DOTS#7: Ranks & Rationalizations, Part 2

RATING

R+ for sexual situations between imaginary consenting adults. Shoo, children! Shoo!

SUMMARY

Another in my ongoing series of “Connect the P/T Dots” stories, immediately following “The Swarm.” In previous installments of our saga, B’Elanna had rejected Tom for: 1) not telling her about his secret undercover mission; 2) being a disaster magnet who almost got himself killed three times in one year; and 3) because she thought he was dating someone else. Can Reason #4 be far behind?

TIMELINE & SPOILERS

“Remember” and a smidge of “Sacred Ground”

NOTE

“Remember” is a sexually-oriented episode. This installment reflects that. If you’re not old enough to read this stuff without asking your parents’ permission then leave now. I take no responsibility for the corruption of your young mind.

CODES

P/T, P&T&K, a tiny bit of T&C

DISCLAIMER

The teleplay of “Remember” was written by the Goddess of P/T, Lisa Klink, based on a story by Brannon Braga and Joe Menosky. The parts of this story that reference that interesting and disturbing episode are all their work, and I would never try to take credit for it. I’d also like to thank the costume designer who came up with those suits for Tom and Harry in the mess hall party scene. Very, very nice…

Text Download: CTDranks2


“B’Elanna”

Okay, so the pronunciation was just a little hurried, just a little bit off. But she loved the way he said her name.

She was standing at the upper engineering workstation with her back to the door. She didn’t turn around when he came in, preferring instead to make him think she hadn’t heard. He’d have to do more than simply call her name today; she wanted to make him work for her attention.

Her fingers were still moving, finishing the diagnostic, but her mind had suddenly lost interest. Instead, she stood there waiting until she could sense him behind her, waiting to feel the first confirmation that he had come for her again.

The first thing she felt was his breath on her neck, followed almost immediately by his lips as they made contact with her shoulder. Some part of her mind wondered how her skin could feel the brush of his kiss through her uniform; she quickly decided she didn’t really care. His right hand slipped around her waist at the same time and rested there for a moment—she could tell he was trying to decide in which direction to send it. North, he chose, letting his fingers glide gently up her body, stopping only for a moment to caress her softly before slipping over and onto her arm. He stepped back just enough to turn her to face him.

“Hi,” he said softly. “Didn’t you hear me?”

“I guess I was preoccupied,” she lied. She didn’t want him to know that she’d been waiting all morning for that door to open. She always made him initiate their intimacy, even when she thought she’d die from the wait.

His eyes were searching hers now, asking for permission. She decided to answer him with her hands. First on his chest, then sliding slowly up and around his neck until her fingers were resting in his hair. His arms had slipped behind her and were pulling her toward him, closing the distance until she was pressed tightly to him. She linked her fingers and slowly pulled his face toward hers.

Their first few kisses were always gentle. She knew he was afraid to go too fast, each time testing the waters of her interest. She’d never let him know that he couldn’t go too quickly or too forcefully for her. He thought she was fragile; she decided to let him. She closed her eyes as she tried to control the impulse to take him right there.

When she looked again she saw they were in the mess hall now. Just as in engineering, there were others all around them: working, talking, going about their business. Odd, she thought, that no one seemed to notice or care that two senior officers were kissing passionately in such a public place in front of the rest of the crew. Still, she felt self-conscious, and pulled back slightly. He didn’t seem to notice how conspicuous their display was—or how inappropriate.

As a matter of fact, he was accelerating the game. Pulling gently on the collar of her uniform until it opened, he slowly removed her jacket and threw it onto the floor. Her tunic was next; she was soon standing there—in the mess hall—in her tank top. Though very conscious that there was something wrong with what they were about to do, she started undressing him, too.

He was standing in front of her then, bare-chested, ready to make the next move. Her hands were drawing small circles on his skin, her fingers fascinated by soft, reddish-blond hair that covered his chest. He reached for her, gingerly cupping her face in his hands; his smile was gentle, but the look in his eyes was intense. His arms slowly slipped behind her neck then down and around her back as he kissed her once again.

She felt his hand slip between them, searching for the fastener of her uniform pants. Her heart was racing now; were they going to do this here? Still, she helped him find the clasp and reached down to unhook his, as well. His hands were slipping inside her waistband, pushing the fabric down until she could step away and out of her trousers. He was pressing her to him again, and in one quick move, lifted her until her legs wrapped around him. He took a step and sat her gently on the long table behind them. His fingers then slipped beneath her undershirt and began pushing it up, pushing it off…

“Tom,” she didn’t really want to stop him, but this was just wrong. “Tom…”

She looked around again and realized they were in his cabin. “B’Elanna,” he said, his voice barely a whisper. “You’re so beautiful.” His hands were now totally entwined in her tank top, as he made the final move to pull it up over her head and out of his way.

She leaned over to kiss him, then slowly nipped her way from his lips to his ear, stopping for a moment to run her tongue over the faint crescent of the scar on his cheek—her mark, her proof that he belonged to her.

They were now in total privacy, yet she still felt a hint of fear as he began to kiss his way down her chest. She wasn’t afraid of him; he was being incredibly tender with her body and her heart. The fear was coming from inside her, from an impulse she’d had since she first felt his breath on her neck.

He was trying to be considerate, to give her time to prepare for him. But she’d been ready for quite a while now. And the waiting—even if it was only the time it took him to tend to her—was driving her crazy. Still, she knew in a few minutes, he would ask for her consent to move on, and she would acquiesce, because this was how it was done. It would be his idea, his inability to hold back that would finally give her permission to let go and take him the way she’d wanted to since he’d first called out her name in engineering.

Soon enough he was on top of her, ready, looking for her sign. She gave it in a way that surprised them both.

She pulled him toward her, knocking the breath out of him as she rolled their bodies over to straddle him. Instinctively, he’d grabbed her arms, and started to resist. One flick of her shoulders, and she had broken free, grabbing his wrists in hers and slamming them to his sides. She leaned over, then, and took his shoulder into her teeth, surprised when she realized she had broken the skin.

He was fighting her, but the look in his eyes was one of pleasure—and something more. It was like he knew her, knew a part of her that she didn’t know herself. And she felt it, too. But it was more than just recognition. She needed him. Not just in her bed. She needed him to stay with her, needed to hear his voice, to watch him as he lived the mundane moments of his life. But right now, more than anything else, she needed to feel him inside her. Even if it had to be his idea…

The beeping started off softly, no louder than the blip of a commbadge. Each moment that passed without her answer would mean a barely-perceptible increase in volume. It was the computer equivalent of a parent, first whispering their child’s name, then gently knocking, then finally shouting from outside the bedroom door, “Wake up!” Or, in B’Elanna’s case, her mother—standing at the foot of her bed—banging her oversized wedding band on the metal frame until the clanging and the shaking couldn’t be ignored. It was a jarring end to any night’s sleep, and had often made her feel like she hadn’t rested at all.

She didn’t want to wake up. But the computer was now ‘shouting.’ Finally she couldn’t take it any more. “Computer, deactivate wake-up alarm.” And it was quiet again. She was tempted to drift back to the very pleasant dream she’d been having: one of a series of recurring fantasies about Tom Paris that had occupied her nights over the past week or so. But she knew if she didn’t actually get out of bed and press the keypad on her terminal, that the whole stupid alarm would begin again in five minutes. She’d only be delaying the inevitable.

Still, she laid there for a second, letting her heart, body, and mind make the transition back into her real life. She needed the time to readjust: no matter how tame or gentle her dreams began, for the past few nights they had ended with the most unabashed, intense sex she could ever remember having. Or not having. But wanting all the same.

But she had to shake it off. She had to be functional—more than functional. She had to be at her professional best.

Voyager was beginning a cultural exchange of sorts today, and she was a necessary part of the ship’s ‘delegation.’ The captain had offered to shuttle a group of Enaran scientists and politicians from their distant colony to their homeworld. In exchange, the Enarans would pass along their energy conservation techniques, helping Voyager make its limited resources go farther. The project could mean an end to draconian rationing, to hopping from planet to planet in search of fuel. The Enaran technology might speed up their journey and make it more bearable all at the same time. And, as chief engineer, Torres would be coordinating the logistics.

So she forced herself out of bed.

After a quick shower, she made her way to the mess hall for breakfast. Something about an evening of non-stop sex—even an imaginary one—made her hungry. But, as she passed crewmen and Enaran guests on her journey through the corridors, a frightening thought occurred to her: she was on a ship full of telepaths. Voyager’s passengers were able to read the thoughts and memories of those around them. And, even though their leader had assured Captain Janeway that ethics prevented them from scanning another’s mind without permission, B’Elanna still felt a little anxious at the idea that they could tap into her thoughts—considering the fantasy tour of Tom Paris’s body that was replaying there at the moment.

Her concerns about sharing her memories grew even more irrational when she walked into the mess hall and saw Tom and Harry having breakfast. As she knew he would, Tom waived for her to join them. She wondered if he would notice that she was blushing…

“Morning, Harry,” she said as she sat down across from Tom. No, not Tom: Lieutenant Paris. Tom was the man she’d laid claim to in her dreams. Lieutenant Paris was the friend she was about to have breakfast with. A silly little distinction, but one that would help her stay sane during the next few minutes until her memory of the previous night had faded.

But when she found herself looking up into a disarmingly familiar pair of twinkling blue eyes, she almost started to giggle. “Lieutenant,” she said more suggestively than she’d intended.

He looked up at her in confusion. But, when he saw that she was smiling, he grinned, too. “Lieutenant,” he returned the greeting. “Sleep well?” he asked.

Okay, she knew there was no way he could know about her dream, about the thoughts that were still running through her mind. But his question had disarmed her. “Ah…yes, actually. Why do you ask?”

Paris was looking at her—looking through her, it seemed—but she was determined to meet his stare. “Because your rank insignia is upside down,” he answered, before taking a drink of coffee. She could see that he was grinning by the squinty eyes peering at her over his cup. She tried not to react, but she felt like she’d been caught in the act. B’Elanna pursed her lips, and started to feel for her tunic.

“Here, let me get that for you,” Tom said, as he put down his cup. Before she could stop him, he leaned across the table and reached up, his fingers grazing her face as he removed the silver band and reapplied it. To make sure it would stay in place, he had to slip his hands inside her collar, and she closed her eyes when she felt them brush against her neck. Why of all mornings, when her skin was already tingling from the sense memory, did she put herself in a position where he actually had to touch her?

Not that she didn’t enjoy the sensation—on the contrary—but she knew instantly that the real feel of him was infinitely better than the dream. And she didn’t enjoy realizing that the hint of his fingers readjusting her collar was all she was going to get.

B’Elanna felt warm now, and wondered for a second if the environmental controls had gone offline. Tom didn’t seem to notice. “Looks like Harry isn’t the only person who’s a little distracted these days,” he said, gesturing to their friend.

“Tooooommm…” Harry groaned. “Will you cut it out?” Still, Kim was smiling the whole time he protested.

“Keep an eye on him in engineering today, B’Elanna. I’m not sure his mind will be on his work. Rumor has it that he’s got a crush on a certain telepath. I’d be careful, Harry. I bet she can read you like a book!” Kim was blushing now, and elbowed Paris as the doors to the mess hall opened. Torres turned to see two Enaran women walking toward them.

“Jora Mirell, Jessen,” Paris greeted them. “Would you care to join us?”

Jessen smiled and took the seat opposite Harry; B’Elanna got the immediate impression that Kim wasn’t the only one with a bit of a crush. The older woman, Jora Mirell, stood behind B’Elanna’s chair as she answered. “Thank you, but I just came to check on our schedule with Lieutenant Torres.” With that, she placed her hand on B’Elanna’s shoulder—then almost immediately stumbled back. They thought for a moment that she might faint.

B’Elanna was instantly out of her seat, and helping the Enaran engineer into the chair she’d just vacated. “Are you alright, Jora?” she asked. The woman was trying to compose herself.

“I’m fine,” she answered, though her face betrayed her.

“Jora Mirell has been ill,” Jessen explained. “Maybe we should put off our work until she’s feeling better.”

“No,” Mirell insisted. She was sitting up straight now, and the color was coming back into her face. “I feel fine. Truly. Your ship is just a little bit warmer than I’m used to. I’ll need a little time to adjust.”

B’Elanna looked at Harry and Tom, not entirely convinced. But they couldn’t force their guest to sickbay. Torres made a mental note to keep an eye on Mirell as they worked, but that was all she could really do.

“Well,” Tom said as he stood, “if you ladies will excuse me, I’m due on the bridge.” He smiled at B’Elanna then headed for the door. She couldn’t help but watch him go.

When she looked back, Torres noticed Jora Mirell staring at her, smiling. “He’s a handsome young man,” the woman said.

B’Elanna was blushing, she was sure, and was glad that Harry was preoccupied with Jessen. Had the Jora somehow read her thoughts? Or was she just being paranoid? “He’s a good friend,” B’Elanna mumbled, before taking his empty chair and immediately changing the subject. There was a lot of work to do, and she’d spent more than enough of her morning daydreaming about Tom Paris.

“Now about those alterations to the plasma constrictors…”

~~

Jora Mirell tried to keep the pain from breaking her concentration. She was running out of time, she knew. But it was too soon; she wasn’t ready. Somehow, before she died, she knew she needed to transfer her memories to someone who would do what she’d never have the courage to do herself: finally tell her secret.

Touching Lieutenant Torres’s shoulder had been an innocent impulse. Yet—maybe because of her illness, maybe from a desperation she couldn’t control—she’d found herself touching the young woman’s mind, too. What she found there was overwhelming: a very familiar mixture of desire and fear, compassion and courage. The young engineer’s thoughts were full of images of a young man—the wrong man, she feared—and of the deepening affection she had for him. It was a sensation Mirell had not felt herself since she was a young girl, but which resonated with her instantly.

Mirell had looked across the table, then, at the man she had seen in the Lieutenant’s mind, and she felt the young woman struggle with her conflicted emotions for him. There was a desperation to her need, and a vulnerability to them both, she could tell.

The intensity of the bond had disarmed the Jora, and she had almost lost herself. But when she stumbled, the young woman had reached for her, helped her to sit—and in doing so had completed the connection Mirell had tried not to make. And in that moment, she knew: this woman, this young, alien engineer would be the one.

~*~*~*~*~

Tom’s day had been uneventful, if a little lonely. Harry and B’Elanna had been too wrapped up in their modifications to the power systems to join him for lunch, and he decided to go back to his quarters instead of to the mess hall at the end of his shift. This wasn’t like him, he knew. Paris prided himself on being able to start a conversation with just about anyone on any topic; he wasn’t sure why he didn’t go looking for other company while his best friends were busy with their work. Yet for the last few weeks, he’d felt himself drawing in. He wasn’t sad or depressed—though the Doctor checked on him and Harry regularly after their rescue from the prison just to make sure. Instead, he was feeling a little introspective. He was changing, he could tell, and needed a little time alone to think.

Ever since Akritiri, he had spent most of his off-duty hours working on the Lake Como holoprogram. He was feeling the need to step outside his life on Voyager for a little while, to get a little perspective on the man Tom Paris had become. And he had always preferred being outdoors; it would be nice to have a place to go when the gray walls of Voyager started to make him claustrophobic.

Besides, he was determined to have his sailboat ready for launching by the time B’Elanna finished with the Enarans.

He’d been confused by the events of the past few weeks: first B’Elanna’s breaking the news about her relationship with Freddie Bristow, followed a week later by her offhanded denial that she’d ever really dated the ensign at all. Tom wasn’t sure what was going on. Still, he just couldn’t picture her with Bristow. Other than his clichéd good looks and athletic skills, Freddie was a shallow little toad. B’Elanna could do better, Tom knew. Maybe he had just been an excuse, a way for her to break it to him gently that she wasn’t interested. Or maybe she’d actually meant she was dating someone else.

Still, Voyager’s rumor mill should have picked that up, and Tom was as plugged in as anyone could get to the latest gossip. No, he decided; either she was dating Bristow, but was too ashamed to admit it, or she was just trying to keep him at arm’s length. Either way, he’d have to respect that, settle for her friendship, and move on.

But she had joined him at the lake a few days earlier. And he did promise her a chance to see the boat in action on the water. So he put his time alone to good use.

It was a good thing, too, since Harry was just as preoccupied, not only with his engineering project, but with the young Enaran scientist who was helping them. This was a good sign, Tom knew. Kim had been hanging onto the memory of his girlfriend Libby, a woman he’d probably never see again, and Tom had worried that his best friend was shutting himself off. Finally, Harry had taken more than a passing interest in another woman—an interest that was clearly reciprocated. Maybe their near-death experience had helped Kim realize that he needed to seize the day where love was concerned.

Of course, Tom knew, it was a lesson he could have stood to learn himself. He’d been so hesitant with B’Elanna when he’d first started to fall for her. Now he’d missed his shot.

He had to stop thinking about this. Things were finally starting to even out between them, and he needed to be happy with whatever progress they’d made. And, no matter what, he could still look forward to their sail together. “Computer,” he said, “open the narrative parameters file…”

~~

It had been a brutally long day in engineering, but the work was interesting and the Enarans were charming, kind people. B’Elanna was learning a lot about their sophisticated power relay design, and was glad for the chance to expand her understanding of their techniques. She liked being challenged in her work—especially in ways that didn’t involve some death-defying crisis or major systems failure.

Still, she’d spent almost no time in her quarters in the past week and her frenzied work life was once again causing her to neglect the basics like laundry and housekeeping. Even though it was late, even though she was tired, she’d decided to make a token effort—and to at least make sure she had a clean uniform to wear the next day.

She was putting her now clean clothes away when she found it, crumpled in a ball in her bottom wardrobe drawer: Tom’s jacket. Paris’s suit coat had become a souvenir of a special night together, and she hated to part with it. Every week or so, she’d get it out of her wardrobe, throw it in the refresher, and hang it carefully on a chair, determined to return it to him the next day. Inevitably, she’d decide she needed to keep it a little bit longer.

But, almost three months had passed since she’d accidentally worn it home. Here in the Delta Quadrant, things like formal clothing were a luxury, and B’Elanna knew Tom would need it for that week’s reception for their Enaran guests. And giving it back would serve as some symbolic closing of this never-quite-opened chapter in their relationship.

She pulled it out and held it to her for a moment, wishing just for a second that she’d never washed it, that it still held a trace of his scent. B’Elanna knew it was silly to have held onto it for so long. She tried to tell herself that she’d just forgotten or gotten busy or lost track of it. But she knew the truth: she’d kept it because it reminded her of something wonderful that almost was.

And to prevent Tom from wearing it on a date with Megan Delaney. That would have been the final indignity.

Now that she thought about it, B’Elanna had started to notice something strange: she rarely saw Tom and Megan together. Had never seen them alone on a date or even having lunch. And there was nothing from the rumor mill—though B’Elanna knew she’d be the last one to hear it if there were.

It was confusing. But it was none of her business. Tom had as much as admitted he’d gotten involved with someone else. And, intellectually, B’Elanna knew it was time to move on.

She forced herself to throw the jacket into the refresher, then hung it carefully on a chair before changing into her pajamas and heading for bed. Though her body was exhausted, she wasn’t particularly sleepy. But the past few nights had been filled with the most sensual dreams she could ever remember having. And, at least for the moment, they were all she had to keep her loneliness at bay.

“Computer,” she said. “Dim the lights.”

~*~*~*~*~

Tom was disappointed when he didn’t see B’Elanna at breakfast. But he was downright worried when she didn’t show up for her shift. Voyager’s chief engineer had a reputation for arriving at her post early and staying late; no one could remember her ever simply forgetting to come to work.

He had been assigned to help Harry and B’Elanna make sure that the new conservation technology hadn’t impacted helm performance. Tom was glad to be spending the morning working with his two best friends, mostly because he knew it was the only way he’d see them until the project was finished. Unfortunately, at the moment, B’Elanna was missing in action. As 0810—then 0815—came and went, Paris glanced at Kim, then at the door. Finally, he couldn’t take it any longer and slapped his commbadge. “Paris to Torres.” There was silence. “Computer, locate Lieutenant Torres.”

“Lieutenant Torres is in her quarters.” Tom looked at Harry one more time.

“I’ll be right back,” he said, trying to keep his face from showing the growing concern he now felt.

It was a short trip to Deck 9. Paris hit the enunciator at B’Elanna’s door and waited for an answer. Nothing. Now unable to rationalize that her commbadge had become defective, he entered her security code into the pad and watched the doors swish open.

The lights were off; the only illumination came from the soft red glow of her headboard. It took a second for his eyes to adjust, but he could hear her voice—coming from the direction of the bed—and she was…laughing.

For a moment, Tom was afraid she was with someone, and considered leaving before she could notice him. Then his vision slowly began to acclimate to the low light, and he could see her—alone and asleep—oblivious to him and to the world.

Part of him knew he should still go; he was violating her privacy in about fifteen different ways. Still, she was supposed to be on duty. So, without taking another step inside the room, Paris cleared his throat as loud as he could. Nothing.

So he took a few steps closer to the bed. He could see her better now, lying on her back with a pillow held tightly to her chest. She was giggling—her body reacting to an invisible touch—and Tom supposed she was talking to some imaginary lover. But there was something different about her. He could hear her whispering something in between the laughs, and he noticed that her tone was higher, silkier than he’d ever heard it. It was as if another woman—who looked just like B’Elanna—were lying in her bed. He found the whole experience very…stimulating.

He stood there for a moment, enjoying the look of her, and glad for the chance to see her in such an unguarded moment. For an instant he could almost imagine himself taking the place of the pillow she now embraced, replacing the illusion of pleasure with the real thing. The temptation to crawl into her bed was overwhelming and he let himself enjoy the impulse for a moment.

But he had to remember why he was there.

If he woke her up now—in light of the kind of dream she seemed to be having—it would be embarrassing for both of them. (Though, he thought, it would give him months worth of blackmail material…) If he let her sleep, inevitably someone less concerned with her dignity might come looking for her. That wouldn’t solve anything. No, he needed a way to wake her without letting her know he’d been in her quarters.

Tom tiptoed as he walked around the room looking for inspiration, for some gentle way to bring her to consciousness. He was caught off guard for a moment as he rounded her dining table. Even in the dim light, he recognized his jacket hanging on the back of her chair. He knew she had it—knew he needed it back before tomorrow night’s party—but was still surprised to see it there. He made a mental note to ask her for it later in the day.

‘Okay, now what?’ he wondered. Then he saw it, tucked behind her computer screen. The targ. Hmmmm. If he stood by the door, and got enough of his shoulder into the swing, he could hurl the little toy right at B’Elanna, then jump to the other side of the door just as it beaned her. He was almost ready to put his little plan in motion when the part of his brain that was smart enough to instantaneously calculate warp vectors took over and convinced the rest of him that this was a stupid, stupid idea.

Of course, sometimes the obvious answer was the last one to come. “Computer,” he whispered as he snuck back to the cabin door. “Set wake up alarm, maximum volume. Initiate in five seconds. Mark.” The he took a quick step, waited for the door to open then close behind him, and leaned against the corridor’s bulkhead to wait. ‘Four…three…two…one, and…’

Well, it would have woken up crewmen sleeping on Deck 8. Tom waited until he heard the shrill alarm stop, gave himself another five seconds for B’Elanna’s heart to restart, then hit his commbadge. “Paris to Torres.” Another five seconds later and a very groggy voice answered.

“What?!”

“B’Elanna, Harry and I are waiting for you in engineering. You planning on coming to work today, or should I call the Doctor?” He counted on the fact that she wouldn’t stumble into the corridor in her pajamas and catch him in his lie.

“I overslept. I’ll be there in five minutes. Torres out.”

Mission accomplished.

As Tom headed back to Main Engineering, he couldn’t get the image out of his mind: B’Elanna, sound asleep, in the middle of what he knew must have been an…interesting…dream. ‘Wonder who was the lucky guy,’ he thought to himself. He pouted just long enough to make himself feel better, then decided to enjoy the mental picture nonetheless.

~~

Despite her rude awakening, B’Elanna was in a remarkably good mood. Last night, in place of her erotic-but-restrained dreams of Tom Paris, she found herself at the beginning of a mental holonovel, an adult role-playing game that had been absolutely, breathtakingly real. And it had ignited her in a way that was almost overwhelming.

In her dream, she was a young Enaran woman—a teenager practically—named Korenna, who was head-over-heels in love with a boy named Dathan. As B’Elanna slept, the story of the young couple unfolded, chapter by chapter. First, after a passionate greeting, Korenna and Dathan had kissed and fondled one another as they sat on a rocky cliff watching the sunrise. Beneath them was a sea of magma, and they could see the morning dew turn to steam as the cool air hit the molten surface. The breeze was gentle and smelled faintly of sulfur.

As the dream played out, Korenna and Dathan walked back to the young girl’s home, climbing in a bedroom window like a couple of errant schoolchildren—which they very well may have been. Korenna was telling Dathan to be quiet as his laughter started to fill the room, but her own giggles got the best of her. They’d barely made it to her bed before peeling off their clothing, beginning a kind of wide-eyed exploration of each other’s bodies.

B’Elanna had gotten swept up in the experience, forgetting—as she lived each sensation—that she was not, in fact, Korenna, and that this was only a dream. Every moment, touch, emotion seemed absolutely real.

And it was liberating.

Until the alarm went off.

B’Elanna couldn’t believe she’d overslept! She knew she was never at her best in the morning, but still, to sleep right though the alarm… It occurred to her in that moment that she had no memory of actually giving the computer the command to wake her the night before. And, if she had it would never have been for twenty minutes after the start of her shift. Unless the system had malfunctioned…

‘Gotta remember to check the chronometer,’ she thought to herself. Maybe some sort of power glitch from all the modifications they were making.

Still, she couldn’t figure out why or how she was suddenly caught up in this imaginary love story. Maybe, she thought, her own over-active imagination had somehow tapped in to the mental energy of all the Enarans aboard. She had been having erotic dreams off and on for the past few weeks. Maybe they had somehow made her more susceptible to telepathic suggestion.

If the Enarans she’d met had been anything except kind, gentle people, the idea might have frightened her. But Mirell, Jessen, and the others were all harmless, she knew. So she might just as well sit back and enjoy a pleasant little side effect of their presence—even if it did make her late for work for the first time in two years.

She was embarrassed that Tom had called to check on her. She hadn’t been awake enough to make up some cover story to explain why she was so late. Embarrassing as it was, the truth—what little she could share of it without dying of embarrassment—would have to do. And at least this time, he hadn’t woken her out of a dream about him.

The turbolift opened on Deck 11 and she made her way down the corridor. Lost in her thoughts, it hadn’t occurred to her that Tom had said he was calling from engineering. At least not until the doors opened, and she found herself face to face with him.

~~

“Well, good morning,” Paris said pointedly, enjoying the flushed look of B’Elanna’s cheeks. ‘Must have been some dream,’ he thought, though he bit back the urge to say it out loud.

“Good morning, Lieutenant,” she said softly. Torres could barely meet his eyes, but she didn’t seem angry or upset. Tom noticed that she had called him by rank again. She’d been doing that off and on for the past week or so. At first he worried that she was mad at him about something. Then a pattern started to develop: she only called him ‘lieutenant’ when they were playing around, during times he once would have considered flirting.

He’d dealt with B’Elanna’s advance and retreat emotions before, and suspected that calling him by his rank was her subtle way of putting an emotional barrier between them. But this particular kind of retreat was different: she wasn’t avoiding his company or acting sullen. In fact, lately she seemed happier than he had seen her in a long while. She was just reserving some part of herself from him—inserting a professional distance into their conversations. Part of her was definitely in hiding, though, and he wasn’t sure why.

But Tom had known B’Elanna long enough to understand that her mood was like the Tarkalian weather: if you didn’t like it, you could just wait ten minutes and it would change. He meant what he’d said about being her friend, and he was beginning to understand that any kind of relationship with Torres would involve riding the waves of her changing personality.

Besides, there was business to attend to. In addition to their helm diagnostic, Paris and Torres had a front-row seat for Harry’s ‘coming out of his shell’ party. Ever since the Enarans had come aboard, Kim had been mooning over Jessen, the young engineer assigned to help them. Now, as his best friends looked on, the ops officer was deep in the glow of a serious flirtation. And Tom couldn’t have been happier for him.

“Looks like our little boy is growing up,” he whispered to B’Elanna from the console they shared.

“What?” she seemed a little disoriented. All things considered, he wasn’t surprised.

“Ensign Puppylove over there. He has all the classic symptoms.”

“Oh, really?” she said. “Such as…?” B’Elanna was looking around him now, checking up on Harry as Tom—without looking—detailed the signs.

“Well, he can’t stop smiling. Plasma injectors have never been so fascinating as they are when she describes them.” B’Elanna grinned a confirmation: he’d been right on the money. “He’ll make any excuse he can think of to touch her: put his hand on hers, graze her arm with his shoulder…” B’Elanna’s gaze kept shifting from the scene Tom was describing—apparently perfectly—back to his face. Every time he would hit his target, her smile would get wider and her look more impressed. “They’ve been standing there a while,” Paris continued. “He’ll worry that she’s getting tired and offer her a chair.” He saw B’Elanna’s mouth fall open. Right again.

“How do you know all this?” she said grinning.

Tom turned around to peek at a smiling Harry Kim, patting the shoulder of the now seated Jessen in the bay across the room. “I know Harry better than he knows himself,” Tom said. “Plus the symptoms are all classic.”

“Puppy love,” she echoed back his new nickname for their friend. “And when did you get to be an expert on puppy love.”

Tom moved to the helm control station and paid some lip service to working on their assignment before he answered. “Eighth grade. Charisse Weston.” He let out an exaggerated sigh. “You never get over the first woman who breaks your heart.”

B’Elanna rolled her eyes. “You know, you had me going up until then.”

She’d brought him back into the moment. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I don’t know,” she said, teasing him. “Somehow I can see you causing broken hearts more easily than I can picture you having one.”

If he thought she’d meant that, Tom knew he would have been pretty hurt. “Oh, I’ve been bruised and battered by a few careless women in my day,” he said in his own defense. “You know the type, lead you on, make you think they care, then hit the road as soon as things start to get interesting.”

Now it was her turn to look hurt. Tom realized the implications of what he’d just said and was determined not to let B’Elanna’s good mood turn sour. “But you know, that was a long time ago. Rumor is Charisse ended up marrying a goat farmer from Pakistan. So, ya’ see, it all worked out in the end.”

His diversion seemed to have done the trick; B’Elanna was smiling again. “So there’s a cautionary tale if I ever heard one,” she joked. “Break Tom Paris’s heart at your own risk.”

He smiled. “Well, I do believe in giving a girl fair warning,” he teased. He didn’t mind that B’Elanna was blushing now. “Besides,” he said, “my skin’s a little thicker these days. I can take a few bumps and bruises…for a good cause.”

Somehow, those words hung between them, Tom not quite sure what made him say that, B’Elanna looking very much like he’d snuck up on her from behind. His impulse was to change the subject. “So, this is a nice change of pace: aliens who actually like us.”

It seemed to work; B’Elanna laughed. “Law of averages, I guess. But isn’t it nice to feel like a real Starfleet ship for once? A boring little first contact, a nice little cultural exchange…”

Tom nodded. “And I think Neelix is happier than anyone.” He looked over his shoulder. “Well, except maybe Harry.” They smiled before Tom continued his thought. “You know there’s nothing Neelix likes better than an excuse to dive into an alien culture and throw a theme party.”

B’Elanna nodded. “I know. Chakotay told me he was grilling Jor Brill about all things Enaran. And he wanted permission to close the mess hall all day tomorrow. They compromised, from what I understand. After alpha shift has lunch, no one goes in or out.”

Tom just shook his head at the fuss their friend was making—and it reminded him of something he needed to do. He made a few adjustments to the helm control settings, then took a deep breath without looking up. “So…you know, the captain wants the whole senior staff there. And it’s formal…”

B’Elanna followed him rather easily. “I know,” she said, a little embarrassed, “Your jacket. You know, I totally forgot I even had it until I was putting some things away last night and…” she was rushing through her half-truth without taking a breath. “I’ll return it tonight, I promise.”

“Great,” he said, trying not to make a big deal about it. Part of him liked knowing that she’d kept his coat for so long. As silly as it felt, he liked having some connection to her, something to remind them both of a night out on a Clipper ship when anything still seemed possible. The thought led his mind someplace else. “So, are you gonna wear that dress?”

She pretended not to know what he was talking about. “What dress?”

Tom stopped working for a second. “The purple dress. The one you wore that night.”

He didn’t have to say what night. “If I go,” she said quietly. “I’m not too fond of parties.”

He forced himself back to his diagnostic panel. “Well, you know, it’s really more of a professional gathering. And I think the captain would be pretty upset if her chief engineer was a no-show.” A quick glance up showed that B’Elanna was looking uncomfortable now. “You know,” he said slowly, “you could go with me and Harry. The three of us could show up, let the captain see us, then make a quick get-away before it gets too dull.”

He could tell she was considering it. “I don’t know. I can’t imagine Harry wanting to make a quick get-away from anything Enaran.”

Tom knew there were moments when a guy just had to take a chance. “So it’ll be you and me, then. You know, after we sneak out, we could pop down to the holodeck and take that sail I promised you.”

Luckily the idea seemed to distract her from the fact that Tom had almost, sort of…asked her out. Twice.

“You finished the boat?” She seemed excited.

“Almost. The final touches go on tonight. But she’ll be seaworthy by tomorrow. Whadda you say?”

She didn’t hesitate. “Sounds great. Bring some champagne and we can christen her.”

The thought hadn’t occurred to him before. Of course B’Elanna—during her two years in the Academy’s engineering track—had probably been required to go to more than her fair share of starship launches. Starfleet liked to put on a big show whenever a new ship was commissioned, and he supposed they thought the big spectacle of a ship’s christening would be inspiring to the cadets who would one day build them.

“Great,” he said, trying not to sound as excited as he felt. Suddenly tomorrow couldn’t come soon enough for Tom Paris.

Their conversation ended about the same time as the helm diagnostic. “Well,” Tom said slowly. “Looks like everything might work out just fine.”

B’Elanna looked confused. “The systems modifications,” he explained. “I’m seeing green lights from top to bottom.”

She looked down at the display before looking back at him. “Well, then, I guess you should go for it.”

It was his turn to look confused. She indicated the readouts in front of them. “Go ahead and bring the new helm controllers online,” she said.

“Right,” he nodded. With a few quick commands, he switched the conn power relays to their new energy supply. The transfer took less than a second.

“Well.” Tom stood there for a moment, knowing what was coming next and wanting to delay it for as long as possible.

“Well,” B’Elanna echoed back. “I guess we’re all done here.” She seemed to be stalling, too. “So, I’ll bring your jacket by sometime today,” she said matter-of-factly.

Tom smiled. “Good. Then I’ll see you later.” As he turned around, he noticed Harry and Jessen both blushing, both looking like teenagers in love. The sight made him smile, and he turned back to B’Elanna. “Tell Harry I’ll see him later, too,” he said to her. “And keep an eye on him. I’m not sure how closely he’s paying attention to what he’s doing.”

B’Elanna grinned before accidentally hitting a perimeter warning alarm, causing her console to start being loudly. She looked a little flustered as she moved to stop the noise.

Tom just laughed quietly to himself and headed back to the bridge.

~*~*~*~*~

Despite their collective preoccupation, it had been a really productive day. They’d made most of the Enaran adaptations to Voyager’s primary energy grid and would probably be ready to bring a few more systems onto the new matrix tomorrow. Still, some of the reconfigured components were slightly out of phase with the EPS system. They’d have to check each one—by hand.

B’Elanna was tired and not looking forward to spending any more time dealing with these little niggling problems. Jessen, however, seemed excited to keep working. “Maybe Harry could give us a hand,” the young woman said sheepishly, as she exchanged glances with Ensign Puppylove, um, Kim.

“Well I’m sure he would,” B’Elanna said wryly, “if you ask him.”

Jessen looked embarrassed, and Torres decided to come to her rescue. “Harry,” she called to her friend. “You got a minute?”

Boy, he looked eager to join them, she thought. He was out of his chair and at Jessen’s side in an instant.

His enthusiasm seemed to bolster Jessen’s confidence. “Could you help us check the modified power relays?” she asked. “There’s a minor flow problem.”

B’Elanna wondered for a minute if her friend’s face hurt after smiling all day. “Sure,” he volunteered, “I’d be happy to help.”

Well, this was good news for everyone. With Harry on the problem, it could wait until tomorrow and B’Elanna could officially end this day without guilt. “Good, then we’ll get started first thing in the morning.”

Kim wasted no time inviting the ‘group’ to join him for a late dinner. Jora Mirell—looking exhausted, B’Elanna noticed—excused herself and headed for bed. Pretty aware that she’d be a third wheel at any dinner with Harry and Jessen, B’Elanna made her excuses, too. Though it would have been nice for the two to at least pretend to be disappointed when she declined.

It was sweet, she thought, to see Harry so happy. Tom was right: full-blown puppy love. And she also knew that there was an inevitable heartbreak coming her friend’s way—they’d be at Enara Prime in about three days. ‘Enjoy it while you can,’ she thought to herself. Then she locked down the new systems and headed home.

~~

She was about to toe off her boots when she noticed Tom’s jacket, still hanging on the chair where she’d left it the night before. B’Elanna kicked herself—she promised Paris she’d return the coat today, but had gotten so caught up in her work, she’d skipped lunch and dinner. Relieved, at least, that she hadn’t already gotten undressed, she grabbed the coat and headed out the door.

“Deck 4.” She said as the turbolift doors closed. It was late, she knew, but Tom was a nightowl. Still, when she got to his door, he didn’t answer the chime. “Computer,” she said, “locate Lieutenant Paris.”

“Lieutenant Paris is in his quarters.” Okay, she thought. This was strange.

“Torres to Paris,” she said as she slapped her commbadge. Nothing.

He probably fell asleep, she realized, not wanting to wake him, but needing to give him back his jacket before the distractions of another incredibly busy day at work made her forget again. She reached up and started entering Tom’s security code—then stopped herself.

She looked up and down the corridor to see if anyone could hear her. “Computer,” she said quietly, “locate Lieutenant Delaney.”

“Specify,” the clinical voice said back to her.

She didn’t like saying it once. She certainly didn’t enjoy having to repeat it. “Megan Delaney. Locate Lieutenant Megan Delaney.”

B’Elanna held her breath. “Lieutenant Megan Delaney is in stellar cartography.”

Pshew. ‘Working late tonight, huh Megan?’ Torres thought to herself. Smiling, she reached up and completed the access code and the doors to Paris’s cabin opened.

The music was instantly recognizable—Earth circa 1943—and was just loud enough to have kept him from hearing her page. The lights were dimmed but on, and B’Elanna saw him immediately: sitting at his desk in a t-shirt and shorts, slumped over his computer display, head resting on his folded arm, sound asleep. She stood there for a moment, once again enjoying the peaceful look on his face, knowing too well that she could get used to the feeling she got when she watched him sleep.

She closed her eyes for a second. This was a dangerous game to be playing with herself, she knew.

Still, she walked over to the desk and peeked at the still-lit screen. On it was a two-dimensional schematic of Tom’s sailboat. He’d fallen asleep while finishing it, a half-eaten peanut butter and jelly sandwich on a plate next to the computer.

B’Elanna reached over him and started to save the file. Then she saw what he’d been working on. Carefully lettered on the small boat’s stern was its new name: ‘Bellissima.’

She wondered for a moment if he knew. No, it was too obscure. He’d built a boat to sail an Italian lake and he’d picked an Italian word as its name. It was probably the name of the boat he’d first sailed on that same lake twenty years earlier. Still, it was an incredible coincidence.

But he couldn’t have known. No one knew. She punched in the command to save the changes he had made, then draped his jacket over a dining chair before starting to head back for the door.

She turned back for a second and looked at Tom. For a moment, she considered waking him up—his back was going to hurt like hell in the morning if he slept all night like that. But she wasn’t prepared to talk to him now, to explain what she was doing in his room so late, or to disturb the very contented dream he seemed to be having. No, she’d leave as quietly as she came.

As she turned back toward the door, her eye caught a glimpse of something draped carefully across the arm of his sofa. His uniform jacket. She turned back to make sure he was still sleeping, then walked over and picked it up. She couldn’t resist the temptation and held it up to her face. She missed this. She missed him.

Carefully removing his commbadge and setting it on his table, B’Elanna folded the jacket up and tucked it under her arm. A fair trade: a jacket for a jacket.

She smiled, wondering if he’d even notice. But tonight, for some reason, she didn’t care.

One last quick look at him and she walked quietly to the door. “Night, Tom,” she said softly. Then she headed home.

~*~*~*~*~

She was lying in bed, waiting for him to come to her, as she knew he would.

Suddenly, she heard knocking at her bedroom window. She jumped up—not able to wait even one minute before pulling him in and to her.

“What took you so long,” she said anxiously. She didn’t wait for him to answer, as she kissed him. And kissed him. The answer didn’t matter; she was voracious and he was here now.

~~

Tom tilted his head from side to side as he tried to work out the kink that had taken up permanent residence in his neck.

“Rough night, Mister Paris?” Well, turning to look at the commander was one way to stretch out his sore muscles.

“I guess you could say that, sir. I fell asleep at my desk.”

Chakotay smiled at him. “Funny, I don’t picture you as someone who burns the midnight oil. Slaving over a stack of conn reports, no doubt.”

Tom turned back to face the viewscreen and grinned. “Yes, sir. You know how I just love to fill out conn reports.”

Their conversation was interrupted by a call from engineering. “Vorik to Commander Chakotay.”

“Chakotay here.”

Tom couldn’t help but overhear. “Sir, Lieutenant Torres has failed to report for her duty shift, and she doesn’t answer when I attempt to call her.”

Tom just shook his head and laughed. Whatever B’Elanna was dreaming of these days, it must be pretty interesting to keep her so dead to the world. Chakotay seemed to sense that Tom knew something about this; he stepped down to the conn as he answered the ensign.

“I’ll look into it, Vorik. Chakotay out.” He looked at Tom as he called out. “Computer, locate Lieutenant Torres.”

Tom mumbled the reply along with the computer. “Lieutenant Torres is in her quarters.”

Chakotay stared at him for a minute, as if he was somehow to blame for B’Elanna’s absence. “Did you say something, Lieutenant?” the commander asked.

“No, sir. It’s just that…well, she overslept yesterday, too. I had to…” Now he wasn’t really going to say exactly what he had done to wake her up, stopping himself before blurting it out. “I had to page her four or five times before she answered me. She must be a pretty sound sleeper.”

Chakotay looked at him for a minute, then headed for the turbolift. “I’ll go see if I can wake her,” he said as he left. “Mister Tuvok, you have the bridge.”

“Better take some dynamite,” Tom mumbled as he heard the lift doors open and close. Then he spent the next few moments imagining B’Elanna’s face as Chakotay woke her up from a very steamy—and very embarrassing—dream.

~~

He lifted her off the floor, never breaking contact with her lips as they stumbled toward her bed. She stopped him only long enough to pull the shirt from his shoulders—she needed to feel his skin, she couldn’t wait another second. Wrapped in each other’s arms and lips, they fell full force onto her bed, and she had trouble controlling the impulse to laugh. But she knew they had to be careful. She couldn’t get caught—not with him, not like this.

But she wouldn’t get caught. Her father had been asleep for hours and her bedroom was too far away, too secluded. She could be with Dathan here, as long as they were careful. Besides, she knew, part of the fun was the risk of being found out. It was dangerous and she loved it.

But she wanted to be in control of their game. With all her strength, she pushed him, rolled him onto his back. These were her rules and rule number one was that she didn’t like to wait.

She had worn this nightgown—her favorite—because it made her feel beautiful, and because it was so easy to slip out of. As he pushed it over her shoulders, she knew she didn’t have the patience to stand it even a moment longer. She loved him—needed him—and she’d take him here and now.

“B’Elanna.”

Korenna. My name is Korenna.

“B’Elanna. Wake up.”

Her eyes opened to the very bright light of her cabin at full illumination. And to Chakotay’s face staring down at her. “What?” She tried to sound as casual as possible for a woman who’d just been in the middle of very vigorous sex with an imaginary man.

Chakotay looked more worried than angry. “Your duty shift started twenty minutes ago. I tried to reach you on the com but you didn’t answer.”

B’Elanna sat up on her knees and pulled her pillow to cover herself before realizing that she was fully dressed. “I guess…I guess I must have slept right through. Sorry.”

She stumbled out of bed and toward the bathroom. “Are you feeling alright?” she heard her friend say to her back.

“Yes, of course,” she answered, a smile creeping over her face. “I’ll be there in a minute.”

She ran through the sonic shower and was dressed in less than five minutes—taking an extra second to make sure her rank insignia was facing the proper direction. When she stepped into the corridor, she was surprised to see Chakotay waiting for her.

Of course, she realized: first officer and big brother—he’d want to know what was going on. He pressed her for details as they walked. At first she thought he was scolding her for the time she’d missed at her station. Then she realized: he was worried about her as a friend.

For a moment, she considered not telling him, making up some story about working late and the stress she was under. But a part of her needed to share this experience with someone she trusted. And—when it came to matters this intensely personal—the only person she could tell was Chakotay.

“There’s nothing wrong. I was only late because I’ve been having these dreams. They’re very…intense. That’s all.”

They’d reached engineering and she headed straight for the warp core. Every morning, no matter what the project at hand, it was her first stop. Chakotay was right on her heels. “Intensely bad?” he asked, referencing her dreams.

She glanced at him quickly, still not sure how far she would go. “Nope. Just the opposite.”

He caught on pretty quickly. “So they’re enjoyable? Stimulating?” He was teasing her now. What the hell, she figured. He’d asked…

She leaned in close and looked him in the eye. “They are the most sensual dreams I’ve ever had in my life. And they feel absolutely real.” She moved to the power relay station; he followed her, as she knew he would.

“I don’t suppose you’ve been dreaming about anyone in particular…?” he asked. She was grateful that—today—she could answer that question honestly.

“Nobody you know,” she said wryly. Then the thought occurred to her and she turned to face him. “Actually, he’s nobody I know either. He’s Enaran. In the dreams I know him. More than that, I’m in love with him.” She was giggling like a teenager, then pulled herself together. “But it’s not really me in the dreams. It’s somebody else entirely. In a way it’s…liberating.”

They laughed together, and she noticed that Chakotay was blushing. “I’m sure,” he teased her before slipping into an exaggerated version of his ‘first officer’ voice. “So I assume I won’t have to write up a report on your chronic oversleeping?”

The thought was mortifying. B’Elanna almost growled her reply. “If you say a word about this to anyone…”

He leaned in even closer. “I know: you’ll rip my heart out and eat it raw. Your secret’s safe with me.”

She watched him leave, suddenly chafing at the implications of that last remark. Why was it that—every time she got angry or annoyed—someone had to make a joke about her Klingon temper. Wasn’t she entitled to have intense feelings without being made to feel like some sort of monster?

Still, she knew Chakotay well enough to know he’d never intentionally hurt her feelings. But, today, especially, the comment stung.

B’Elanna took a quick look at the duty log, and made a point of walking the entire room so her staff could see that she was there and available if they needed her. She noted that Harry and Jessen were working in the Jeffries tubes, checking those EPS relays. Good. That gave her at least a half-hour to work alone before she’d have to make small talk. She was too preoccupied to chitchat, and she headed to the upper engineering deck where she could have some time alone with her engines and her thoughts.

She opened up the maintenance logs and began checking on the status of their ongoing projects. But, while a part of her mind did the things required of her as Voyager’s chief engineer, the part that was the woman B’Elanna Torres kept up its own internal conversation. Something was happening to her, she knew. Something more than having a few stray dreams about a young Enaran couple in love.

The dreams had started long before their guests had even come aboard. She was smart enough to know that her imagination was doing more than giving her a little nocturnal entertainment.

And there was something else. All the while B’Elanna—as Korenna—made love to Dathan, a part of her became very aware of how much she had been holding back in her own fantasies. They had been intensely passionate, but she realized now that she had been hesitant to give more than her body to the Tom Paris of her dreams. Not so Korenna. This young woman was very much in love with the boy now sharing her bed, and the depth of her devotion was something that would have frightened B’Elanna to feel for Tom. Korenna had made herself absolutely vulnerable, yet—in the process—had made herself absolutely free.

The contrasts had caused B’Elanna to stop and think. Her dreams about Tom had been as sexually fulfilling as they could possibly be—considering the fact that she’d been alone and unconscious at the time. But they’d also tugged on a part of her heart she hadn’t explored before. And the feelings scared her.

She remembered one of her recent dreams about him: they’d been in her quarters, dancing to some of his music—a series of slow ballads from 1940’s Earth. She’d heard these songs before, the night of the party for the captain and Chakotay, and she’d remembered feeling moved by the haunting lyrics. As she swayed in his arms, Tom put his hand on her chin and pulled her face toward him. She thought she’d remember the feel of that imagined first kiss for the rest of her life.

She didn’t remember moving to the bed, didn’t remember getting undressed, but she could still feel the way his lips traced a line down her neck as he kneeled behind her. She remembered the touch of his hands, her decision to turn to him, and the incredibly sexy grin he’d given her just as she moved to take him. But she also remembered something else: knowing that she had to mark him before she could go any further.

This was where her fear had kicked in.

B’Elanna was all too aware of the Klingon custom of laying claim to one’s mate. A bite on the cheek was a symbol of betrothal, a way for the world to know he was spoken for. It was a symbol, she knew as a Klingon, that they were to be mated for life.

What was her mind trying to tell her? Was she falling in love with Tom Paris? Were her feelings for him that deep, that intense, that some part of her mind could see herself bonded to him forever?

But there was something else. B’Elanna wasn’t a virgin by any human sense of the word. She’d had occasional sexual encounters—always with men she’d trusted and cared for—but had nevertheless kept an emotional distance between herself and her partners. Horribly self-conscious of the stories about Klingon women and their voracious erotic appetites, B’Elanna had been careful to keep that part of herself in check during her lovemaking. But in her dreams of Tom, she’d felt herself losing the ability to control her Klingon passion. And, like the urge to mark him, the intensity of her desire made her aware of her fears.

But this morning, thanks to Korenna, she also knew for the first time what it felt like to love with total physical and emotional abandon. And, as much as it frightened her, the feeling also called her name.

“B’Elanna.”

Her back was to the door, and for a moment, she was too afraid to turn around. She heard him then, walking down the steps to the landing where she stood.

The memory of another dream—a different dream—suddenly overwhelmed her. She knew he was standing behind her now. Still she couldn’t make herself turn around. Then she felt his hand on her shoulder.

“Hi,” Tom said gently. “Didn’t you hear me?”

Her heart was racing and she was sure he knew somehow—that he was just teasing her. That was a silly thought, she realized, and turned around to face him.

“Sorry,” she said as she got the courage to look him in the eye. “I guess I was preoccupied.” Knowing too well that he hadn’t come to make love to her, she took a deep breath and asked, “What are you doing here?”

He handed her a datapad. “I brought you the readout from the new helm control systems. I thought you’d want to see how things were going after a full day in operation.”

She took the PADD from his hand. “Thanks.”

He hesitated for a minute. “I also wanted to make sure you were okay. I was on the bridge when Vorik called Chakotay, and…”

She cut him off. “I’m fine, really. I’ve just been working too many late nights, I guess, and I keep forgetting to set my alarm.”

He smiled at her, but didn’t really look convinced. Then another thought seemed to occur to him. “So, I’ll see you tonight then?”

She was confused. “Tonight?”

He looked a little disappointed. “The reception for the Enarans. The mess hall, our quick get-away to the holodeck…?”

She couldn’t believe she’d forgotten. “Sure. Right. I’ll meet you in the mess hall at, what, 1900 hours?”

He smiled. “See you there.” He started to go, then turned back. “And, thanks for the jacket. Though you should have woken me up. My neck has been killing me all morning.”

Before she could say anything, he turned and left.

This was all so confusing, B’Elanna thought as she looked at the closed door. Why was he being so nice to her when he was involved with someone else? Why couldn’t she get him out of her thoughts and dreams? And why was it that—the more she was with him, the less able she was to keep her heart and body from wanting to let go and accept the intensity of the way he made her feel.

This morning, she had felt liberated. Now, unable to separate Korenna’s feelings for Dathan from her own feelings for Tom, B’Elanna felt anything but free.

~~

Tom took his time getting back to the bridge. Flying in a straight line at high warp didn’t take any particular skill or talent, and he knew he’d just be bored at the helm for the rest of the day. Particularly this day.

He considered taking a short detour to sickbay to get something for the pain in his shoulders and back. He meant what he’d said to B’Elanna: he wished she had woken him up when she’d dropped by to give him back his jacket the night before.

Of course, he’d meant it for more reasons than concern for his aching muscles. There was something disconcerting about knowing she’d been there, watching him while he was asleep. Well, turnabout was fair play, he supposed. He hoped he hadn’t been in the middle of an embarrassing dream while she was there, though. If he was, he certainly couldn’t remember it this morning.

Instead, he occupied his mind with daydreams of the evening to come. Of her in that short, purple dress. Of their plan to sneak away and launch the boat for the first time.

‘Bellissima,’ he thought to himself. ‘The most beautiful.’ She certainly was.

~*~*~*~*~

B’Elanna was tired. Not just from another long day at work, but because of how she’d spent it. With Harry and Jessen preoccupied with the EPS relays (and with each other) and Jora Mirell not feeling well enough to join them, B’Elanna had spent the day alone, feeling a little isolated, and totally preoccupied with the thoughts that had stayed with her since that morning.

She barely remembered the trip back to her quarters from engineering. She’d been mulling over two very frightening and contradictory feelings: the intense attachment she was developing for Tom Paris, and the overwhelming urge to run in the other direction. What had started off as a harmless fantasy was turning into a cascade of physical and emotional reactions she couldn’t control—sometimes didn’t want to control. Her dreams of Tom were commingling in her mind with her dreams of Dathan. She was losing the ability to separate Korenna’s desires from her own, and it was all so overwhelming and confusing.

Now she’d have to face those fears head on: she was due to meet Tom and Harry at the party in fifteen minutes. And she suddenly realized she didn’t want to go.

She moved to her wardrobe, pulled out the violet dress, and held it up to her. The last time she’d worn it, she was so hopeful about her life—for the first time in years. Now she was only confused. And frightened.

Without consciously making the decision, she shoved the dress back into her closet and closed the door. Instead, she reached into the drawer and pulled out her pajamas. It had been a long, tiring day. The captain would understand. Tom would understand.

She changed out of her uniform, and climbed into bed. “Computer,” she said wearily, “dim the lights.”

~~

Why did time always seem to slow down while he was waiting for Harry to arrive? At least tonight he had something to do to occupy his time.

The boat was almost done. Sure, he knew the jib still wasn’t perfect, but she was rigged properly and ready to sail. She even had a name, something his last ‘real’ sailboat had lacked.

Tom thought back for a moment to the day he’d first met B’Elanna. He was hungover and in desperate need of a shower when Chakotay landed their two-seater in the Liberty’s small shuttlebay. He’d staggered out of the hatch, still wondering why he’d ever agreed to an insane proposition like joining the Maquis—knowing, though, that he’d been offered his one chance to fly again and that he had very little left to lose.

Chakotay was droning on about discipline and protocols and Maquis loyalty—and it was all going in one ear and out the other. Then he saw her in the corner of the bay having a very heated argument with a tall old man with a thick Italian accent.

She looked like a baby back then, a little child. She couldn’t have been much over twenty, he realized, and yet she had this kind of bonfire inside her. The man she was berating was easily three times her age and twice her size, yet he cowered away from the intensity of her rage.

“You’re an idiot! And I swear to Kahless, Mario, that if you ever, ever touch my engines again, I’ll tear out your heart and eat it raw!”

‘Well,’ he remembered thinking to himself, ‘there’s a charming little girl.’

“B’Elanna,” Chakotay had called out to her. “What’s going on?”

She didn’t even notice that Tom was standing there as she answered. “This imbecile thought he could increase the power flow to the galley by messing with my plasma relays. He almost caused a core breech! I’m telling you right now, Chakotay, you get this walking pile of sausage out of my way, and tell him to keep his grubby hands off my engines!” With that, she stormed away without ever acknowledging Tom’s existence.

He was impressed.

Then the older man leaned over to him. “Bellissima,” he said softly. “She’s beautiful when she’s angry.”

Tom laughed. Yes, she was.

He wasn’t sure why that moment—that word—had come back to him. Yet somehow it just seemed fitting for a boat that would sail on a notoriously choppy lake. And, even though it didn’t mean anything to anyone else, he’d know, too, that it reminded him of a firebrand of a woman who was incredibly beautiful—not only when she was angry, but all the time.

Tom saved the final changes to the program, then activated the replicator interface. One bottle of champagne would be waiting for them at the docks. He was glad B’Elanna had thought to suggest that they christen her properly.

The door chime sounded five minutes early—right on time for a particularly eager ensign. Tom threw on his jacket and headed for the door, in a better mood than he’d been for weeks.

“Aren’t we picking up B’Elanna?” Harry asked as they walked to the turbolift.

“She’s meeting us there,” Tom said, trying not to sound too excited.

~~

They were discussing Neelix’s secrecy about the nature of their little event. Tom told Harry about being unceremoniously tossed out of the mess hall earlier in the day as their morale officer was setting up for the party. Both men were curious what all the mystery was about.

When the doors opened, they saw their normally sterile mess hall transformed into a lush lounge, the walls and viewports draped in jewel-toned fabrics of blue and green. The tables and chairs were gone—replaced by cushions and benches—and the temperature of the room was noticeably chilly. ‘B’Elanna’s gonna freeze in that sleeveless dress,’ Tom thought as he looked around for her.

He and Harry congratulated Neelix on all the hard work—and took a moment to sample an Enaran delicacy; for something called ‘algae puffs’ the green hors d’oeuvres tasted better than they sounded.

It only took a moment for Harry to find Jessen. She called him over to sit with her, and Tom suddenly found himself abandoned. He decided to look around the room for his soon-to-be partner in making a quick night of this, um, lovely, if unusual evening.

He searched the crowd twice. No B’Elanna. She was probably running late, he realized, as he stood guard at the far end of the room.

He watched as the captain took a turn playing one of the Enaran instruments. Designed a bit like a lap steel guitar, a translucent dome took the place of strings, and the device sounded very much like a muted harp. The music was beautiful—though not exactly Tom’s taste.

He realized he’d been standing there for quite a while when Chakotay came in from the port corridor. Tom wondered if the commander knew where to find their missing chief engineer. As he was about to ask, Paris caught the end of a conversation between him and Neelix.

“I haven’t seen Lieutenant Torres around this evening.” Neelix was saying, reading Tom’s mind. “I hope she isn’t putting in another late night in engineering.”

Tom heard Chakotay’s answer before he could speak. “Actually, I think she might have gone to bed early tonight.”

Tom stood there for a second. It was almost 1930 hours—B’Elanna was more than a few minutes late. Then it dawned on him: Chakotay was right. She wasn’t coming.

He leaned against the bulkhead for a moment and watched Harry and Jessen. They looked happy, lost in each other and oblivious to the world. ‘Good for you, Harry,’ Tom thought sadly.

Well, he’d promised himself he’d make a quick exit and so he did, not even caring if Captain Janeway had seen him put in his perfunctory appearance.

The entire trip down to Deck 6 took less than five minutes, just long enough for Tom to decide that he’d had enough of B’Elanna’s mixed messages to last him a lifetime.

He reached the holodeck doors and called up the program, not bothering to engage the privacy lock behind him. He walked the fifty meters to the dock without thinking, and stood there for a moment looking out at the lake. Then he took off his jacket and draped it over a piling. He rolled up the sleeves of his shirt, loosened his collar, and grabbed the ropes from their anchors. It took him less than fifteen minutes to cast off, turn his sail into the breeze and head south onto the lake. It was a beautiful summer evening on Lake Como, and he was going to enjoy it.

When he got about a hundred meters from the shore, Tom felt the breeze die down and he left the boat drift. He ducked into the cabin and brought up a small picnic basket. Ignoring the food, he pulled out the wine and the corkscrew and poured himself a drink. Then he climbed out on the bow and stretched out, letting the fading summer sun drain the anger and disappointment from him.

He remembered a promise he’d made to himself when he first created this program: this boat, this place, was for him. It wasn’t about her or his father or his atonement for any wrongs he’d committed—real or imagined. Tom knew he was on the verge of some major changes in his life and that it was time to grab control of his destiny for the first time since he could remember. At least as much as was possible trapped on a tiny Starship on the far side of a huge galaxy.

And there were decisions to be made. The first of which came to him almost too easily tonight. He needed to shake loose from this unhealthy obsession with B’Elanna Torres, and put a little distance between them for a while. Whether she meant to or not, B’Elanna had a way of making him lose his bearings, forget who he was and what he wanted. And he wondered how many different ways she could say and show that she wasn’t interested before he would finally take the hint.

Something about that realization made his mind stop racing. He took a long sip of his wine and leaned back against the cabin. So this night hadn’t gone exactly the way he’d hoped. He was still luckier and more at peace with himself than he had ever been. So life was unfair and imperfect. This was hardly news to Tom Paris.

He knew then that he would be fine.

Still, for just a second, a fleeting image popped into his mind: B’Elanna, in a peasant dress, standing on the edge of a rocky outcropping, herding goats up the side of a hill. Despite himself, Tom smiled.

~~

This dream was different than the others.

Rather than finding herself in the arms of a handsome young man, B’Elanna—Korenna—was being lectured by her father about the suitability of Dathan as a friend. As she made her bed and got ready to go, Korenna listed patiently to his warnings that the boy she was so in love with was only trying to take advantage of her.

She placated her father just long enough to get him to leave before drawing Dathan out from his hiding place. The very idea that he was anything but her devoted lover was ridiculous, a feeling she confirmed with a long and passionate kiss.

“This will only encourage me,” Dathan said as he began to nibble his way down her neck.

“I hope so,” she laughed, grateful to have one more chance to feel his touch before having to leave to start her day.

They were embracing—Korenna swept up in the moment—when she suddenly felt a painful, hot sensation on her neck. Her skin was on fire, and when she pulled back she saw Dathan—horribly burned, his face blistered and disfigured. Then he collapsed to the floor, dead.

Korenna fell back, crawling across her bed, desperate to get away. Her heart was in her throat, and suddenly she couldn’t breath. My god, what had happened?!

B’Elanna bolted upright and gasped. Where was she? What was going on? She allowed herself a moment to catch her breath, but her heart kept racing.

She couldn’t get out of bed fast enough. “Computer, standard illumination.” She was glad when the lights were finally on and she could see that she was in her own quarters and alone.

She sat on the edge of her sofa and ran her hands across her face. Why, suddenly, had these harmless dreams taken such a horrific and nightmarish turn?

Dathan was dead, but how? Why? What was happening?

The dreams had always been so real, so vivid—as if they were actually happening in the moment she experienced them. Was someone—one of the Enarans—trying to torture her?

Then another confusing impulse struck her. She needed to see Tom.

Intellectually, she knew Paris was fine. He was not Dathan and Dathan was not Tom. Still, the ways in which the two were intermingled in her mind made B’Elanna desperate to see her friend with her own eyes, to see for herself that he was alive and unhurt.

“Computer,” she called out. “Locate Lieutenant Paris.”

Of course: he was in the holodeck.

B’Elanna changed back into her dirty uniform and was out the door in less than a minute.

~~

She was glad that the privacy lock was off, not that it would have stopped her tonight. Taking a deep breath, B’Elanna opened the large doors and stepped inside.

The sun was almost completely set as she made her way down to the pier. She wasn’t surprised to find that Tom—and the boat—were gone.

She saw his jacket draped over the wooden piling and she moved over to touch the fabric. Leaning her elbows on the post, she put her head in her hands, and wished she could take back the last two hours.

As she looked down at her feet, she saw it sitting on the edge of the dock, up against the post that held Tom’s coat: an unopened, unbroken bottle of champagne.

B’Elanna took one last glance out over the lake. She thought she could see in the distance the outline of a lone sailboat silhouetted against the setting sun. At least he still went, she thought. At least she hadn’t ruined his night, too.

Still, she wished she could have seen him, just for a second. Knowing he was all right and seeing that he was all right were two different things.

The sun was setting and she suspected Tom’s holodeck time would be up soon. B’Elanna once more ran her hand over the rough fabric of his jacket, then made the short walk back up the hill and to the door. Before she opened it, she turned around and took another look at the clear night sky. The stars were starting to come out, and she could see the reflected light of the moon illuminating the lake. This night could have turned out so differently, she knew.

“Gods, this place is beautiful,” she said aloud to herself, as leaned against the arch. Then she caught sight of a small sailboat making its way toward her across the water. It was too dark to make out its captain, but she knew it was him, coming home—and that she needed to go before he saw her. She opened the door and stepped through, then made her way back to her quarters.

When she reached her cabin, she took off her uniform jacket and tunic and slipped out of her trousers. Pulling the blanket off her bed, B’Elanna wrapped herself in the soft green fabric as she sat on her couch, her knees pulled tight to her chest. She reached for a datapad—not really caring which one—and pretended to read the report it contained. Her eyes skimmed the words but they didn’t register in her mind.

It served its purpose, however: keeping her awake. She would sit there, fighting off her exhaustion, for the rest of the night.

~*~*~*~*~

It had been almost a month since the Enarans had left Voyager, and slowly B’Elanna’s dreams were returning to normal. Yes, occasionally she was visited in her sleep by a tall, handsome man, but it was always Tom Paris, and she was always herself.

It had taken her a while to relax at night, to feel comfortable falling asleep at all. The last of Jora Mirell’s transferred memories had been sickeningly real and horrific, and somehow B’Elanna couldn’t help but feel that it had all really happened to her. To them.

She had tried to respect the Jora’s wishes, to get the Enaran people to admit and accept the truth of their past: that Dathan had been real, that he and his people had been systematically murdered by the Enaran government in what developed into a mass genocide. She tried to force Jor Brill to admit the truth after Mirell had died. But a generation of denial was too much for one young alien woman to try and undo.

She had gotten Jessen to agree to accept the memories, to take them and try to reconcile their message with the real crimes of her people. Maybe, B’Elanna thought, Jessen—as an Enaran—could do more good with them anyway. Maybe she could finally get her people to admit and face the brutality of their own history.

Still, she knew the dreams would stay with her for a while. It hadn’t helped that Dathan was so like Tom in so many ways: a perceived troublemaker who was actually a horribly misunderstood young man. But, despite his year-long track record of almost getting himself killed, Tom Paris was alive and well and—from all outward appearances these days—quite happy. Even if they had barely spoken since the night of the party.

Tom had made a point of making sure she was okay after news spread about her dreams, even going so far as to apologize for not realizing what had happened. But he’d retreated for a while after that—not just from her, but from everyone. Everyone except Harry, anyway.

As she and Tom had predicted, their friend was having a hard time getting over his first Delta Quadrant romance, and Paris had been on a one-man crusade to keep Kim entertained. Harry had invited her along a few times, but things were strange and uncomfortable with Tom and she usually told the men to go ahead without her.

One thing had become pretty clear though: any kind of relationship Tom may have had with Megan Delaney was either long over or had existed only in his dreams. B’Elanna had seen Megan twice in the past week—on the arm of Ensign Murphy, Delaney’s old boyfriend. Oddly, Tom didn’t seem to notice or care.

Morning had come too quickly, but B’Elanna felt well-rested for the first time in ages. Her dream last night had been of Voyager’s battered warp coils; she’d found it surprisingly relaxing.

As she made her way to the mess hall, she found herself hoping she’d run into Tom and Harry. She was ready to get back to a normal routine, and that included a casual, stress-free breakfast with her two friends. She was glad to find them at their regular table—both of them laughing for the first time in weeks.

“Hey, Maquis” Harry said, calling her over. “Good morning.”

B’Elanna smiled. It had been a long time since he’d used their nicknames. This had to be a good sign. “Morning, Starfleet,” she answered as she sat down next to him. She forced herself to look at Paris. “Morning, Tom.” He smiled, but didn’t answer.

Seeing them together reminded B’Elanna of an idea that was percolating in the back of her mind. A way for them to spend some time together, maybe keep Harry occupied while giving her and Tom a chance to work through the tension they both seemed to feel in the other’s presence these days. She decided to take the risk. “Word has it we’re getting shore leave tomorrow. Neelix says the Nechani homeworld is a great—what did he call it—?”

“A tourist trap,” Tom finished her sentence.

“Right,” she said quietly, glad he was at least participating in the conversation. “I thought we could tag along with Neelix and Kes, maybe have lunch there.”

“Sounds great,” Harry chimed in. B’Elanna knew he was forcing himself to stay busy, and that was probably a good idea.

Tom pushed his chair back from the table and grabbed his tray. “You two have a good time.”

Harry seemed confused. “You’re not coming with us?”

B’Elanna noticed that Tom barely looked at her as he answered, though his tone was casual—almost upbeat. “I already have plans. But thanks. Bring me a souvenir, take a few pictures. I can hear all about it when you get back.” He smiled, then kicked his chair back under the table. “I’m late. Gotta go.”

They watched him leave and B’Elanna realized after a moment that Harry was staring at her.

“What?” she said, more defensively then she meant to.

Harry just shook his head. “I’m just wondering how long this is going to go on,” he said, now looking more like the heartbroken ensign she’d seen a few weeks earlier.

She wasn’t sure what he meant. “Tom’s mad at me. It’ll pass. It always does.”

He shook his head again. “Tom’s not mad at you, B’Elanna. He’s…” Harry looked for a minute like he was going to say something else, but stopped. He took a drink of his coffee, then turned back to her. “You know, Jessen and I…I mean I always knew we’d only have a few days. And I knew there was a good chance I’d end up feeling like crap when she had to leave. But it was worth it, you know.” He was going some place with this, but B’Elanna couldn’t follow him.

“I’m glad to hear you say that,” she said gently. “I think she was good for you.”

Harry smiled sadly and nodded. “She was. But, B’Elanna, we’re probably going to be together here for a long time. Tom’s not going anywhere. Don’t you think it’s time you two got on with it?”

She didn’t like where this conversation was going. “Got on with what, Harry?”

His laugh was more like a grunt, “B’Elanna, if you’re afraid he’ll hurt you, you don’t have to be. He’s crazy about you. He has been for over a year. And unless I miss my guess, you’re crazy about him, too. How long are you two going to keep finding excuses not to tell each other?”

She didn’t know what to say. She knew Harry was still lost in a romantic haze over his still-fresh wounds over Jessen. She knew he always tended to be a little naïve and optimistic. She just hadn’t realized before how much he had projected onto her relationship with Tom.

“Harry, Tom and I are friends. Friends who fight. A lot. But that’s it, okay? And in a few days, he’ll get over this and everything will be back to normal.”

He looked mad—not exactly the mood B’Elanna was hoping to inspire in him. “You’re right,” he admitted. “In a few days, you and Tom will pretend like nothing ever happened, and you’ll be friends again, just like normal. But, B’Elanna, if I were you, I’d ask myself: is back to normal what you really want?”

Harry picked up his tray and left without letting her answer. Not that she could have answered.

She finished her coffee alone and made the trip to engineering, all the while thinking about what Harry had said. And, after almost a month of soul-searching, she’d come to some conclusions: she wasn’t afraid of Tom. Tom was a good man, she knew now. Whether or not he was interested in her was another question, but she was pretty confident he wouldn’t do anything to hurt her. Not intentionally.

But B’Elanna was afraid. Of herself. Of the ways she could feel herself changing as her interest in Tom got stronger and deeper. Of who she might become if she ever let herself loosen the reins on her emotions.

So Tom would get over this and they’d be friends again. And maybe, one day, she’d get past this paralyzing fear of the woman who was locked inside her. But for the moment, ‘back to normal’ was all she could hope for. And for now, it actually seemed like a huge improvement.

~*~*~*~*~

To Be Continued…

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