Warmth 1 - Separation (PG-13)


"I'll be in my ready room."

'How many times have we heard that in the last few weeks,' thought Tom. Glancing over his shoulder toward the ready room door, he saw the first officer bob his head as the captain walked off the bridge. For all the warmth between them, they might have been strangers who, after encountering each other's faces daily for a long time because they took the same route to their places of employment, had progressed to an occasional acknowledgment of the other's presence as they passed each other. On a starship that was literally lost in space on the other side of the galaxy from home, with every member of the crew depending upon every other one, this was Not Good.

The captain did not spend a lot of time on the bridge these days. Much of her time was spent with another project that was a byproduct of Voyager's meeting with the Borg and the virulent new species 8472, encounters which had shaken the composure of everyone on board. Harry Kim had barely survived them. He was now recovered and at his customary place on the bridge, but the relationship between Captain Kathryn Janeway and Lieutenant Commander Chakotay, the former Maquis rebel whom Janeway had named as first officer, had not recovered. Although their split over the way to deal with the crisis may have been predictable to those who knew their backgrounds, predictability, in this instance, did not translate into any feelings of comfort for the crew.

Since being thrust into the Delta Quadrant, Captain Janeway's position as the only Starfleet Captain in 70,000 or so light years had transformed her into a throwback to the captains of the early days of the Federation. When the Alpha Quadrant was largely unexplored and huge chunks of time were needed to get anywhere within the quadrant, due to slower warp drives, a captain had to make decisions quickly and learned to live with them. There wasn't any other choice.

Thanks to the Caretaker's dragging Voyager out of all contact with Federation space, Janeway, like Pike, Kirk and their ilk, was on her own. She relied on her crew, but even more, upon herself, to get out of tight scrapes. Sometimes, as Tom realized had happened with the Voth, they got out of these scrapes only because of an act of benevolence by the alien species. At other times, as with the Nyrians, they did it on their own. Kathryn Janeway had learned to take chances, and so far, only a handful of the crew had had to pay the ultimate price.

As a Maquis, Commander Chakotay had been on his own far too often during one-sided battles against the Cardassians. Although he had been with the commander only briefly in the Maquis, Tom had been with him long enough to appreciate Chakotay's ability to lead his people against incredible odds. Often, his Maquis had lived to fight another day simply by knowing when to slip out of harm's way, to hide out, lick their wounds, and get ready for next time. Plowing through without regard for the consequences was risky and could end any hope for ultimate victory. Everyone might end up dead. Chakotay had learned to pick his spots and to fight only when he could do sufficient damage to the enemy to justify the risk to his people.

As she had promised to her doomed exact duplicate, Janeway would get her crew home again safely, as soon as she could. If that meant having to deal with the Devil, in the form of the Borg, so be it. Her Starfleet crew wanted and deserved to get home.

Only a few months previously, Chakotay had been manipulated by a group of former Borg into helping them so that the few in their "Cooperative" could have their way over thousands, without the thousands having anything to say about it. He had been shown that the face of the Devil could be beautiful, and fair haired, and seemingly compassionate. Trusting the Borg could mean the enslavement of the galaxy--not so far from the fate that the Maquis and Tom Paris could expect when they returned to the Alpha Quadrant. Imprisonment was their most likely welcome home.

Faced with a choice that was no choice at all, to slug it out against the Borg or be annihilated by 8472, Chakotay had said: let's look for a place to hide out a while, and then look for another way home. Janeway had said, let's negotiate with the Borg and go straight through them. The immediate situation had been resolved and Voyager had survived with a souvenir of the adventure: Seven-of-Nine, a Borg isolated from the Collective and now living on Voyager under the captain's watchful eye.

Janeway and Chakotay had gone back to being captain and first officer, but the private relationship that had been the subject of so much ship's gossip had suffered from their disagreement. Exactly what form that relationship had ever taken was a matter of rampant speculation among the crew, but no matter what it had been like before, it was clearly suffering from their recent disagreement. The warm touches and intimate looks that they had shared with each other on the bridge--and who knew where else--were gone.

From the vantage point of being a Starfleet brat who had served with the Maquis, Tom's view was that, depending upon which aspects of the problem were being examined, both had been right, and both had been wrong. They had all been lucky to survive. Unfortunately, neither the captain nor the commander would admit it.

Tom was glad when his shift ended. Constant vigilance was necessary. The Delta Quadrant had shown that it was not finished with throwing bullies of all sorts at Voyager, yet the tension level on the bridge had remained far beyond what was necessary for the entire day. Let Beta shift deal with it now.

Looking over at the Engineering console, Tom checked to see if B'Elanna was going to be able to leave when he did. She didn't look ready yet. Tom took a few extra minutes with his replacement during the change of shift, stalling so that he could leave with B'Elanna. Eventually he had to give over the conn to Grimes.

"Going home anytime before midnight, Lieutenant?" he asked her lightly as he stopped by her console on his way off the bridge.

"Hopefully. I'm still trying to upgrade the long range sensors to give us more warning of anyone else who might be hostile to us. You go on ahead with Harry and meet Kes for dinner. I'll just grab something later, when I'm free."

Tom looked around to see if anyone else was paying attention to them. He didn't want to incite her into a scene on the bridge if he could help it. If he kept his voice barely above a whisper and in a casual tone, perhaps he could avoid an outburst. "B'Elanna, don't you think you could take one night off, to give yourself a chance to relax a little? You've been working as if you were the only one who can repair the ship or upgrade the systems. Just one night of rest--it might help you get over that fatigue you've been feeling every night."

Her glare was a good imitation of Janeway's. Whispering hadn't been quite enough after all. Fortunately, the cavalry was coming.

"Lieutenant Nicoletti, good evening to you," Tom turned and smiled graciously at the young engineer stepping out of the turbolift at the back of the bridge.

"I'm glad you're here, Nicoletti. I want you to run a third level diagnostic on the sensor arrays. If you need anything, I'll be down in Engineering."

"Lieutenant Torres, may I accompany you to the turbolift, at least?" Tom said, giving in to the inevitable. She shrugged her shoulders before turning back to her subordinate, who was already seated at the Engineering console. Tom walked up to the turbolift and waited for a few minutes until B'Elanna had finished briefing Nicoletti on the long list of tasks awaiting her during Beta shift.

"Hey guys, wait up," said Harry as the two lieutenants entered the turbolift. Tom gave Harry his own version of The Look, although it could not come close to matching Janeway's or B'Elanna's. With Harry along, Tom wasn't even going to be able to get more that a peck on the cheek from B'Elanna on the lift.

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The dinner hour rush had long since come and gone. Kes had been called back to Sickbay to help the Doctor with some tests he was running. Tom and Harry were still sitting in the corner of the mess hall, nursing mugs of replicated coffee, waiting for the still-absent B'Elanna. Several calls had been made to Engineering, a few times by Tom and a couple of times by Harry, gingerly asking the chief engineer if she were coming to eat soon. Each time, the answer had been a variation of "Soon, but not yet."

"I don't get it, Harry. She almost seems like she's trying to avoid me sometimes. And testy--it's like approaching a mountain lioness. I'm not sure what the Klingon equivalent is, but I'm sure there is one--sleek, lethal, always ready to pounce." Tom looked dejectedly at his half-filled mug of cold ersatz coffee. "I knew it was too soon for us to become intimate when we did, but what else could I do? She wanted to be with me as much as I wanted to be with her. And it was so damned cold, Harry!"

"It's difficult for her, Tom. I don't think she's had a lot of people that she's been able to trust before us. She'll come around. Just be careful you don't . . ." Harry paused, not being sure how he could put what he knew he should say diplomatically.

"Be careful about what? Loving her too much? It's already too late for that, my friend. Much too late."

"Just don't crowd her, Tom. She's used to being completely on her own. B'Elanna's proud of her self-reliance, of being in control. She likes to be outspoken and speaks her own mind. I think she could be afraid of losing herself in you. Libby and I had some dancing around to do when we first got together about that, and I still need to remind myself to be careful around Kes. She's so much stronger than she appears that I get a little overprotective sometimes. It takes time to work out all the little things, Tom. The big things always seem to take care of themselves."

"I hope so, Harry. I'm really trying not to push her, you know that."

"I know, Tom, but you know how B'Elanna is. Sometimes she sees a push when there isn't one." Harry was not sure Tom didn't have good cause to look as worried as he did. Harry had noticed a change in B'Elanna over the past week or so, too, a pulling back from the relationship she had been building with Tom since their return from Tantrum IV. It wasn't so much that she was taking her job so seriously--that had always been a given--but B'Elanna seemed to be using it to erect a barrier of work between Tom and herself. Meals were eaten on the run, in Engineering most of the time, and Harry knew that she claimed never to have time for anything other than work and sleep.

He would have been even more concerned had he known what Tom had chosen not to confide to Harry, despite their close friendship. More often than not, B'Elanna was now sleeping alone, too.

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"Torres to Chakotay."

::::"Yes, B'Elanna, what can I do for you?"::::

"I have those reports for you on the sensor array modifications. Do you want me to bring them to you tonight?"

::::"Hold them until tomorrow. I'll review them before the staff meeting."::::

B'Elanna hesitated before replying. She wanted to talk to someone about Tom. The reports were merely an excuse to approach Chakotay. B'Elanna detected a weariness in his voice, however, that suggested Chakotay would not be as accepting of a visit from her tonight as she needed him to be, certainly not enough for her to bring up the subject of the pilot with him. Tom and Chakotay had had troubles of their own in the past, and B'Elanna did not know what reservations the first officer still might have about Paris. Now that Chakotay was having relationship problems with Janeway--Tom's mentor--seeking out Chakotay's advice about Tom might be asking too much of him. If bringing the reports meant handing Chakotay a PADD and saying good evening, it would not be of much help to B'Elanna.

"Fine, Chakotay. I'll bring them to the bridge 15 minutes before the start of the staff meeting tomorrow morning. Torres out."

B'Elanna gathered up the report for Chakotay as well as some PADDs to bring with her to her quarters. She planned another working evening, with little time for romance. As that thought occurred to her, a vision of Tom's face flashed in her mind. And not only his face--B'Elanna vividly remembered the look and feel of his long body, lying beside her in the dim cavern.

Standing up abruptly, she tried to shake off the image of the helmsman embracing her in bed. Tom Paris invaded her mind as well as her body more and more every day and each night. Increasingly, she was unable keep him out of her thoughts. The weak feeling she felt in the pit of her stomach when she was with him disturbed her. Sometimes she felt it even when she was not with him. Lately she was always on edge, and there were times B'Elanna even felt light headed.

This depending on another for her own sense of well-being simply was not good for her. She had to do something about it, and soon.

Exiting her office with her armload of PADDs, B'Elanna heard raucous laughter coming from the area around the warp core. Three of her staff were standing by the core, apparently checking readings, but their laughter told a different story. Walking over to find out what was going on, B'Elanna noticed the laughter ceased as soon as she came into view. Several looks between her engineers were exchanged, along with a wink between Lieutenant Carey, who was commanding Engineering this shift, Ashmore and Henley.

"What's going on, Lieutenant?" B'Elanna asked of Carey.

"Nothing at all, Lieutenant Torres. Everything is under control."

Looking around at her staff, B'Elanna felt that there was much more going on than she could tell, but to yell at them for laughing at something seemed petty. There had been little enough laughter around Voyager lately. She could hardly come down upon them for getting a little of their high spirits back.

"Anyone care to let me in on the joke?" she asked.

The three exchanged nervous glances between themselves, but no one spoke.

"Apparently not," said B'Elanna, a little too sharply. "Well, carry on."

She turned to go. As she arrived at the doorway leading out of Engineering, one of the PADDs slipped out of her hand. Stooping down to pick it up, B'Elanna could hear a voice say something that sounded like "hot date," "Tom," and "needs it" before the three voices erupted in hoots of laughter again. Flushing deeply, B'Elanna almost turned back to confront them but stopped herself. As she stalked to the turbolift, however, she could feel her temper dragging at the leash, begging to be let loose.

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The wolf did not wish to be found. As he loped after her, trying to find her trail, he felt himself slipping away from the country that he had been traveling. A feeling of abandonment swept over him. His animal guide had never slipped away from Chakotay so completely before.

Opening his eyes, the commander surveyed his quarters without recognition. The familiar shapes were obscured, hidden, as if they were shrouded in a deep mist. Several minutes passed until his eyes regained their normal sight, before he could again see his desk, chairs, sofa, bed. Chakotay could not shake off the feeling that he had lost his way, here in the middle of what had been the most familiar of settings for most of his life.

Wrapping up the contents of his medicine bundle and putting it back on its shelf, the commander turned to the door. If one ritual, that of his ancestors, was illusive, perhaps that of his Voyager family would not be. Sandrine's was running tonight. To Sandrine's he would go, to try to forget.

~~~~~

When Chakotay entered the holodeck program, Tom Paris and Harry Kim were at the pool table, dueling Dalby and Bristow for replicator credits, bragging rights, and pride. All but Paris waved at the commander as he stopped at the table to watch Tom line up his shot, a difficult, but possible, bank shot around the eight ball. He missed the shot, hitting the eight ball instead. Tom and Harry groaned as Dalby and Bristow celebrated.

"Not your night, Paris?"

"Doesn't seem to be, Commander. Can I interest you in a game? I have to win back some replicator credits for Harry, here. I don't want to get him into any trouble with Kes." The smile was weak. Tom hadn't been looking too well lately. Chakotay wondered how things were going between Torres and him. They seemed like such an unlikely couple. Torres had stopped confiding in him, however, and he did not feel comfortable asking Paris about it. Their relationship really was none of his business, anyway. He had enough problems of his own in that regard.

Shaking his head, Chakotay walked over to the bar to order a drink and settled upon a seat in the corner, well away from the pool table and the couples that were dancing at the other end of the room. The room was full of crew; almost none of the holodeck characters were present. Only Sandrine, holding court at the bar and serving all comers, was there tonight.

Chakotay decided, from the looks of it, that he was not the only one feeling dispirited. Despite the crowd, the noise level was relatively low. Most people were sitting around talking, some earnestly, most lethargically. A few of them glanced over at the first officer upon occasion. He could guess that they were saying something about him and, probably, about the captain, as well. As he sipped his synthale he sighed. This may not have been such a good idea after all.

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B'Elanna Torres arrived at Sandrine's a few minutes past 2200 hours. The crowd was already thinning despite the early hour. Since the captain had not shown up and the commander had left after only a few minutes, the appeal of hanging around to gossip about them had not been sufficient to keep the clientele happy. No fireworks display in the replicated Marseilles tavern tonight.

Almost as soon as she entered the room, B'Elanna heard Tom call out to her. "B'Elanna, finally," as he rushed up and enveloped her in his arms.

"Please, Tom. I'm not in the mood."

"O-kay." Although he had stretched out the word, the helmsman stepped back with alacrity. "Kes and Harry are still here, although I think they're getting restless. They'll be wanting to go back to their quarters soon, I think. Why don't you go over to where they're sitting and I can get you something to drink."

"I'll get it myself, Tom."

She looked drawn and tired. "Are you sure? I'd be glad to help get you something to drink or to eat--have you eaten yet?"

"Tom! I'll get it myself."

The pilot raised both hands and stepped back in a gesture of surrender. "Sorry, I just wanted to give you a hand if you had a lot to carry."

"I won't."

"We're sitting over there, in the back corner." As he left her near the bar Tom shook his head. Testy, very testy. He knew she had a fear of being smothered, but since when was trying to be helpful smothering?

Tom looked back over his shoulder at her once he had taken his seat in the corner booth, across from Kes and Harry. They were so absorbed in one another that he had to clear his throat a few times to get their attention. Kes blushed as she turned towards Tom, but Harry just looked ridiculously happy. Tom was glad that someone was.

"I thought B'Elanna was here, Tom. Didn't I see her a minute ago?" inquired Kes.

"She's over by the bar." He looked back at B'Elanna again. She was leaning her entire weight on the bar. "Kes, don't you think she looks tired? B'Elanna's been like that almost constantly for the last couple of weeks. I think she's been working much too hard. What do you think?"

Kes shrugged her shoulders. "There has been an awful lot of work to be done after all that's happened. I'm sure she's just being careful that everything is being done right." Kes glanced over at B'Elanna, who was carrying a tray with some kind of drink and a sandwich over to the table. "Here she comes, now."

Tom slid over to the inside of the booth to allow B'Elanna a place to sit. "Prune juice? Again?"

"What of it, Paris? I like prune juice."

Time to back off, thought Tom, noting that he had been demoted to "Paris."

"Nothing at all, Be'. Nothing's wrong at all." He did not bother to mention the sandwich she was tearing into hungrily, even though it was a clear indicator that once again, she had worked for at least 14 hours without having had any kind of meal. Tom knew for a fact she had skipped lunch. He bit back a comment linking her lack of stamina to not eating. She was definitely too testy to bring up something like that tonight, even if it were true.

~~~~~

The friends sat and chatted, sipping their drinks while B'Elanna finished eating. B'Elanna had the least to say of any of them, but consuming her meal was not the reason. She was watching the newly married couple before her. Kes was constantly worrying that Harry's stamina was still suspect after his poisoning by Species 8472 and his brush with death. The Doctor had used Borg nanites to cure him, but even B'Elanna noticed that Harry had yet to regain all of the weight he had lost while he was so ill. B'Elanna herself loathed being fussed over the way Kes was fussing over him, but Harry did not seem to mind being the object of so much attention from his loving wife.

With the example of Harry and Kes before her, beautiful to look at together, so obviously in love, and temperamentally well suited to one another, B'Elanna reconsidered her relationship with Tom for at least the hundredth time. People said that they looked good together, too, although she personally couldn't see it. He was tall, blond, and good-looking; she was short, dark, and striking looking, perhaps, but certainly not beautiful. The sex between them was good, but how long would that keep him?

Tom had a tendency to fuss over her, too. He was always trying to do things for her, pushing his ideas on her about what they should do together, how to spend their time, yet he always backed off when she refused to do something. Between this pushiness and then his caving in to what she wanted, she never knew what to expect from him. B'Elanna did not trust ambivalence, and that is what she sensed from Tom.

B'Elanna was beginning to see that she didn't act like herself around him. She was not fond of personal contact, but she found herself wanting Tom to touch her constantly. He was going to make her love him, tie her to him--she could feel it--and then what? Although she tried to shy away from it, her mother's voice haunted her mind, as much as she tried to push it away: 'He is a human, and he will tire of you. He will betray you. Leave, before you are left.'

Lost in her thoughts, B'Elanna was disoriented a minute when Kes and Harry got up from their seats. "Going already?" B'Elanna asked.

"As a matter of fact, we are. We've only been trying to say 'good-bye' for the last ten minutes!" laughed Harry. "We have an early staff meeting tomorrow, remember? I have a few things to go over before I hit the hay."

"Have a good time, Starfleet. Kes." B'Elanna's expression did not match her words, and belatedly, Harry remembered that she was still a little touchy about being reminded of a haystack in a certain cave on the world of Tantrum IV.

"Good night, Tom, B'Elanna. You might want to make an early night of it, too," added Kes. She was smiling, but with some concern. Tom was not suffering from an overactive imagination after all, Kes realized. Something was bothering B'Elanna, but Kes could tell she would not speak of it, at least, not in front of them.

"See you in the morning," Tom added, as his friends departed. When he turned his attention to B'Elanna, he hesitated before saying anything else. She really did not look well. How could he ask her what was wrong without getting his head bitten off?

"So, now that you've eaten, would you like to go back to quarters and relax a bit?" He smiled at her with as much charm as he could in his worried state. "Come down to my place, B'Elanna. I'll put on some nice music and we can cuddle up for a while."

"That's your answer for everything, isn't it, Paris? A little sex, and everything will be fine."

"B'Elanna, I said relax, nothing more than that. I'm inviting you back to my quarters for the company, that's all. No lovemaking if you're not feeling well enough for it tonight. I can see you're tired."

"What do you think I am, some weakling? I'd like you to have the kind of day I had without feeling tired!"

"That's my point, Be'. You've been working so hard, you need to take a break and rest up a little. You've been . . . ."

"You always know what's best for me, don't you. Well, I did just fine without you before, and I can do just as fine again."

"Be' . . . ." Tom began to feel a little desperate at the direction this conversation was going. What did he say? Why was she getting so upset? And he knew very well that if he confronted her with those questions, she would be even angrier at him. His own anger was sturnring under the surface, and that "hostility thing" that Klingons sometimes used as foreplay was not in evidence in B'Elanna's manner or expression. This was not a game. She meant it.

Confirming all of his fears, B'Elanna turned away, reluctant to face him directly, as she threw out, "Paris, this just isn't working for me. We've had some laughs, some good times, but this relationship is not what I want or need. Let's just go back to being friends and forget the rest of it."

"B'Elanna, it's late, we're both tired. Let's talk about this another time when both of us are in a better mood. This is no time to be talking about something so . . . "

"Paris, there isn't anything to talk about. Face it, we were better off when we were just friends. Let's leave it at that." By keeping her face averted from Tom's, she did not see his dismayed look transform to a stronger emotion. For weeks, for his lover's sake, Tom had been consciously suppressing that mask of nonchalance he had always worn to protect himself, since B'Elanna hated it so much. That backfired now. He could not keep his temper in check.

"Friends. You want to be 'friends.' You've shown me Paradise and now we're back to 'Hi, how are you, see you around?' " Tom grabbed her by both arms, pleading, "B'Elanna Torres, don't do this to us. I love you!"

"Let go of me, Paris, before I deck you!" she shouted. Breaking his hold, she stood up by the booth, taking a pace back when Tom jumped up as well.

"B'Elanna . . . ."

"Get away from me, Paris!" she screamed. "Enough! We've had enough! I've kept my damned promise to you, and now it's over!"

B'Elanna swiveled away from him, ran by the pool table, and out the door.

Tom held his position for several seconds, white-faced and trembling. After taking a few deep breaths, he became aware that there were no tavern sounds. A quick flicker of a look on each side of him showed that all of the remaining patrons of Sandrine's were staring at Thomas Eugene Paris.

Taking an agonized breath, Tom followed his love out the doors of Sandrine's, leaving behind a sudden outrush of sound as various crewmen called off the status of bets they had made concerning the length of the relationship of the ship's helmsman and the chief engineer. For the patient, there had been fireworks, after all.

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Tom was the first to arrive in the conference room for the staff meeting. The pilot generally sat to the left, next to B'Elanna and Tuvok. Instead of taking his accustomed seat, he stood until Tuvok, Harry, and Chakotay had taken their usual seats at the table. As he had expected, there was an open seat between Harry and Chakotay, to Janeway's right, which Tom promptly took. When the engineer entered the room, she took the chair nearest the door, next to Neelix, positioning herself so that she would not need to see Tom's face during the meeting.

Captain Janeway noted that her pilot and chief engineer had taken seats as far away from each other as possible in the small room, as well as the fact that neither had more than the barest minimum to contribute to the discussion. She looked over to Chakotay. His eyes were on Lieutenant Torres and Lieutenant Paris as well, and his face bore a troubled expression.

The staff meeting itself was routine compared to most of those that had taken since the Borg and Species 8472 first made their presences known. A few reports about repairs, supply status reports, and personnel issues were reviewed. For once, no one had a major problem or complaint to raise.

"Are there any other issues anyone wishes to bring up?" The captain looked at each of her officers in turn. No one spoke up. "I'd like to speak with you, Commander, but everyone else is dismissed." As everyone rose from the table, looks were exchanged between Janeway's staff. It had been quite a while since a meeting had ended with the commander and the cou tin remaining behind for a private discussion; it was no longer considered routine. Paris and Torres, however, hardly noticed. They were too busy avoiding each other. Paris hung back from the door until Torres was well clear and already striding toward the turbolift to go to Engineering.

"Commander, what's going on between Tom and B'Elanna? A lover's spat?"

"You didn't hear about what happened last night at Sandrine's? The story is already all over the ship. From what I heard, it sounds like a lot more than a 'spat.' " He told the captain what he knew.

"I'm sorry to hear that. Tom, in particular, seemed so happy with her." She looked up at him sadly. "Our discussions about the dangers of 'fraternization' now seem to have an 'Exhibit A,' don't they?"

"Yes, Captain." Privately, he thought that Paris and Torres might be 'Exhibit B,' but he was too tactful to bring it up. "Is there anything else, Captain?"

"No, Commander." After a short pause, she added softly, "Dismissed."

After he left her, Captain Janeway walked slowly to her ready room, ruminating on maintaining crew morale when their journey home, taken objectively, was still only in its infancy.

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"But Tom, what reason did she give for breaking it off?"

"Harry, I have no idea. She just said it wasn't what she wanted or needed. If she had an actual reason, she sure didn't bother to tell me what it was." The look in the helmsman's eyes was haunted and confused.

"Tom, you know how she gets sometimes. She'll come around. Just be nice to her when you see her. Don't crowd her, and this will all blow over."

"I hope you're right, Harry," Tom replied, in a hoarse, low tone. "This seemed different, somehow, though. She's been acting so strangely. And God knows, Harry, I did everything I could to avoid crowding her last night."

"She probably didn't see it that way."

"I guess not." Tom's sober expression was very unlike him. "Harry, do you think it is possible to love someone too much? I don't know . . . it almost seemed like she . . . she doesn't want me to love her."

"No, Tom, I don't think that's it. Maybe she just needs some time away from you to think things over."

Tom sighed. "I'm a little afraid that 'thinking things over' away from me will turn into 'out of sight, out of mind.' She can do that, you know, just by burying herself in Engineering. She can always find something that needs to be fixed or made more efficient." Harry had to chuckle at that. He had been dragged into "efficiency upgrades" by B'Elanna on countless occasions

The two friends sat quietly, finishing their meal, until Harry finally offered, "Why don't Kes and I invite her for dinner? You can just 'drop in' during the meal. "

"You don't think she might get angrier if she smells a set-up, do you?"

"Kes can soothe her. It's worth a try."

"I guess it is worth a try, Harry. Especially since I don't have any better ideas at the moment."

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If B'Elanna's staff thought their chief had been difficult for the past week or two, they quickly recognized their mistake. Everyone was running constantly, responding to demands from Lieutenant Torres for the improvement of the efficiency ratings for virtually every piece of equipment in Engineering. When she made noises about moving to other areas of ship's functioning, Lieutenant Carey appealed to Commander Chakotay. Apologizing profusely for circumventing the usual chain of command, Carey begged the commander to have a talk with the lieutenant. After hearing out Mr. Carey, Chakotay agreed that, in this case, the decision to come directly to Chakotay appeared to be justified.

A short meeting between the commander and the chief engineer took place later in the day, with the avowed subject being the prioritizing of assignments so as not to lower staff efficiency through staff exhaustion. B'Elanna took the hint, although not particularly graciously. When Chakotay tried to open the discussion to B'Elanna's own state of mind, however, his overtures were brusquely received by the chief engineer.

"I'm doing just fine, thank you, Commander. Is that it?"

"Yes, Lieutenant. That will be all." As she left his office, Chakotay sighed. He may have had his concerns about B'Elanna dating Tom Paris, but he was beginning to suspect it might be even harder on her--not to mention everyone around her--now that she was no longer seeing the helmsman.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~*

Neelix's holographic resort program was running that evening. After the exciting events in Sandrine's the night before, a large percentage of the crew were milling around, hoping for another show. There was a great deal of brisk action amongst those who were of the betting persuasion. By the time Captain Janeway walked in with her latest pet project Seven-of-Nine, intending to provide the exiled Borg with another lesson on appropriate socializing during off-duty hours, the conversations were buzzing merrily. Many of these had to do with Captain Janeway's previous reclamation project, one Thomas Eugene Paris, who was holding court in the center of the resort.

Playboy Tom seemed to be back. Every woman received a bit of the famous Paris flirtatiousness. A careful observer could see that the remarks, while pleasantly flattering and given with a smile, had no motivation other than to give the recipient a brief glow from being appreciated. Anyone, man or woman, who seemed in need of a few moments of attention received some. Even Seven-of-Nine was treated to a sample of Paris' gallantry when he came to where the captain and the former Borg were sitting, bringing each a drink. Upon being prompted by the captain, Seven managed a perfunctory "Thank you." Tom stayed to chat them up for several minutes before he floated off to another table. Captain Janeway was not fooled by his antics. The emptiness in his eyes told her all she needed to know.

"Tom, can we talk?" Megan Delaney waved him over to the table where she was sitting, alone at the moment.

"Sure. Need company? I thought I saw Gerron here before."

"He's over getting us something to drink. I don't suppose you want anything." She looked at his almost-full glass with a smidgen of disapproval. The colors in his glass had been changing all night, and she suspected that he was not limiting himself to synthehol.

Taking a seat across from Megan, Tom took a long swig of his drink.

"So, what do you want to talk about. Not me, I hope."

"Reading my mind, again, Tom? That's exactly the subject I had in mind. Or rather, we had in mind." Megan slid over to make room for Gerron, who was carrying a tray with two glasses of a fizzy pink liquid and a plate of hors d'oeuvres.

"I'm not a very interesting subject, even though I seem to be coming up in a lot of the conversations tonight." He took another long sip of his drink, then waved to a holodeck waiter to order another. Megan shared a glance with Gerron. It was even worse than they had suspected.

"Tom, it's obvious how much you're hurting. If there is anything we can do, all you have to do is ask."

"Thanks, Meg, Gerron. I know you'd help if you could. I'm not sure there's anything anyone can do." He paused, looking into the bottom of his now empty glass. "You know, I hailed her before I came here tonight. Asked her to dinner, just to eat. Promised to keep it light. She barely let me finish the invitation." He paused. "I'll give it some time, I think. Maybe work this out on my own."

When he looked up from his glass, he could see sympathy and concern radiating from both pairs of eyes. "Just remember that if there is anyway we can help, if you do need anyone to talk to, we'll listen. Both of us," Gerron said. Coming from hisomee offer may have meant even more than it might have from Megan. Tom had been close to her for a long time, but even though he had never been as friendly with Gerron, Tom knew the young Bajoran wasn't one to say anything he did not mean.

"Thanks, Gerron, Megan. I just may take you up on that." With the arrival of his drink, however, Tom made his good-byes and circulated the room once again.

"Do you think we'd have more luck talking to B'Elanna?" asked Gerron.

"Maybe if you did--you've known her longer than I have. I'm not sure what her reaction would be to me. I wish I knew what had gotten into her--they seemed so right for one another. I've never seen Tom like this before. He really has it bad."

Gerron put his arms around Megan and gave her a quick hug, to which she responded with a smile and a soft kiss. Seeing Tom's pain made them even more gratefully aware of their own feelings for one another.

Tom's social butterfly persona was in evidence all evening. Janeway, Megan, and Gerron were not the only ones to realize it was a mask. When he left, Tom was intoxicated by something much stronger and more painful than synthehol, and no one failed to notice that he left alone.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

After checking the chief engineer's whereabouts via the comm system, Kes accidentally-on-purpose ran into B'Elanna outside of Sickbay. The plans for a quiet dinner that would be interrupted by a certain tall, blond and blue-eyed human male had gone awry, simply because B'Elanna had not made herself available for an invitation when Harry had tried to ask her during the previous three days. Now it was time for the less subtle approach.

"Hi, B'Elanna, I've been looking for you."

"Here I am."

"I wanted to ask you about something."

"Not now, Kes. The Doctor is waiting for me. It's time for his weekly diagnostic."

"That's convenient. I was just going to go to Sickbay myself. I have a few things to finish up before I meet Harry for dinner."

Smiling sweetly, Kes led B'Elanna into Sickbay. B'Elanna breathed in heavily but managed to keep herself from making any more noticeable sign of discomfort. She had been diligently avoiding Kes since the breakup with Tom. If anyone could recognize the tumultuous emotions that she had been trying so hard to keep in check, it would be the gentle but perceptive Ocampan woman.

When the two women entered Sickbay, the Doctor registered their approach with what appeared to be some surprise. "Kes, I thought you were going to dinner."

"I had a few things to check up on in the lab." While saying this, Kes raised an eyebrow, tilted her head slightly, and then flashed an intent look at B'Elanna before staring back at the EMH.

"Oh, of course, I remember now. Go right ahead. Carry on."

If B'Elanna didn't know better, she would have sworn that the Doctor was actually getting flustered about something. "Are you experiencing some kind of difficulty in your programming, Doctor?"

"No, no, everything is just fine. That's why you're here, isn't it? To assure me that everything is fine."

B'Elanna stared at him. His behavior was decidedly odd. She would need to take extra care in her testing this evening.

~~~~~

B'Elanna checked the reading on her instruments. "That's the last one, Doctor. According to the diagnostics, your program seems to be working perfectly. Do you have any concerns?" She was relieved that his unusual behavior did not appear to be due to any problems with the EMH system itself. After having an ample opportunity to put away her equipment without a reply from the Doctor, however, B'Elanna looked up at him. His usual answer was a brusque, "No, Lieutenant. Have a nice day." There was no doubt about it. He was looking at her with an unreadable look. He was definitely acting abnormally.

"Doctor?"

"Really, Doctor, I don't advise adding any more personality subroutines to your matrix unless you're going to delete something. There are already so many variables in what constitutes your . . . ."

"Lieutenant, I'm not asking about your making any adjustments to my matrix. Not directly, at any rate." He stopped and cleared his throat for a second. B'Elanna wondered where that particular mannerism had come from. Had he been fooling around on his own again, or was it characteristic of one of the many doctors upon whom the EMH had been based? She was on the brink of asking him about it when he continued, "I was thinking about my family. I'd like to extend the family program."

Of all the things that the Doctor might have said to B'Elanna, that was the least expected. "After all the pain you went through, when your daughter . . . . Doctor, do you really want to go through that again?"

"Of course I don't want to go through that kind of pain again, but going back to my family doesn't mean I will, necessarily. That kind of tragedy doesn't happen all the time, Lieutenant. I know it can happen more than once. I've been reviewing the literature. Hopefully, Jeffrey and any future children would grow up hale and hearty."

"Future children!" B'Elanna looked at the Doctor and Kes in shock.

The Doctor made a face. "Well, the cat's out of the bag, as the saying goes. I don't even want to know how that particular saying got started, truth to tell. Well. Yes, I am considering having another child with Charlene. My wife. Jeffrey's mother."

"I know who Charlene is, Doctor. How could I ever forget her?" The saccharine sweetness of Mrs. Doctor as originally programmed had given B'Elanna a bad headache. "But, 'having a child?' "

"Kes and I have been talking it over. She feels that I gave up on the program too soon after Belle's death; that I didn't tie up all the loose ends, as it were. Since the program has never been deleted, I decided to go back a few more times. I did do a little programming, Lieutenant, I admit, but it was with Mr. Paris' and Mr. Kim's assistance. They only helped me to advance the program a few months. I just couldn't--well, I had already gone back to the time immediately following my loss sufficiently for that. When I went back, Charlene was so glad to see me she broke down in tears. I found myself grieving with her for Belle again anyway.

"What Mr. Paris told me was true, Lieutenant Torres. Allowing myself to truly experience the grief and grow past it was beneficial. After I visited several more times, I realized how much more there is to family life than that I could experience with the program as it had been originally designed. I had completely missed pregnancy, childbirth, infancy, and early childhood. I jumped into my examination of family life far too precipitously, failing to gain valuable insight from dealing with a younger child that I might have used to avoid the pitfalls of dealing with teenagers. Charlene and I have been discussing having another baby. I think it would be an excellent opportunity for me to explore other aspects of family life. Will you help me, Lieutenant?"

"I really think the Doctor is right about pursuing this, B'Elanna," Kes jumped in eagerly. "Time can be telescoped a bit throughout the program--the Doctor and his family wouldn't be subject to the laws of real time that you and I are, so the pregnancy doesn't need to take nine months in real time as it usually does for humans--but think how much the Doctor could learn! He's been doing so much better in his interactions with the crew just from what he's learned already."

After thinking about it, B'Elanna could see benefits in the plan. "All right, Doctor. I'll give it a try. While I'm at it, I'll look at the randomizing elements I added before. I think I may have gone a little overboard with the negatives after seeing that first version of the program." B'Elanna couldn't keep herself from cringing. That first look at the family over dinner had been a sickening experience. She was sure she'd overreacted when she "tweaked" it. "We'll get rid of Jeffrey's Klingon friends, and I'll make sure that future elements are fair to you in . . . "

"Lieutenant, you don't have to delete Larg and K'Kath. Once I got to know them and set some reasonable limits concerning Jeffrey's activities with them, it turned out they weren't such bad influences after all. They were a great deal of help to Jeffrey when he was getting over the loss of his sister."

B'Elanna stared at him. This was getting stranger and stranger, but at least she finally understood the Doctor's earlier behavior--not to mention Kes' unexpected presence in Sickbay when she should have been having dinner with Harry. "Fine, Doctor. I'll work on developing the birth and early childhood development program. Make sure that you let me know if you think about anything else. I don't want you tinkering with the program yourself." She picked up her instrument case and started to leave when an idea struck her. "Doctor, how do you want to . . . start this baby."

"What do you mean? Oh!" The Doctor looked shocked. "I hadn't really given that any thought, Lieutenant."

"You'd better."

"Perhaps you can give the Doctor the capability of choosing whether or not to experience that himself, B'Elanna," said Kes quietly. "Can you do that?"

"I believe I can. I know of a few holodeck programs that are pretty--explicit--in that regard. We can make that one of the elements you can control yourself, if you like."

"That would be acceptable." The Doctor's voice trailed off, but he was smiling especially broadly, his eye gaze far away.

Kes and B'Elanna exchanged grins. Apparently the Doctor was running through the possible scenarios already. B'Elanna had a feeling she already knew what his choice would turn out to be.

~~~~~

Kes followed B'Elanna out of Sickbay. "B'Elanna, wait a moment. I have something else I want to ask you."

"Yes, what is it?"

"Since it's so late, I thought you might like to join Harry and me for dinner in our quarters. We were going to replicate something for dinner anyway. We expected the Doctor would make his request to you tonight." Her smile was genuine, welcoming.

"Thanks for the invitation, Kes, but I want to get back to my own quarters early tonight. I've got a busy day coming up tomorrow."

"It's been a long time since we had a chance to talk together. We were really hoping that you'd come by, B'Elanna."

The half-Klingon engineer appraised her companion with a suspicious air. "Not to talk about a certain pilot, I hope," she snapped.

Kes' facial expression revealed the true agenda. Only the truth would satisfy her friend now. "That was one of the subjects, I admit. But B'Elanna, he's been so unhappy, and . . . well . . . it seems like you've been avoiding us all since you argued with Tom. If you really don't want to talk about it, of course we'll respect that."

"I suppose he was going to 'just happen to drop by' while I was there?" Her eyes were flashing dangerously.

Kes sighed. "That was Harry's original plan, but I put a stop to that. Tonight we were really only going to talk. Please forgive us. We care about you both. I'm sorry if I've put you into an uncomfortable position by asking you this."

The earnest look displayed upon Kes' face sapped away B'Elanna's anger. It was hard to remain angry with Kes for long; her sincere desire for others to be happy was a well-known, foregone conclusion. "I know you meant well. Give my regrets to Harry."

As B'Elanna strode determinedly away, Kes found that she had to lean against the corridor wall, all of her energy drained away by her conversation with the engineer. When her strength did not return as much as she expected despite resting for a few minutes, Kes signaled her husband to meet her in front of Sickbay. She wouldn't need to reveal the real reason she'd wanted him to come. He would offer her his arm automatically out of courtesy.

While waiting for Harry, Kes decided that if this was typical of the way it was going to make her feel, matchmaking was not an activity she intended to be doing very often in the future.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Paris to Torres."

::::"Torres here."::::

"Lieutenant, if you're free tonight, I'd like to invite you to dinner. No pushing. No pressure. Just two old friends having dinner. What do you say?"

::::"Thanks for the offer. I'm busy."::::

The filtering effect of the comm transmission did not obscure the finality of the rejection in her voice. Asking her if she'd consider having dinner tomorrow, or the day after that, or the next day, would undoubtedly elicit the same response.

"Another time, then, Lieutenant."

::::"Fine. Torres out."::::

Tom leaned against the wall in his quarters. At least she had answered his hail this time. That might be progress; but more likely, she thought of it as her duty, in case he had some engineering problem to be addressed. He had better not think of it as an opening for any future involvement. For the hundredth time he cursed himself for letting her get to him the way she had; but gotten to Tom, she had. No question.

If Tom thought the fantasies he'd had about getting physical with Lieutenant Torres had preoccupied him before they first slept together, he now knew better. Those fantasies were nothing compared to the sharp, painful clarity of his memories of their time together on Tantrum IV, or on board Voyager since their return. Over and over again in his head he heard echoes of her voice, felt the whisper of her touch, sensed the breath of her mouth on his. He shook his head to free himself of his fantasies the way a dog shakes water off its body. He had to get a grip on himself.

And he had to get himself to the bridge. It was time for his shift. Quickly tugging on his boots, Tom left his quarters for his duty station at the helm.

~~~~~

Tom's shift had been boring. Nothing new or interesting occurred to divert his attention from the grim thoughts that wereplagued his mind. There was one good thing about that boring day: a certain chief engineer had no cause to appear on the bridge during the entire shift. He would be thankful for small favors.

After a sparse, replicated dinner of chicken soup and crackers (he had to get the damned thing programmed for a good bowl of tomato soup someday; he just couldn't seem to get it right), Tom paced restlessly. Unfortunately for him, pacing reminded him of someone else he knew well who was well-known for her pacing.

Groaning, Tom leaned his head in his hands for several minutes before deciding he was being absolutely ridiculous about this. He needed to provide himself with a constructive outlet. 'Write a holonovel for the crew to enjoy, Tom--Janeway has given you carte blanche to do one. Let's see, how about a holonovel set on a lonely world of perpetual winter. Let's call it Temper Tantrum. There's an idea--the crew will love it. Instead of having everyone ask about what happened, they can live it!

'The men get to be the feckless Starfleet helmsman, hopelessly in love with the ex-Maquis engineer. The women, of course, take on the role of the brilliantly talented chief engineer, who finds the helmsman's attentions hysterically funny, and ultimately, absurd. If the crew liked Insurrection Alpha, they'll love this one.

'Ah, no, Tommy, that won't do. No point in writing a program that couldn't run on the holodeck. The safeties that prevent someone from getting hurt wouldn't allow for this program to run at all. No way for someone not to get hurt. Too bad.'

He laughed. It was a bitter laugh, perhaps, but it was a laugh nonetheless. 'Tom, you really are wallowing in it now. You're feeling sorry for yourself, and that is a very, very, very bad place for Tom Paris to be. Tom Paris has done some stupendously stupid things when he was in this kind of mood--joining the Maquis, for instance. Going to the Resort, drinking himself silly, and making a fool of himself the other night was only the most recent example. When your ex-girlfriend and her new lover try to cheer you up, you know you've hit bottom. And the hangover the next day . . . whoa! Forget going out, at least in public, Paris.'

Visiting Mr. and Mrs. Kim might be a possibility, as it wasn't like going to Sandrine's or the Resort. Harry and Kes had invited him over to their quarters, but he felt awkward being in their company right now. They were so obviously honeymooners, practicing for Kes' Elogium, no doubt. Thinking of Harry caused a genuine smile to cross Tom's face. When Harry finally decided to get on with his life, he did it in spectacular fashion, that was for sure. They had much better things to do with their time right now than to play nursemaid to Tom Paris' broken heart. 'Much better things, things I'd like to be doing with B'Elanna right now.'

Thinking her name made him remember the hunger he had awakened in her. It was her due, that power of a Klingon woman in full sexual arousal that no one had ever bothered to nurture in her before Tom. As painful as it was for him to admit, he had to say he now knew what all those gross comments made in those crummy bars were about. If nothing else, he had experienced a Klingon woman--'or a half-Klingon, to be precise,' Tom smiled wanly. The half-Klingon may have been enough. He doubted he would have survived anything more intense than what they had experienced together.

Maybe she'd just realized the truth about him: he wasn't really her type, after all. 'Maybe, Tom Paris, you should be grateful that you had a chance to experience that Klingon woman. Even more, you should be proud that you were the one responsible for awakening her to her own powers, even though another man would get the benefit someday, unfair as that might seem. Maybe giving her the gift of finding out that about herself should be enough for you. Too bad it doesn't feel that way, but some things just are. You should have learned that by now, Tom.'

Enough with the self-pity; Tom decided to do something constructive. He had work to do. There were reports due about training flights for several of the crew's personnel records. Jim Joseph, especially, should be commended. Chakotay had mentioned his flying the Sacajawea for the monitoring flights. While Tom knew that the commander had filed his own reports, Tom wanted to make some comments of his own to tie in Chakotay's reports with his own recommendations. Jim was ready to serve as a pilot on some missions, not just as a co-pilot or for routine testing on repaired shuttles. Tom should make the entries. Work was good. It was apparently what she was doing since the break-up. He sat at his desk to do some nice, boring paperwork.

For over an hour, recording comments in the personnel files of his students occupied Lieutenant Paris' time. An entry to his official log, and another, short personal log entry followed. Then, when Tom remembered that he had forgotten to make an entry for one student, he turned back to the personnel files to make it up. That was it, though, and not even two hours had passed, including the time he had spent having dinner. 'Now what? Finish reading *Women Warriors at the River of Blood?* Guess not, no reason to finish that one now,' although Tom was curious to know how it ended.

Tom was about to click on the story reader program when a fragment of memory about looking up a certain personnel record flashed into his mind. An officer named Torres, about whom he actually knew very little, not even the man's first name. He hesitated. Now that B'Elanna and he were no longer together, hcontd little reason to look up that file. Ethically, he probably shouldn't. But as a senior officer of Voyager, he was authorized to enter such files. What if he found out something important, something that B'Elanna SHOULD know about her father?

After wrestling with the moral issues for a few minutes, Tom succumbed to temptation. "Computer, access Starfleet Personnel Archive files, code Paris gamma-rho-theta."

::::"Working."::::

"Computer, cite personnel records of active or inactive officers fitting the following established parameters: Last name, Torres."

::::"There are 5647 entries that correspond to that request."::::

"Okay, how about "Home world, Earth."

::::"There are 3284 entries that correspond to that request."::::

"Cross reference to entries citing the name of the planet Kessik IV."

::::"There are 4 entries that correspond to that request."::::

Now that was a surprise. A chance similarity of names? Or did B'Elanna have family members that she didn't even know about that lived on Kessik IV? Maybe he would have to look them all up, but first, a narrower approach.

"Cross reference to entries having the name B'Elanna Torres included in the entry."

::::"There are 2 entries that correspond to that request."::::

'Ah hah! Bingo!'

"Computer, display those two files."

Tom's computer screen lit up with the loaded files. The first was easy to dispose of: it was the record of one B'Elanna Torres, Starfleet Academy drop-out. Tom lingered over the record anyway. He felt a pang of desire as the image of a young and belligerent-looking woman of half-Klingon, half-human blood glared out of the screen at him. If they could only have gotten together earlier, would it have been different for both of them? He hadn't really gotten to be a 'pig' until he made his big mistake at Caldik Prime and was cashiered from Starfleet. Would respect for the honor of the Klingons, absorbhapparlier, have enabled him to speak the truth from the beginning, when a minor reprimand instead of dishonorable discharge would have been his discipline? Could he have helped her cope with the Academy's demands and to gain confidence in herself sooner in life? He would never know. Tom reached out to give the image's cheek a whisper-soft graze of his fingertips.

After touching B'Elanna's image, Tom moved his thumb to advance the screen to the next file. He leaned his chin against his hand as he perused its contents. Why the marital breakup had occurred he could not say after reading the records; but that was an answer he'd never expected to glean from the Starfleet records anyway. That did not alter the fact that the file of Lieutenant Commander Rafael Torres was an illuminating one in many ways. There were answers for B'Elanna here if she chose to search for them, but Tom doubted she ever would access this file.

It was just a shame that it made for such depressing reading.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Torres to Sickbay."

::::"Yes, Lieutenant. What can I do for you?"::::

"Doctor, are you free at the moment? I've completed that bit of programming for you that you wanted."

::::"Yes, I'm free, Lieutenant. No one is here at the moment. Would you prefer to meet me in one of the holodecks?"::::

"I was thinking of that; but I checked; they're all in use at the moment. If you don't mind, I'll just drop this off to you. We can work on the installation another time."

::::"I'll be waiting, Lieutenant Torres.":::: The cheeriness in his voice was evident. It occurred to B'Elanna that she was glad that someone was going to be happy to see her, but she ruthlessly suppressed that train of thought. There were plenty of people that were glad to see her. Kes and Harry, for instance. Of course, they liked to see everyone. Her staff in Engineering didn't seem happy to see her lately. They would probably start rejoicing as soon as she left at the end of her shift.

B'Elanna had managed to avoid Paris since turning down his most recent dinner invitation; he now seemed to be avoiding her as well. Neelix fawned on everyone; and expecting a Vulcan to be "happy" to see anyone was a fantasy. Janeway and Chakotay didn't seem particularly happy about anything lately. B'Elanna was at a loss to figure out what Seven-of-Nine was thinking or feeling at any given point. Growing up Borg did not lend itself to the expression of personal feelings. B'Elanna shuddered. As much as she had struggled against her Klingon heritage, that was nothing compared to what it must have been like to have been raised by the Borg.

As B'Elanna traveled from Engineering to Sickbay in the turbolift, another spell of lightheadedness assaulted her. She had to grab hold of the bar inside the lift to keep her balance. 'Burying yourself in work all the time isn't a good idea,' she told herself roughly. 'But burying myself in work is the only think that keeps me from thinking about Tom,' she countered mentally.

B'Elanna did not want to think about his smile, or the sound of his voice as he told a joke, or his beautiful hands as they pranced over his keypad at the helm, or the way they felt when he . . . . "Stop it!" she shouted to herself, glad that no one was with her in the turbolift.

B'Elanna felt her stomachs lurch again as the turbolift reached Deck 5. Just thinking about her handsome former lover was turning her stomachs, now. What a perfectly un-Klingon thing that was. She sighed. If she had wanted to keep thoughts of Tom from invading her mind, breaking up with him seemed to have been the wrong way to go about it.

The Doctor's "Hello, Lieutenant!" was particularly enthusiastic as she walked into Sickbay. B'Elanna returned his wave. Yes, the Doctor was happy to see her this evening. She handed him the PADD with the family program modifications.

"Here it is, Doctor. I've loaded in the parameters for human pregnancy, childhood and adolescence. I've also worked on the algorithms for a fair randomizing of all the variables in the program, including the gender of the child. You may get a baby that cries all the time, Doctor. I'm warning you. This is not going to be a lollipop kid. There are no guarantees about bad things not happening this time, but I've taken special care that the probabilities for illnesses, disabilities, and accidents are all exactly in line with norms on Earth. That's what you said that you wanted."

"It is indeed, Lieutenant. If I am to derive any value from my family, I must leave some things to chance. I've learned my lesson."

"Still, if you want any specific modifications to the program before you decide to install it, hail me and I'll take care of it. Oh, by the way, the random elements include that one choice you have about, uh, how to initiate the modification. You can jump into the scenario before or after the pregnancy actually starts, it's your choice."

"Thank you, Lieutenant. That's very thoughtful of you." B'Elanna shook her head, even as she grinned. This whole thing was simply--weird.

Shaking her head may not have been the best idea. The room swirled, and muttering "*baQa'*," a Klingon curse she almost never used, B'Elanna had to grab onto a biobed to keep from losing her balance the way she had in the turbolift.

"What's wrong, Lieutenant Torres? Are you ill?"

"It's nothing, Doctor. I'm pretty tired. I've been working much too hard lately, I think. Unless you have some of those Macroviruses floating around in here again. My stomachs are--unsettled, like when we were invaded by those flying monstrosities.

"If that's the case, Lieutenant, you should have availed yourself of my professional services sooner. That is, after all, my true purpose on this ship. Come over here and let me scan you."

"Doctor . . ."

"I know how much you hate my interventions, Lieutenant, but I insist. Have you any other symptoms that you can tell me about?"

Glancing upwards in exasperation, B'Elanna considered bolting for the exit, but another sudden roll of her stomachs made her decide to cooperate with the Doctor's inquisition. "Well, I've been a little lightheaded, sometimes. Not too often, but sometimes. My staff would tell you that I'm irritable, I guess. Everyone is walking on eggshells around me. Or so Kes tells me. I seem tired all the time lately. I think that's because I haven't been sleeping very well. I've tried exercising to make me sleep deeply, but it doesn't seem to help. I've also tried sleeping extra hours, but I can't seem to shake the fatigue anyway. And my . . . ." She hesitated. It was probably nothing, but he was asking for symptoms. This might be one. "Well, my breasts have been really sore the last few weeks. Swollen, I guess. I just can't figure out what's wrong with me. You don't think I am really, seriously sick, do you." Suddenly B'Elanna was worried. Maybe she had been too laissez-faire about her health.

As she had been reciting her symptoms, the Doctor had been moving his basic medical tricorder over B'Elanna. Grunting a quick, "Fascinating," he moved to his instrument console, switched on a computer screen, and took hold of another probe. This time all of his attentions were centered upon his patient's abdomen.

"Doctor, what in the name of Kahless is wrong with me! Tell me, now!" B'Elanna began to get alarmed, which resembled anger to the untrained eye.

"Actually, Lieutenant, nothing is 'wrong' with you. You are simply experiencing a perfectly normal bodily process. What a coincidence that we should be talking about my family program at a time like this!" The Doctor beamed at B'Elanna. "Congratulations, Lieutenant. You are going to be a mother."

"I'm going to be a WHAT?!"

"A mother. In about seven or eight months, or thereabouts. With the blending of species, I can't be precise as to the actual length of your pregnancy at the moment."

"That's impossible," B'Elanna said, flatly.

"What do you mean, Lieutenant? I seem to recall that there was evidence to believe that you and Mr. Paris have had an intimate relationship. Am I in error?" The look of a raptor appeared in his eyes. "So far, the literature has never been able to confirm a virgin birth, but . . . "

"I don't mean it's impossible that way. But it just can't happen."

"Of course it can, Lieutenant, especially to someone who is as lax about their contraceptives as you have been. My records indicate that you did not come back to renew your implant when it passed its effective limit three months ago. You will recall that you said that you would 'come back later' for it when I examined you after your experience with Mr. Paris on that Tantrum world. Not that that is particularly unusual, of course--no one ever listens to my advice. I don't know why I persist in giving it."

"Doctor, what did I need it for! There aren't any other Klingons within thousands of parsecs from here!"

"Why did you think that you could only have a child if you had relations with a Klingon? Do you think I'm in the habit of prescribing medications and treatments for my patients that aren't needed?" His indignation was aroused.

"Doctor, I know I can't have children with a human so easily. Klingon and human matings need 'technical assistance' to happen. Do you know how much my mother had to go through to get me? She told me about it enough! Every time she was angry at me, in fact, which was pretty often!"

"I am familiar with the technical aspects, Lieutenant," he said dryly. "It is precisely because it is so arduous an undertaking that almost all couples make arrangements for the reproductive compatibility of the resultant offspring with one species or the other, based on expected lifestyles. Since your parents obviously were not sure from which species your most likely mate might come, they made sure your reproductive system was compatible with both humans and Klingons. Quite prescient of them, and an amazing technical achievement, I might add. They found so elegant a solution to the problems of interspecies mating that I almost might have thought of it myself."

B'Elanna looked at the Doctor in complete confusion. This can't be happening. "This must be a mistake. My organ systems are Klingon."

"Most of them are, Lieutenant Torres. Not the reproductive system. At least, not entirely. Your uterus is capable of nourishing an embryo fertilized by either species, and the hormones to maintain pregnancy are virtually identical for both. We can see that 94.7% of the eggs in your right ovary are compatible with Klingon sperm; while in your left ovary, 97.3% of the eggs are human-compatible. I would say that you would be slightly more fertile with a human, actually, given that ratio. The egg for this pregnancy must obviously have come from the left ovary." The EMH walked over to his scan display and punched the console several times. "Yes, there it is. I totally missed that during your examination when you returned from the planet. A new protocol is indicated, I think . . . "

"DOCTOR!"

"Oh, yes, Lieutenant. Sorry to have gone off on that little tangent. As far as your symptoms go, they all sound perfectly reasonable for someone with mixed human and Klingon heritage. The swelling of the breasts, in particular, is associated with both Klingons and humans. We'll be needing to see you every . . . "

B'Elanna screeched the EMH into silence. "I can't have this baby, Doctor! I am the chief engineer of Voyager! I work hours on end. Sometimes I'm not home long enough to get any sleep myself! How can I care for a baby? There are all kinds of dangers in Engineering--radiation, accidents. I can't do this! I'm alone!"

"I hardly think that's true, Lieutenant Torres. Ensign Wildman has had many of the crew help her with Naomi. And Mr. Paris would cw aninly help you. He's quite sympathetic when it comes to families. He was extremely helpful to me when . . . ."

"Don't you DARE tell Thomas Eugene Paris about this!"

This outburst managed to silence the EMH. After successfully achieving a modicum of control over her temper, B'Elanna went on. "Besides, Doctor. Since I had no idea I was pregnant, I've certainly exposed this baby to radiation hazards."

The Doctor picked up his medical tricorder, checking B'Elanna's abdomen again with care. "You had no idea, Lieutenant? Just how long is your normal menstrual cycle, then? And how many days does it last, on average?"

"Four weeks. Give or take a day or two. It usually lasts for about four days." B'Elanna felt her throat suddenly go very dry.

"Hmm. And you had a normal cycle last time?"

"It was a little short."

"How short, Lieutenant?"

"A day long. Maybe less. Maybe . . . a couple of hours." She exhaled sharply. How could she have been so stupid! Stupid, stupid, stupid!

"A little spotting during implantation in the uterine wall. Perfectly normal, then." He scanned her abdomen one more time. "And I can detect no problems at all with the embryo. A perfectly normal, healthy, three-quarters-human, one-quarter-Klingon female fetus. Now that we know, protective measures can be taken to prevent any radiation exposure to her." He smiled encouragingly at B'Elanna.

'Oh, great. It's a girl too. What kind of mother is B'Elanna Torres going to be, with such a great role model to follow!' "I'm sorry, Doctor, but I can't do this. I need to end this. Now."

The Doctor's smile faded. While he still might have needed some work in regards to bedside manner and the evaluation of a patient's emotional status in certain situations, the Doctor did not need assistance in interpreting the look on B'Elanna's face. Furious, yet frightened, too, although she would have throttled anyone who dared suggest to her that she was the latter.

"Am I hearing you correctly, that you are saying you do not wish to carry this child to term?"

"You are hearing me correctly."

"I will do a termination of pregnancy if you insist, but there are certain regulations restricting this procedure. There is a waiting period."

"How long?"

"The procedure cannot be done prior to the passage of at least a 72 hour period from the time the pregnancy is confirmed, to make sure that the mother is not making a snap decision influenced by being in shock from first learning of her condition."

B'Elanna looked at the chronometer. "I'll be back three days from now, at 1933 sharp."

"Lieutenant Torres, shouldn't you talk over this decision with Lieutenant Paris, first?"

"I told you not to bring him into this."

"But Lieutenant . . . "

"We're not together, anymore, Doctor. There's no point to it. Leave him out of it. In fact, I don't want anyone else to know about this but you and me."

"I'm sorry, Lieutenant, but I cannot do the procedure without my assistant's presence. That is by Starfleet regulation, also."

B'Elanna bent her head down and closed her eyes. Kes. Kes would have to know. Her stomachs did another leap over each other. She did not want to think about the look that would be in Kes' eyes when she heard about this, but it couldn't be helped.

"All right. You'll have to tell Kes. Make it clear to her that NO ONE ELSE is to know. Not even Harry. And especially, not Paris."

The Doctor bobbed his head. B'Elanna leaned on the biobed again. Her stomachs were really flopping around now.

"Lieutenant," the Doctor said softly. "Are you in need of any assistance?"

"Can you make my stomachs behave for the next few days?"

"The literature suggests that keeping the stomach filled sometimes helps. Human females often have extreme reactions to pregnancy, with nausea very common and vomiting occurring frequently. Your Klingon stomachs should protect you from the worst of such symptoms; but if not, come to me and I will give you something. Try food first, Lieutenant, the blandest you can find."

As B'Elanna exited Sickbay, the Doctor regarded her thoughtfully. This was another aspect of the family that he had not considered. The subroutines in his program for sadness and regret were activated.

~~~~~

Her thoughts in a jumble, B'Elanna moved as if on automatic pilot out of the Sickbay door. She found herself in front of the turbolift, stepping aside for Ensigns Lang and Ashmore, who eyed B'Elanna curiously as they exited. Entering the half-filled lift, B'Elanna meant to say "Deck 11" to return to Engineering, even though she had no good reason to go back there tonight. Lost in thought, she said nothing and instead found herself on Deck 2, standing in front of the mess hall door. B'Elanna was briefly confused, but then mentally shook herself. 'It's dinnertime, Torres,' she said to herself. 'The doctor said that eating would help your queasiness.' After her mental pep talk, she entered the mess hall.

Of all the people who had to be standing in line in front of her, why did it have to be Thomas Eugene Paris, the last person she wanted to see? B'Elanna could not believe her bad luck. Compounding her distress was the sensation that her second stomach was trying to rise up through the first one and exit her body via her throat. She absolutely refused to be sick! At the very thought, her anger began to assert itself.

Tom, who was awaiting his turn to accept Neelix's dinner offering, turned around to greet the person who had just came in the door. He was momentarily staggered to see the one person he had been longing to see, the person who had been so assiduously avoiding him for the last several days. Calming himself the best that he could and smiling warmly, he quietly said, "Hello, B'Elanna. It's good to see you again."

Her teptic erupted at her hapless ex-lover. "It is NOT good to see you, *petaQ!*" Pivoting on her heel, she ran out of the mess hall.

"And a fine day to you too, Lieutenant Torres," Tom said grimly to her trim back as she retreated to the safety of the corridor.

From his position in line directly in front of Tom Paris, Lieutenant Commander Tuvok stared at Lieutenant Torres as she stormed out the door. Neelix, after a brief hesitation while he observed the outburst, handed the security officer his meal, shaking his head in wonderment as he did so. Despite a careful evaluation of the exchange between his two fellow officers, Tuvok could detect nothing in Mr. Paris' words, tone, or attitude to account for her behavior. Shifting his attention to Paris, the Vulcan was struck by the young man's extreme pallor, closed eyes, and ragged breathing.

"My word, Tom! What was that all about?" Neelix asked breathlessly as he leaned over the counter.

Through clenched teeth, the helmsman said, "Lieutenant Torres has apparently decided to eat dinner somewhere else. I think I may do the same." Tom backed up a step to deposit his tray back on the stack.

"That is unfortunate, Lieutenant. I had thought to ask you to join me for dinner," said Tuvok.

Tom turned to the tall, dark man beside him in some surprise. Tuvok seldom ate meals with anyone, other than for an occasional meal with the captain. "I'm not very hungry today, Tuvok. You'd do better with someone else for a dinner companion."

"I do not see anyone else in the mess hall that I would prefer sharing a meal with, Mr. Paris. If you are not hungry, you might do me the honor of sitting with me anyway to share some conversation, which, I might add, is considered an invaluable aid to the digestion." He did not elaborate on the fact that it was particularly helpful when eating a meal prepared by Neelix. Despite his emotional turmoil, Tom was perceptive enough to recognize Tuvok's unvoiced comments, not only about Neelix's cooking, but also the desire to speak with Tom.

"Are you sure? My 'conversation' might not be particularly enjoyable for a Vulcan to hear right now."

"'Enjoyable is not a necessary condition of the invitation, Lieutenant Paris. On the contrary, any sort of conversation you care to make will be satisfactory to me."

After considering the request for a few seconds, Tom placed his tray back on the counter and chose Neelix's special of the day, which happened to be Vargallian casserole with sweet tubers and bread pudding. During his wait for Tom, Tuvok surveyed the room and noted a seat for two people that was about to open up at the far end of the mess hall. He nodded towards the table when Tom turned around with his food. As he was about to walk away with Tom, the Vulcan heard Neelix hiss, "Mr. Tuvok!"

Tuvok looked back at Neelix. The Talaxian's face was glowing in approval. "People skills, Mr. Vulcan! Glad to see those people skills!"

With an expression that could have been interpreted as distaste if observed on the visage of a being that was not a Vulcan, Tuvok followed the helmsman to the table they had found.

~~~~~

"I guess you can tell that my relationship with our chief engineer is 'kaput.' "

" 'Kaput,' Mr. Paris?"

"That means ended, finished, absolutely over, a snowball's chance on Vul . . . ah, let's just say permanently and completely dead, and leave it at that."

"Oh. That has become common knowledge, Lieutenant." Tuvok, after taking a few bites of his food, added, "But is your relationship really over? Her reactions just now were extreme, to say the least. Since you gave her no apparent cause to be upset, something else must be bothering her. Perhaps she is now regretting the loss of your friendship."

The helmsman sighed as he picked at his food. "I wish I could agree with you, Tuvok, but she's made it very clear that she doesn't want to have anything to do with me." Tom looked out the windows of the mess hall to the stars beyond. The idea that B'Elanna might have finally figured out that Tom was not good enough for her crossed his mind, but he could not bring himself to burden the Vulcan with this revelation.

"I would not be so certain of that, Mr. Paris. The two of you seemed quite well suited to one another. You share temperaments that are somewhat prone to impulsivity and which lack a measure of reserve, making them volatile, that is true. Disagreements tend to be frequent in unions between beings that share these traits. A significant amount of time needs to be spent by the respective parties in 'making up,' or so I have observed."

Tom managed a weak smile. "You're absolutely right, Tuvok. 'Making up' would constitute a great deal of our lives together. The trouble is, the 'respective parties' have to be speaking with one another in order to make up. You saw what just happened when I said, 'hello!' "

"May I suggest that you give her a little time before approaching her again."

Now there was some advice that he hadn't been hearing more than a dozen times a day. "I'll think about it, Tuvok. Not only is it the logical thing to do, it's the only thing to do. She'd probably break something, preferably something on me, if I tried to speak to her now." Despite the surface lightness of his words, the helmsman looked anything but lighthearted. Taking a few bites from what was on his plate before toying with the rest of it, Tom looked up tentatively to meet the eyes of the Vulcan. "I don't mean to pry, Tuvok, but I've heard a little about how strong Vulcan marriage bonds are supposed to be. I know that you've been married a long time. Does that famous Vulcan logic mean that you can count on always being able to figure out what is going on with a Vulcan woman? That you can avoid having misunderstandings?"

"I have found that it is impossible to live with any sentient being for very long without a certain number of misunderstandings occurring. It is a natural part of any relationship."

"That sounds like 'no,' Tuvok."

"The sharing of information between partners is never perfect, Mr. Paris. One believes that the other knows about something, without stopping to recall that the other party has had no opportunity to gain such knowledge. Assumptions can be made that are inappropriate in consequence. It is not logical, I must admit. But it is true that misunderstandings can occur between members of any race, including Vulcans. The difference is that we are trained from childhood to deal more appropriately with such misinterpretations than by pure emotion." Tuvok paused a moment. He was not quite sure how much more to say to Tom.

"You mean you actually talk about your differences instead of trying to take the other's head off when something really threatening is said? Such as, 'Hello,' for instance?"

"I am not sure I would usually phrase it quite that way, Mr. Paris; but yes, I believe your statement is essentially accurate."

Tom gave up all pretense of actually eating his dinner. The tubers conjured up memories of much pleasanter meals eaten in a harshly cold cavern on Tantrum IV, and he did not seem to have a taste for any casserole or bread pudding tonight. After taking a sip of coffee, Tom decided that if he was ever going to ask the question he had been burning to ask, it would have to be now.

"I don't know if it would work with me, Tuvok, but I've heard that humans sometimes have successfully studied Vulcan philosophy and techniques, to assist in controlling anger and other strong emotions. Would you consider helping me learn to control mine better? Of course, I'm not sure I have any right to ask this after I gave Harry so much grief for coming to you for help when he had that problem with Marayna."

"You have every right to make the request, Lieutenant, and I am more than willing to work with you. Your method of dealing with Mr. Kim's obsession would have been just as valid an approach as mine, had she actually been a holodeck character."

"Do you think it might help?"

"I would never advise anyone against making the attempt to improve their self-control."

"Thanks Tuvok. I really appreciate this. When can we start?"

"Come to my quarters when we finish here. We will begin at once. I promise no miracle cures, Mr. Paris, you must understand."

"I'm not expecting any, Tuvok. I'm not even expecting you to help me fall 'out of love.' I'd just like some help in learning how not to display my heart on my sleeve for anyone who looks at me to take potshots at. Especially her." Lieutenant Commander Tuvok did not need to ask who "her" was.

"The practicing of meditative techniques will be beneficial in and of itself, Mr. Paris."

The two men left the topic of human emotional attachments for several minutes as they talked about other things. As Tuvok was drinking the herbal tea that he favored, Tom queried, "Tuvok, I don't mean to be insulting. I know how. . . sensitive . . . certain functions are to a Vulcan, but I was wondering. About this bonding thing. You do it when you're children? Picking a mate, I mean."

"That is the traditional way. The parents find partners for their children who would appear to make satisfactory mates."

"Does it ever fail to 'take' with one partner or the other?"

"Yes, Mr. Paris. If the bond between the partners does not take hold sufficiently, the completion of the ritual of *koon-ut kal-if-fee*, about which you have become familiar, is often the consequence."

From the finality evident in Tuvok's voice as he finished this statement, Tom decided that to inquire further might jeopardize the meditative exercises Tuvok was willing to give to him, and Tom did not wish to do that. A safer topic might be family. Tom asked Tuvok about his children. All the pilot knew of Tuvok's family was that he had some.

"My three eldest children are all male. They each have bondmates, but none had reproduced as of the last time I had contact with them. The youngest, our only daughter, was an unexpected arrival. She was born thirteen years after the birth of our youngest son."

"You must miss them a lot, Tuvok."

"No day passes without my experiencing a desire to see them."

As the two officers stood up to return their trays to Neelix, Tom asked Tuvok, "What is your wife's name, Tuvok?"

"She is called T'Pel."

"Do you have a holographic image of your wife, Tuvok?"

"There are images of T'Pel and my children in my quarters."

"Is she very pretty?"

It was the Vulcan's turn to gaze out of the window towards the stars. In his quiet voice, Tuvok replied, "T'Pel defines beauty for me, Mr. Paris."

Tom studied the Vulcan's seemingly impassive face. It was truly amazing how much Vulcans could express in a few spare words, despite their masking of emotion, if one took the time to look for it. Tom began to feel hopeful that Tuvok could help him get over B'Elanna. And if the Vulcan was accurate in his appraisal of the reason she exploded at him a while ago--perhaps he might even have a chance to win her back.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The chime to the quarters of Lieutenant Torres sounded. "B'Elanna, are you there?"

"Yes, Kes. Enter."

Kes walked into her friend's quarters. The lights were down to 20% illumination, with B'Elanna sitting in the darkest corner of the room. A half-filled plate of dry crackers and a glass of water were sitting next to her.

"He didn't waste any time telling you about it, did he?"

B'Elanna's voice was deceptively calm, and Kes quailed at the feelings of murderous rage and self-disgust that she could perceive emanating from the half-Klingon woman. Taking a seat on the couch, at less than an arm's reach from her friend, Kes tried to project as much sympathy and soothing thoughts as she could toward B'Elanna.

"The Doctor said you had no idea such a thing could happen accidentally."

"She never told me! Kes, she never said anything at all about it! How could she keep such a thing secret!" B'Elanna jumped up and began to pace. "She warned me against getting involved with humans, that was true, but she never said anything about my being able to become pregnant by a human! I was told my major organ systems were Klingon. You'd think being honest with me about what my parents had done to my reproductive system would be obligatory for an honorable Klingon! The fact is, she avoided talking about sex as much as she could, except to tell me not to do it."

"Did your mother take it for granted that Klingons wouldn't ever put you into this position in the first place? I mean, knowing that Klingon tradition dictates mating for life."

"Oh, she didn't take that for granted. She told me, 'Never become *par'machai*, B'Elanna.' That means being a lover instead of a wife. 'You bring dishonor upon our House if you do.' That's a dishonor she never had to worry about! No Klingon male ever wanted to have anything to do with me. I was too ugly for them."

"B'Elanna, we've been over this. You know you aren't ugly. Lots of men feel you are attractive. Harry has told me how beautiful he thinks you are. I'd be jealous if he didn't prove all the time to me how much he loves me!" She tried to cheer B'Elanna with a light giggle.

B'Elanna was not mollified. "Sure, lots of men. They've been swarming all over me ever since I got on board Voyager."

"There is one who has made no secret of how he feels about you."

"That was just sex, and you know it, Kes. He's over me already."

"Really? Then how come he's been dragging around with the face of doom since that night at Sandrine's? B'Elanna, he's been suffering . . . "

"Leave him out of it, Kes. I am not exactly thrilled with him at the moment. Look what he's done to me!"

" 'Done to you?' I'm sorry, B'Elanna. I had been led to believe that your relations with Tom were by mutual consent."

At Kes' frigid tone, B'Elanna was brought up short. "I don't mean to imply there was any coercion on his part," she stammered. "If there was any coercion, I guess I would have to say it was on my part. But that's my point. He was very reluctant to even have sex with me on Tantrum. I mean, it was obvious. I was available and willing. My looks have nothing to do with what happened between us."

"He didn't seem at all reluctant to me. In fact, Tom told Harry that the reason he held back was because he was afraid that it was too soon for the two of you to become intimate. He said he was afraid that you would be frightened off by getting involved too deeply, too soon."

"I am never frightened," B'Elanna stated emphatically, a chill entering her own voice. "And I see that his promise never to talk to anyone about what happened on that planet has been conveniently forgotten."

Kes sighed. She had infringed upon the Klingon cultural imperative of never admitting to fear, even though B'Elanna professed that she wanted nothing to do with Klingon culture. She would have to tread carefully from now on. Mildly, the blonde haired woman responded, "He's only mentioned it to Harry once, and that was just in passing. And you know, B'Elanna, you've been talking about what happened on Tantrum to me right now."

That brought B'Elanna's pacing to a halt. Even in her fury, B'Elanna had to agree with the basic unfairness of that. "So, I won't rip his heart out for talking, then, but the situation is still the same. He doesn't care so much about me that he'd want to deal with a pregnancy. I'm sure of that!"

"How can you be sure? Did you ever talk to him about having children someday?"

"We never discussed it, no. Well, maybe we did, on Tantrum. But that was only when we talked about how we . . . he was talking uld t us being Adam and Eve . . . that's a story from an Earth religion, Kes . . . and I said we couldn't, because a human and a Klingon couldn't on their own without technology . . . and he said he was glad that we couldn't have a child . . . that it was probably a good thing." B'Elanna's voice began to fade out as she recited this to Kes, remembering the context. The Ocampan woman was not fooled. She knew there was more.

"A 'good thing?' Why?"

"Because he said that Tantrum wasn't the garden of Eden--not a very good place to have children, he meant. We didn't have much chance of surviving ourselves for a long time, let alone be able to raise a baby." She fell silent, remembering the rest of the conversation.

"And . . . " Kes added insistently.

"And . . . " B'Elanna sat down on the couch next to Kes. "Nothing. It was nothing. It was a joke."

"What kind of joke?"

"Oh, he was always asking me if our having had sex together meant we were mates. The Klingon way, you know. He said something about that then."

"B'Elanna, how many times has Tom asked you to marry him?"

"I don't know. A few times, I guess."

"Isn't it true that the reason he stopped asking was because you got mad at him for asking you all the time?"

"He was joking with me. I didn't appreciate it."

Kes looked at B'Elanna with exasperation. "How do you know he was joking? I'm sure Tom wouldn't play games with you like that. He jokes around, but not about the really important things. Just talk to him about this. Get his help."

"No, no, no, Kes--I don't want him involved."

"Then take a little more time about it yourself, then. Deciding whether or not to have a child is one of the most important decisions you will ever make--believe me, I know. And for you there's no going back from this decision. A life is involved, and you must make the right choice. For you, for Tom, for the child you are carrying. You mustn't make it without giving it a great deal of thought. You don't want to make a snap decision that you'll regret for the rest of your life."

Kes' pleading finally broke through B'Elanna's resolve. Much as she wanted to have this thing over with, she had to agree that giving herself a few extra days to think about it was probably a wise thing to do. Not that she would change her mind, but careful consideration was not out of place.

"All right, Kes. Reschedule the 'procedure' for a week from now instead of three days to give me a little more time to think things through. But I still don't want you to breathe a word of this to Tom. Or to Harry, because that's the same as telling Tom."

"All right, B'Elanna, I promise." As she rose to her feet, Kes swayed a little.

"Are you okay, Kes?"

"I'm fine. This has just been such an emotional conversation."

"You're telling me!" After a short pause, B'Elanna added, "Kes, I do appreciate your coming to me like this. I know you did it because you care for me."

"I'm not the only one, B'Elanna. I want you to know that."

Even though she knew that Lieutenant Torres was not much for hugging, Kes could not resist giving her one before she walked out of the lieutenant's quarters. Not feeling quite herself, the lieutenant accepted the hug without any fuss.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~*

The lesson with Tuvok went fairly well. Tom found that meditation as practiced by Vulcans was relaxing and surprisingly enjoyable. That first night, Tuvok instructed him in the clearing of the mind to prepare for meditation and showed Tom several exercises to assist in reaching this goal, including the use of certain breathing techniques. Tuvok also suggested that Tom download a copy of *The Principles of Logic* by Surak of Vulcan into a PADD to study at his leisure.

"I don't need to, Tuvok. I already have a copy in book form that I replicated some time ago."

"You already have a copy? This is quite intriguing. Why did you choose this as a book you wished to keep?"

"I've always been interested in Vulcan philosophy, possibly because it is so foreign to my own nature," admitted Tom.

"But you didn't seem to know anything about T'Hain's *Principles of Poetics*."

"I wasn't interested in poetics, Tuvok. Maybe I should have been," he added, muttering under his breath.

"What did you say?"

"Uh, nothing. Weren't we talking about Surak?

"Yes, we were. Have you read *The Principles of Logic*, then, Mr. Paris?"

"A couple of times, yes. I don't pretend to have understood it all, but some of the concepts seem to be truly universal." For about an hour, Tuvok queried Tom on Surak's writings and found that Mr. Paris had, indeed, absorbed a significant portion of the wisdom found in the book. From this starting point, they discussed several other works of philosophy from human, Klingon, Vulcan, and Bajoran sources, about more than a few of which Tom had retained at least a smattering of knowledge.

Tuvok found himself reappraising the helmsman. He had always thought that Mr. Paris was most interested in playing pool and searching for female companions during his off duty hours. Obviously, this was not entirely the case.

When Tuvok shared this insight, Tom laughed. "I'm not saying I haven't been interested in pool and 'feminine companionship.' But I haven't spent all my time in Sandrine's or the Resort, either. That gets pretty boring after a while." The younger man fell silent for a few moments, with the Vulcan receiving the distinct impression that the human was collecting his thoughts before proceeding with more revelations about his true character. "There have also been some times in my life when pool and women were not options for my 'off duty hours.' Such as when I was a resident of New Zealand, for instance."

"I understand, Mr. Paris. However and whenever you acquired this knoogetge, the fact that you have it will certainly facilitate your studies with me, should you decide to pursue them."

With sincerity and directness, Tom addressed the Vulcan lieutenant. "I do want to pursue them. If nothing else, you've helped me tonight when . . . well, Tuvok, I'm sure you realize that tonight was not a good night for me."

Tuvok nodded his understanding. He had been a spectator at an ugly scene.

The two lieutenants agreed to meet every other night for the foreseeable future, duty schedules permitting. Several readings were suggested for Tom to pursue. "I hope these readings will not prove to be too onerous for you, Mr. Paris," stated Tuvok. "I have heard some humans complain that they are 'dull reading.' "

A little of the pilot's sense of humor emerged. "If they are too dull for me, Tuvok, then they'll help put me to sleep. If they aren't too dull, then I'll learn something new. Either way, they should help me with my immediate problem. Thanks." Tom strolled towards the exit, then halted suddenly. "Oh, by the way, weren't you going to show me that hologram you have of your family?"

The Vulcan walked to a niche in the wall of his quarters and returned with a disc-shaped object. Pressing on the underside, Tuvok produced the image of a classically handsome Vulcan woman with deep bronze skin. He pressed the underside several more times. The faces of family groupings of what were clearly Tuvok's sons and their bondmates, plus the visage of a beautiful young Vulcan woman, appeared successively before T'Pel's image was again visible. Tom gazed at the woman's face, then met her husband's eyes, saying simply, "I hope I get to meet your family someday, Tuvok. And I see what you mean about T'Pel's beauty," The Vulcan lieutenant acknowledged the compliment with the barest of nods.

As the Vulcan watched the tall young human retreat down the corridor on his journey back to his own quarters, he reviewed what he had learned of the helmsman during the mind meld that they had shared a few years ago, during a murder investigation. From his recollections of that meld, Tuvok realized that he already should have known that there was much more to Mr. Paris than usually met the eye. He resolved not to underestimate Mr. Paris again.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Several times in the ensuing days, Tom Paris and B'Elanna Torres spent time in the same room together. Usually, it was on the bridge, where Tom performed his duties at the helm while B'Elanna sat at the Engineering station. Neither one spoke with one another, as direct conversation was not needed. All communications went through the commanding officer.

The chief engineer noted unhappily, however, that the helmsman's mood and demeanor on the bridge were on a much more even keel than they had been at any time since the ending of their relationship. Any slim hope she might have harbored that Tom Paris still had feelings for her faded as she listened to his calm, "Yes, Captains" and "Aye, Commanders." That a sly "Yes, ma'am" never escaped his lips and that the pilot's usual hint of insouciance was absent from his replies were facts which eluded her.

B'Elanna was too busy pondering her own dilemma to consider that he might have been trying to deal with a broken heart. She was puzzled when she heard that he was spending as much time with Tuvok as with Harry, but Harry's deep involvement with Kes was undoubtedly a factor. As for Tom becoming a friend of Tuvok's, well, there was no accounting for taste.

Off the bridge, they ran into each other twice. The first time was in the messhall. This time Tom nodded to her but said nothing as he walked past the table she was sharing with Harry and Kes. Tom sat with Megan Delaney and Gerron Tem. The other was a short, uncomfortable trip on the turbolift. Again, Tom acknowledged her presence but said nothing. B'Elanna recalled that their trip in the turbolift after they hadofesurned from the Sakari world began much the same way; but Tom, eager to clear the air between them, had halted the lift and confronted her about what had happened. She did not consider that this time there were three other people on the lift with them.

Since B'Elanna was not telepathic, she also did not perceive that Tom frantically recited two verses of Vulcan philosophical poetry, a psalm from the Bible and several Bajoran proverbs during the course of the trip in an effort to maintain his composure. He was successful. B'Elanna ascribed his detachment to a lack of caring for her, if, indeed, he had ever cared for her at all.

Much as she wanted to believe that she had never meant anything to him, however, her mind turned back to the long days and nights spent on Tantrum IV. She began to remember things about their stay, long talks in the dark, and especially, all those times that he had offered to marry her when she thought he was just joking. Now, she was not so sure.

B'Elanna vacillated between being certain that his treatment of her had been all a game to the idea that she had hurt him so terribly when she had thrust him away that she had killed the love he had professed for her. And he had professed his love, on the planet, and once they had returned to Voyager. She hated to think of what she had said to him that night at Sandrine's, and that tantrum she had thrown in the mess hall the evening she had found out she was pregnant!

B'Elanna knew more surely every day that she must end the pregnancy. There was no future for a child having B'Elanna Torres and Tom Paris as her parents. She was sorry that she had promised Kes to wait an entire week before having the procedure completed.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Warp core problems have a habit of occurring at the most inopportune moments. On the day that B'Elanna Torres was expected in Sickbay at 1933 hours to undergo the procedure for the termination of her pregnancy, the magnetic constrictor couplings froze. A tense several hours passed in frantic efforts to repair the couplings and in getting the warp core back on line.

Deviating from her usual practice, B'Elanna had not personally performed the warp core repair work, which carried a risk of exposure to radiation. Reasoning that her bouts of vertigo might interfere with the completion of the task, she sent Mr. Carey and Ensign Ashmore to complete the repairs in her stead. The chief engineer remained in her well-shielded office, coordinating the repairs. She was still busy with her final report to the captain when she was hailed.

"Torres here."

::::"Lieutenant, it is now 2253 hours. Don't you recall that we had an appointment this evening at 1933 hours?"::::

"I'm sorry, Doctor. I've been so busy I forgot it. I'm afraid that I won't be coming tonight at all. I have things to do here that can't wait."

::::"Will you reschedule the appointment, then?"::::

"Yes, the same time as tonight, but three days from now."

::::"I will be here."::::

The EMH turned off his communicator, noting that rather than rescheduling the appointment for the following day, as he might have expected of her, she had set it for three days in the future. Since this was a procedure he did not particularly wish to perform, the Doctor did not care how long the lieutenant chose to postpone it.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Only one figure remained in Neelix's mess hall at 1430 hours ship's time the next afternoon. Lieutenant Torres, as usual, was absorbed in her work. Several data PADDs were scattered around the booth where she was sitting while she finished her midday meal. Not that Neelix minded late diners that much usually, but he had promised Lieutenant Commander Tuvok that he would do an inventory of the condition of the phasers in the locker on Deck Six, Section 3, and he did not wish to be late. As it was, time would be short before he had to be back in his galley preparing dinner.

"You don't need anything else at the moment, do you, Lieutenant? I have some duties to perform for Mr. Vulcan."

"I'm fine, Neelix. I'll be finishing up here in a few minutes." She raised her glass of prune juice to take another sip. Neelix was a little surprised that Lieutenant Torres was replicating so much prune juice lately, but she seemed to have lost her taste for the raktajino that she had previously favored.

As he hustled out of the door, he could see the lieutenant was still absorbed in her work. Her professionalism was impressive.

~~~~~

An hour later when Neelix returned to the mess hall, he noticed that one data PADD was lying on the seat where Lieutenant Torres had been sitting, and a second had fallen on the floor. It certainly was not a wonder that she had forgotten them, considering how many she had with her. Neelix stooped down to pick up both of them. He was about to hail the engineer when he thought it might be best to check what data they contained. There was a slight possibility that an earlier diner had left them. Lieutenant Torres would be quite upset if he bothered her unnecessarily; she had been notably quick to anger recently. Many of her subordinates had mentioned that to him in passing when the Talaxian had struck up conversations with them. It was one of his responsibilities as morale officer, after all.

Neelix turned on the first data PADD. It was titled *Honor's Path: Raising the Klingon Child in the Traditional Way*. Neelix was glad that it was in Federation Standard and not Klingon. He was proud of his increasing fluency in Standard, but he had not been able to learn any Klingon at all, as of yet. Of course, if they never got back to the Alpha Quadrant, he would not need to know Klingon any more than the rest of the crew needed to know Talaxian. Neelix pressed the on button for the second PADD and read, *The First Twelve Months of Human Life*. Neelix was surprised; he had not realized that Lieutenant Torres had any interest in child development.

Suddenly, Neelix stood up abruptly. No, it was not at all surprising, if he really thought about it. What had happened not long ago in this very mess hall--that awful scene with Lieutenant Paris--no one had been able to explain it to him. Now, her reaction to seeing Tom Paris did not seem very odd to Neelix at all. He was shocked. Neelix would never have thought that Tom Paris could be so cavalier. Then again, perhaps Tom had an explanation for his behavior. This situation appeared to need the investigative savvy he had been acquiring as the host of *Breakfast with Neelix*. He just had to find Tom and find out what he had to say. Turning around to begin his search, Neelix found himself face to face with Lieutenant Torres.

"You may need to rethink your plans about becoming a security guard, Neelix. If I'd had any evil intent, you'd be a dead man right now." The lieutenant was smiling when she said this, but she stopped smiling when she saw that the PADDs he was holding in his hand were operating. Wordlessly, Lieutenant Torres held out her hand. Neelix handed her PADDs back to her. From the seething glare boring into him as she switched them off, Neelix was relatively sure that saying anything at the moment would not be in his own best interests--not that such a trivial item as self-interest was important at a time like this.

"Lieutenant, if there is anything I can do . . . "

"Nothing, Neelix."

"Lieutenant Paris would . . . ."

"If anyone at all hears about this, you're liable to find yourself floating in space. Without an EV suit. Do you understand me?"

"Perfectly, Lieutenant. But if Lieutenant Paris is being a cad about this, the captain . . . "

"No one, Neelix. NO ONE AT ALL."

"Understood."

As the lieutenant barreled out of his mess hall, Neelix sat down at the booth that lately had been occupied by Lieutenant Torres. Tom wasn't being a cad after all; he obviously didn't know. Neelix wondered if there was some way he could inform his friend of the facts without getting himself spaced.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

B'Elanna lay sprawled on her couch, half asleep, the PADDs that Neelix had returned to her just two of the many scattered on the floor in front of her. She shook herself awake. The PADDs must have landed on the floor when she started to drift off. This lassitude was upsetting, even though the pregnancy texts all stated that fatigue was a very common symptom of pregnancy. Fatigue equaled weakness in B'Elanna's mind, and she hated being weak. Yet, a voice was echoing in her head, accusing her of being weaker in spirit than body by thrusting away someone who had shown he had cared for her--by not facing that someone and confessing the truth.

B'Elanna imagined what he would look like if she told him that he had fathered a child. Would he be upset? Angry? No, she doubted that. More than likely Tom would don that self-satisfied smirk of his with this proof of his virility; he would undoubtedly strut around and spread the news all over the ship. The fragile ego of Tom Paris, which she had done such an excellent job of trashing, would get a much needed boost. But how would he feel about her? She could no longer say.

She berated herself. 'Torres, you've made a mess of things. Warp coils, fine. You know how to make them hum to absolute peak efficiency, but let you near anything resembling a being with feelings to be hurt, and you'll find a way to do it. And Tom Paris certainly has feelings, even if he does always try to hide them behind that ridiculous "I Don't Care Anyway" mask of his.' Any love Tom might have once felt for her, she was sure, had been smashed to smithereens.

The engineer looked down at the PADDs on the floor. Technical manuals, to be sure, but of a very different type than the ones she was used to reading: not ways of achieving efficiency goals and teaching junior officers the tricks of the engineer's trade, but the kind that had as their focus the raising of a healthy, happy child. 'I wonder how many of these Mother ever bothered to read?' thought B'Elanna. She wasn't sure why she was reading them. What was the point? She was going to get rid of the child.

B'Elanna's stomachs churned. She did not like thinking about that. Getting rid of the child. It sounded so much uglier than "termination of pregnancy."

A hail from the captain saved her from any further thoughts about this extremely unpleasant topic.

~~~~~

"Captain, you wanted to see me." B'Elanna walked into the Captain's ready room. Tom Paris was sitting in one of the chairs. A cool nod from him was his only greeting.

"Yes, Lieutenant, sit down. I wanted to talk to you about a mission we need to undertake. You recall those dilithium crystals that you mined with Lieutenant Paris?"

As if she could ever forget them. "Yes, Captain."

"We have been contacted by the Telteskor Trading Coalition. It seems they are very interested in trading for some of them. They have pergium, coradisium, and small amounts of other rare materials that we need. Here is the complete list." The captain handed her a data PADD, which B'Elanna quickly reviewed. "Voyager's direct path to the Verdiliak's world is in a very different direction from the present location of these traders, and we need the supplies the Verdiliak are offering us as well. The Telteskor have proposed that we send a shuttlecraft to meet them at a nearby Traveler's outpost close to where they have some representatives stationed. The materials they are offering are not very bulky, and a two person team should be able to complete the task without overburdening the shuttle with too much mass on the return trip. Lieutenant Paris has already agreed to pilot the shuttle, Lieutenant. I'd like you to assign one of your engineers to go with him."

"Of course, Captain. I'll go myself."

There was an awkward silence. "Are you sure, Lieutenant?"

"Captain, some of the materials on this list can easily become contaminated when stored for any length of time. Sending a more junior officer seems too risky to me. We don't know much about these traders. I would prefer to be able to test the materials myself to make sure that they are all they are purported to be."

"Mr. Paris, are you still interested in going on this trip? I can always assign another pilot."

"I don't anticipate any problems with the mission, Captain."

The captain looked from one lieutenant to another. It was time to be completely candid with both of them. "Lieutenant Torres, Lieutenant Paris, I had heard that your . . . friendship . . . was not what it once was. This mission will involve spending about four days in transit in addition to whatever time you need to complete the business at the outpost, away from any of your fellow crewmen. Are you sure you're ready for this?"

"We're both professionals, Captain," said B'Elanna.

Tom nodded in agreement. "It's time that we put any past awkwardness behind us, Captain. We can handle this. No problem."

Captain Janeway looked at the two of them. To her they both appeared to be so vulnerable right now, but it was true that she needed her senior staff to be able to work together. So far, despite a certain amount of tentativeness, there had been no sign that the two could not work together. Perhaps it was time to demonstrate to herself as well as both of them that the end of their personal relationship would not interfere with their professional duties. "All right, it's settled then. Plan to leave tomorrow at 0900 hours. Dismissed."

Had Captain Janeway been able to read the minds of her two lieutenants, she would not have been quite so sanguine about sending them off together, despite their assurances. The helmsman stopped by the security station on the bridge to talk to Tuvok on his way back to the conn, arranging to meet with the Vulcan for dinner and for a lesson in meditation afterwards to prepare himself mentally for the task.

As the chief engineer left, she tried very hard not to think of anything at all.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

As B'Elanna packed, she tried to keep her mind devoid of any thoughts about the upcoming mission, but it was hopeless. Carey could do it just as well. Why not ask Joe Carey to do it? Even Vorik or Nicoletti could handle it. B'Elanna knew that had Tom assigned another pilot to the mission, she would probably have assigned one of her subordinates to go, admonishing them sternly to test every one of the trade items for purity. She did not want to think about why she had to be the one to go along with Tom.

Tucking the last of the clothing she was taking into her bag, B'Elanna responded, "Enter," to her door signal as it was activated.

"Hello, B'Elanna. What are you doing?" Kes greeted B'Elanna with her usual mild and friendly manner as she surveyed the state of the engineer's quarters. Usually neat to the extreme, the sleeping area was cluttered today.

"Packing for an away mission."

"Oh? What mission?"

"Kes, knowing your abilities, I imagine you could have told me that before I went to see the captain."

Caught, Kes laughed musically. "I did hear you were going on a trading expedition. Is it true--you're going with Tom?"

"Yes."

"A week ago you didn't even want to have dinner with him."

"Duty calls, Kes. We have to get back to normal."

"So what is 'normal.' Are you going to be having a baby, or not?"

B'Elanna hesitated. "I'm still not sure what to do about the baby." She sighed as she sat at the end of her bed. "I've been turning it over and over in my mind, and no matter what, I can't seem to say 'yes,' or 'no,' for that matter."

"You're supposed to have your procedure the day after tomorrow, aren't you?"

B'Elanna nodded. "I'm just going to postpone it again. I won't cancel yet, until I know for sure what I want to do about it."

"You might as well just cancel it. I know you will eventually. Why torture yourself? Just accept that B'Elanna Torres is going to be a mother, and a wonderful one, at that."

B'Elanna rolled her eyes. "Yeah, sure. So patient and loving."

"You will be, you watch." Kes suddenly swayed a little.

"Are you okay, Kes? You look unsteady on your feet"

"It's nothing, B'Elanna."

"You're not going through your Elogium, are you?"

Chagrined, Kes said, "Everyone keeps asking me that. Until you see me eating everything in sight, dirt, bugs, and all, you'll know it hasn't started yet. Harry can breathe easy for a while yet. I've lost a couple of pounds, and I guess I need to put them back on, that's all." They laughed together, pushing away for the moment the deadly serious topic that Kes had arrived to discuss. "Speaking of eating, how are you doing now, B'Elanna? Are you still feeling sick all the time?"

"No, I've been better. The Doctor was right. My stomachs aren't so queasy when I eat bland food. Of course, that means I have to stay out of Neelix's mess hall . . . Kes, what's the matter?" The Ocampan woman had suddenly turned her attention to a spot past B'Elanna's shoulder, looking as if she were stunned by something that she saw there.

Turning to look in the direction Kes was staring, B'Elanna at first saw nothing but the empty doorway to her bathroom. She walked nearer when she realized that an indistinct shape was coming into existence before her. A dim memory from her childhood suddenly popped into her head, and without thinking, B'Elanna cried out. "*qa'Dol*," naming a kind of Klingon spirit or entity which had been the subject of many stories that her mother had told her when she was a child.

She was about to hit her comm badge to signal an intruder alert when Kes moved in front of the apparition and cried, "Father!" B'Elanna was shocked; she knew that Kes' father Benaren had died before she had climbed out of the underground refuge on her homeworld to the planet's desolate surface. Only the sight of Kes' blissful face as she regarded the apparition stopped B'Elanna from alerting Security.

For several minutes the small figure of Kes stood in front of the mysterious image of what was now recognizably that of a slender Ocampan man of middling height and age. The ghostly form was as transparent as a doubled image on a poorly-tuned viewscreen. No words were spoken aloud by Kes or the vision, yet B'Elanna realized that some type of communication was taking place. A multitude of expressions flitted swiftly across Kes' face, and eventually, the half-human, half-Klingon engineer became conscious of a sensation like the buzzing of many quiet insects in her ears, or was it inside her head?

How long they all stood there in the throes of supernatural communion B'Elanna could not say, but finally the vision appeared to expand and dissipate into nothingness, drifting away as a morning fog is burnt away by the sun. As the *qa'Dol* vanished, Kes' eyes rolled back in her head and, slowly and deliberately, as if an unknown presence was breaking her fall, she slumped slowly downward. Before Kes had fully reached the floor, B'Elanna was there to catch her. The engineer was surprised at how light Kes was. She seemed as light as a child in B'Elanna's arms.

"Torres to Transporter Room One. Emergency beam out of two to Sickbay from my quarter . . . ."

"No! B'Elanna!" Kes' voice was surprisingly strong, even though her eyes were still closed. "No transport now. I don't know what it will do to me. Call Harry."

"Transporter Room, stand down." As B'Elanna pulled her up to a standing position, Kes opened her eyes again. "I can carry you and we'll meet Harry in your quarters."

"You might hurt thee asy if you carry me!"

"Your weight is nothing to me, Kes. You've gotten so light, and my Klingon half makes me strong. Besides, if something does happen to the baby from carrying you, at least I wouldn't be constantly agonizing over what to do about it any more."

"Please call Harry. I want your baby to be safe, and I need to get back to my quarters. I need to go home." Her large blue eyes filled with tears. "Please. And call the captain and Chakotay, Tom, the Doctor, Tuvok, and Neelix, especially Neelix. I need you all with me now. I have things I must say, and there's hardly any time."

A chill came over her as B'Elanna understood Kes. The weakness, the light headedness that she knew had been plaguing Kes. Was it more serious than she'd let on? Nodding her head, B'Elanna tapped her comm badge.

::::"Torres to Kim . . . "::::

~~~~~

Gently, Harry laid Kes on their couch as B'Elanna ran into the bedroom to retrieve a couple of pillows to prop up her friend. The ease with which Harry had carried Kes from B'Elanna's quarters to their own disturbed him greatly; in playful games he had lifted her up and carried her around their quarters as they had laughed hysterically. She had always seemed so fragile and light in his arms, yet never so light as this.

Before he had fully spread the blanket he had filched from their bed, the Doctor and Captain Janeway had arrived. A few minutes later, Seven-of-Nine poked her head in looking for the captain and decided to stay. Tuvok and Tom arrived together. The Vulcan bore his usual calm demeanor; but Tom was upset, unable to maintain the reserved air that he had been assuming of late. Commander Chakotay arrived just before Neelix swirled in, crying out "Sweeting! What is happening to you!" as if he were still the lover to Kes that he had been when they first came on board Voyager.

If Harry was disturbed by Neelix's effusiveness, he hid it well. His concern now was all for his Kes as he settled
n next to her on the couch, his arm in a protective embrace around her shoulders. Accepting Neelix's outpouring of affection by quickly grasping his hands, Kes directed the Talaxian to sit on the other side of her. "Is there anything we can get you?" asked Harry.

"No, there's no more time for me. Just stay close while I explain." The look on her face was composed but sorrowful, hinting of a wisdom far beyond the few years she had lived. Incredibly far beyond her years, since Kes was not yet four.

The Doctor had been scanning Kes with his medical tricorder during the gathering of the senior staff, Kes' good friends on Voyager. As he was visibly startled by the readings, the captain asked the Doctor what was wrong.

"Captain, I cannot begin to explain it, but Kes has lost 25% of her body mass since I checked her for dizziness only two days ago. She doesn't look any different, but she is profoundly changed."

"I noticed it, too," added Harry. "She was so light when I carried her in from B'Elanna's just now."

B'Elanna started to confirm it also, remembering the fall in her quarters, but Kes silenced them. "Yes, I am lighter, and I will continue to get lighter and lighter until I am less than the--what did you call it, B'Elanna?"

"The *qa'Do*l, the spirit entity. What humans call a ghost."

"Well, I think I will use the Vulcan term *katra*, if you don't mind, Tuvok. I think it is closer to what is happening to me. I have come to my Morelogium. My life with you all is coming to an end."

Even Tuvok's face showed a trace of confusion as Kes went on, "You may think I'm crazy, but my father came to tell me. B'Elanna saw him." All eyes turned to B'Elanna, who had to affirm Kes' statement.

"I did see something. A shimmering, a spirit--the outline of an Ocampan man. I should have sounded the intruder alert and gotten my tricorder, I know, but . . . "

Kes smiled at that. "No, B'Elanna, it doesn't matter. I can explain. The Kazon and other races have called the Ocampa weak and insubstantial because they only live nine years. Well, 'insubstantial' is right. We live here, where we can be seen and touched by you, for only nine years. Then we are transformed to a new level of existence, into a noncorporeal life form--a little like the Organians that I have read about must be like. I don't think there is a name in Ocampa for what we become. We don't even really know about it until the time comes, when our guide leads us on, but I guess we must all suspect it--my people never say that we 'die' when we came to the Morelogium. They always say, 'pass on.' I thought it was a euphemism, the way humans use the term. Now I know, my father told me. That is what really happens: we 'pass on' to another state of being."

Harry spoke softly. "Honey, if the Ocampa change to another level of existence, how can your father have told you?"

She turned so that she was more completely in his arms and smiled up into his face. "He was able to take on enough of a form to be seen and heard by me. He will guide me to what will come next. Harry, we don't live as long as the Q, but we do live for centuries in this other form until our . . . our *katra* is finally released into eternity. I will be with you, near you. But I won't be able to be heard, or be seen, or be able to bear your children, Harry, as I was meant to! It was all changed, and I have no time now to do all that I was meant to do."

"Kes," said Captain Janeway. "You haven't lived nine years yet. You aren't even four. How can this be happening now?"

"Remember when I had the chronoton poisoning, Captain? I know you weren't sure of my story then, about living another life and then coming backwards through it, but it really did happen. It was never supposed to happen that way--we were supposed to meet the Borg and Species 8472, and live as we have now. And Harry . . . ." Kes looked at her husband again with tears in her eyes. "I would have had my Elogium, aad te would have had children, Harry. Twins. A boy and a girl, Andrew and Linnis. You would have had them to be with you when I was gone. But now that can't happen. I'm sorry Harry." Finally losing her composure, Kes sobbed for a few minutes as the tears spilling out of her eyes matched those brimming out of Harry's.

Resolutely, Kes caught her breath again. "It was changed, Captain, when the ship was doubled. When the Morelogium comes, the *katra* learns from his own guide of the future life of the one that he or she must guide. They follow that life until they have brought that soul into this new kind of existence, and then they are free to go anywhere, be anywhere, or even anywhen, for that matter. My father was with me the entire time when the Kazon had me. And when I met you, Neelix." She smiled at the Talaxian, who tried to return her smile but could not in his own grief. "Captain, he was here when I came on board with you, and when that strange Elogium almost happened. But we were separated when the ship was doubled and the other Voyager was destroyed. He doesn't know if he just followed the wrong Voyager's reality, or if the wrong Voyager survived somehow.

"It doesn't matter now. We must have followed the path of that other Voyager, and we met the Krenim instead of the Borg. So many people died. And I--I led another life, not with Harry as my husband, but with another--because his true love had been killed by the Krenim." Kes tried not to look at Tom and B'Elanna or Captain Janeway, but she could not help herself. Tom's eyes were clouded with tears; he was looking down and did not see; but B'Elanna saw, as did the captain.

"I don't know if the chronotons changed me, or if the biotemporal chamber did. Father had not been able to find me, so maybe it was because I did not have a guide . . . ." Kes sighed in frustration. "That doesn't matter either, I guess. Instead of passing on, I jumped back in time, all the way back to before I was born. When the Doctor and B'Elanna and Captain Janeway treated me, they brought my life back to the way it was supposed to be. I knew what changes had to be made so we did not meet the Krenim. We met the Borg instead." Kes looked at Seven-of-Nine, who was standing impassively by the door, not really knowing what to make of this strange gathering or this humanoid's confession.

"Except now, I have no time to have my children. My *katra* has lived almost ten years, and I must go now, even if my body is still young. Harry, I'm sorry. So sorry." Kes broke down completely then, with Harry holding her close to him, stroking her cloud of golden hair, murmuring that it was all right, all right to cry, as his own face showed plainly the grief he was feeling.

As she gave vent to her emotions, the Doctor took another reading. In a soft voice for the captain's and commander's ears, he confirmed that Kes' loss of mass was now at 29% and continuing. The powerful yet delicate *katra* of Kes was losing the body in which it had been housed. She did not have much time left.

When she was again able to speak, Kes said, "I want to say goodbye to each of you. Then I want to spend what time I have left here with Harry. Alone with Harry. Please understand. There is much I would love to be able to share with you. I can't, but if I have time, I will tell Harry some things I remember to help you. You must NOT meet the Krenim, whatever you do! I don't know what will happen to some people this time, because I won't be here to help them if that happens."

The captain met the steady, solemn gaze of Commander Chakotay. If anyone understood the ways of spirits and of guides to the spirit realm, he did. For the first time since their estrangement, there was no hint of recrimination, no desire to hide from each other when their eyes met. She saw that he had no doubts of the veracity of Kes' story, but the captain still had one question she had to ask. "Kes, you know that alien that tried to take me away, this isn't some trick like that, is it?"

"No, Captain, I'm sure. As soon as I heard it, I knew that it was something that I have always known. I just needed someone to remind me of it. I can't explain it any better than that. Do you know what I mean, Tuvok?"

"Yes, I do Kes. It seems that I, too, have shared this sensation of expectancy, even though I did not recognize it for what it was. Captain, we have always known that Kes possesses powers that none of us understand. Now that I have heard her explanation, I realize that Kes' use of the term *katra* may well be accurate. Vulcans must have their life essence transported for safekeeping to Mount Seleya, but this does not mean that this must be true of every race. The Organians are an example of noncorporeal beings that are not tied to one place, but to an entire sector of space. We have no reason to doubt Kes."

In a voice even lower and huskier than usual, Captain Janeway responded, "Then I must accept this, too, much as I would prefer not to. I wish there were more time for us to be with you, Kes." The captain reached out to Kes and embraced her in farewell.

Kes whispered only a brief sentence to her captain. "Mother Janeway, you were both right; you must forgive him, and he must forgive you." The captain of Voyager was a strong woman, and she had lost members of her crew before without flinching visibly. This was different. Blue-gray eyes overflowed with tears as the captain of Voyager stepped back, allowing her first officer to step forward.

"Commander Chakotay, Spirit Guide," she smiled, and then Kes said virtually the same thing to him that she had said to the captain. Chakotay took her hands in his, holding them for several seconds before making way for the security chief.

Tuvok did not say any words to Kes, nor did she to him, but he held up his first two fingers straight up and together. Kes' fingers copied this gesture. With the most ephemeral of touches, they crossed their paired fingers in the contact that the touch-telepathic Vulcans consider to be as intense and intimate as a kiss. Thoughts may have passed between the two of them as their fingers grazed each other's, but this would neither be confirmed nor denied by Tuvok afterward.

B'Elanna did not mind the fierce hug she shared with Kes, who said so softly into B'Elanna's ear that no one could hear but the engineer, "Take care of yourself and your little one, B'Elanna, and don't be afraid to let Tom in. You can trust him." When B'Elanna stepped away from her, she stumbled and brushed against Tom, unable to see his approach because her vision was momentarily obscured.

Tom enveloped Kes close to him, golden head near golden head. As he leaned back so that he could look at her face, Kes touched his cheek with her fingertips. "In another life, Tom, I told you that you would be happy again, even though you didn't believe it when I said it to you. I know that it is true in this life, too. Don't hide yourself away again. And Tom," bending down to his ear and adding almost inaudibly, "Take care of him." He tried to form one of his Paris smiles for her, but he was only half successful. Raising his hand, he returned her touch, gently grazing her cheek with his fingers, and nodded his acceptance of the responsibility she was giving him.

The Doctor stood before his assistant as she told him, "You are more human every day, and you will grow even more, I know. Enjoy your family, Doctor."

Not knowing Kes well, the young Borg woman stood quietly in the back of the others and started when Kes called out to her. "Seven-of-Nine, you will find yourself welcomed here as I was. They will help you find out who you really are."

Kes at last turned to Neelix, drained physically and emotionally, but the Talaxian surprised her. As he had watched the others come up to Kes, he had had enough time to bring his own emotions under control. Catching up her hands in his, he kissed them before kissing her on her forehead. "I will always love you, Sweeting," Neelix said, then said something else that the Universal Translator did not translate. Kes understood, however, and this time it was Kes who had no words to say.

Good-byes said to all but one, looking around at the faces she loved, Kes found it hard to say anything more. Finally, she found her voice. "I will never forget you, and I hope you won't forget me. Safe journey to all of you."

The senior staff of the starship USS Voyager filed out of the quarters. Neelix, Tuvok, and Tom left only as far as the corridor to stand vigil until it was all over, when Harry would emerge. The Doctor went back to Sickbay to consider all that his slight, wise, and beautiful assistant had taught him about being a physician. Seven-of-Nine accompanied Captain Janeway and Commander Chakotay back to the bridge. B'Elanna had already escaped to her quarters, to whatever private vigil she might be holding for the closest female friend that she had ever had.

~~~~~

As the door closed them away from their friends, Kes had a simple request. "Harry, I want to hold you close until I can't be held anymore. Take me to bed." Harry lifted her up effortlessly and brought her to the bedroom, carrying the pillows and blanket along with Kes without any trouble. Her weight had already become a third of what it had been. Because Kes seemed so fragile, Harry was reluctant, at first, to touch her, but gentle kisses turned passionate, and in an accord that required no words, they helped each other out of their clothing and touched each other softly, intimately, making love for the last time.

Afterwards, with Kes resting so lightly on his chest and in his arms that she might already have been the dream of a lover instead of one in fading flesh, Harry listened as Kes quietly told him of the other timeline when the "Year of Hell" had warped their lives: of Linnis, who had been Harry's wife, not daughter, and of Andrew, who had been their son. Kes reflected, "Is there some kind of flowing together of time streams that happens, I wonder? The way a rock in the middle of a stream parts the waters only until the current is past the rock, which then swirl together again. In both time lines, Andrew is your son. I think a break in the timeline may try to heal itself if at can, Harry. Perhaps you will still be blessed with a Linnis or an Andrew. I hope so."

"It won't be the same without you being their mother, Kes." The touch of his lips on her brow was feathery but passionate. "I love you so much."

As Harry held her close he tried not to think about life without her, but then a stray thought fluttered into his head. He knew he needed the answer to one question. "Kes, you said that when your *katra* passes on, you learn who you will guide. Does that mean you have someone you must guide?"

She shook her head, and when he looked down at her, he could see the tears flowing again. "There were to have been two," she murmured.

"Linnis and Andrew." He knew he did not need to hear her answer.

"Yes." Closing his eyes tightly, Harry rocked her in his arms until her shoulders stopped shaking.

When Harry again gazed upon his Kes' face, it seemed she was even less substantial than she had been a few minute before. He truly understood the term will-o-the-wisp for the first time. Her lovely blue eyes were glowing even more brightly as the rest of her body was ebbing away.

While she still had the strength, she spoke to him again. "Harry, I love you and I want you to know that since there is no one else I need to guide, I will be here with you, even if you can't see me. But there is one thing you must promise me . . . ."

"Anything," he breathed in a husky whisper.

"Don't grieve for me. Not in the way you did when you were separated from Libby. Don't stop living your life. Promise me. Look for another love, because you deserve one. Harry Kim, you are the finest man I could ever have hoped to meet, even if you did have e chome all the way across the galaxy to do it. I am so grateful to have been with you, even for such a short time. Please, be happy." As she uttered the last words, Kes' voice was so low and soft that it was more like the barest echo of a voice, rather than the one he had learned to love hearing.

Sighing, Harry held her fading form close, and promised, whispering a few times more of his love for her, but soon they both fell silent, without any need to say anything else. All that either felt needed to be said already had been shared with the other.

When Kes had first told everyone about what was happening to her, Harry had visualized seeing her internal organs appearing grotesquely in his arms as she grew more and more transparent. He had steeled himself for the possibility of that sight if it had be, so that he would be able to bear it without upsetting her. Instead, the loss of mass must have begun far inside her body, rendering the inside invisible before the face, skin, or outline of her limbs became first translucent, then transparent, and at last an amorphous glowing cloud that briefly retained a Kes shape to hold up the blanket that covered their bodies. In the end it all happened gradually. Even after Harry was unable to detect any sight of Kes for several minutes, the outline of her shape and the incredibly soft, dainty touch of her body lying against his were still perceptible. Finally, in the slowest of motions, the blanket settled gently down over Harry's legs and body, as if a slight breeze had bellied the cover up and over before allowing it to fall of its own weight over him.

For a long time, Harry Kim continued to lie in the bed he had shared with her, in mingled sorrow and gratitude, savoring the memory of his brief life with Kes.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The reappearance of captain and commander on the bridge during Beta shift, ordering Ensign Lang to log a sensor record of all the life forms and their respective masses in the quarters known to belong to Kes and Harry Kim, was the first sign to the crew at large that something of import was occurring. The second was the order for a multi-phasic scan, which revealed a slight phase distortion in the same cabin. The Beta shift bridge crew went about their tasks with a minimum of discussion after that. When Ensign Lang reported that the life form readings had dropped to one, with a complete loss of mass for the other life form, Captain Janeway and Commander Chakotay shared the kind of look that had been missing from the bridge for several weeks, and an even greater hush fell upon the bridge crew.

"Is the multi-phasic scan showing anything, Ensign?"

"Yes, Captain. Now there seem to be two areas of distortion. Do you want me to do anything about it?"

"Just keep me informed if there is any change in the distortions, Ensign." A look of mourning already on her face, Janeway turned to her first officer. "So, Commander, what do we do? A service?"

He thought a moment. "It would be better to provide closure for the crew. At noon?" The captain of Voyager acquiesced, then hesitated only slightly before ordering an open comm line throughout the ship. The captain and the commander took their feet, with Seven-of-Nine standing behind them at a science station, where she had been since they had all arrived at the bridge.

In a steady voice, the captain intoned, "We have lost one of our own tonight. Kes has passed on to another kind of existence. She says it is not a death, but I am not sure that most of us will be able to make that fine a distinction. We will never see her again. There will be a brief service tomorrow on Holodeck One at 1200 hours, where anyone who wishes to remember her will gather. Janeway out."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Tom, Tuvok, and Neelix stood for over three hours in the corridor, awaiting Harry's reappearance. Neelix was despondent, and Tom wd nonly a little less so. Tuvok's face was expressionless, but Tom, when he glanced over at him, did not get that sense of imperturbability that the Vulcan usually exuded. A few crewmen passed by, but if they wondered what three of Voyager's senior officers were doing hanging outside of the quarters shared by the operations officer and the Doctor's assistant, they said nothing.

After the captain's announcement, many more people walked by, some stopping to speak with the officers and each other in hushed tones for short stretches of time before moving on. Gerron and the Delaney sisters stayed, however, as Gerron took a place by the door of Kes' and Harry's quarters, reciting a Bajoran chant in an almost inaudible voice as Megan and her sister Jenny stood next to him.

Gerron was still in the midst of his chant when Harry, his dry eyes empty of the spark of humor that they usually seemed to contain, opened the door and stepped outside of his quarters. Tom embraced him briefly, in turn Jenny and Megan also put out their arms to embrace the Ensign; but it was to Neelix that Harry finally turned. "It was peaceful, Neelix. She was . . . accepting. And she says she will stay here, to watch over us, even though we can't see her."

A subdued Neelix accepted this with unexpected reserve. "I expected something like that. She was so wonderful. Harry, did you hear the captain's announcement?"

"Yes, I did. Neelix, I was wondering if there is anything you'll want to say tomorrow."

"Of course. Do you want to come to my quarters and discuss it for a while?"

Harry looked at Tom, who waved him on with understanding. For Harry to stay in his quarters tonight would be a burden, and Neelix was probably the best person for him to be with at this time. As the two men who had been closest to Kes in her short life walked to Neelix's quarters, Gerron's mellow voice softly chanted in the background, with Megan and Jenny, now arm and arm and fighting back tears, continuing their show of support behind him.

Tom turned to his Vulcan meditation instructor, pitching his voice low so he would not disturb Gerron in his self-appointed task. "Tuvok, for a long time all of us skeptical Starfleet types have been using terms like 'spatial anomalies' and 'noncorporeal life forms' to explain away beings that are beyond our 'current understanding.' It's like by giving something a specialized scientific term, we can bring everything we don't understand into focus as science, make it all factual. As long as it all seems to fit some theory, we don't have to think about whether that something can also be described in spiritual terms, like 'soul,' for instance ."

"It is logical to try to impose order on the universe, Mr. Paris."

"But is it logical to label a faith like Gerron's as superstition, when the scientific explanations sound more like magic than fact themselves? We know the beings that created the Bajoran wormhole have an awareness of time that is far outside our usual comprehension of it; the evidence is irrefutable. The Vulcan concept of the katra has been ridiculed as 'Vulcan mumbo-jumbo'--I've heard some of the admirals talk, Tuvok, joking about what they don't understand. But now I'm thinking, if telepathic species like Vulcans and the Ocampa can sense the noncorporeal essence that lingers after the body's death, is it really so far-fetched that just maybe the same thing happens with other beings, who simply are too blind telepathically to be able to sense it, as your people do?"

"I do not know, Mr. Paris. There do seem to be some concepts which are, after all, beyond the understanding of finite beings such as ourselves."

Gerron finished chanting. Bowing towards the chamber that was now devoid of life forms as Starfleet knew them, he turned to go, with Megan and Jenny each taking one of his arms. As they passed by the senior officers, Tom was asking the Vulcan rhetorically, "How can we understand what is beyond understanding, Tuvok?"

Tuvok did not appear to have an answer, but as he and the Delaney sisters passed by, Gerron supplied one: "Faith."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

B'Elanna could not sleep. Her thoughts kept returning to Kes, who would never hold her own child in her arms. Once she had heard the captain's message and knew that it was all over, B'Elanna was reminded of the way she had felt when she was five years old, when her father had left her family. For the first time since her human half had been comforted by Tom in the Vidiian mines, tears flowed freely down her cheeks.

Sorrow turned inevitably to anger. "Kes, if you really are hanging around here, I wish you'd tell me what to do. Nothing in my life has ever confused me the way this baby has!" B'Elanna raged.

Flopping around to a new position in her bed, a new thought struck B'Elanna, who mused into empty air, to a spirit that might or might not be there, "Funny, I don't even know when she became 'this baby,' instead of a pregnancy waiting to be terminated." B'Elanna brooded some more before again addressing the unseeable. "You always knew, didn't you, that if I started to think about a little girl growing inside my body, waiting to be born, I wouldn't be able to go through with that 'procedure.' Kes, I don't know how I'm going to do it by myself and be chief engineer at the same time!" She sighed. "I guess I'll just have to figure out a way.

"You know, Neelix knows about the baby, Kes. It's only going be a matter of time before he spills it all over the ship. I have to talk to Tom before the rest of the crew hears. He'll be so hurt if he finds out any other way, but how? Just blurt it out? Should I seek him out and tell him now, when he's hurting so about you? 'Oh, hello, Tom, too bad about Kes, and by the way, I'm pregnant with your child. Thought you should know.' "

B'Elanna could imagine Tom holding his own child in his arms. She had seen him with Sam Wildman's little girl. Tom often did that thing that so many men liked to do, tossing Naomi into the air, prompting delighted squeals of laughter from her, yet Tom seemed to like being around the child for her own sake, too. She had seen him cuddling the child in his arms.

B'Elanna closed her eyes and visualized his golden head bent over Naomi's small one, the big but gentle hands supporting the little girl in his arms, gently stroking the small head--except the small head she was imagining no longer belonged to a human-Ktarian child, but to another who had the suggestion of Klingon ridges across her brow, a lithe but sturdy, one-quarter-Klingon, three-quarter-human child. Someone Tom could guide through life with all of his hard-won stories. Somehow he always seemed to come up with the one you needed to hear, like that one he'd told her when they were the captives of the Vidiians, about covering up his head with a hat when his father forced him to have his hair shorn in the summer. Such a simple tale, really, but it had comforted her when her human self was sick and in a panic from having her Klingon self ripped away from the rest of her. That was the first time she had seen the gentle side of Tom Paris--the antithesis of the playboy pig he had been pretending to be.

Sleep was not going to come tonight, no matter how much she needed it. Giving up the attempt, B'Elanna arose from her bed. She walked to the window in her quarters to watch the illusion that the streaming stars were flowing by her, even though B'Elanna was perfectly aware that Voyager was plowing through the Delta Quadrant, past the stars that moved on their own trails in the icy cold of space. Voyager hurtled by so unimaginably fast in relation to someone standing on a planet's surface, yet so slowly when viewed from a vantage point outside the galaxy, that Voyager might look as if it were drifting toward the Alpha Quadrant instead of traveling at warp speeds.

Drifting. Golden hair, or is it golden aura? Icy. Trail. Streams. Gentle, gentle as the deer you have tamed. B'Elanna hurried to her computer station to look up the poem whose fragments were floating around in her memory, the poem that Tom had offered to her in their den. The one she had rejected. Beautiful, but not romantic enough. Not a love poem.

B'Elanna found it: "Written on the Wall at Chang's Hermitage." Remembering Tom's crack about her acting like a Tabern monk, a smile reached her lips. As B'Elanna read the words of the poem, she recognized aspects of it that she had not seen in the cave of Tantrum IV. Tom had said it was not a love poem; and it was true, from him to her, it did not fit. But the other way . . . She, too, had been a wanderer, a seeker. She had found one with the aura of silver and gold all around him, who could be gentle and loving. A man who knew what it was to drift in an empty boat, but who had found a way to endure the drifting until he was able to believe in himself again.

Maybe it still wasn't exactly a love poem, but it helped her see what she had tried to avoid facing. B'Elanna's headlong rush away from Tom to go back to being strong, independent, but lonely B'Elanna had made her oblivious to much that was important. Meeting personal goals about standing up for herself was all well and good, but there was more to life than blind adherence to a personal philosophy that left no room for something that had brought her joy. Life truly was a journey, and along the way, Tom Paris somehow had become an integral part of hers. Instead of being stronger, she was weaker without him.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The service of remembrance for Kes was like every memorial service Kathryn Janeway had ever presided over, or ever been to, for that matter. A change to another level of existence, that could describe death, too. As the various speakers stood before their comrades and shared their remembrances of crewmate, nurse, and friend, those left behind clearly could not tell the difference either, as she had suspected would be the case. Without a body to inter into the depths of space, all present who wished to could cling to the ambiguity of her passing, permitting them the luxury of believing in the illusion of further life for Kes.

Harry and Neelix were being treated equally as the bereft family, she noted. Neelix had assumed the role of big brother to Kes over the last few weeks--had it really been such a short time since Kes and Harry had found each other? How incredible! The Talaxian and the Terran of Asian descent sat next to one another, accepting as their due the plaudits of all who spoke so glowingly of the woman they both had loved. Who was Kathryn Janeway to deny their joint right to it? Neelix had loved Kes for a longer time, but, she did not think, as intensely as Harry had. They had made their peace with one another while Kes was still on Voyager; the bond between them seemed to be surviving now that she was gone.

The Doctor was bereft in another way. He had depended upon Kes for smoothing over the rough edges of his bedside manner towards his patients. Another assistant would have to be found, but who? That's a problem for another day. All that the captain knew, as she looked upon the Doctor's image, was that if any doubted just how far he had come from the computer program that had been installed on Voyager, one glance at his present expression of grief would correct the skeptic of his mistake.

Starfleet or Maquis, all who spoke had had nothing but good to say. After Captain Janeway's brief introduction, Tuvok offered a short poem translated from the Vulcan, "The Essence Continues," which, unlike his Talent Night offerings, was very well received. Gerron Tem, the young Bajoran science crewman, contributed the finale of the Bajoran *Chant for the Departed* which he had begun the previous night. He had taken only a few short rest breaks, as Megan Delaney had informed her, but Gerron was just now concluding it. Chakotay, as always, had a parable to tell, this one about the transformation of sisters into stars.

Tom spoke next. After a brief reminiscence of one he had loved, Tom read from an ancient religious text that suited the occasion all too well.

"To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven,
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to harvest;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to find, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

Everything is beautiful in its own time. Eternity has been set in our hearts,
Although no man can see the whole scope of His work from beginning to end.


There were several others who said a sentence or two. B'Elanna Torres' tribute was one of these, consisting only of, "Farewell, my far-seeing and true friend." After this, Neelix gave a glowing tribute; and then, it was Harry's turn.

The captain had been dreading Harry's contribution from the time he had told her he had something he wished to present at the conclusion of the service. When it was his turn, Harry walked over to the wall of the garden courtyard which had been programmed on the holodeck to be the setting for the memorial service. As it had been hidden from her eyes before, the captain had not realized that Harry was going to play his clarinet for his concluding part of the program. The mellow notes drifted over the participants, bringing tears to the eyes of many. The tune itself was a merry one, but the undertone of mourning within it was palpable. Wise, wonderful, evanescent Kes. The melody fitted her perfectly.

When he finished, the captain gave her own short speech about always remembering the Ocampan woman with the never completely-tapped mental attributes and the warm, loving heart. Finally, it was over, and those in attendance drifted over to the tables, heavily laden with food, to share a last meal in honor of Kes.

~~~~~

"Captain, we'll be leaving now." Janeway turned away from her conversation with Chell to acknowledge Tom's statement.

"Fine, Tom. You have everything you need?"

"Yes, ma'am." His words sounded hollow. The serious events and the mood on the ship were having their effect on the young lieutenant. B'Elanna Torres stood a little behind him, solemnly nodding her agreement that they were ready, probably more than ready, to leave Voyager behind for a while. If anything, B'Elanna looked worse than Tom. The captain walked between them to the holodeck arch, a hand of comfort on each straight back.

"Are you both still willing to go through with this? We could send others who weren't so close to Kes and Harry."

"We need the supplies, Captain. Someone has to go," B'Elanna said simply.

"I feel the same way, Captain."

"All right, then. I notified the Telteskor traders and the Traveler's outpost about the reason for the delay in your arrival time. They were most sympathetic. Be careful, both of you. We'll be at the rendezvous point in five days."

A two person chorus of "Aye, Captain," sounded as the two young lieutenants exited the Holodeck and headed towards the Shuttlebay.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Mr. Vulcan, I just have to say that your contribution was beautiful and will always be remembered by Mr. Kim and myself."

Tuvok accepted the compliment with his usual aplomb, suffering through Neelix's recitation of the virtues of all who had provided something to the remembrance ritual. "I haven't had a chance to tell Tom how lovely that piece he read was. "Anou see him?"

"Mr. Paris has already left on his away mission, Mr. Neelix. He and Lieutenant Torres left over an hour ago. As it was, they had delayed their departure for several hours because of the service."

"Tom and Lieutenant Torres went on an away team, TOGETHER, Mr. Tuvok?"

"I believe that is what I just told you."

"Who else went with them?"

"Just the two of them."

"Oh, dear. I'm not sure that was wise."

"I fail to see how the composition of an away team should be of any relevance to you, Mr. Neelix."

"It isn't so much about me, Commander, as it is about them. To have the two of them going off together at a time like this might create a lot of problems for . . . for the mission. A lot of problems." Neelix was becoming visibly agitated, Tuvok noted.

"Both Lieutenant Torres and Mr. Paris have been confronted with the loss of close friends before, Mr. Neelix. Mr. Paris, I believe, looks upon this mission as a way of dealing with the loss of Kes in a constructive manner, by being of service to Voyager."

The Talaxian did not even seem to have been listening to him. "Excuse me, but I need to talk to the Doctor with this news. I do believe that he will have concerns, too."

'How curious,' thought the security officer.

He thought it even more curious when the Doctor rushed over to him, along with Neelix, to confirm the trading mission. "I should have been informed about this mission, Lieutenant. There are some . . . existing conditions . . . that may have a serious impact upon Lieutenant Torres and Mr. Paris. Oh, Captain Janeway, Mr. Neelix and I need to talk to you. In private."

Tuvok raised a questioning eyebrow as his eyes met the captain's. After hurried negotiations, Captain Janeway adjourned to Holodeck Two with Tuvok, Chakotay, Neelix and the Doctor for the private conference.

~~~~~

"Lieutenant Torres is pregnant? Doctor, why haven't you informed me of this before?"

"It was at Lieutenant Torres' express request, Captain. I assure you, I had urged her to permit me to inform both you and Mr. Paris of her condition, but she refused to even consider it."

"Mr. Paris--of course, who else could be the father! Lieutenant Commander Tuvok, you've been counseling Tom recently, haven't you? Is this the reason for the hard feelings arising between the two of them?"

"Captain, I do not believe that Mr. Paris has any idea of Lieutenant Torres' condition. He has been completely candid with me about his being unable to fathom why she has refused any and all overtures that he has made to reconcile with her. I very much doubt he would have concealed such an obvious reason from me."

"Captain Janeway, I'm sure Tom doesn't know about it. Lieutenant Torres accidentally dropped some PADDs in the mess hall, and when I saw that they were child care texts, well, I figured out what was going on. Because of that argument in the mess hall, I thought Tom might have been treating her badly, but when I mentioned that she should talk to him, she said she would . . . she said that I shouldn't say anything about it to anyone, especially Tom." Neelix hoped that the change of direction in his reply would not be noticed by anyone. He preferred not to have to explain about Lieutenant Torres' threat to space him if he told anyone. Although, now that he thought about it, maybe he should let it be known, just in case she was angry about his disclosure when she got back.

Commander Chakotay interjected, "One of you should have told the captain. Doctor, I would certainly have expected that this would fall into the area of the captain's 'need to know.' "

"And I would have told her, if Lieutenant Torres had given me the right to waive confidentiality in the matter. As it happens, there may not have been a pregnancy to be revealed within the next few days. She had an appointment with me for tomorrow for an abortion. One which, again, she will fail to keep."

"She had considered this option before?"

"This will be the third postponement, Commander."

The captain sighed deeply and covered her eyes with her hand as she walked away from the four male members of her senior staff. 'Oh, B'Elanna. So much strength, so much distance from your own feelings! Stubborn, self-reliant-to-a-fault, vulnerable B'Elanna. Such a heavy burden to insist on carrying alone. I would have talked to you, if you had only been willing to unburden yourself to someone!' Janeway stopped suddenly and pivoted back to the silently waiting men. "Doctor, did Lieutenant Torres spend much time with Kes lately?"

"I know they spoke on several occasions, but I was not made privy to the content of their discussions. Kes was aware of the lieutenant's condition, however. I had to inform her because she was to assist in the procedure."

Chakotay's eyes met the captain's. B'Elanna had lost her only confidante. "Captain, I recommend that we contact the Sacajawea immediately. If necessary, we can abort the mission."

Janeway grimaced at his choice of words.

~~~~~

"Sacajawea to Voyager. Yes, Captain?" Tom's voice was reassuringly calm and level.

::::"Tom, I would like to speak with B'Elanna."::::

"I'm here, Captain. Is something wrong?"

::::"The Doctor informed us that you had an appointment that you will not be able to keep because of this mission."::::

"Oh, yes, I forgot to inform him that I would be unavailable. Can you give him my apologies, Captain?"

The Doctor's voice emanated from the audio channel. ::::"Lieutenant, I wanted to know when you wanted to reschedule this appointment."::::

B'Elanna hesitated in replying. She knew what her answer was going to be, but if she made the answer ambiguous enough, would Tom ask her about it? Maybe she would be able to tell him, finally. But what if his reaction was not what she had expected? That migf wondanger their mission. Well, it couldn't be helped. They'd had disagreements before. She took a deep breath. "Doctor, I'm not rescheduling. Just cancel it. When we get back, I'll come see you and talk about our other option."

::::"Very well, Lieutenant. I'll see you when you get back. As SOON as you get back."::::

Tom looked at B'Elanna, a little confused by the Doctor's emphatic statement, but he said only, "Is there anything else, Captain?"

::::"No, that's all, Lieutenant. We'll meet you in five days or so. Janeway out."::::

'Ask me what that was all about, Tom. Ask me,' she thought, inwardly desperate, outwardly calm.

"Lieutenant Torres, I have our course laid in for the outpost. It should be routine for the next few hours, so if you don't mind, I'd like to take a nap. I didn't get a lot of sleep last night. Can you handle it?"

"No problem, Lieutenant Paris." Nodding her head to him, a model of professionalism, B'Elanna's heart sank as she let her impassive fellow officer retreat to his bunk.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Why didn't you say something, Captain?"

"It isn't my place, Doctor."

"It's apparent that Lieutenant Torres has not said anything to Mr. Paris. You are a woman, Captain. How do you explain her behavior?

The captain looked from the Doctor to her first officer, who was also sitting in her ready room. The commander said nothing, but from the expression he was wearing, he was interested in her opinion, too.

"Sorry to disappoint you gentlemen, but the fact is, I haven't a clue as to why she hasn't told him. Tom may have been many things in his life, but one thing he has not been is someone who refuses to live up to the consequences of his own behavior. That's what got him thrown out of Starfleet in the first place. After his panic about the accident on Caldik Prime made him lie about the cause, he came back and admitted his mistake, paying for it with his career. I can't see him turning his back on B'Elanna if he knew. He obviously doesn't."

Chakotay kept his gaze fastened on his captain. "I have to agree with you, Captain; Paris can be irritating at times, but he cares deeply for B'Elanna. Maybe being together on this mission will give B'Elanna a chance to tell Tom about the child."

"I certainly hope so, Commander," Janeway said wistfully.

"Hrumph. Well, I sincerely hope that I won't have to piece anyone back together again if she does," said the Doctor.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The trip from Voyager had been uneventful and extremely lonely for both of them. Tom arranged to be either sleeping or reading the entire time he was not at the conn of the shuttle. When he was at the conn, his air of complete detachment and almost impolite lack of interaction with B'Elanna killed any chance she had of feeling comfortable enough to present him with the news of his impending fatherhood.

Remembering how Neelix had found out, B'Elanna deliberately left out a few PADDs, turned on and running the child care programs loaded into them, hoping that he would find them while she slept and question her. The PADDs always were stacked neatly in her mission bag when she awoke, still switched on. He had apparently gathered them up without looking at them.

B'Elanna again thought seriously about just blurting it all out, but they had a task to complete for Voyager. She was not about to jeopardize their mission because she needed to confess she'd been withholding important information from him. The longer she hesitated telling him, the harder it was getting to say it at all. One thing about pregnancy, though: eventually, even a truly dense observer should be able to get a hint about what was developing by the sight of a huge belly waddling towards him. B'Elanna hoped it wouldn't take that for Tom to find out about this baby.

Considering their initial delay, the Sacajawea arrived at the Traveler's outpost in good time. The shuttle landed without incident. The representatives from the Telteskor Trading Consortium contacted them almost immediately. Lieutenant Paris informed Lieutenant Torres that as pilot of the shuttle, he was going to remain with the Sacajawea during the negotiations to protect the valuable crystals prior to their being traded. When the engineer offered to stay with him, however, the pilot insisted that she take a room in the inn at the Traveler's outpost. He reminded her that her primary mission was to test the materials being traded to Voyager to assure their quality. That task could best be completed at the lodge, where the traders were also staying. Confronted by such inescapable, almost Vulcan, logic, Lieutenant Torres acquiesced, taking a room at the inn and setting up her equipment for testing.

~~~~~

The Traveler's outpost was located on a grim, rocky little world circulating a red giant, perfectly fitting Tom's mood. When he was being honest with himself, Tom had to admit that thinking about Kes did not help his heavy heart. Deep down, the helmsman knew Harry understood that his commitment to this mission predated any inkling of the imminent loss of Kes, but this knowledge did not prevent Tom from agonizing over the fact that he was abandoning his friend at the very time Harry needed him most.

Worrying about Harry was not the main cause for his depression, however. The primary reason was the trip itself, which had been torturous.

For almost two days he had shared accommodations with a clearly preoccupied and distant co-pilot/crewmate/former friend/former lover. She was still suffering from bouts of fatigue, as far as he could tell. B'Elanna had been asleep for most of the time that he had been awake. When they had been conscious at the same time, Tom had avoided talking to her about anything other than the immediate needs of the mission rather than risk provokingh of into a tantrum. Tom felt that if he had not had a good supply of his meditative texts from Tuvok to help him through, flying the shuttle into the heart of the red giant would have been just as bearable as the trip he had just taken with B'Elanna. While they had managed to preserve their professionalism, which hopefully counted for something, he was acutely aware that the return trip loomed ahead. He was not looking forward to journeying another two days with Voyager's chief engineer.

Their business did not take long. B'Elanna found the quality of the pergium, coradisium, and other rare materials was even higher than she had anticipated. The Telteskator traders were delighted with the quality of the dilithium crystals being offered for trade. The goods were bartered, the usual pleasantries were exchanged, and the shuttle was readied for departure by the next morning. As soon as they had clearance from the Travelers, the Sacajawea took off, laden with materials and two heartsore crewman, heading for the rendezvous with Voyager.

The beginning of the return trip passed without incident. The crates and barrels of minerals and manufactured compounds required for certain repairs of Voyager were hooked onto projections along the inner wall of the much-repaired Sacajawea. The dilithium crystals had possessed virtually no additional mass compared to the products coming back to Voyager on the return trip.

Tom spent an extended time at the console figuring out how the load would affect the handling of the craft and fuel consumption. Satisfied that all was in order, he settled back to take a nap in the pilot's chair while the Sacajawea was on autopilot. The second bunk was now half-filled by a crate that Tom did not wish to leave on the floor of the vehicle, where it would block the passageway to the shuttle's sanitary cubicle. B'Elanna occupied the first bunk. She slept for over 11 of the first 14 hours of the trip.

~~~~~

"Lieutenant Torres, what reading do you have for the structural integrity field?"

"Hmm. The SIF isn't functioning at peak efficiency. The field is down 33%."

"I'm going to compensate by shifting additional power from the inertial damper system . . .uh no, I'm not. I think the inertial dampers are the problem . . .I'm going to have to cut the engines so we can check them out." Tom pulled the shuttle out of warp drive, but the shuttle was still hurtling through space at an alarming speed. "Wait, Torres, don't get up yet, I think the inertial damper system is about to fail. We've got to cut our speed more to . . .wait, stop, B'Elanna!"

The sudden abrupt failure of the inertial damper system could have been fatal to both of the shuttle occupants. Tom had taken the engines completely off line, but not soon enough to keep the shuttle from bucking wildly as the inertial dampers failed.

Tom held onto the helm console desperately, but he was still knocked out of his seat and thrown back against the port wall. Fortunately, a bruised ego was the worst injury he suffered. B'Elanna was not so lucky. Since she had been on her feet getting ready to check out the SIF/IDF system at the time the of the shuttle's wild jump, B'Elanna had been thrown all the way towards the back of the vehicle, hitting her head against the rear bunk. When Tom was able to get to his feet he saw her sprawled out on the floor, unconscious, and with a profusely bleeding gash on the left side of her forehead.

"B'Elanna!" he cried. He ran to her side. There were no visible injuries other than for the cut forehead, but Tom was taking no chances. Before risking further injury by moving her, he needed to assure himself that her neck and spine had not suffered any breaks. Grabbing his field medic kit, he scanned her with his medical tricorder. It read a possible concussion, but no broken bones or serious injuries, much to his relief. There was one anomalous reading, coming from her abdomen. Tom moved the tricorder for a closer scan. A few quick punches of the buttons confirmed the reading and identified the source of the extra heartbeat.

~~~~~

When B'Elanna began to swim back to consciousness, her head hurt badly. For a disorienting few minutes she had no idea where she was. Gradually, she became aware that she was lying on a shuttlecraft's bunk, her head cradled by a pillow, a blanket covering her. Her body jerked when she remembered. The trading mission. Tom.

At her slight movement, the pilot appeared at her elbow. She looked up at him, barely recognizing him from the grim expression he was wearing.

"You're going to be all right, Lieutenant. You have a slight concussion, and I had to treat a cut on your forehead with the dermal regenerator. But otherwise, you're fine." He walked away from her, up to the helm of the shuttle before continuing. "Or perhaps I should say that you're BOTH fine. Of course, maybe that doesn't make you particularly happy--maybe you'd be happier unpregnant."

Her mind blanked out for a second. 'Pregnant. Who's pregnant. I'm pregnant and he knows. Gods, he knows and I didn't tell him.' Staring into the dull, empty eyes of Tom Paris before he turned away from her to lean against the helm chair, B'Elanna wished that she could be anywhere but where she was, stuck in a broken shuttlecraft light years away from anyone else but the man who was the father of her luckless child.

B'Elanna gazed at Tom's back. Without turning around to face her, he said, vaguely, "I thought I couldn't even get you pregnant, B'Elanna."

B'Elanna's mouth was so dry she didn't know if she could have spit out any words even if she knew what to say. Finally, she was able to reply. "Let's just say I was never fully informed about my body's capabilities. My mother's method of sex education was to tell me, 'Don't.' "

He turned back to her then, and they stared at each other for what seemed like an eternity to both of them before Tom walked back and sat down on the half-filled bunk across from where B'Elanna was lying. He leaned forward, elbows on his knees, and said softly, but as intensely as a shout, "Was it so bad being with me that you couldn't even tell me about it?"

"NO! It wasn't that," she managed to choke out. "I just didn't know how to tell you! What was I supposed to do? One day I cut your heart out with a rusty bat'leth; but a few days later, when I need you, I come back and say, 'Sorry, Tom, I didn't really mean it when I chewed you up a while ago. I have this little tiny problem, and I need you to help me now.' "

"Yes, B'Elanna, that *was* what you were supposed to do. This is my child. My responsibility. What kind of man do you think I am that I would abandon you when you needed my help?"

He looked so lost sitting there. All the scenarios that had passed through her head, and somehow it never had occurred to her that he would look like that. So alone, so lonely. B'Elanna felt profoundly ashamed at her cowardice. Never was she more aware of her Klingon heritage than at that moment, when her sense of her own honor was besmirched by recalling her lack of courage. She should have just blurted it out--better for him to have found out that way than through a mechanical device.

After a long silence, she was able to cough out, "I'm sorry, Tom. I know you aren't that kind of man."

"How long have you known?"

"Not even two weeks. It was right after we . . . I mean . . . I broke up with you. I didn't know what to do, Tom. The way it is in Engineering--how could I raise a baby by myself? But the longer I waited to tell you about it, the harder it was to say anything."

"Did it occur to you to ask me to raise the child? Keep you out of it?"

"Oh, sure. Have her rejected by her mother the way my mother rejected me, or at least, the human half of me. 'And who is your mother, little girl?' 'I don't know, just some half-Klingon, half-human woman. I wonder who it could be?' "

He gave half a grunt. "You're right. That wouldn't have been such a good idea, I guess. But why didn't you think we could do it together? What we had together . . . Be' . . . it was pretty special to me. I made no secret what you meant to me. I thought for a while that we both thought it was special. What made you give it all up?"

B'Elanna had been thinking about this a lot on the trip. It was hard to put into words, but she tried. "Tom, I was caring about you too much, thinking about you all the time. Depending upon you too much. I just had to get away, back to being myself again, independent B'Elanna, who doesn't need anyone to make her happy." Her voice faded.

"You know, Paris, the joke was on me. By the time we broke up, it was already too late. I was already so much in love with you; I think I must have gone crazy missing you. And then I found out about the baby, and you didn't seem to care anymore. Here I was, not wanting to depend on anyone, and I was going to have one of the most dependent creatures in the galaxy depending on me! Then I didn't want to tell you because I didn't know if I was going to go through with having the baby."

His voice was even more full of pain as he stated as fact: "You were going to have an abortion, without ever even telling me about the baby."

She couldn't look at him. "At first, but Kes, she . . . she was talking to me. And the longer I waited, the harder that got, too. And once I stopped feeling angry and sorry about 'my pregnancy' and realized that I was carrying your child, . . . .I couldn't kill your child. Our child. I don't know how I'm going to do it, Tom, but I am going to have this baby now. Your daughter. That's what I was canceling with the Doctor. The abortion."

"Why do you keep saying that you have to do this alone, B'Elanna? I know you like being in charge of yourself. Boy, if there is one thing you've taught me, it's to leave you alone when you want to do something yourself! Raising a child hehoifferent, though. Have you ever thought that it's no accident that advanced species almost always require at least two parents for reproduction? Maybe genetic diversity isn't the only reason--maybe it's also that offspring simply do better with more than one parent."

"I should think I do know that, since my mother had to raise me on her own. I've been so mad at her about so many things, but I guess sometimes I haven't been fair to her. She did the best she could all alone, trying to make me into the perfect Klingon woman warrior. She just couldn't get the human side out of me enough to do it."

"Did she really do it alone? Weren't there teachers, and friends, and other people to help? Besides, there isn't only 'Dependent' and 'Independent,' B'Elanna. There's also 'Interdependent,' when people work together for the same goal. I'm the best damned pilot you ever saw, but unless you give me the machine to fly, I'm not going anywhere. And you may be able to fly this shuttle, but in the middle of a firefight, who do you want in the pilot's seat?"

"You, Hotshot."

Breaking into a sad smile, Tom sat down beside her on the bunk. "B'Elanna, B'Elanna, B'Elanna," making her smile with him, as she remembered how he was always calling Harry's name out like that. "You don't have to do it alone. I love you, I have loved you for so long, I will always love you. I thought I've been in love before, but I know I've never felt for anyone the way I feel about you."

"Then why have you been so distant, so . . . unemotional!"

"Didn't you know I was taking Vulcan lessons from Tuvok? The only way I could bear being around you even for a moment was to try to bury away my emotions. The meditations helped, but I've gotta confess. I'll never make a very good Vulcan."

They laughed together, and she took his hands in hers and gave them a squeeze. Crazy, wonderful, did he have any idea how wonderful he was? She didn't think so. He was just as mixed up as she was about things like this.

"I love you, B'Elanna Torres. I'm not sure how many times I've asked you to marry me, and you've always turned me down, but I will still be your husband, if you'll let me. If that's too much of a commitment for you to make, then let me be your lover. If *that's* too much, then at least, let me be a father to your child. It's only logical, since I *am* the father of your child." Tom interlaced her fingers with his before continuing.

"I need something more, though. I need you to be my friend again. I need you to yell at me, and to tease me, and to get hostile when I get carried away and try to push you too hard about something. B'Elanna, I've been feeling that Old Tom Paris, who didn't care about anything, especially himself, trying to come back . . . and B'Elanna . . . I don't want to be him anymore." As Tom knelt down in front of B'Elanna, she tried to look away, but she could hear the bleakness of empty vacuum in his voice.

B'Elanna finally looked up and saw what she could not bear to see. His eyes were glistening with tears he did not want to shed, and she began to feel a tightness in her own eyes, a dampness that she had seldom felt in her life.

"Tom--" B'Elanna choked out, then she opened her arms to him. Tom put his hands on her waist, and she embraced him, pulling his head to her bosom. Unsteadily, she went on. "I am your friend. A stupid, selfish friend. I don't know why you still want me, but I am grateful you still do. Tom--I'm so sorry. Please . . . "

There were no words for several minutes, only a few sobs and many caresses. Somewhere along the line, he gathered her up into his arms as they sat on the bunk in the back of the shuttle. Arms wrapped around close, they rocked each other slowly from side to side, comforting each other.

~~~~~

After they had both calmed down, Tom said to her, "Lieutenant Torres, Chief Engineer, ma'am. Would you like to check out what's wrong with this shuttle? I think the gravity field plate in the floor of the shuttle cracked."

"Since when are you an engineer, Mr. Paris?"

"I don't pretend to be an engineer, Lieutenant, but I happen to hang around with some of the best. And I do know shuttlecraft, as you probably have heard."

"I have, Mr. Paris. Carry on." He pulled her up from her seat. Lifting a panel in the floor of the shuttle, they checked the plate. It had a long hairline crack running down the middle of it. "You seem to be correct, Mr. Paris."

"Which means we'll be here until Voyager comes get us, since the replicator on this craft is nowhere near big enough to create a new plate like this. Unless you can weld it or something, B'Elanna?"

"No, that isn't advisable. We can't count on it holding up. The structural integrity field also depends upon this plate. We could endanger the entire craft by continuing on with a jury-rigged repair. How is the SIF holding up, Tom."

"It's fine, but there's no strain on it at all. We're drifting on the heading we were taking toward the rendezvous point. When I tried the thrusters on the lowest setting, the SIF fluctuated a little, so I figured it wasn't worth pushing it. We have communications, and when the captain realizes we aren't coming, Voyager will come back to get us."

"I don't think we should be surprised that this happened, Tom. There's a heavy load in here. And when you consider how often this shuttle has crashed and then been fixed, it was probably inevitable."

Tom kneeled down and replaced the panel. "So, let me guess, checking the gravity field plates in all the shuttles is going to be the first thing you do when Voyager picks us up."

"No, the first thing I'm going to do is go to the Doctor for his poking and prodding prenatal exam, and maybe a general one, too. I don't want any more surprises."

A huge grin slowly spread across Tom's face. "That's right. Dang! I'm going to be a Daddy!"

"Finally registered with you? We've only been talking about it for over an hour!"

"I just, you know, thought about what our baby might look like. Have you thought about that?" He tentatively rested his hand on her stomach, caressing it gently, as if he had finally absorbed who was housed within.

"A few times," she said with amusement, enjoying his touch. She could hardly believe it. They barely had been able to stand the sight of each other for days, and now, in an hour, they were back to being friends again. Being close to him brought all those old feelings back so clearly. She was acutely aware of his wonderful, heady scent. Her pulse began to thrum more loudly in her neck as she breathed it in deeply.

She wanted more from him, she realized. The touch of his hand on her belly and his scent must have sparked it. The taste of his blood was surging in her memory, awakening a hunger that became more insistent the more she tried to push it away. Not merely the *'IwmeQbogh*, the blood fever, this must be the *yatlhmo' ngachuqraD*, the sex compulsion of pregnancy that her Klingon pregnancy texts had described. B'Elanna was shocked at the intensity of her desire, but there was no doubt about it: she wanted Tom's body, and she wanted it now.

"So, Tom, now that you know, can you tell how my body has changed?"

"Not really. Your stomach is just as flat as always."

"Actually it isn't. It just looks that way because of other areas that have changed a bit more." At his puzzled expression, she told him, "Look up a little." Then he saw.

"My God, your breasts got big!"

She laughed, a little hesitantly, "That's what happens to pregnant Klingons and to pregnant humans, I've found out. If you weren't trying so hard to avoid me, you might have noticed."

"Getting big like that so quickly, doesn't that make them sore?"

"Yes, dreadfully. Just touching them will bring pain."

The purr in her voice dragged his attention back to her face and away f Liehis intrigued regard of her luxurious bosom. The passion in her voice was unmistakable.

"B'Elanna, we're just making up here. You don't want me to pressure you into marriage, but falling into bed again immediately will be fine?" he asked incredulously.

"Make up sex, Paris. You've heard of it, I'm sure. I wouldn't mind it. It's supposed to be incredible. You're pretty incredible anyway, Hotshot." She was almost growling at him. Then she sighed, "Come on, Tom. Please."

"B'Elanna, *what* is going on with you?"

"Hormones, Tom. I want you. I have to have you. Now."

Then she was growling at him, unzipping the front of her uniform, grabbing his hand and shoving it under her turtleneck. He pulled out his hand abruptly, saying firmly, "Oh, no, we aren't. Not yet. We have lots to discuss before we jump into bed again. Just calm down, Torres."

~~~~~

"God, I'm weak. No Klingon or half-Klingon could possibly be interested in someone who caves in to temptation like I just did."

"You weren't so weak. You held off even after I stripped off all of my clothes and sat in your lap. I had to use my secret weapons to subdue you." Her pregnancy swollen breasts, held up to him after she had taken a big bite out of his left cheek, had finally been his undoing. She looked into his eyes. They were filled with a contentment that she was sure was reflected in her own.

"See, I told you making up would be a good idea."

He groaned a bit, but laughed too, as Tom cradled B'Elanna's head near his chest.

After a few tranquil moments, Tom asked her, "So, will you let me know when it's okay to ask you to marry me again? I'm not asking you to marry me this minute; I just want to know when you might be in a receptive mood to be asked."

She groaned. "Paris, don't you ever give up? Are you going to ask me to marry you every time we make love? Do you really think that getting married will keof hs from having these misunderstanding or arguing over nothing?"

"No, Be', I have no illusions about that. Marriage won't solve all our problems. We'll always have to work on compromise."

"We aren't so good at being open with each other and talking over things, either."

"So I don't always talk too much?" he teased.

"That's one I need to work on more, I guess." She stretched languidly against his long body.

His mood turned serious. Rubbing her belly that rested against his own, Tom said "We have a little girl coming who deserves better from us than we got from our own parents, B'Elanna. The least we could do is promise her that we have faith in having a future together."

"Getting married didn't keep my parents together."

"I know, but it wasn't your fault they didn't stay together, you understand that, don't you? It was between them; it had nothing to do with you."

"If you say so, Tom. I have no way to know. So, anyway, I suppose since you are so big on all things Klingon, you're prepared to mate for life?"

"Yes, I am. I was ready the *first* time I offered to take the Oath with you, when we were in our den back on Tantrum."

"You would promise never to leave me, I suppose, the way my father did."

"No, I can't promise that, B'Elanna; no one can. What I can promise is that if I do leave you, my heart won't be beating, and there won't be any sign of life in my body. Unless you push me away, like I think your mother did with your father."

"What makes you think that happened?"

He was quiet for a minute. "Did you ever research the Starfleet archive file about your father that I suggested you should?"

"No." Her voice was distant, as it always was when she spoke of her father.

"I did."

"And . . . "

At that moment he did not wish to break their fragile peace by sharing what he knew, but he doubted she would be willing to leave it at that. "B'Elanna, I don't know for sure why your father left, or why he stayed away from you for so long, but I'm sure that he cared for you."

"It would have been nice if he let me know it."

Tom debated how much to tell her. As much as he could remember seemed to be the best bet. "B'Elanna, Starfleet personnel files report that Lieutenant Commander Rafael Torres was killed in action during the Cardassian conflict in 2362. He left behind over two hundred messages for his daughter B'Elanna, all returned to him, unread, by his former wife, your mother. There were over a hundred messages to her, too. He had them saved in the archives at Starfleet Headquarters under the hundred year seal, along with his death messages for both of you. That doesn't sound like a man who left his wife because he didn't like the way his daughter's forehead looked."

"Tom, when I was in the Academy, all I had to do was ask and I could have gotten his messages? All of them?" All he could do was nod, then hold her as she sobbed.

~~~~~

Some time later, when she had calmed down again and seemed in the mood to talk, Tom reverted to the joking Paris. "So, are you ready for me to ask you to marry you yet?"

"Why are you persisting in this, Tom?"

"I thought I might be on a hot streak. After all, I've gone from *persona non grata*, to friend, to father of your child, to lover in a couple of hours. I figured I might as well go all the way."

B'Elanna adjusted her position so that she could look into his eyes, questioning, "Why do you want me, Paris? You could have anyone on the ship. There are probably women who would come onto Voyager to sign on for this marathon adventure just for the chance to be with you! Why me?"

"B'Elanna, you are the mother of my child."

"That's not it, and you know it. You were asking me long before you knew about the baby."

"You want another reason, besides the fact that I love you?"

"That's exactly it, Tom. Why do you love me, after I treated you so badly?"

He propped his head up on his hand and faced her, his other hand supporting her back. "I love you because you're beautiful--yes, you are beautiful, don't you look at me like that!--you are the most beautiful woman I have ever known." He brushed her forehead ridges with the gentlest of licks and kisses, working his way down until he reached her mouth. After a satisfying kiss, he went on, "And I love you because you are the most exciting, *vivid* woman I have ever known. There are so many sides to you. In the Vidiian prison, I met your human self and your Klingon self, but neither excited me as much as your half-human, half-Klingon self does. I love B'Elanna. I love Lieutenant Torres, the chief engineer. I love your intelligence, your creativity, and that wicked sense of humor of yours that, fortunately, I can appreciate. I know I'll never tire of you. Next to you, every other woman in the galaxy is boring; and I can't have boring."

"Risk-taking maniac that you are."

He laughed. "That's right. The riskier it is, the more I like it. On the edge. I'll always have to be on my guard with you around."

Holding her body close beside his, Tom kissed her again and again. When he came up for air, he had an inquiry of his own. "Fair is fair, Torres. Why do you allow me anywhere near you? My personal history in the honor department is definitely below Klingon standards. I'm a pig and an infamous flirt, and--as you are always telling me--I talk too damn much. What do you see in me?"

Since she knew what she wanted to say but had not figured out how to word it yet, B'Elanna stalled. She got up on one elbow to look him in the eye, then thought better of it and swung her leg over his waist, straddling him. Her hands began to wander over his chest. He stretched his body and began to moan softly, murmuring, "So it's my body you want?"

She laughed, but with an intensity that spoke of much greater depths of feeling than only humor. "No, my fine specimen, although I do want your body, too, and I'll get it again soon enough." She bent down, placing both hands on either side of his head and kissing him deeply before continuing, "My lusty hero, I do want one part of you--but not that part you're probably thinking of--I can see that smile." She rubbed his chest again, tenderly patting the firm muscles beneath their covering of soft skin and red-gold hair, cherishing what lay beneath. "It's your heart. You have great courage, which is always important to my Klingon side, but you also have something more in there. I've never known anyone who has a kinder heart than you do."

"Kind, you love me because I'm kind? If that isn't like 'kissing your sister,' I don't know what is!" He grimaced. Being loved for being kind was not what he had wanted or expected to hear!

"Don't be a pig, Paris. Kindness is underrated. I would have liked to have had more of it thrown my way when I was growing up; I sincerely doubt that kindness would be the first thing that people think about when they think of me! Would you prefer it if I called it compassion? Self-sacrifice? That's part of it, too; maybe that's the link with courage. The truth is, you love others well enough to be willing to sacrifice your own life for them--you've tried to often enough. All that love for everyone on Voyager, even those who've treated you like trash, and yet I know there will always be enough love in that heart for me. ME. And you ARE the bravest man I ever met, Tom Paris. The proof is that you want me . . . now that is really brave. Or crazy. I'm not sure which."

In his eyes she saw love shining for her. There was more she wanted to say to him, but some words had always been hard for her to say. Finally, B'Elanna mentioned casually, as an afterthought, "I guess I should tell you that I love you, too."

"That's funny, I thought you just said it a minute ago."

Hugging him tightly, B'Elanna sighed. "You're right, I did, Hotshot. I just wasn't sure you could hear me."

"So, are you going to tell me when it's okay for me to ask you to marry you again?"

"Paris! I can't believe you!" B'Elanna rolled her eyes in mock frustration. "What would we get by my saying 'yes' to you right now?"

"It would be one less thing to argue about."

B'Elanna stroked his face with her fingertips. How could the two of them hope to be happy, with all of the loneliness and pain they had already gone through in their lives?

His expectant face was before her, and those crystalline orbs staring up at her so hopefully were open passageways to the soul within. She had learned more about that soul in the last few weeks than any other which she had ever encountered; but, enough to trust him with the rest of her life? It was true that she had trusted him with her physical body on numerous occasions when he had offered his own to save hers, at times, when just he and B'Elanna were on a mission, at others, as part of the crew complement of Voyager which he was also busily saving.

Now it was her own soul, her very being, that she would be placing in his care. In order to do that, she had to rely on their having complete faith in each other, faith that no matter what happened, they would be able to navigate their way back to what they were sharing at this moment.

She had never been very good at relying upon anyone but herself. Maybe it was time to change that.

B'Elanna relented. For some things, she finally accepted, there could never be any guarantees. The best she could hope for was the feeling that this was the right decision, and she had that feeling now.

But, it would be a good idea to have one less thing to get in their way.

She took a great, deep breath before leaping over the abyss, "OK, Tom, I'll marry you. Just to get rid of that one thing we always argue about." She planted a big, noisy kiss on his mouth, which he returned lustily.

"B'Elanna Torres. Chief Engineer. Wife. Mother. Miracle Worker of the Engine Room. I kind of like the sound of all that," he teased.

"Thomas Eugene Paris. Chief Helmsman. Husband. Father. Best Damned Pilot in the Delta Quadrant," she answered him.

Taking his head between her hands, B'Elanna admired his clear aquamarine eyes, as he admired eyes the color of soft, hot fudge.




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Return to With Jamelia in the Delta Quadrant
to read the next chapter, "Vows"