"Masques" by J.A. Toner   NC-17,  J/P, J/C, P/T
 

Title:  "Masques"
Author:  J.A. Toner
Series:  Voyager
Rating:  NC-17
Codes:  J/P, J/C, P/T
Sequel to:  Part of the projected "Triangles" story sequence

Summary:  Several years after *Voyager* returns to the Alpha Quadrant, Kathryn Janeway considers the roads not taken.

Disclaimer:  Yes, Paramount/Viacom. You own them all. I'm telling a story, borrowing the characters and some of the stories, just to see where certain possibilities might lead. What Paramount doesn't care to claim, I do.

This story was inspired by Marianne, who likes J/P stories as well as P/T ones. This is the only way I could write one, and it's ended up with a bit of J/C, too. Forgive me.

Thanks to the PTFever mail list, especially pjinnh, for advice and comments on this story.
 

=^=
 

Masques
by J.A. Toner
 

Whenever I think of him, I also think of her. That day in the resort, when I saw them together, burned the two of them into my memory as one unit that I was sure could never be broken.

I had helped bring them together. I should have been happy for them. And really, I think I was happy for them. I know I told myself I was.

If only that hollow feeling hadn't been there, inside the pit of my stomach--that feeling that I'd lost something precious, even though it had never been mine to lose. And by feeling that way, I lost something else equally precious that was mine to lose.

I'm not saying this very well. I'm sure Chakotay could tell the story far better than I, but it isn't his story.

Perhaps I should just begin again. Really, I'm usually well organized when I choose to tell a story; but when it comes to Tom Paris, I can't seem to be as crisply efficient as I usually am. Perhaps it's a matter of the story reflecting the man.

=^=

The first time I met him face to face, I wasn't expecting much.

Perhaps that isn't completely truthful. I had a preconceived notion about what he would be like, and my demeanor probably reflected that. I had read his file. I knew his potential. I knew what he had done. All that promise, wasted! So there I was, in my prim professional bun and Starfleet uniform, and there he was.

The traitor.

A very handsome, well-built traitor, to be sure--Tom Paris, cashiered Starfleet officer, ex-bum, ex-Maquis. Each stage had been worse than the last. He'd plunged to earth faster than a meteorite, once his fall began.

His father had always predicted his son would be a great man. He was always lavishing praise about his only son to any of us who would listen. What an ungrateful young man this was, I'd thought, to throw away all of his advantages and talents, to thumb his nose at his father's ideals. It certainly didn't help that I couldn't expunge from my mind the image of the impish towhead with the angelic face from the picture his father kept on his desk. It sickened me to have to come to him for aid. As soon as he opened his mouth, I felt even worse. That sleazy, unrepentant attitude he had--that cockiness. Surely, this was the last man in the galaxy I would care to be beholden to, but I had no choice. I needed to find Tuvok. There simply wasn't anyone else to ask.

I didn't yet know how to see through the opaque masks guarding the heart of Tom Paris to see what was hiding there. He could be a magician that way, with a very unique sleight-of-hand technique: flashing a brilliant smile and a sarcastic attitude, Tom would keep his vulnerable soul hidden. It could only be glimpsed occasionally--now you see it, now you don't. Mostly, don't.

It was only later I learned that the boy Tom never had the privilege of learning that his father had been proud of his accomplishments, the way everyone at Starfleet Headquarters had. He'd heard his father's expectations, yes, but never the acknowledgment that he'd actually met any of them. There was always more for Tom to do, another skill to master, another fact to learn, another step on the road to becoming another of the illustrious line of admirals bearing the name of Paris. His father didn't want him to ease up before reaching the prize. Perhaps that was the reason the prize slipped away out of reach. I wish I had known that then. At least I would have understood him better, from the beginning. I may have treated him a bit differently.

When he looked up at me that first time, with the warm New Zealand sun highlighting his aristocratic cheekbones, he didn't look to be all that much older than in the picture on his father's desk. He had that same baby face, although the years had contoured it into the visage of a man. It was impossible to miss the hardness in his eyes, however, the wariness that comes from being disappointed too many times in life--and Tom was barely twenty-seven years old!

Although I offered him the chance to leave prison and become an observer (actually, the chance to be an informer), Tom had the nerve to whine that I was making a mistake when I told him he wasn't going to be allowed to pilot my starship! The gall of the man! I almost changed my mind about offering him a way out of the penal colony right then.

And yet, when we were walking along a path, he picked up a bit of trash lying on the ground, discarding it later in an appropriate receptacle. It was curious behavior for someone with anti-social tendencies; I recognized that even at the time. The contradictory nature of Tom Paris was already asserting itself. I found myself hoping that this bad boy might be able to redeem himself, to some extent, by going with me to the Badlands to find his "friends" in the Maquis. Perhaps, when his next outmate review took place, he would be able to make a fresh start. Starfleet would be out of the question, of course, but perhaps I could guide him to some useful occupation. He might even qualify for being a civilian pilot, if he did well. I would have been willing to recommend him--I just didn't want him piloting my starship.

How ironic! By the time his next outmate review took place, Tom was declared "missing, presumed dead," as were we all. I was the only one who knew that in fact he had been able to start over, in the Delta Quadrant, and as the chief conn officer of *Voyager*.

When the displacement wave hit *Voyager* and shook us around the way a dog would shake a toy, while we investigated the situation at the Caretaker's Array, when he entered the tunnels on Ocampa and, at the risk of his own life, saved Chakotay after Chakotay had called Tom a traitor--at every critical juncture, the bad boy proved his worth. Then, as later, he settled for nothing less than playing the hero, even if wise remarks were an integral part of his *modus operandi*. It was as unexpected as it was gratifying. That Starfleet training coming through, I remember thinking. Habit, ingrained from his Academy days, seemed strong enough to overcome even Tom Paris' personal demons.

How naïve I was to think it was only training, although surely that played a part. That hidden heart of Thomas Eugene Paris, I later realized, was the key. That, and having someone who believed in him who let him know about his successes, not just his failures.

Strangely enough, the two on *Voyager* who seemed to be the most naïve of us of all were the ones who believed in Tom first. Harry Kim and Kes both saw what I didn't, or perhaps refused, to see from the beginning. Harry became his friend even when Tom warned him away. Kes accepted Tom's admiration with a pure heart. She never allowed his feelings for her to became more than a schoolboy's crush. In fact, I doubt he was ever the relentlessly pursuing Lothario his reputation would suggest. The only relationship Tom ever had in those early days to which I can attest for certain was with Megan Delaney. Somehow, she saw through him, too. Truthfully, the playboy the crew spoke of was more a construct of gossip than observation.

I succumbed to that gossip myself. For too long a long time, all I saw was Tom Paris, the arrogant flirt, with his engaging grin, self-deprecating sarcasm, and sly tongue. Shallow, even if he was beautiful and heroic. Of course, that's what Tom wanted us all to see. He flirted with me, and I flirted back, neither of us meaning anything by it.

This was, after all, the man who built a French club to share with a crew who almost uniformly hated him, populating it with a gigolo, a pool shark and a couple of rather trampy women who draped themselves around his neck. It was so easy to see the "pig," as B'Elanna had called him to his face that first night in *Sandrine's*, when one of his creations made advances to her. Why didn't I see how this fantasy filled up the emptiness in his life? He'd created a place where Tom Paris would be welcome, where the bar denizens would be happy to see him, since almost no one on *Voyager* was. I took what he gave us at face value. *Sandrine's* was charming, just like its creator. The pain beneath the levity escaped me.

Of course, I wasn't alone in missing what now is obvious to me. B'Elanna Torres saw even less in Tom in those days than I did. B'Elanna had no use at all for him, preferring to go to Seska, and to a lesser extent, Harry Kim, when she wanted company off duty.

I, at least, thought of him as someone to salvage. Perhaps Kathryn Janeway would be the one to bring Owen Paris' prodigal son home and return him to the place in society he had seemingly forfeited forever. Tom didn't make it easy. Getting involved with that Liddell woman. Fighting with Neelix in the messhall. He could try the patience of a saint, which was something I never claimed to be.

It never occurred to me, back then, that I could have any feelings for him other than that of a mentor for her protégé.

Of course, with my nights spent worrying about being attacked by the Kazon or having our bodies carved up by the Vidiians, at the beginning of our journey I even managed to keep Mark out of my mind most of the time. Starfleet protocols clearly prohibited any romantic relationships between a captain and a member of her crew, even though, historically, many male captains have had few scruples about ignoring these strictures when they had needs they wished fulfilled. I was not one to set aside those protocols, despite the desperate, clearly unique situation into which we'd been tossed. Rather than a saint, I preferred to be the Good Mother to my crew. As time when on, however, I came to be called something less flattering.

=^=

Although Tom had become a valuable member of my senior staff shortly after we began our trek through the Delta Quadrant, the first time most of the rest of the crew could see him in a truly positive light was after the Vidiians captured Tom and B'Elanna, along with Peter Durst. A Vidiian medical researcher transformed B'Elanna into two beings, one wholly Klingon, the other completely human. Klingon B'Elanna was accidentally killed by the scientist, although her body was returned to *Voyager*. Poor Lieutenant Durst was carved into medical treatments for the Phage. Only Tom and the human B'Elanna returned to us alive.

Since she couldn't survive without it, B'Elanna had to be treated by the Doctor with her dead Klingon doppelganger's DNA, even though she would have much preferred to remain human-looking. During her recuperation, B'Elanna told us how Tom had been a source of support and strength to her in her weakened and divided state. Telling us this was almost superfluous, however, because everyone could see him do the same thing during her recovery. Despite his own aversion to sickbay, Tom spent almost all of his off duty time with her, keeping her company, regaling her with silly stories, and perhaps most importantly, telling her that she was "looking better and better" as her Klingon heritage resculpted her face to its former shape. When the treatments had reached the stage where she admitted to him that she was "back to my old ugly self," he told her, "No, B'Elanna, you're much more beautiful this way." The Doctor told me this afterwards. It was the first time since he'd begun to treat her that he'd seen B'Elanna smile.

They were friends after that. Oh, she'd tease him sometimes, still roll her eyes at his wisecracks in meetings in the conference room, but there was an underlying warmth between them that I perceived could develop into something more. When Tom volunteered to rescue her from the robot ship, I wasn't surprised. He was always volunteering to go to the rescue, of course, but this time there was more vehemence in his voice. B'Elanna needed his help.

It was always that way, really. Since Tom clearly was the best pilot on the ship, he was usually the logical choice for such actions. Besides, I wanted him to be the hero. It was part of my grand master plan to return him permanently to Starfleet. When we returned to the Alpha Quadrant, if his record were glittering enough, surely Tom would be allowed to reclaim his career. All those heroic deeds and accomplishments would permit his father to be just as proud of his only son as he'd always expected to be.

=^=

The Warp 10 Project. When Tom, Harry and B'Elanna had proposed it, I'd let them pursue it. Why not? Who could predict what avenue would yield the key to our returning home and my returning home to Mark? It didn't appear likely to go anywhere, but I was willing to give it a shot. Sometimes hope was in the shortest supply of any of the commodities we needed to keep *Voyager* running, and the trio's experiments provided that precious emotion to the crew. That they would succeed in their experiments and actually build a craft capable of flying Warp 10 was beyond my wildest dreams.

When they reported their success and I gave the go ahead for the test flight, Tom looked just like the little kid whose picture used to be on Owen Paris' desk. I couldn't help feeling that I'd given him something precious. I was proud of that moment.

Later, I had to go to his quarters to rescind my permission after the EMH found medical irregularities which he felt precluded Tom's being the test pilot. I felt terrible. I knew I was stealing away Tom's chance to redeem himself in his own eyes--more important, in the long run, than pleasing his father would be. I had no choice in the matter. I couldn't let him jeopardize his life when someone else could pilot the experimental craft.

I didn't count on how eloquently the man can beg. I knew Tom would gladly give his life if it meant that he could be the hero again, and I wanted to give him that chance. By the time he was finished with his plea, the risks really didn't seem all that great to me. I allowed those breathtaking blue eyes of his to seduce me into giving him the permission to go. I tell myself now it was only that I'd spent enough time away from Mark to be swayed by Tom's sincerity, believing that if he succeeded, we could all get home soon. I told myself it was his boyish enthusiasm to do a great thing that I was responding to, but let me be honest. There may have been a boyish quality in his pitch to me, but I was also very much aware of the man wearing a blue terry robe and nothing much else underneath. I have no illusions about that. Kathryn the woman responded to Tom's physical presence, even though she was too foolish to acknowledge it at the time.

So he went. He was successful, but something happened to change him. The experiment was a success, to recoin a phrase, but the experimenter still died.

I was sure that by allowing myself to be swayed from what I knew was the proper decision, I had cost Tom his life. As devastating as that was to me, I found that B'Elanna was even more crushed by losing him than I was. She blamed herself for building the craft that killed him and flagellated herself for it. That's when I realized just how much Tom had come to mean to her.

Chakotay told me he'd never seen her cry, ever, despite all the awful things they'd seen as Maquis, until she came into sickbay to view Tom's body. We tried to dissuade her, but B'Elanna has always been difficult to persuade from doing anything she's convinced she must do. I asked myself how much could it hurt for her to say good-bye to the man who had become her good friend. Now I see that even that early, he'd become more to her in her heart, though it was over a year before she could bring herself to tell him what he meant to her. She did get that chance to tell him eventually, of course, thanks to a totally unpredictable course of events.

We know now that to go Warp 10 without the protection of a transwarp conduit amounts to a suicidal act. The stresses on the mitochondria from being everywhere at the same time are simply too much for them to remain stable. Chaotic cell division takes place. Dormant DNA becomes activated and causes the cells to mutate, not as a cancer does, but in evolution run wild. Tom Paris became a martyr to that process. The irregularities in his brainwaves, it turned out, had had nothing to do with his demise or his mutation into another life form.

Even as B'Elanna was crying over his corpse, changes were happening on the cellular level that would bring him back to us, but metamorphosed into a monster, a monster who kidnapped me, carried me away to a primitive planet, and somehow managed to reproduce with me in an obscenely short amount of time. After we'd been rescued and reconstituted back to our regular forms, he had the grace to apologize for kidnapping me and mating with me. I made a joke of it. The female often initiates mating, I reminded him. At the very least, she usually permits it to occur. I doubted very much Tom was guilty of lizard rape. Lizard love, though? Who knew if that were even possible?

Looking back on this incident now, I know that if there is one thing I would like to remember that I know I never will, it is the act that created those lizard babies Tuvok and Chakotay found in the swamp with us. The one time in her lifetime that Kathryn Janeway conceived offspring, and I couldn't recall making love! Oh, maybe I just laid eggs and he squirted over them--it happens that way in amphibian species on Earth. I prefer to think not, however. I would rather dream of scaly flesh uniting from instinct and, hopefully, something more--because of an irresistible attraction that transcended transformation into an entirely new species.

However those babies were created, I wasn't too shameless to use what transpired between Tom and I for my own ends. He was embarrassed enough by what had happened to go along with my plans. I used his gratitude that he'd been returned to his own body, his need to be the hero, to get him to agree to act like a malcontent to flush out a traitor. The man who had himself been branded a traitor in the Alpha Quadrant, who everyone once thought was an untrustworthy failure, was the perfect choice for the job.

And he *was* perfect in the role. Fortunately, I'd realized by that time what a consummate actor Tom was.

But I still wonder at the cost.

=^=

He slipped back so easily into that cocky attitude he'd once used to protect himself, it was like it was his true personality, not an acting job. Insolent, always on the edge of insubordination, sloppy in dress and in his duties, he drew Chakotay's ire at every turn. Had Tuvok and I not known the truth, I think I would have wanted to throw him in the brig myself. Michael Jonas was duped as completely as Chakotay was.

So, unfortunately, were B'Elanna, Harry, Kes, and Neelix. The latter three still believed in Tom no matter what, although they were exasperated by his antics. B'Elanna was a different story. When she reached out to him, trying to help him, it was far more challenging for Tom to continue playing his role than it had been with anyone else, even Harry. What made it all the more stressful was the timing: B'Elanna was distraught and guilty about arming Dreadnought, which was now endangering an innocent world, yet even while the two of them were working on solving that problem, she took the time to encourage him to come to his senses before he ruined the life he'd built for himself on *Voyager*. Tom wanted to return the favor and comfort her, too, but the best he could do was say she'd adapted better than he ever expected she could. It wasn't enough, and he knew it; but to stay in character, in the role he was playing, he couldn't say more.

Right after that, when he was allegedly getting a "dressing down" in my ready room for his behavior but was actually reporting about the progress of his investigation, there was more talk about B'Elanna than report. He agonized over having to lie to her when she needed him to be her friend. I'd seen how heartbroken B'Elanna had been when he'd "died" only weeks before. The potential loss of her friendship hurt him deeply. The pain she was feeling was just as palpable as his from the way he described their talk. Tom was afraid that she wouldn't forgive him when he got back to *Voyager*, even when she learned the truth about his undercover mission. I reassured him all would be well soon, that our plan was working perfectly. What else could I do?

After he left, I was the one who agonized. After he got back! There were no guarantees that Tom would survive this mission. What made it even worse for me was the easy way everyone had swallowed Tom's transformation back to the pig, without questioning why the man who'd become quite the exemplary officer should backslide so suddenly and so completely. He'd done everything I'd wanted him to do, but so perfectly I had to question whether what I'd done by asking it of Tom was fair to him. Any Starfleet officer knows that death can strike a crewman performing a duty ordered by his captain, but if Tom were killed while everyone thought he was back to being the unprincipled screw-up he'd been before he came to *Voyager*, I would never have forgiven myself. No hero's eulogy could have made up for the pain I'd caused Tom--or B'Elanna--for making her think her friend had been less honorable a man than he had become.

That last night before he was to join the Talaxian convoy may have been the lowest point for both of us. I was in the mess hall when B'Elanna screamed at him that if he was such an ungrateful bastard he couldn't see people cared about him, Tom *should* go. I think I was the only one who saw the pain fill his eyes when she stalked away from him. Even Harry seemed to miss it.

I thought about calling Tom to my quarters afterwards, to comfort him. "To try to talk him out of it one last time"--that would have been a reasonable cover story for us, I thought; but I let it stand. He spent what might have been his last evening on *Voyager*--or for all we knew then, one of his last evenings alive--on the holodeck, doing God only knows what.

The Kazon took the bait, and Tom gained the information we needed. Neelix managed to uncover the truth, too. Perhaps Tom hadn't needed to risk his life off *Voyager* at all; it's hard for me to say, now. We caught our spy. Michael Jonas was the one who lost his life; Tom came back alive. B'her na forgave him. It all ended just the way I'd reassured Tom it would--luckily for him as well as for me.

Finding out that he'd been made a fool of so that I could smoke out a traitor drove a wedge between my first officer and me, however. From his pained reaction to Tom's deception, I feared Chakotay would never trust me again.

=^=

Insect bites. Who would have thought that something as insignificant as an insect might bring about a total rapprochement with Chakotay--while seemingly ending any chance either of us had of getting home? For over two months, the only thing on my mind was finding a cure so that Chakotay and I could return to our crew and *Voyager*,

I was confident that whatever illness we had contracted from an insect bite would yield to my scientific acumen. Chakotay was resigned to our fate, it seemed, preparing our dwelling for a lifetime on New Earth. I couldn't understand why he wasn't as filled with zeal to find a cure as I was.

Now, of course, I see perfectly. Chakotay's home was never Earth. While he may have wanted to return to the Alpha Quadrant for the sake of the crew as a whole, he was always equally open to whatever else fate might bring. He wanted us to get home, but he was never as rigid about where home might be as I was. It was just the same when we encountered the Borg. Finding a nice planet and building a home there for all of us would have satisfied him perfectly. I was the one obsessed at getting us home to the Alpha Quadrant.

Sometimes now I wish I could have accepted such an outcome. At the time, it was out of the question. I had promised the crew I would get them home or die trying. In the end, too many of them ended up dying. I went on living, with the blood of every one of the dead on my conscience.

On New Earth, however, after our equipment was destroyed in the storm, I knew that we could never expect to leave that planet and return in triumph to *Voyager*. I would never keep my promise to the crew. I was devastated. I was obsessed that they might go on to some ghastly fate I was now powerless to prevent. I thought of my mentor's son and wondered what sort of reception he would get, now that I wasn't going to be there. I worried about the reception all the crew, especially the Maquis, might get without Chakotay and I there. Truthfully, it was a painful time.

Chakotay kept me sane. Whether it was with back rubs or ancient legends about Angry Warriors pledging to follow a woman warrior--a story he just happened to make up as he went along--he was everything a man could be. My self-pity melted away when he took me into his arms and admitted that telling me that story made certain things easier to say.

We were going to spend the rest of our lives there, literally the only man and woman on the world of New Earth. My life as Captain Janeway and his as Commander Chakotay were gone forever. There were no more protocols for us to follow. Instead, we followed our hearts.

During the next few weeks, I was able to live the life my unrelenting quest to return to the Alpha Quadrant had denied my crew. Chakotay and I built our own micro-colony, even though we both knew it would die with us. We could not, in conscience, bring children into that world. If we were a few years younger, or if there were others there with us, perhaps. But if we died, we would have left our children to fend for themselves. What if we had had all boys? It was too late in our lives to populate that world from Adam/Chakotay and Eve/Kathryn. We accepted that.

We sometimes debated whether or not it would have been better for our crew if we had founded a colony. If we had given up on trying to get home early on in the journey, how many of the lost lives might we have saved?

I can never hope to get that question answered now. Life proceeds as we make our choices--but in the darkest part of the night, the faces of the dead haunt Admiral Janeway, the stickler for protocols and procedures (as long as it suits her). There's more of James Kirk than Admiral Picard in me, I regret to say.

While on New Earth, after the storm, there was none of that. There was only Kathryn and Chakotay. Our journey through the stars had ended. Any further explorations would be restricted to discovering the secrets of our newly adopted home planet. If that had been the way we'd spent the rest of our lives, I truly believe I could have been content.

Those days were the most peaceful of my life. Once acceptance of our fate came to us, thanks to Chakotay, we didn't wallow in our loss. I might have wallowed in it for a while. He wouldn't let me. Whether working side by side in the garden or tumbling every night into bed to lie in each other's arms, we forged a relationship that was beyond any I'd ever experienced, before or since. Chakotay was an incredibly sensitive and skilled lover, yet he was my best friend, too. Deeper bonds than those between mere lovers formed. I was certain that the pattern of my life would be intertwined with this man's forever. Any reservations I might have had at opening my soul so completely to him weren't even worth considering. Why bother? Who else was there?

We had just decided to build a boat to explore the river when we heard the message from Tuvok. We were stunned, not to mention angry at the crew for seeking out the Vidiians against my express orders. There was that one little detail that mitigated my rage. As soon as I'd turned the ship over to Tuvok, he was free to countermand any order of mine he saw fit. I might be angry, but Tuvok and our fine crew had succeeded where I had failed. They'd found the cure for our illness--and Chakotay and I were to be ripped away from the life we had begun to build with each other.

It was difficult to decide on what to bring back with us to *Voyager*. All the sophisticated technology had to come back with us, of course, but the bathtub and the dwelling could stay. While we could have recycled them to conserve resources, we decided to lesilethem for our monkey friend and his compatriots to share. I needed to know some trace of the two of us would remain in this place after we were gone.

When I admitted this to Chakotay, tears came to my eyes. I tried to stop them, but they rolled down my cheeks despite my efforts. He came to me, held me in his arms, and we almost lost our resolve. I truly believe that if we had yielded then to our impulse to make love to comfort each other, as we both wanted to do, our lives on *Voyager* would have been very different. If we had become lovers "one last time," could we have stopped ourselves from "just once" on the ship? And then "just once more?" I doubt it. The way I held to protocol forever was by never giving in.

Would the crew have understood about us? Probably. But I couldn't do it, and when it came right down to it, neither could Chakotay--not then. We agreed that our life on New Earth was our own private oasis of time, an exotic idyll, almost a sort of shore leave, but that it shouldn't be repeated as long as we were captain and first officer. While we admitted that someday we might feel differently, we both accepted our return with the same, and perhaps greater, grace than we had our exile.

It was difficult. We had agreed to reserve the right to change our minds, particularly if our journey went on for many years more, and there were times I wavered. When we actually *did* get back to Earth, but to the 20th century instead of the 24th, and Chakotay complimented me on my legs . . . it was a good thing we were on a mission and couldn't take off any time for ourselves. I might have convinced myself I'd kept my promise enough to bend. So many times when we fought, when I touched him on the chest and he would flash those dimples of his at me so I couldn't be angry any more . . . so many times, I almost gave in. I never did. I refused to back down on my principles. Rules exist for a reason.

Perhaps, if I could have looked ahead, I would have reconsidered .ld l. but no. That simply couldn't have happened. I was too self-disciplined for that. Too sure I was right about everything for that.

And I lost him. It took a while. Chakotay doesn't give up easily. Eventually, though, there came a time when other women turned his head. How could I force him to deny his own nature, just because I was so adamant at denying mine? It's not as if we both didn't know what we were missing! I would like to say that I was the stronger, but strength had nothing to do with it. I know it was simply the decision I had to make, being me.

In my bed, at night, when I'm alone now, I find that a cold comfort.  It is, however, the only way I can be. I've learned to accept that, too.

Sometimes I wish there had been a way I could have been other than I am. I can't. He was my first officer. It simply could not be. We resumed the roles that had been assigned to us by the Caretaker and fate.

Now, after so many years, I can say this. Thank God we had New Earth, even if it was for such a little while.

=^=

We'd barely returned to our routine on *Voyager* when we lost her again--almost setting up that colony Chakotay and I had mused about on New Earth. Losing *Voyager* to the Kazon, though--how bitter that would have been! And if we'd never left Hanon IV, Tom would have been lost to us, too. He helped us regain *Voyager*, playing the hero again with two most unlikely allies: the EMH and a murderous Betazoid. Lon Suder, who paid the ultimate price for his contribution to our salvation, is now one of those in the gallery of faces that haunts my sleep at night.

I was relieved Tom hadn't become another of those faces. I preferred his face at the conn, even if it meant putting up with his wisecracks and flirtatiousness.

I noted a difference in Tom after we were back on *Voyager*. Perhaps all those close calls, one right after the other, prompted him to reevaluate his life. One thing was plain: he'd decided to change one thing about his life. While Tom could still be counted upon for a steady stream of smart remarks, his flirting was reserved for one woman.

He hadn't chosen an easy mark. While Tom's reputation for a long time had seemed more illusion than fact, from then on, I strongly suspected that our supposed resident playboy had given away his heart. There were no more reports of Tom falling in love with the "girl of the week." The only one he courted was B'Elanna.

I enjoyed watching them dance around each other in the mess hall, in Sandrine's, in the resort. I admit it. Their attraction for each other was difficult to miss. Emotional sparks flew whenever they were in the same room. I thought they would combust if they got too close.

Ironically enough, the spark that pushed them together came from a Vulcan. Life is ever a surprise. So was the very idea of a Vulcan thinking that bonding with a half-human, half-Klingon was a good idea.

That look Chakotay shot at me when Tom signaled to us about trouble on the away mission almost made me choke. B'Elanna had bitten Tom. We both knew what that meant, even though Tom remained amazingly professional. At the time, of course, we knew nothing of Vorik's assault on B'Elanna before the away team had gone to the surface to find gallicite. After we learned of Vorik's *pon farr* and the ramifications for B'Elanna, it wasn't very funny at all. When Tom and B'Elanna became trapped in the mine shafts of the Sakari, I was concerned, but I was certain that with B'Elanna's life at stake, Tom would do what was necessary--and perhaps it would be better if they did. I already thought there could only be one way for them to resolve their feelings for one another.

I was correct about that, of course. I usually am. The timing was off by a smidgen, that's all, thanks to Ensign Vorik's interference. B'Elanna's life was saved without Tom having to "sacrifice" his body to her need. I thought he would be disappointed by that, but to my surprise, he wasn't. Years later, Tom told me he could have resolved B'Elanna's *pon farr* when they were trapped in the caves, before Vorik's arrival on the planet. He hadn't because he was afraid he would ruin their friendship if he did, destroying all the hopes he harbored for a future together by giving in to a moment's pleasure. Had I been privy to that then, I would have known just how sincere my helmsman's feelings for my chief engineer were. I often wonder now if knowing that then that might have made a difference in certain choices I was to make later.

I did see that from then on, it was only a matter of time for them. Whether they were sniping at each other at staff meetings, battling with batleths on the holodeck, or showing up in each other's arms after "keeping each other from freezing," Tom and B'Elanna's mutual attraction was obvious to everyone, not just me. I was amazed that both of them were too blind to see what was so clear to everyone else. In hindsight, I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised--I was just as blind when it came to Chakotay and myself.

I realize now why Tom and B'Elanna amused me so. They diverted me from thinking about my own situation, my reversion to being the most powerful--and the loneliest--person on *Voyager*. When it came to romance, I could only live vicariously, through others. I'd felt obligated to push the only viable alternative for myself away.

I will admit that whenever I was watching Tom and B'Elanna court and spark, I was struck by how beautiful Tom Paris was. I knew, of course, that it was totally out of the question for me to have any sort of personal relationship with him, but I won't deny now I was blind to another reason I wanted B'Elanna and Tom to be together--to avoid temptation. Again, that is something easier seen in hindsight.

=^=

The Borg. We knew we would meet them. The first time, we were lucky they weren't the formidable foe we anticipated. The second time, they were also less formidable than expected--but Species 8472 more than made up for it. *Voyager* survived, but just barely.

My relationship with my first officer almost didn't survive; it was strained to the breaking point. I gave him an order, expecting it to be obeyed, and he'd gone his own way. Of course, he was in command and had the right to countermand my orders as he saw fit, just as Tuvok had when he came back for us on New Earth. And if Chakotay had followed my orders to the letter, perhaps we would all have been assimilated--and Species 8472 may have overrun the galaxy. He made the choice to go against my express wishes, knowing fully what the consequences could be. I chose to resent him for doing what was, essentially, his right and duty.

Choices. Sometimes I hate them as much as temporal paradoxes.

Not only did we survive, we acquired a new crew member in the process. Turning a Borg into a functioning member of the crew was a challenge I gladly accepted, especially when we lost Kes so soon afterwards. Helping Seven helped me ignore the feelings of isolation that were even then threatening to overwhelm me. As entertaining as Master DaVinci was, I could only spend so much time in that holodeck program. I needed a living person with whom to relate. It had been a long time since New Earth, and I needed a "project" to keep me feeling alive.

I didn't realize that in so many words then, of course. I told myself that Seven needed my help, and Chakotay needed to cool down. I think now I had things exactly reversed. Seven would have been better off simply working with Harry Kim and the rest of the crew, learning to be human without a mother to nag her into adolescent rebellion.

Chakotay cooled down too much.

=^=

In most cases the changes were so gradual I think we might have missed them, even if we could have perceived what was happening with our normal senses. For someof the transformations, such as Chakotay's, the pace  was so sudden I would have thought it impossible had I not seen it with my ow evees. At that point, Chakotay's sudden aging hadn't started yet, however. The only clue available to me was what I myself was feeling.

My head had been pounding for almost a week before I decided to take steps of my own to see if I could rid myself of the ache. The analgesics the Doctor had supplied certainly hadn't done anything, any more than his sadistic massages were to help me in succeeding days. There was a very good reason none of the Doctor's treatments could help, of course, but that cause would not be revealed until Seven and the Doctor investigated the situation some days later.

A visit to the holodeck seemed to offer at least a chance of respite. Had the public program running that night been *Sandrine's*, I wouldn't have bothered. The *joie de vivre* of that atmosphere would have simply aggravated my headache. I knew; I'd tried that the previous night. On this particular evening, however, Neelix's resort program was running. In the past, an easy walk along the sea wall promenade had helped clear my head when I had a knotty problem to unravel. At the very least, the promenade had the virtue of being extremely quiet.

After my shift I slipped into comfortable off-duty wear and entered the program. Blowing past the bustle by the patio, I waved away holographic waiters and purposefully strode towards the walkway. And peace.

At first the easy stroll actually was something of a tonic. Because it was so quiet, there was nothing to aggravate the pain in my temples. That was a blessing in and of itself. Once I was on the walk, I saw only one other couple ahead of me. They turned back to the resort well before we reached the halfway point. I proceeded the rest of the way to the end of the path. Once I reached the bench at the peninsula tip, I tried to convince myself I was feeling a little better as I sat for a while to rest.

The programmed sea breeze was soothing to my spirit, if not my head. That still throbbed relentlessly. Since I was wearing loose slacks, a blouse, and simple sling back pumps, I was able to slip my shoes off and leave them under the bench while I walked down to the beach. I stood at the very end of the sea strand, staring out at the programmed ocean, feeling more than a bit sorry for myself. At the time, I presumed that the pain in my head was the reason for my melancholia.

I realize now that if they'd checked the computer, asking if anyone was further up the promenade, they would have gotten a negative reply. Computers can be so literal, after all. I was on the beach. I find it hard to believe they hadn't checked in their eagerness, but, then again, it's possible they acted strictly on impulse. It would be so like them.

As the late afternoon shadows lengthened towards evening, I walked back to the bench to retrieve my pumps and languidly strolled back up the walkway, shoes swinging in my hand. With the holodeck safeties engaged, there was very little likelihood I could do any damage to myself by walking barefoot, and after a long shift in my regulation-issue boots, I didn't want to deal with wearing even the most comfortable shoes.

My feet were virtually silent as I went up the path. They couldn't hear me, and even with my shoes on, I suspect they were so involved at that point they might have had trouble perceiving my approach. I will say this: they were quite well-hidden from view from the direction of the resort, screened by bushes and the slight overhang of the curving path above them. They were in plain sight from my direction, however, even though the fronds of foliage blocked their view of me quite well.

The tableau they presented stopped me in my tracks. My chief engineer and chief conn officer, bare-assed naked and in a very compromising position, lustily engaged in coitus. Tom was on his side lying behind B'Elanna's back, lifting up her left leg to give his genitals access to hers. They certainly didn't look very comfortable. It was an almost impossible position for them to achieve any true satisfaction, as far as I could tell. I couldn't see how they would remain joined if they moved even slightly.

In fact, they didn't stay that way for more than a few seconds. I may have caught them in a transition between positions. After a few seconds of giggling--giggling!--on B'Elanna's part and a hushed exchange that included, I'm quite certain, a "shh" from him, Tom slipped around to hover over B'Elanna and began to kiss her from her head to her toes and back again. B'Elanna responded by rubbing and licking Tom's body wherever she could reach. It was an exhibition of most creative foreplay, virtually a clinic in erotic techniques. Mouths and hands worked in concert as the two of them stoked their mutual passion, evoking muted responses from each other that were no less intense than loud cries might have been.

Up to this point, my observation of their activities could be explained away rather easily. I had only just caught sight of them. I was shocked and stunned that two of my senior officers should choose to share carnal pleasures in a public program while it was being frequented by other members of the crew. I could have said that the pounding of my head had so fogged my brain and disturbed my judgment, I didn't immediately grasp I needed to let them know I could see them. I could have called out a name as if I were greeting someone, providing them with enough time to pull something over themselves to disguise their nudity. For that matter, I was close enough so that a discreet cough would have alerted them to my presence, allowing them to cover up while I bent down to slip my shoes onto my feet to cover my embarrassment.

I *should* have called out *their* names to draw their attention to me, expressing indignation at their taking such liberties in what was, essentially, a public place. There were so many things I could have, should have done.

I did none of these things, nor did I do the most logical thing of all--simply to retreat silently back down the pathway until I was far enough away not to see or hear them. The bench was still at the end of the walkway, awaiting me. It would be dark enough soon so that even if I did come by while they were still indulging themselves, I could act like I couldn't see them. Although the seawall backing the promenade at this point of the peninsula was rocky and raised so far above the waters that I couldn't safely clamber up and go around that way--they'd surely hear me--the beach itself was broad. I could walk at the edge of the water, my attention drawn out to sea (literally!) so that I could pretend to be unaware of them.

Instead, I'm ashamed to say, the captain of the U.S.S. *Voyager* stood mesmerized and watched her helmsman and chief engineer put on a most skilled and impressive display. They'd obviously been practicing diligently since their affair began several weeks before, after they'd almost died on the Klingon Day of Honor. They were grabbing and pulling at the other's flesh enthusiastically when they weren't stroking, kissing, or nuzzling each other. B'Elanna was especially demanding, directing Tom with small sighs and movements of her hands on his to pleasure her in very specific ways. Always, he complied with her requests with a tenderness and delicacy of touch that I recognized immediately from the manner in which those long, expressive fingers fluttered over the helm console.

I remember thinking, perhaps to distract myself from this performance of erotica that I was watching, that this might be the reason good pilots are so frequently rumored to be expert lovers. From my own experience with Justin, I couldn't discount the notion. Was playing with a woman's body like it was an exquisite musical instrument, coaxing out the full range of her body's expressiveness, the equivalent of steering a starship? Was Tom bringing B'Elanna to ecstasy with the same matchless skills and delicate touch he used to wheel *Voyager* about in evasive maneuvers during an attack?

Certainly, from the evidence my eyes drank in that evening, Tom's reputation as a fantastic lover was fully deserved. But if an exhibition of Tom's techniques as a lover was all that I was observing that night, I think I could have pulled myself together and reacted in a more appropriate way than by simply staring at them. In my own defense, I must say that what I saw was not Tom's having his way with just another conquest. I could see Tom was using those wonderful hands of his to tame B'Elanna, stroking her until her wildness surrendered to his sure touch. My attention was riveted not so much upon their genitalia as on their faces, even when B'Elanna, lying beneath Tom in a position that was far more ordinary--and stable--for both of them than the one they'd been in when I'd first glimpsed them together, took him in hand and guided him inside her.

With Tom's weight supported by his elbows, his hands were free to graze softly over B'Elanna's head and face, especially the brow ridges I'd heard her describe as ugly. Even as their bodies pumped powerfully, heading towards a passionate conclusion, I was more aware of their connection on an emotional, even mental level. Those feather light caresses running over her cheekbones, the gentle tracings of the pattern of her brow, all communicated an acceptance of B'Elanna's unique beauty that was as profound as it was silent. No mere words of love could ever convey what his fingers were telling her face as Tom and B'Elanna moved towards their physical climax.

Another minute--ten minutes--a half hour--I have no idea just how long I stood there, a rigid statue supervising their intimacies and invading their privacy, before B'Elanna's body convulsed. She uttered his name even as she struggled to maintain her silence. Seconds after she moaned, Tom gasped out "B'Elanna" and arched, plunging into his lover with several last, desperate strokes, his face contorting at the moment of release.

Afterwards, they remained with their arms clasped tightly around each other, their bodies quieter. Although still heaving with sharply indrawn breathing, they shook now in a gentle fashion rather than in a wild coupling such as had just taken place. Just as their physical joining continued, so did the silent conversation between them. Joy and fulfillment were written clearly on both their faces. His eyes only left hers when he bent down to caress her lips delicately with his own.

That was the moment I was finally able to tear my eyes away. Because they were so intent upon each other, I thought I could step away without being detected.  Retreating cautiously behind the clump of foliage so that I was hidden from them, I found myself breathing deeply, almost as if I'd been a participant in what I'd witnessed rather than a voyeur. I had been unaware of anything other than what the two of them were doing before, but now my head was pounding harder than it had been when I began my walk, with the throbbing duplicated much lower in my body. I had never been so close to an orgasm except for the times when I myself was experiencing sexual intercourse.

With renewed pain came rage. I became suffused with anger at B'Elanna and Tom's behavior. True, they should have used better judgment about the location of their tryst, but they did have--or should have had--sufficient privacy for their lapse in discretion not to have made any difference. Thanks to the clarification years bring to the thought processes, I'm sure my anger grew out of my own frustrations rather than true pique at catching my helmsman having his way with my very willing chief engineer.

It's rather obvious now that there was another explanation for their complete lack of decorum that evening, just as there was for my headache. Knowing this makes me feel even more guilty about the way my irritation spilled out so vindictively the following day. I ordered Tom to serve a double shift, knowing full well he had a date with B'Elanna that evening. Much later I learned that their broken date may have prompted an unseemly coupling in the Jefferies tubes. As it was, their rolling around on the consoles on the upper deck of engineering prompted a snickering complaint from a member of the engineering staff that I used as my excuse at the end of a staff meeting to reprimand Tom and B'Elanna.

When all my excuses are examined and stripped away as the smokescreens they really are, I know the real reason I called them on the carpet was that, thanks to their activities, Kathryn Janeway had become a peeping Tom. Someone had to pay for that indiscretion. It certainly wasn't going to be Kathryn Janeway. She had no intention of facing up to the real reason she'd stood there on the promenade and gazed at them for so long: pure and simple envy.

I wanted to be her. I wanted it to be me feeling those marvelously skilled hands and lips on my face and body. I was insanely jealous of my chief engineer. The woman who had always had trouble accepting herself as she was had found both love and acceptance from my handsome helmsman. I wanted what she had, knowing I never could have it.

When I finally gathered enough courage to look back at the lovers, they were whispering to each other and putting on the last of their garments. I took another step back, farther behind the foliage, reaching a slight bend in the pathway, totally obscured from their view. Cautiously, I backed up until I was far enough back to do what I could have done so easily before. I walked out onto the beach to return to the resort.

All the while, as I returned to my quarters, I felt that achy, hollow feeling. Of course, the headache didn't help, but that wasn't the ache that bothered me the most. Empty arms, empty bed--that was what was bothering me. Three years had passed since Mark last made love to me. It had been almost a year and a half since Chakotay reminded me I was still alive on New Earth with his powerful body. In the interim, Kathryn Janeway had become a block of ice, frozen away from her womanhood by Starfleet policy and the need to be professional at all costs, even though the pertinent policies had never been written with our situation in the Delta Quadrant in mind. Who could ever have imagined the completeness of our isolation from the rest of Starfleet?

During deep space exploratory missions, couples in stable marriages are routinely assigned to command ships which will be out of contact with Federation space for years, circumventing the "loneliness of command" issues implicit in such assignments. Why couldn't I see that the policies used for those missions were the ones I could have followed in the Delta Quadrant instead of the usual Starfleet protocols? I have no answer to that. I didn't see it at the time, nor at any time that we were lost out there.

That night, however, I thought seriously about calling Chakotay to my quarters to tell him I'd reconsidered our New Earth agreement. All I needed to do was ask him to come give me a back rub. Chakotay would have understood exactly what I was asking--and it would have been so much better than those massages the EMH tortured me with! I'll bet those nettlesome, invisible aliens would have obtained some very  interesting research if I'd succumbed to *that* temptation. And if we *had* tumbled into bed, would the aliens still have chosen Chakotay for their old-age experiment, or would another of the crew had served their purpose? That's another thing I'll never know. I'm certain, however, that enough time had passed since New Earth for my first officer to have been only too happy to service me, if I'd let him.

I didn't call Chakotay. Because of the argument over the Borg and his disapproval over Seven's staying on *Voyager*, I was still a little peeved at him. I went to bed alone and tried to sleep. The aliens' experiments went on as it had. Their invisible but palpable needles bored into my skull until I was so crazed with pain, I almost destroyed *Voyager* rather than allow the cr theo serve as guinea pigs for unscrupulous medical researchers.

I now think that was a pivotal moment, even more so than the decision we'd made not to continue when we returned from New Earth. If we'd resumed our relationship then, perhaps I would have made the connection that we were really on a deep space mission. Even though we weren't a married couple before we left port, Chakotay and I had become one, wedded by the pressures of the Delta Quadrant. Had we agreed to become a couple, just like B'Elanna and Tom, everything would have been different.

It was not to be. Chakotay and I never did get back together. Our feelings ebbed until Chakotay and I were the dearest of friends, soulmates, and as close as any two people could be--but not lovers. Never lovers any more. Although there was one other time we could easily have reconciled, when we received messages from home and I learned my safety net--Mark--had moved on, we didn't.

Now I wonder how I could have been so heartless not to offer Chakotay my comfort, knowing he'd received even more heartbreaking news from his letter than I had in mine. I had to move on from a broken engagement. Thinking I was dead, Mark had married someone else. Chakotay learned of the destruction of the entire Maquis movement. His friends were either dead or had been imprisoned.

The only way I can account for my lack of compassion is that the isolation and depression which were to haunt me off and on throughout the rest of the journey had already taken hold. I was simply unable to respond in any way other than the one I did. Chakotay was always there for me, but after that, when he needed emotional solace, he turned elsewhere. That was my doing. I accept that now.

How much did my view into the private lives of B'Elanna Torres and Thomas Paris figure into my inability to respond to Chakotay? I have no idea. Once I learned how horrendously high the invisible researchers had raised their sexual hormone levels, I regained my trust in my helmsman and chief engineer judgment, but a certain comfort level that previously had existed between us never was reestablished. From then on, B'Elanna and Tom were a couple. They shared a private level of intimacy between them that I could no longer hope to share with another. The only way it seemed possible for their relationship to end was for them to break it off themselves. No one was brave enough to try to push inside their circle of two. Certainly not me.

But then, there never was a time that Tom Paris and I could have happened. Tom and B'Elanna were perfect together. That was clear to everyone. They were meant to be together. Some things are meant to be. Some things are not.

=^=

In the first year of our journey through the Delta Quadrant, although we were all in shock over our predicament, we had faith we would get home. Perhaps 70 years at our best possible speed away from home was so unimaginable a distance, we kept thinking that some *deus ex machina* would come along and fling us back to the Alpha Quadrant, in a similar manner to the way our exile had been inflicted upon us by the Caretaker.

In the second year of our journey, we were harried by the Kazon and Vidiians so much that we almost lost our way several times, in various ways. It was a bad time for us all. In the third year, however, we actually *did* get home, albeit in the wrong century. Still, our hope was renewed. We began to enjoy ourselves more, making *Voyager* into a home for all of us until we reached home. Some of us even fell in love.

In the fourth year, despite some very close calls with the Borg, Species 8472, and the Hirogen, we made real progress. Not only did we travel over 20 years worth of the trip in four years, we'd been exposed to several technologies that promised to leapfrog us home even faster in the future. No one really believed it would take 50 or more years to get back to the Alpha Quadrant.

But that fifth year. The year of pain. That entire year, despite the fact that we made even greater progress towards Earth, things kept happening to make us feel that reaching home was an illusion, an unholy Grail that kept us needlessly driving to an unattainable goal.

Depression afflicted both B'Elanna and me. From the beginning of our journey, I had tussled with guilt because I'd ordered the destruction of the Array, our only way home--even though it was for the protection of the Ocampa that I'd made that decision. From time to time I would be haunted by sleepless nights, marked by visitations of the faces of all those who'd died. It makes me sound crazy to admit that, but it was true. Most mornings I would shake it off. In the Void, I could not.

That vast darkness we anticipated needing two full years to pass through ate away at my soul--and at B'Elanna's. Unbeknownst to me or even to Tom, survivor's guilt had taken hold of her. She believed she should have died with the rest of her friends in the Maquis. Tom's love helped keep the worst of the terror away until the Void came, turning all of our routines to shadows. Only a skeleton crew was needed to run the ship. There was too much time to think, for B'Elanna and for me. I withdrew from the ship, from Chakotay, almost from living. B'Elanna tested herself to feel something, anything, almost to death. Most of the rest of the crew, including Tom and Harry, spent too much time on the holodeck or in mindless pursuits, simply existing, until we emerged from that seemingly endless night.

If I'd been thinking clearly, I could have ordered cross training for the entire crew. We could have followed the example of Leonardo, using this period of down time to work on exotic theories, perhaps even finding the way home by perfecting one of the technologies we'd run across. Instead, Captain Proton and other fantasies filled our artificial days.

Perhaps the unusually high levels of theta radiation in the area had something to do with our poor adaptation to the Void. It certainly couldn't have helped>=/\ it was, helping the dwellers of the Void whose home was being poisoned by the theta radiation being dumped there by the Malon was enough to break my depression--or so I thought. For B'Elanna, it took our discovery of her self-destructive risk-taking on the holodeck to begin to heal. B'Elanna, I must say, admitted that the healing process had only begun for her. That was probably Tom's influence; he would never let her hide from the truth. His dismay at missing the signs that her quest for sensation had led her to hurting herself had scared him to the point that he was even more diligent than he'd been up to then. I didn't have Tom to harry me into being honest with myself.

And I wasn't honest with myself, now I can admit *that*. My depression wasn't over. I was sometimes erratic in my decision making. I was close to the breaking point that year. Tom, Tuvok and Samantha Wildman, only minutes from suffocating when their buried shuttle's life support system gave out, barely were rescued in time. We almost lost Seven to her Borg memories, and later, to the Borg Queen. One, Seven's "son," lived his brief, remarkable life, sacrificing himself for the ship. Harry--our mature, dependable Harry!--had a love affair with a woman from a xenophobic race, picking up a disease which, thankfully, wasn't dangerous to anyone but Harry. Our experiment with slipstream drive was aborted when we received a strange message from an embittered future Harry via Seven's born neural link. We almost lost *Voyager* to a deep space Venus flytrap of a creature. The Doctor almost perished when he experienced an ethical feedback loop. Even though it wasn't even two days on board *Voyager,* Tuvok, Tom, and the Doctor were stranded for over two months on a planet in a subspace pocket before we were able to rescue them--just before they would have been destroyed.

Every time I turned around, another loss stared me in the face. No wonder the spirits of the dead of *Voyager* began to hahe emy dreams on an almost nightly basis, and a wide gulf opened between the crew and myself.

The chasm yawned the widest between Tom and B'Elanna and me. To this day I cannot imagine how I could have made those two decisions other than I did. Tom never openly blamed me, but B'Elanna has--perhaps even more for Tom than for herself.

When B'Elanna was attacked by a slug-like creature that was killing her, the only way to save her was to use techniques developed by a Cardassian medical researcher who was as much serial killer as physician. The invisible aliens that had made guinea pigs of us all, killing only one member of the crew, were positively benign in comparison. Yet, as Tom so eloquently argued, not using this knowledge wouldn't have made any difference to the Bajorans that Crell Moset had maimed and killed in his research. Perhaps they would prefer to know their lives had not been sacrificed in vain. At least the knowledge gained through that sacrifice permitted B'Elanna to live.

It was a difficult choice for me. I would like to have honored her wishes and allowed her to die, but frankly, we needed her too much. I don't even want to think about how many times we might have all been destroyed if B'Elanna hadn't been around to produce yet another engineering miracle to keep *Voyager* alive. She hated me for saving her life and made no effort to hide it. Tom thanked me for allowing her to live.

I don't mind admitting, now, that his thanks were almost as galling as her hatred, or that one of the reasons I acceded to his request was because an uncomfortable thought flicked across my mind during the debate. If B'Elanna were dead, Tom would be free. I hated myself for that thought. She had to live.

A few weeks later, I was ready to kill Tom. I would have, too, if I'd had to. The idiot stole the Delta Flyer and fired upon the Monean refineries. I understood his motives perfectly. The Moneans were destroying their world with those factories that permitted their civilization to thrive in their ocean. Tom and his Monean accomplice Riga were merely trying to preserve that world of water; but it was still an unbelievably stupid act. Almost unforgivable. I read him the riot act afterwards, telling him he was damn lucky to be alive and stripping off his lieutenant's pip from his collar. At that moment, I caught a glimpse of what Owen Paris must have felt when Tom dashed all his hopes by admitting he'd lied at Caldik Prime, blaming others for his own mistake. I knew a little of what his father's pain had been when Tom was caught and sentenced to Auckland for performing acts of treason with the Maquis.

This time, however, there was a difference. Even though Tom's actions were wrong, at least he wasn't sabotaging his future without knowing why. He was rebelling with cause, and he took his punishment bravely. Oh, there was a little whining about the food when he spent those 30 days in the brig, according to Neelix, but he came out of the experience a better man. Even Tom admitted that, saying he understood and accepted that I'd done what I'd had to do.

When we got back to the Alpha Quadrant, I was castigated by several admirals at Starfleet Headquarters because Tom's punishment wasn't greater. To some, Tom's being Ensign Paris was too good for him. There were those who were willing to allow him another chance in Starfleet despite Caldik Prime, yet they recommended against it because of Tom's actions on the water world. I should have stripped him of all rank, they said. Put him off the ship. Left him in the brig for months. Made him into an observer again.

Well, maybe those would have been appropriate punishments in the Alpha Quadrant. He would have spent years back in Auckland for that stunt if we were back home. But we were nowhere near home. I needed him at the helm if I wanted to *get* home to the Alpha Quadrant. Condemn me for being pragmatic--I'll answer guilty as charged. It was bad enough not having him at the helm for 30 days. We were lucky; there was only one problematic encounter while he was locked up in solitary, although that one incident almost cost me my ship. Thanks to Ensign Culhane's puerile evasive maneuvers, we fooled no one, particularly not those five ships that almost managed to destroy us. If our firepower hadn't been so much greater than theirs, that would have been the end of *Voyager* for certain.

After we got away, I sarcastically suggested that Culhane should be considered for chief conn officer because of his brilliantly unorthodox tactics. Before I could dig myself in any deeper, Chakotay asked to see me in the ready room. He suggested, point blank, that we get Tom out of the brig. We had a heated discussion and decided to leave him there.

In retrospect, I'm glad we didn't release him then. The rest of Tom's sentence passed uneventfully. When he got out of the brig, he was a changed man, a better man. Not a perfect man--Tom will never be that--but he learned something about himself, about finishing what he'd started, that has served him well ever since. And, much as I hate to say it, even his choice of causes was probably a source of increased self-esteem for him. He wore his single ensign's pip with more pride, somehow, than he did the lieutenant j.g. pips before.

I don't want to make it seem that I approve of what Tom did. What I approve of is the way he took his punishment.

B'Elannadid not approve of any of this, however. To her, Tom had finally found what she had discovered when she joined the Maquis. I can't say she wasn't correct in that assertion. Tom finally found out what fighting for principle felt like, not something he'd ever done before that I could see. B'Elanna was barely civil to me while Tom was in the brig, and while our professional relationship continued, it remained just that. Professional. Totally, coolly professional. Any chance that the two most senior female officers on *Voyager* would ever relate in any manner beyond officer to officer went by the wayside. We worked well together. We chatted on a superficial level, captain to chief engineer, and vice versa. That was the extent of our relationship from then on.

So, by the end of the fifth year, my relationship with B'Elanna had become a totally professional one, and my relationship with Tom had become something beyond mentor and protégé. Somehow, by punishing him when even he recognized that he needed it, I assumed the role of Mom.

=^=

Eventually, we got back, of course. The story of that adventure has been recounted so often, I'm sick of hearing it myself. I'm certainly not going to repeat it here. The Maquis issue was more difficult to resolve than I'd anticipated, possibly because I'd grown so used to their complete devotion to duty by the time we came home that the very idea they still could be considered terrorists and traitors was unthinkable.

And Thomas Eugene Paris. You'd think he had personally hijacked *Voyager* to the Delta Quadrant to sneak out of prison to hear the venom out of some of the admirals' mouths. I was appalled, becoming more maternal than ever about him. There was no way my prodigal son, who'd learned to accept responsibility for his own actions and had proven himself a courageous and valuable officer, an asset to any crew, was going to be sent back to prison for overstaying his parole! His true mother and I fought Starfleet and, regrettably, her own former husband when they tried to keep him out of Starfleet. Thank God some of the saner heads prevailed and said Tom's entire record should be looked at before a judgment was reached.

How to balance out things? Yes, he'd lied and been cashiered from Starfleet, been caught consorting with the Maquis, and had disobeyed a direct order to return to *Voyager* on the Monean water world. Some said his being willing to sacrifice his life during the Warp 10 experimental flight was just a grab for glory, not bravery, although I certainly begged to differ. We countered with his willingness to sacrifice his life by going undercover to catch Michael Jonas, his role in rescuing *Voyager* from the Kazon, and his selfless disregard for his own personal safety time and time again when rescuing members of the crew from danger. When all was said and done, Tom had been an exemplary officer with a couple of major lapses. Which counted more, the lapses, or the officer he usually had been and certainly was now?

It was a close call. Admiral Picard's was the deciding vote. Knowing the importance Picard placed upon personal integrity, I was not hopeful that Tom would receive a vote of confidence from him. I was wrong. Afterwards, the admiral reminded me that when he was Locutus, he'd contributed to the loss of thousands of lives. While Starfleet accorded him dispensation from his actions because he was "under the influence" and forgave him, Picard was not so easy on himself. He said he'd always tried to make the right decisions while in command, but he could recall several that could have been disastrous. Picard had been lucky. He'd always been able to undo his major mistakes before he'd done the unthinkable.

When he saw Tom, however, he saw a man who had been unable to rectify his blunders before falling out of grace. His first mistake--the lie about Caldik Prime--Picard saw as something that could have and should have been forgiven. Tom's "lie" had been told while he was still in shock. To Picard, Tom's actions were clearly symptoms of a man suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome. By the time Tom had realized what he'd done, the moment when he could have undone it by admitting the truth had already passed. The fact that he had, of his own accord, come forward later to tell the truth rather than go on living the lie suggested to Picard that Tom was an honorable officer whose initial actions qualified as a psychological break, not a criminal act--just as Picard as Locutus had been treated as a man possessed and unable to function independently.

Tom's participation in the Maquis Picard dismissed. The remnants of the Maquis in the Alpha Quadrant had all been released by the time we returned home. Picard had spoken up for Chakotay, B'Elanna, and rest of my Maquis crew when they'd been pardoned. Those who'd wanted it had all been given rank in Starfleet. If they were exonerated, how could Tom be denied the same for his few weeks of participation in that cause?

Picard also confided that he eventually became troubled by the Federation position towards the Maquis. He'd been dismayed when he found that certain admirals--Tom's own father among them--had cynically decided to use freedom fighters defending their homes as a delaying action, sacrificing Maquis lives so that Starfleet could have more time to build up their forces for the anticipated clash with Cardassia. Learning he'd sacrificed his own Lieutenant Ro Laren simply so contractors could have more time to build weapons didn't sit particularly well with Picard. He understood the political issues. He did his duty. He didn't like it.

Finally, while Picard thought Tom's methods were deplorable in the matter of the water world, he had a personal reason for offering forgiveness. While we were lost in the Delta Quadrant, Picard himself had disobeyed a direct order from Admiral Dougherty in defending the Ba'ku. That situation had turned out well for Picard and the crew of the Enterprise.

Picard could identify with Tom's defense of the native inhabitants of a world from the incursion of those who would exploit them, much as he had the Ba'ku. Those Tom had chosen to defend were not the Moneans themselves (although by saving the water world he would do so, even against their own will), but the rest of the inhabitants, those water creatures who were the true natives of that strange, artificially created planet. I thought their reputed lack of sentience precluded considering their situation; but it was true, as Picard reminded me--we'd never even tried to find out if anu an the others were sentient. We'd simply taken the word of the Moneans they were not. The Moneans admitted they'd never explored far down into the center of the water world. How could they be sure?

So, while Picard agreed that Tom's being disciplined because of his actions was necessary, he was not willing to see him barred from serving in Starfleet. "Let's give Mr. Paris one last chance, in view of his subsequent record on *Voyager*, to prove he has learned his lesson about putting causes--and orders--in their proper place."

Thus, without ever telling me directly, Admiral Picard hinted that he thought I might have chosen the wrong side on the water world, just as Admiral Dougherty had when he'd chosen the Son'a.

At his hearing, Tom was allowed to retain his field commission by one vote. I was properly chastened but relieved. My goal to redeem Tom's career had been achieved, despite Tom, and perhaps, despite me.

=^=

The crew of *Voyager* was allowed to remain an entity for almost three years after returning to the Alpha Quadrant. I wanted to keep my family together longer, but given the technical problems plaguing *Voyager* after all that the ship had been through, we were lucky to stay together that long. When Starfleet scheduled *Voyager* for an extended refit, the crew finally scattered in every direction.

It's been seven years since *Voyager* arrived at spacedock for that refit and I stood before my crew for the last time. "Mother" Janeway, as I'd come to be called, bid her children farewell as they left the nest to go on their way. I knew there were many I'd never see again. Life is uncertain, particularly when life takes place in Starfleet. Others I knew I'd see again, but it could never be the same for us.

Today, I saw many of them again at the reunion. Ten years after *Voyager's* return to the Alpha Quadrant, there was a grand party at Starfleet Headquarters, hosted by Admiral Kathryn Janeway. There are those who couldn't attend because they were far away, a few who could not because they are no longer alive. We remembered them, as well as those we lost on our journey home. So many of those whose faces have haunted my dreams were remembered by us all today.

It wasn't the same as it was on *Voyager* for any of us, of course. Sometimes I felt like we were all in the middle of a play, with rehearsed lines to say. We were so predictable, I knew what most of us would say before we said it.

Neelix was there, of course. I see him frequently, since he serves as one of the aides to the Federation president here in San Francisco. Tuvok and T'Pel came from Vulcan, where he has been on leave while awaiting assignment as first officer to a new vessel.

The Doctor--our original EMH program--was there also, pontificating as usual about his work as assistant chief of Starfleet Medical. Two of his clones were also there, since the *Enterprise* and the *Reliant* were both in orbit. Now that the secrets of the mobile emitter have been uncovered, any ship can have their own, independently operating EMH. Both the Mark 1 and Mark 2 models are available. I must confess I prefer our own version, but I enjoyed the Mark 2 from the *Prometheus*, who dropped by during the party to visit his "old friend, Dr. Mark 1." Our EMH gritted his teeth when he heard *that*, but later I saw the two of them happily reminiscing about their victory over the Romulans.

Lieutenant Commander Harry Kim was there, back from the first extended mission to the Delta Quadrant since our Trek homeward. For its five-year mission, the *Glenn* had utilized the new Federation transwarp drive perfected through the efforts of Annika Hansen and her research staff. Annika had not returned to the Delta Quadrant on the *Glenn* although she had been invited. She felt that her presence was unnecessary and an inefficient use of her time. Some things never change.

Perhaps it was just as well. The *Glenn's* mission had included seeking out representatives of several races we'd encountered to build upon our First Contact efforts. They'd been successful in finding the "renegade" branch of the Varro, and Harry became reacquainted with an old friend. Derran Tal and several of her shipmates had asked to return to the Alpha Quadrant on the *Glenn*. Permission had been granted. The connection between Harry and Tal that had so disturbed me on our journey out of the Delta Quadrant reawakened, but this time with a more satisfactory conclusion, I devoutly hope. Derran Tal is now the wife of Harry Kim.

Samantha Wildman and her husband, whose name I can never quite recall--Kreskrendick, or something like that--came along with their two sons. Naomi was already in town, in her second year at the Academy. I still have trouble reconciling the tall, intense young cadet with the infant from *Voyager*--until she smiles that impish smile. Then I see again the child I once knew. Her parents and her Uncle Neelix are so proud of her, and so am I. Naomi is on the fast track to be a captain in her own right someday. Thanks to a childhood spent on a starship exploring the Delta Quadrant, not to mention spending two years during early adolescence as a student research assistant in Annika Hansen's propulsion lab, Naomi already has credentials most cadets would kill for.

It was good to see Tom and B'Elanna with their children. She's pregnant with their third--and she swears their last--child. Of course, she said that after young Harry's birth, too. Tom may still have a streak of boyish mischief in him that will never go away, but that doesn't make him a bad father. Quite the contrary, his being in touch with his own childhood may make him a better one. He's surely one of the most loving fathers--and husbands--I've ever seen. The degree of equilibrium his half-Klingon wife has been able to achieve bespeaks that more clearly than anything else.

They still have that capacity to convey more with a glance than most couples can by chattering for an hour. I saw it happen at the party, when they stepped aside for a few moments to speak privately with one another, soul to soul, as if they were the only ones in the room. The protective masks they wear around everyone else, presenting them to the world in their roles of Starfleet officers, friends, and comrades, are imperceptible when they address each other, yet when the outside world intrudes, their masks snap back up over their faces. It's fascinating to watch.

The Rikers were there, too, as my guests. Will told me that since he can't have Geordie LaForge as his chief engineer any more (and he knows he can't, now that Geordie has his own command), the only chief engineer that's acceptable to him is Commander B'Elanna Torres. To keep her on his ship, Riker told me, he'll even put up with that irritatingly heroic pilot husband of hers, the one that will never make captain, despite having all the goods to be a great one. Whenever it seems Tom might actually have a shot at commanding his own vessel some day, he does something to keep himself from being promoted. I had to laugh. From the twinkle in his eye, I think Captain Riker is happy Tom would prefer to be a good pilot on the *Enterprise* than an unhappy first officer or captain anywhere else. Will knows something about staying put when you know it's the right place to be.

Besides, the only thing Riker and I have a harder time seeing than "Captain Thomas E. Paris" is "Admiral Thomas E. Paris." It may be that Tom has so much abhorrence for fulfilling that old ambition of his father's that he's found the sure way not to become an admiral. Never get promoted to captain.

Even though most Starfleet vessels no longer routinely have families with children on board, Tom and B'Elanna have an exemption for theirs to live on the *Enterprise*, just as Deanna and Will have for their son. It's a generally accepted perk for senior staff members on most large Federation vessels, especially when the captain feels an officer is essential for the optimal operations of the ship. It's a risk for children to be on board during battle, yet most officers agree that the alternative--long postings away from families, or no families at all--are worse. I quite agree. When the family exemption rule came up for review, right after I was named to the admiralty, I was one of those who fought most vociferously to maintain it.

The Careys and the Ayalas came, too, but Culhane could not. He sent his regards from his posting on the *Lexington*. The Delaney sisters were unable to attend, either. Megan left Starfleet and is living with her husband Gerron on Deep Space Nine. She couldn't come because she's close to her due date for her second child. Jenny is on Deep Space Nine as well, but she's scheduled to go on a deep space mission as Chief of Astrometrics as soon as her new ship docks to pick her up. Otherwise, she assured me, she would have been here.

Chakotay is no longer in Starfleet. He sent greetings from his home on New Dorvan. I've met his wife. A lovely woman, tall and slender, with auburn hair and a very strong jaw which gives her quite an exotic look. V'alaan is a psychologist and counselor, specializing in the way people deal with extreme stress. That's how they met. She came to study Chakotay, and something clicked between them. I miss him desperately, but I'm happy for him. He's one of the dearest friends I've ever had in my life, and I'll always wish him well.

=^=

Seeing so many of my crew today has made me rather contemplative tonight. When I review my life like this, I can't help but reconsider some of my decisions in light of what I now know of the "whole picture"--something that none of us can know while we are in the midst of living our lives. I can see I was harder on myself, and maybe even harder on others, than I needed to be back in the Delta Quadrant. That unexpected posting made Kathryn Janeway's career, even as it ruined her life as a woman.

Oh, it's not like I'm dissatisfied with my life. Far from it. My work has been fulfilling, especially since I've been in the Admiralty. I've made a difference in so many ways since bringing *Voyager* back home. I have good friends from before, during, and after my days on *Voyager*. I have my niece and nephew, Phoebe's children. I don't really miss having a family.

Well, actually, that isn't accurate. I do have a family, I guess. I haven't seen them for years and they may not look much like their father and me, but they are our children, just as much as the children Tom conceived with B'Elanna belong to the two of them. I would like to think that that bizarre interlude created some good in the universe--that those descendants of Tom and myself are even now populating a lonely Delta Quadrant world. They're the only babies I ever had. I wish them and theirs all long and happy lives, as any mother does, even if I was snatched away from them before I could give them anything more than life.

I don't know if I miss never having had a husband. I came close twice--and perhaps three times, if I count Chakotay. Since coming home I've known some very good men. I've taken lovers when I've wanted them, although I can say without question that none of them has ever satisfied me the way Chakotay did on New Earth. I must have been insane not to have at least tried to continue our relationship on board *Voyager*, considering the way we were condemned about our time on New Earth upon our return to the Alpha Quadrant. That's one thing that still amazes me. We thought we had reached the end of our journey. Why should we have followed Starfleet protocols there? It never made sense. If that is "disregarding protocols," I may as well have gone the rest of the way and had a private life on *Voyager* after all. How much more could they have harassed us?

I think that was the final wedge that came between us. Chakotay met V'alaan during the Boimmeof Review hearings. She came to write a paper on our reactions to the hearings and left Chakotay's wife. When her research protocols demanded that she drop the paper or Chakotay, she never hesitated. There were other people she could study, she said. She couldn't count on meeting another Chakotay in her life. I understood perfectly.

I do regret taking on the role of the "Ice Queen of *Voyager*." Many of the crew started to call me that about five years into our journey home. The nickname was not unjustified. I regret that, too. The lonelier and more isolated I grew on the journey, the stiffer my back and my upper lip became. The role of captain which I was so very comfortable wearing in the Alpha Quadrant became an unbelievably heavy burden when we were on our own in the Delta Quadrant and cast adrift. I was prepared to be a captain. I wasn't prepared to be captain, counselor, admiral, and Federation diplomat, all wrapped up in one package but with virtually no support staff for almost seven years. I know that now.

=^=

Listen to me ramble. It's almost dawn, and now that I've looked back at what I've just written, I don't know why I'm writing this at all. Some would say it's a sign of weakness, or perhaps, senility. I probably shouldn't even keep it. Starfleet admirals aren't supposed to have such doubts or regrets about their lives, or so I've been told.

Of course, that's undoubtedly a myth. Picard confessed to having doubts about some of his decisions. If he could have them, the least I can do is reserve the right to be honest enough about my life to have doubts of my own.

I will say this: I always did what I thought best, throughout our journey. Perhaps I was wrong some of the time, but I tried to think things through. I tried to be consistent and true to the ideals of the Federation and of Starfleet, whether it was making First Contact with a new species--a common occurrence out there--or dealing with my crew and officers, Starfleet and Maquis.

I follso w Starfleet protocols as closely as I could, giving up one good man because of regulations and refusing to touch all the others because they were members of my crew. It simply couldn't be done. A captain doesn't take lovers from her crew.

One thing haunts me, however, even more than my regrets over Chakotay and myself. I regret the loss of the love that never was. Potentially, it may have been even greater than the one I'd felt with Chakotay, though fate had decreed from the beginning we were never to be.

The starship captain and the con. The admiral's daughter who excelled, and the admiral's son who constantly screwed up. Such an odd couple could never make sense. Even on *Voyager*, the ship of odd companions, surely that was beyond imagining.

Had Tom and I ever gotten together, he and B'Elanna would not have been. Might Chakotay and B'Elanna have found each other in that case? Probably not. They'd already had the opportunity to be more to each other in the Maquis if they'd wished, but they never did anything about it. It seems selfish of me to even consider it now. Ludicrous.

Sometimes it seems to me that Tom and B'Elanna were always two halves of the same soul, needing only to see past their self-imposed barriers before they fused into one. I'm still envious of that closeness, that ability to let go and love another person wholeheartedly, no matter how volatile the relationship. That sort of love was always beyond my ability to sustain.

Yet sometimes I lie in bed and consider how different our lives on *Voyager* might have been had I decided not to offer Tom Paris a place on my senior staff. By encompassing him within the chain of command back in the beginning, returning him to full Starfleet officer status, I made Tom as untouchable as the rest of the crew. If I hadn't offered him that place, Tom would have remained the observer, outside the purview of Starfleet protocols.

In that case Tom would have remained isolated from the crew for a longer time than he was, possibly throughout our trip. That would have been hard on him. Tom has always been such a social being. But if Tom had been isolated from the rest of the crew, perhaps I would not have been forced to remain isolated for our entire journey. At least then, there would have been that one man on *Voyager* it would have been legal for me to touch, and to touch me. Being with the "observer" would not have broken those regulations I followed to the letter, making me abandon a love that would have been all anyone could ever wish for--simply because it wouldn't do for a captain to have a relationship with her first officer.

Late at night, I think of things like this.

Would it have been better to have left Tom hanging for a while, taking him as my husband or lover early in the journey, simply because I could have him, even if I could have no one else?

Would it have been better to break regulations and be with my first officer? We were a good match. We worked well together. Would we have worked together equally well if we were lovers, not just comrades?

Or was it better the way I did it? To be Captain Kathryn Janeway, who upheld the regulations and led a life of solitary confinement, emotionally speaking, while standing on the bridge of *Voyager*.

The sad thing is, even though I lived out the last scenario because of my sense of duty, I don't really know which would have been best for Kathryn Janeway, the woman.

And that, I will always wonder about.

=^=

The End

=^=

March, 1999

=^=
 

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