"It doesn't look very deep," commented B'Elanna as she entered the cave. Depositing the sacks of tubers and the backpacks she was carrying on the floor inside the entrance, she rummaged through her pack and removed her light. Not bothering to attach it to her wrist, she flashed it around the cave. "There's one area far to the back that cuts into the mountain about 40 meters or so from the entrance," she went on, "but that shaft of light coming from the roof opens to the outside."
"It'll act like a wind tunnel during the night. I was hoping that this cave would be deeper than the tricorder said it would be, but it isn't. Where's a false reading when you really need one?"
"What is it, 18 hours of winter night to get through, Tom?"
"Yeah, we've got to find the most protected area of this cave to camp out in."
After switching on his own light, Tom circuited the small cave with B'Elanna. They had to be careful of their footing; much of the cave had an uneven floor. In the back of the cavern, in a cul-de-sac formed by an outcropping of stone, they found a crack in the floor. It was directly underneath the one in the roof but was out of sight somewhat from the main area of the cave. "Latrine area," declared Tom. B'Elanna agreed. Cold draft or not, it would be better to use for their needs than going outside would be.
"Tom, what about over there on the left, where the stalactites and stalagmites are in a line. That's almost a wall." They bent down and shone their lights inside. The lights revealed the roof of the cave there was a mere meter and a half from its floor. Columns of stone enclosed an area a little under three meters in length and about two meters in width, but four other stalactites with their connecting stalagmites hung in the center of the space.
She sighed. "There isn't enough room for us to slide in there, out of the wind, is there?"
"No, the columns are in the way. The best place is against that side wall to the right, I think. At least the floor is level."
"It's going to be in line with the draft."
"If you can find a better place, I'll be happy to go along with you."
They flashed the lights around for several minutes more. There was no better place in the cave.
"Do you want me to see if there is another cave nearby, B'Elanna?"
"I don't think it's worth the effort, do you? It's almost dark now. We don't want to be wandering around outside then. It's cold enough now."
Remembering that the half-Klingon engineer's body was less resistant to cold than his own, Tom agreed. Returning to the mouth of the cave, they transferred the sacks of tubers and their meager supplies to the area of the cave where they would sleep.
"Inventory time, Lieutenant Torres?" asked Tom, as he sat beside her, leaning his back against the wall of the cave. B'Elanna was the nominal head of their two-person expedition. When she agreed, he emptied the damaged knapsack first.
"Let's see, we've got a change of underwear and socks. One spare gray turtleneck. One personal hygiene kit for male crew members. A comb. One mess kit. Three ration bars. A canteen with . . ." He opened the stopper to sniff the contents. "with water inside. Terrific. I was hoping they would have left us something a bit stronger. One Starfleet All-Weather Sleeping Bag-Blanket. A PADD--I wonder what it has on it. *Women Warriors at the River of Blood* would be nice. I haven't finished that yet." Pulling the PADD out of the backpack, Tom switched it on, making a face when he saw what it was. "It's a security manual. This must be Larson's pack; he was taking Tuvok's promotional course for prospective ensigns. I knew he was ambitious when he started showing up on the bridge as a backup. Okay, back to the inventory. Personal med kit. One pair lined gloves."
"Dibs on the gloves, Paris."
"Didn't you bring your own?"
"I forgot them. I didn't expect to be here all night," she said defensively.
"You're going to be sorry. These won't be very warm. They're the lightweight ones." He tossed them over to her. "You may want to put these on with your climbing gloves for a little extra warmth, B'Elanna." He turned back to the contents of the backpack. "One deck Starfleet-issue playing cards. Guess we'll have something to do to pass the time besides sleep and eat. One wrist light. A spare power pack for the wrist light. That's handy, at least. He didn't even need to bring a light, let alone the spare power pack. What's this--oh, it's a pocket knife. And two candy bars, chocolate. Looks like we're going to have dessert tonight."
B'Elanna smiled, although she couldn't help thinking that another half-dozen blankets would have been preferable to candy bars for dessert. "What did you bring with you, Tom?"
"Pretty much the same thing. My field medic kit is more complete that the personal ones and has a medical tricorder. I have an extra power pack for the phaser. I had three, but we used up two when we were cutting out the dilithium. I've got the climbing equipment, with the pitons and cords and some cleats. No candy bars or playing cards though, and I don't have a PADD. What about you?"
"The same basic stuff. Convertible blanket, mess and med kits, some ration bars and a little Tarkalian tea. I had five spare power packs for the phaser when we left the ship, but I used three of them cutting. The one in my phaser is full power, though. I've got a change of underwear, socks, and turtleneck, too. My wrist light and a spare power pack for that. Of course, I have the female version of the hygiene kit.
"I would think so."
"Is there any spare food?"
"What's in Neelix's lunch basket, B'Elanna?"
"Oh, forgot about the basket. He's got an old blanket in here. I guess they sat on it while they ate. It isn't one of those that can be made into a sleeping bag. He's got one, no, two sandwiches, about a dozen ration bars, another beverage container . . ." She passed the container over to Tom so that he could check out its contents. "A cooking pot, it looks like. I don't know what he had planned on cooking! A small lighter to start fires. Some cups and plates and cutlery. And some more of those roots. They're soft, so they must be leftovers from lunch."
"You can use the extra blankets, B'Elanna. You'll need them."
"You're right about that. It's a good thing we never sent our cold-weather jackets back up to Voyager. I wish I had an entire environment suit right about now."
He leaned forward away from the wall. "Yeah, this stone is cold. If the cave had been deeper, we could have gotten into an area where the temperature was moderated, but this one's too shallow for that. We may need to use Neelix's blanket on the floor under us to help insula . . ." He stopped talking in mid-sentence and thought a moment.
"B'Elanna, I just had an inspiration. Insulation, and a soft bed, all in one. What about bringing in those piles of straw that are outside--you know, the stalky tops of the tubers. We could sleep on a haystack."
"That's a good idea, Tom. It's got to be warmer and more comfortable than the floor of this cave."
"We'd better hurry though. The straw is probably starting to blow all around."
Jumping to his feet, Tom held out his hand for B'Elanna to pull herself up. Without another word, they went out to gather up their bedding.
"It could have been much worse, Captain. At least we were able to limp out of the nebula on impulse before we had to shut down propulsion." Harry tried to look optimistic, but the good news was meager, compared to the overwhelming problems that faced them. "Most of the damage to the Bioneural system was apparently caused when the shields were down for the transporter. The effect on the circuitry wasn't caught in time to prevent the cascade failure, so it spread throughout the ship's systems and the computer network. Neelix and Larson were lucky to get here when they did. The transporter buffers went off line seconds after they were on board."
"Where are we regarding repairs, Lieutenant Carey?" asked Commander Chakotay.
Torres' primary assistant in engineering consulted his PADD. "We can use backups to reprogram all the systems, but before we can do that, we need to check on all of the circuits to make sure that they aren't damaged. In addition to the circuitry, a significant amount of damage was done to other parts of the ship by the ignited plasma. It's going to take a while to fix everything, and since all replicators are down at the moment, even on the holodecks . . . ."
"The holodecks, Mr. Carey?"
"Yes, Captain, sometimes when we need a lot of parts we press the replicator function of the holodeck into service. It's especially useful for making larger components. Since they're off line, too, we'll need to fix them before making replacements for other parts of system. At least the gelpacks themselves were OK. Only the linkages between them were damaged; they automatically disconnected to prevent damage to the gelpacks. That's what's supposed to happen--it's a protective measure--but now all of that circuitry needs to be fixed before we'll be able to make much headway on the rest of the ship. Estimated repair time is about six days."
"Does that mean B'Elanna and Tom will have to spend four of that planet's nights there?" Neelix looked distressed.
"That's a minimum estimate, I'm afraid, Mr. Neelix. Even if we can get all of the repairs completed without any delay, Voyager can return to to pick them only if the nebula has settled down by then. We can't risk a recurrence of such extensive damage to our shields and systems."
"Captain, that means we also need to keep an eye on Tantrum in order to monitor the conditions inside the nebula."
"What did you say, Harry?" asked the captain. " 'Tantrum?' "
"Uh, sorry, Captain. That's what they're calling it down in Stellar Cartography. I think Megan Delaney christened it that," answered Harry.
A smile crossed the captain's lips for the first time at the meeting. "The name certainly fits! I think we should keep it."
Harry smiled back. "Stellar Cartography will be glad to hear it. Everyone was getting pretty tired of saying V3-F01-1472 all the time."
After a short pause to acknowledged the name, Lieutenant Carey spoke up, "Captain, about observing the star. Ensign Myers and the crew in the shuttle maintenance bay have an idea. Since the shuttles aren't connected directly to the ship, their systems sustained little if any damage. We can get them up and flying in a day or two. If we fit them with some extra long-range sensors, we can keep an eye on Tantrum until Voyager is repaired enough to do it."
"Why not for a day or two, Mr. Carey?" asked Chakotay.
Carey looked sheepish. "Until the shields are working properly again, it wouldn't be a good idea to open the shuttle bay doors; but we can't even try. They won't open, Commander. We have to fix that circuitry, too."
The captain and the first officer exchanged an exasperated look with one another.
"Keep us informed, Lieutenant. Anything else?"
"Captain Janeway, pardon me for asking, but once the shuttles get out, can't you just send one to pick up Lieutenant Torres and Lieutenant Paris? I'd be glad to volunteer for such a mission, " said Neelix.
Janeway replied gently, knowing that while Neelix should have known the answer to his question already, the guilt he carried about returning to Voyager while Tom and B'Elanna had been forced to stay behind was preying on his mind. "That isn't practical, Neelix. If there's another solar flare while the shuttle is in the nebula, more crew members would be put in danger; worse danger, frankly, than Lieutenant Torres and Lieutenant Paris are in right now. The shuttles have less shield capacity than Voyager."
"Wasn't the damage done because the shields were down, to permit the transport of Crewman Larson and myself?"
Tuvok looked towards Janeway and Chakotay as he noted, "Much of it was, but the shields were also damaged by the interaction of the plasma fires on them, apart from whatever damage had occurred during the transport. While sending in a shuttle might be perceived by the crew as a positive step toward rescuing Lieutenants Torres and Paris, it would be an unacceptable risk." Realizing that the comments were for him, Neelix nodded reluctantly to acknowledge the Vulcan officer's statements.
Captain Janeway looked around at what remained of her senior staff. "Does anyone else have anything to report?"
Chakotay replied, "At least there is a little good news."
"What is it, Commander. We could use some right about now."
"Dilithium is one thing not in short supply, thanks to Torres and Paris." Everyone's smile was a bit wan, knowing that their dilithium supply would have been secured at a very high cost if any harm were to come to the engineer and helmsman.
Janeway met the eyes of her first officer, appreciating his attempt to lighten the mood. "Yes, thanks to Tom and B'Elanna. Anything else?" When there were no further questions or comments, the captain dismissed what remained of her senior staff, along with Carey and Hamilton, who were replacing Torres and Paris.
As he was about to exit the conference room, Commander Chakotay heard Janeway's not quite contained sigh from where she remained seated at the conference table. He stopped at the doorway and turned to her, commenting lightly, "Five light years away, and it might as well be a hundred.
"Yes, Chakotay, it might as well be. I know we have a good crew, but some people, B'Elanna, especially, seem more essential than most. Every time we are in a tight situation, I have to admit how right you were in recommending her to become chief engineer. Carey is an extremely competent engineer, but B'Elanna is so much more than that. She's creative, innovative. I know that this is no time to berate Lieutenant Carey for not being Lieutenant Torres--it isn't fair to Mr. Carey--but I admit I can't help thinking that she would find a way to get the ship repaired a little sooner."
"If the nebula doesn't settle down, the amount of time taken for the repairs won't really matter."
"True, Commander." She motioned him to walk with her to her ready room as she came to her feet. "But the worst thing is that we can't even get word to them about what's happened. I hope they don't think we've deliberately abandoned them."
"I doubt that, Captain. Paris knows that you could never do that, any more than B'Elanna would believe it of me, or of you."
She smiled slightly. "Does that mean you think Tom might think you *were* capable of leaving him behind?"
His dimples showed briefly. "We couldn't leave the Best Pilot in the Delta Quadrant to the fate of being stuck somewhere without anything to fly, could we?" The quick smile faded. " I trust he does know I wouldn't leave him behind, even if he might think it is only because I wouldn't leave B'Elanna. If I didn't know better, I would have trouble believing Tom was the same person who served with me in the Maquis. He's done such an about face in the last three years--if you knew him then, Kathryn, you wouldn't believe it was the same man, either."
"Maybe it only seems that way now that he's had an opportunity to show what the real Tom Paris is like. I know he isn't at all like the man I met in prison. Have you ever mentioup ato him how your view of him has changed, Chakotay? I know the two of you haven't always gotten along, but I know he respects you tremendously."
"Not in so many words, Captain, although I hope he knows my feelings have changed. When he gets back on board, I'll see if we can sit down and have a talk--as long as he hasn't done anything to make me mad at him again in the meantime."
Entering the ready room, the commander took his usual seat as the captain moved around to take her place behind the desk. "What I really wish we knew, Captain, is what kind of supplies they have available to them. We know what didn't come up with Neelix and Larson, but neither one was sure whether or not the missing items were on the surface for Torres and Paris to use. If they only have their own packs, the amount of power available to them to create a heat source may be extremely limited. Late winter, a day 33.4 standard hours long--I'm glad it isn't me down there."
"Me either. Let's see if we can come up with some projections about their power supplies. What did they requisition? What equipment and supplies were in the missing packs that Neelix and Larson weren't able to bring back?"
Spying a PADD lying on her desk, Janeway toyed with it for a few seconds before picking it up, her face lighting briefly with a smile. "I wish I could ask Leonardo about it all, but that will have to wait for Mr. Paris' return, too."
"Tom was helping me with a new holodeck program. Sort of a holonovel, but based on the life and works of Leonardo daVinci. He'd promised we'd finish it as soon as he got back."
"Scientist, inventor, artist . . . . I can see the appeal for you, but you couldn't have used the program anyway, Captain, with the holodecks out of order."
"True. It will have to wait for another time," said the captain. "I just hope that I will be able to avail myself of Mr. Paris' golden touch with a holodeck program before making any appeals to Mr. daVinci."
The Klingon half of B'Elanna Torres was being extremely difficult to the rest of B'Elanna--and to Tom. Even though the pilot had dashed out to grab the last three armloads of straw without her, B'Elanna was thoroughly chilled and miserable. The pile of straw-like stalks was almost half a meter in height, with an extra pile of the stuff propped up against the wall of the cave to serve as an improvised back rest. B'Elanna was now seated in the middle of the dried vegetation with all four of their blankets wrapped around her. Her face was lit by the flames of a small fire and the glow of several large rocks that had been rolled in front of the pile before being heated with low beams of phaser power to radiate heat and light.
The fire consumed fuel made by Tom's twisting the thickest of the straw-stems into knots. The thickest stalks were deemed likely to be uncomfortable as bedding anyway. The twists of straw burned brightly but were consumed far too quickly to justify the effort required to make them, in B'Elanna's opinion. Tom had maintained that the soothing quality of the flames made it worthwhile, despite the tending that was required to keep the small fire going. Since it was "Tom's fire," Tom was doing the tending.
B'Elanna was still cold.
"More tea, B'Elanna?" he asked, solicitously.
"I think I've had enough; I'll only have to get rid of it later," she answered brusquely. By now, Tom's fussing over her had become tiresome enough to make her irritable. She wasn't sure she'd be able to stand it for the remaining 16-hours-plus of darkness they were anticipating.
Squatting next to the campfire, Tom added a few more hunks of straw to the flames before pouring the last of the tea from the cooking pot into his metal mug. As he settled back on the pile next to his companion, Tom sipped the tea cautiously. The brew was still hot enough to burn an unwary mouth.
"Ready to play some cards? Or do you have something else in mind to pass away the night."
"Card playing, wearing these?" she demanded, raising hands clad in Tom's heavy, cold weather gloves. Tom had taken pity on her frozen hands and let her wear his while he wore Larson's lighter weight ones beneath his climbing gloves.
"Sure, why not. We won't have to cheat. We'll be dropping the cards all over the place." That managed to draw a hint of a smile from her.
"What I really want to do is sleep away the night, if you don't mind. You will permit me to go to sleep this time, won't you?" she added, pointedly.
"In the Argala habitat we weren't equipped for sleeping. You would have died of hypothermia napping there. Here, with the sleeping bags and the heat sources we've got, we'll get by. As a last resort we can huddle up close and conserve our body heat. In fact, we'd be better off by making one double sleeping bag right from the start, instead of two. We could use the extra blankets to block the wind as much as we can." He looked up toward the crack in the cavern's ceiling. The draft had turned into a cutting wind since nightfall.
"I don't know, Hotshot. Can I trust you, seeing as how you wanted a 'passionate affair' between the helmsman and the Maquis engineer in Insurrection Alpha?"
"Don't worry. I can control myself for one night, even if I do wrap my body around yours. For protective purposes only, of course."
"Of course," she snorted.
Taking the last sip of tea, Tom leaned over the edge of what they were calling the haystack to deposit his empty mug on the cavern floor. "Seriously, we probably should make up the sleeping bags now. How do we go, single, with each of us having an extra blanket, or double, with the extra blankets spread above and below us?"
She thought a moment. They were going to be fully dressed, after all. "I guess doubled does make more sense."
"Then crawl out from under those covers now, Lieutenant Torres. Brave that wind, just for a few minutes."
Giving him a dirty look, B'Elanna did as he asked. The thermal blankets from their packs had special seams along the outside edges. With the seams peeled open, each blanket could be attached to the other side of itself to form a single sleeping bag. Matching blankets formed an envelope that could sleep two.
Spreading one out to form a base, they fastened a second blanket over the first. After they had finished, B'Elanna noted, "You know, if we loosen up the top blanket in a few spots, can't Larson's be attached to the top, too?"
"It's worth a try." In a couple of minutes all three blankets were attached to one other. A little cold air might enter where the top two blankets overlapped one another, as the gripper seam of the bottom blanket could not grab the seams of both of the top blankets well enough to eliminate all the gaps. They agreed that having slight openings, even if they might be a little drafty, were an acceptable tradeoff for the extra layer of insulation over them while they slept.
"Climb in, Lieutenant," said the helmsman, holding the layers open for B'Elanna to slip inside. Tossing Neelix's blanket on top of B'Elanna, Tom glanced around their shelter. Grabbing a wrist light and a phaser, he tucked them into a knapsack which was tossed within easy reach of the top opening of the sleeping bag. "Just in case we need them," he said.
Gingerly lowering his long legs into the bag next to B'Elanna, Tom tried to settle down to rest. After a few minutes of tossing and turning, he realized that his inability to relax had little to do with him. "Do you always sleep like that?"
"How I sleep is my concern, Lieutenant."
Tom grunted. The engineer's rigidly straight position, arms crossed over her chest as she lay on her back, didn't look at all comfortable to him. He couldn't believe it was her usual sleeping position."B'Elanna, we'd be much warmer if we spooned together."
"If we what?"
"You know, like spoons lying in a drawer." He gently nudged her into position on her side as he described it to her. "Your back to my front, knees bent, hips bent, my arms curled around you. There, isn't that more comfortable?"
"I don't know. You're awfully close."
He laughed. "That's the idea. I promise not to take advantage of your virtue, Lieutenant Torres. If I'm a bad boy, you'll make me pay for it for the rest of my life. And you'd make sure that wasn't a very long time!"
"You're really enjoying this, aren't you?" B'Elanna said, although she couldn't hold back a smidgeon of a grin. Why should she worry about him? He'd been able to control his impulses better than she had on Sakari IV. Wrapping her arms snugly around herself to hold in as much of her body heat as possible, B'Elanna wiggled her hips a little to settle herself into a better position. Her bed partner's sudden intake of breath held the suggestion of a groan. She grinned evilly. No sense letting Mr. Paris get too comfortable.
Tom awoke with a start. At first he thought the frigid wind had dragged him back to consciousness. Then he was aware of soft moaning and shivering by his bed mate. B'Elanna was suffering, and he couldn't think of a way to help her more than he already had. Checking his chronometer, he saw that the rocks heated with his phaser less than two hours before were dark and cold. The draft in the cave must disperse the warmth too quickly to provide the two officers with much in the way of comfort. He briefly considered burying them deeper in straw, but Tom doubted there was enough in the cave to make the difference needed for B'Elanna. There was one way that might help, but even that method had its flaws.
"Tom, did I wake you?" Her voice quivered, totally unlike its usual crisp delivery.
"No," he lied. "The wind woke me. How are you doing?"
"Not very good. Tom, I've been thinking." She struggled amidst the piles of straw, blankets and winter clothing to face him, muttering, "I can't believe I'm actually going to say this to you."
"Say what to me?"
She took a deep breath. "Sex makes body heat. Maybe we should . . . have a physical encounter."
"Can't you even say 'Let's have sex, Tom?'" he teased.
"Okay. Let's have sex. I don't feel like playing word games here, Tom! I'm freezing to death."
His bantering ceased once he realized that she was serious. "B'Elanna, much as I'd love to, there are some logistical problems we'd have to work out first."
"Such as . . . "
"We haven't exactly gotten to the point in our relationship where taking such a big step is expected . . . "
"Tom, I'm freezing. You're freezing. I'm not talking 'relationship' here. This is survival."
His lips almost tilted into a grin. "We can survive without it, Lieutenant. Cold, uncomfortable, probably without a lot of sleep, but we can endure this. It isn't much colder than the habitat ship, but this time we've got lots of equipment. Let me warm up some tea for you."
"Don't you dare leave this bed."
"You need me? Be still, my heart."
"Tom, I'm serious."
"I'm being serious, too. It's too soon in our--if you don't want us to have a 'relationship,' then let's call it 'friendship'--to, well, too soon to get physical like that. I really do want you to respect me in the morning, Torres."
"Tom, this isn't like that *pon farr*/Klingon mating urge thing. We both need to be warm. I *am* fond of you, you know that."
"How many times have we kissed, other than when you had that '*pon farr* thing.' "
"I'm not sure."
"Let me refresh your memory, Lieutenant Torres. We haven't."
"What does that prove?"
"It proves that we aren't ready to hop into bed--well, uh, let me rephrase that, since we are in bed already--eachroves we aren't ready to make love. In case you haven't caught on yet, Lieutenant, I am not interested in a casual affair with you." He had to stop a moment, as he felt a catch in his throat that he did not want B'Elanna to hear. "Your friendship is very important to me, B'Elanna. Special. I do not want to blow it by doing something we'll both regret later."
"Tom . . . " Her voice trailed off. She knew she probably wasn't ready for what he wanted; he'd made his true intentions towards her abundantly clear during the last few months. Tom was probably right about it not being advisable to do what she asked of him now. He was right, but he was wrong, too. This was a completely different situation--he had to see that!
"And I meant it when I said there were logistical problems, apart from the effect having sex would have on our--friendship."
"To do it right, we'd have to remove a fair amount of our clothing, or, at least, you would. Do you really want to expose your body to the cold more than it already is to try to get warm? Frankly, there are certain parts of my anatomy that I would prefer not to lose to frostbite."
"Point taken," she grudgingly admitted.
"Hasn't this discussion warmed you up just a little?"
"Yes, it has, a very little. I want to be a lot warmer, even if it's only for a while."
He couldn't see her eyes, but he could imagine the look she was giving him. Tom almost gave in right then, cold or not, frostbite risk or no. His hesitation allowed him to remember something that might serve their needs a little better under the present circumstances.
"We could do a little cuddling, B'Elanna."
"I thought that's what we've been doing."
"Cuddling and caressing, the way couples used to when they went 'parking.' You know, like in that Old-Car-on-Mars holodeck program I've got. You'll get a little of that sexual contact from me you're suddenly craving; and, trust me, you'll get warmer. Lots warmer."
"Sure, Tom. Let's do it."
Tom laughed at her matter-of-fact answer. Suddenly, though, he breathed in her scent. Her breath puffed in his face. He felt all of the places her body touched him, not to mention the proximity of her lips to his own. At the same time he became acutely aware that talking about sex had made him, oh, so ready for it.
Breathing softly to her, "Okay, let's . . . ," Tom leaned forward the few centimeters he needed to brush B'Elanna's mouth with his. Since she seemed receptive and did not immediately pull away, he kissed her again--still gently, but with a bit more desire, more passion. Her answering kiss encouraged him to pull off his gloves for the freedom to slip his hands between her thighs, to warm them before touching her anywhere else. His reward was a stiffening of her body and a distinct jump back, although how she managed it while lying on her side was a mystery to him.
"So you want to 'do it,' Torres, and I can't even warm my hands up between your legs?"
"Just give me a little warning, okay?"
"I'm giving it to you now, then. My hands are going to make contact with your body, Torres. Lots of contact. If you don't want me to do that, fine. Just say so now."
B'Elanna grunted a little but said nothing. Taking this as assent, Tom murmured her name and kissed her again. Their kisses became more and more passionate as they caressed and comforted each other in the frigid caverns.
"That definitely helped me get warmer, Paris," she said. He could sense the upturning of her lips on his and answered with a smile of his own.
"Much warmer, Torres."
Settling the blankets back around them, Tom wrapped his arms around her shoulders and back, hugging her close to him. She in turn tucked her head into his shoulder, the top of her head brushing his chin, snuggling into his embrace. He would have been content to lie like that, unlly urbed, for the rest of the night. By his chronometer, however, he estimated that there were at least nine more hours of night left, nine more hours that would be colder than those they had already endured. Sighing into B'Elanna's hair, Tom resigned himself to the fact that several more petting sessions would probably be needed before morning. He was sure he'd be up for it.
B'Elanna stirred briefly as Tom crept out of the sleeping bag. Although the air was the coldest it had been since their arrival on the planet, the predawn dying of the breeze made it seem a little warmer in the cavern. Crouching down by her side, Tom tenderly lifted his half of the sleeping bag to cover her. By the meagre light of a wristlight, he watched B'Elanna's restlessness settle back into slumber. Tom longed to brush his hand along her cheek. He settled for draping part of Neelix's blanket around the back of her head and neck, tucking in the loose ends, before touching his gloved hand against her hair. Not a very sensual experience for him, to be sure, but the gesture satisfied the need in his soul to take care of her. She hated it, he knew, but that did not make the impulse easier for him to resist. Feelings for the beautiful human-Klingon engineer that he had been trying to keep dormant were raging in his heart, now that they had taken one step closer to becoming lovers. Hell, maybe they WERE lovers--he wasn't sure what they were to each other after the liberties they'd allowed each other during the night. But "friends"--no, a lot more than only friends--at least, on his part.
After visiting the "latrine corner" to relieve himself, Tom used his phaser to heat several of the rocks they had arranged to serve as radiators the previous evening. Grabbing the last of the straw knots, Tom piled them in the area designated as their fireplace and lit them with Neelix's lighter.
Baring his hands to take advantage of the flame, the helmsman considered his surroundings. He would be glad to get thek on Voyager. This place was far too austere to spend any more time than necessary here. What would his father think about Tom's surviving here? Would he have gotten more than a B-minus from dear old Dad if he'd spent part of his survival training here? An ambivalent grimace appeared on his face. Probably not.
Slipping both pairs of gloves back over his hands, Tom straightened up and strolled to the entrance of the cavern. The sun was coming up, but it was still extremely cold. He again breathed thanks to the deity that had stopped the cutting wind.
From where he stood, Tom could see ropes of ice on the face of the cliff that he and B'Elanna had climbed the previous day. The icicles had been gleaming with dripping water in the sun yesterday, but now they were frozen solid again. He imagined there were cracks in the shale at the higher elevations where spring water could drip through from deep within the mountainside, where the water was liquid even in this cold. The sun warming the cliff caused surface melting in the day, while the brutal cold of the nights froze it all up again every night. No, Voyager's comforts would be very much appreciated by one Thomas Eugene Paris today.
Walking away from the cave entrance so that he would not disturb B'Elanna, Tom tapped his comm badge and said, "Paris to Voyager."
There was no answer, not even the hiss and static that had interfered with communications yesterday. Reflexively, he stared upward, although the likelihood he would be able to see Voyager in orbit was vanishingly small. Then he noticed that what he'd assumed was a "red sky at morning" effect was, in fact, the actual color of the entire sky, rather than just the eastern horizon. To the west, where night still reigned, the sky was a sickly orange-maroon, with a slight glow that obscured whatever stars might have been still shining in the dawn sky. In fact, Tom would be willing to bet that even the stars bright enough to be seen normally, despite the nebula, had been invisible during the past night. His practiced pilot's eye detected no trace of cloud cover, either. This was the actual night sky, stained such an unnatural color.
Recalling the interference with the communicator and transport systems the previous day, Tom came to the unhappy conclusion that the nebula itself somehow had become enflamed. Plasma fires were no joke, and Voyager would be better off far away from here if that were so.
And if that were the case, Thomas Eugene Paris and B'Elanna Torres were stranded in this unlovely environment for an indeterminate length of time.
"Torres to Voyager." B'Elanna listened for a full minute, hoping to hear some hint of an answering message. Even a crackling hiss would be welcome, as it might mean an open comm line. Dead silence was all the response she got. Sighing, she walked a little further down the bank of the stream, avoiding the ice patches that were present wherever her route was shaded from the sun in any way. There was no "path." A path implied life forms big enough to walk on a given trail with sufficient frequency for a ribbon of wear to be ground into the vegetation. B'Elanna's tricorder, now set to read biological signs instead of dilithium crystals, confirmed what Harry Kim's sensors had detected before the away teams ever left Voyager: there were no large animals on this planet.
Insects were another thing, however. Her tricorder was detecting large numbers of insect eggs, grubs, and larvae, dwelling in the unfrozen recesses of the ground, slumbering until the time came for them to retake their rightful place as the top link in the local food chain. She hoped her tiny away team would be long gone before that season was reached. If even half of the life forms she was reading hatched, this valley would be teeming with insects. B'Elanna preferred not to find out just how big the indigenous lifeforms would get once they emerged from hibernation.
Trudging up an embankment, B'Elanna reached the shelf which formed the base of "Dilithium Cliff," as Tom had dubbed the spot where the precious crystals had been found. She could hear his tenor voice say, "Paris to Voyager" as she reached the top.
"I tried less than five minutes ago, Tom."
His eyes met hers. "I figured it couldn't hurt," he offered with an apologetic shrug. "Unless you think all our calls will use up the power in our communicators."
"Not really, although I guess I have had power on my mind a lot. We don't have any to spare if we have to stay here for any length of time."
"Did you find anything else we can use for a fire?"
"Just more of those woody vines you found. They should burn a little more slowly than the straw and be a lot less work. I checked for coal and peat on my first circuit of the valley. It would be just our luck to land in the one place on this planet where there weren't any fossil fuels." She squatted next to Tom, leaning her back against the cliff. The autumnal reddish glow from the noontime sun burnished her face. The previous day, the color of the sun had been yellow-white, tingeing everything it touched a slight pink/purple hue to eyes adapted to the light spectrum of a yellow sun.
"I don't remember if Harry found anything like that when he scanned the planet. Do you?"
"Not off hand. If I'd had any idea we were going to be stuck down here . . . "
"You would've paid more attention. I know, B'Elanna. I would have, too." They shared a rueful smile. That line had become quite the cliché in the past few hours. "I hadn't realized how much attention I haven't been paying to Harry's background briefings. I'm going to turn over a new leaf when we get back, I assure you."
"You won't be the only one, Tom."
"So, Lieutenant Torres, what's next on the agenda?"
"So formal? Fine." Amused by his exaggeratedly professional tone, B'Elanna inquired crisply, "Would you care to report on your morning's activities, Mr. Pareall
"Happy to, Ma'am. In addition to the tubers that I have dubbed 'yams' in deference to their close resemblance to the Terran root of the same name, I have evaluated the following foodstuffs and found them suitable for consumption by both humans, Klingons, or any combination of the two. Four more varieties of tuber: two of them fairly tasteless. The third has a flavor reminiscent of celery; the last tastes a little like chocolatey potatoes. I swear." They both laughed at the incongruous combination. "I also found these fuzzy leaves growing in a whorly patch. They aren't very pleasant to eat because of the odd texture, but they brewed up into a slightly sweet, lemon-flavored tea. The leaves have citric acid in them for that nice, tangy taste. I was going to call it Vulcan-Ear Tea." B'Elanna raised her eyebrows in surprise but then laughed again. The pointed, brownish leaves did resemble Tuvok's ears.
"Lastly," he went on, "There are some dried seeds in these pods which, if ground, would make a coarse meal. We might be able to mix it with water to bake in the fire or cooking pot for a cornbread substitute. The seeds taste a bit like maize. And unless you want me to start in on testing insect larvae and grubs, that's about it."
"Sorry, no. Maybe if we run out of everything else, we can start with the insects. I would prefer not to."
"I know. I've already had enough of Neelix's grub casserole to last a lifetime," he groaned.
Demonstration over, Tom loaded his samples back into the cooking pot and picnic basket that he'd used for his food gathering expedition. B'Elanna picked up their canteens and the two beverage containers, refilled with fresh water dripping from the icicle formations on the cliff. Together, they walked back along the muddy, rocky field to their cavern home-away-from-home.
After stowing away the food supplies, Tom walked to their haystack bed and studied it for several minutes before being joined by B'Elanna. "If wms t going to be spending any more nights here, and I'm pretty sure that we are, we have to do something about keeping that draft away from us."
"Agreed. Couldn't we build some kind of barrier or wind baffle? Maybe some kind of screen?"
"I thought of that, but without wood, there isn't much to use for a framework."
"How about cutting some of those stalagmite columns with a fine phaser beam and using those for supports? Weave a screen with the piton cords and straw?"
"I don't know. Maybe." Tom pulled out his wrist light and flashed it to the area where most of the stalagmites were located. He shook his head. "I doubt it, B'Elanna. Most of them are so big, they might be impossible for just the two of us to move even if we did cut away the excess stone. And these columns look a little too short for what you want." He flashed the beam of his light over the columns in the middle of the niche at the left side of the cave.
"Tom, what if we just cut those central columns out of this area. We'd have plenty of room for both of us to sleep, even on top of a haystack piled inside. This side of the cave is out of the direct line of the opening. It shouldn't be as drafty here. Of course, we couldn't stand up without banging our heads, but . . . " Looking back at the helmsman, she saw him staring intently at the row of stone columns on the perimeter of the low-ceilinged part of the cave.
"B'Elanna, I think we could form a little room out of this area if we chinked up the spaces between the row of columns with mud. Maybe add some straw and pebbles to the mud, firmed up with our phasers on the lowest setting. Like making mud brick."
Her whole demeanor brightened. "That would really keep out the wind!"
"And your idea about weaving straw with the piton cords? We could make a hanging to cover the doorway area, over here, by this space. If we enclose a space that isn't too big, the heat from our breath and bodies would raise the temperature inside lovo. Like an igloo."
"An igloo. Centuries ago, the Arctic people used to live in homes cut right out of the ice. They were made so the family's bodies, with the help of a small fire or lantern of some sort, kept the igloo comfortable. I was a kid when I read about it, so I forget all the details, but I remember that it was important that the enclosed space wasn't too large. The dens of hibernating animals work the same way. They line the dens with leaves, fur, or some kind of insulating material, and their bodies keep them warm."
"So we put the hay and our blankets and us inside . . . ."
"And keep the cold air outside . . . what do you think, Lieutenant Torres?"
"I think it's time we started cutting some stone columns out of this cavern, Lieutenant Paris."
Harry Kim followed Commander Chakotay into Captain Janeway's ready room.
"Take a seat, Ensign Kim." She gestured to a chair near her desk. Chakotay took the other out of long habit. "What have you to report about the supply situation of Mr. Paris and Lieutenant Torres?"
"I've done what I can to work out best case/worst case scenarios for their power and supply situation, Captain. The best we can tell according to our records, B'Elanna had between five and eight phaser power packs with her for their dilithium cutting expedition. We aren't sure if Tom took any extras or not, Captain. Although we assume that all of them were at full capacity because of the nature of the job they were doing, we don't know for sure. They have the usual basic knapsack contents with convertible blankets, some personal articles, wristlights, and Tom's Field Medic Kit. Tom also took some climbing equipment--at least four pitons and lines. Neelix remembers seeing that many lines on the cliff."
"I'm not surprised Neelix noticed that," commented the commander with an encouraging smile. Chakotay was concerned about the ensign's unusually reserved manner, not that it was particularly surprising. Harry's best friends on Voyager were the two officers marooned on Tantrum IV.
"No, it isn't much of a surprise." Ensign Kim continued, without any noticeable lightening of mood. "Also, they had some food. Ration bars and whatever they had left over from the lunch Neelix sent up. That's all we're sure of, Captain. Neelix thinks that when Larson and he were beamed up, Larson's pack and a picnic basket with some odds and ends were left behind. If so, they have an extra blanket and some tools, too. Or maybe they were lost in transport."
"So we can't be positive of anything but the merest minimum of supplies."
"No, Captain. Since there were plenty of those tubers left in the valley, they have food. The critical thing is having a sufficient heat source. We don't know for certain about the power consumption from the dilithium cutting. They could already be out of power, or they may have enough for several weeks, particularly if they use strict conservation measures."
"How cold does it get, Mr. Kim?"
"While we were monitoring the planet, the low at night reached minus 30° Centigrade at that latitude, so they may be . . . " Harry swallowed painfully, "Well, Captain, they may already be dead if they didn't find sufficient shelter in the cave or haven't used some other method of keeping warm."
The captain and the first officer gazed at each other. "Other method, Mr. Kim?"
"Well, they can build a fire, I guess, if they can find anything to burn. There was no sign of any wood there. And there are, uh, some other, um--biological ways to um, keep warm." The ensign's face flushed.
"Biological ways. That would make sense." Commander Chakotay knew exactly what Ensign Kim was trying to avoid saying. A glance at Captain Janeway's twitching lower lip told him that she was perfectly aware of those ways also, as he fully expected she would be.
After an awkward pause, Captain Janeway said, "Thank you for your report, Ensign Kim. Dismissed." As he got up to leave, the captain's eyes fixed upon her second-in-command in a voiceless message. A barely perceptible nod from him followed, and Commander Chakotay trailed the ensign as he left the room.
Just outside the ready room door, the commander halted Kim. With a cheerful smile, he clapped the young operations officer on the shoulder. "Don't worry, Harry. We'll get them back. They're both survivors."
"I know, sir." Harry sighed. "I guess I'm being selfish. Here I am, feeling lonely and put out that they're both gone, when they're the ones in a life-threatening situation."
"They're both very creative people. I'm sure that they'll have found a way to get a fire going, or they'll be using those . . . 'biological methods.' "
Noting Harry's swift intake of breath and a slight quirking of the lips, Chakotay surmised that the obvious warming of the friendship of Paris and Torres may have gone even further than he had realized. Leaning closer to the young man, the commander whispered, "Harry, what's the betting line?"
"Betting line, Commander?" he replied uncertainly.
"Mr. Kim. There is a betting line for virtually everything that happens on this ship. Even without Mr. Paris to run this one, I find it hard to believe that there is no betting line about whether or not Paris and Torres are using 'biological methods' to keep warm."
"There isn't one, Commander." Harry assured his superior, but then he hesitated. While his answer was strictly true, he was omitting an important additional fact.
"That's pretty hard to accept."
"Well, there's a reason there isn't any--Commander, you aren't going to let Tom and B'Elanna know about this when they get back, are you?" The commander, upon hearing Harry use the positive term "when" rather than "if," nodded his head in satisfaction. Mission accomplished.
"Of course not, Mr. Kim," Chakotay responded aloud.
Harry sighed, and this time, a sheepish grin spread across his face. "Commander, there isn't any betting line because no one will back the bet that they WON'T be using 'biological methods' to survive."
As B'Elanna bored the final hole for attaching their "door," Tom passed his phaser over the last section of the mud and stone wall they had built to seal out the cold air. The inside surface of the walls had already been treated, and the floor of the niche was covered with a thick layer of straw. A large chunk of stone had been left on the shelf formed by an irregularity in the cave wall, ready to be heated by a phaser blast for a supplemental heat source within the enclosure.
"Finished here, B'Elanna," Tom snapped the phaser off as he spoke.
"I am, too. Hand over the door." Tom picked up the hanging woven of piton rope and thick tufts of straw, of sufficient size to overlap the opening and block the cold air from easily entering their "den." Handing one rope end to B'Elanna while holding onto the other, Tom threaded the rope hinge through one of the holes carved through the stone. After she repeated the process with her end of the rope, the castaways stepped back to survey their handiwork.
"Looks good, B'Elanna, but the middle of the night will tell the tale."
"If we're out of the wind and there aren't any big cracks, we should do all right." Lifting up the straw door, B'Elanna crawled inside. Tom handed her their blankets and a light before crawling in after her. Together, they spread out their sleeping bag and blankets. "I feel warmer already, Tom."
"Good, because after last night, I'm not interested in feeling any more cool breezes while I sleep." He returned the twinkling smile he saw in her eyes. She was in good humor, and at that moment he thought he'd never seen anyone more beautiful in his life. Catching his breath, he added, "Let's get some dinner before crawling back inside our 'den' for the rest of the night."
Dinner was, surprise of surprises, "yams" with half a ration bar and a couple of mugs of "Vulcan Ear Tea." At the beginning of the meal, they chatted comfortably about nothing in particular. Once they'd finished eating, B'Elanna fell noticeably silent. After several of his more humorous attempts received not even the slightest response from her, Tom remained quiet himself.
B'Elanna took the last sips of her tea before saying hesitantly, "Tom, about last night. I, um, I just want to say thank you for your . . . I'm not sure what to call it. Efforts? To keep me warm, I mean."
"Don't mention it, B'Elanna. It wasn't exactly a hardship for me." His smile was warm and kind.
"About tonight. When we're in bed. I . . . I think maybe we can take things a little further. If we need to keep warm, I mean."
"I think you'll find we won't have to use such extraordinary measures tonight. You'll be much warmer, you'll see. Especially with the extra straw. I'll pile some on top of you to help keep you warmer . . ."
"Tom, what if I said that I'd like you to keep me warm? The way we didn't get to last night." Her eyes were still fastened on the bottom of her empty mug.
While he understood what she'd said and caught the meaning behind them, believing he had finally heard her say what he thought she had was a bit more difficult. He had to be sure and responded with, "If we got through last night, we'll be fine tonight."
Tom opened his mouth as if to continue when he saw B'Elanna bite her lower lip. She raised her face to him, her features illuminated by the flickering light of the campfire, burning more steadily tonight because of the dry vines that supplemented the knots of straw. The sparkling flames were reflected by her warm brown eyes, connecting with his in a way that he had seen only once before. That time, in the gallicite mine, she hadn't been herself. Tonight he knew of no event, no intoxicating substance or condition, that could account for that connection. Only one thing could have brought that expression to her eyes. He stared into them, speechless for once in his life.
"I thought you wanted to see my Klingon side, Tom. When I really meant it. I did mean what I said then--about being attracted to you."
"Last night . . ."
"Last night was last night, Tom. I meant it then, too, when I said we should, uh, we should have sex, but you were right. It wouldn't have been very comfortable for either of us last night. But I guess what we did do made me want to see what it would be like to really make love with you tonight. For real."
It was his turn to be silent. How many nights had he lain in bed during the last few months, dreaming of her saying what she was saying to him right now? In all honesty, the answer was every night. Tom had even imagined it happening in a cave, since the two of them had spent an inordinate amount of time in one cavern or another. Never under conditions like this, though. Tom was still unsure if her primary motivation was only to keep warm, rather than for any emotional attachment that she might feel for him. As he sat there, his mind churning over this unexpected proposition, he could think of dozens of reasons why he should put her off, and only one that said he should embrace the opportunity that presented itself; but that one reason was stronger than all of the others. He wanted her, too.
The noble Paris asserted himself. "B'Elanna, this is just as bizarre a situation as any other we've been in. And there have been some really bizarre ones, you have to admit. I do want you, B'Elanna, but not just as a one night stand, like I said last night. And not as a way of surviving a harsh climate, to just forget about afterwards as if it never really happened. Maybe we need to talk this out more to . . . ."
"Tom, we've talked enough. Over and over again--we've been dancingth tund this for months. If you really mean all those pretty things you've been saying to me, you'll say, 'yes, thank you, B'Elanna. Let's let it happen.' We are inevitable, Tom. I want to get over this wondering *when* it's going to happen and have it finally begin."
He was a bit stunned at the intensity he heard in her voice. Putting down his mug and walking over to where she was sitting, he knelt before her, the cold, hard stone biting into his knees. In his heart, he knew he had to be on his knees for what he needed to say to her. "B'Elanna. I want to 'let it happen,' too. But I still think it's too soon in our 'relationship'--yes, I *am* going to use that word if you're going to talk about making love with me!" He broke eye contact with hers momentarily, as he tried to keep his voice steady. "If you want me that badly, B'Elanna Torres, then I don't mind telling you that I want you just as badly. But there's going to be a condition--if it's going to happen tonight. I can be happy touching you and having you touch me the way we did last night. If we stop there, I'm pretty sure we'd be able to go along as we have, as friends, once we get back to Voyager. But those . . . intimacies . . . won't compare to what we'll do tonight if we go through with what you're asking, you know that. So will you promise me, B'Elanna?"
"Tell me the condition first, Hotshot, and then I'll see if I can promise."
"That when we get back to Voyager, you don't try to pretend that nothing happened here--that you just expect us to go back to the way we were before. B'Elanna, I want to explore what we can be to one another, to see if we are meant to be together, more than friends. To see if we actually *do* have a 'relationship.' That's my condition, B'Elanna. Will you do that?"
Turning her face away from his, she shook her head as if trying to clear cobwebs from it. "I don't know . . . ." Then she met his gaze again and half-smiled. "Why is it that you've never been hard to get for anyone on Voyager, except for me, Paris?" Even as she said this, she knew she was being unfair, but B'Elanna wanted to hear his answer.
He replied flippantly, "What, easy to get, me? B'Elanna, whatever could have made you think that?" B'Elanna had been doing her research and knew that he was telling the truth. Despite appearances, Lieutenant Thomas Eugene Paris was nowhere near the rake that he'd let everyone think he was by the way he talked and flirted. At this moment, however, she was reticent about letting him know how much she knew.
He took her hands in his. Softly, he went on, "Answer me, Torres. After all, I'm not demanding a lifetime commitment from you this minute. Just an end to this 'I-Pursue-You-and-You-Push-Me-Away' game we've been playing, long enough to see where we're headed. Stop running long enough to look around, Torres, maybe you'll enjoy the view!"
"Paris, you know you talk too much, don't you?"
"How could I avoid knowing it? You tell me often enough!"
While smiling at his arch comment, B'Elanna considered his request. He really wasn't asking all that much of her. A chance to satisfy their curiosity about each other, to see it they could avoid killing each other, no firm commitments? "All right, Tom. I can promise that much, at least."
Tom squeezed her hands, and she sensed a different quality about his eyes. The color was transformed into a deeper, even more beautiful shade of transparent blue than usual. For a moment, B'Elanna was conscious of a momentary dropping of the hard shell mask that Tom habitually wore to confound the outside world, allowing her the briefest of glimpses into the landscape of an incredibly vulnerable soul. And then he smiled back at her.
"In that case, B'Elanna Torres, let's get ready for bed."
It was strange. Now that they were going to take this big step, both became incredibly awkward with one another. The stray thought that perhaps they should not go through with it crossed both of their minds, but neither mentioned it to the other. B'Elanna slipped inside their sanctuary first. Tom fussed over the extinguishing of the fire, gathering into his knapsack canteens, cups, phasers, and wrist lights. If the activities he had in mind were to be achieved comfortably, many of the items would be needed at some time during the night. Becoming parched from their exertions was likely during an eighteen-hours-long-night.
Crawling inside to their bed, gear in hand and wristlight switched on, Tom was surprised to see B'Elanna lying under the covers, fully dressed, even to her heavy jacket. "Expecting snow in here, Lieutenant?"
"Very funny, Paris. I got cold while we were yapping outside."
"Sure you still want to go through . . . ."
"I thought that had been established pretty definitively, Tom."
She was obviously nervous. So was he. It wasn't every day that a fantasy came true. Tom set the phaser on very low power and shot it at the rock designated as their radiator. "Be careful you don't get too close," he told her.
The look she shot him wordlessly conveyed her opinion that Tom's comment was an incredibly stupid, obvious thing to say. He didn't know if the increasing heat he felt on his face was his own flushed face or from the heated rock. Tom didn't care; it needed to be said.
Removing the wrist light and perching it in a crack in the wall, Tom pointed the lens up toward the ceiling for background lighting, away from their eyes.
"Aren't you going to shut it off? It'll waste power."
Tom exhaled an extremely visible puff of air, grinned at her, then allowed his grin to fade slightly into a smile before saying quietly, "No, I'm leaving it on. The first time, I want to see your face." B'Elanna made no verbal reply; but suddenly she grasped him by the neck and pulled his face down to her mouth, clearly intending to bite him.
He stopped her, sa in casually but meaningfully, "B'Elanna, can we start slow, take it nice and easy, 'human-style' at first, if you want to call it that, and then work up to your Klingon side? At least, this first time."
She rolled her eyes as if exasperated; but, suddenly feeling shy, she nodded affirmatively. He smiled encouragingly before drawing himself up as erectly as a man can when he is almost two meters tall and the space he is occupying is less than a meter and a half high.
Taking a deep breath, and aware every second that B'Elanna's eyes were on him, Tom stripped off his jacket with its comm badge, spreading it at the head of where he was going to sleep. Next came his boots, socks, the away team silver jump suit, and the spare turtleneck that he had slipped on beneath his jumpsuit for extra warmth before dinner. Carefully folding everything he had removed, he placed the stack of garments next to the knapsack before slipping within the bag. It felt good to be under the covers, for despite the lack of wind, the small chamber was still cool at the moment. Hopefully, it would not stay that way.
Tom stroked the side of her face, cupped her jaw in his hands and leaned over to softly kiss her on the mouth. Her response was to nip him lightly on the cheek, making his pulse quicken. She was conscious of the slightly sweet smell of the haystack, the feel of his body next to hers, and his brilliant blue eyes upon her. After caressing her for a while, Tom leaned down on one elbow and breathed out, "Is your Klingon side ready to come out now, B'Elanna?" as he leaned his face down near her mouth.
It was, so she bit him.
Afterwards, Tom held B'Elanna close as she lay drowsily in his arms. Tom knew, from the boasting he had heard in more crummy bars in the Alpha Quadrant than he cared to count, that most men aspired to having a Klingon woman as a lover at least once in life. He managed, just barely, to contain his rage at whatever lover or lovers had taken B'Elanna before him. From the way she had responded to Tom, he could tell that they had taken her without any regard to her pleasure, which, if it came at all, was just accidental and secondary to the man's.
He could not help but feel sorry for B'Elanna for missing out for so much of her life on fully experiencing what was, to him, the most beautiful of acts, because of the selfishness of her partners. No wonder she had buried herself in Engineering, living like a Tabern monk. She hadn't known any better!
Observing B'Elanna's eyes flutter to a close as she slipped into an exhausted slumber, Tom stilled his hand and untangled the bedding from where it was twisted beneath them. Nudging B'Elanna onto her side, he spread the covers over them both. As her breathing settled into the steady rhythm of sleep, Tom touched the back of her neck with the lightest of kisses. Reaching up, he switched off the light before relaxing his own body to fit the along the contours of hers. Tom nestled close, allowing his own mind to wander as he enjoyed the feeling of just being with someone that he cared about as much as, in fact, possibly more than, he cared for himself.
Without fully realizing it until much later, as Tom lay with B'Elanna in his arms after that first time, he had already made a lifetime commitment to her: a commitment to make her happy.
He was sitting alone again in a corner of the messhall when Kes came in for her dinner. Head bent over a PADD that he was studying intently, Harry Kim had what appeared to be a full serving of whatever Neelix was serving that night for dinner sitting in front of him. After three years on Voyager, Kes was well aware that Harry may have simply disliked what Neelix had prepared, and normally she would have assumed that was true. Tonight, however, her empathic senses told her otherwise.
Loneliness and worry emanated from Harry the way the scent of Kes' deepest red roses wafted through the hydroponics bay when they were in full bloom. She was not sure whether or not the human crew members, who were not particularly telepathic or psychic, were aware of it; but no one was sitting near him. Of course, he may simply have warned them away if they approached him.
Kes picked up a tray and decided upon a dinner selection. Murmuring her usual courtesies to Neelix, her ex-lover but current good friend, Kes walked down the room to find a seat of her own.
"Is this place taken?" she asked Harry.
"No, Kes. Please, sit down. I'll be going in a few minutes anyway to get back down to Engineering."
"I'm sorry to hear that. I was hoping we'd have a chance for a long talk. You've been working so hard lately on all the repairs. It's been ages since we had a chance for a nice long chat."
"A very long time. Almost a week, as I recall, when I finally repaid you the last of the month's worth of replicator rations I borrowed from you a while ago."
She smiled engagingly. "Well, a week is a long time to an Ocampa."
Harry tried to work out what one week in the nine year life span of an Ocampa equaled in the terms of a normal human life span. Quickly giving up, he said instead, "It isn't the same thing, I don't think. What I'd love to know is how you managed to save so many replicator credits. I always seem to be caught short."
"It helps that I don't mind Neelix's Delta Quadrant cooking as much as the rest of you do. I don't use nearly as many credits for food."
"That explains it," he smiled.
"Besides, Harry, that time it wasn't only the two of us. Tom and B'Elanna were with us that night at Sandrine's. When they're around, you must admit, the conversations always seem to revolve around them.
"They do go at it, don't they." Harry's expression turned wistful. "I wouldn't mind hearing their bickering right now, would you?"
"They're all right, Harry. I just know it," Kes agreed. Noticing the change in Harry's countenance, Kes lightly rested her left hand over Harry's right one. Turning his hand over, he clasped hers in return.
"I'll bet they're arguing about everything down there on that planet."
"Could be." Kes' smile became mysterious.
Noticing, Harry asked, "What, are you sensing anything?"
"Not through any 'psychic' powers, Harry. You know the way they've been looking at each other the past several weeks."
"More like months, in Tom's case, anyway."
"The way Tom feels, Harry, do you think he's going to pick at every little thing when both their lives are at stake? They'll be depending upon one another to survive. Tom and B'Elanna wouldn't put themselves in jeopardy by arguing over everything. They'll work together. What else do you think they'd be doing?"
"What everyone on board expects them to be doing, for one thing. That's why a betting pool couldn't be set up."
Kes laughed with him at first, but then her face turned solemn. "I'm afraid that's so, Harry. I'm more concerned about what will happen when they come back here than I am about their being on the planet now. There's been so much gossip floating around, even before they went on this away mission, and B'Elanna can be a little--quick to take offense sometimes."
"A *little* quick?"
"Maybe quicker than most people," she admitted.
" 'Most people' is an understatement."
As they shared another laugh, Kes became conscious of the fact that Harry now had her left hand firmly grasped in his right hand. Harry must have become aware of it as well, as his grin became awkward. He unclasped her as if to move his arm away, but Kes stopped him. Their eyes met as she rubbed the tops of his fingers lightly before letting go, but Harry had finally taken the hint. He left his hand on the table for her so that she could eat her dinner and still grab hold of him again if she really wn thd. As she picked up her eating utensil to finish the last few bites of her food, Kes lightly traced a fingertip across Harry's palm. A subtle change in his breathing was his only response, yet a thrill went through her.
"How are the repairs going, Harry?" Kes asked the young operations officer.
"It's going fairly slowly at the moment. Checking and replacing the damaged circuitry is a tedious job without help from the main computer, but until the circuitry is fixed, we can't rely on the main computer. Every bit must be tested by hand to make sure there are no hidden weak spots or flaws, and just putting it all in . . . " As Harry spoke, his eyes became more animated, and he even picked up his own fork and started to eat cold food from his own plate.
As he spoke, Kes remembered their first meeting in the tunnels of the Ocampan homeworld, where she was born. She had enjoyed his company from the beginning, but not much of a friendship could occur between Kes and anyone male because of Neelix's jealousy of any man near "his Kes." Once she had decided not to see Neelix anymore in a romantic relationship, the way was clear for her to begin developing relationships with other members of the crew. Until now, however, her few real dates had been with people from off the ship, during shore leaves. Her socializing on board had been in groups, mainly in get-togethers with B'Elanna, Tom, and Harry.
With the pang that she always felt when the memory crossed her mind, Kes thought of her "daughter," Linnis, who had married Harry and borne him a son in a lifetime she now would never experience. Kes found it easy to see what Linnis had seen in Harry. His youthful exuberance was matched by intelligence and a pleasant, easy-going personality.
Although Harry was anything but vain, Kes had always thought he was extremely good looking, with obsidian eyes, handsome features, broad shoulders, and a head of hair her fingers fairly ached to touch. Kes tried to distract herself from the thoughts of running her hands through that thick thatch of his by concentrating on Harry's discussion of the repairs. Instead, she found her thoughts wandering back to Linnis and to Linnis' son Andrew. Harry's son, too, but with no Linnis, there could never be an Andrew. Or could there be? What if Andrew were not Kes' grandson at all, but her son?
Kes found herself blushing a little as these unexpected thoughts passed through her mind. She had only thought of Harry as a friend in the past. But, wasn't this what had happened with Tom and B'Elanna? They had worked together for over two years before Tom had begun to reveal romantic intentions to the chief engineer. Kes suspected Tom had been drawn to B'Elanna for much longer but had not felt confident enough to approach her any sooner than he had.
Before being stranded on Tantrum IV, as far as Kes knew Tom and B'Elanna were not aware of their true feelings for one another. But now? And if Tom and B'Elanna were to become closer, what about Harry? With the threesome becoming a twosome plus one, how would Harry cope? Who could comfort him, keep him from feeling left out?
Harry had been devoted to his fiancée Libby thus far, Kes knew, but as the trip took longer and longer, hopes of seeing Libby again had to be fading. Kes did not want kind, considerate Harry to be lonely.
Unabashedly looking into her own heart, Kes realized with a start that *she* wanted to be the one to keep him from being lonely. When did that happen? Kes did not know, but she quickly realized that her happiness when in Harry's company was not a new thing; it had been building for quite some time now. Why hadn't she recognized that she *had* been dating Harry? She belatedly saw that since almost all of her time with him had been spent on double dates chaperoning Tom and B'Elanna, Kes had never realized how her feelings had deepened towards the sincere young ensign.
"I'm sorry, Kes. I know I'm boring you. It doesn't take much for me to start babbling about the ship's systems.
"You're not boring me, Harry. I just have another problem in my mind which keeps distracting me."
"Can I help?"
Pulled up short by Harry's question, Kes thought quickly. She couldn't bring herself to admit her distraction had been inspired by thoughts of Harry, at least, not yet. After a brief pause, Kes was able to say, "As a matter of fact, you may be able to help. If you have time, do you think you could do the Doctor's weekly diagnostic? B'Elanna has been running it ever since his memory problems began. The Doctor's getting concerned that his program might become corrupted in some way, especially since he's been in the holoemitter this week longer than ever before."
"I can't believe that I forgot about the Doctor! We should have checked him out before this. I heard his voice when he contacted Captain Janeway on the bridge this morning, but it never even occurred to me that with the computer problems, the EMH could be in jeopardy. It was a lucky thing he was in the holoemitter when the ship's problems began."
"I'm not sure how much luck had to do with it," smiled Kes. "After the Doctor barely escaped with Commander Chakotay when the Nyrians took over Voyager, B'Elanna and I decided to rig up an automatic alert system. When certain things happen--an imminent computer or shield failure, for instance--I get a signal that reminds me to switch the Doctor into his emitter for safety's sake, until the danger is past. The alert went off the other day when the shields started going down. The system seems to have worked fine. His program has been running off the holoemitter ever since, but I think he should have a check-up if he's going to be out of the main system for much longer."
"You're right, Kes, he needs to be checked. B'Elanna never told me about that alert system, but it's a good idea. We certainly don't want to lose the doctor."
"When can you come to sickbay to run the diagnostic, Harry?"
"Right now, if you're finished with dinner. I really don't have any particular repair assignment this evening. Besides, working on the Doctor's program should be a priority. I'll have to stop down in Engineering to pick up the portable diagnostic equipment first, though."
"I'm done now, Harry. Let's go."
The dream was about being poked with an icicle. After B'Elanna returned to wakefulness, several seconds passed before she remembered where she was and why it was so dark. A little groping to investigate the poking sensation revealed that B'Elanna had somehow managed to open the side of the sleeping bag, half-slipping out of it in the process. A thick stalk of "hay" was poking her beneath her breast. The air, decidedly chilly wherever it flowed over the exposed part of her body, must have prompted the icicle part of her dream. She wasn't as cold as the previous night, to be sure; their "den" was serving its purpose of blunting the effects of the frigid draft. They were protected from the plunging temperatures that characterized the nights on their grim little world. As a vacation spot, this planet would have very little to offer, except for solitude.
One part of her body was very warm. Her buttocks were snuggled close to the heat-exuding physique of Tom Paris. While struggling a bit in the dark to reseal at least part of the side of the sleeping bag, B'Elanna thought about what had taken place between them. Incredible. The closest experience that she had ever had to it was when Jora Mirell/Karenna/whatever-her-name-really-was shared with B'Elanna her bittersweet memories of trysts with her long-dead lover Dathan. Those were the most sensual dreams she had ever had. The passions they had aroused in her while dreaming them had been, up to now, the highlight of B'Elanna's sexual experience. She reluctantly conceded that to herself now. B'Elanna had declined to examine her addiction to those dreams too closely at the time, not wanting to acknowledge the relative feebleness of her own responses during her previous sexual encounters.
Now, however, B'Elanna could assess her short list of previous partners and admit the truth: they had all been lousy lovers, compared to Tom Paris. Her first real taste of what the Klingon mating urge was all about had come courtesy of a man who once had seemed to be the epitome of a self-involved, cocky barfly, like the one in Sandrine's that he'd programmed on the holodeck. It was shocking to think how well Tom could disguise his true, compassionate self behind all those swaggering poses he assumed.
The last piece of the puzzle of her "research project" on the loves of Tom Paris fell resoundingly into place: don't believe everything you hear, she thought. And if you don't hear anything . . . Megan Delaney, when asked about her past, surprisingly long-term relationship with Tom, had said only, "Tom's a great guy." Her silence about him had always seemed strange. Now that she thought about it, though, B'Elanna realized that Megan wasn't the kiss and tell type, despite the ship's gossip.
B'Elanna began to smile, wondering just how good a lover Megan's new boyfriend Gerron Tem was if she had given Tom up for him--now that B'Elanna knew how good Tom was! Actually, now that she came to think about it, she didn't know why Megan had broken up with Tom the last time. She wasn't sure if anyone knew.
The little shiftings in body position B'Elanna made to enable her to fix the sleeping bag had their effect on Mr. Paris. She heard his breathing change before she felt his body stretch against hers. Taking advantage of the fact that she had already disturbed him, B'Elanna pulled the sleeping bag and blankets around and turned over to face him. Awake, or by reflex, Tom's arms opened for her, allowing her to wrap her own arms around him once she carefully arranged the blankets to cover both of them.
B'Elanna rested her head on firm pectoral muscles. The chest hair that had been so intriguing to play with during their lovemaking now provided a sensuous pillow beneath her cheek. The steady thumping of his heart and the rise and fall of his chest with each breath added to her feeling of contentment. The musky scent of his body mingled with the smell of the dried bedding straw enticed her with every breath. B'Elanna thought with amusement that if she had to be stranded here with somebody, she was glad it was this body.
That hair. She resisted playing with it at first, but, eventually, it became a magnet for her exploring fingertips. As she traced the pattern of hair on his body from his chest down along the midline, B'Elanna remembered with longing exactly what that body could do.
A low-pitched, purring voice was heard: "Wanna play?"
He was definitely awake now. Yes, B'Elanna was in the mood to play.
Afterwards, B'Elanna resumed the position she had been in at the time of his invitation to come play with him. Pleasantly warm, but not ready to sleep, B'Elanna decided that she wanted to know his reply to a question that had occurred to her just before she again had experienced the interpersonal relationship skills of one Thomas Eugene Paris.
"Tom, may I ask you something?"
"How did you learn how to do what you just did with me?"
"Practice, practice, and more practice."
"Stop that! Don't play the pig with me, Paris! I know better."
His chuckle rocked her head where it rested over his heart. "I'm not kidding. As to whom the teachers were, well, I need to protect my sources. All I'm at liberty to say is that I am an apt and willing pupil whenever I can see the value in what it is that I am studying. And bringing pleasure to the one who is sending me to the heights of passion only seems fair." His voice changed its tone. Although his expression could not be seen, she knew it had turned serious. "The lovers you were with before, they don't seem to have followed the same credo."
"That's an understatement. They couldn't wait to finish with me; I can see that now. I just thought it was me, that I wasn't . . . well . . . that my being half-human must have done something to keep me from having that infamous Klingon 'sexual prowess.' "
"B'Elanna, you should have known that that wasn't true, especially after the way you responded to Vorik's . . . I don't know what it to call it, exactly, but the words 'attempted rape' come to mind."
"Don't remind me of Vorik! I feel like dislocating his jaw again! Especially when I think that if he hadn't interrupted us in the woods I could have felt this way before!"
Gathering her up into a great hug, he gave out a full-throated laugh. B'Elanna flushed with happiness at being alive at that very moment. She hadn't really gotten the answer to her question, however. "Tom, back to my original question. Why did you let everyone think you were such a pig when you first came on Voyager? I know you aren't really the way that you've been pretending to be."
"What makes you think I've been pretending?"
"I confess, Tom. I did some checking around since, well, since that *pon farr* thing, when you acted the opposite of the way I thought you would. Almost every one of the women that I talked to says the same thing--you had some laughs together, maybe some kissing, but you kept it light, no deep involvement. The only ones who aren't talking are Sue Nicoletti and Megan Delaney. I think Sue is too proud to admit that she hasn't anything much to tell, but you dated Megan for over a year. She refused to say anything to me about your love life, or why you broke up. Her silence was deafening! Other than that, though, she only had nice things to say about you. The way everyone else talks about you, you'd think that you were sleeping your way through the ranks until you get to Janeway. I know you aren't. Why are you making everyone think you're such a pig?"
He remained silent for a while before saying, "The truth is, I WAS a pig when I came on Voyager. I thought I had a reputation to uphold--for hotshot pilots everywhere. I just didn't get a chance to act on it before it got through my thick skull that it wasn't the right way to be if I was really going to redeem myself in the captain's eyes, or in everyone else's, either. I have you to thank for that, actually. Do you remember when you called me a pig when I programmed Gaunt Gary and the gigolo in Sandrine's?"
"That shocked me. I couldn't believe that you would be offended by Gary's attentions. It made me take a long, hard look at what I had been doing to myself since I was cashiered from Starfleet. After the Caldik Prime accident . . . ." His voice trailed off as he immersed himself in memories from a time he would like to forget but couldn't, pondering how much he wanted to reveal to her. Just as she thought she might have to ask him to go on, of his own volition he did, in a husky, emotion-tinged voice.
"I can't tell you how hard that was--well, maybe I don't have to--your life hasn't been that easy. But anyway, even though my father didn't exactly disown me, he was so upset by the way I'd screwed up his dreams for my future that I couldn't bear to look at him when I was near him. I bummed around, getting jobs where I could, hardly enough to pay my bar bills half the time. And if a woman was willing to let me into her bed, I took her up on it. No questions asked, but no promises made, either. I don't even want to think about some of the things I did then. I wasn't much better than that gigolo more times than I'd like to admit."
B'Elanna felt his hands start to stroke her back, but this time, she was sure he was not trying to start anything sexually but instead was deriving comfort, perhaps absolution, for what he was confessing. She had a hunch that Tom had not even spilled all of this out to Harry.
"I spent most of those years, before and after I landed with the Maquis, as drunk as I could afford to be. When you've passed out under the table, you don't have to think about how you've wasted your life. And the rest of the time I used sex as an anesthetic. It felt so good--probably the only time I did feel good." Tom shifted his body a little and began to stroke B'Elanna's hair. "But you know, B'Elanna, even then, I never lost sight of the fact that the woman I was with was giving me a gift. Her body. I could use it for my own needs, or I could share a wonderful experience with her. I chose to share, B'Elanna, not only because it was fair, but because it was the only way I could pay her back for making me feel like--like somebody again. Do you understand what I'm saying?"
"Yes, I do, Tom." B'Elanna was a little sorry, now, that she had made him talk about it. The thrilling sexual experiences he had shared with her were payback: for allowing him to have sex with her in the first place, for keeping him warm, maybe even for being his friend. She would have liked for it to have been as special for him as it had been for her, but then she berated herself for being foolish. Instead of dreaming of a deeper relationship with Mr. Paris, as he seemed to have had briefly with Megan Delaney, B'Elanna would have to be content with what he had to offer--his left hand, stroking her head; his right hand, now traveling down to her hip in rhythmic motions; his body, pressing close to hers in the darkness--she could enjoy these sensations. Just don't look for anything more.
His soft voice broke into her reverie. "You still awake?"
"Yes. I was just thinking about what you said. Did you ever talk to Harry about this?"
"God, no, I wouldn't want to burden him with this. The only reason I told you is because you insisted. And I guess I do want you to understand about my past, now that we've been intimate with one another." She felt his lips touch each of her forehead ridges in succession with a light kiss, quite a trick when it was as dark as it was, before feeling him shake with laughter. "Harry, he was so innocent when we first met! Do you know he was actually gullible enough to believe me when I told him I'd left five girlfriends behind me in the Alpha Quadrant? That was back when he was too afraid to date anyone because he'd left Libby behind. As if I'd had access to any girlfriends while I was in prison!"
"Maybe he thought it was the kind of prison where you could have 'female visitors' for that sort of thing."
"Conjugal visits were allowed, but only if you were married. I guess I won't have to worry about that any more. If I do get thrown back into Auckland when we get home to the Alpha Quadrant, at least you'll be making some conjugal visits to me."
"What are you talking about?"
"I thought that now that we've done 'the deed,' we're mates for life."
She snorted in disbelief. "Don't be silly, Paris."
"It is Klingon tradition, after all."
"Uh-huh, and I know what a student of Klingon tradition you've become lately."
"I have, and a wonderful tradition it is, too, most of the time. Although I'm not that crazy about the concept of killing your superior at the first sign of weakness as a means of getting promoted."
"I'm not crazy about that one, either."
"So, you sure you don't want to take the marriage oath, B'Elanna? I'm willing and ready."
"Right. Just go to sleep, Paris."
Giving him a hug as she listened again to the rhythm of his heartbeat beneath her ear, B'Elanna snuggled her body as close to his as she could. She felt his arms close around her in a tender embrace, felt him plant another kiss on the top of her head. As she began to drift off to sleep, the thought crossed her mind that it certainly was nice to feel so warm and cozy, wrapped up with Tom like this.
Tom was satisfied too, but not as greatly as the one who was lying in his arms. Since she had no idea how serious he had been, B'Elanna never detected the sense of dejection he was feeling because the one he loved had rejected his marriage proposal.
"Everything looks fine, Doctor. Your power pack doesn't show any noticeable drain. I'd say that you could run a couple of weeks in the holoemitter, in a pinch, before running into any problems."
"That certainly is good news. Lieutenant Torres had discussed running some further tests about the power question, but I guess we'll have to wait for her return, won't we. How soon will that be, Ensign?"
"A few more days at least, Doctor. We still aren't up to full strength on the shields or the propulsion system. We've had to prioritize our repair schedule according to which systems needed to be completed first."
"Well, I guess that means that the Holodecks are the last priority, then. Who needs entertainment when everyone is so busy fixing things?" The Doctor's smile appeared to be somewhat forced.
"Actually, Doc, the holodecks are already fixed. We needed their replicators for manufacturing extra parts. Why are you interested in the Holodecks?"
The Doctor looked over at Kes, who smiled encouragingly. When the EMH did not immediately respond to Harry's question, Kes did. "The Doctor's been trying to decide about whether or not to continue his family program."
Harry was surprised. "Doctor, wasn't that program pretty painful for you? Tom said he didn't think you'd want to continue it, since you had so much trouble finishing up with it last time, when your daughter, uh . . . " The ensign's voice faded away. Just how personal could he be with a hologram? Would he have his feelings hurt?
The EMH took on a decidedly pained expression. "Mr. Paris' advice to go back and face Belle's death was extremely difficult to take, but I must admit, it was good advice. I had my chance to say goodbye to her. She was . . . a remarkable child. However, I also have the rest of my family, Ensign. I created them for a purpose, and that purpose still exists. I have learned much about humanoid emotions and behavior from it already, and, while I certainly hope I will not have to go through a great many tragedies in order to improve my programming, I believe it is time to face my future without hesitation."
"Doctor, the last time you went back was when Belle died. How are you going to handle the lapse of time? If you go back immediately after her death, you're going to have to deal with your wife's grief. If you leave a gap of time, you'll owe your wife and son an explanation," Kes said worriedly.
"Thank you for your concern, Kes, but I went back on one other occasion, for Belle's memorial services. Mr. Paris accompanied me, since he had programmed the services. We discussed then whether or not I would continue the program, and I wasn't sure. Mr. Paris modified the program to indicate that I had to go off-planet for a special conference. That would account for an absence of several weeks. If I ever did decide to return, the explanation for my being gone would already be in place. Mr. Paris can be very helpful when he wants to be."
Kes and Harry smiled at each other. "Yes, we know, Doctor," commented Kes.
"If you want to see your family, I'll check with Engineering and see if they're still using the Holodecks for repairs. As soon as it's clear, I'll let you know so you can reserve some time."
"Thank you, Ensign. I appreciate that. Now, I have some tests to run, so if you're quite finished here . . . "
With Kes' help, Harry packed up the last of his equipment. "Of course, Doc. We can take a hint."
Sniffing the air, Tom teased B'Elanna, "Catching the lover's scent is definitely not a problem right about now, is it?
Tossing over another chunk of vine for her grinning companion to add to their mid-morning meal fire, B'Elanna answered, "Speak for yourself, Paris. I smell just fine."
"I'm not going to argue with a Klingon."
She grinned back at him. "The air is just getting a little zesty from your--how shall I say it--manly scent?"
"Seriously, B'Elanna, I need a bath desperately. These wipes with a washcloth are simply not good enough. At midday the air is warm enough for a good scrub, especially if we do it in front of the cliff in the sun. I think even your thin Klingon blood could take it then."
"I agree. Besides, washing our bodies could be fun, as long as I get to scrub yours and you scrub mine." A calculating gleam appeared in her eyes as she looked the lanky lieutenant up and down.
"Predator," he said, prompting a laugh and a swift, "And don't you just love it?" from B'Elanna.
"Actually, Tom, just bathing ourselves won't be good enough. Our clothes need it, too. Soon we'll be able to prop them up in the corner, waiting for us to put them back on. How can we do this?"
"We could launder our clothes together and then wash up while they're drying. That ought to be fun. Or we could take turns. One of us could bathe while the other washed the clothes in the creek, then vice-versa. The sun will dry the clothes pretty fast, as long as it stays out."
At the conclusion of their meal, Tom went outside with the lighter, some vines for fuel, and the cook pot. After filling the pot with ice chunks and setting it upon the rough fire to melt the ice into water warm enough for bathing, Tom looked up at the sky. It was no longer a bright orange, but the sun continued to be stained a warmer color than its natural yellow-white. It felt warm against his face, and he judged that removing their clothing to wash should not be too uncomfortable.
Retrieving all of their spare clothing, the blankets, and some soap from one of the backpacks, Tom washed the extra clothes and their sleeping bag blankets in the frhim creek. He was already spreading them on some nearby rocks before B'Elanna came outside the cave. As his companion approached, Tom called out, "So, are we going to do our washing together or separately?" His broad grin let her know that laundry was not the kind of washing experience he had in mind.
She refused to rise to the bait. "Taking turns sounds good to me."
"Do you want me to wash what you have on first, B'Elanna?"
"It should be warmer in the afternoon, Tom. I'd rather wait until then to wash myself. So take off your clothes, Paris, all of your clothes, and I'll wash them for you." She sent him a come-hither growl. After he stripped the rest of his garments off and handed them to her for washing, Tom sat on a rock, his body wrapped in the blanket abandoned by Neelix that was to serve as both towel and modesty covering, watching B'Elanna launder his clothes in the creek before placing them on the rocks to dry.
When she was done washing his uniform, they went up to the cook pot of now-warmed water. Tom rubbed a small chunk of soap on a washcloth and began to wash himself, acutely conscious of B'Elanna's self-interested scrutiny.
"Need help scrubbing your back, Flyboy?" she breathed into his ear, causing him to jump back from where he was standing.
One look at her face told him that she was going to have her way, no matter what he said. A Paris smirk appeared on his face as he handed her the washcloth and soap.
Her hands were strong, and the scrubbing she gave his back, shoulders, and the back of his neck was delicious. When B'Elanna moved around to his front and began to lave his chest, he grabbed her hand and said, "I can reach my chest, you know."
"Just want to make sure we do a thorough job." He relented gladly; he had seldom seen her in such a bubbly mood.
By the time she had moved her attentions from his chest, Tom was groaning, "I don't know how we're going to handle this, B'Elanna, without some 'adjournments' to take care of a little lust in between personal hygiene sessions."
"I don't see anything to complain about with that, Mr. Paris." She sat down on the rock next to him and moved her hand to his bare thigh.
"Glad to hear it, Babe."
"What did you just call me? Baby!" Her romantic mood broken, B'Elanna squeezed Tom's thigh so hard that he yelped. Calling a half-Klingon "Baby" was too close to calling her a weakling. Tom was reminded once again that while B'Elanna might decry her Klingon side, it could still emerge with a vengeance on very little provocation.
"Not Baby. Babe. It probably started out being 'Baby,' but it's been used to refer to a beautiful woman for a couple of centuries now." Uncertain from her stormy expression that he was placating her, Tom deepened his voice to a silky purr. "A 'Babe' is particularly luscious and desirable. Just like you, B'Elanna. Or, if you prefer, I can just call you 'Be'.' That's Klingon for 'woman,' isn't it?"
"Why do you have to call me anything other than B'Elanna?"
"Hey, if you can call me Flyboy, Helmboy, and Hotshot, shouldn't I be able to call you Babe or Be?' " His quirky smile was fully visible now.
She blew out a bemused breath, "OK, Hotshot, you can call me 'Woman,' if you want to. Your accent is really bad, you know that, don't you?"
"Sure, Be'. But fair is fair."
"Fair is fair," she agreed as she began to knead the flesh of his thighs.
Pushed back against the cliff wall by an engineer with designs upon his body. Tom gloated, "I've created a monster." His smile was blissful.
"Do you want me to bring you anything else, Harry?" Kes placed his cup of Tarkalian tea on the table before him.
"No, this is fine."
"Don't you want any sugar?"
"If you have some, but don't go to any trouble."
"It's no trouble; I'm sure I have some." Kes poked around inside the minuscule storage cabinet next to her replicator. Taking out a small container, she set it in front of Harry from behind him while pressing her weight against his back and right shoulder. He was acutely aware of her warm softness and the scent of what seemed like lilac perfume. Kes remained behind him, both of her hands resting lightly on his shoulders, as she asked, "Are you sure you don't want anything else?"
"This is just great." Harry had to twist his body around to address her and found that her lush mouth was mere centimeters from his lips. 'My God,' he thought, 'She's coming on to me. Isn't she?' He became flustered again, as he had in the mess hall when she had, without saying a word, insisted that he leave her hand near hers.
By the time they had gone to see the Doctor yesterday, Harry had convinced himself that he was mistaken about her reason for stroking his hand; she had only wanted to comfort him and to alleviate his concern about Tom and B'Elanna. Tonight, as she took her seat at the table across from him in her quarters and favored him with the full force of those baby blue eyes, he was sure that making him comfortable was not her primary intent.
Her lips parted to admit a sip of tea, and as the cup left her lips, she delicately slipped the tip of her tongue from one side of her upper lip to the other. No, Harry Kim was not feeling particularly comfortable at the moment.
"Is something wrong, Harry?"
"Oh, no, nothing."
"You've gotten so quiet."
Conscious that he had been staring at her, Harry flushed deeply.
"A penny for your thoughts, Harry--that's an old Earth expression," she added helpfully.
Her bow mouth turned upward into a bright smile, bringing to Harry's mind that Kes had shown signs of having psychic powers. If he had been wrong about her coming on to him, and if she could read his thoughts . . . Harry uneasily reviewed the possible explanations he could give her for his gaffe, without being able to think of anything remotely appropriate. The only utterance he could manage was a barely coherent, "I--um--a penny?"
Her laughter ascended a musical scale of merriment. "What's the matter, are your thoughts worth more than that?" Her body was leaning in towards his again, and the low pitched voice emanating from her grin was even breathier than usual.
"Uh, I guess I'm wondering if you know what I'm thinking already."
"I hope I do, Harry."
He gulped. "What am I thinking, then?"
"I hope you are thinking about how attracted to me you are, because I am very attracted to you."
The tension Harry was feeling changed in character, and his nervousness faded. Harry thrust his hand out in front of him. Kes interlaced her fingers with his before closing their hands together in a warm grasp.
"I think we are on the same page, Kes. That's another old Earth expression that means we are thinking the same thing."
For a few minutes, Harry lost himself in Kes' smile, hoping that she was telepathically attuned to him as he indulged himself in thinking delightful thoughts about what he would like to be doing with her, other than holding her hand while they both sipped tea. From the shifting smiles that played upon her lips and reached her eyes, she might well have been receiving his thoughts.
Then, the mood breaker. Harry suddenly realized that the angelic creature that he was fantasizing about wasn't even four years old yet, prompting him to shake his head and chuckle.
"What is it?"
"I was just thinking, Harry Kim, Cradle Robber."
She understood the reference. "Harry, that's not true! Neelix may have been a cradle robber; I was pretty young when we started our relationship. If you compare Ocampan life spans to humans, though, I would be older than you--well into my thirties, at least. I'd be getting close to middle age. I think I must be the cradle robber!"
"Can't be. You don't look a day over two."
As Kes' answering smile turned pensive, she languidly ran her thumb up the inside of Harry's right forearm, eliciting a further thrill in another part of him.
"Thanks, Harry. I'm flattered, of course. I've been thinking more and more about this lately. I've accepted that I'm only going to be around for a short time, compared to a human. Compared to a Vulcan, my life span is like a Kabarra fly's! It's over almost before it's begun. I don't mind, really, but I'm conscious that I don't have any time to waste. I'm going to be four soon, which means my Elogium can't be far in the future--the real one, this time--and I have a problem."
"A problem? What kind?"
"I don't have a partner to father a child."
"Didn't Neelix say he would do it?"
She looked away from him, her mood becoming sadder. "Only after thinking about it for a VERY long time, and then he was relieved when it wasn't the real thing. I think he would have preferred to put it off forever, even when we were a couple, supposedly committed to each other for life."
Her eye gaze returned to Harry's face. "I have a confession to make, Harry. After that happened, I had doubts about my relationship with Neelix, whether I really wanted him to be a father to a child of mine. I still loved him very much, so I put it all out of my mind. I even begged Captain Janeway to bring him back to me when he and Tuvok were turned into Tuvix by that transporter accident. Things weren't really the same, though, and the seed was planted in my mind that being mated to Neelix for life, Ocampan tradition or not, might not be what I wanted for myself."
This confession was difficult for her, Harry could see. Kes' eyes blinked frequently, and her voice was intensely emotional, without a trace of her usual light, reserved tones. Trying to help relieve her of some of her distress, Harry contributed, "When both parties only live nine years or so, like the Ocampa, I would imagine that mating for life isn't really a hardship. It's different with other races that live so much longer. Mating for life is an ideal, and many are able to do it happily, but not everyone is cut out for it."
"You're right, Harry, of course, and since there are no other Ocampa for me to mate with here, everyone is from a longer-lived species. And that's a big problem for me. If I have a child with a man of another race, the child would have the genetic codes of a short-lived Ocampa and of the longer-lived species. Would the child's life span be like mine, like the father's or maybe a compromise? If it's like the father's or a compromise, I might not even see my son or daughter reach adulthood. The father would be the one to raise the child the rest of the way. He would need to be truly committed to parenthood. I didn't feel that commitment from Neelix when we were together; how can I expect that from him now that we are apart?"
In all honesty, she could not, and Harry knew it. Hearing her speak like this, he comprehended the reason for her seductiveness. She was looking for a father for her child. Recalling what Kes had already said to him, Harry suddenly understood that he was going to be having a lot to think about, and soon.
Draining the last drop of tea from her cup, Kes continued, "That was in my mind for a long time, even though I was trying not to pay any attention to that little voice that was prodding me to do something about it. Then Tieran took over my mind and body, and one of the first things he did was break up with Neelix for me. After I got my body and mind back, I realized that he had only done what I really wanted done but was afraid to do myself. After Tieran, I was . . . different. A different person. Do you know what I am trying to say, Harry?"
"I think so, Kes. After all that's happened in the Delta Quadrant, I don't feel like the same Harry Kim that left Earth, either."
That brought a smile back to her lips. "Well, strictly speaking, you AREN'T the same Harry Kim, at least, not the one that left Earth on this Voyager."
That made him laugh, too, but only for a few seconds. "You're absolutely right, in fact, I guess you could say that I might even be the second replacement Harry Kim. But that wasn't what I was getting at, Kes. Even the replacement Harry Kim changed after the Akiterian prison."
"Harry, you aren't still feeling guilty about that, are you? You were being tortured with that Clamp! Tom understands--he was going through it himself."
"All the same, I shouldn't have gotten so angry with him when he was so sick. He was injured protecting me. If Captain Janeway and the rest hadn't gotten us out when they did, he would've died, and me too, probably."
"The captain did come though, and you're both fine now. Tom has accepted it; he's put it behind him."
Harry pushed himself away from Kes' table and stood, pacing her living area from one end of the room to the other until Kes stepped in front of him, blocking his way.
"Tom doesn't blame you, Harry. He's grateful just to have survived."
"So am I, Kes, but that doesn't mean I can forget that I almost killed my best friend."
"You didn't kill him."
"No, luckily, I didn't. Some things just don't go away so easily, that's all I'm saying. Especially when I remember that Harry Kim, replacement or not, has had his life saved by a Tom Paris who gave up his own life in another timeline, dimension, whatever, so that I could be here standing in this room with you right now."
"And of course, there was that other replacement Harry Kim who was the only survivor--only adult survivor, anyway--of that other Voyager, when the Tom Paris on that ship died, too. Aren't you feeling guilty about that, too, Harry? If you're going to feel guilty, you might as well go all the way with it."
"Kes, please . . . ."
The usually serene Ocampan's voice shook as she choked out, "While we are spilling out all the guilt, Harry, what about me? When I was Tieran, I KILLED people. Maybe I wasn't in my 'right mind' when I did it, but this body is responsible for murder. I can't say that I'm really over that, either; but I am trying to keep it from haunting me."
"Kes . . . " Harry reached out for the slight young woman, who leaned into his arms. They embraced for a long time. When she relaxed her hold, Harry straightened his stance so that they could look into each other's faces although he did not release her. "You're right about not letting it haunt me. I try not to, but the truth is, no matter which Harry Kim this is, I'm different. Maybe different isn't bad, either. I was really naïve when I arrived on Voyager. Did I ever tell you how Tom saved me from wasting a lot of money on junk gems that some Ferengi barkeeper tried to sell me?"
"I don't think so," she smiled. "I'd like to hear about it sometime."
"Maybe later I'll tell you," he grinned back at her. "I guess growing up is just awfully hard, no matter how old you are when you're doing it."
"That's true of any change, Harry, not just growing up. Take it from a very mature, almost-four-year-old Ocampa."
"You are definitely the most mature three-year-old I have ever known."
Harry enfolded her again in a friendly hug. As they stood so close together, the ensign felt strong feelings wash over him, causing his hold to tighten. Was he feeling his own emotions, or was Kes projecting her own upon him? He finally decided that it didn't matter if he were feeling what Kes was feeling; he was sure his own attachment to the beautiful woman in his arms was real.
As they held each other, Harry no longer thought of Kes as Neelix's former lover and child "bride" but as the warm, desirable woman to whom he had been attracted for a very long time. He knew that if he'd been honest with himself, he would have realized long ago that the sole reason he had not approached Kes as soon as she had been free of Neelix was his own reluctance to let go of Libby.
Why had he borrowed all of those replicator rations from her, if not to have had the excuse of repaying them a few at a time? Every time he had "made his loan payment," as they had laughingly called it, Kes and Harry had gotten together for what amounted to a date. He hadn't particularly wanted or needed the things he'd obtained with the rations, either. Harry had blown them on frivolities.
Loosening his hold on Kes, Harry moved his hands from her back to gently cup her face before he kissed her. Like their hug, the kiss began as a gentle touch but deepened into an intense sharing of their feelings. When their lips parted, his dark eyes shone down into her pure blue ones, reading in them a passion that both realized would not be quenched without a more intimate bonding of their bodies. First, though, there was some unfinished business.
"Kes, I think we have some serious talking to do about Libby, Neelix, and exactly what I can expect when you go into this Elogium of yours." Her delighted grin was only the first of her replies to him.
Although Kes heard no alarm, she awoke at her customary time of 0545 hours. She was not lying in her customary position in a fetal position on her bed. Instead she found herself curled up on her couch, snugly wrapped in the arms of Harry Kim. They had fallen asleep there after talking half the night and arriving at a momentous decision. As she rolled her body carefully away from Harry so as not to disturb him too soon, her face glowed.
She had been feeling for some time that a change was coming, and now that she knew what shape that change would take, Kes felt happier than she had at any time in the three years since she left her homeworld forever to embark on this wild adventure to the stars. For the first time in ages, Kes had no doubts at all that her life was following a course that had been preordained for it. Painful as it was to think about from Neelix's point of view, Kes was sure that the Talaxian's one true role in bringing her away from her home planet and onto Voyager had been to deliver her into the arms of Harry Kim.
Loyal Harry, who, until he was ready to finally accept that his life with Libby could not reasonably be expected to happen, couldn't have come to her as he had last night. She wouldn't have wanted him to be any other way. Friendly, yet private, too. A responsible Starfleet officer, yet a passionate lover. The man who would father her child, or perhaps children. Now that she was no longer under the influence of the Caretaker, would the old Ocampan heritage of each mother having a multiple birth when she came to her Elogium return? Kes wished she had thought to ask the Ocampa who lived on Suspira's array more details about their childbearing; but she had forgotten.
For a moment Kes allowed herself to wish that her life span could be extended for a longer time, to let her be with Harry no matter how long it might take for her child or children to become adults. A few tears glistened in her eyes as Kes ruthlessly set aside her fantasy. Living a long life was not possible for her, that was something she knew intrinsically. Maybe that was just as well for Harry, and perhaps for Libby, too, if she proved just as loyal to him.
Kes had no illusions; she would never see the Alpha Quadrant, even if a shortcut was found for Voyager and her crew eventually. Kes simply knew for a fact that she would be gone by then, but she would make Harry happy for as long a time as she had with him. If Libby was the woman that Kes suspected she might be, if she had waited for Harry until he returned, would she be able to accept half-Harry, half-Ocampan offspring? Kes truly hoped so.
As she ran her fingers through Harry's hair, Kes thought sadly, 'Linnis, the Linnis I once met, you are not here. Harry is my love instead. Please forgive me, Linnis. I pray that your soul will be born into one of our descendants someday. Maybe you will be OUR daughter. Just as long as you can find a man like Harry, Linnis, you will be blessed.'
The light touch of Kes' fingers gradually roused Harry from his slumber. "What time is it," he mumbled sleepily.
"Almost 0600, Harry. It's time for both of us to get ready for our shifts."
They stood up and straightened their rumpled clothing, putting their arms around each other for a last embrace. As Kes handed Harry the PADDs that he had brought with him to her quarters, he asked, "Meet you in an hour or so in the mess hall for breakfast?"
"I wouldn't miss it. What time do you think you can get free for lunch?"
"I'm not sure. Sometime between 1200 and 1330, I think. Is it okay if I hail you? If you get hungry, Kes, you can go on ahead, of course."
"I think I'll be able to hold out. We really should be together when we tell Neelix. Dinner here, around 1800?"
"I'll be here. Do you want me to bring anything?"
"Just yourself. And a change of clothes and a toothbrush, unless you want to replicate them once you're here. I don't have any time to waste, you know!"
He grinned. "No, and I don't either. See you in a bit." As he walked to the door, he turned around again. "Love you."
She smiled. "Love you, Harry."
Despite the cold outside their den, Tom and B'Elanna felt warm enough wrapped in their sleeping bag and blankets to be lying naked in bed. Their bodies were as close together as two bodies could be, touching along their entire lengths to share and conserve body heat. B'Elanna was amazed at the amount of heat Tom's male body could throw off after their passionate embraces. He never seemed to tire of all the activity that they could muster, either.
More would be needed, of course. The night was only about two thirds over. After sleeping for several hours between lovemaking sessions, however, Tom and B'Elanna were restless and looking for some other activity to pass the time before the desire for sleep reasserted itself. As B'Elanna had suggested they leave the lights off unless they were absolutely necessary so as to conserve power, their soft voices sounded in utter darkness.
"You're big on Klingon customs, Tom. How about courting me? A love poem would be nice."
"Courting you, Torres? Haven't we already gotten close enough for you to skip the love poems? I've been thinking of us as an old married couple already, in the Klingon way, of course."
"Some student of Klingon tradition you are. Don't you know that you never really get past the courting part? Some matings always need it! Not that we are mated in the Klingon way, anyway. Come on, Paris, sweep me away with your verse."
"I've never found you to be the swept away type, B'Elanna."
"A tall, well-favored, well-connected man like yourself must have a repertoire of poems to impress a woman."
"Not this one."
"Come on, Tom, there must be one you know!"
He sighed. "Okay, B'Elanna. Here's one:
"You know that it would be untrue,
You know that I would be a liar,
If I were to say to you,
Girl, we couldn't get much higher.
Come on, baby, light my fire,
Try . . . . . . . . . . . . . . "
"Tom, is that one of those dreadful songs you're always singing? The stone and whatever you call it songs?"
"Rock and roll songs, B'Elanna. It started out that way, but the lyrics have certainly stood the test of time . . . ."
"Forget it, Paris. That does not qualify as love poetry. Come up with something else."
"You know, Torres, if I had expected to be stranded here like this, I would have set aside some time to memorize a few Klingon-approved love poems. I had no idea we would get to this stage of our relationship for some time yet. I've never been particularly interested in memorizing poetry for its own sake."
"Humor me. We're already skipping the throwing of heavy objects."
"Good thing, too. Just about the only heavy throwable things around here are rocks. If you brain me, Torres, it's gonna be awfully cold in here."
Pressed close to her body, Tom could feel as well as hear her stifle a laugh. He reached out to stroke her, trailing his fingertips up her back and across her shoulders, ending with a gentle caress to her cheekbone. As he turned to kiss her, he heard her say, "Not so fast, Flyboy. I'm still waiting for my love poem."
Sighing again, he thought a moment. "I guess there are a few tried and true poems that I can recall from my tramping-around-the-Alpha-Quadrant days. Let's see . . . I know, here's one:
"There once was a lass from Parduck,
Who found herself down on her luck,
She had nothing to sell but . . . . . ."
"Dirty limericks don't count either, Paris."
"B'Elanna, within the limited parameters you're allowing me, it's going to be getting awfully cold in here soon."
This time, she could not hold in her laughter. "Tom, you must remember some scrap of poetry that you can recite to me. Or don't you have a head for memorizing?"
"Come on, B'Elanna. You know a pilot has to memorize lots of things. I just never had much use for memorizing love poetry. Before coming on Voyager, I wasn't seeing the class of women who cared much for that sort of thing. They were more interested in credit lines."
"Or beautiful blue eyes."
"Well, maybe that too. I sure didn't have much of a credit line." Tom was chuckling now, too. Deepening the register of his voice as much as he could, he breathed seductively, "If we turned a light on, B'Elanna, I could try the blue eyes on you."
"I already know what they look like, Paris," she replied dryly. B'Elanna did not want to look into those eyes; they might distract her just as much as he hoped they would. "Come on, there must be some verse or two that you know of real poetry."
"Of course I do. They just wouldn't qualify as love poems, I don't think."
"Recite one, Tom. I may cut you some slack."
Tom shifted his body hoping she would take pity on him. Several seconds passed, but she wasn't responding. He would have to come up with a poem.
As he thought over his limited poetic repertoire, he recalled a few poems he'd encountered during his student days that had spoken to him strongly enough for him to remember them in full. None seemed a good candidate for B'Elanna's request for love poetry.
"Tom. I'm waiting."
"Aren't we the demanding one tonight? All right, there is one poem I know. It isn't a song lyric and isn't dirty, but I don't think it will meet your exacting standards as a love lyric. I've been thinking about this one a lot since we got stuck out here in the Delta Quadrant, and the words suit our situation here in a way--especially the icy weather part. But it doesn't even rhyme, at least, not in the version that I know."
"What do you mean, 'version?'"
"The original poem was written almost two thousand years ago by a poet named Tu Fu. Maybe it rhymed in Chinese, I'm not sure. I only know it from a translation."
"Well, go on. At this point, I can accept a poem that doesn't rhyme."
Tom gathered up the words of the poem in his head before beginning, thinking that the darkness, in this case, might help him visualize what he had to say. Clearing his throat, he began:
"It is Spring in the mountains.
I come alone seeking you.
The sound of chopping wood echoes
Between the silent peaks.
The streams are still icy.
There is snow on the trail.
At sunset I reach your grove
In the stony mountain pass.
You want nothing, although at night
You can see the aura of gold
And silver ore all around you.
You have learned to be gentle
As the mountain deer you have tamed.
The way back forgotten, hidden
Away, I become like you,
An empty boat, floating, adrift."
When he fell silent, B'Elanna had nothing to say. Her first thought was that it was very out of character for Tom Paris to have memorized such an introspective poem. As she savored the words, however, she realized how Tom could have identified strongly with its message. Feeling at sea, seeking something but not really knowing what it was--those were sentiments she understood all too well herself.
Tom grew impatient. "So, B'Elanna, does it measure up to your high standards?"
She did not know what to tell him. It may not have been a love poem, true, but the images it evoked were beautiful. After a long pause, B'Elanna said the first words that came into her head: "I don't think I'm very gentle."
He laughed. "You don't have a knife to my throat, and you aren't biting my head off. Or biting anything else, for that matter. I think you qualify as 'gentle' for the moment. So, do you like it? I've been remembering it a lot lately. 'Cast adrift' . . . ."
"It's hard to believe that poem is so old."
"I guess some things don't change, Torres." He spoke softly to her and began to tickle her ear with the tip of his tongue.
"It's close, Tom. But not quite. Try again."
"B'Elanna! Take pity on me, please!"
"One more try, Tom."
Another big, dramatic sigh erupted from the pilot as he plumbed his memory for something else to please his lover. Finally, he recalled something that might work. "OK, there is one other I know that maybe is a love poem, if you think about it.
"This Is Just to Say
I have eaten
that were in
you were probably
saving for breakfast
they were delicious
and so cold."
"Tom, that's no more a love poem than the other one was."
"I don't know, B'Elanna. It's obviously a 'loving' message from one person to another--I always thought it was from a husband to his wife. I'm not sure that he was only talking about plums, either." His suggestive leer was lost in the darkness.
"Maybe so, but I . . . ." She stopped when she felt his body shift, followed by the sensation of his hand traveling around her waist.
B'Elanna groaned at his touch. She heard him murmur, "Such sweet plums, so sweet, so cold," as his breath reached her face. He kissed her deeply, surely. Again she heard him say something, which finally penetrated her distracted brain as the word, "delicious," as Tom proceeded to show her exactly how delicious she was to him.
Afterward, with both of them sighing contentedly, B'Elanna was willing to concede to Tom that, yes, perhaps that plum thing qualified as a love poem after all.
Kes and Harry met outside the mess hall and exchanged a quick buss on the lips. Harry was nervous. He knew they had to approach Neelix about the decision they'd made, but he was not looking forward to it. After some debate, they'd agreed to meet at 0145 for lunch, well after the rest of the crew should have finished eating. As they had expected, there were only a handful of diners in the mess hall when they entered. All were in the final stages of their own meals.
"Kes, Harry, the two of you are certainly having a very late lunch. I've run out of Pleeka rind and grub casserole, I'm sorry to say."
"No problem, Neelix. What else is on the menu?" Harry was now exceedingly pleased to have come late for lunch.
"Not too much, I'm afraid. I have some of these bread circles that Larson likes so much--I think he calls them 'bagels.' And there's fruit or sweet tuber pie for dessert. I can cook you up some eggs for a main entrée, but there isn't much else available, unless you want to replicate something."
"Eggs and bagels sound great, Neelix. I'll replicate cream cheese for the bagels. And that pie sounds good. Those are the tubers from Tantrum IV, right?"
"Yes, everyone seems very enthusiastic about them." Neelix did not sound too enthusiastic himself as he mentioned this. "I imagine that B'Elanna and Tom have been eating a lot of them where they are." His demeanor became even more subdued.
"Neelix, I'm sure they're fine. Don't worry." Kes gave him the encouraging smile that she had given him so many times since they had arrived on Voyager.
"Oh, I am, too. I just do get a little concerned, you know. Tom and I have become great friends, and I admire Lieutenant Torres so much. Isn't she an amazing person?" Without waiting for an answer to his obviously rhetorical question, Neelix added, "I'll get these eggs ready for you then. The bagels are over there. Take a seat, and I'll bring the eggs over to you when they're ready."
This suited the needs of Kes and Harry perfectly. Kes wanted to speak to Neelix in a more personal manner than leaning over the mess hall counter. The ensign went to the food replicator to get the cream cheese while Kes assembled the rest of their choices, including the tuber pie.
By the time Neelix brought the cooked eggs to the table, Harry and Kes were seated at a table in the back of the mess hall, deeply involved in a discussion about wedding traditions from various cultures. When they saw Neelix coming toward them, they tried to make it all sound very academic. Neelix asked them if he could sit down at the table with them after delivering their food to them. "The rush is over, as you can see; and I think it would be nice to have a little chat about . . . things. You know."
"Yes, Neelix, it would be good to have a chat. There is something that Harr objd I need to talk to you about anyway."
The Talaxian smiled somewhat sadly. "I don't think you need to actually tell me the subject. I noticed the way you were holding hands here the other night. I knew it was going to happen someday, Kessie; and I don't mind saying that it would have gone very hard for me, very hard indeed, if you'd picked someone who wasn't worthy of you. I should have known you better than to worry about that. Mr. Kim, I can't think of a better man for Kes than you."
Kes said nothing, but she leaned over the table to give her former lover a hug and a kiss. Harry felt his eyes burn a little. "Thank you, Neelix. It means a lot to hear you say that. I've been dreading this conversation all morning because we didn't want to hurt you. You've made it easy for us. I mean, we didn't even have to tell you, you told us!"
Harry and Neelix shook hands. The Talaxian may have been hiding a bit of a broken heart as he gave them his blessing, but he meant what he'd said to Harry about realizing the inevitability of someone else becoming Kes' partner. When she did not immediately return to him after leaving him in the Holoresort months ago, Neelix gradually accepted that it was over between them. And Harry Kim was a fine young man.
Morale Officer Neelix quickly turned the conversation to a safer subject: wedding traditions, without the veneer of pretending the subject was only being discussed as a random subject of conversation. Neelix became extremely enthusiastic, pushing for a big wedding celebration, somewhat to Kes' and Harry's dismay.
"I, of course, will be the best choice to portray the father of the bride, since your own dear father has passed away, Kes," Neelix insisted.
"Neelix, when we thought I was having my Elogium, the Doctor had that role. He might expect to perform that same role again."
"That time I was going to be the groom. This time I'm the logical choice, as I'm the closest you have to family, you know that, Kt wo
Harry could sense that Kes was unhappy about being caught in the middle of this discussion. Fortunately, Harry noticed someone else that Kes and Harry needed to approach about their plans entering the mess hall. She might be willing to come to their assistance. "Captain Janeway! Do you think you could come over here for a moment?"
"Of course, Ensign. Just let me get some of Neelix's marvelous special brew first." Captain Janeway was constitutionally unable to call Neelix's Delta Quadrant concoctions "coffee." The captain and her mug of liquid arrived at the table, taking in the groupings at a glance. Neelix was on one side of the table. On the facing side, Harry sat next to Kes, his arm draped possessively around her.
"There was something you wanted to talk to me about, Ensign?" She tried to keep herself from smiling, but the grin on Harry's face was so self-satisfied, she had a hard time controlling herself. And the arm around Kes' shoulders, could it be?
"Yes, Captain. We were wondering if we could meet with you after our shifts today to discuss a few things." Harry squeezed Kes' shoulder as he took the plunge. "Wedding plans and a request for bigger quarters for Kes and myself."
The captain's response was immediate and joyful, although she was definitely surprised. "Congratulations to both of you, but I have to ask, when did this all happen?"
"Actually, Harry and I have been feeling this way about each other for quite a while, Captain. The only sudden thing is that we just recognized it. We told Neelix this afternoon, and now we're in the middle of planning our wedding. Captain, my head is starting to spin! I didn't know there was so much involved in planning a human-style wedding."
"What is involved in an Ocampan wedding, Kes?" Both Harry and Neelix looked at each other abashed. Neither one had thought to ask her that very obvious question.
"Actually, there isn't a formal wedding ceremony. The rituals all center around the beginning of the Elogium, and the couple just carries on as mates afterward, raising their child or children."
Neelix's fluffy eyebrows rose to an arch the way Tuvok's Vulcan brows do as he heard the word "children." 'Yes,' he thought, 'Better Mr. Kim than me.'
"Many human ceremonies aren't much more elaborate than that. You can have a huge affair with everyone on board in attendance, or you can have something small. The minimum number of people in attendance is usually considered to be the couple themselves, two witnesses, and the person who performs the ceremony. As captain of Voyager, I would expect that I would have that role. The vows themselves can take a few minutes. I understand that for some Earth cultures, a traditional wedding still can take days, with hundreds of people there."
"I don't think we want to do this with hundreds of people there, Captain." Kes looked a little overwhelmed at the prospect.
"You don't have to decide this minute. Take a while to talk things over."
"I'd like it settled pretty quickly, though, Captain," Kes said earnestly. "I don't have the time to waste!"
"It's okay, Sweetheart, we can take a few days to discuss it, at least. Maybe do some research. Besides, we aren't going to want to do anything about it until we get Tom and B'Elanna back anyway." At Harry's words, everyone nodded their head. The fate of the chief engineer and the helmsman had slipped their minds in the emotional rush of the moment, but now they were all brought back down a peg.
"A good point, Mr. Kim. And now, if I'm not mistaken, both of us are due back on the bridge."
"Aye, Captain. We'll talk to you some more, Neelix, after we've had a chance to sort things out ourselves." Kes agreed to this as Harry leaned down to give her a peck on the cheek.
"Don't you worry about cleaning up, now. I'll take care of it," Neelix said, as he gathered up the dishes while the captain and the ensign walked out of the mess hall. "Kes, don't you have to get back to sickbay?" he added, when he realized that she had not left with the others.
"In a minute, Neelix. There's something else I wanted to talk to you about, but I didn't want to say it in front of Harry." As her serious expression registered with the Talaxian, he stopped his fussing and took up her hands.
"What's wrong, Sweeting?"
"Neelix, when we were together, we never spoke of this; but now, with Harry, I need to ask you a very huge favor, one that I will not be in a position to ever repay."
She took a deep breath to settle her emotions before continuing, "I'm not going to have a very long life span, as we all know. That means that Harry is going to be left alone, a widower, as they say in Federation standard, at a very young age. Assuming that everything goes as we expect it may, that means that he'll probably have a child to raise. Maybe the child would be an adult, like an Ocampa, but it would be just as likely that he or she would still be very young. Harry's family is far away. He'll need help. If a lot of the people on this ship start to have babies--and I think that might start to happen soon--it may not be easy for him, since he'll be on his own. I wanted to ask you to help Harry, and any children we might have, if . . . I mean when . . . ." Kes had to stop. It was much harder to talk about this with Neelix than she'd expected.
"Oh, Kes." Neelix enfolded her in his arms. "Of course I'll help him. I think I am much better suited to being an Uncle Neelix than I ever would have been to being a Daddy. I'll get to have some fun, but then I'll get to go home by myself!" That prompted a big smile from Kes. She had to agree, Neelix would make a much better uncle. "Don't you worry, from now on, you just think of me as your big brother Neelix. You let Harry know that, too, won't you?"
"Neelix, you're being wonderful about this. I really do love you, Neelix, but it is better this way, isn't it?"
"You know, I really think it is. And I love you, too." They shared a brotherly/sisterly sort of hug, then said their good-byes.
While cleaning up the dishes as he had promised, Neelix thought about the promise he had made to Kes. He couldn't help it, he was feeling a bit melancholy about not being with her anymore. Still, he had to admit to himself that he really meant what he'd said to Harry and Kes. He had been dreading being a father to her child. He still loved his family, but since their loss, his life had been very different from what it might have been had he remained on his home planet. Caring for a child was such a huge responsibility, one that he realized he did not wish to assume. Knowing how much having a child meant to Kes, he knew they weren't suited at all to each other. Having a niece or nephew--now that sounded like a lot more fun, even if they weren't going to have any handsome spots.
Lieutenant Torres was still curled up in bed two hours after sunrise. On board Voyager, she usually would have been awake and on duty for a several hours by this time of day. In this less than enchanting valley, she stayed warm in bed as long as she could get away with it. She was getting restless, however. B'Elanna really needed to use the latrine corner but dreaded the very thought of baring her bottom to the frigid air to accomplish what she needed to do.
Hearing the step of her lanky companion, she called out of the doorway, "What color is the sky today?"
"It's gray. Stormy gray. I think it's going to either rain or snow--maybe both. I brought in the rest of the vines from that patch down by the stream. I don't think we need to worry about running out of fuel for the fire, but staying in bed as much as possible today would probably be a good idea."
"Oh, really?" B'Elanna sniggered.
"Relax, I won't paw you all day long. Just most of the day. Better get up and get your breakfast now, before that wind starts charging out of the crack in the ceiling again."
Groaning, the engineer without a ship had to agree that hiding inside and delaying the inevitable might be worse in the long run than just gritting her teeth and getting it over with. Quickly pulling on her jumpsuit and shoes, B'Elanna emerged from her hibernation and stalked to the back of the cave, grumbling constantly. "Don't you look, now," she called out.
"Such becoming modesty. I'm not interested in looking, Be'. I have other senses I prefer to use on you."
"I am not lying about having other senses I like to use on you."
"You like to look, too." Her retort drew an answering snort from Tom that echoed in the stone chamber.
Coming near the fire, she washed her hands in frigid water reserved for that purpose in a hunk of granite. B'Elanna had turned it into a basin by hollowing out a depression in it with her phaser.
"What would you like to eat this morning, ma'am?"
"Not ration bars. There are only a couple of them left."
"I guess we'd better not have any today, then. Chocolatey potatoes, Lieutenant? Or would you prefer the celery flavored ones?"
"I'm getting pretty tired of these roots, Tom. It's a good thing they taste good, or I'd be refusing to eat them by now."
"Do you feel like pounding those seeds into meal? We can try making something out of it. Baked mush, perhaps?"
"Sounds awful," she said, crinkling her nose in disgust.
Tom had built up the fire. They sat, enjoying the warmth it put out while consuming roots that had been cooked the previous night and brewing and drinking Vulcan-Ear Tea. They chatted a little, but as the wind from the cave roof increased, B'Elanna became increasingly restive.
"Would you like to retreat back to the den, B'Elanna? It isn't going to be very comfortable out here today, even in the daytime, unless it clears up later."
"I know, but I get so bored lying in there all the time." Getting a look at his hurt expression, she quickly added, "I'm not getting bored with what we're doing in there, Tom, just with having to stay huddled up in there for so many hours at a time. I like to move around, pace a little. Spending all night in there is starting to get to me. If we have to start spending days in there, too, I'm going to go insane!"
"Me, too, I confess. We should do something different today in our hidey-hole since it's daylight. I'll just have to figure out different way to help you burn up all that extra energy, that's all."
His smirk appeared, and she was tempted to throw something at him. Regrettably, his comment about the only heavy objects available being rocks happened to be true.
"Be', how about we play some cards today. Larson was kind enough to leave us a deck."
"Sure. Gin. Poker. Maybe a little Rulgar. What do you say?"
"Any betting involved?"
"Oh, we could, just to make it interesting. You ever hear of Strip Poker?"
"As a matter of fact I have, Tom, but I've never played it before. From what I've heard, though, I don't think I'd mind playing with you."
"That's what I love about you, B'Elanna. That spirit of adventure."
By midafternoon, both were so bored with playing cards, even strip poker having lost its appeal, that they spent a little time outside the den to eat another meal and check on the weather. Tom's prediction about it both snowing and raining had come true. The landscape outside was covered with a dreary coat of snow that fell early in the day. The snow layer was now in the process of being saturated by a steady rain.
B'Elanna stood at the cavern entrance with Tom's arms wrapped around her from the back. His tall frame blocked the breeze that was blowing through the cave from the ceiling crack in the rear of the ca ref from her easily-chilled body.
"Do you think it'll turn to snow again tonight, Tom?"
"Probably. We have to hope it stops by sundown or there could be a lot of snow out there by morning. If you think you're bored now from being inside all day, think how you'd feel if we're snowed in by a blizzard."
She shivered. "Did you ever live in a cold climate like this before?"
"Only for a couple of years. My father had a few diplomatic-type postings on the European continent. There was a fair amount of cold weather and snow there. The skiing was fun, though. What about you?"
"No, my mother couldn't tolerate the cold as well as I can, and you know how cheerful I am about it."
"My father wasn't very good in the cold, either. The admiral always had to have the environmental controls cranked up all the way in winter." He hesitated; Tom had been wanting to ask her a question about her father, and he wondered if this would be a good time to broach the subject. Might as well try. "What about your father, Be'? How much do you remember about him?"
"Not a lot. Sometimes I can remember what he looked like, but it's hard to picture him now. I remember him holding me, though. He used to read to me when I was little; he had a very deep voice. And we played games that made me laugh--he laughed a lot, which my mother almost never did. And it's funny, I can remember that he wore some kind of scent--I guess it was for shaving. Whenever I smell it on someone, I still think of him."
"Did you ever try to find him after you grew up?"
"I never bothered."
"If your mother was giving you a hard time about being too human, he may have worried he'd only make matters worse for you if he contacted you or visited you when you were young."
She was silent for a long time. "He still should have tried."
"So even when you got to the Academy, you never looked up his posting in the Starfleet records, to find out where he was?"
The flatness in her reply saddened him. He understood; she had been too proud to do it. "Maybe you can still find out something about him from the Starfleet personnel files on Voyager. They'd be pretty skimpy, but there might be something in them. You should try it, B'Elanna." Feeling her stiffen in his arms, he bent down and nuzzled her on the back of her ear. "But only if you want to, of course."
"Hrumph." His final comment was made just in time to prevent her from lashing out at him. "So Tom, since we are talking about my parents, what about your mother? You never talk about her. What was she like?"
"My mother was great, B'Elanna. She always tried to keep my father from going overboard when he started pushing me. She didn't always succeed, but she always tried. It isn't like she didn't encourage us, either. She did, but it never felt like we were being shoved into anything. Mom had a lot of responsibility, being an admiral's wife--planning parties, things like that--but she always had time for us. My sisters and I could always talk to her. And it's funny, when my mother asked me to do something, I usually did it without dragging my feet too much. She had a way of making an order seem like something you wanted to do anyway."
He chuckled in her ear. "The way Janeway touches you sometimes when she gives an order, that does remind me a little of Mom in a way. Don't let the captain know that, though, she may not appreciate it."
"Tom, when's the last time you saw your mother?"
A sudden sharp squeeze startled B'Elanna, and she felt him bury his face against the back of her neck. "Tom?" she asked, her heart sinking. Her query had seemed innocuous, but plainly, Tom was as sensitive to this question as B'Elanna had been to being asked about finding her father.
Eventually, he was able to say, almost inaudibly, "In the courtroom, when I was sentenced to Auckland. She was crying so hard . . . "
B'Elanna turned around to face him, sincerely sorry for having asked him. His eyes were tightly closed, as if to block the bitter memory from his sight. As B'Elanna stroked his bearded cheek gently with her gloved hand, he leaned his face into her hand.
"Tom, I think we've been watching this miserable drizzling rain long enough. Let's go back inside our den and warm up a little."
His eyes slowly opened. Turning his lips to where her hand still lingered by his jaw, he kissed her on the palm of her glove as he said in a low voice, "Yes, let's."
At the sight of Harry, Kes's face lit up. "Hello, Harry, this is a surprise!" Then another reason for his coming to Sickbay suddenly occurred to her, causing her welcoming smile to turn serious. "You aren't hurt, are you?"
"No, I'm fine. I had some news for the Doctor and thought that it would be a good excuse to come see you."
"In that case, you can address me directly, Ensign." The Doctor briskly walked out of his office. "What is it, Mr. Kim?"
"Doctor, we've made a lot of progress with the engines and the circuitry, so even though some things still need repair, the holodeck replicators aren't needed for parts any more. Lieutenant Carey has opened them to other uses. I hope you don't mind, but I put your name down for a reservation for Holodeck One for 2330 hours. You don't mind going so late, do you? I didn't think it would matter when you went, as long as you didn't have any patients."
"I can go to the holodeck?"
Harry could not tell if the prospect thrilled or frightened the Doctor. Did a hologram actually "feel" anything? "If you are too busy to use the holodeck, Kes and I will be glad to take the time."
"No, that's quite all right. It was just a little disconcerting, that's all. Last time I went, Lieutenant Paris was with me."
"Harry and I will be glad to go with you, Doctor, if you want us to come." Harry tried to catch her eye, but she would not look at him. Gloomily, he realized that his other plans for the evening would have to be put on hold if the Doctor said yes.
"Thank you for the offer, Kes, but this first time, I should go alone, I think. Perhaps another time."
"Of course, Doc. Some other time." Harry's enthusiasm returned.
"Mmmm . . . .that feels wonderful, Harry. Don't stop. Oh, yes, Harry, yes . . . "
Harry moved his kneading hands from Kes' neck and down her spine, pressing his thumb into each vertebrae as he found it, provoking ever more enthusiastic groans from his Ocampan fiancée with every knob of bone he fingered in his travels. Finding them became easier as he worked his way down to the small of her back, where the thickened skin covering the *elogia* thinned out the farther down he went. By the time he reached the location of the last bones that he could massage with his strong thumbs, Harry had Kes writhing in exquisite pleasure. It was strange to have a lover with a primary erogenous zone down her spine, but, this was the Delta Quadrant, Harry Kim was a Starfleet officer, and weird WAS part of the job.
Just now weird was extremely pleasurable.
"Can you give me a little more of an anatomy lesson?"
She lazily turned her head towards his. "Didn't we do enough of 'I'll show you mine if you show me yours' a little while ago to suit you?"
Harry had never seen Kes with as self-satisfied an expression as the one he was seeing now. His own face assumed the mate to hers when he bent down to her ear to whisper, "I have a feeling that that's a lesson I'll want repeated over and over again, but the visible anatomy isn't what I wanted to talk about." He planted a chain of kisses along the edge of her elfin-shaped ear. "I was curious to learn why the Ocampan sex organs are located and enjoyed pretty much the way other humanoid speette do, even though the mom carries her babies in a birth sac on her back."
Flopping herself onto her back again, Kes grabbed hold of Harry's hands and poised them above her abdomen. "The equivalent of the human ovary is located here," she said, patting his left hand on the middle of her flat tummy, right over the navel, which in an Ocampan woman was located in the very center of her abdomen, below the waist. "There are two ovaries, like in humans, but they lie so close together that it almost looks like there is only one, sort of like the Terran nuts . . . I can't remember what they're called, but they're beige and oval shaped, with a seam all around them."
"Could be walnuts. There is a thin, hard membrane between the halves, and from the outside there is a line all around, showing the separation of the shell halves."
"That's what they look like. They're larger than walnuts, though. All right, so, there's tubes leading out from the outside of each ovary. When the Elogium starts, a flood of eggs comes out of each ovary and flows down the tubes into the vagina where they meet with the father's sperm."
Kes pulled his hands out and along a line up the center of her abdomen until she reached a spot just beneath her ribcage. "The eggs and sperm travel up the migration tube inside the body, reaching the spine at about here. The migration tube works kind of like the digestive system--by a peristaltic action that is maintained through coitus. That's why we have to make love for days, Harry." The way she said it made the prospect daunting, but desirable.
"Kes, I don't know if I have that kind of stamina!"
"Yes, you will. That sticky stuff on my hands and my swollen tongue will have hormones in them that you'll get from me to help stimulate you. You'll do just fine."
"Whatever you say."
"To go on, then, the tube splits to go around the spine and enters the *elogia*, the birth sacs, at this level." Kes had moved Harry's hands until they were now in the valley between her breasts.
"The surviving eggs and sperm, which are now embryos, flow into one *elogium* or the other. The embryos try to attach to the wall of the sacs, but most die off. Only the strongest survive."
Kes stretched her arms up and over her head while stretching sinuously, smiling up at him so enticingly that Harry could not help kissing her. He was enjoying the response he was getting when the implications of what she'd said hit him. "Kes, there are two sacs?"
"Yes, Harry, there are a pair of sacs. Ages ago, when the Ocampa lived on the surface, all births were multiples. Usually twins, but a fair number of quadruplets were also born, since each mother only had one Elogium in her life. The Ocampa would have died off long before the Caretaker came if that weren't so. The dissident movement thought the Caretaker caused all the singleton births with the nutritional supplements he provided. That's one of the reasons why we were growing our own foods. If that's correct, you and I are more likely to have twins than a single baby. I guess I should have told you this before."
Kes looked contrite, as Harry did seem a little stunned. After a very long minute of contemplation, however, he smirked a little and held up his hands to help her to a sitting position. "I think we can handle whatever comes, although I'm not sure what I'll do if it's quadruplets! Go crazy, I guess. That is, if we're even genetically compatible enough so we don't need test tube help, like Klingons and humans do when they mate with each other."
"Oh, we are compatible, Harry; I checked with the Doctor. Twenty-two pairs of chromosomes, plus the gender pair. He was surprised we were so similar. We shouldn't have any trouble at all reproducing." She pulled herself around to sit on his lap, her legs wrapped around him, her arms around his back, and kissed him.
"That's good to know. And this is good, too," Harry said, a twinkle in his eye.
Kes asked him, "Why is this good?"
"Because with you sitting mon my lap this way, I can massage your spine like it was the keys of my clarinet."
He began to finger her spine as if he were playing a tune, and Kes threw her head back, laughing ecstatically, "Harry, I love it when you play the clarinet. Oh, Harry!"
Tom stared at the turbulent stream that crashed through the narrow defile at the western end of the valley. He didn't think they'd be able to make it through unless they used the climbing equipment to scramble parallel to the stream, a meter or so above the level of the water wherever there was a low spot. The problem was, Tom could not see past the turn in the gorge. The bend was about one hundred or so meters from where he was standing. He knew from his tricorder readings that the gorge extended beyond it for a total of two kilometers, but whether or not the footing was good enough to permit them to walk to the end of the gorge was a major question. That needed to be settled if they were to try leaving that way. It was an iffy proposition, to be sure.
Starfleet's standard tricorder was a terrific tool for telling where something specific that you were looking for could be found, as it did when guiding Tom and B'Elanna to the vein of dilithium crystals. It was even better at examining the composition of a substance, such as evaluating foodstuffs for nutritional value, for example. That function had been just as essential during their exercise in survival on this planet. It was even good for measuring geological formations, such as how tall a cliff was, or how deeply a rock formation extended.
Tom knew from the tricorder he was holding in his hands that there was a much more open area beginning two kilometers away, but he could not tell whether it was a wide space in a much larger gorge or the beginning of a new, sizable valley. Two kilometers of rock were in the way, obscuring the readings for the open area. He could also not precisely measure the gorge walls past the bend to determine if any rock shelves extended above the stream to help their climb. There were more specialized tricorders carried by cartographers that would tell you that, but no one expected Tom and B'Elanna to need one of those on this mission. Generally, away teams had that kind of detail already in their tricorders, mapped from orbit by sensor readings.
"What do you think, Tom? Can we make it?" B'Elanna picked her way carefully down the slope to the shelf on which he was standing.
"I can't tell. Not enough data. Do you want to try triangulating the tricorders to see if we can get a better outline of the cliff face past the bend?"
"I don't think we can get far enough apart to use triangulation unless one of us gets on the other side of the stream." They looked at the churning, foaming water. It was a good ten meters across to the other bank, with no decent place to ford. "You can try to get across if you want to, Tom. I don't think I'd like to try it."
"I think I'll pass, too. It's too bad, though. If we hit a shelf like we did during the last stages of the climb for the dilithium, we'd be in good shape. As long as we could find shelter before night fell again, that is."
"Too risky this time of year."
As they climbed back up to their valley's floor, B'Elanna asked. "Do you think it's worth checking out the other exit tomorrow? I don't recall what it was like from my trip in that direction the first day we were stuck here."
"We can hold off for a couple more days, if you want. Food isn't going to be a problem; the roots are abundant here even if they are getting boring to eat. It's only the fuel that's getting scarce." The reasonably long-burning vines were starting to run out; they had to go farther and farther afield to find a patch to exploit. The knotted straw was not a long-term solution. B'Elanna had been right; they did take too much work for the heat and light they put out. Plus, they needed the straw for fresh bedding.
Arriving back at the valley floor, Tom got a good look at the load of vines and foods B'Elanna had found, piled on top of Neelix's blanket. "Did you dig up every root and patch of Vulcan-Ear Tea you could find in this valley, B'Elanna?"
"Don't be such a baby, Paris. Just twist the end up, hoist it on your shoulder, and start marching. You're strong enough to manage your half of this puny load." He shot her an exaggeratedly hurt look but did as she said. An hour later, they reached the mouth of their cave.
"Home, Sweet Home," Tom called out sarcastically. After sorting and stowing away the food and fuel vines in the cavern, Tom walked outside and strode out toward the cliff. On the off chance that it would be different this time, he hit his comm badge. "Paris to Voyager. Come in Voyager." Silence was his reply.
"Tried your badge again, didn't you, Tom."
"Yes, I did," B'Elanna chuckled, grabbing him around the waist.
He bent down to kiss her lips. "Mmm. Do you have some sort of disciplinary measure you want to use on me?"
"Let me think about something appropriate."
They stood wrapped up in each other for a while. The question they really wanted answered was becoming more troublesome every day. Where was Voyager? Now that the sky was Earth-blue, close to its natural bluish-purple, they should have heard from them. It had been almost a week by the ship's time, over four days down here on the planet, but the skies were silent to their hails. Up until now they had refused to talk about it, but Tom gave voice to what he had been thinking for most of their stay planetside.
"You know, Be', I kind of wish you were up there on Voyager."
"Getting tired of my company?"
"Not at all. I wouldn't have had nearly as much fun if Harry, say, were here instead of you. It's just that I wish Voyager's best engineer was up there fixing whatever it is that's gotten broken. It's the only explanation for why we haven't been picked up yet."
"What if Voyager just isn't there anymore? It could've been destroyed. How long do you think we'd last if we never get picked up?"
"It's hard to say. The winter is harsh at this elevation. If we went out of the mountains, toward the eastern coast, it might not be so bad. We aren't too far from there. We'd still have to wait out the rest of this winter in another valley, though. Maybe we could find one with a better cave."
"You don't think we could stay here, either, then?"
"I don't think there are enough resources for us here, do you?"
"No," she sighed. "The tubers are really getting old with me, Tom. They fill our stomachs and are fairly nourishing, but they aren't really nutritionally balanced. And when our clothing wears out, we could have serious problems. I haven't seen anything that we could use to make cloth, and there aren't any animals for us to skin."
"Maybe in the warmer weather there would be some kind of vegetation we could use. Fig leaves, perhaps?"
"Sure. I wouldn't mind being Adam to your Eve, Lieutenant Torres, even if this place isn't exactly the Garden of Eden."
"At least we wouldn't have to worry about any Cain or Abel."
"What! You mean you know all about Adam and Eve? I thought I was going to have another chance to entertain you with a story."
She sniffed at his mock look of shock. "I HAVE taken an Earth cultural history course or two in my time." She rubbed her face in his shoulder a moment, as she returned to her point. "You do understand, Tom, that even if we could figure out a way to survive here, we wouldn't be Adam and Eve. We couldn't have any children. Klingons and humans need a lot of technical help to mate, which my mother loved to tell me whenever she felt it hadn't been worth the trouble to conceive me."
"I'm glad she did go to the trouble, B'Elanna." He brushed her hair with his hand. "And I love you enough to marry you anyway, children or not."
"You won't give up on that Klingon marriage stuff, will you?" B'Elanna laughed, wishing that he loved her more than just "enough."
His mood turned serious. "No, I won't. I care for you too much. But the truth is, I'm glad I can't get you pregnant. I was beginning to worry about that. This isn't much of a place to raise a kid. We'd have enough trouble surviving here for long; a baby would have no chance. I don't think I'd like to see anything like that happen."
She was silent. Watching a child wither away in a place like this would be terrible to see.
Trying to lighten the mood, Tom gave her a quick hug, then released her to grab her hand. They paced along the cliff, just to release some energy. "We can try to find another exit from this valley and look for someplace else more hospitable again tomorrow, B'Elanna. If only Janeway had been able to land a shuttle here, we'd have had more supplies, warmer shelter, and better transportation to go house hunting." He sighed in a way that she'd come to know was the prelude for a joke.
She looked up at him suspiciously. "What?"
"I didn't say anything." The blue eyes were glinting with humor.
"You've got something else to say, Paris. What is it?"
"I was just thinking that there's one reason I'm glad they didn't send a shuttle. Keeping warm with another person around would have cramped my style."
"You're reverting to pighood, Tom," she said severely, but her shoulders were shaking with laughter as she gave him a gentle tap on his shoulder. "Don't make me break anything."
"You could fix me up afterward."
"Assuming I wanted to!" Continuing their banter, the Adam and Eve of this world walked arm and arm down to the cave.
Chakotay sat in the pilot's chair, but he was allowing young Ensign Jim Joseph to pilot the shuttle from the co-pilot's seat. The commander approved of Mr. Joseph's handling of the craft. "Nice flying, Ensign. It looks like you've been doing your homework."
"Thank you, Commander. I've been getting a lot of flight time lately with Lieutenant Paris. He's a real good teacher."
"Does he sprinkle his lessons with as many jokes as he does everything else?"
The young man smiled. "Yeah, I guess, but there's always a point to his stories, you know? After I'm finished with a lesson with him, I can always see that the jokes fit in somehow with what he's teaching. He's pretty patient, too. I remember one time when we were checking out a repaired shuttle--you probably remember that, don't you, sir? When the shuttle jumped into warp and slammed us all around? The inertial damper field started to fluctuate some, and I got pretty sick, to tell you the truth."
"That was after the 'asteroid' bombardment incident."
"That was the time. Well, anyway, we had trouble with all the systems for just long enough for us to land in that asteroid field that hid us from the sensors. I was sure we were going to crash into one of the asteroids. There were so many of them, but somehow Lieutenant Paris managed to steer us around them long enough for us to get things shut down and to stop the shuttle. He seemed so calm. Then he cracked some joke about how scared he was. I didn't believe him for a second, but it helped me feel a lot better."
"I'm glad to hear Mr. Paris is a good teacher. I haven't had the pleasure of having any classes with him."
"Did you ever have his father at the Academy, Commander?"
"No, he was doing lot of other things for Starfleet at the time, so I never took any classes with him."
"You didn't miss much in my opinion, sir. He was at the Academy for my first two years there, and I had him for Survival Training. He was good at giving you the facts, I'll grant him that. But I hated the way he graded."
"Didn't do so well?"
"That wasn't it. I got an A- for the course. What bothered me was that he picked certain people that he'd give a hard time to, and no matter what they did, he marked them down for it. There was one guy there from one of the colonies who was phenomenal at everything we did in wilderness training. He was in my group for the wilderness test. Well, everyone in our group got an A but Jareth. He got a B-, even though he was our leader! If all of us got an A, how could he get a B-? Jareth would never say anything, but after semester break was over, the rest of us went to the Admiral's office to respectfully ask him to reconsider the grade. Do you know what he said?"
"Admiral Paris said that anyone who was raised on a wilderness world should have done everything perfectly. Now, as far as the rest of us could tell, Jareth had done everything perfectly. We could never figure out what it was that the admiral thought wasn't perfect, and he wouldn't tell us what it was, either. That was pretty unfair, I thought. At least he could have pointed out what could have been improved. I made sure I didn't take any more classes with him after that. I sure wouldn't have wanted for him to have been my father, if you know what I mean, sir."
"I think I do, Mr. Joseph." The commander and the ensign both fell silent. Even though Chakotay had not seen eye to eye with his own father much of the time, Kolopak at least had tried to be fair to his son. Tom had never made a secret of the fact that he and his father hadn't gotten along. The ensign's story shed a little more light on a possible source of Tom Paris' problems with authority. Perhaps Chakotay's own troubles with Paris had little at all to do with Chakotay himself but were simply a legacy of his history with his father. Captain Janeway always seemed to be able to keep Paris in line. It was something the commander would ruminate upon later, when he had the chance.
Ensign Joseph's announcement of, "We're at the edge of the nebula, Commander," brought Chakotay's attention back to the matter at hand.
All social conversations ceased. Megan Delaney and Ensign Vorik, who were acting as the technicians on this flight of the shuttle, went to their tasks. The extra instrumentation installed within the Sacajawea helped them obtain a great deal of data on the solar flares and other conditions within the Tantrum system. Several hours of hard work later, the shuttle returned to Voyager, mission accomplished.
Kathryn Janeway was waiting for the return of the commander and the away team in the shuttle maintenance bay. She and Ensign Elaine Myers, the nominal chief of the Shuttle Repair and Construction Team, were standing under the sign in the shuttlebay that announced, "You Blitz 'Em, We Fix 'Em." Lieutenant Carey arrived as Chakotay and his team exited the small craft.
"Welcome back. What's Tantrum doing today?"
The commander nodded to Megan Delaney, having her make the report as had been decided on the trip back. "The nebula was the calmest that its been since right after we arrived in the system. The flares seem to have stopped, but the nebula hasn't died down quite enough to try to go in yet. As long as conditions continue their current trend, it might be possible in a day, maybe two, Captain."
"Are the ship's repairs completed enough for us to go tomorrow, if conditions permit, Lieutenant Carey?"
"We could probably go in today if we had to Captain. There's only a few things that we still need to work on, and they aren't in critical systems."
"Let's let everyone know we plan on going in the day after tomorrow, then, Commander. If we're able to go tomorrow, it would be even better. I'd rather surprise the crew by going a day early if we can, instead of disappointing everyone if we have to put it off again."
"I agree, Captain. The crew needs to feel we have firm plans to pick up Torres and Paris. Hopefully, there won't be any further delays." Chakotay turned back to the away team and the shuttlebay repair crew. "By the way, people, this is confidential information! I know how the gossip mill works, and I will have a very short list of who might have talked if the word gets around." The younger crew members smiled uneasily at each other. The commander must have been reading their minds.
"Good work, everyone." The captain started to leave with Chakotay but thought of something else she wanted to say. "Oh, and by the way, Crewman Delaney . . . "
"Yes, Captain?" Megan responded. She was surprised that the captain was speaking to her.
"I want to commend you for the name you gave that star system. It certainly was appropriate."
"Thank you, Captain Janeway." The red haired crewman's face flushed to a shade close to that of her hair in pleasure.
"Carry on." Kathryn Janeway strode out after her first officer, a half-smile of pleasure on her own face. She had a good crew, and having an opportunity to give praise was one of the best parts of her job.
The commander walked with the captain out to the turbolift. When they were inside, away from the rest of the crew, Janeway asked him, "What are our chances of getting to Tom and B'Elanna tomorrow, Chakotay? Our real chances."
"We should be able to try tomorrow. As long as we cut out of warp before we actually get into the system, we should be okay. Our people in Stellar Cartography think we just had bad luck in going into the system when we did. There seems to be some kind of periodacy to the solar flares, but we can't be sure the warp drive didn't have an effect. Better safe than sorry, even if it takes a few hours longer. If we use caution and travel on impulse once we're in the system itself, I don't think it will disrupt the nebula so much that we can't get them and ourselves out."
"I hope so, Commander." The captain smiled crookedly. "I need to get Mr. Paris working on my holodeck program again. I'm getting a little impatient to meet with Signor daVinci."
"The engines seem to miss B'Elanna, too."
The captain sighed. "The engines aren't the only ones."
B'Elanna checked Tom's clothes. They were still distressingly damp. Looking again at the gathering clouds, she tried to decide whether to take her chances. Leave them out longer? Or should she grab them and bring them in before the weather turned as wet and nasty as it appeared it would before long? Primitive housekeeping was getting to be a headache.
A tall figure wearing boots and Neelix's blanket, but not much else, appeared up the path they had worn from the cave to the cliff. "Are my clothes dry yet, Be'? It's starting to get cold in the cave."
"No, they're still pretty wet. I told you we should have washed up before we went up to the top end of the valley."
"Then we would've gotten rained on before we got back, and both of us would've been wet and cold instead of only one of us." Tom bent over his clothes to check them himself. He didn't find them any dryer than she had.
"What do you think, shall I use the phaser? If I put it on low power, wide dispersal, I may be able to get them dry. I'd just have to be careful not to leave the beam on too long."
"And what if you vape them? That would be nice. Then I'd have to find out if a straw skirt would be adequate clothing for me in this climate. No, thank you, Lieutenant Torres. I would rather take my chances on the air drying them, even if I do have to wait until tomorrow to get dressed again."
"We could bring them inside the cave and leave them near the fire. You could cuddle up next to them and to the fire to stay warm."
"Better than risking losing them forever, I guess. I think I'd rather stay in our den and stay warm another way. Care to join me?"
"We'd better bring the clothes in first." Looking at the sky, he had to concur. A darker cloud that was shedding what appeared to be a heavy rain was coming straight for them. Between the two of them they managed to gather up Tom's wardrobe. They had to run the last few meters to the cave with rain pounding down around them.
"Your clothes look like they need to get dry, too, Be'," he joked. The pouring rain had not soaked the winter jacket she'd put on to go outside, but it was almost as damp as Tom's laundry was. Tom built the fire up while B'Elanna scattered his clothes on rocks and over their door hanging.
Tom sat on a rock near the fireplace with the blanket around him, picking away at his hair. "Whatever are you doing, Tom? You're making your hair look worse with all of that fussing."
"This soap makes it stick out all over."
B'Elanna sat down next to him. "Let me do that for you."
After a few moments of silence, he asked, "Well, can you do anything with it?"
"Why are you worried so much about your hair, Tom?"
"I have such a high forehead."
She laughed. "For such a student of all things Klingon, you should be glad. You have a very distinguished Klingon hairline. With your red beard, it's very attractive."
"Reddish-gold beard, Lieutenant."
"Reddish-gold. I stand corrected, Mr. Paris. How could I have made such a mistake?" Actually, his forehead was very handsome. She kissed it. So smooth. She kissed his forehead again, then his cheeks, nose, and the lips in the middle of his rapidly-filling in reddish-gold beard. Moving downward, she kissed him some more on the matching fuzzy surface at the base of his neck, and below.
"Okay, Be', that's enough. What if a Voyager away team should beam down here right this minute, with me nude under this blanket and you kissing my chest like that? Everyone will presume we've been doing exactly what we have beeay, ing during our sojourn at this lovely tourist stopover." He paused a moment, considering, "I wonder what the betting line is?"
"Betting line! It doesn't matter what the line is, as long as no one can confirm it! Let them think what they like. As long as we aren't actually doing anything when they get here, what can they prove? Besides, you know they won't beam down too casually after all that's happened here before. They'll signal us through our badges and then beam the two of us back on board."
After several minutes of steadily increasing romantic activity, Tom whispered into her ear, "I think it's time for one of our wash day lust adjournments, don't you think?"
"Mm, you're probably right. Get inside that den, Mr. Paris. I'll follow you in a minute."
As Tom crawled into bed, B'Elanna stripped off her outer jacket. It still bore the comm badge she'd taken off her jumpsuit when the latter was being laundered. Spreading her jacket outside of their crypt next to Tom's, B'Elanna called in to him, "Are you ready for some company?"
"Right now would not be soon enough, Lieutenant."
A knowing smile on her face, Lieutenant Torres climbed into their den to enjoy herself with Lieutenant Paris.
"Any response to our signals, Mr. Tuvok?"
"No, Captain. There is no reply to our hail. The nebula might be affecting the planet's atmosphere, however. It has some volatile properties that have masked our signals previously."
A few minutes later, Voyager assumed orbit over Tantrum IV. Tuvok offered, "There are still no replies to our hails, Captain."
"Scan the surface, Mr. Kim."
"Captain, there seem to be two life signs in a cave, lying in what appears to be some kind of vegetative matter."
The captain turned to her first officer. "What do you think, Commander?"
"With the rigorous climate, they might be unconscious from the cold. It's daytime where they are."
"Let's not take any more chances at not getting them back. Mr. Kim, can we transport them out of there?"
"We should be able to, Captain."
"Then transport that entire pile of 'vegetative matter' and the lifesigns that go with it directly to Sickbay. I'm going to go down to check on Lieutenant Torres and Mr. Paris. Commander Chakotay, you have the conn."
When Captain Janeway reached Sickbay, she was greeted by the sight of a half-naked Tom Paris sitting on a biobed, wrapped in a Starfleet issue sleeping bag/blanket, receiving some kind of treatment from the Doctor. To get to her helmsman, the captain had to step around a large pile of what appeared to be hay, strewn with blankets, a wrist light, and various articles of clothing, primarily of the underwear type. She was relieved that he looked only a little the worse for wear. Her other missing officer was nowhere in evidence, however.
"Where's Lieutenant Torres?"
"After breaking Mr. Paris' collarbone, she pulled on her clothing and stormed out of Sickbay, Captain. Kes tried to stop her so that I could examine her for injury or illness, but she was extremely hostile."
One look at the faces of Tom and Kes revealed that there was a lot more to this story she needed to know. 'Not a very happy story', she thought.
"Why did she attack you, Tom?"
"The two lieutenants arrived *flagrante delicto*, Captain," the Doctor answered for his patient.
"That is not what happened!" Tom grunted through clenched teeth. Then he added gloomily, "Not quite, anyway. Close enough, I guess. We were asleep, wrapped in each others arms, and from the way we weren't dressed, it wasn't too hard to figure out what we'd just been doing. When we woke up, B'Elanna got so upset she punched me. It was a reflex, Captain; she didn't mean to break my bones or anything."
"I'm sorry, Tom."
"We expected you to hail us first when you came back for us."
"We've been trying to raise you for some time. Where are your comm badges?"
"I don't know. Wait a minute. We put them on our cold weather jackets when we were washing our clothes. My clothes were still wet, and I was cold. That's why we were inside the den, in bed . . . well, anyway. I guess the jackets were outside We couldn't hear your hails." Tom sighed and shook his head sadly. "Your timing could've been worse, I guess, but not by much."
The captain addressed the Doctor and Kes. "This is to remain just between us, a strictly confidential matter, is that understood?"
The Doctor answered her with confidence, "Of course, Captain. That's what I already told everyone."
At Kes' dismayed look, Captain Janeway realized that she had not yet gotten the entire story.
Kes responded. "Captain, several of the crew had been in Sickbay being treated for injuries from a holodeck accident. They were playing hoverball with the safeties off, and there was a collision. They were just leaving when Tom and B'Elanna were beamed in."
"Dalby, Henley, Chell, and Golwat. Some of the biggest gossips aboard ship. The story will be all over Voyager in an hour, if it isn't already." Tom's bitterness was painful to hear.
The captain went over to Tom and patted his shoulder. "I'm sorry, Tom. I think you're probably right about that." She shook her head. "Lieutenant, I'll need a full report about your stay on Tantrum, but it goes without saying you may eliminate anything of a more personal nature. What you've already told me is complete enough."
"We named the star that, Tom. Your report should be about your stay on the planet Tantrum IV.'"
"The name fits too well, Captain." His voice was expressionless, as if he were still in shock at what had happened.
"Well, we're finished here with the clavicle repair, Lieutenant, and I think we've healed all of the bite marks, too. Let us know if we missed any. Kes, will you please contact Lieutenant Torres and have her come back to Sickbay. I need to do her medical scan."
Tom looked from the Doctor to the captain. "Can't I go to her and do that for you, Doc? I need to talk to her anyway, and I am a field medic. We didn't have it too bad down there, Captain. I'm sure that there isn't anything so serious that I can't handle the scan myself."
The Doctor shrugged his shoulders. "I would prefer that she come in here, but if you insist, Captain . . . "
"I do, Doctor."
"Well, then. Kes, if you will replicate the Lieutenant some clothing, he can take care of that medical scan for me."
The captain was extremely concerned about Tom's state of mind as she watched the dull way he accepted one of the larger medical tricorders used in Sickbay from the Doctor. By the look on Kes' face as she handed Tom his uniform, the Captain could see that she was just as worried about him.
As Tom stood up, the sleeping bag still wrapped around him, he said, "By the way, Captain. There's a lot of those roots and some other things in that cave. One afternoon B'Elanna and I combed through the talus from where we mined the dilithium out of the cliff and found some good-sized chips of dilithium that we'd missed. We added them to the bag of dilithium crystals that Neelix and Larson left behind when they were transported to Voyager. You'll want to beam that up. We found some leaves Kes might want to plant in the hydroponics bay, too. They made a pretty good drink."
"Of course, Tom," she said kindly. "Is there anything else you want from down there?"
"No, Captain. Everything I want is up here now."
Kes put out her hand and grabbed one of his. Tom returned a feeble smile to her before going behind a screen to dress.
"Well, then, is someone going to clean up that mess over there? It's extremely unsanitary to have all that dried vegetation in here," complained the EMH.
"I'll send someone in, Doctor." The captain looked at the bed of straw as she left Sickbay. 'What tales that hay could tell,' she thought sadly.
B'Elanna stalked out of her bathroom, dressed in a terry robe and worrying her hair with a terrycloth towel. Try as she might, she could not remove the sensation of being dirty. Her humiliation was complete. Chell, Dalby, Henley, Golwat. Old gossips, the lot of them. She would never be able to show herself outside of her quarters again without someone sniggering behind her back.
"Go away," she yelled out to whoever was already at the door of her quarters, no doubt to gloat and/or pry.
"It's me, Tom. The Doctor sent me to . . . ."
"I don't want to talk to you, Paris. Ever again."
"B'Elanna, it's going to be even worse for us if someone comes by now with me outside your door. Please let me in, B'Elanna. We need to talk."
She did not want to talk to him, but he was right. Having him hovering outside of her door all day would leave them open to even more rumors if anyone saw him. "Enter."
He walked in haltingly. From the strand of straw sticking in his hair behind his ear and the beard still on his face, she could tell he hadn't gone back to his own quarters yet. Tom was the one person who could come into her quarters now who would not be prying or gloating about what had happened; and they did have to talk.
"I'm sorry I hit you. Did I do any damage?"
"Just a broken clavicle. The Doctor fixed me up. He said that if it was our wedding night, it would even be good luck." His attempt at humor must have sounded weak even to him, as he was having a difficult trying to smile.
"I'm sorry, Tom. I just got so angry at all of them looking at us like that, the way we were . . . undressed, like that." She closed her eyes. "You know they're going to be laughing at us with everyone. By the time they're finished, everyone will be saying we were having sex in the middle of Sickbay!"
"B'Elanna, we knew the crew would assume we were doing . . . what we were doing. It'll blow over. Everything does, eventually."
"I don't care they were *assuming* that we were sleeping together! As long as they couldn't prove it, we could ignore the whole thing! I can't stand the idea of being the jokes of Voyager, can you?"
"I have the solution. Marry me. No one is very interested in the sex lives of married people, only the participants. It's expected--boring, even. The whole thing will die out in no time. And then the broken collarbone will be good luck for us."
"Don't be ridiculous, Paris. Us, married?"
"We seemed to get along pretty well down there on Tantrum IV, B'Elanna. That's what they called the planet."
"We were alone, Paris. There was hardly anything to fight about."
"If we could get along down there, doing what we had to do when our lives were at stake, I should think we would have a pretty good shot at being happy here on Voyager."
"Don't be absurd." She paced around her quarters, her anger building. "What are we going to say, Paris? They'll never let this go."
His mouth thinned to a grim line. "Oh, I'm sure you can think of something to tell them, Lieutenant. How about, 'It was a matter of survival, that's all. I'd do anything to survive, even sleep with Tom Paris.' Plenty of people will believe you!" he said, bitterly.
Her temper flared. "Is that what you're going to say? I'd even sleep with Torres?"
"I don't plan on saying anything at all, B'Elanna. It isn't anyone's business but ours. And I guess, maybe Captain Janeway's and the Doctor's, but they already know what they need to know about it. I love you, B'Elanna. I said that down there on the planet, but I don't think you realize how much I meant it. The last thing I'm going to do is cheapen the best experience I ever had by telling jokes about he aespecially since I'd be lying if I said it was anything but a fantasy come true." He looked down at the floor, as if to gather his courage, and said, "B'Elanna, I really do love you. Anything you want from me, I'll do. And I am asking you to marry me--not because of Klingon custom, but because I really want to marry you."
Tom walked over to B'Elanna, hoping he could calm her down. Lifting his arms, he tried to put them around her, but B'Elanna was in a dangerous mood. She would not be comforted and slapped his hands away, yelling "Go away, Paris!"
Seeing it was a lost cause, Tom headed for the door, leaving the device he was carrying on her table as he passed it. "Fine, then, if that's the way you want it, I wouldn't dream of bothering you any more. Here's the medical scanner, Lieutenant Torres. Either take the readings yourself or go to Sickbay and have the Doctor do it, but one way or the other, it has to be done. The Doctor needs the information for his records."
When Tom reached the door, he hesitated as he was about to leave. Turning his body to look at her from over his shoulder, he said, wistfully, "And B'Elanna, if you ever change your mind about my . . . what I just said, you know how to find me."
Her back was to him. When she did not turn around, Tom faced reality and walked out the door.
A few people reached out sympathetically to Tom and B'Elanna upon their return. Chakotay spoke with Torres, offering his services if she wished to commune with her spirit guide, assuming that she wasn't planning on trying to kill it again. He knew how badly she was feeling when she didn't laugh at his attempt at humor.
Captain Janeway went to dinner with Tom in the mess hall his first night back. There was lots of buzzing, but no open taunts during that meal.
Lieutenant Ayala, to B'Elanna's surprise, came to her and informed her that if anyone bothered her about what had happened, she was to come to him and he would 'take care of it.' Although B'Elanna felt confident that she could 'take care of it' herself, she thanked him anyway. The former Maquis also confronted Tom; but since the helmsman refused to respond to Ayala's pumping him for information, Ayala was satisfied that Tom was not gloating about what had happened and had told him he'd help him, too, if necessary.
Megan Delaney and Gerron Tem invited Tom to dinner in Meg's quarters, spending the entire evening without once asking him any questions about his experiences on the planet. He was very grateful.
The most supportive were Harry and Kes, who visited Tom and B'Elanna as often as possible. Except when Harry was with his fiancée, he stayed with Tom virtually every moment. Kes made it a point to keep B'Elanna company as much as she could. Although Harry, Kes, Tom and B'Elanna had spent time on the Holodeck as a group, B'Elanna had not felt particularly close to the Ocampan before. She now discovered, much to her surprise, that Kes was a better friend than she'd realized. For the first time on Voyager and one the few times in her life, B'Elanna found herself with a close female friend.
Overall, however, to say that their return to Voyager was hellish for Lieutenant Torres and Lieutenant Paris would be to sugarcoat their experiences.
Walking into a room or turbolift, hurrying down a corridor, or going to the mess hall for a meal--all were ordeals marked by whispers, stares, open laughter, and/or the behind-the-hand sniggering that B'Elanna had accurately predicted and hated with a passion. Remembering the times that she had indulged herself with a bit of gossip at someone's expense made her cringe, now that she was the object of such talk.
Whenever possible, she kept her conversations to strictly business concerns, as any opening at all for casual conversation resulted in her being pumped for information. "What was it like down there?" "The nights were really cold, weren't they?" "Just how good is Tom Paris in bed, anyway?" The last was only asked if the questioner was well out of B'Elanna's reach, as her rage was easily unleashed. B'Elanna decided that there was no doubt the Maquis and Starfleet crews had merged together comfortably after three years in the Delta Quadrant. She could detect no difference in the curiosity level or the enjoyment of her discomfiture between the members of the two crews.
B'Elanna would have thought it impossible, but Tom had it worse. Virtually everyone assumed he had taken advantage of the situation to seduce B'Elanna Torres. Only his refusal to respond to the worst of the heckling kept him from becoming involved in several fights. The talk became coarser the more he tried to ignore the speaker. Tom had had plenty of experience with dealing with the nastiness that people were capable of, thanks to having had to live with his Caldik Prime experience for so many years. He had always used humor to blunt the worst of the provoking behavior, but even he was unprepared for exactly how personal the comments could get. Apparently the lure of a good laugh because of a good old fashioned sexual affair, especially one that had become public knowledge in a way that invited the most obnoxious jokes, beat even death and dishonor as a hot topic in a closed society.
The third night they were back, Tom had a particularly difficult time in Sandrine's. While playing pool with Harry as his partner against Megan and Gerron, a group of men hung around the periphery, needling Tom whenever he bent down to take a shot. "How was she, Paris?" "Klingon lust fun for you?" "Finally got a chance to fuck her, the way you didn't when Vorik stepped in that time, right, Lieutenant?"
The last was too much for Tom. Slamming his cuestick against the table, he yelled out, "You want to know what Torres and I did on the planet? Fine, I'll tell you." The room hushed expectantly. "We found some food. We found a cam, for shelter. We built ourselves a nice, warm fire. We waited for you to come get us. And anything else is none of your damned business!"
The room erupted in hoots when Tom stormed out of the door, his partners from the pool table at his heels. When they caught up with Tom, he was clearly shaken and upset but said mildly, "Thanks, I appreciate your worrying about me, but it's okay. I think I just need to hole up in my quarters for tonight. It's a lot quieter there. I think that quiet is exactly what I want right now. I'm sorry I lost my temper . . ."
"Tom, they were trying to provoke you," Megan said, commiserating with him.
Tom's smile was sad as he grabbed her hand, then Gerron's and Harry's in turn, before walking down the corridor to the turbolift.
When Captain Janeway heard about what had happened at Sandrine's she took immediate action. She made a shipwide announcement, stating that in any physical altercation between Lieutenant Torres or Lieutenant Paris and another person, the other person would be assumed to be the perpetrator and would be sent to the brig. This blunted the most aggressive approaches but did not eliminate them entirely. Her stance also meant that the bridge became a refuge for both officers, since Janeway would not brook so much as a rude glance at either Tom or B'Elanna without a glare and a sharp word to the one who had been so bold.
In the end, however, Tom's and B'Elanna's ordeal was ended through the unexpected intervention of Harry and Kes, who provided the crew with another hot topic for discussion by announcing the stunning news that they were getting married. Everyone was invited to their wedding reception in Sandrine's the next night. Harry asked Tom to be his Best Man. Kes pleaded with B'Elanna, who finally agreed to be Maid of Honor.
"And by the authority invested in me as captain of this vessel, I now pronounce you man and wife. You may kiss the bride. Harry, Kes, that's your cue." Captain Janeway happily said those words in front of the intimate group in her ready room; and the radiant bride and her exultant groom gladly complied with the captain's request.
From where Tom stood next to Harry, he could see a dark head on the other side of the newlyweds. The Maid of Honor was holding Kes' bouquet of white roses as the newly wedded couple embraced. Tom and B'Elanna's eyes met for a brief second before her eyes jumped away from his. He wondered if she even remembered his proposal to her only a few days before, for if she did, there was no sign from the chief engineer.
"Harry, Kes, best wishes for love and happiness always." Tom said a moment later, giving each of them a quick hug before stepping back to let the others present take their turn. Captain Janeway, Chakotay, and Neelix congratulated them in a similar manner to Tom. Tuvok made the Vulcan sign of greeting for them, saying, "Peace and long life," prompting the ritualized reply, "Live long and prosper," from Harry and Kes in unison.
The Doctor pumped Harry's hand and planted a kiss on Kes' cheek. In the end, he had been assigned the role of father of the bride, with Neelix, more or less graciously, ceding the place to him and assuming instead the "big brother" role he had said he had wished to claim. A few others from the bridge crew were also there, including Ayala, Lang, and Grimes, but Kes had not wanted to be overwhelmed at the ceremony. She had confessed to B'Elanna that the reception would be bad enough.
The last to greet the newly married couple was B'Elanna. "Well, Starfleet, now you've gone and done it," she said, smiling at Harry. They embraced warmly. "And Kes, be happy."
Kes' face shone as the two women hugged. "B'Elanna, thank you for your help in making this day the best day of my life."
"So far," said B'Elanna in reply. Everyone present laughed. Even Tom was able to manage a sad chuckle.
"Well, everyone, the crowd in Sandrine's must be very impatient for the arrival of the happy couple. Are we ready to satisfy them?" The captain took Chakotay's arm to lead everyone out to the turbolift. Tom was nearest the windows that looked out upon the starfield and farthest from the door, but he quickly realized that he was not going to be the last one to leave. There was one person from the bridal party who was hanging back from the doorway.
"B'Elanna? Aren't you coming?"
"Go on ahead, Tom."
He wasn't sure what to say. He doubted that the captain expected anyone to be staying on alone in her private sanctum after the ceremony was over. He wasn't sure what her response would be if she knew about it. On the other hand, confronting Lieutenant Torres with this kind of information was likely to result in a major explosion, especially now, so he said only, "I'll wait for you by the turbolift."
"Thanks, Tom, but our coming into Sandrine's together isn't the best idea I've ever heard. There's been enough attention on us already."
Tom looked at her, trying to gauge her mood. She needed to be alone. Nodding in her direction, he left the ready room.
B'Elanna walked up to the couch beneath the windows, sitting on it sideways to enable her to see the stars as she lounged there. She knew very well that the captain might be upset with her for staying in her ready room after everyone was gone, but B'Elanna had to think. She had avoided a close examination of what had happened between Tom and herself up to now. From the information that had come to her about the events occurring to the helmsman during the past few days, she knew it was time she did. B'Elanna had a decision to make, and it was only fair that she make it now. Going to Sandrine's afterwards was something that she dreaded doing, even though she knew she had to go.
B'Elanna was still holding Kes' bouquet.
The party was in full swing when B'Elanna finally walked into Sandrine's. She was grateful that the commotion hid her entrance from most of the guests. Greeting several of her subordinates from Engineering and saying hello to a few of the former Maquis with whom she had served on Chakotay's ship, B'Elanna walked up to the bar. Captain Janeway and Chakotay were standing there, flanking the bride and groom in front of the polished wooden counter.
"B'Elanna! We were just wondering where you were. Join the party. Everyone is having a blast. Neelix has really outdone himself today," said Harry, his voice pitched higher than usual in his excitement.
"Well, here I am, Starfleet. Here's your bouquet, Kes. I forgot to give it back to you."
Kes accepted the flowers while studying B'Elanna's face intently. Her concern was evident. "Are you all right, B'Elanna? I was getting worried when I didn't see you."
"I'm fine. You don't have to worry about me." The half-Klingon woman paused, her eyes searching the room. " Kes, you don't happen to know where the Best Man disappeared to, do you?"
"He's over in the far corner booth, B'Elanna, with Gerron and Megan. Why don't you join them?"
B'Elanna's reply was soft and hard to hear against the exultant commotion of the reception. "I intend to, Kes."
With quick nods to the captain and first officer, and after taking a very obvious, very deep breath, B'Elanna started walking toward the far corner of the room. As she dodged around the guests, attention was drawn to her, particularly after it became obvious where she was headed. She was only a few meters from the booth when the one she had come to see raised his head and saw her approach.
"B'Elanna, here, take this seat. I can find another."
"That's okay, Tom. I would rather you stayed. I was hoping to talk with you."
"Megan, would you like to dance?" asked Gerron.
"I was wondering when you were going to get around to asking me to do that!" Winking as she stood up, Megan said, "We'll see you two on the dance floor!" As the couple went to the dance floor, they intercepted Jenny Delaney, who was about to return to the booth with some hors d'oeurves. "Not now, Jenny, leave them alone!" Megan said in a stage whisper to her bewildered sister.
"Nice wedding, don't you think?" Tom offered, taking the side of the booth that Meg and Gerron had vacated.
"Yes, very nice. They seem happy. I can still hardly believe it, though. Did you have any idea before we were . . . we left the ship for that mission that they were even interested in each other?"
Tom thought a moment. "Yes and no. Kes always has fussed a little over Harry, and whenever the four of us got together, he seemed really happy. I guess in the back of my mind I thought they liked each other more than a little, but to be engaged in a week, and married in less than two weeks, no, that WAS a surprise."
"Neelix seems to be taking it well."
"I think Neelix is relieved that Harry is going to be doing the honors for Kes' Elogium. He wasn't looking forward to . . . " Tom's voice died out when he realized the subject to which they had somehow drifted.
She didn't get upset. "I think you're right. Harry will be much more . . . enthusiastic about being a father."
They shared a relieved expression at getting past the shoals of that remark. "In fact," she went on, "when you consider how compressed Kes' life span is, I guess it makes sense for them to have gotten married as soon as they realized that they wanted to. They aren't going to have that long together under the best of circumstances. Five or six years, that's all they'll have."
Tom nodded, his mood more sober. "Yes, sometimes people don't get as much time together with someone they love as they'd like."
B'Elanna braved a direct look at him then, searching his face. The sincere Paris. The one that she had been hoping would be in residence tonight. "Yes, Tom. Not enough time at all." She looked down at the table to strengthen her resolve, then turned back to him. "I've wanted to talk to you about that." She gulped, then went on. "I wanted to tell you that I'm sorry about the way I ripped into you when you came to see me in my quarters."
"I'm just sorry the whole thing happened the way it did, Be'. The way we came back here, the whole thing. I didn't want it to be that way," he replied.
"I know that, Tom. We both wanted it to be different. I know we can't just do it all over again, like kids do when they are playing some game and want to wipe away what happened. It won't wipe away. But maybe, I hope, we can be friends again, like we were before, and just go on from there. Do you think that it would be possible for the two of us to do that?"
He thought he knew what she was saying. Back to the turbolift after the "*pon farr* thing." Right about now, that would be okay with him, as long as he could still be careful what to wish for, too. "Absolutely, B'Elanna. Back to before." He held out his hand, and she grasped it in her right hand quickly before bringing her hand back to its mate directly in front of her.
They sat for several seconds before both of them started to say something. They laughed, and then Tom insisted, "You first B'Elanna. I'm always talking."
She smiled at him, and then said, "You know, Tom, after you left that tricorder with me, I decided I might as well get the Doctor off my back and used it on myself. Than I stared at the thing for about an hour before finally being able to show my face out my door to bring it to sickbay. When I got there, the Doctor insisted on doing his own scans anyway--as if I didn't know how to use a tricorder!" Her eyes flashed sharply in indignation at the memory.
Carefully keeping his face neutral to avoid being accused of being provocative, Tom remarked, "I'm sure he just wanted to make sure you were really okay. So, any adverse reactions from staying with me in that cavern, Lieutenant?"
"I believe his terminology was something like, 'No serious repercussions, Lieutenant Torres, you may return to your regular activities."
"That sounds like our Doctor, all right," he laughed.
"Yes?" He looked expectantly into her eyes, which had lost the hint of a sharp edge that they had when she'd sat down and were the shade of the richest dark chocolate.
"There is one thing more I have to say to you." She cleared her throat. "I don't think I've been fair to you." She averted her eyes and started to fondle the edge of a napkin that was sitting on the table in front of her, picking at a loose thread in the hem.
"In what way, B'Elanna?"
"When you came in with the tricorder and said you weren't going to say anything to anybody about . . .what we did . . ." She met his gaze directly, "I thought, sure, Helmboy is really going to be able to keep his mouth shut. I knew that you wouldn't be gloating, exactly, but I didn't see how you could not talk about it. But everyone I ask, Ayala, Gerron, even Harry, says that you've refused to talk about it. And that thing that happened that made the captain give that order, after you blew up and left Sandrine's the other night when the jokes got too . . ."
"Too coarse," he supplied for her.
"Yes, that's it, I guess. Well, anyway, I've been doing a lot of thinking about the last few days. I'm always underestimating you, aren't I, Tom?" She had to look away again in embarrassment.
"If you mean you expected me to treat you like some kind of conquest, then yes, you did underestimate me. B'Elanna, I meant it when I told you that being with you on Tantrum was the best time I ever had in my life. I'd like those days to go on forever, but that's up to you. I've told you how I feel."
She looked back at him, at his vulnerable face. All of his masks, the little tricks that he used to hide his soul away from potential hurt were absent; she could see that he was being completely open with her, perfectly sincere. "I want to believe you, Tom. I guess I know you really mean it now. I just don't think that anyone can ever promise forever."
"I can, and I am. If you want me."
B'Elanna hesitated, mulling over everything that she had learned about this man in the past three years and especially, in the last few days. A voice in her head whispered, 'you can never trust anyone but yourself, *be'Hom*. Anyone can tell you what you want to hear and then betray you, can leave you alone, whenever he wants.' Her memory stirred, and B'Elanna's conscience whispered back to her, 'And if you make someone a promise that you do not intend to keep, YOU are the betrayer.'
Taking a deep breath as she took a plunge into the uncharted depths of possibility, B'Elanna stretched out her arms and took Tom's long, beautiful hands into her own firm grasp. "I can't promise you forever, Tom. Not now, at least, but on Tantrum IV I did make a promise to you that I haven't kept--the one about seeing whether or not we may have a future together. I *have* been trying to pretend that it all didn't happen, just as you said I would, and that's pretty silly. Something *did* happen. So, I guess I need to see that promise through. I think you called it exploring what we can be to one another. But no commitments, Tom, I want that understood . . ."
His beatific smile stunned her into silence as he gripped her hands back tightly. "I understand, B'Elanna. No commitments and no explanations needed. But I'd like to know if Voyager's chief engineer would mind being kissed in public right now by the chief helmsman?"
"I don't think I'm ready for that public a display yet, Tom. Not after all that's happened." She looked around Sandrine's, crowded with their crew mates. Nodding her head towards the dance floor, she added, "However, there's a nice song playing, and the chief engineer wouldn't mind having the chief helmsman hold her close while they were d sling."
Jumping to his feet, the chief helmsman bowed to the chief engineer as she arose from her seat and walked over with him, hand in hand, to the open area where several couples were already dancing. The captain poked the commander to attract his attention to what was happening, and a hush fell over the conversations of everyone in the room.
All of the other dancing couples parted, as if choreographed, to allow Tom and B'Elanna access to the center of the floor, next to where the bride and groom were dancing. Kes smiled delightedly when she saw them approach, gesturing to Harry so that he would see his friends together, too. Bowing first to Harry and Kes, then to Megan and Gerron, who were beaming as they saw them come onto the floor together, Tom took B'Elanna into his arms. They took the closest of dance positions, their arms wrapped around each other, her cheek leaning against his chest and over his heart, his chin resting upon the top of her head. They began to move slowly to the music, now oblivious to anyone else who was on the floor with them.
"Think there will be any serious repercussions from dancing with me in public, Lieutenant Torres?"
She murmured into his shoulder, "I'm counting on it, Mr. Paris."
B'Elanna and Tom were quite accurate in their assumption that there would be repercussions from their dancing together in Sandrine's. The wedding of Kes and Harry Kim was superseded as the favorite subject up for general discussion. The true nature of the relationship between B'Elanna Torres and Thomas Eugene Paris became the major topic of inquiry once again.
The gossip mill aboard Voyager ground through the ship, from person to person. The initial report was that at the conclusion of Mr. and Mrs. Kim's wedding, Mr. Paris went to Lieutenant Torres' quarters and spent the night there. The subsequent speculation about what went on that evening between Lieutenant Torren. Id Mr. Paris was, for once, remarkably close to the events that actually took place.
A repercussion of quite another sort also was to occur to Lieutenants Torres and Paris a short time after the wedding, but this one had nothing at all to do with anything that happened at the reception held in Sandrine's that evening.
The Emergency Medical Hologram took great pride in the skills he had developed since his activation as a diagnostician, a surgeon, and a general practitioner--and justifiably so. Much as he (or his personality matrix sub-routines, to be more precise) would like to think he was infallible, however, in point of fact, he was not. A profound change in the status of two people was to take place due to the fact that the good Doctor's pronouncement to B'Elanna Torres several days earlier that she would experience no serious repercussions from her stay with Mr. Paris on Tantrum IV was an erroneous one.
It was true that as of the moment the EMH examined her with his advanced medical instrumentation, B'Elanna Torres had no medical condition of any note to be reported. It would be an extremely rare and, in some eyes, overcautious doctor who would examine the scans on Lieutenant Torres' ovaries to see if ovulation was imminent, based simply upon the fact that her birth canal and uterus contained a significant volume of semen consequent to certain activities that had taken place earlier that day. None of the doctors that comprised the database for the Doctor's matrix had ever been that cautious. Due to subsequent events, however, Voyager's EMH would make a note to include such an examination in the future whenever such a finding in the scans was made. He would also, in the future, conduct an additional scan to determine the viability of the sperm found within the semen in such an instance.
Within the hour after Lieutenant Torres left sickbay, an egg erupted from a follicle in her left ovary to begin its journey to its fate: either a short trip and eventual oblivion in a flood of menstrual blood, or a glorious future secured by the contribution of half the DNA essential for the creation of a new sentient being. At the same time, a host of eager sperm, swimming up the lovely lieutenant's Fallopian tubes with as much vigor and enthusiasm for their task as their progenitor had displayed in placing them in a position to do so were following their own destiny to oblivion or glory.
At a later date, the two lieutenants who were most intimately involved with this occurrence would rue the fact that, contrary to her usual practice of refusing to submit to any requests by the Doctor for an examination without first dragging her feet and arguing about its necessity for several days, upon this occasion Lieutenant Torres had complied immediately, before there was a new life to detect.
Return to With Jamelia in the Delta Quadrant
to read the next chapter, "Separation"