn’t get out of the holodeck fast enough. “Computer, exit,” she called before her date could even shut down the program. He was running to catch up with her when she stormed into the corridor…

…and ran full force into Tom Paris. She almost knocked them both down, and Paris had to catch her before they fell.

“Woah!” Tom said as he steadied her. “Are you okay?” She was flushed and out of breath, as was Bristow.

“I’m fine,” she said, stunned to find herself in Paris’s arms. “Sorry. I guess I wasn’t watching where I was going.” Tom still had his hands on her shoulders, and B’Elanna let him hang onto her long after she was in no danger of falling.

Harry was coming toward them from the opposite end of the corridor, and B’Elanna suddenly felt very embarrassed. She took a step back, away from Tom, and his hands fell to his sides. Bristow, as usual, was oblivious.

“Lieutenant,” Freddie said, acknowledging his senior officer.

“Ensign,” Tom answered formally.

“Well,” Bristow had turned to his date. “Can I walk you home?”

B’Elanna felt Harry and Tom’s eyes on her as she answered. “No, um, thanks. I need to stop by engineering first.”

Bristow took a step closer toward her and lowered his voice, as if this could stop Paris and Kim from overhearing him. “This was great, B’Elanna. And I’m really exited about Saturday. I’ll see you then.”

He turned and walked away, leaving the three friends standing alone—awkwardly—in the middle of the corridor. “Well,” B’Elanna said after what felt like an eternity, “I should let you two go.”

Harry stopped her. “We were just going to shoot a little pool in Sandrine’s. Why don’t you come with us?”

For a second, she considered it. Then she looked up into the very hurt eyes of Tom Paris and decided against it. “Thanks, Harry, but I do have something I need to check on in engineering. I’ll see you later. Goodnight.”

“Night,” Kim echoed. And she was gone.

Harry turned back to see that Tom was already inside the holodeck, looking at the remnants of the romantic dinner that had just ended. “Computer,” he heard his friend say. “Initiate program Paris 3 Solo.” And in a moment the familiar Marseilles tavern appeared—minus the normal holographic characters.

So much for getting Tom’s mind off his troubles, Harry realized.

~*~*~*~*~

The next few weeks seemed to be an unending loop: Tom would approach B’Elanna. There’d be a moment of promise. He’d say the wrong thing. B’Elanna would rebuff him. Megan would approach Tom. Tom would stall for time. Megan would pout. It was becoming predictable, and more than a little tiresome for everyone involved.

Paris watched for signs that Torres and Bristow were becoming a couple. He’d heard all about their second date—a fairly vigorous game of Parrises Squares, according to the rumor mill—but the conventional wisdom said the two were barely speaking now. So, if it wasn’t a newfound interest in the Worm, why was B’Elanna being so distant? The pieces just didn’t add up.

If it hadn’t been for Harry, Tom might have done nothing but mope and hyper-analyze and work. Kim seemed to be on a one-man mission to lift the spirits of Tom Paris, and his friend was grateful for the effort.

In the six weeks since they’d left Hanon IV, Kim almost never mentioned her name. Sure the three friends occasionally had lunch together, but—when the men were alone—Harry seemed to know instinctively that the subject of B’Elanna Torres was a painful one. Tom suspected his friend felt a little guilty for encouraging him to admit his feelings. And Harry seemed just as clueless as Tom about the reasons for B’Elanna’s quick change of heart.

It only took a few weeks before Kim was actually encouraging Paris to move on. He’d begun suggesting that they actually take Megan up on her offer of a double-date. Tom resisted, and the whole affair became a kind of running joke between the men. Every time they were looking for something to do with their free time, Harry would mention the twins’ invitation. Every time Tom would get lost in his thoughts about a certain half-Klingon, Harry would tease him, saying, “Stop daydreaming about Megan Delaney.” It would diffuse the moment, and help Paris remember that there was nothing to be gained by obsessing about a woman he couldn’t have.

Now Harry’s rescue mission was about to go on the road. Voyager was approaching a friendly spaceport with a reputation—or so said Neelix—for great nightspots and gracious natives. The Akritirians had extended a warm welcome and had agreed to allow the crew some well-deserved recreational leave. Kim saw to it they would be among the first to go ashore.

As they headed to the transporter room—Harry silently laughing that Tom had worn that ugly striped vest—they passed B’Elanna on her way to the mess hall. Always a glutton for punishment, Paris stopped to invite her along.

“You’re welcome to join us, you know,” Paris said after Harry explained their plans for the evening.

“No, thank you,” B’Elanna answered stiffly. It had been weeks since she’d even looked Tom in the eyes and today was no different. And he’d had just about as much as he could take.

This game was getting boring. “Well, it’s your loss,” Paris said flatly. Harry knew it was time to go when Tom took off down the corridor.

“Bye, B’Elanna,” Kim said as he hurried to catch up with his friend. The men were quiet the rest of the way to the transporter room.

But Harry wouldn’t give up. A few hours on a friendly planet, a few glasses of Akritirian beer, and maybe Tom would be as good as new. Okay, probably not. Still, Harry felt a great sense of anticipation as he heard the transporter hum. In a matter of seconds, they were gone.

~~

B’Elanna was at the bridge engineering station when the hail came over the com. “Carey to Voyager!” she could hear the panic in Joe’s voice.

“Voyager here, Mister Carey,” Janeway answered.

“Captain,” Joe struggled to catch his breath. “There’s been an explosion. The café…we had just left.” They could barely make sense of what he was saying.

“Are you alright, Lieutenant?” Janeway asked, now standing in front of her chair.

“Ayala, Rollins, and I are fine. But Paris and Kim were still inside. The whole place is flattened and the Akritiri guards won’t let us help look for them.”

Janeway’s face was ashen and she turned to look at Tuvok. The security chief was already anticipating her question. “I’m reading evidence of a small explosion. The radiation is obscuring our sensors. But I can find no trace of their commbadges at this time.”

Chakotay was standing now, too. “What about lifesigns in the debris?” he asked.

“Impossible to tell through the radiation,” Tuvok replied. “Captain, I’d like to take a security detail to the scene.”

“Agreed,” Janeway responded. “But I’m coming with you. Mister Chakotay, recall the remaining away teams and inform the Akritiri government that I’m on my way.”

Before she could reach the turbolift, a message came in from Ambassador Liria. She walked back to her seat and answered the hail.

“Captain, I regret to inform you that there has been an act of terrorism in the heart of our capitol city. I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to ask that you recall your crewmen to your ship until we can determine what’s happened.”

Janeway was controlled, but anxious. “Yes, Ambassador, we’ve been made aware of the explosion. I believe two of my men may have been inside the establishment that was bombed. I’d like to send down a search party to assist in locating them.

The man’s face turned grave. “I’m afraid I won’t be able to allow that,” he said in a clipped voice. “But I will contact you as soon as I have any news on your missing crewmen. Liria out.”

Before Janeway could even ask him to reconsider, the ambassador was gone.

B’Elanna sat there for a moment, stunned. She’d passed Tom and Harry in the corridor only two hours earlier. She’d been cold to them both. Now they were missing, maybe hurt or worse.

Why was it, she wondered, that every time something horrible happened, Tom Paris seemed to be right in the middle of it?

~*~*~*~*~

Tom woke up at the bottom of a chute, staring into faces out of hell. The men there—if you could call them men—were hovering around him like vultures waiting to pick the bones of the dead. He’d been in enough seedy places to know that the first five minutes often decided if you lived or died. And he planned to live.

Though he still felt groggy, Paris forced himself to his feet and gave warning. “Back off!” he barked, deciding it wouldn’t hurt if he looked mean and a little crazy. His height gave him a psychological advantage, and he pulled himself up straight despite the pain in his head and back.

When the crowd disbursed, he used his next hard-earned survival skill. He staked out a safe spot and kept his eyes and ears open.

The crazy ones were always the first to talk: they were in an Akritiri prison camp, three hundred meters below the planet’s surface. While some of the inmates were convicted of violent crimes, many of them were political prisoners involved in something called the Open Sky movement.

Paris remembered most of what had happened to him. He and Harry were having a drink in a café in the capitol city. Joe, Mike, and Pete had just left when Tom felt the concussive force of a small explosion knock him off his chair. It was the last thing he recalled before the trial.

Within hours he was hauled before a local magistrate and charged with terrorism. They claimed that he and Harry had masterminded the attack, and that Kim had already confessed. Before he could protest, Paris felt some kind of pressure on his left arm. He instantly started slipping out of consciousness.

Now he leaned against the dank walls, wondering how in the hell he’d ended up in this mess. And he wondered what had happened to Harry.

Three hours into his captivity and Tom was starting to get itchy. His skin was tingling, like he’d rolled around on an ant hill, and there was a stinging sensation at the back of his head. When he reached up his hand, he felt a flat metal disk with a small, bulb-shaped protrusion embedded in his scalp. And he was starting to get anxious.

Paris had scoped the place long enough to know that there were no loyalties among the prisoners. And there were no guards. He also noticed that one of the inmates seemed to have an intelligence and a calm about him that the others lacked. Tom decided to strike up a conversation.

The man said his name was Zio, and that he was writing about his experience in the prison. Zio was clearly out of his mind, but there was an intellect about him Paris thought he might be able to reach. Question 1 on Tom’s list: what was the device in his scalp?

Zio explained that the prisoners called it ‘the clamp’ and that it was the subject of a manifesto the man was writing on the master plan behind their imprisonment. Paris wondered aloud why the prisoners hadn’t just removed the devices themselves, when Zio offered to give him a demonstration. Before Paris knew what was happening, Zio approached one of the less stable inmates and began a conversation Tom couldn’t hear. He could see Zio working the man into a frenzy. The agitated man finally placed his hand to his head and pulled the device until it came loose.

Tom turned away from the gruesome sight, aware not only of the incredible amount of blood, but the burning smell of the electric current that had coursed through the now-dead prisoner’s body. It was a disgusting way to have made the point.

Yet Tom knew he couldn’t show fear or revulsion. He steeled himself for Zio’s return. “That place was his,” the crazy man said, pointing to a hollowed out packing crate in the corner. “It’s yours now, if you want it.”

Smart enough to know that Zio was testing him, Paris watched the prisoners scavenge the dead man’s clothes as he answered. “Thanks,” Tom said. Then he retreated to his new ‘home’.

As he pushed aside the filthy bedding, his hand found a crude, homemade knife tucked under the edge of the crate. He was afraid it might come in handy. Tom settled his back against the wall, rapidly becoming obsessed with two questions: how the hell was he going to get out of here? And what had happened to Harry Kim?

~*~*~*~*~

B’Elanna was desperate for news. Two days had passed and no one on the surface would confirm or deny that her friends were even alive. When she was called to the briefing room, she held her breath.

What she heard was unbelievable. Tom and Harry had been charged, convicted, and sentenced for the bombing at the Laktivia Recreational Facility. This news was good only in that it confirmed that they were still alive. But now her friends were being held in an alien prison for a crime they obviously didn’t commit.

B’Elanna had pleaded with Janeway to go back for the men, but the captain pointed out that they’d need to prove Paris and Kim’s innocence first. Torres was happy when she was able to give the captain something to go on; the only evidence linking her friends to the crime was the trace of trilithium (a derivative of Voyager’s main power source) on their clothing. But Torres knew that paralithium could also be converted into the substance, and that ships powered by the mineral could be easily detected.

With a new clue to work with, Voyager set off in search of paralithium signatures and the real terrorists. Finally B’Elanna might be able to do something productive in the name of helping her friends. She had a lot to atone for where Tom and Harry were concerned. Maybe this would be the start.

~*~*~*~*~

Tom’s questions about Harry’s fate had been answered after a few days as he found his best friend on the filthy floor at the bottom of the chute. Kim was bleeding, and being attacked by the other inmates as he struggled to regain consciousness. For Harry’s own good, Paris had been the one to finish him off with a sharp blow to the ribcage. It was painful for them both, but established Tom’s ‘claim’ to his friend—the only way Paris could think of to avoid an all-out battle for the ‘fresh meat.’

And Tom had been lucky so far. His experience in squalid alien bars serving him better than his time in the very civilized Federation penal colony, Paris had learned the value of acting tougher than he felt. And at least now he knew Harry was alive. They’d get out of this somehow.

They’d gone scouting for food and water earlier in the day, finding nothing edible. Paris had come across a broken pipe, bringing it back in the hope that his wiz-kid best friend could adapt it into some kind of device to short out the chute and let them crawl to the surface. But he knew the toll hunger and thirst were taking on them both. Tom had teased about the picnic they could take if they ever found something to eat, and Harry had joked that all they needed were the Delaney sisters.

Their running joke was normally intended to make Tom feel better about the state of his relationship with B’Elanna. Today—even though Paris had chuckled at the time—it had only made him miss her all the more. Yet things could have been worse; B’Elanna could have accepted his invitation to join them and been caught up in this mess, too. He was grateful for small favors.

But they had to get that pipe to work. It was their only hope of survival, and Tom knew there was some unfinished business waiting for him back on Voyager. He’d check on Harry’s progress one more time, then he’d force his way up that chute if he had to.

~*~*~*~*~

Torres had insisted on manning the bridge engineering station herself, and was caught up in the search for paralithium energy signatures. So far she’d detected four ships that used the distinctive fuel, three of which were missing any telltale explosive residues. That left them one shot to find the culprits and enough evidence to implicate them. Everything depended on B’Elanna’s success in tracking the final ship. She was becoming obsessed with the search.

She’d been scanning non-stop for five hours when she realized someone was hovering over her shoulder.

“Time for a break, Lieutenant.” Chakotay was about to play big-brother again, she could tell.

“I’m fine. I’d rather keep working.” She tried to sound matter-of-fact, to hide the physical and mental fatigue she was feeling. She should have known better.

“That wasn’t a suggestion. I’m heading down to the mess hall to get some lunch and you’re coming with me.” He had that damn ‘I’m the first officer’ expression he liked to use to get his way, and she hated that he had the authority to back it up.

“You’re ordering me to have lunch with you. Can you do that?” She wasn’t being flip; she really wanted to know.

“Let’s just say I’d have the backing of the captain if I did. Now on your feet, Lieutenant.” He wasn’t going to let her turn this into a battle, so she decided not to try.

“Yes, sir,” she said, letting him know that she wasn’t happy about his pulling rank. She reluctantly followed him into the turbolift, and was quiet while they made the trip to Deck 2.

She wasn’t hungry, but grabbed a tray anyway, assuming that he’d order her to eat something. Chakotay led her to a table in the corner by the viewport where they could have some privacy, even though the room was almost empty. B’Elanna pushed the food around her plate with her fork as she waited for the inevitable therapy session to start.

“We’re going to get them back,” Chakotay said reassuringly.

She nodded. “Sure we will,” though she didn’t sound so convinced. “Until the next time.”

He looked up at her, surprised at the comment. “The next time?”

B’Elanna wasn’t sure where that thought had come from, but she had a level of comfort with Chakotay that caused her to start verbalizing whatever popped into her mind. “Well, you know Tom Paris,” she said almost angrily, “If there’s trouble within a hundred kilometers, he’ll find it. I don’t think he’ll be satisfied until he gets himself killed.”

Her friend was confused. “B’Elanna do you think what happened on Akritiri was Tom’s fault?” Suddenly she realized the implications of what she’d said.

“No, of course not.” She had to think about whether or not that was really true. “It’s just that…well, this is the third time in less than a year…” She wasn’t sure what she was trying to say. “Well, one day his luck will run out. And I’m not sure I want to be around when that happens.”

Chakotay was looking at her more intently now, as if something were dawning on him. After a minute—and for no apparent reason—he changed the subject. “So, I hear you’ve started dating Freddie Bristow.”

Torres almost jumped out of her seat. “What? Where did you hear that?”

He was smiling now. “Is it true?”

B’Elanna just closed her eyes and shook her head. “I cannot believe this is happening…” She took a moment before she answered. “I had dinner with him one time. It wasn’t really a date.” She was looking down into her untouched lunch, and when she spoke again, it was in a quiet mumble. “And I played Parrises Squares with him one time.”

“So I guess the answer is yes.” Chakotay was smiling, but she could see there was more to this interrogation than a desire to embarrass her.

“The answer is definitely no. I…saw…him twice. There won’t be a third time.” She was definitive.

“I see,” he said in that annoying analytical way of his. B’Elanna waited for him to finish his sentence, but instead he just took a long drink of his coffee.

“What do you ‘see’?” she pressed.

His voice took on a more serious edge. “Well, I see a woman who went on two dates with a man she can’t stand.” He was looking her in the eyes in a way that made her feel exposed. “And I see that same woman angry and barely speaking with a man she obviously cares for. That’s a little strange, don’t you think?” He let the question hang in the air before he continued.

“This is a risky line of work,” he said gently. “Anything could happen to any of us. But if you live your life waiting for something to go wrong, you might end up missing all the things that could have gone right.” He looked down into his cup, and B’Elanna could tell that he was trying to decide how to say what he was thinking. “Sometimes a chance at happiness is worth the risk of losing it all.”

He pulled into himself, and B’Elanna wondered for a moment when her friend had become such a hopeless romantic. Then she realized he wasn’t only talking about her.

She’d almost forgotten about New Earth, and the changes she and Tom had noticed in Chakotay’s relationship with Captain Janeway. Two months was a long time. Two months when he and the captain thought they’d be trapped on that planet alone together for the rest of their lives. Her friend had been changed by the experience. She wondered if he’d ever tell her exactly what had happened.

She reached across the table and squeezed his hand. “We should get back,” she said, even more determined now to find the evidence that would bring her friends home.

Chakotay nodded, then smiled. “You actually dated Freddie Bristow,” he was grinning evilly. B’Elanna punched him in the arm, wondering—not for the first time—if she’d ever live that down.

~~

Tom’s bad day was getting worse: the pipe still didn’t work, and Harry was slowly falling victim to the clamp. It was strange for Tom to see the normally reticent and thoughtful Harry Kim slowly eaten alive by the internal itching powder the control device brought on. They’d fought twice this morning—Paris still not sure which one had provoked the other—but Tom knew he had to stay in control.

Harry was a baby, an innocent in a place where the naïve were prey. Tom knew it was up to him to protect his friend, to keep them both safe until providence—or Kim’s engineering skills—offered them a way out.

Harry was testing the device on the chute now, struggling to keep his focus, and failing. Tom distracted him the only way he could think of: with the promise of food. Steak, rack of lamb, baked potatoes, and rich desserts were all symbols of a future worth waiting for. Tom had to laugh when Harry said he’d be happy with leola root stew. That was a good sign: Kim was falling back on his sense of humor, something Paris knew from personal experience could keep a frustrated and angry mind in check.

But then the wires crossed and sent a shock through Kim’s chest that had hurled him screaming to the floor in pain—attracting some unwanted attention. Once again, Paris slipped into protective mode and reached for his knife.

Tom was an experienced street fighter, but he was out of practice and outnumbered. It became clear all too quickly that this was a fight he would lose. Still, he wasn’t really aware of the blade as it slipped into his gut. Only when he felt the wetness of his bloodstained shirt did he know for sure that he’d been stabbed.

Harry did what he could to get Tom back to their shelter. But word spread quickly about dead men here and the scavengers had set upon their crate before Kim could drag his bleeding friend back to it. They were out of options, and Tom made Harry promise that—no matter what—Kim would look out for himself first. Even if it meant leaving Paris behind.

Tom was starting to lose consciousness. He had a vague memory of Harry making a deal with the madman, then tending to Tom’s wounds. Soon Kim had gone off, looking for a way to the surface, and Paris found himself losing the battle to stay awake. Malnourished, dehydrated, and in shock from the loss of blood, Tom closed his eyes wondering if he’d ever open them again.

~~

B’Elanna had been back at her station less than an hour when they detected it: a ship with a paralithium propulsion system, two crewmen—and clear traces of trilithium in their cargo bay. Yet she was shocked when the captain beamed the ‘terrorists’ aboard. They were practically children: a young man and his sister, both committed to some cause they called ‘Open Sky’. Torres didn’t know exactly what they were protesting and she wasn’t sure she cared. For a woman once so committed to her own causes, she couldn’t see past the fact that her innocent friends were in danger because of the actions of these two.

But at least they’d found the real bombers. As soon as the Akritirian authorities learned of the captain’s new evidence, Tom and Harry would be set free and they could put this whole mess behind them.

It was the first hopeful thought she’d had in almost four days. Maybe, if everything went their way, she’d be having dinner with her best friends that night.

She was still on the bridge when the captain got the news: there’d be no pardon, no acquittal, no freedom for Paris and Kim. Akritirian sentences were never reversed, it turned out, even in light of new evidence. And there was no hope of appeal.

Dealt yet another blow, Torres found it hard to take any comfort in the captain’s latest plan to break her friends out of their maximum security prison ship. Even if the young terrorists had given them accurate information about the facility, there were no guarantees that Tom and Harry were even being held there, or that they could be rescued. She was losing hope of ever seeing them again.

And she’d wanted to go along on the rescue mission, but Janeway refused. The captain needed Neelix to pilot his Talaxian cruiser so the Akritirians would be caught off guard. She and Tuvok would lead the security detail into the prison. With Tom and Harry missing, that would leave B’Elanna and Chakotay as the only senior officers left aboard. She’d have to stay. And wait.

B’Elanna was off duty now, but couldn’t stand the thought of running into anyone who might ask her questions about her missing friends. The setback in their rescue mission and her lunchtime conversation with Chakotay had raised more questions than they had answered, and Torres needed to be alone to sort it all out. She considered going to her cabin, but found herself on Deck 4 instead.

It took her less than a second to get inside his quarters. Paris hadn’t changed his security code since her last break-in, and she had to admit she wasn’t surprised. They’d developed a little unwritten rule: if the cause were right and they behaved themselves, they could come and go from each other’s homes as necessary. And while her visit tonight wasn’t exactly necessary, B’Elanna felt compelled to be someplace where she could feel close to Tom.

She spent a moment thinking about the last few weeks. How she’d decided to take the next steps in their relationship. How she’d gone numb inside when she thought Tom was dead. The fear she’d developed when he’d finally brought Voyager back for them. How scared she’d felt whenever she was around him lately.

She knew Tom thought she was pushing him away. But that wasn’t her intention. She wasn’t disinterested or ambivalent. Quite the opposite. Instead, every time she was alone with Paris she had the intense feeling that something horrible was about to happen, that he was in some kind of danger. That, whether by his own recklessness or some terrible twist of fate, he was going to leave her yet again. And that feeling terrified her to the point that she couldn’t stand to be near him.

B’Elanna wasn’t used to feeling afraid. Despite her disdain for her Klingon side, she had believed for several years that it was the source of her courage. Now that courage had failed her. And it had failed Tom.

Once again, he was gone, trapped in some horrible situation not of his making. And once again she had let him go without telling him how she felt.

What was wrong with her? Why did her desire for him cause her to keep pushing him away? Nothing about her reaction made sense, not even to her.

The irony almost overwhelmed her: she’d done everything she could to avoid him while he was home, safe and sound. Now that he was gone and in real danger, she would have done anything in her power to see him again.

B’Elanna had been standing just inside his door for a few minutes, wondering why she had thought this would comfort her. Yet she couldn’t make herself leave. Instead, she walked the few steps to his bed, and sat down.

She wondered where Tom would be sleeping tonight, if he even had a bed. She realized that it must be hard for him, being back in prison, and she wondered if this new experience was calling up bad memories of Auckland. She was glad Harry was with him—she hoped the men had been kept together—and she tried to imagine if things would have been any different if she had accepted Tom’s invitation and gone with them on shore leave. It was an unproductive thought, but she couldn’t help but wonder.

Six weeks earlier, Voyager and her crew had been stranded on a desolate planet with no hope of rescue. Yet somehow Tom had found a way to come back for them. Now it was the crew’s turn to return the favor. They’d find them somehow, and when they did, Harry and Tom would be home where they belonged. When that time came, B’Elanna promised herself that she’d conquer her fears, and make things right again between her and Tom. Somehow.

B’Elanna tucked her feet underneath her and lay down on his bed. Only then did she realize what she’d come for. Pulling Tom’s pillow out from under the blanket, Torres lowered her face into the soft white linen and breathed him in. Within a few moments, she fell into a fitful sleep.

~~

Tom was dreaming…

He was in Sandrine’s, but for some reason everything was in black and white. Paris looked down to see a wisp of smoke rising from the cigarette in his hand. Harry was sitting on the other side of the room, playing a tinny piano when Tom saw her walk in. B’Elanna was a vision in a white tailored suit, with a wide-brimmed hat pulled low over one eye.

‘Of all the gin joints in all the starships in all the galaxy,’ he thought to himself, ‘she walks into mine…’

He watched her sit down and order a drink, gazing across the room at Harry like he was her long-lost best friend. Tom was just about to go up to her when the door opened, and a tall, well-dressed man entered. The man, whose face was obscured by his hat, walked to the table where she was sitting, leaned over and kissed her passionately on the lips.

Tom was on his feet now, heading toward the couple. When she saw him, B’Elanna looked afraid, and turned to the man sitting across from her. Paris pulled out the man’s chair, forced him to stand, and swung him around by his shoulder. It was then he recognized the handsome stranger he’d seen kissing the woman he loved. Bristow. Freddie Bristow. The Worm.

B’Elanna was now standing between the two men, and looking longingly into Paris’s eyes. Suddenly, Sandrine’s melted away, and they were in his quarters.

“Tom, I tried to stay away. I thought I would never see you again, that you were out of my life. The day you left Voyager, if you knew what I went through. If you knew how much I loved you. How much I still love you…”

She was kissing him now, as he pulled her into his arms…

Tom woke up to the sensation of a rag being dragged over his forehead. For a minute, he was lucid and he realized it was Harry.

“I was dreaming,” he said to his friend. “About ‘Megan Delaney.’”

He knew their private joke would make Kim laugh. It did. “Next time I’ll try not to wake you.”

Something was strange, Paris realized, but he couldn’t place it. He was having trouble breathing, and, even though he could tell he’d been sweating, the crate felt unbearably cold.

Tom knew they were in the prison, knew that Harry had tried to make it out through the chute. There was something else. He couldn’t remember what…

Then Harry touched Tom’s abdomen, and a pain shot through his entire body. ‘What’s he doing to me?’ Tom wondered, having a vague memory of them fighting, of Harry screaming at him. Harry must have done this—he must have stabbed him. A wave of fear rushed over Tom and he reached for the only weapon he could find to defend himself: the pipe. He had to stop Harry from hurting him again. He had to make the pain go away.

No, that wasn’t right. Harry was his friend. Harry would protect him. Slowly, Tom loosened his grip and let go of the pipe. But the fear was still there. “Harry, what’s happening to me?”

“You’re gonna be okay,” his friend reassured him. Tom was still terrified. Everything was spinning out of control.

“Harry, don’t leave me here.” He felt Kim grab his hand and squeeze tightly. Tom was afraid, afraid of what was happening, afraid of the noises he heard droning on outside his crate—afraid that Harry would find a way out of there and leave him alone. He tightened his grip on Kim’s hand and wouldn’t let go.

“Close your eyes.” Harry reassured him. But Tom couldn’t relax until Harry had settled in on the floor beside him. Only then—still clutching his best friend’s hand—did he let his eyes close and drift back to sleep.

~*~*~*~*~

B’Elanna woke up disoriented by the strange surroundings, unsure of how long she’d been asleep. It only took her a second to realize where she was and why. She was determined that this was the last day she’d wake up unsure of her friends’ fate. She forced herself to sit up, gather her thoughts and get back to work.

She was on her way to her cabin to get a clean uniform when Chakotay hailed her: they’d picked up Neelix’s ship on the long-range sensors. The away team was on their way back.

She started running as she answered. “I’ll be right there. Let me know the moment you hear from them,” she barked. “Torres out.”

B’Elanna wished she could have been there for the rescue, but at least this whole nightmare was about to come to an end. She hit the button for the turbolift, then closed her eyes. She tried to visualize the moment when her friends would walk off of Neelix’s ship. She’d be there waiting for them. Then everything would be okay. She’d make it okay again.

Torres looked down as she waited for the lift to arrive. She wished she’d had time to grab a shower and change. She was a mess after sleeping in her uniform, and this wasn’t how she wanted Tom to see her when he got home.

She joined Chakotay on the bridge as they waited for the captain’s call. It felt like four or five hours had passed, but—when B’Elanna checked the chronometer—she saw it had been less than one. Then they received an emergency hail.

“Janeway to Voyager.” Chakotay looked over to her as he answered. B’Elanna held her breath. “We’ve got them.” Torres closed her eyes and exhaled, only to learn that her silent celebration might have been premature. “But Lieutenant Paris is badly wounded. I need an emergency transport as soon as we’re in range. Have the Doctor and Kes standing by. This is going to be close.”

“Aye, Captain,” she heard Chakotay answer. He caught her eye for a moment before turning to the conn. “Mister Baytart, move us to the edge of Akritirian space. Try to close the gap between us and the away team. Rollins, locate the shuttle on long-range sensors and prepare to beam Paris and Kim out of there the second we’re in range.”

Her friend turned back to her. “B’Elanna, go to sickbay and tell the Doctor to prepare for casualties. Keep me informed as soon as they arrive.”

There was no reason for the chief engineer to personally deliver instructions to the Doctor. He was giving her an excuse to be in sickbay when Tom and Harry arrived. B’Elanna tried to thank him with her eyes as she headed for the turbolift. “Aye, sir,” was all she could say.

~~

It took another ten minutes before the shimmer of the transporter left two battered bodies on the sickbay floor. The Doctor had received a transmission from the captain describing Tom’s injuries and the EMH had Paris moved to the surgical bed almost immediately. B’Elanna couldn’t see much from where she was standing, but she could tell her friends had been through hell. They were filthy, their clothing in shreds, and looked like they’d been beaten within an inch of their lives.

She could hear the Doctor describe Tom’s injuries to Kes. He’d been stabbed. The knife had missed most of his major organs, but the wound was infected and Tom had lost a lot of blood. Torres was trying not to jump to any conclusions, but couldn’t help but hear the EMH’s warning to his medic: “We need to get his blood volume up, or we’re going to lose him.”

B’Elanna took a step closer to the surgical bay, then realized that Harry was coming around. She moved to Kim’s biobed and took his hand. He tried to sit up, but winced in pain. “Easy, Starfleet,” she said as she pushed him back down. “You’re hurt.”

It seemed to take Harry a second to realize where he was, and for a moment his eyes closed in relief. Then they opened—wide—and searched the room for Paris. He could see the medical team working in the surgical bay. “Tom…”

“The Doctor’s with him,” she said reassuringly. “He’ll be fine.” She hoped it was true.

Kim was determined to sit up, so B’Elanna took his arm and supported his weight as he did. “My god, Harry, what happened to you two?”

It was only then that she noticed the crazed look coming into Harry’s eyes, as if—despite his injuries and obvious weakness—Kim was being pumped full of stimulants. His hands were trembling and he was almost in a panic. “This is all my fault,” he was mumbling. “All my fault. All my fault.” Over and over he repeated the words, his whole body rocking, his eyes clenching shut.

B’Elanna tried to comfort him. “Harry, whatever happened, I’m sure it wasn’t your fault. You would never do anything to hurt Tom.” Kim’s eyes flew open and the look inside them was rage.

“You don’t know what you’re talking about!” he screamed at her. “Besides, what do you care? Since when do you give a damn what happens to him? You should just get the hell out of here and leave him alone!”

The Doctor had seen the commotion and sent an orderly over with a hypo. In a second, Harry was sedated.

B’Elanna took a step back and tried to figure out what just happened.

Maybe Harry had every reason to be angry with her. Maybe if she hadn’t pushed Tom away, none of this would have happened. Kim’s outburst played into her own insecurity, and for a moment she thought maybe she’d better just go. But one look toward the surgical bay and she knew she couldn’t leave. She needed to make sure Tom would survive before she’d set one foot outside the door. So she waited.

A moment later the captain and Neelix entered from the corridor. “What’s Tom’s status, Doctor?” Janeway asked.

The EMH didn’t look up. “I’ve stopped the bleeding and repaired his wounds. The infection was severe, but the medication is working and his fever is dropping. Ten more minutes and it might have been too late. Fortunately for Mister Paris, he’s under the care of a skilled physician. He should make a full recovery.”

B’Elanna closed her eyes. Somewhere, buried in the Doctor’s pompous self-congratulation she heard what she needed to know: Tom would be fine.

The EMH had finished with Paris and moved to check on Harry. He was giving instructions to the medical assistants as he moved. “Let’s get them out of these filthy clothes.” For the first time, he noticed B’Elanna standing to the side. “Perhaps you’d like to make yourself useful, Lieutenant, and pick up clean uniforms for your friends.”

Actually relieved to have a reason to get out of sickbay and catch her breath, B’Elanna nodded and headed for the door.

As she walked to Harry’s cabin, she couldn’t help but think about the accusation Kim had made. She’d been acting like an idiot these past few weeks, and Harry had every right to be angry. Still, she’d never seen him so furious or so protective of Tom. So maybe she had let her fear get in the way of her feelings. But that was over. She’d learned a valuable lesson about appreciating what she had, and walking away from Tom was a mistake she wasn’t about to make again.

~~

B’Elanna had just left when the Doctor scanned Harry and noticed not only the severe contusions on his face, but the metal disk embedded in his scalp. “What’s this?” he said out loud. He’d been so focused on treating Paris’s abdominal wounds that he hadn’t noticed the device both men now wore.

His scans revealed a sophisticated torture device, a synaptic stimulator that used the brain’s own chemistry to keep its wearer in a constant state of agitation. A quick scan with the tricorder revealed the device’s deadly secret: it was wired into the brain’s major arteries. Any tempt to remove the implant while it was active would cause a massive cerebral hemorrhage.

Fortunately, the technology was easily defeated with a standard Starfleet phase inducer. It shorted out the implant’s circuitry, and retracted the probes that snaked into the brain’s blood supply. ‘Barbaric,’ the Doctor thought, ‘that someone would develop such a device and use it on their own people.’ He was all the more outraged that they had used it on his.

~~

It had taken B’Elanna almost thirty minutes to pick up the uniforms and get back to sickbay—mostly because she couldn’t walk ten steps without being stopped by crewmen looking for information about her friends’ condition. She was glad to be able to give them good news, but the delay made her even more anxious to get back and to check on Tom and Harry herself.

She walked into the medical suite to find significantly less commotion than when she’d left. The orderlies had been dismissed, and Kes, Neelix, and Captain Janeway were all in the science lab with the Doctor. Harry and Tom were sleeping—probably sedated—and looked infinitely better than the last time she had seen them.

She walked to the surgical bay and looked at the readouts. Most of the biometric displays made no sense to her, but she could see that the indicators were all within the ranges labeled normal for a human. She moved to Tom’s bedside and allowed herself to look at him—really look at him—for the first time in weeks.

He was gaunt and pale, and she wondered what kind of hell he and Harry had just lived through. At first glace, Akritiri seemed like such an advanced and civilized society; it never would have occurred to her (or, probably, the captain) that their prisons would be so brutal and oppressive. B’Elanna was glad she hadn’t known at the time what her friends were living through—it would have made the wait to rescue them even more interminable.

She reached up her hand and let her fingers trace Tom’s brow, moving a stray lock of hair into place—but really just needing to touch him, to prove to herself that he was real and home. She remembered something she hadn’t thought about since their time in the Vidiian prison: that, when he slept, Tom looked very much like a little boy. His expression was sweet and innocent and concealed the truth about the difficult life he had led these past few years. Something about seeing Paris that way made her feel protective of him—and very angry at whoever had hurt him so badly.

B’Elanna was still running her fingers across his forehead when she felt him start to stir. His eyes were closed, but a smile had come across his face, and he seemed to be trying to force himself awake. “I was having a dream, Harry,” she heard him mumble. “About Megan Delaney…” Then, still smiling, he drifted back to sleep.

She stood there for a moment, trying to convince herself she’d imagined it. But she’d seen Tom and Megan together in the mess hall more than once in the weeks after the Kazon attack. Torres realized he must have gotten tired of trying to coax her into acknowledging him, and she knew Delaney had been pursuing Paris for a long time. She couldn’t really say she blamed Tom for giving up on her. Still, this was a painful way to find out that he’d moved on.

Her impulse was to leave the room as quickly as possible, but she was determined to face this disappointment head-on. Instead of running—her normal impulse—she moved from the surgical bay to the ward and checked on Harry. Unlike Tom’s, her young friend’s expression was contorted—maybe by a bad dream. Kim looked apprehensive and afraid. But his face, which had been so battered less than an hour earlier, was now healed, and B’Elanna knew that—physically—Harry would be just fine. She looked forward to spending some time with him, to helping him get past whatever nightmare he had just lived through.

Still, Harry had lashed out at her when she’d seen him earlier, and the things he’d said were fresh in her mind. Kim clearly blamed himself for whatever had happened to Tom in that prison. And part of him blamed her, too. It occurred to B’Elanna for the first time that she might have actually lost both of her friends, not to an Akritiri jail, but to her own foolish fears and childish behavior. And she wondered if she’d ever have a chance to make things right.

On the verge of a full-fledged depression, Torres decided she needed to get back to her station. Maybe she was a failure at her relationships, but she was a competent engineer, and right now she needed to feel like there was something in her life she could do without screwing it up. Besides, Tom and Harry would be fine. That would have to be enough for now.

Realizing that she was still holding their clean uniforms, B’Elanna sat the clothing on the chair next to Harry’s bed, allowed herself one more look at the sleeping face of Tom Paris, and headed back to work.

~~

Tom had been in the middle of another black-and-white dream when suddenly his nose pulled the rest of his body into consciousness. It was impossible, but he could swear he smelled…coffee. He knew the prison barely had water, much less Neelix’s very distinctive Talaxian blend. As his senses slowly reactivated, however, he became aware of other sensations: clean, fresh air coursing through his lungs, the soft pillow supporting his neck, and the sound of voices. Familiar voices.

Paris’s mind slowly connected the dots, and he opened his eyes to make sure he wasn’t still dreaming. They confirmed what he could barely have believed. He was home.

Kes turned around and noticed that he was awake. “Tom! How are you feeling?”

Paris smiled. “Hungry.”

He saw the captain walking toward him, carrying the cup of coffee that had roused him from sleep. “Then you must be feeling better. My mother always used to say that a healthy appetite was a sign of a healthy child.” Janeway squeezed Paris’s shoulder. “Welcome back, Tom,” she said gently.

“Thank you, Captain.” He looked around the sickbay, suddenly worried. “Where’s Harry?!”

The doctor answered. “Getting dressed. Which is what you should do. You and Mister Kim have a date with a replicator. I’m prescribing a hot meal and a long rest for each of you. And you’re restricted from duty for the next twenty-four hours.” Paris had to reach out to catch the uniform the doctor threw in his direction, and heard himself groan at the effort. Though his injuries were healed, his muscles were still stiff from almost a week of sleeping on the floor of the prison.

Kes helped him off the biobed just as Harry was coming through the Doctor’s office. Kim couldn’t look him in the eye. “Hey, buddy,” Tom said as they passed. “We made it.”

Harry smiled sadly and nodded. “Barely.” Though Paris had almost no memory of their last day in the prison, he knew his friend was right. Tom took a moment to stretch his neck and back before heading into the lavatory.

When he looked in the mirror, his eyes went wide. In addition to a few days growth of beard, Tom could see that he’d lost some weight, and there were hints of dark circles under his eyes. Paris stripped off the surgical gown and activated the shower. He knew he’d want a water shower when he got back to his quarters, but sickbay’s lavatory was limited to the sonic variety. No matter. It was good to feel clean again.

After he finished shaving, he pulled on his much-looser uniform and looked in the mirror once more. In his reflection he saw a very, very lucky young man. “Dodged another one,” he said out loud to himself. Cats had nine lives, it was rumored. He wondered how many helmsmen had.

Paris walked back into the sickbay and took a seat on a stool opposite Harry. He noticed that his friend seemed upset, and still wouldn’t look him in the eye. Kes ran another quick scan of Tom’s vital signs, then moved to Kim.

Neelix had joined them and was in the middle of congratulating himself on a great feat of piloting when the Doctor walked over carrying the ‘clamp’ he had removed from under Tom’s scalp. As it turned out, Zio had been right: the implant was designed to increase the production of a brain chemical responsible for aggressive behavior. The men had been pitted against one another intentionally. The EMH had successfully treated them for its effects, which—considering his own particularly good mood—Tom could already tell.

But something about this news seemed to upset Kim even more. Paris knew they needed to get out of there and put this episode behind them once and for all. “Come on Harry. We’re overdue for that steak dinner.” Tom put his hand on his friend’s shoulder as they headed into the corridor.

“I guess so,” Harry answered. For as long as it had been since they’d eaten, Kim didn’t seem very excited.

“What do you mean ‘you guess so’? It was the thought of that dinner that kept us going.” They were headed to the mess hall, and Paris started ticking off a list of the foods they had dreamed of while starving in the prison. Harry didn’t seem interested.

“Tom,” he interrupted. “Listen to me.” Kim’s face turned ashen as he continued. “I…I almost killed you.”

Paris knew something had to have happened from the way his friend was acting. And he did have a vague memory of some terrible argument—though he couldn’t for the life of him remember what it had been about. “What are you saying?” he reassured Harry. “You’re the one who kept me alive!”

“I was ready to hit you with the pipe, don’t you remember?”

Tom knew it was probably true, even though he really didn’t recall it. He did have one, very distinctive recollection, however, from just before he’d lost consciousness the last time. “You wanna know what I remember?” he asked, instantly calling up the feeling of lying on the dank prison floor at the bottom of the chute. “Someone saying, ‘this man is my friend. Nobody touches him.’ I’ll remember that for a long time.”

Tom had never known that kind of loyalty before, never believed that anyone cared enough whether he lived or died to put their own life at risk to save his. He owed Harry a lot as it was. This experience sealed the deal.

But their conversation was getting way too serious for a man in the mood for a celebration. By some sort of miracle, Tom Paris had his life back—again—and he wasn’t going to waste another moment being depressed. His stomach demanding his attention, Tom once again changed the subject back to the meal they were about to enjoy, and pointed Harry in the direction of the mess hall.

~*~*~*~*~

B’Elanna was exhausted. After a restless night’s sleep in Tom’s cabin the night before, she’d had a long and exhausting day, first waiting on news of her friends’ safety, then diving into a warp core recalibration to keep herself occupied once she knew they were safe. She was experiencing a confusing jumble of emotions, and she was hoping her work would help order her thoughts. Instead, it had added an additional frustration to her already sinking mood.

She considered heading straight home, but secretly hoped she might run into Tom and Harry in the mess hall. It was late, but she knew they’d been released from sickbay a few hours earlier with orders to get something to eat. Or so said Chakotay, who had dropped by to check on her after his own shift had ended.

As she rode the turbolift to Deck 2, she thought back to Tom and his dream about Megan Delaney. She’d been angry and a little hurt to think that she’d missed her chance with Paris, but she knew she had no one to blame but herself. And she knew that—no matter what—she wanted to fix what she’d broken between them. First and foremost, Tom was her friend, and she wasn’t going to let her pride do what her fear had done: keep her away from someone she cared about.

It was almost 0200 as she walked into the mess hall. Neelix was packing down and, for a moment, B’Elanna thought the room was empty. Then she saw someone sitting in the dark near the small couch by the window. It was Tom.

She watched him quietly for a moment. He was sitting on a chair, his feet up on the couch, as he looked out at the stars. She took a deep breath and walked toward him.

“Welcome home,” she said softly. She was surprised and happy to see that he seemed pleased to see her.

“Hi.” His voice was soft, but almost cheerful. “How are you?”

She almost laughed. After everything he’d been through, he wanted to know how she was? “I’m fine. How are you?”

He shook his head in wonder. “I have never been so happy to be anywhere in my life. I really thought I’d never see this place again.” He got a faraway look in his eyes for a moment, then pulled himself back to look at her. “Can you stay for a while?” He looked hopeful in a way she hadn’t expected from someone who’d been dreaming about another woman only a few hours earlier.

“Sure.” She sat down on the couch, one leg pulled under her. They were looking at each other now, both feeling a little awkward.

“Tom… ” “B’Elanna…”

They both spoke at the same time, then laughed at the silliness of it all. “Go ahead,” she said, smiling.

“No, you first,” he insisted.

“Alright.” She paused for a moment trying to figure out how she was going to say this. “I just wanted you to know that I was worried about you while you were gone. I know I haven’t been very nice to you these past few weeks, and I…well…I’m sorry.”

He smiled, and started to speak. She cut him off. “Let me finish.” She knew she had to get this out before she changed her mind. “I just wanted to say that, just because one of us gets involved with someone else, that doesn’t mean we can’t still be friends. Right?”

He turned away from her for a moment, looked out at the stars, then turned back. “Right,” he said softly. “And I’m glad you feel that way.” He was looking into her eyes, and she thought for a moment he was trying to send her some kind of telepathic message. “Because I’ve missed you.”

B’Elanna felt her eyes tearing up, and she blinked a few times to clear them. “I’ve missed you, too,” she said sincerely. “Friends?”

He smiled. “Friends.”

They sat there for another few minutes, neither sure what to say, both looking relieved that they were at least talking again. Then Tom rubbed the back of his neck and tilted his head far to the side. She heard him exhale, as if the movement caused him pain.

“Are you okay?” she asked.

“Just a little stiff neck,” he admitted. “The ‘accommodations’ in that prison left a lot to be desired.”

B’Elanna’s brow furrowed as she realized what an incredible understatement that was. She stood up and moved behind Paris’s chair and began to gently knead his shoulders and neck. At first, Tom looked a little surprised, but then he relaxed and let her work out the kinks. “God that feels good,” he said sincerely. She could hear him groan and growl as she hit tender spots. The sounds had an unexpected side effect in her…she was getting aroused.

She tried to focus on the therapeutic nature of her task. Maybe if she kept him talking, she could keep her mind—and body—away from the places it clearly wanted to go. “Do you want to talk about it?” she offered.

She could feel him tense up under her hands. “Maybe one day,” he said softly. “But tonight, I just want to think about how glad I am to be home.” He reached up to where her hand touched his shoulder, and squeezed her wrist with his palm.

Ten more minutes alone with Tom Paris and B’Elanna would have spaced Megan Delaney without a second thought. But that wasn’t what Tom wanted or needed. He wanted her friendship and her compassion. And for now that would have to be enough.

“Well,” she said quietly after a moment, “I’d better go.” He turned around in his chair to look at her.

“B’Elanna,” he blurted out suddenly. Once again, she suspected he wanted her to just intuit what he was thinking. Once again, she didn’t have a clue. Instead of finishing the thought, he simply smiled. “Goodnight.”

“Night, Tom.” She returned the smile then headed to her quarters.

~*~*~*~*~

All in all, Tom realized, this night hadn’t gone so badly. He and Harry were home, safe, his belly was full of the best prime rib he had ever tasted, and B’Elanna was back in his life. Sure, he was disappointed about her breaking the news about her relationship with Bristow, but at least she was talking to him again.

He was still a little confused, though. Despite her ‘let’s just be friends’ speech, Paris clearly got the sense that she was contemplating something more. Probably just wishful thinking, he knew.

He walked into his cabin and resisted the temptation to kiss the floor. He’d never had any great affinity for these quarters, but tonight they were all the home he’d ever dreamed he’d need. Deciding to wait until the morning for the shower, he stripped off his uniform and climbed into his soft, warm bed.

As he buried his face in the pillow, he noticed an oddly familiar scent: warp plasma residue and scented soap. His pillow smelled like B’Elanna.

Paris laughed. While being deprived of food for almost a week, he’d had fantasies about eating that were so real, he could almost taste the imaginary meal. Now, deprived of B’Elanna for even longer, he’d begun to imagine that he could smell her here, in his bed, as if she’d slept in it the night before.

Nevertheless, he’d let this fantasy lead him into his dreams, and by doing so, he’d help himself finally make it the rest of the way home.

~~

B’Elanna was proud of herself. While she hated knowing that Tom had feelings for Megan, she hadn’t let that stop her from trying to fix the damage she’d caused to their friendship. Besides, his infatuation with Delaney had come and gone before. And, if it went away again, she’d be there to pick up the pieces.

She’d forgotten how good it felt just to talk to Tom, and she tried to content herself with the knowledge that he was safe, home, and back in her life.

She opened her wardrobe drawer and pulled out her pajamas. Then she saw it, folded neatly beside them: Tom’s jacket. It had been weeks since their night on the Clipper ship, and she’d planned to give it back on six or seven different occasions. Each time, though, she’d been overwhelmed by the old fear of seeing him. Finally, she’d just shoved it in her dresser and forgotten about it.

It was wrinkled, and she knew she needed to freshen it again before she gave it back to him. She’d already washed his scent off the fabric, and she thought for a moment about the comfort she’d taken from burying her face in his pillow the night before. The smell of him would always remind her of possibilities. Possibilities she hoped she’d get to explore. One day.

~*~*~*~*~

End “Dreams & Nightmares”

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