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"Quadality"

By Lal Soong

Part 1:

"Captain, I'm receiving a distress signal," Ensign Harry Kim reported from his station at Ops. "It's coming from a small craft approximately two light years away. Both their weapons and shields are inoperable." They're like the proverbial sitting duck, Harry thought. I hope they're not a decoy.

"Survivors?" Captain Janeway asked, standing from her center seat.

"I'm picking up twenty-seven life forms. Several are weak and unstable."

Turning toward her helms officer, Janeway asked, "Mr. Paris, how quickly can you get us there?"

"With current maximum warp speed....about six hours," the lieutenant replied as he verified this with engineering.

"Good. Set a course. Mr. Kim, send a subspace message to the craft." Janeway leaned back into her chair. "Tell them help is on the way."

"Aye Captain." Harry agreed with his captain's orders, but could not shake the feeling that they were flying into a trap. As he sent the message, he wondered if it would provide the survivors with the comfort of knowing help was on the way or serve as a warning to an undetected battle fleet.

Janeway shared a glance with her first officer and although he didn't speak, his expression clearly relayed his concern. They'd suffered at the hands of deceitful aliens too many times already.

"Tuvok, scan the area for any other spacecrafts," the captain ordered. "Let's prepare for all surprises, shall we?" Again glancing at Chakotay, Janeway accepted his nod of approval.

Kim let out an audible sigh of relief. Some times he felt as though the captain could read his mind. Shifting slightly in his seat, Paris turned to smirk in agreement with his friend. Everyone was relieved for the precaution. They were frequently encountering new species and since they'd ventured outside space familiar to their Telaxian guest, they had no way of gaining foreknowledge of anyone or any area.

I guess we can only wait, Harry thought, staring at the viewscreen. He felt like the scared child slowly opening the closet to the unknown monster.

"Aye Captain," the Vulcan security officer replied. "I am detecting no other crafts in the area. However, I will maintain a constant vigilance."

"Good." Janeway opened a commlink to engineering. "Janeway, to Lieutenant. Torres. We're heading toward a small craft sending out a distress signal. It's probably a legitimate cry for help, but we can never be too prepared. Conduct a level-one diagnostic. You have six hours to complete it."

"Understood," B'Elanna replied and immediately began delegating responsibilities. "Seven of Nine, I need you to calibrate the field generators."

"Aye Lieutenant," the former Borg responded and after grabbing the proper tools, she hastily begun the task. Watching her newest subordinate, B'Elanna remembered the doubts she had when Captain Janeway first assigned Seven of Nine to her engineering team. She felt nothing but confidence in Seven now.

With a smirk, B'Elanna secretly hoped that this detour wouldn't interfere with her plans this evening with Tom Paris. She didn't spend nearly as much time with him as she wanted. Although they had only recently begun a romantic involvement, B'Elanna felt ready to take their relationship further.

Nearing the small alien craft, Voyager cautiously continued to scan the area. " I'm picking up a transmission from the craft." Harry informed the captain. "Audio only."

"On speaker," Janeway ordered.

A choppy audio transmission came over the speakers. "To apparently--ching alien craft: We -- dire need of your assistance. We have lost all engine pow-- and --not contact -- homeworld."

"Send a reply. Tell them that we will beam over two members of our crew to assist them."

"Aye Captain," Harry responded.

"Then I want you to join Lieutenant. Torres in transporter room one." Harry could barely suppress a smile. The opportunity to spend an away mission with B'Elanna- without any other crew members- He would cherish this. He remained ever the professional around her, afraid to tell her how he truly felt. I'm an idiot, he thought if I don't tell her soon, I'm going to lose her to someone like Tom Paris--if I'm not already too late.

Materializing inside the small engine room, Harry and B'Elanna were greeted by two short aliens with smooth angular facial features. "Thank you for coming." One said. "I am Captain Jarrek of the star cruiser Immibi 6, and this is my first officer, Barin. We've been stuck out here for three days after encountering some type of black cluster. Our sensors picked up nothing. It took us by surprise! If you help us, I assure you that the reward from our homeworld will be great."

Harry shared a nervous glance with B'Elanna and suspected she was thinking the same thing as him. Voyager could be vulnerable to this phenomenon. B'Elanna whipped out her tricorder to more accurately assess the nature of the damage.

"Where is your chief engineer?" she asked.

"Sadly, he and a few others did not survive the accident," Barin replied.

"Are there any other engineers on board?"

"His assistant is unconscious in sickbay."

Frustrated, B'Elanna said, "Can you at least show me the schematics of your engines?"

"Fortunately," the Immibi captain said, "our main computer did not sustain any damage. Follow me." He led them several meters across the room to a terminal. He accessed the needed files with his security code, then stepped aside to allow B'Elanna the chance to view them.

After a quick study of the layout, B'Elanna opened a passageway that led to the damaged area. The width and height allowed barely enough room for her and Harry to crawl through. "I'm right behind you, Maquis," Harry said, unable to stop the thought of how thrilling it was to follow the half-Klingon's behind.

The diagnosis did not take long. "The good news is that the repairs will not require more than two hours," B'Elanna said. "The bad news, Starfleet, is that Voyager only has one spare power transfer conduit."

"Is it even compatible with their technology?"

"With a few modifications, I believe so."

"Well, if we use ours, then we should be able to pick up another in trade when we reach their homeworld. Jarrek did say we would be rewarded."

"However, I am not entirely certain that the reverse is true." Harry fixed her with disbelief. "It may take quite some doing to manipulate one of their PTCs onto Voyager."

"If anybody could do it....you're the person for the job." Smooth talker, Harry, his inner voice chided him. "Besides, what are the odds that Voyager will ever suffer the same damage?" Even as he asked, he thought about the Ketodi and how Tom and B'Elanna had nearly died floating out in space a few weeks ago thanks to their helping a race in need.

"Slim. PTCs are designed to hold up, under normal circumstances, for a couple hundred years." She pressed her commbadge. "Torres to Voyager." She proceeded to explain her findings to the captain. After a long debate between the away team, Chakotay, and Tuvok, the captain handed down her decision. They were placing Voyager in minimal danger by aiding these aliens.

Though Harry still had some doubts, he followed the captain's orders without protest and enjoyed watching how easily B'Elanna made the configurations that enabled Federation technology to work with Immibi.

"We appreciate your help," Jarrek said after B'Elanna informed him of the repair's completion. "And to show you how much, we'd like to ask you to follow us to our homeworld where we may properly shower you with our appreciation."

"We'll have to discuss it with our captain first," B'Elanna replied. "But she seldom passes up the opportunity to gain additional resources."

A sly grin formed on the Immibi captain. What type of reward are they planning? Harry wondered. He'd seen Voyager fall prey to too many traps not to be suspicious.

B'Elanna tapped her commbadge. "Torres to Voyager. Two to beam over."

"Mr. Kim, tell the Immibi that we'd love to visit their homeworld," Janeway said once she'd listened to Harry and B'Elanna's story. They were inside the conference room with Tom, Tuvok, Chakotay, Neelix and Seven also present. She studied the looks of puzzlement around her. "We cannot just assume an ulterior motive here based on our past experiences."

"Exactly," B'Elanna agreed. "I did not perceive any hostility from them. They seemed genuinely grateful." Although the half-Klingon did not know why she felt so sure about the aliens' intent when she had so much trouble understanding her own motivation, she refused to show any doubts in front of the crew.

"Mr. Kim, do you concur?"

The ensign hesitated, sharing a nervous glance with B'Elanna. Holding her breath, B'Elanna asked herself why she felt anxious right now. Why does this matter so much to me? I've never expected more than a "thank you" as a reward before now.

"While I don't feel quite as certain as B'Elanna," Kim finally responded, "I have no reason to suspect the Immibi of trickery."

"Captain," Chakotay said, concerned, "are you suggesting we risk walking into a trap?"

"If they had wanted to trap us," Seven began, "they would have sent a fleet. Immibi 6 would have served only as a decoy." No one had to be reminded of her expert knowledge in sneak attacks.

Janeway steepled her fingers and favored her first officer with a wry smile "The Immibi are offering us much needed supplies. I don't believe we can afford to refuse their gesture."

"I think we can handle whatever surprises they spring at us," Paris said in his usual cocky, but loveable manner. B'Elanna smiled at him, unable to stop fathoming a surprise or two of her own for Mr. Paris. You're in a conference, lieutenant! she scolded herself. Concentrate on the problem!

"I do not share your blind optimism, Mr. Paris," Tuvok responded. "We must continually maintain our guard no matter how benign the situation may appear."

"Agreed," the captain said. "But I'm not going to change my mind. Match course with the Immibi. Let's see what rich resources they have available for us."

"I must confess my knowledge of the crews need for new dishes to sample," Neelix added with a nervous smile. "I appreciate everyone's attempts to spare my feelings, but--"

"Yes, Neelix," Janeway interjected, "I'm sure crew will enjoy new recipes. For now, everyone to their stations. Let's inform the Immibi that we have accepted their offer."

The eight member away team beamed onto the planet inside a large coliseum. The elegant muriels stained on the glass reminded Harry of one of the ancient Catholic churches back on Earth. However, this illusion was immediately dispelled by the numerous shelves throughout the hall, each containing stone figures setting on plaques. He wondered what they represented and whether the next plaque would belong to Voyager.

Swiftly, the hall filled with the natives. Harry recognized Jarrek and Barin leading the crowd. Their smiles seemed genuine, welcoming. Gently pushing them aside, a third Immibi asserted himself at the front of the crowd.

"I am Rahja," he said. I oversee this sect and wish to present your crew with gifts to show our gratitude." He walked up to Janeway, stared at her for a moment as though sizing her up and then moved on to Chakotay. One by one, he did this with each crew member until reaching Seven at the end. "You were once Borg." He brought his hand up to the implant above her eye, the one remaining reminder of her previous life.

Seven of Nine did not even flinch at the gesture. "Correct," she replied, "but I am now Human and fully capable of embracing my individuality."

Standing next to her, Harry fought against a lump in his throat. As he thought about her time so far reintegrating with a mostly Human crew, he realized how true her words were. He wasn't blind. He saw how she looked at him! Keep it together, Harry, he chided himself.

Rahja slowly made his way back toward the captain still studying each crew member intently along the way, and Harry couldn't help but feel as though they were being tested for something. Why is he behaving as though we're on trial? This time, he stopped in front of Paris. "Name your favorite activity."

"Off duty?" Tom asked, surprised. "A good game of pool..... inside a holodeck recreation of a favorite bar back home....Sandrines."

"And do you play alone?"

Tom glanced at B'Elanna before answering. Harry saw how Tom smiled at her. He wasn't blind! "No, I have a few friends who join me."

Rahja nodded with approval. "Remember who your friends are in troubled times," he said enigmatically, then gestured to one of his followers. "We offer you seeds, so that you may have a great harvest. Who may we present these to?"

"I will accept them," Neelix replied, taking a step forward. He received the basket from the Immibi, glowing at the prospect of filling the hydroponics bay with new plant life. "And I will make the most delectable dishes from them."

Lifting his arm to gesture toward another of his people, Rahja announced, "Our second gift to you: a detailed map that will aid you in your next two years' journey. Who may we present this to?"

"As captain, I will graciously receive it," Janeway responded, and held her hand out for the small data padd. Keying it, she studied the layout with fascination.

Rahja brought his hands together. "As our third gift, we offer you a cargo of dilithium." The collective relief from the Voyager crew members was evident in their smiles. "We will have it beamed directly to your cargo bay. We also wish to replace the power transfer conduit you installed on Immibi 6 along with several other pieces of hardware you may find useful."

The captain fixed her first officer with a look that seemed to say, "See, I told you they were sincere." Harry was also relieved that he had been wrong to be suspicious. Janeway then turned back to Rahja. "Thank you so much for your generous gifts. We will use them wisely."

"But wait," Rahja replied with a smile. "We have not yet presented the most important gift of all."

"There's more?"

The click of a door opening and closing on the far end of the hall cued the crowd to part, making way for two young female Immibi wearing skimpy two-piece loin clothes. At first, Harry was sure the Immibi were going to offer these girls over as servants for the Voyager crew. Then he felt ridiculous in that assumption when he noticed they were each carrying a glimmering stone fastened to a gold chain. How could he not have immediately noticed it?

"This gift we present with gratitude to the two away team members who repaired Immibi 6," Rahja said. "They are phasing stones." The girls walked up to Harry and B'Elanna and the two bowed their heads to allow the girls to slip the chains around their necks.

"Phasing stones. What does that mean?" the captain asked, concern in her voice.

"These phasing stones offer the bearers the privilege of choosing their own reward."

"You mean they can just make a wish and it will come true," Paris said incredulous. "Hey Harry, now's your chance to be a hero. Wish Voyager back home."

"I'm afraid the stones don't work that way," the Immibi leader said. Funny, he didn't sound afraid, not even the least bit apologetic for this limitation, Harry thought. Or was he imagining this? "You see, there are certain rules that the natural laws of the stones dictate," Rahja continued.. "You cannot, for instance, wish yourself to a different location."

"My people believe that every stone, every object, has a story to tell," Chakotay interjected. "If we accept these stones, what history will they speak of?"

"They will not speak to you, commander." Rahja's tone sounded a bit acerbated. Harry fingered the stone around his neck as he listened and wondered if the stone would only speak to him. "The stones have the ability to shift the phase of reality." The Immibi leader had turned his back toward Chakotay, directing his speech at the captain. "In one phase a fruit may be red while in another.... it is orange."

"You're talking about more than just a color change here," the captain inferred. "What are these stones capable of?"

Stepping closer to Janeway, Rahja responded, "They are only capable of interpreting and granting the bearer's wishes. There are three phases to the stones and they will only work together. In the first phase, the stones abide by the wishes of one; in the second phase, the other. However, the final phase requires complete accord between the bearers."

"That is a little too much like playing God for my taste," Janeway observed. "At the risk of sounding ungrateful, we'd rather not accept this particular gift."

"I'm afraid you already have."

Before Janeway could further argue, a beam enveloped the entire away team and a moment later, they found themselves back on the bridge of Voyager. Quickly regaining her composure, the captain ordered. "Hail them!"

"No response," Harry said as he keyed in the sequence. "There's some type of ionization interference."

"How many votes that it's artificial?" The captain swivelled, hands on hips, to address her chief of security. "Mr. Tuvok, do you perceive any threat?"

"None," the Vulcan replied after a moment. "There are no weapons aimed at us. The Immibi's gifts were beamed to our cargo bay as promised and our shields are still fully operational. In effect, they have kicked us out. They wish to have no more to do with us."

"Suggestions?"

"They haven't harmed us," Chakotay reminded her. "I think it would be best if we just graciously move on."

"I agree with the commander's assessment," Tuvok said.

After studying each of her subordinates carefully, Janeway said, "Very well. Let's proceed homeward. Mr. Paris, redirect our course toward home."

"Aye, Captain."

"Ensign Kim, Lieutenant Torres, I want to see you in my ready room."

Following the captain into her private room off the bridge, Harry anticipated the lecture he was about to receive. He and the chief engineer stood at attention before the captain's desk, while Janeway went around to sit in her chair.

"I want to make it perfectly clear to both of you that although we can't refuse this gift, neither of you are to attempt to use them. That is a direct order."

Harry brought his hand up to the stone still around his neck. Why did he feel as though it were choking him? When I return to my quarters, the first thing I'm going to do is remove the chain and put it somewhere I can forget about it, he decided.

"If you were to use the stones, the potential for a disastrous consequence is far too great. Have either of you ever heard the tale about the Monkey's Paw?"

"No," B'Elanna admitted. "There wasn't much time for fairy tales while I was growing up."

"It was supposed to grant the owner three wishes," Harry responded, "but it turned out to be a curse." A gruesome image of a dead son brought back to life after a mangling death made him shiver.

"Exactly. That's why I want both of you to abandon any thoughts of using the stones to better your lives. It could backfire on you."

"Be careful what you wish for," Harry agreed. "Don't worry, Captain. The last thing I want to do is turn my life upside down."

Eighteen hundred hours did not arrive soon enough for B'Elanna Torres. It had been a strange day, and she was determined not to let it spoil her evening. Returning to her quarters, she took a quick sonic shower and slipped into a casual blue dress. Before closing her closet, she removed the phasing stone from the top shelf and marveled at how quickly it shifted color to match her dress. She had removed it after the captain's little speech about how dangerous the stone's power could be. What would I have to wish for anyway? She asked herself. I have everything I want. She returned the stone to the top shelf. And I'm missing out on it just standing here contemplating what that damn stone has to offer!

She slipped on a comfortable pair of shoes and stepped out of her quarters. Holodeck Two was waiting for her and so was her date. When she entered the holodeck a couple minutes later, she found Sandrines already running and Tom Paris standing at the pool table, stick in hand.

"Well, hello," he said with a smirk. "Care for a game of pool?"

"Oh, I'd like to play pool!" she responded. "Computer, initiate entrance lock, authorization Torres beta-0-0-9.

Tom opened his mouth in surprise, but before he could speak, B'Elanna pounced on him, not afraid to show him her wilder side. The stick slipped out of his hand, clattering onto the floor. As they fell back onto the table, they sent balls rolling into the pockets. Clawing and biting at each other, their lips connecting and their hands exploring, neither stopped to question their propriety. Tom helped her out of the dress so he could play with her supple breasts. Moaning with pleasure, she grappled to return the gesture. Her fingers found the zipper of his uniform and he wiggled out of it as she unzipped. Their pleasure escalated as their fingers roamed bare skin, seeking out erogenous zones. "Oh Tom!" she gasped as she helped him slide his member inside her.

Harry was tired. He was ready for a quiet relaxing evening inside his quarters. Maybe he would practice his clarinet for a bit and then settle in for the night. That's why you're still alone, Harry, he chided himself. You don't earn the repetition of being a lady's man by spending all your free time in your quarters. But he didn't just want any lady. He wanted B'Elanna....

As he stepped into his quarters, someone said, "Hello Harry," before he could call for the lights. "I hope you don't mind my just stopping by."

"Computer, lights!" he exclaimed. The lights came up full to reveal Seven of Nine lying on his couch wearing a very revealing evening gown. She stood to saunter toward him. "Seven, how did you get in here? I had my security locks activated."

"While I may be embracing my humanity, Harry, I haven't forgotten my Borg technology. Overriding your lock...." she ran her hand gently across his chin. "....was easy."

Swallowing the lump forming in his throat, Harry tried to find his voice. "Seven, I find you very attractive, but--"

"But what, Harry?" She brought her mouth close to his and ran the tip of her tongue across her bottom lip. "You trying to say you don't want me? I don't believe you! I can see how you react when I draw close to you. Your heart is pounding...your temperature rising...."

"I just think we should get to know each other a little better first."

"I don't know how to *know* a person," she said, turning abruptly on him. "All I know--all I've ever known--is how to survive as one with the collective."

Harry was momentarily taken aback by Seven's abrupt mood swing until he realized she was reaching out to him the only way she knew how. Why me? He wondered. What does she find so appealing about me? Does she see me as safe? Safe, yes. Plain, dull, unimaginative Harry. Completely safe.

"I understand how you feel. Maybe if you talked with someone about this. I hear that Commander Chakotay is pretty good in the counselor capacity."

"I don't feel comfortable talking with Chakotay! I want you!"

"I'm sorry. Not in that way, Seven. Perhaps, you should leave now."

"Fine!" She brushed past him, aggressively knocking him off balance.

Harry no longer felt like playing his clarinet. He felt like having a stiff drink. Fortunately, he hadn't lost this week's replicator rations to Tom. As he ordered the glass of wine from his personal unit, he thought about his friend Tom and how he'd wanted to be more like Tom. Tom would have handled that situation better, he told himself. You're never going to get anywhere always turning them down! Face it, B'Elanna's out of your reach, Harry. So why not Seven? She's attractive, intelligent. So what if she was once Borg?

"I wish it were that simple," he said aloud and walked over to his dresser. Opening his top drawer, Harry pushed his clothing aside to uncover the stone. "Computer, locate Lieutenant Torres."

"Lieutenant Torres is in Holodeck Two."

"Is she alone?"

"Negative. Lieutenant Torres is with Lieutenant Paris."

Removing the phasing stone, Harry clutched it firmly in his hand.

"Well, that was an exciting game of pool," Tom said, his arm wrapped around B'Elanna's waist. They were still atop the pool table, sans clothing.

B'Elanna giggled. "I know how much you enjoy hot dates!" A long silence fell between them, and she glanced at him. "Tom?"

"Hmm?"

"I've been thinking a lot about the phasing stones. Do they really work as the Immibi claimed? I know the captain ordered Harry and I not to use them--"

"But that makes them all the more tempting?"

"Why is that? I have everything I need....everything I want." She turned on her side to gently run her finger across Tom's chin.

Suddenly, Tom pulled away from her and stepped off the pool table. "Get dressed," he said as he retrieved his discarded uniform. "There's only one way to settle this dilemma."

B'Elanna gasped. He wasn't implying that they attempt to use the stone! "Tom, I won't disobey the captain's direct order!"

"I'm not asking you to," he responded enigmatically.

Once inside her quarters, Tom said, "Get the stone for me."

"All right," she agreed, though reluctantly. She walked over to her closet.

Harry sat down on his sofa. Unclenching his hand, he stared at the stone. It nearly matched the color of his skin. Hadn't it been more of a gold color when he'd had it around his neck? "Do you have the power to save me from this miserable existence?" he asked of it.

Tom took the stone from B'Elanna. "Let's test whether the Immibi were lying or not," he said. "Take us home!" Nothing happened. "Guess they were telling the truth about that."

"Tom, stop!"

"What's it going to hurt? Do you really believe this rock has the power to alter reality?"

"I don't think we should take that chance!" She held her hand out to him. "Please, give it back to me."

"Why is B'Elanna so interested in Tom Paris?" Harry wondered aloud. "What is it about him that attracts women? If only I could be more like him. I only wish there were some way that B'Elanna could be mine."

"All right, maybe you're right," Tom relented and handed the stone back to B'Elanna.

Suddenly, the stone began to glow brightly. B'Elanna gasped as an unexpected pain rose up her abdomen. Clutching her waist, she toppled to the floor.

"B'Elanna!" Tom exclaimed, bending down to offer his support. "What's happening?"

"Pain! It hurts!"

As Tom helped her to her feet, they were both shocked by her distended belly.

part 2:

"Doctor, what's happening to me?" B'Elanna demanded as Tom helped her onto the biobed.

Scanning his patient, the holodoctor replied, "No need to worry. It's only false labor." He pressed a hypospray against her neck. "There that should stop the pain."

"No need to worry!" Tom gasped. He was holding on firmly to B'Elanna's hand, both of them looking extremely agitated. "An hour ago, she wasn't even pregnant. How could this have happened?"

"Oh....are you sure? Unwed mothers have a tendency to deny the inevitable. You should have come to see me sooner."

"Doctor," B'Elanna hissed, trying to regain a modicum of composure. "I assure you that until very recently, I had not had an intimate relationship with a man for a long time. I cannot possibly be about to deliver!"

"And yet my examination of you clearly shows that you have entered your eighth month. I believe we should notify the captain of this situation."

B'Elanna didn't like the thought of everyone on Voyager learning of her affair with Tom Paris, but out of fear and the need to understand what was happening to her body, she nodded her consent. Reaching out to Tom with her free arm, she hugged him fiercely around the neck.

"Sickbay to Captain Janeway," the doctor said, tapping his commbadge.

"Janeway here."

"Captain, are you sitting down?"

"Yes. I'm enjoying a cup of coffee. Why?"

"Lieutenant Torres is pregnant."

A pause. "I'm delighted to hear that, but why are you telling me over the comm system?"

"She is eight months along."

Janeway began coughing as though choking on her coffee.

"Captain, are you all right?"

"I'm fine. I'll be down there in five minutes."

"Doctor, how could this have happened?" Janeway asked after checking to see that her chief engineer was otherwise healthy. "Is it some type of alien impregnation?" Glancing at B'Elanna, she noticed how attentive Paris was being to her.

"I do not believe so. My tricorder readings scanned only Human and Klingon DNA in the unborn child. It is her natural offspring and that of a Human male on board this ship."

"Paris?"

"Possibly."

"But how do you explain her being so far along?"

"I have no explanation. The baby and mother are in good health. As their doctor, that is my first concern."

"I am concerned for their health too, but as captain, I must also worry about the safety of this ship and its crew. If an alien entity is invading my ship, I want to know about it."

"You take care of your patient; I'll take care of mine," the doctor quipped.

Janeway glanced again at B'Elanna. "If there's any change in her condition, notify me immediately." As she headed toward the exit, the captain paged her security chief. "Mr. Tuvok, I have reason to suspect there may be an alien intruder on board. Have your security team stand by at yellow alert."

"Aye captain," the Vulcan replied. "Might this have anything to do with the Immibi?" Janeway stopped abruptly outside Sickbay. "Captain?"

Why hadn't I considered that? "That is a possibility, Lieutenant. Stand by while I pay Ensign Kim a visit."

The shrill chirp of his annunciator woke up Harry Kim. Suddenly, he realized two things at once, he had fallen asleep on his sofa, was now paying for it with a stiff neck, and that he was still holding onto the phasing stone. "Computer, half light," he said. Then he stuffed the stone under a cushion out of fear and embarrassment that he had been tempted by its power.

The annunciator sounded again."

"Ah....come in," he said hoarsely.

The door slid open to admit Captain Janeway. "Mr. Kim, I realize it's late, but this matter cannot wait until morning."

"Ma'am?" he responded and immediately regretted it. He was striking out with everyone today!

"I need to know: did you attempt to use the phasing stone against my direct order?"

Harry glanced nervously back at his sofa. Had he used it? He wasn't sure. "I had it out," he admitted. "I only meant to look at it. But I'm not sure."

"Mr. Kim, just tell me what you said to the stone," Janeway ordered. Her expression was strained, her tone demanding.

"I was upset that B'Elanna was spending so much time with Tom. I wished that she belonged to me. When she didn't show up, I assumed the stone was bogus and I fell asleep."

"I warned you that these stones could have a Monkey's Paw effect!"

"Captain?"

"B'Elanna is now pregnant--eight months pregnant!"

Harry suddenly felt as though someone was trying to choke him. What have I done? His vision clouded and he fought against the urge to vomit. Feeling dirty, he wondered how he could ever live with himself having committed such a violation. "Is it mine?" he asked. The question sounded strange to him. He had not been intimate with a woman since leaving Libby back on Earth.

"And what exactly are you going to do if it is? Harry, no matter how badly you wish for it, you can't make someone fall in love with you. Any changes the stones invoke will be artificial and you will regret having wished for it."

"I already do."

Slowly, the captain nodded as her anger subsided a little. "All the same, I think you had better give me the stone before it causes any further undue circumstances."

Wanting to crawl under the sofa cushion, Harry instead retrieved the stone with what little dignity he had left. He handed it over to the captain, almost afraid to make eye contact with her. She must think I'm a real idiot! He thought. Why did I have to hide it like that?

To her credit, Janeway maintained a solemn face as she took the stone from him. "Since we can't undo what has already been done, I suggest that you make a trip to Sickbay and own up to your responsibility."

With a sigh, Harry responded, "Of course, Captain." He wasn't looking forward to being on the receiving end of B'Elanna's temper, but knew he deserved ever second of what was to come.

"And then I want you to try to get plenty of rest. I still expect you to show up for bridge duty at 0600 hours tomorrow." With that final warning still ringing in Harry's ears, the captain turned and exited his quarters.

Great, Harry thought. Once everyone on board learns of this, I'm going to be like the food everyone scrapes off their plates in the mess hall.

"I see no reason to keep you here," the doctor said. "You are free to go."

"Free to go!" B'Elanna spat out. "Doctor, I can't go looking like-- What will people think?"

Releasing B'Elanna's hand for the first time since they'd arrived in sickbay, Tom stood to his full height. "I agree with the doctor."

"Why, thank you," the doctor said.

"What!" B'Elanna could not believe what she was hearing. How could Tom betray her now during such a desperate moment? Glaring at him, she almost lashed out at him--would have if it weren't for her present condition. Despite the doctor's reassurance that her baby had only Human and Klingon DNA, she could not put lingering doubts to rest.

"I just think that you'd be more comfortable in your own quarters." He glanced at the doctor, who seemed to be hovering over them. "Where we can discuss this problem in private. It's not that I'm not eager to embrace fatherhood. It's just been thrust upon me so suddenly that my head's spinning."

"Fatherhood," B'Elanna muttered. She'd been so caught up in her own anguish that she hadn't even thought about how Tom might be feeling about this.

"Don't worry. I will be only a transporter beam away should you experience actual labor."

"It's not like the problem is going to go away if you remain here."

Tom had a point, B'Elanna hated to admit. Raising her hand, she accepted his aid in stepping off the biobed. "I suppose I have an entire month left," she commented bitterly as she felt the baby nudge against her ribs. A month of needing to urinate every five minutes and never finding a comfortable position to lie in. At least I avoided the morning sickness, she quipped.

"Where pregnancy is concerned, there is always a variable involved," the doctor informed her with a clinical tone. "You could go into labor tomorrow....or six weeks from now."

"Six weeks!"

Tom wrapped his arms around her and gently nudged her to step toward the exit. She wanted to resist further, but suddenly realized she was very tired and would probably need more sleep than usual during the next few weeks. How do mothers ever get anything done? She wondered. Just as they reached the exit, they ran literally into Harry, who was attempting to enter Sickbay.

"B'Elanna," the ensign gasped, his eyes wandering to her distended belly. "I'm sorry....so sorry."

The next several minutes passed in a haze for B'Elanna. She barely registered everything that was said or done after Harry told them of how he had wished upon his phasing stone. How could it be possible? The doctor was informing them that the DNA of her baby matched Harry as the father with a 99.9997% certainty!

Raising her hands to her ears in a feeble attempt to shield out the world, she hobbled toward the exit. Tom followed at her footsteps. "B'Elanna?"

"I'm going to my quarters now. The doctor said I was fine."

"At least let me accompany you."

"I really want to be alone right now." Something in her tone must have registered as hostile, because Tom quickly drew back and offered no further argument.

As the door swished closed in front of B'Elanna, Tom turned to confront Harry. "How could you?" His fist slammed into Harry's nose, followed by a second blow to the chest, and they plowed into the wall. I deserved that, Harry thought, ready to play punching bag. Tom brought his fist over his head to deliver another blow, this time to Harry's chin, but was stopped by the doctor.

"This is a sickbay, not a boxing ring," the holo doctor said. "I suggest you take this to the holodeck if you wish to obliterate each other. When you are through, I'll have no recourse, but to attend to your wounds. It's my duty."

Backing away from his once-friend now turned-enemy, Tom let out a resound huff. "Then tend to your patient!" Abruptly, he left.

Harry slid to the floor and his tears quickly mingled with the blood flowing from his nose.

****

B'Elanna stepped into her quarters and initiated a lock out. She didn't want any uninvited guests. In fact, she thought, if it were not for her duties, she'd consider remaining locked up in her quarters for a good long time. "Duties!" she exclaimed as she carefully maneuvered herself onto the sofa. How am I supposed to uphold my responsibilities as chief engineer when I'm so fat that I can't even walk straight?

Unconsciously, she rubbed at her belly and the baby inside her began to stir. "Feisty little devil, aren't you?" she said, surprised that she could actually smile. A tear trickled down her face, stopping for a second at the bridge of her nose. "What are we going to do?"

Did I actually say "we"? B'Elanna asked herself. She couldn't imagine herself being a good mother, not after having her own mother for a role model. All she ever taught me was how to be ashamed of myself.

"I won't let that happen to you," she promised her child. "It won't be easy...." Growling, she wondered how she could ever explain to her child how it came to be. Your father and I were never mates. You were simply the product of a wish. Yeah, that ought to be an interesting conversation! "Ahhhh! If only you could be Tom's!"

Twisting around clumsily, she spotted the phasing stone on the floor where she had left it earlier. It seemed to call to her. I can fix your problem, B'Elanna. You only have to pick me up and wish for it to go away. "No!" she said, closing her eyes. "I will not be enticed by your spurious offer!"

Getting up, she walked past the stone and into her bedroom where she expected to spend the night trying to find a comfortable position. "Fat chance!" she mumbled.

"I'm sorry. I had to come see if it was true for myself," Chakotay said as B'Elanna opened her door to him early the following morning. "I hope I didn't wake you."

"I couldn't sleep anyway," she replied letting him inside. "So what do you think of me now in such a predicament? Rather ludicrous, huh?"

He offered her a reassuring smile. "B'Elanna, it's not your fault. What Harry did, it's inexcusable."

"I thought he was my friend. How do I work with him now? My life was just starting to go right. Chakotay, Tom and I, we had become intimate." The commander did not appear surprised by this news. "Will he even look at me now? How can he look at my child and not see Harry's baby?"

Chakotay extended his arms out to her to offer B'Elanna his comfort. Patting her back as she cried freely into his chest, he said, "If Tom truly loves you, he will see that this is not your fault."

Pulling away from him, she asked, "How can I work like this? I can't wobble along in the jeffries tubes."

"The captain has already granted you a leave of duty if you wish it. All pregnant women are entitled to three months leave. We may be far from Starfleet, but Captain Janeway not only abides by that; she sent me here to ensure that you saw the reasoning in taking the time to relax. Your body has undergone an incredible shock, and you need time to adjust."

Under normal circumstances, B'Elanna would have argued vehemently over taking *any* time off, but she felt far from normal. "Inform Captain Janeway that I have requested a temporary leave of duty."

"I will do that."

"So, I guess this means Lieutenant. Carey gets to be in charge of engineering for a while."

"Actually, the captain has decided to bestow that responsibility to Seven of Nine.

"You're joking!" B'Elanna knew that Seven was as qualified in engineering as she was, but the idea of placing a former Borg in charge of Engineering on a Federation ship sounded more like a security risk than a viable solution. She could almost hear Tuvok's objection now.

"The captain believes Seven of Nine has proven herself," Chakotay said. "I seem to recall Janeway giving a certain former Maquis engineer the same chance once." They shared a warm smile. "I must report for duty now. Will you be all right?"

B'Elanna nodded. "As well as can be expected. I'll just relax and eat a big breakfast at the mess hall." As soon as I'm sure both Tom and Harry have started their duty shifts, she thought silently.

Chakotay chuckled. "Now I know you're pregnant if you're looking forward to eating Neelix's food." Laughing along with him, she was glad her old friend could cheer her up.

While everyone on the bridge behaved professionally toward him--even Tom--Harry could feel the silent judgment being cast upon him. Even the balanced Tuvok raised an occasional eyebrow in his direction. They think I've turned into a monster. Maybe they're right.

"Mr. Kim,"Janeway said, shattering the silence. Tom swivelled in his chair to stare daggers at Harry as though hoping to watch a just punishment being handed down. Wasn't it only two days ago that he and Tom last shared a game of pool together? "I want you to go to Engineering and assist Seven of Nine if necessary. "

"But captain, Lieutenant. Carey -- "

Janeway raised a hand, her eyes carrying a different message. Was he actually seeing compassion? She wasn't worried about Seven of Nine's performance. Rather she was offering him an easy way to escape the wrath of his fellow bridge crew-- if only for a while.

"Aye captain," he relented and stepped away from his station. As he entered the turbolift, he thought about Seven of Nine's gestures toward him and wondered if he wasn't escaping one punishment only to walk into another.

When he reached Engineering, he found Lieutenant. Carey arguing with Seven. "Captain Janeway placed me in charge here. You are expected to follow my commands."

"And the moment I turn my back, will you find some way to summon the Collective?"

Oh boy, Harry thought. Didn't he learn his lesson when B'Elanna broke his nose?

"My connection to the Borg is completely severed. I assure you that I now function autonomously."

Stepping up to them, Harry said, "Give her the chance to prove herself. She's Human like you and I." The two engineers fixed him with questioning looks. "The captain sent me down to see if you needed help with anything."

"If it weren't for you, we wouldn't be short a chief engineer!" Carey snapped.

Harry felt his face grow flush. People were treating him as though he raped B'Elanna and maybe what he did was just as bad. If only he'd realized the consequences of his wish before he'd ever spoken to the stone.

"If I could take my wish back, I would."

"Why can you not?" Seven inquired. "The Immibi spoke of three wishes. Why not make a wish to unwish the first?"

"I had not thought of that....." As he contemplated Seven of Nine's suggestion, Harry wondered if an "unwish" would really solve the problem or only acerbate it. Knowing the answer was really moot now. Janeway had his stone. Why would he think she'd give it back to him?

Shaking his head, Carey walked away to busy himself at a far console.

"You can assist by entering jeffries tube two and realign the power grid," she said, handing Harry the necessary tool, her fingers brushing against his hand. Why did that suddenly cause sweat to bead at his forehead? "And Harry, I do not share the crew's malice toward you."

"Oh?"

"I understand the need to belong, to fit in. You don't have to feel rejected, Harry."

Now Harry found it difficult to breathe. Could he really be finding himself attracted to Seven? For a moment, he fantasized about how his life would be different if he gave in to her advances. Would she be able to make him forget about B'Elanna? If only there wasn't a baby hanging in the middle of all this. Harry knew he wasn't going to be a father, not in the "Honey, I'm home," kind of sense.

"Ensign?" Seven said, snapping him out of his reverie.

"I'm sorry," Harry responded, waving the tool at her."I'll get right on this."

"Here you are, lieutenant," Neelix said setting two plates in front of B'Elanna." I know pregnant women have an enormous appetite so don't be embarrassed if you're hungry enough to eat everything before you."

"For once, everything looks good to me," she admitted. "And since I'm in no condition to do anything else--" She picked up her fork and delved into the first plate.

Neelix sat down across from her and stared intently as though waiting for her reaction to the taste of the food. "You know, I've observed that people often times use food as a little pick-me-up. As morale officer, I feel it is my duty to study customs and assess what each crew member needs in any given situation."

"And what do I need now?" B'Elanna asked, almost afraid to know the answer.

"You need something to cheer you up, a little party in your honor."

"Party!"

"A baby shower to welcome the new arrival when he or she gets here. None of this is the baby's fault you have to remind yourself. No matter how angry you are at Mr. Kim-- and I can't say I blame you-- you have your baby's welfare to consider."

B'Elanna lowered her eyes to her swollen belly. Could she love this child, raise it and grow comfortable with her role as a mother?

"What do you say?"

"I'll think about it," she told him.

Neelix's expression changed suddenly and B'Elanna followed his gaze to the doorway to discover Tom standing there.

"I have some Regailean pudding I need to stir," the Telaxian said, making a hasty exit.

Tom hovered at the doorway for a long agonizing moment. Not knowing what to say to him B'Elanna waited anxiously for him to make the first move. She wanted to tell him she was sorry, but what did she have to apologize for? She was the victim here! Why couldn't he just come to her and comfort her? Let her know that everything would be okay.

Finally, he did step toward her, his throat bobbing up and down."B'Elanna ," he said groggily.

Aren't you supposed to be on duty?" she asked, feeling stupid after the words were out. Don't question him! Just be thankful he's here.

"Technically, I still am, but the captain *ordered* me to get her a decent breakfast."

"Decent," B'Elanna said and for a brief moment, they shared a laugh. Then Tom sat down in the chair Neelix had vacated and B'Elanna knew that they were in for a deeply serious conversation.

"I've thought about this situation--a lot. I find it hard to concentrate on anything else."

"You think I've thought about anything else?" B'Elanna snapped, gesturing at her belly. Why did I raise my voice at him? It's no more his fault than mine.

Reaching out, Tom clenched her hand. "I love you, B'Elanna," he said. He paused, and for a moment, she fantasized that he would tell her that together they could make everything right. "But I don't see how I can get past the fact that the baby's not mine."

"You mean, that it's Harry's!" She told her Klingon temper to back down, but she never could control it. Awkwardly, she stood up and backed away from Tom. "If you're willing to break off our special bond just because you can't stand to look into the innocent eyes of a child, whose only fault is having been wished into the world, then maybe you don't really love me." I have to get out of here! She thought.

"B'Elanna," he said standing.

"Just back, of Paris!" she said heading toward the door. "If we can't be lovers, then we can't be friends either." She stepped out into the corridor, and to her relief, he didn't follow her out. I should have stayed in my quarters.

You wanted to build a reputation as someone who took risks, Harry told himself every day as he worked among the Voyager crew. He didn't attempt to socialize. The captain might as well have thrown me in the brig. The only other person besides the captain who didn't treat him like a patak was Seven of Nine, and she was a little too friendly toward him. Not that Harry wasn't tempted by Seven. What guy wouldn't be?

And as every day passed, Harry thought more and more about Seven's suggestion to undo his wish. The only problem he saw was convincing the captain that he should attempt it. If only unwishing himself out of this mess would make everyone forget the whole nasty affair. Even so, the temptation to end it grew stronger as a week turned into two.

He saw the anguish in Tom's eyes as he worked with him every day on the bridge and watched his friend grow more distant as B'Elanna's due date drew closer. I'd rather see B'Elanna happy with Tom, he admitted, than miserable like this. This can't go on indefinitely. We may be living on this ship together for the rest of our lives.

After the captain beckoned him into her ready room, Harry said, "Captain, I apologize if I'm disturbing you, but I really need to talk with you."

"At ease, ensign," Janeway said, pointing to the sofa. "I know why you're here, and I think we both need to speak freely about the situation."

Harry moved to the sofa along with his captain and tried to collect his thoughts and feelings for an awkward few seconds. He knew what he wanted to say to her...what he wanted to ask. He just didn't know how to put it into words. "Captain, it's not getting any better," he started and instantly wished he could take it back. He lowered his eyes. "I mean, I know I deserve the kind of treatment I've been getting from the crew. It's just that I feel it's my responsibility to somehow make things right with B'Elanna."

"And you've reached a conclusion on how to go about making amends?"

"I doubt that anyone will ever forget, but maybe I can be forgiven--" He made eye contact again with his captain. "--if you grant me permission to use the stone one last time to undo the first wish."

He expected her to snap at him immediately, telling him that she had handed down her order and would not waver from her decision. Captain Janeway rarely changed her mind when it came to a course of action. Yet to his surprise, she remained quiet for a long moment. "Harry, have you considered the possibility that B'Elanna might not want to give up this baby?"

"Uh....no."

"It may not be born yet, but it is a living being, just as much a part of B'Elanna as you. Would it be ethically right to end its life before it has a chance to even be born?"

"You're right, of course, captain. The baby's mine, and I do feel something for it, but....I was only thinking about how miserable B'Elanna is now that she and Tom have broken off their brief romantic involvement. If the baby was no longer between them--"

"The baby is not coming between them, Harry. You are."

Of course, that was true. He had cowardly gone after B'Elanna by wishing she belonged to him. Had he meant to have her affection? Or had he been so desperate to take her away from Tom that he would settle for something less? "Yes," he croaked. "But how do I stop coming between them? Tom used to be my best friend. Now he looks at me like a traitor."

"You will have to decide the answer for yourself. If you are never able to sit down and talk with them, something very special will have been lost. I've always viewed my crew as one big family. Not everyone is always happy; we can't agree on everything, but we must learn to live with each other."

"Aye, captain," Harry said with a nod. "It's time I stopped hiding behind my duty console and came out to face the problem. That's what I should have done in the first place." He stood and after the captain offered her dismissal, left the ready room.

B'Elanna had spent most of the last two weeks cooped up in her quarters. She only ventured outside when she had to, which meant every time she ran out of replicator rations and had to eat Neelix' cooking. The doctor constantly harassed her about coming to sickbay for a check up and finally beamed directly to her quarters to administer the examination.

"You're lucky I can make house calls," he told her. "However, if you still refuse to come to Sickbay when you go into labor, I will have no recourse but to beam you there."

He continued his examination with his usual banter and informed her that the baby would be making its appearance soon. After giving her a routine lecture about watching her weight, he left.

She had a few other visitors, most notably Neelix, who wanted to be sure she had the most nutritional meals. "This is a crucial time for the little one," he told her.

The rest of her time B'Elanna spent either sleeping or reading through the computer's files on child care. "You're going to have a better life than I did as a child," she promised her baby. Only problem was she didn't know how she was going to keep that promise when she was not in love with the baby's father. How could she begin to allow Harry to be a part of his child's life? And how will Tom ever speak to me again if I do?

Her door chimed, tearing her away from a file on how to care for a colicky infant. Must be Neelix again, she thought, gazing at the chronometer. She knew he was sincerely concerned that she remember to eat nutritional meals on schedule, but some days she wanted to indulge in hot fudge sundaes and Regailean fudge cake.

When she answered the door, she was shocked to see Harry standing outside. "Please. You have every right to shut me out," he said. "But we quite probably will have to live on this ship together for the rest of our lives. We need to find a way to at least be civil toward each other."

She did not step aside to offer him entrance into her quarters. "Civil? You want us to kiss and make up after the predicament you placed me in? I've lost Tom. I've lost our friendship. I've even lost my own self-respect. All thanks to you, and you now have the temerity to ask me to behave civilly toward you?"

"I did not mean for any of this to happen. If I could take it back--" Harry narrowed his eyes.

B'Elanna had not been aware that she was rubbing at her belly. She was becoming agitated, and the baby was sensing that. Backing away from Harry, she said, "You're not taking this baby away from me! Right now, it is all I have."

"I'm sorry. Captain Janeway warned me that you might feel this way. I suppose that I will have to accept your wishes. You had no choice with mine. Although I know there is no chance of you and I--I assure you that I will not abandon this child."

"Abandon! Who said I was even going to let you near my baby!"

"I admit that I deserve to be punished. But don't punish the baby, B'Elanna. Please!"

"I don't...want...to...think about this...right now...Starfleet!" B'Elanna screamed, suddenly feeling a sharp pain in her side. She clutched at it, nearly collapsing to the floor as her vision grew fuzzy.

"B'Elanna!" Harry exclaimed, rushing to help her. Forgetting her anger of a moment ago, she accepted his support. "Are you in labor?"

"I think so. Either that or Neelix' cooking is disagreeing with me."

He helped her to the sofa and then going to the replicator, he ordered a glass of water. Walking back to her he placed the glass in her hand. "I think you could use this right now." She didn't argue and gulped it down without pause. As she handed the glass back to him they locked eyes, and for a brief moment she remembered how things were between them before they'd encountered the Immibi. They had been good friends.

Then another searing pain hit. "Take me to Sickbay!" she demanded.

"You were wise to come right away," the doctor said as he ran his hand scanner over B'Elanna.

"Normally at this time I would ask my assistant to help you prepare for delivery, but since Kes left the ship, the captain hasn't seen fit to appoint me a new one."

B'Elanna grabbed his arm fiercely." I don't care! Just give me a painkiller. Now!"

"Of course." The doctor reached for his hypospray. "I'm a doctor, not a torturer." He pressed the hypo against her neck. Turning toward Harry, he informed the ensign, "it won't be long, Mr. Kim. Nature seems to be moving right along."

"Yeah, but I've been informed that I won't be a part of this child's life. So I guess I really don't have any business here." He turned to B'Elanna. "I got you here safely. Now I will leave you alone."

As Harry walked away, the doctor favored B'Elanna with a questioning look. "Oh?"

Not wanting to talk about it , B'Elanna looked away. She didn't have to answer to a hologram.

Although Harry had left Sickbay angry, he did not go far. He found it not only convenient that the mess hall was on the same deck, but also appropriate given the reaction some crew members had occasionally to Neelix's cooking. He paged the captain to let her know B'Elanna had gone into labor. Telling him that she sympathized with him, she granted him relief of duty for the next few hours. I bet that went over well with Tom, he thought.

"Odd time of day for you to be here,hingelix said, walking up to Harry's table. "Shouldn't you be on bridge duty?"

"B'Elanna's gone into labor," Harry replied.

Concerned Neelix sat down across from Harry. "Is she doing all right?"

"The doctor said that it's going normally."

"I see. And the fact that you were in Sickbay with her, does that mean she's forgiven you?"

"I wish. We were arguing when she went into labor."

"Ouch. I can tell things are going to continue to be rather intense. Although B'Elanna has agreed to let me throw her a baby shower. Perhaps I can work on softening her up a bit."

"You would do that, even though the entire crew has it in for me?"

"I'm morale officer. It's my job. And I think that you'll find that not everyone is against you. You may have acted rashly, but we've all made mistakes. I know you're at the top of Mr. Paris' hate list. Maybe Tom should be reminded of some of the things he's done in his shady past. If anyone knows what it's like to suffer unexpected consequences from his actions, he should. Yet he's managed to earn the respect of the entire crew, including myself."

"Mine as well," Harry agreed. He vowed silently that he would do everything in his power to win back Tom's friendship.

"Well, keep your spirits up," Neelix said, patting Harry on the arm. His gaze wandered past Harry and a smile crept on his face. "Another friend is on the way."

"What?" Harry twisted in his chair to see Seven of Nine approaching him. "Yes, Seven is my friend." At this point, he thought, I can't be too choosy of my friends.

"Hello Harry," Seven said. Without another word, Neelix vacated the chair and moved on to another table to satisfy the needs of other crew members. Seven behaved as though unaware of Neelix' presence, her attention solely on Harry. "May I join you?"

Harry pointed to the chair across from him. "Be my guest ."

She accepted his offer, folding her hands in front of her. "I heard that lieutenant Torres went into labor."

"Did you also hear that she doesn't want me to be a part of the baby's life?" He snapped and immediately regretted it. "I'm sorry. That was uncalled for. Here you are offering me friendship, and I'm not sure exactly why."

"I think you're sexy," she replied. Harry's eyes widened. "But it's more than that. You were one of the first to believe that I could fully integrate with the crew. You even encouraged me with your inquisitive nature."

Smiling warmly, Harry said, "I thought you found all my questions annoying."

"At first, I did. Now in retrospect, however, I am as grateful to you for your support as I am to the captain for forcing me to remain on board Voyager.

"I saw no reason to continue punishing you for your actions as a Borg." Seven stretched her hand out, and this time, Harry did not refuse her affection as he gently squeezed her hand.

She had always thought of herself as a strong woman, a great fighter able to withstand anything but B'Elanna Torres was not ashamed to scream now.

"Push a little harder this time, lieutenant," the doctor said.

"If I push any harder, I'm going to rip my fucking stomach out!" she screamed even as she attempted to do so. The doctor did not flinch at her colorful wording and replied with his usual repartee "I assure you that your anatomy will remain fully intact after you deliver the baby. Now push! I'm beginning to see the head. Relax. On the count of three, push again. One.......two........three push. Bearing down B'Elanna prayed to whatever gods existed that this would be the final push. Suddenly she felt something being ripped from her body, and a loud wail filled Sickbay.

Speaking so as to be heard over the baby's crying, the doctor said, "Congratulations B'Elanna, it's a boy!" he placed the baby atop B'Elanna's chest.

"He's beautiful!" she exclaimed wrapping her arms around the infant.

"He's a bloody mess," the doctor commented clinically, but then after a pause added, "nonetheless, I can see how he will grow into a handsome young man."

Both mother and son began shivering. B'Elanna looked pleadingly toward the doctor. "He's shivering. It's cold in here."

The doctor unfolded a sheet and covered his two patients. "Computer, increase room temperature by five degrees."

"Doctor, contact Harry for me and let him know it is a boy." Staring into the eyes of her newborn son, B'Elanna could no longer feel any anger toward anyone.

"Will do," the doctor promised. "Well, I'll let the two of you bond for a couple minutes, then I'll return to help you clean up."

B'Elanna laughed and returned her attention to her new son. After all the tension of the past two weeks, she had never been happier than this moment. The doctor retreated to his private office. But B'Elanna and the baby were not alone for long to her complete surprise, Tom entered baring a gift.

" I heard you had gone into labor," he said. "And since I had a few replicator rations saved up, I thought I'd pick out something special for the new arrival."

"Tom!" she said accepting the gift with her free hand. "Does this mean you are willing to except the baby?" Tom peered down at the baby. A smile started to creep on his face. Before he could reply, Harry entered Sickbay. B'Elanna held her breath. Why do I always have such miserable timing? She wondered. Will Tom and I never be happy together? Walking away from her and past Harry, Tom said, "Congratulations Harry, you have a son." Without missing a stride, he exited Sickbay.

Harry met B'Elanna's gaze afraid to step any watching from the doorway of his alcove, the doctor monitored the situation leerily as though ready to intervene if an altercation developed in his Sickbay. "Come on and have a look at him, Harry," B'Elanna said decisively. Slowly, hesitantly, he came to stand by their side.

"He's beautiful," the ensign said breathlessly. "Have you chosen a name for him?"

She nodded. "His name is Jeremy ."

"Well, I hate to break this little family gathering up," the doctor said, approaching them. "However, young Jeremy needs to be bathed and clothed and given a full examination."

Harry took a couple steps back. "That's ok, Doc. I think I'm needed on the bridge." He turned back toward the new mother one last time. "B'Elanna, thank you." He then left the doctor to tend to his patients. Feeling a renewed self-confidence, he felt ready to tackle the crew and bridge duty.

B'Elanna had several visitors during her stay in Sickbay, but Tom did not return. Everyone brought gifts, although they knew of Neelix' plans to throw a baby shower. B'Elanna kept her spirits up during these visits, not wanting to encourage any sympathy. It was overly offered as it was. When the doctor granted her and the baby permission to leave Sickbay, B'Elanna was relieved to return to the seclusion of her quarters.

During the course of the first day several crew members came to check that B'Elanna and the new baby were settling in, Janeway, Chakotay, and Neelix most notably among them. She asked each of them how Tom was doing and received a different answer every time. Janeway told B'Elanna that Tom needed some time to sort things out. Chakotay on the other hand insisted that Tom was behaving irrationally. Neelix offered to talk to him, to play mediator. B'Elanna protested but he would not take no for an answer.

When the hour grew late and B'Elanna was exhausted from a day of receiving gifts and attending to the demands of a newborn, Tuvok paid his visit." I thought it appropriate to allow you a chance to settle down before paying you and your new son a visit. However, this is not a social call."

"What!" she exclaimed, allowing him to pass by her into her quarters.

"I am here to inform you that Lieutenant Paris has again attacked Ensign Kim, this time on the bridge. Fortunately, the doctor was able to heal Harry's broken arm and other injuries. I have let the lieutenant off with a warning under the captain's wishes , but next time he will be confined to his quarters.

"Oh my God! This has got to stop. They can't go on trying to kill each other."

"Indeed, it is the emotional injuries that concern me now. We need to find a way to discipline their behavior, and to bring balance in their lives. That is why I have come to you. Whether you wish it or not, you are the key to their ultimate solution."

"I want to make things right between Tom and Harry more than anyone else, but I don't know how to resolve their conflict. How do I show Tom reason where I cannot see it myself?"

Tuvok raised an eyebrow. "The obvious solution is for you to meditate. For a Vulcan, meditation always brings answers clearly into focus. I do not see why it would not work for you as well." B'Elanna nodded reflectively. "I will leave you to that task now. Perhaps a solution will be forthcoming to you while you are relaxing." With that, the Vulcan security officer stepped toward the door. "Pleasant dreams," he said with a half-turn and then exited.

"Meditation," B'Elanna mumbled as she retreated to her bedroom. She stepped up to the cradle and peered down at her son sleeping peacefully, Jeremy unaware of the conflict surrounding him. If only you were Tom's son, she thought, a tear trickling down her cheek. If only I'd admitted my feelings for Tom sooner Harry, your father, would have backed down. You would not have existed and although you are only a day old, I cannot fathom a life without you. "Oh Tom!" B'Elanna said aloud. "If only we'd realized our feelings a few years ago, Jeremy could have been your son. I wish he were your son." Sighing B'Elanna turned away from her son and went to retrieve a nightgown from her dresser. As she lifted the nightgown out of her top drawer, her hand brushed against the phasing stone. Suddenly, she felt a tingling sensation through out her body. She felt as though someone was trying to beam her out of her quarters. Reaching for her commbadge she almost paged Tuvok when another voice startled her.

"Mommy!" it exclaimed. She twirled around to stare at her son, who was now standing in his crib very much a toddler.

Part 3:

B'Elanna rushed her son to Sickbay, not pausing to answer any of the questioning looks she received along the way. What was happening to her son? If he continued to age at about three years a day he would live his entire life in little more than a month. I can't lose my son right after he's entered my life. As she raced into Sickbay, and placed her son on a biobed she called for the computer to activate the emergency medical hologram.

"Please state the nature of the medical emergency," the holodoctor said as he appeared. He studied the child on his biobed perplexedly. "Why was I not made aware of anyone coming on board the ship?"

"Doctor!" B'Elanna exclaimed "This is my son! How is it possibly he could age so quickly?"

The doctor grabbed a medical tricorder and began scanning the toddler. " I am not picking up any abnormalities yet the mere fact that he has aged to 39 months is an abnormality of itself. This is incredible!"

"Incredible?! Doctor, I can't watch my son age three years for every day. I can't watch him grow old and die! Please, do something!"

Jeremy was becoming noticeable upset by now. Tears wetted his face as he called desperately out to his mother. He was confused as she was, and knowing that what he needed most right now was her comfort and reassurance, B'Elanna forced herself to calm down. She went to her son and embraced him lovingly. "He's healthy, right?" B'Elanna looked desperately, pleadingly at the doctor. "Is he going to continue to age like this?"

" I wish I knew if I had any idea as caused Jeremy to age in the first place I might be able to give you a more definitive answer."

"The stone!"

"Excuse me? I thought you were under Janeway's orders not to use the stone. Besides, why would you want to use it to age your baby?"

B'Elanna considered his question carefully. What exactly had she said before inadvertently touching the phasing stone? I remember longing that my relationship with Tom had begun much sooner. I wished that Jeremy could have been Tom's son, too, she realized. I was standing over the baby's crib while he was sleeping and talking out loud. I remember wishing he was Tom's, but I wished for more than that. "I said that I wished Tom and I had realized our feelings for each other much sooner. I figured that way Harry would never had thought he had a chance with me, and Jeremy could be Tom's son." B'Elanna mused over just how much the phasing stone might have altered their current reality. "Doctor, run another DNA scan on him."

The doctor wrinkled his eyebrows in confusion, but complied with B'Elanna's request. His expression soon changed to shock as the results appeared across the tiny screen of the tricorder. "This is amazing! His DNA no longer contains any Asian genetics. How is that possible? Your son is now half Caucasian Human."

B'Elanna laughed excitedly as she hugged her son fiercely. "He's Tom's! Jeremy is now Tom's son! That's what I wished for!" Even as she spoke B'Elanna remembered what Captain Janeway had said about the phasing stones being too much like a monkey's paw. She looked at her son though and wondered what could possibly be wrong with this reality? "I think he'll age normally from now on."

"Well, then you ought to be happy your both healthy. I see no reason to believe that Jeremy will continue to age rapidly either, since we can conclude that the stone was responsible for his sudden growth spurt. Congratulations lieutenant. You just skipped over such niceties as diaper rashes and potty training. If you have no further concerns, you are free to go."

"There's one more thing: how do I break this news to Tom?" B'Elanna picked her son up and held him against her hip.

"I don't know. I'm a doctor, not a family counselor. You will have to figure that one out for yourself."

B'Elanna sighed with resignation. "And Harry? How do I break the news to him?" She rested her chin against her squirming son. "We'll get through this. I promise you." She left Sickbay at a much slower pace than she had arrived. Heading toward Tom's quarters, she rehearsed how she would tell him that the phasing stone had altered reality and given him a son. We will be together again, she believed, her breasts tingling at the thought. Now we will be a family. Still, as she reached his door, she hesitated before pressing the annunciator. Would he react as she anticipated? Or would fate or a monkey's paw snag him from her again?

Finally when she did press the annunciator, she received no answer. Of course, B'Elanna thought, he's usually visiting the holodeck at this hour. Many people read a good book to relax, but Tom found that a decent holodeck program helped him unwind better. "Computer, locate Lieutenant Tom Paris," she asked simply for confirmation." As she headed toward holodeck 2, she wondered what type of programs Tom was running these days for relaxation.

Reaching the holodeck, she attempted to enter it only to discover that Tom had activated the lock. B'Elanna set Jeremy down on the floor. "Stay," she said. She tapped her commbadge, hoping Tom would respond. "B'Elanna to Tom."

A long desperate moment of silence elapsed. Determined, B'Elanna decided that she would continue to page him until he answered. "Lieutenant Paris here," he finally said after the third page.

"Tom, I know you're hurt and angry, and I understand that. But I have something very important to tell you." As the seconds ticked by, B'Elanna began to wonder if she needed to take more drastic measures, remove the panel and rewire the holodeck circuitry, but then the lock was released and the door slid open. The waiting was over. It was now time to gauge Tom's reaction to unexpected fatherhood.

Scooping her son into her arms, B'Elanna entered an exotic world. Screeches and yells of a variety of feral creatures filled the holodeck simulation. Trees and other plant life were thick, and B'Elanna swiped at vines and leaves to forge a passage as she hunted for Tom. Jeremy began screaming, his tears wetting B'Elanna's shoulder as he clung fervently to her. Why had Tom allowed her to enter only to now hide from her? "Tom!" she called out to him again and again. Her son's screams grew louder.

Tom stepped out from behind a tree meters ahead of them, sporting an old-fashioned hunting rifle and ammunition. Unshaven and wearing wrinkled clothes, Tom mocked the man he might have been had he been left behind in the New Zealand prison, and that frightened B'Elanna. Was he now so blinded by anger that he didn't care what happened to himself? She had to find the reasonable side buried deep within him. If she didn't, they would all suffer from the consequences. Tom had come too far from that brash young renegade to regress now.

B'Elanna stepped toward him, nearly in tears. For some reason as he stared into his Father's eyes, Jeremy ceased his screaming, somehow seeming to know instinctually the bond he shared with this man.

"Tom," B'Elanna said. "I made a wish. I didn't mean to." Tears were now trickling down her face. "But I'm glad I did."

Tom looked from B'Elanna to the child and then back to her. "What, you didn't like the idea of waking up in the middle of the night and of changing diapers?" Then his eyes narrowed. B'Elanna noticed his throat bob up and down. "What exactly did you wish for?"

"He's yours Tom."

As though understanding, Jeremy reached out a hand toward his Father. Shakily, Tom discarded his weapon and ammunition and moved closer toward them. Lifting his arm, swallowing the little boy's hand inside his own.

"You want to hold him?" B'Elanna asked.

Tom nodded and the boy slipped easily into his arms. Clinging to his son, Tom shamelessly allowed tears to flow down his cheeks. B'Elanna tried to reach out for him, to share the embrace, but Tom turned away from her and walked over to a rock several meters away. He sat down, resting Jeremy on his knee. B'Elanna decided to give Tom several minutes alone with his son. As she watched them, a smile formed on her face. Tom will make a great father, she realized.

Finally she stepped forward, and Tom met her gaze. He willingly handed their son over to her. "I need time," he pleaded. She nodded with understanding, and with Jeremy, she left the holodeck.

Outside the holodeck, B'Elanna leaned against the wall, sliding downward until she was almost sitting on the floor. She resisted tears, trying to draw on an inner strength.

"Mommy, can we go home now?" Jeremy asked as he ran his little hand placatingly through her hair. B'Elanna was startled that he could form a complete sentence. Obviously, he had advanced as much mentally as he had physically.

Janeway and Chakotay needed to know what had happened, of course, but B'Elanna decided that news could wait until morning. She nodded at her son. "Yes. I think we both could use some sleep."

B'Elanna paged the captain shortly after 0600 hours. "Captain, could you and Commander Chakotay stop by my quarters before beginning your duty shifts? I have something I need to tell both of you in person."

"On our way," Janeway acknowledged with a curious lilt in her voice.

B'Elanna checked on her son to ensure that he was still asleep. He was nearly too big for his crib. Deciding that she would have to have a regular bed made for him as well as moving him to his own room, B'Elanna went to the living area to wait for her senior officers. They arrived fifteen minutes later, both wearing worried expressions.

"Is something the matter, B'Elanna?" the captain asked. "Is it the baby?"

"Yes," B'Elanna responded. "But he isn't in any danger."

"What is so urgent that we had to skip one of Neelix' wonderful breakfasts to meet with you?" Chakotay asked.

B'Elanna stood up from the sofa and gestured for them to follow her. "Perhaps it would be best if you saw for yourselves." Not looking back to see if they were following her, B'Elanna thought, let's get this over with, and stepped into her bedroom.

The captain's and the first officer's reactions were as B'Elanna expected. They gasped, shared a look of surprise and then turned back toward the sleeping toddler to stare at him. The captain whirled around and asked accusingly, "Did you use the stone? Why?"

"Yes, but not intentionally," B'Elanna replied.

"How could you use the phasing stone by accident?"

Chakotay reached out for the captain. "Kathryn," he said. B'Elanna had never heard Chakotay call Captain Janeway by her first name. She supposed they had plenty of time to develop a relationship when they spent all those weeks alone together on New Earth when they thought a deadly viral infection incurable. Yet before now, B'Elanna had not witnessed any sign of the captain and first officer having more than a formal relationship.

She was relieved to see the captain's expression soften. "I'm listening," Janeway said.

"I was just taking, musing really. You know how you just sometimes talk out loud to yourself?" They nodded at her. "I was tired, so I went to my dresser to get a nightgown and prepare for bed. I was standing over the baby's crib when I was talking. When I opened my top drawer, I accidentally brushed against the stone with my fingers. Maybe it sensed how desperately I wanted the wish to come true."

"But why would you wish for your son to age?" Janeway asked.

Before B'Elanna could reply, Jeremy woke up and lifted himself to a standing position. He raised a leg to climb out of his crib. Since she was the closest, Janeway snatched the boy up just before he fell. He cried out in fear of this strange woman. "Oh sweet Jeremy, I'm not going to hurt you," Janeway said soothingly. "I'm your mommy's captain." She gestured toward B'Elanna with a smile. "I'm also her friend."

Instinctively, B'Elanna stepped forward to comfort her son. He reached out for her, and Janeway relinquished him to his mother.

Although Chakotay had witnessed this interaction passively, he now spoke up, "You fit the role of motherhood well, B'Elanna, but you have yet to explain why you wanted your son to age so rapidly. Don't you realize there are great joys in watching a baby develop from a completely dependent being to someone you can grow to depend on?"

"I didn't intentionally wish for him to age," B'Elanna responded. "I merely wished that Tom and I had realized we had feelings for one another much sooner." She tilted her head toward her son. "This is how the phasing stone interpreted my wish."

The captain gasped. "You mean....Jeremy is now Tom's son! Does Harry know about this?"

"I haven't told him yet." B'Elanna hesitated. "But Tom knows." A frightening image suddenly manifested itself inside B'Elanna's mind. What if Tom went to tell Harry the news? "I need to break the news to Harry right away." She took one step toward the doorway before twisting back. "But I need someone to watch Jeremy."

Janeway held out her arms to again accept the boy. "Chakotay, you have the bridge for the next couple of hours."

"Aye captain," the commander responded with a gleam in his eye.

After graciously thanking the captain, B'Elanna hurriedly left her quarters. As she stepped onto the turbolift, B'Elanna called out, "Computer, locate Ensign Harry Kim."

"Ensign Kim is in the mess hall," the computer responded.

Harry was in the mess hall during the breakfast rush hour. He couldn't have chosen a more public place. "Deck 6," she told the turbolift. "Computer, is Lieutenant Paris also in the mess hall?"

"Affirmative."

B'Elanna did not know how she would react if Tom was attacking Harry again, but she knew for certain that it would mean confinement to his quarters for him. She needed to prevent that for all their sakes. She had never felt as desperate as she did now, but then she had never really been involved with someone she truly loved and she'd never had this many close friendships. Determined that this monkey's paw was not going to shatter her life, B'Elanna stepped off the turbolift and into the mess hall. More than thirty crew members were chatting over breakfast. She spotted Harry first sitting with Seven of Nine. Grasping Harry's hand, Seven was deeply into a conversation with him. Neither seemed to notice B'Elanna arrival. B'Elanna wondered what was suddenly going on between them. However, there was no time to worry about that now. She quickly scanned the room and located Tom sitting alone in the far corner. He was nursing a mug of something, while fixating on Harry. What was he thinking? B'Elanna wondered as she studied his expression. He looked so far away, withdrawn from the crew, and B'Elanna also wondered whether he was aware of anyone else in the room besides him and Harry.

Approaching Neelix at the counter, she told the Telaxian, "I'll have one of whatever Tom is having."

As he poured a thick, yellow liquid into a mug, Neelix asked, "How's the baby doing?"

B'Elanna lifted the mug. "I'll explain later." She walked away from Neelix, who was now wearing a perplexed expression.

Tom did not acknowledge her arrival until she was sitting across from him. Wanting to ask him so many things at once, B'Elanna settled on, "How are you doing, Tom?"

Staring at her for a long moment, Tom said more with his eyes than he ever could with words. He'd obviously gotten little sleep last night. Had he been able to sort out his feelings during those waking hours? "I feel....numb." He inched his hand, toward her, falling short of her fingers. "I know it's not your fault...not either of our faults. But you got to understand how difficult it is for me to just pick up where we left off. Now that we have a son to consider...." Tom tapped his fingers on the tabletop. "We must decide what is best for him."

B'Elanna reached out to touch his arm. "What is best for him? To have his parents together."

"And if Harry was still his father, would you have gone to him?" Tom snapped. He lowered his eyes, immediately showing regret. "I'm sorry. I know that you're sincere, but it's just that I feel cheated somehow. It's not that I never wanted to be a father. I just wanted to go about it a little more naturally."

"I understand.....Maybe next time."

A smile crept at the corner of Tom's mouth only to be replaced by a look of annoyance. "He's watching us."

"What?" B'Elanna asked, momentarily taken aback. Then she twisted in her chair to stare back at Harry, noticing that Seven of Nine was no longer with him. Quickly, he looked away from them, and B'Elanna turned back toward Tom. "I need to tell him, but I have to know first: Will you still be here when I'm done?"

A glare filled in Tom's eyes. B'Elanna could swear that she saw his mouth form into a sneer. "I'd love to tell him myself," he said. "Put him in his place."

"Tom! It's my responsibility to tell him. You know that. Can't we just move forward? Harry was your best friend."

"Come on! You can't blame me." He sighed resignedly. "I will wait for you, B'Elanna, only for you."

Although Tom was frightening her, B'Elanna stood up. "We'll discuss this later, okay?" She waited for his nod. He offered it, accompanied by a shrug. He picked up his now cold liquid breakfast and drank it hungrily. Tom behaved so childishly sometimes, B'Elanna thought. However, she did not have time to argue the point with him now. She had prolonged telling Harry the shocking news beyond what he deserved. She would deal with Tom Paris later.

When he saw B'Elanna coming toward him, Harry didn't know how to react. She'd been talking to Tom, and he had actually hoped that meant they were getting back together. The irony of such a wish almost made him laugh out loud. If it were not for his growing rapport with Seven he probably would be more depressed.

"Harry, I really need to talk with you." She sat down before he had a chance to accept or refuse. "I should have come to you last night." He could see that she was near tears.

"Is something wrong with the baby?" he asked, wide eyed.

"Yes actually." She raised a hand. "He's in good health, but the truth is I made a wish. It was purely by accident, I swear. I was talking out loud and my hand accidentally brushed against the stone when I went to get a nightgown for myself."

Harry was turning unusually pale. "What did you wish for?"

"He's older, but that's not exactly what I wished for. His DNA has changed."

B'Elanna's words took a moment to sink into Harry's thought. Feeling an odd mix of fear and relief, Harry muttered almost inaudibly, "He's not my son anymore."

"I'm sorry, Harry." She reached out to grasp his hand, and for a brief moment before he pulled away, Harry felt a surging desire.

"It's okay," he croaked. "Really. This works out better for all of us. I'm happy for you and Tom."

Before B'Elanna could respond, Tom had hurriedly walked up to their table. "I saw you touching her! You can't have her!" He grabbed Harry by the shirt of his uniform and lifted his former friend out of the chair.

"Tom!" B'Elanna yelled, standing. "Let's just go before someone alerts security."

Tom hesitated only briefly to look into B'Elanna's pleading eyes, then he lowered Harry back into his seat. Patting the ensign mockingly on the shoulder, he said, "You got lucky this time, Harry."

As he watched Tom and B'Elanna leave the mess hall, Harry suddenly felt sick to his stomach. Problem, he wasn't certain that it was because of Neelix cooking. He grabbed his empty plate and took it over to the counter.

"Are you all right, Harry?" Neelix asked. "You look a little piqued."

"Not really. I just got some disturbing news." Harry leaned forward and started telling Neelix the whole torrid story. The Telaxian listened reflectively as an idea formulated inside his head.

B'Elanna allowed Tom to lead her back to his quarters. "I still have forty-seven minutes before I have to report for bridge duty. We'll have more privacy in my quarters," he promised her.

As they stepped through his door, B'Elanna said, "we have much to talk about.

He wrapped his arms around her and nuzzled against her neck. "No. Talk later." His hands reached to unfasten her uniform.

"I thought you needed time." He did not slow down, because of her reminder. "No, Tom!" B'Elanna pushed at him so fiercely that they both fell to the floor.

Grabbing her by the wrist, Tom laughed. "Sex Klingon-style. I've been wanting to try that."

For a brief moment, B'Elanna continued to struggle both mentally and physically with Tom, then her instinctual Klingon side took over as Tom nibbled at her ear and throat. Shutting out any cognitive thought, B'Elanna aggressively retaliated. They rolled on the floor, clawing at each other's uniforms, neither being slowed down by bruises and cuts. They crashed into her end table and although items came crashing down on them, they continued their exploration in a fury. He helped her slide out of her top and immediately began devouring her breasts. Growling with pleasure, she bit playfully at his chin. He responded by covering her mouth with his, his tongue delving toward her throat. Pleasantly taken by surprise, B'Elanna rubbed her midsection against Tom's leg and then brought her ankles up to wrap them around his thighs. With the balls of her feet, she attempted to lower the pants portion of his uniform down to his knees, while her hands and mouth continued to explore other regions of his anatomy.

"You want me? You really want me?" Tom asked.

B'Elanna paused for only a second to stare into his eyes and saw how desperate he was for an answer. "Forever," she responded.

"Then let's hope my body can keep up with your Klingon prowess for that long."

B'Elanna gazed down at his bulging penis. "I think you'll do nicely. Now I thought you didn't want to talk."

Tom let out a deep growl as he aggressively assumed the top position. Submissively spreading her legs, B'Elanna moaned audibly as Tom plunged inside of her. She allowed herself to descend fully into the moment, enjoying Tom's every touch, every thrust until she could stand playing the passive partner no more. With a sound half-laugh, half-scream, she flipped him on his back, and reinserting his member inside her, she rocked violently back and forth. His hips matched her rhythm, gyrating at an excited pace. He cried out as she felt him coming inside her. Continuing her frenzied pace, B'Elanna felt herself drawing near climax. He fondled her nipples to help her along, and the world around her exploded in a marvelous ecstacy.

Once the passion subsided, she rested her head on her lover's chest. After lying on the floor for a moment in Tom's arms, B'Elanna realized the clock was ticking if he was going to make it to the bridge on time. "Come on" she said pulling him off the floor. "We can talk while we shower."

With an impish grin Tom did not argue, allowing himself to be led into the bathroom by his lover.

B'Elanna found it thrilling to have a man scrubbing away her sweat and grime. A part of her wanted to continue enjoying the bliss and shutting out the rest of the world, but her reasonable side kicked in. "Tom, we're going to have to decide where we go from here."

"I rather like things the way they are," he replied, caressing her neck.

She gently pushed away from his kiss. "If our situation was normal, I'd agree with you. We have a son to consider, though. You do want to be a part of his life?"

"Of course." Tom reached for the spigot to shut it off. "I want to be a good father." He hesitated. "And if you want, I promise I would be a good husband as well."

Had she been fishing for this proposal? She wondered. B'Elanna wasn't entirely certain. Yet she knew immediately that she wanted it more than anything. "Yes Tom. I will marry you."

Letting out a joyous howl, Tom cupped B'Elanna's chin inside his hands and bent down to give her a long, gentle kiss. "Makes me wish I didn't have bridge duty today," he said, reaching for two towels.

After wrapping the towel around herself, B'Elanna followed Tom into his bedroom, so they could continue to talk, while he dressed in a fresh uniform. Hating the necessary turn their conversation must take, B'Elanna plunged forward anyway. "What about Harry?"

Tom's expression quickly altered to one of bliss to one of outrage. "How can you even consider his feelings after what he did to you? I can't forgive him."

"But he was your best friend."

After zipping up his uniform, Tom looked B'Elanna in the eyes. "No longer. Apparently, he didn't value it enough to stay away from my woman." He brought his hand up to B'Elanna face and gently caressed her cheeks. B'Elanna thought of calling him a pompous, unforgiving pig, but a part of her understand where Tom was coming from. Instead, she watched, arms folded, as he slipped on his shoes. "I have to go now. Are you going to be okay?" She nodded and he added, "We can get together this evening. Maybe we can do a family thing."

"Jeremy!" she exclaimed, suddenly remembering that she had left him with the captain. "Janeway volunteered to watch him for a little while. If she had any idea what I was doing--what we were doing--" a giggling fit stalled her words and she rushed out of his bedroom to retrieve her discarded clothes from his living room.

"You left Captain Janeway alone with our son?" Tom said as he followed her out. "I hope Janeway doesn't hold it over your head for too long."

"She volunteered," B'Elanna informed him. "Don't worry. I'll handle this. You just get to the bridge." With that, she stepped out of his quarters.

A couple minutes later when B'Elanna stepped into her quarters, she found Jeremy sitting at the table coloring. Janeway was standing over him, peering down at whatever he was drawing. "Captain, I'm so sorry for keeping you waiting this long."

The captain raised a hand to silence B'Elanna's apology. "Not at all, lieutenant. I rather enjoyed the time I spent with your son. He's quite intelligent in case you hadn't noticed." She looked at the boy. "What color are you drawing with?"

"Red," Jeremy responded, without looking away from his handy work.

Indeed, he was using red. B'Elanna beamed with pride. Watching as he switched crayons from red to blue, she asked, "Now what color are you using?"

"Red."

"Okay," the captain conceded. "At least he keeps it within the lines."

B'Elanna shared a warm matronly smile with the captain. She thought that Kathryn Janeway would have made as wonderful a mother as she did a captain.

As the captain moved passed her, she said, "Be good to him, Mother,": and then stepped out of B'Elanna's quarters.

B'Elanna and Jeremy spent the day getting to know one another. She found his vocabulary quite extensive for a three year old, let alone someone who was in actuality only two days old. It seemed as though they both had three years of lost time to make up for. Yet as the day progressed, B'Elanna reached the conclusion that although they had much to discover on a cognitive level, instinctually, they had become bonded the first moment she had held him across her chest.

I would have loved the opportunity to watch you develop, to learn, to sit, to crawl, to walk, to say your first word, but I promise not to dwell on that. We have plenty of milestones and special moments ahead of us. I promise you that.

Her annunciator sounded and expecting that it was Tom, B'Elanna went to the door to answer it Jeremy dragging behind her. The door slid open and Tom scooped up his son and twirled the boy. "I thought about you all day," he said. He stopped his twirling to stare into B'Elanna's eyes. "The both of you." He leaned forward to kiss her, and she wrapped her arms around him, including their son in their embrace. "I'm ready to start family life."

B'Elanna could see in Tom's eyes that he was prepared for a life-long commitment. At that moment, she was both frightened and excited. Could she be any happier?

"I'm hungry," Jeremy pleaded.

Both parents fell into giggles. "Well, we could go down to the mess hall," Tom said. "See how much Jeremy likes Neelix' cooking."

When they stepped inside the mess hall, B'Elanna noticed that it was unusually full. Several people were standing and yet there was a vacant table in the center of the room. As they moved toward the table, B'Elanna studied people around the room. A few stopped what they were doing to return the stare, but most remained engaged in their conversations. Tom gestured toward Neelix and the Telaxian came over with two dishes of yellow salad leaves and set them in front of the adults. He produced a third plate with a sandwich for Jeremy. "Peanut butter and jelly, young man," Neelix said. "I hear it's very popular among children."

B'Elanna lifted her fork to examine her dinner. A thick creamy dressing covered the foreign vegetables. It did not look any more appetizing than most of the other food Neelix served. "I think I'll have what Jeremy's having," she said, setting her fork down.

Neelix appeared flustered by this, but Tom calmly urged her on. "Just give it a try. I think you'll really like this dish."

Sighing with resignation, B'Elanna grabbed her fork again and bit into the salad. She tried desperately not to gag on it as she swallowed. "Ugh! You call that good food!"

Tom gestured with a twirling finger. "Stir it around a little bit. Maybe you'll like it better once the flavor seeps in."

"You're joking. I don't see you trying any of it."

"You're right," Tom responded, eyeing the salad wearily. "How rude of me." As he took a bite, B'Elanna could tell that he was having as much difficulty swallowing it as she had.

"Not too spicy I hope," the Telaxian interjected and Tom fixed him with a look that obviously told him that he wasn't helping.

"What's going on here?" B'Elanna demanded. Before Tom or Neelix could respond, the entrance slid open and the captain and first officer stepped into the mess hall. Were there any crew members now not present? B'Elanna wondered again scanning the room. A few, Harry most notably among them. "What is going on?" she reiterated.

Tom smiled devilishly at her. This mystery definitely had something to do with the salad. Poking her fork at its contents, she hit against something hard. Her eyes widened as she rescued a rather large diamond ring from the salad.

Tom reached out to slip it onto her finger. Although it was dripping with the offensive salad dressing, B'Elanna did not care. It was beautiful, and it was hers.

The captain and first officer stepped forward and everyone yelled, "surprise!"

"I know it's a bit unusual to have a surprise engagement party," Neelix said, "but who says we're a conventional crew? Tom came to me earlier this afternoon to discuss this surprise. I thought since you really have no need for a baby shower anymore that this would do instead."

All conversation had stopped and now everyone was fixated on them. "I hope you're not too angry that I chose to give you your ring this way," Tom said.

"Not at all," B'Elanna responded. She turned toward the captain. "Marry us."

"Of course," Janeway said. "As captain, I'm the only one qualified to marry you."

"No. I mean now."

"Now!" Tom exclaimed, the surprise now on him.

For a moment, B'Elanna considered whether or not she was being absurd. She glanced at Jeremy. His face was covered with peanut butter and jelly, and he reached out to her with sticky fingers. Everyone was dressed in everyday clothing, most of them still in uniform. Yet to B'Elanna the moment somehow seemed perfect. "Yes now."

The captain beamed with pride. "Well, if you both wish it, I have no objection."

" "Attention everyone," Neelix spoke up, addressing the group with his outstretched arms, "our little engagement party has now turned into a wedding. Let the celebration begin."

The room filled with claps and hollers as everyone enthusiastically cheered the couple on. B'Elanna felt strange knowing that she and Tom were about to be married when only this morning she had been unsure whether they would get back together. Yet at the same time, she felt certain.

"Why don't I take the little one," Chakotay offered, "and get him cleaned up for you while you make whatever preparations are necessary."

B'Elanna had never prepared for anything as quickly as she did her own wedding. Fellow crew members chipped in until she had enough replicator rations to use for a wedding gown. Despite their hasty preparations, by the time B'Elanna and Tom stood before the captain they were not only appropriately dressed for the occasion, but the room had been reorganized and decorated for a wedding. It appeared as though everyone needed a little romance to break up the monotony of everyday life.

Harry felt strange sitting in the captain's chair. Although he knew that most of the crew was now at a party for Tom and B'Elanna and their new son and that made him the best choice to be left in charge of the bridge, he continued to feel out of place as he issued orders to the three other ensigns unfortunate enough to now have bridge duty. Since Engineering was currently running smoothly, Seven of Nine had come to the bridge and was now standing at the Engineering alcove maintaining a vigilance on ship's systems. Her presence helped ease Harry's mind. Not only did she help him relax about being in command, but he felt comforted just having her nearby.

"Attention all on-duty crew members," Neelix' voice boomed over the commlink. Harry noted that the Telaxian sounded even more cheerful than usual. "I have wonderful news about lieutenants Torres and Paris. As most of you know, they now have a son, young Jeremy." Harry met Seven's gaze as she turned away from her console. "Well, this morning, they became engaged, so as morale officer I felt it was my honor to throw them an engagement party." The Telaxian broke into laughter. "It turned into a wedding! I'm sure the reception will be going on for many more hours, so come down and join us in the mess hall when you get off duty. Neelix out."

Harry tried desperately to cling to his composure. I'm the one in charge here, he thought. I have to set an example for the other crew members. "Seven of Nine, how are those engines holding up?"

Seven did not turn back to her console, instead walking around to the center of the bridge to stand by Harry. Gently touching him on the arm, she asked, "How are you holding up?"

"All right," he responded and then let out a heavy sigh. "I have to be."

Despite his words of reassurance, Seven did not leave his side, and Harry felt grateful toward her. He managed to hold himself together until Chakotay came a couple hours later to relieve him. Quickly, Harry retreated to his quarters, welcoming its offered seclusion. Fortunately, he did not have another duty shift for thirty-six hours. He would remain in his quarters for that time, he decided, playing his clarinet and using up the replicator rations he had been saving. He wanted to avoid other crew members and whatever pity they might offer.

This plan went well for Harry until the following evening when his annunciator sounded. Harry wished that he could pretend that he wasn't home, but it was impossible to hide on a starship with a computer that could locate anyone on board. Let's get this over with, he decided ushering the person inside.

The door slid open to reveal Neelix. "Harry, I hope I'm not disturbing you."

Harry set his clarinet on his endtable. "Not really. My lips are getting a little tired of blowing anyway."

Neelix let out a short chuckle before explaining his visit. "Ever since you told me about B'Elanna's wish, I've been thinking about your dilemma. If I recall correctly, the Immibi said the stones would grant three wishes."

"Hold on!" Harry said.

"Just hear me out, Mr. Kim. They said the third wish had to be asked for jointly, did they not?"

"Yes. But Captain Janeway has possession of my phasing stone."

Nodding, the Telaxian continued his proposal. "Taking that aside for the time being, tell me what you would want to wish for."

"To mend my relationship with Tom, of course."

"I am certain that B'Elanna wants the same thing," Neelix said. "However, if you were to use the phasing stones to wish for Tom's forgiveness, it wouldn't work."

Harry nodded as he thought about how warped the stones' interpretation of the first two wishes had been. How would it affect his already strained relationship with Tom Paris if he attempted a third wish? No, he decided, it would be better to try to make things right on his own. He was responsible for the rift between himself and Tom and he would be the one to fix it. "I appreciate your concern, Neelix, but I'll have to figure out a way to solve my problem on my own."

"And what will you do when more weeks have gone by, and the animosity between the two of you continues to thicken? As morale officer, it is my duty to counsel you. My advice to you is not to wish for a reconciliation between you and Tom, but rather to wish for a situation, something that will place you in the spotlight. When you made your first wish, nobody's minds were changed. You wanted B'Elanna to belong to you, so she had your baby. But she continued to love Tom. She in turn made her wish, hoping somehow that it would cause Tom to change his mind about you. It didn't have the desired effect either. You must approach the third wish quite differently."

Suddenly, Harry realized what his Telaxian friend was suggesting. "You want me to wish for something that changes *me*? That could prove rather risky." rams The Telaxian spread out his arms. "Life is full of risks."

"Even if I do decide to go through with this, there's still the problem of convincing the captain it's the right thing to do."

Harry gave Neelix' plan great thought. In fact, it was all he could think of during the remainder of his time before his next duty shift. By the time he arrived on the bridge the following morning, he had made up his mind about how to approach the problem. He only hoped that he could catch Captain Janeway in a reasonably good mood. She smiled and nodded curtly in his direction as he took his station. A good sign. However, he did note that Tom did not even offer him a glance.

After running a routine check on his systems, Harry asked, "Captain, may I see you in your Ready Room for a moment?"

Both Janeway and Chakotay twisted around in their chairs and fixed him quizzically. Yet neither questioned him verbally. "Chakotay," Janeway addressed her first officer, "would you take the conn for a few moments?"

"Aye, captain," Chakotay responded. He switched to captain's chair as she vacated it.

"Mr. Kim," Janeway said, motioning toward her Ready Room.

Harry stepped from around his station and followed his captain. Before stepping through the door, he glanced back to see Tom glaring at him. I hope this works! He thought.

Once the Ready Room door slid closed behind him, Harry immediately plunged into his plea. "Captain, I know you're not going to like what I'm about to request, but--"

The captain placed her hands on her hips. "This better be good, Harry."

"Tom is never going to forgive me. Not if things continue as they are. That's why I'm now asking you to change your mind. Let me make the third wish."

The captain's expression grew strained. "Harry, after the havoc the first and second wishes caused in your life and the lives closest to you, why would you now believe a third wish would patch things up?"

Sizing up all the confidence he could muster, he responded. "Because this time were not going to wish for what we really want." Harry proceeded to paraphrase Neelix proposal, and as he expected Janeway countered by pointing out the risks he would be taking. "I am more than willing to take those risks to correct the mistake I made," Harry told her. "Please captain, this is the only way I know to free myself of this guilt."

Sighing heavily, the captain leaned back against her desk. "I suppose if I don't concede, that third wish will always be hanging over our heads. I don't know if it's wise to alter our fates, but we can't continue this constant wondering ' what if'. The temptation to use the stone carelessly is too great. Discuss your wish with B'Elanna. I want you to come to me for approval of your final wish before you make it. Remember Harry, once it's made, there's no turning back."

"Yes ma'am." Smiling, Harry left the captain's Ready Room and returned to his station. Now the next hurdle was finding the chance to explain his plan to B'Elanna without Tom interfering.

B'Elanna paced her quarters while her son was taking his afternoon nap. She enjoyed the time she spent with Jeremy. She loved being Mrs. Tom Paris, but she was no housewife. She was restless. She needed to get back to Engineering, needed to feel useful. She still had two months left of her leave time. If I spend another two days without working, B'Elanna thought, I'll grow crazy. Surely the captain would allow her to return to duty. There were no medical reasons for her to prolong her leave. And Neelix had already agreed to serve in the capacity of babysitter. The thought of Neelix trying to cook for a crew of one hundred and fifty while watching a toddler made B'Elanna chuckle. Neelix, being a jack of all trades, would insist that he could handle it.

The annunciator sounded, startling B'Elanna out of her reverie. She had no idea who would be paying her a visit. "Come in," she said. The door slid open and Harry stepped inside. "What are you doing here? If Tom were to return--"

"He's not going to return for a while," Harry insisted and what I have to say is important enough to risk it."

B'Elanna studied Harry's expression for a moment. Gauging his determination, she gestured toward the sofa. They sat down at opposite ends. "Captain Janeway has agreed to let us make the third wish."

"What!" Harry could see both anger and fear rising to B'Elanna's face. "Are you crazy?"

"Actually, it was Neelix idea, but he's convinced me we should go through with this."

"You saw how the first two wishes affected our lives. Neither one of us got exactly what we wished for. This is too absurd to even consider."

"I was as doubtful as you at first. What Neelix proposed made sense, though. I'm not going to wish for Tom to be my friend again, and I'm not going to wish that this whole thing never happened. I don't think unwishing it will make any of us forget. What I've decided to wish for is to place myself in a situation that will force me to demonstrate both courage and strength. Whatever risks are involved, I am willing to take them if it means demonstrating before Tom that I am not a coward or a back stabber. I want you to be happy, and if that means spending the rest of your life with Tom, then I will support the both of you."

B'Elanna was near tears by this gesture. "Be careful what you wish for, Harry. I won't risk losing my son to the next reality."

Asserting his existence in this reality, Jeremy chose that moment to wake up and start screaming for his mother. As B'Elanna stood and walked toward her son's room, Harry promised her, "You won't lose your son, B'Elanna. You won't lose your son."

B'Elanna paused in the doorway. "Okay, Harry. We'll make the wish tonight in the mess hall. Come with your stone and sit away from us. We'll make the wish during dinner. It's probably the safest place, and Tom will be there to witness whatever happens."

The mess hall, Harry mused. Somehow it seemed the perfect place.

Harry arrived at the mess hall shortly after 1800 hours. Spotting Tom and B'Elanna sitting on one end of the room with Jeremy, Harry did as B'Elanna had instructed earlier and took a table on the opposite side. She glanced furtively in his direction, nodding her readiness to commit to their plan. Next he made eye contact with Neelix, who eyed him knowingly as he stirred a large bowl of salad. The Telaxian placed a small portion of the salad onto a saucer and walked over to Harry's table.

"Good luck to you, Harry," Neelix said as he set the plate down in front of the ensign and then walked away.

Nervously, Harry examined his food and nibbled at the yellow-green leaves. If you don't make the wish now, he told himself, you're going to lose your nerve. As he reached under his uniform collar where he'd hidden the phasing stone, Harry again looked in Tom and B'Elanna's direction. He could not see B'Elanna's phasing stone, but knew that she had it hidden somewhere on her. He watched as she lowered one hand underneath the table, while continue her conversation with Tom unabated. Good B'Elanna. We don't want Tom to suspect anything. Bowing his head and gently squeezing the stone, he silently made his wish. He carefully chose each word, not wanting the stone to misinterpret anything he said. Then he spoke the words quietly out loud. "I wish to be placed in a situation that tests my courage, strength and my loyalty to my friends."

Harry lifted his head, expecting something to be different. Around him, fellow crew members were enjoying their after-duty conversations and relaxing over their dinners. No one seemed nonplus, if indeed Harry had managed to alter reality. The changes had been immediate for the first two wishes. B'Elanna's sudden pregnancy, followed by Jeremy's rapid aging and DNA change. Why wouldn't the phasing stone grant his third wish now?

Harry shared a questioning look with B'Elanna, her shrug indicating that she too had silently thought the wish. Did it not work because they were across the room from one another? Tom said something that Harry couldn't quite make out, and B'Elanna's draw dropped. Twisting in his chair, Tom met Harry's gaze fiercely. He stood, nearly knocking his chair over and bruskly approached Harry. B'Elanna stood as well, but remained at their table, looking on with horror.

Tom grabbed Harry by the uniform, his fingers inadvertently squeezing at the stone underneath the fabric. "Can't you take a hint? She married me!" Tom pushed Harry and Harry and his chair went toppling to the floor. Raising a fist, Tom readied to swing.

"Tom!" B'Elanna exclaimed.

"No," Tom said, lowering his arm. "You're not worth the trouble." He walked away from his former friend and picked up his son. "It's all right everybody," he loudly addressed the group and then turned to his wife. "Let's go to our quarters."

Harry watched as they left, not bothering to get up from the floor. Concerned, Neelix came to his side. "Are you all right?"

Harry fought against tears and lost. What went wrong? Tom was as angry as ever and Harry had no idea how he could ever make things right. Maybe I should have wished for my death, he thought. That might not have been as painful.

Part 4:

B'Elanna had not slept well, worrying about what might have gone wrong. Certainly, the stones were not sentient living creatures. They couldn't detect their deception, could they? If they would have wished for what they wanted, B'Elanna knew that their reality would have phased into something much worse than this one. Perhaps the stones' inability to grant the third wish was due to a lack of sincerity. The first two wishes had been asked for with passion. B'Elanna could not honestly say that her heart and mind had been fully into making the third wish. She had been afraid and didn't want Harry risking his life. Had its failure been her fault?

Deciding she needed to have a heart-to-heart with someone who understood, B'Elanna left Jeremy with Neelix and went to see the captain in her Ready Room. Once they were sitting on the captain's sofa with two welcome cups of coffee, B'Elanna filled the captain in on their apparent failure. "I don't know. Maybe it's our fate to always be at odds with Harry," B'Elanna said, bowing her head.

"Don't give up, B'Elanna," the captain encouraged. "Men have fought wars and made peace without any phasing stones for millennia. All things are still possible."

"There's one other thing, captain." B'Elanna hesitated, hoping Janeway would be readily willing to grant this wish. "I know you granted me three months of leave time, but quite frankly if I don't get back inside Engineering soon, I'm going to go crazy."

The captain smiled warmly at her chief engineer. "Permission granted to return to active duty at 0800 hours tomorrow."

"Thank you," B'Elanna said as she stood and set her coffee cup down. "You won't regret this decision."

As B'Elanna stepped toward the exit door, Janeway said, "I'm sure I won't."

"Why did you go see the captain today?" Tom asked that evening in their quarters.

At first, B'Elanna was angered by the question, but then she thought about what Captain Janeway had said about peace. "I asked for permission to return to active duty. I'm to report to Engineering at 0800 hours tomorrow."

"Do you think you're ready for that?"

"I'm ready!" B'Elanna grabbed Tom by his uniform top and led him into their bedroom. "If I can do this," she said, pushing him onto their bed and landing atop him. "And this--" She began caressing and fondling him in every known erogenous region. Lifting to a sitting position, she concluded, "then I can handle Engineering."

"Don't stop!" Tom pleaded. And B'Elanna complied with a big Klingon grin.

A while later when she was sure Tom had fallen asleep, B'Elanna got back out of bed and went to her dresser. She could not stop thinking about what went wrong with their third wish. She was happy with Tom. Why couldn't he be more secure with that and forgive Harry? If the stone didn't grant our wish, she thought, maybe we will still be able to make the third wish. She contemplated thoughts of sneaking out of their quarters and going to visit Harry with her phasing stone. Maybe they could only make the wish work if they were close together muttering the words simultaneously, perhaps even holding hands. She didn't know if that would make a difference, but frustrated, she knew they had to try something. Finding the courage, she opened her top drawer and pushed her nightgowns aside. The stone was not where she had left it! Frantically, she began removing all her clothing from the drawer until it was empty. Someone had taken the stone.

"B'Elanna?" Tom called out to her, half-awake. "What are you doing out of bed?"

Praying she did not look too guilty, B'Elanna turned toward her husband. The sudden thought that he might have done something with the stone crossed her mind. Yet if she were to accuse him of such an act, she would have to admit to her own discretion. "I was getting a pair of socks. My feet are cold," she lied and grabbed a pair of socks before shoving everything else back into the drawer.

"Come here." He held out his arm. "I'll keep your feet warm."

As she climbed back into bed and snuggled against Tom, B'Elanna realized that for the first time since they'd gotten together, she didn't feel completely safe in his arms. She felt guilty, because she didn't feel completely comfortable lying to him. Somehow she had to find a way to end this war.

Harry could not believe that he had actually accepted Seven of Nine's invitation to play cards in her quarters. He knew what she really wanted. And dammit, why shouldn't he feel good that a woman was attracted to him? As her door slid open, Harry's breath caught in his throat. The very revealing dress that she wore was hardly appropriate attire for an evening of cards.

"I thought we were going to play cards," he barely managed as she ushered him inside.

"Of course Harry, if you really want to play cards, we can play whatever game you desire."

Not sure what he really wanted, Harry found himself unable to respond to her gesture. He had been annoyed and then uncomfortable by her overtures toward him, but now-- He was a long way from home and so much time had passed already that he was sure Libby had moved on. She probably had another boyfriend, another fiance, possibly even a husband. Why shouldn't he be looking at other women? B'Elanna hadn't been interested. There were more than seventy women on Voyager. If he was ever planning to settle down and have a family, he needed to stop behaving so closed off to them.

"Harry?" Seven said and Harry could hear the concern in her voice. "I'm sorry. This was a mistake." She turned away from him, suddenly becoming self-conscious about her choice of clothing.

"Wait a minute, Seven." Harry walked around to face her. "I find you very attractive. Really, I do." She raised her head to meet his gaze. "It's just that I haven't been intimate with anyone for a very long time."

"I was six years old when the Borg assimilated me. I have never been intimate with anyone."

Harry grasped her hands. "And you are only beginning to figure out what it means to be Human. I don't want to take advantage of you. Everyone knows I did enough damage to B'Elanna." He averted his eyes.

Seven freed one of her hands to bring it up to Harry's cheek. "Your remorse is genuine that is good enough for me. And as far as my humanity goes, I am growing closer day by day thanks to friends like you. I am an individual with a mind of my own, and I know what I want. I want you, Harry."

Outstretching his arms, Harry invited her inside, inside his hug, inside his soul. "I don't know how much I have to offer you," Harry said. "I'm not even sure I have love to offer, but if you want to give us a try--"

Seven did not give Harry a chance to finish, quailing his words with a kiss. As he accepted her kiss fully, Harry felt his doubts withering away. Coming up for breath, Seven whispered in his ear, "Take a risk on me." Her words reverberated inside his mind. Somehow he had the sense that something greater than the two of them was being set into motion, and it was up to him to see it carried out. Seven needed this Human closeness, and as he allowed her to lead him into the bedroom, Harry realized that he needed it as well.

To Harry, Seven of Nine was one of the strongest, bravest women he had ever met. He marveled at how she handled herself in Engineering, the way she stood up to the captain almost as an equal, and the way she had quickly asserted herself among the crew. Yet now as he watched her lying on her bed, waiting for him to make the first move, she looked sweetly feminine, vulnerable, and unsure how to proceed. She had aggressively sought him out like a woman of steel, but underneath she was still struggling to fit in with this Human society she had left behind eighteen years ago.

"Take off your clothes," he half-teased and then chuckled. How ironic it was that he was now the one trying to initiate intimacy.

"Take them off for me," Seven responded.

He smiled devilishly. Oh, she was adapting! Bringing his fingers up to her neck, he delicately tugged at her zipper. She gasped as he lowered the zipper below her chest and began fondling her breasts. He slid the zipper down a bit further, and she shrugged her shoulders out of her uniform. "Oh Harry!" she gasped, sitting up to expose herself fully to him.

The way she spoke his name, sent shudders of expectation through him. He nuzzled against her neck and whispered in her ear. "You're beautiful."

"I am yours if you will have me." She pulled away slightly to look him pleadingly in the eyes.

"Seven, I want you. I really want you." He brought his hand to her chin, and she nuzzled against it.

"I promise you a good time," she said. "We shall worry about commitment later." Taking him by the hand, she coaxed him down on top of her. They slipped comfortably into a passionate kiss. Somehow without breaking their kiss, they managed to remove their clothing. Grasping her firmly on the behind, Harry could feel her excitement climax as she gyrated against his hip and his member grew hard and ached to be inside her.....more, more with each touch, moan, and whispered promise. She spread her legs. Showing the same urgency, with her fingers she placed the tip of his member against the lip of her vagina. With softly uttered moans, she rocked back and forth until he slipped easily inside her. He matched her rhythm. Closing his eyes, he ran his hands through her hair and imagined that there was no universe. There was only him and a girl once known as Anika. She existed for him, and he for her. And the stars exploded into a super nova.

Afterward, they lay quietly in each other's arms for a long while, both enjoying touching one another, dispelling all their earlier doubts. Harry was now certain he had been right to give in to Seven. He was unsure where they would go from here, but he suspected they would both enjoy the discoveries that lay ahead of them.

"Today was my last day as acting chief engineer," she told him.

"Oh?" Harry was both startled by the news and the sudden change in thought.

"B'Elanna decided to cut her maternity leave short."

Harry was not surprised that B'Elanna would want to return to work, but rather what did surprise him was that she had not met any opposition from Tom. Or had she? "Tomorrow ought to be very interesting," he said.

Tom had readily supported B'Elanna's decision to return to Engineering. At first she was surprised, having expected him to want her to stay home for a while longer with their son. But then she realized that Tom had always treated her as an equal, accepting her right to make her own decisions. Besides if he brought forth any argument, he'd hhts to contend with her Klingon temper. Although he did openly worry about their son's welfare, and voiced his concern as to what type of influence Neelix would be on the boy, she managed to convince him that there would be plenty of opportunity for quality time.

B'Elanna strolled into Engineering with her head held high. Approaching her, Lieutenant Carey said, "welcome back!"

"Thank you," she responded. "It feels good to be back."

B'Elanna walked around Engineering, quickly studying the readouts at every station. Her staff eagerly provided her with any information she needed. Lastly, she approached Seven, and the former Borg turned away from her station to face her squarely. B'Elanna was almost certain that Seven was going to challenge her, but then the other woman smiled and said, "Your orders, Chief?"

"Get me up to speed. I need a report on the last month's activities."

Seven reached behind herself to obtain a data padd. "I anticipated that order, so I already prepared a report for you."

B'Elanna accepted the padd and quickly browsed through some of the material. "Good. Keep up the excellent work, Seven." B'Elanna retreated to her office alcove, where she could thoroughly study the report. All the while, she found her thoughts drifting toward her family. She trusted that Neelix was caring well for Jeremy, and yet she missed him so terribly. Until now she had never known what it felt like to be separated from the ones she loved. Intellectually, she knew that it was only for a short while. She would be meeting up with Tom and Jeremy in the mess hall at lunchtime, but it was still harder than she expected to transform from her role as Mother and wife back to her role as chief engineer. Still to her dignity, she performed it well, reaffirming herself as the quick-on-her-toes, brash engineer that everyone had always expected.

Shortly after the alpha shift began, the Voyager crew had encountered a rather large mass made up of an unidentifiable substance. Janeway ordered that they divert course for the nearly half a light year it would take to get around the anomaly and standby at yellow alert. The fractional loss of time was acceptable over traveling through an area of space no one could prove was harmless. Once she was certain that they were safely traveling away from it, the captain demanded to know why no one discovered the anomaly until they were right on top of it. Could something that large have just manifested itself right in front of them?

Harry diligently went over their sensor logs. Had he missed something? He feared appearing incompetent to the captain. She expected the best from her bridge crew, and she deserved nothing less than the best. Harry had to admit, at least to himself, that since the third wish's failure, he had been lacking somewhat in self-confidence. Even his interlude with Seven the night before now seemed unreal to him. Had they really meant it? Could he be falling in love with her? Get your mind back on the bridge, Harry! He chastised himself.

Then he noticed something that startled him more than discovering the origin of the anomaly would have. "Captain, long-range sensors are picking up an Immibi ship about two light years from our present course," he informed Janeway.

Both the captain and the first officer glanced at him, startled. At the helm, Tom maintained his stance. "Mr. Tuvok," Janeway said, quickly regaining her composure, "any indication of their intent?"

"Negative," the Vulcan tactical officer responded. "We should consider that they are on a routine exploration. However, as always I will maintain a constant vigilance of their activities."

The captain turned to look at her first officer, while continuing to address the entire bridge crew. "I find it just a little too convenient that we happen upon them after being forced to alter our course."

"Are you saying that you believe they created the anomaly?" Chakotay asked. "For what purpose?"

"I think we should consider that possibility," Janeway responded. "Mr. Kim, see if you can make contact with them. Ask them what they're doing so far away from their homeworld."

"Aye captain."

The captain got up to stand directly behind Tom. "How long until we intercept them, Mr. Paris?"

"Giving our present speed and their's, we will meet up with them in approximately 17.5 hours."

Harry felt some of his original fears about the Immibi returning. Why were they here, and why had they not yet answered his hail? They had been friendly toward the Voyager crew on their homeworld, but Harry couldn't help wondering whether they had given him and B'Elanna the phasing stones knowing full well the type of trouble they would cause. Even if they had though, why were they now forcing further contact?

More than an hour after he sent out his first hail, and subsequently three more, Harry was startled by an incoming response from the Immibi ship. "Captain, the Immibi are hailing us!" Harry tried not to sound too excited, but knew that he failed.

"On screen," the captain ordered, again standing from her command chair.

Everyone gasped as Barin's image filled the screen. "Captain Janeway what a fortuitous surprise to meet you again."

"Likewise. We just diverted course due to a rather large anomaly. Have your sensors picked up on it yet?"

"Yes. In fact, we were on our way to examine it closer when you hailed us."

"Barin, we left you on your homeworld more than three weeks ago. How did you get ahead of us? And why did you take more than an hour to answer our hails?"

Barin furrowed his brow in consternation. "Captain, I'm sorry that I took so long to answer your hails. I had my crew running long-range scans on your ship. We had to be certain that you were the same Voyager we encountered before. We had expected that you would have traveled much further than this by now, since our last encounter was nearly four years ago. "

"That's impossible! If my crew lost that much time, I would have been alerted by Stellar Cartography. The doctor would have noticed signs of us aging."

Barin still wore determination on his face. "Did one of your crew members not give birth to a son, and did this boy not age dramatically?"

"How could you possibly know that?" the captain asked. She looked in Tom's direction and noticed his tight expression. He was obviously barely keeping his emotions in check.

"The stones tell their own story," Barin answered enigmatically.

Placing her hands on her hips, the captain attempted to show the Immibi that she wouldn't tolerate any deception. "We Humans prefer to make our own stories. Give us until our paths cross to determine if your claim is true that so much time has passed."

The alien nodded. "fair enough. When we meet up, I will personally beam over to your ship--if you approve--and help you sort out this temporal anomaly of yours."

Janeway saw no reason to refuse, and so with a nod said, "until then." She turned to Harry silently indicating an order to sever the link. Once their connection was terminated, the captain informed them, "I want to have a senior staff meeting in fifteen minutes."

B'Elanna and Seven of Nine were the last to arrive inside the conference room. "I ran a spectral analysis before coming here," B'Elanna said as she took her seat. She offered her data padd to the captain and Janeway glanced over the information. "I found no abnormalities in any of Voyager's systems."

"Sickbay is currently empty," the doctor said. "I see no reason to suspect that a medical reason is at fault here. If it were not for my curiosity, I would have insisted on deactivating my program rather than attending this meeting."

"Stellar Cartography reports no unusual changes that would denote more passage of time than we are aware of," Seven of Nine offered.

"Glad to hear it," the captain replied. "I'd rather live every day that I've aged."

"That still leaves us with the question of whether or not Barin is lying to us," Chakotay reminded her. "Is it possible that four years have really passed for them?"

They turned toward B'Elanna. "The universe has its own time clock, as you know. If the Immibi were to experience a different rate of time, they would have had to have gone into a state of quantum flux or perhaps even entered an alternate universe."

"Maybe it is us who have just come out of an alternate universe," Chakotay suggested. "The anomaly could have something to do with that. Why don't we send a probe through and see where it leads?"

"May I remind you," Tuvok began, "that we came upon the anomaly, not through it."

"Granted, Mr. Tuvok," Janeway said. "But I still like the commander's suggestion. We'll send a probe through. We need to know everything we can about this anomaly before we deal with the Immibi."

"Perhaps there is another variable we should consider," Tuvok said. Everyone turned in his direction, waiting expectantly for him to voice his opinion. "We should be examining the one variable that has changed during all this. We remember only three weeks transpiring, and yet Jeremy Paris, the one created by the stones' magic, is physically three years old."

"My son is not a variable!" Tom exclaimed.

Janeway raised a hand to calm her helms officer. "Tom, I understand how deeply this effects you. I share your concern. That's why it is imperative that we exhaust all possibilities before we intercept with the Immibi."

B'Elanna turned to her husband and in a soft gentle voice said, "She's right. As much as I wish she wasn't, we both know what we need to do."

Tom nodded his concession. "I'm just scared."

"Tom, B'Elanna, I know that you will want to be with your son," the captain said. "That's why I'm going to have Seven and Harry continue the investigation of the anomaly."

"Very well," the doctor said, "bring the boy to Sickbay and I will run a temporal neural scan on him. I doubt it will prove anything, though. I suggest that you consider running geological scans on the phasing stones instead. If we're experiencing a temporal anomaly, I'd suspect that they're the direct cause."

B'Elanna suddenly realized that she had not told anyone that her stone had disappeared. "My stone is missing!" After the news seemed to sink in with the others, she continued, making eye contact with Janeway. "After we made the third wish, I returned it to my dresser."

"You made another wish!" Tom exclaimed.

Turning to face her husband, B'Elanna wondered how little of the truth she could tell him before he would be satisfied. "It was eating at us. We couldn't rest until we got it over with. Even the captain agreed with us."

"'Us?" You mean you and Harry?" Tom's tone could have frozen phaser fire.

"It was my idea," Harry blurted.

"Wait a minute! It was actually my idea," Neelix interjected.

Before blame could travel completely around the table, Janeway put a stop to the bantering. "Enough! It is not important who thought of what. As captain, I am responsible for allowing the wish to be made. Mr. Kim, I want you to go to your quarters and see if you can find your phasing stone."

"Aye captain."

"B'Elanna, Tom, pick up your son and meet the doctor in Sickbay. Tuvok, launch a probe through the anomaly and continue monitoring the progress of the Immibi. Alert me to any sudden changes." Her security officer raised his eyebrow and offered a standard Vulcan nod. She turned to the Telaxian, who was opening his mouth to speak. "Neelix, prepare our dinner."

His expression faltering to one of servitude, Neelix responded, "Yes captain."

"Dismissed."

On their way to pick up their son, Tom asked the inevitable. "So what did you wish for?"

"It was actually Harry's wish, not mine," B'Elanna responded truthfully. "I only went along with the idea, because I care for the both of you." She raised a hand to ward off any reply. "I don't want to argue about this....not now!"

"Fine," Tom said, placing his hands behind his back. "You know, I'm not a totally heartless bastard. I can stay calm."

B'Elanna stared at her husband. This was the first sign that there was a chance he could forgive Harry. Should she dare encourage it now? Before she could decide, the turbolift door opened and they stepped out. Making their way to the mess hall, they thanked the ensign who had volunteered to watch their son, and then headed for Sickbay.

"Hello Jeremy," the holodoctor said as B'Elanna set the boy on a biobed. "Do you know who I am?"

"Yeah, you're the doctor," Jeremy replied. "How come you don't have a name?"

The doctor glanced at the boy's parents as though determining whether they put him up to this question. "Well, I don't know. Why don't you give me one?"

The boy giggled and said, "how about Dr. FeelGood? That's what you're suppose to do! Make people feel good."

"I'll take that under advisement, young man." The doctor grabbed his medical tricorder. "Would you mind if I ran some tests on you? Won't hurt a bit."

"Promise?"

"You have my word."

After learning that B'Elanna's stone was missing, Harry expected not to be able to find his own. Yet it was right where he left it on the top shelf in his closet. Had someone stolen B'Elanna's stone? He could not think of a reason why anyone would want to.

He turned toward Seven of Nine, who had accompanied him to his quarters. "I still have my stone. Let's take it down to geology and get it analyzed."

Although the geological tests did not appear to prove anything significant, they immediately reported to the bridge with their findings. The captain read their report with no amount of amazement. Indeed, she admitted that they were not gaining any ground as the doctor's report also came in. Jeremy was not only a healthy three-year old boy, but his quantum signature was also in sink with this universe. He belonged here as much as anyone else aboard Voyager.

"Shall we assume the Immibi are lying to us, Captain?" Harry asked.

"Hold on," Janeway replied. "We still have at least one more piece to this puzzle." She walked around to the security station. "Mr. Tuvok, have you finished analyzing the information from the probe."

"Indeed," the Vulcan responded, coming to full attention. "The anomaly is spreading at a rate of one million kilometers per hour. While we could easily out run it, it will still pose a threat to many sentient beings, who are not yet technologically advanced enough to battle it. For that reason, I recommend that we remain in this sector until we've exhausted all possible means of destroying the anomaly."

"Any ideas how we might go about doing that?"

Tuvok raised an eyebrow. "Not at this time."

"Formulate one soon," she ordered. "We have little more than fifteen hours before we make direct contact with the Immibi." She retreated to her Ready Room to contemplate their situation. After setting the data padd that Harry had given her on her desk, she went to her sofa to stare out the viewwindow. The anomaly still loomed a hundred thousand kilometers away. They would not be safely past it for another six hours.

After their duty shifts were over, Harry met Seven of Nine in Engineering. She and B'Elanna were still diligently tracking the progress of the anomaly, while tweeking ship's systems in order to maintain present speed. In the past hour, they had discovered that the anomaly's rate of growth was steadily increasing.

"Go ahead," B'Elanna told Seven, not even looking away from the panel she was working from. "I can handle the situation."

"What about you?" Seven countered. "You have a son to go home to."

Finally, B'Elanna did look away from her console. "You're right, but if we don't learn how to stop this mass, we may have no Voyager!"

Grasping B'Elanna gently by the arm, Harry said, "You've been at this for hours. You need a rest. Seven and I can monitor the situation, while you relax and have dinner with your family. When you return, you'll be able to approach it with a clearer head."

"You're right," she conceded and backed away from the console. "But I won't be long. Both of you need your rest, too."

Once the chief engineer had left, Harry wrapped his arms around Seven's waist and nuzzled his chin against her neck. "I've wanted to do this all day!" he admitted. For a moment, they remained like that until the console began beeping a warning. Seven rushed over to monitor the situation. "What is it?"

"The anomaly's growth rate has increased again by more than 10,000 kilometers per hour. If it continues, the anomaly will reach the first inhabited planet in forty-seven hours."

"This may sound kind of crazy, but I keep getting this weird feeling that this has something to do with the last wish I made."

"You believe your phasing stone caused this? How?"

"I'm not sure. I wished that I could prove my courage and loyalty. I thought maybe if Tom saw that I was willing to risk my life for the crew, he'd forgive me. But then B'Elanna's stone disappeared. If I'm suppose to destroy this anomaly, I don't see how." Suddenly, Seven's expression grew distant. "Seven?"

"If the anomaly was created specifically for the purpose of being destroyed by you, then what if the only way to destroy it is by you making direct contact with it?"

"You mean take a shuttlecraft through it? If that could destroy it, then so could Voyager. No, there has to be something more. What?" For a long moment, they both thought silently about the puzzle. "The phasing stone itself! Seven, run a simulation. What would happen if the matter from the phasing stone collided with the anomaly?"

Bringing up the recent data on each, Seven inputed the suggested scenario, and they both watched as the simulated stone and anomaly destroyed one another. "How is that possible?" Seven of Nine questioned.

"Run a matter comparison of the two." To their amazement, the two matters completely superimposed one another when one was flipped. "They're the exact opposite of one another," Harry concluded. He tapped his commbadge. "Kim to the captain."

"Janeway here."

"Seven and I believe we have discovered a way to destroy the anomaly."

With less than an hour left before they reached the end of the current span of the anomaly, the senior staff regrouped for another meeting. The captain allowed Harry to speak first.

"I discovered, with Seven's help, that the anomaly and my phasing stone are made up of the opposite matter." He raised his hand to show that he was holding on to his stone and then set it on the table. "We believe that if they were to come into contact with one another, they would destroy each other."

"How is it possible that the stone has anything to do with this anomaly?" Tom asked. He seemed to be directing the question at B'Elanna.

Harry held his breath, hoping she wouldn't tell her husband too much. He suspected that this was his one chance for redeeming himself.

"I think the anomaly is my stone," B'Elanna replied. "Or at least what used to be my stone."

"So let's beam Harry's stone into the anomaly and see what happens," Chakotay suggested.

No one had any objections or counter suggestions, so Janeway ordered it to be carried out. "First, however, I want to contact the Immibi," Janeway added. "They are drawing near the anomaly as well and deserve to know how we plan to try to stop it."

After they returned to the bridge, Harry hailed the other ship. Barin responded immediately.

"Captain Janeway, have you news of the anomaly?"

"Yes Barin, we believe that it was created from one of the phasing stones your people gave two of my crew members. We're going to beam the remaining stone into the anomaly. It has the opposite mass and we're hoping--"

"Wait! That won't work. If your crew member was in possession of the stone when the wish was granted, then he must be present to carry it out. You see, the stone alters its mass depending on the bearer."

"If I send my officer in a shuttlecraft to destroy the anomaly, what are the odds that he would make it back alive?"

"I'm afraid that answer lies beyond my prediction capabilities. Without understanding the specific wish that was made and all variables involved, any answer I could provide you with would be mere conjecture."

The captain appeared strained and indecisive. Harry knew that she wanted to try an alternate strategy, but he also knew that nothing else would work. This was the phasing stone's warped interpretation of his wish, and only he could see it to its end. Stepping up to Janeway, he addressed her. "Captain, when I signed up for Starfleet, I understood that there would be risks involved, and I knew that if the time ever came to risk my life for the lives of the crew, I'd do it in a heartbeat. Please, let me take this chance."

As Janeway glanced sideways at Chakotay, Harry also noticed that Tom had swivelled in his chair to look in their direction. Was he imagining the look of concern on Tom's face? Maybe his wish could work out as he had hoped.

Janeway nodded. "All right, Harry. Prepare a shuttlecraft for launching."

As Harry launched the shuttlecraft and watched the anomaly loom ever closer, he began to question what he was doing. What if this doesn't work? The phasing stone will be destroyed, and I will be dead. Dead. His mind told him to turn back, but instinct told him to plunge forward.

Then his internal war ended as he entered the mass, and a new battle waged itself.

Harry heard Captain Janeway paging him over the commlink. Desperately, he tried to reply. A million needles pricked his skin. One moment, he heard himself screaming against muffled ears, and in the next, he slipped into unconsciousness.

After Harry did not answer her third call, Janeway turned to face her tactical officer. Understanding the captain's silent order, Tuvok responded, "He is still alive." He cocked his head in his characteristic manner. "However, he is unconscious."

"The anomaly?" Janeway asked.

All eyes were on the Vulcan. B'Elanna was holding her hands behind her back, hoping no one could see how tense she was. Even Tom's face looked strained with worry.

Raising an eyebrow as he ran long-range scanners, Tuvok informed them, "The mass is shrinking at a rate of nearly five-thousand kilometers per second. Although the danger has past for us and any other sentient lifeforms in the outlining area, Mr. Kim is in need of immediate medical treatment."

"Can we tractor beam the shuttlecraft in?" Chakotay asked.

Tuvok studied his readings for a couple seconds before answering. "That might be possible in another forty-five minutes when the anomaly has dissipated."

"By then Harry could be dead," came Tom and B'Elanna was actually moved by how heartfelt his tone sounded. Was Harry getting his wish, to be forgiven by Tom, only to die in the process?

"I agree," the captain said. "Can you beam him out?"

"Negative." The Vulcan tried anyway. "The mass is interfering with our transporter beam."

Suddenly, Tom stood from his station and against protocol approached the command center. "Captain, I could fly a shuttlecraft into the anomaly and have Harry beamed directly over and warp out in a matter of seconds."

"Give me one good reason to risk the life of yet another member of my crew," Janeway demanded.

"I'm the best pilot you got." B'Elanna stepped up to Tuvok's station and leaned against the railing. She was worried about her husband taking such a risk, but she nodded her approval. "I'm Harry's only chance....and I believe I owe it to him."

Janeway again turned for the advice of her first officer. "I believe he can do it, and I think you have enough confidence in Paris to know that as well."

Nodding, Janeway again addressed her helms officer. "Have the doctor issue you a medical kit." "Aye Captain," Tom said as he moved toward the turbolift."

"And Tom," the captain added. The lieutenant stopped just outside the lift, "come back in one piece. That's an order."

"Yes ma'am."

Dizzy. Head pounding. Where am I? He felt someone touching him, lifting him, but he could not respond. "Harry, can you hear me?" Tom! How did he get here?

Slowly, Harry's head cleared, and he began to remember the details that had brought him to his present state. As he Blinked his eyes several times, his surroundings came into focus. Tom was crouched over him, running a medical tricorder over him. "Tom?"

"Hush," Tom answered, placing an oxygen mask over Harry's face. Don't waste what little strength you have left. Your oxygen supply has been inadequate since you entered the anomaly, but you're going to be fine. We're going to beam over to the other shuttle, because it has more breathable air. I think I can manage to pull this one out with a tractor beam and still get us safely back to Voyager." He tapped his commbadge. "Computer, two to beam over to shuttlecraft 6."

After Tom had expertly maneuvered both shuttlecraft out of the anomaly and Harry's head had cleared a bit more, several nagging questions ran through Harry's mind. Had he accomplished anything by this stunt? Did Tom's appearance mean that he had forgiven his friend? Where was his phasing stone? He brought his hand to his neck and was startled to find it bare. Had both phasing stones now been destroyed?

"Shuttlecraft 6 to Voyager," Tom said. "We are ready to come aboard."

"Acknowledged."

Tom turned to his friend and smiled. "I'm sorry. I've been rather pig-headed. You risked your life out there for the crew, and for that I'm grateful."

"So did you. You could have just let me die out there."

"Nah. I'm a pilot. And I like taking risks. How else can I be treated as a hero, except when I return from a daring mission without a scratch." A silly grin formed on his face. "You're a hero, too Harry, and I'll never let anyone forget that."

They landed inside the shuttlebay, and Tom opened the hatch. Offering his friend an arm for support, they both stepped out of the small craft.

Two minutes later, they entered the bridge. Harry still felt a bit woozy, but insisted that he had to find out what was happening with the anomaly before reporting to Sickbay.

"The anomaly is continuing to dissipate," Tuvok reported, "currently, at a rate of over 20,000 kilometers per second. There is no longer any danger."

"Then I did it!" Harry exclaimed.

"Captain, there is something else you should be made aware of." The Vulcan raised his eyebrow in his casual, nonplused manner. "The Immibi ship has disappeared. If I may offer my own conjecture, I would postulate that the destruction of the anomaly brought them back into sink with our time."

"You believe it was they who were out of time," Chakotay concluded.

"Indeed."

"I'll accept that assumption," the captain said. Her expression turned more personable as she faced her ops officer. "Harry, how are you feeling?"

He started to respond that he felt fine, ready to take his station, but another dizzy spell came over him and he found himself forced to lean against Tom.

"Tom, escort Ensign Kim to Sickbay."

"Aye captain," Tom responded as he led Harry toward the turbolift.

"Ah finally, you grace me with your appearance," the doctor said as Tom and Harry stepped inside Sickbay. He made direct eye contact with Harry. "After one is rendered unconscious, one should take their medical needs seriously. On the biobed." He pointed to the closest bed. "Up! Up!"

"I examined him on the shuttlecraft," Tom informed the doctor. "His oxygen supply was extremely low for several minutes, but I believe if he just gets lots of rest, he'll be fine."

"Thank you, Nurse Paris," the doctor said sarcastically. "Now if you would allow me to examine my patient for myself."

Tom obliged by stepping out of the way, yet he did not go too far. Harry wanted to tell Tom thank you; not for rescuing him or for taking him to Sickbay, but for finally understanding. He was too weak and tired, though, and he imagined Tom knew how he felt anyway. It felt good to be back in synch with his friend and he believed that the relationship between them would mend itself.

After completing the scan of his patient, the doctor said, "No permanent damage was done. I want you to remain in Sickbay for the next three or four hours, but I don't want you returning to active duty before tomorrow. In the meantime, get plenty of rest." He glanced at Tom, silently acknowledging that the lieutenant's diagnosis had been accurate. "Mr. Paris, you did an excellent job attending to the patient before he could be brought to me."

"It was more luck than skill, Doc," Tom responded.

"Nonsense. Would you object if I asked the captain to appoint you as my new medical technician?"

"You want me to take over Kes' job!"

"Other than myself, you are the one on board with the most medical training. With a little mentoring from your's truly, you would make a fine medical officer."

Harry strained to say something, and Tom stepped up to his friend and leant toward him to hear. "Go for it," Harry said.

"Well, if Harry thinks I'm the man for the job, then how could I possibly refuse? I accept your offer, Doc. I only hope that I can prove that my skills are half as good as my luck. With the friends I have, I certainly couldn't be any luckier."

Smiling, Harry closed his eyes to rest. He had everything he could possibly want; good friends, a new lover. They were his family out her in the Delta Quadrant far from home. What more could he possibly wish for?

*****END*****

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