B'Elanna Torres glanced around Engineering one last time. The warp core, usually humming its steady rhythm of pulsing life, now lay quiet and dark. The consoles, which had flashed non-stop warnings(or so it seemed) for eight years, revealed only a steady blink here and there to give the assurance that Voyager was indeed docked and would never again fly through the stars.
Tears squeezed out of B'Elanna eyes. A museum. They were going to turn the glorious ship into a museum for people to wander around and marvel at. Her precious ship-- the only one in the Federation sporting slip stream technology-- would soon house only empty quarters and holograms of the crew performing various everyday tasks-- like ejecting warps cores and fighting the Borg.
That nearly made B'Elanna laugh. If Starfleet had cared at all about the crew, they would have shown parties in the mess hall, the two senior officer's excursions on the holodeck, the Doctor repairing various crew members, Tom complaining about nursing duties, Seven and Janeway butting heads-- the sort of things that really did go on.
"Are you ready?"
Torres nearly jumped three feet as Tom's arms slid around her small frame.
"Not quite the same, is it?" He asked softly.
"I didn't expect it to be."
"B'Elanna, don't hide it from me. You're going to miss this place."
She wiped at a tear angrily. "I know I will, Tom. I had hoped we'd never make it home."
"Me too." He drew in a deep breath. "Time to face the fireworks." At her confused glance he corrected himself. "My father."
As B'Elanna rematerialized on the hard marble floor of Headquarters, the first thing she was aware of was Earth's slightly higher gravitational pull. The next was of a Starfleet officer with admiral pips running towards Tom to engulf him in a hug. Cameras-- the old kinds with flashing lights and the newer microheat sensitive kind-- were buzzing to record the event which would be broadcasted from every station in every colony within the Federation. She felt sorely left out of the event until Tom turned and pulled her towards him, his arm staying firmly planted around her waist.
A figure ahead of them pushed the media out of the way so they could safely reach Admiral Owen Paris' huge office on the third floor of HQ.
"You'd think that in the twenty-fourth century there would be a better way of doing this!" Tom exclaimed after the door had been secured behind him.
"Relax, my boy. Even now the media wants to know everything that goes on up here." He slapped Tom on the back. "Especially when it comes to welcoming home a crew that has been missing for eight years."
Owen Paris looked over his son quickly. The shock of reddish blond hair had become a bit more blond, his eyes were still a piercing and challenging blue, but it was what he saw inside of his eyes that caused respect for his son to grow. Tom Paris' eyes spoke of true battles. Of facing death and living to tell about it. Of fighting aliens who didn't care one bit about you, of losing loved ones, of learning to love again.
The admiral's gaze suddenly swung to the object of his son's love. Half Human, half Klingon B'Elanna Torres. Former Maquis. Voyager's Chief Engineer. And completely, in his opinion, wrong for his son and his family. Forcing his disdain of the woman deep inside of him, Owen Paris reached out and shook her hand as Tom proudly introduced her.
"Our family hopes you will join us for dinner this evening, Miss Torres." Owen found himself saying.
B'Elanna glanced at Tom. She wasn't Betazoid, but it was obvious to her that his father did not like her. For what reason, she couldn't fathom.
"Of course we'll stay, Dad." Tom rolled his eyes. "For the night too if you'll allow it."
"Of course, of course." Briefly, he wondered about the sleeping arrangements.
But, of course, there was no need to worry. After dinner and an evening of pleasant talking about Voyager's eight year travels, Moira and Kathleen led B'Elanna down to a guest room she could use.
As B'Elanna lay in the darkness, cool sheets covering her body as she relaxed to the stronger pull of Terra's gravity on her body, she thought back over the evening.
Admiral Paris hadn't lived up to his name of being a cold-hearted jerk, in her opinion. He was very attentive towards Tom and had been eager to hear of everything that had occurred during the last eight years. Especially anything that had to do with the Borg.
Moira and Kathleen, Tom's older and very beautiful sisters, had concentrated on bringing B'Elanna, who had to admit she was a bit more shy than usual, into the conversation. They continually pumped her for information concerning the engineering aspects of each battle- which the admiral was soon eagerly awaiting to hear.
Outsider her window, leafy ivy grew over a lattice structure. She could hear the wind blowing softly through the leaves and tiny birds whimpering for their own dinner meal. Her lasts thoughts before drifting off to sleep was how peacefully different it was compared to the steady hum of Voyager where she was always monitoring the sounds and rhythms of the ship-- even in her sleep.
B'Elanna felt a panic rising inside of her. Something was wrong with Voyager. Why couldn't she feel the humming of the inertial dampers working? Why was it that the warp core stood silent instead of vibrating the ship? What was going on?! With a start, she sat straight up in bed....and then laughed at her foolishness. Nothing was wrong. She had simply become too accustomed to the sounds and feels of a ship.
Glancing out of her window, B'Elanna could see that the sun was just beginning to rise. Padding over on bare feet, she was able to view the birds that had been whimpering the night before. Tiny, ugly things, she mused. But they were cared for and their own kind loved them. She wrapped her arms around herself with a sudden shiver in the early morning. Their own kind. She didn't have a 'people' to love her in that sense. She was a blend. A half-breed. Even now, after all she'd gone through to prove herself, she still felt like the tiny little girl who had hidden under her bed because some kids at the playground hadn't wanted to play pre-squares with her. Alone. Left out. Loved by so few.
There was no time for this. Briskly, B'Elanna turned from the window and pulled her nightgown off to be replaced with the Starfleet uniform from her bags. Funny. Eight years ago, she hated what the uniform stood for and would have gladly pushed it aside. But now, she didn't want to give it up. Running a brush through her short brown hair, she quickly dusted some light make up over her features and then hurried out of the room after tidying up a bit.
"You just missed him." Moira grinned from her place at the long table at which she sat eating breakfast. "He should be back in a little bit. Help yourself." She nodded to the sideboard which held different fruits and cereals.
"Thanks." B'Elanna took a few pieces of fruit, not much of an early morning eater, and then sat down with Moira.
"Do you love him?"
The question caused B'Elanna to drop the strawberry she was about to bite into. Her head snapped up to see if Moira was serious or just teasing her. "Yes, I do." She finally answered.
Moira nodded. "I think he loves you too."
"He does." She bit the end of the strawberry, hard.
"Tom hasn't fallen in love since Odile." Moira glanced up at her suddenly. "Did he tell you about her?"
"Yes." Images of the Subu prison camp where many of the crew-- including her-- had shared their life story flooded her mind. She may have told Moira about that ordeal, it hadn't been mentioned last night, but a sudden beep in the communications systems interrupted them.
"I've got it!" Moira jumped up, a blush flooding her cheeks.
B'Elanna tried to hide a smile. Moira was expecting a certain young man to call with a job opportunity today and was obviously very excited.
A minute later, she returned with a sad look on her face. "It wasn't them. It was Daddy. He wants you to head over to his office after breakfast. Something about going over engine specifications for putting Voyager in the museum."
B'Elanna nodded quickly and stood. "Then I'd better head over right away. I'll see you later, Moira." Grabbing a few more grapes, she left the table and headed to the in-house transporter. By the time she stood at the admiral's office, she was done with the grapes and wondering exactly what was going on. Anyone could take care of engine specifications. Just because she was the best for the job didn't mean Starfleet would listen to her.
"Miss Torres. Thank you for coming. Sit. Sit." Admiral Paris gestured to the chair quickly as he wandered around his room. "I'm sure you know that I haven't called you here for simple engine specs."
She nodded once, still standing. "I had assumed that, sir."
"Well, fact of the matter is, Tom and I had a long talk last night." Owen stopped and looked over his wall of Starfleet Paris'. "He doesn't' think you're the right girl for him."
B'Elanna felt as though all of the oxygen in her lungs had been pounded out. "Tom said that?" she asked in bewilderment. That wasn't true! Her Tom would never say that!
"Not at first," Owen admitted. "But after we talked for awhile and he began to think of other girls he'd like to rekindle friendships with, he thought it would be best if you two spilt up."
"You're lying." Her voice was very low and threatening. So what if this man was an admiral. Right now, he was a liar.
"I know he wasn't at home when you woke up, B'Elanna. He's in France visiting Odile's cousin, Merie. He couldn't face you and asked me to give you this."
She eyed the tiny crystal chip in his hand before hesitantly reaching out to claim it.
"You can view it from my console if you wish."
B'Elanna strode to the other side of the desk and pushed the chip inside.
"Audio only." The computer told her.
"Proceed." She said the words just as the admiral opened his mouth to speak them.
"B'Ela." Tom's voice filled the room. "I know that what I'm about to say will come as a shock to you, but I truly feel that this is the only way.
"While we were out in the Delta Quadrant, I felt our relationship was ok to continue with. There really wasn't too much chance or hope that we'd reach home before we died. And I could live with that. It was because I knew I probably wouldn't survive the next year that I felt a relationship with you was feasible.
"But, now we're home. I have to face the music and realize that I'm not the only one here now. There's more than just your or I in our relationship. There are both of our families to be considered. I have talked at great length with my father, and I've decided that bringing a half-Klingon bride home is unacceptable. I'm sorry. But that's how it must be. Good bye."
B'Elanna stared in shock at the console. Bringing her eyes up to look at the admiral, she found him bestowing his prideful gaze on a row of smiling Starfleet officers framed in gold. Parises on Vulcan. Parises on Mars. Parises at the signing of the Cardassian Peace Treaty. And, the most recent, Owen Paris hugging his son for the first time in eight years.
"Oh, I understand perfectly. I'm not good enough for your little family." She pushed out of the chair and stood to her full height of barely over five feet and glared at him.
"Now, Miss Torres, you know that's not true." Owen turned around slowly. "You're just not the right type of person.:
"Because I'm part Klingon." She seethed. "I'm sorry, Admiral, that I wasn't born perfect like you. I'm not full human and I don't regret it." It was a lie. She would have done anything to be full human, but surely couldn't tell him that!
"B'Elanna please, this has nothing to do with your heritage."
"It doesn't?" She took a menacing step forward. "I'm not the right 'type' for your precious son. Whom, I might add, you alienated yourself from until we returned and were in the lime light."
"The fact that your ancestry is different from ours is not the problem." Owen glared at the younger woman. "It's the fact that your ancestors are known for their violence. I don't want my grandchildren raised around that unnecessary evil."
"Unnecessary evil?! Violent!? I'll have to you know that my mother raised me with Klingon traditions of having honor, not all of it is violent. And who was it that said I clung to the traditions anyways?"
"There's no need for bad blood to come between us." Owen splayed his hands over the desk. "I think that a post can be arranged so you can finish your Starfleet training."
"No. I don't ever want to see Starfleet again if this is what you're all like." Spinning on her heel, B'Elanna Torres marched out the door, past the secretary, and out of HQ forever.
Pushing the tears deep inside of her, she made her way to a small coffee house that had been there since her days of the Academy. There was a booth in the back, kind of off in a dark corner, it had been her favorite place to hide from the other students. Now, she made her way back there and dropped into the familiar old seat.
Bowing her head down, B'Elanna allowed her hair to cover her face as tears of humiliation slid over her brown cheeks. Prejudice. It was thought to be as outdated as the airplane, but apparently it was still very much alive in some.
"B'Elanna? B'Elanna Torres?"
She lifted her head at the insistence of a man who stood in front of her. He looked vaguely familiar, but she couldn't place his blond hair and the smattering of freckles across the bridge of his nose.
"It's me. James Chesney."
A look of surprise mixed with shock finally registered over her features. "James.." Instantly, she remembered the good friend she had drifted from as they both chose their separate paths of life so long ago. She stared at him in wonder. Realizing what an idiot she must look like, she gestured to the seat across from her. "Have a seat."
He did. "What's wrong?"
She wiped at her eyes and cheeks furiously as though by getting rid of the tears would remove the memory from James' mind. "Nothing."
"You never cried easily, B'Elanna." He flagged down a waitress and ordered a cup of coffee for them both. "Tell me about it."
"It's just Starfleet."
Gray eyes instantly clouded over. "Had a run in with them?"
"Not them, one admiral."
"Owen Paris." She sighed and looked down at her hands. "Apparently, he's got some prejudices about Klingons."
"Admirals' opinions never bothered you before. Why now?"
"I never was in love with their sons before."
"In love?!" James leaned forward. "With Tom Paris? I've heard he quite a ladies man. Scoundrel in my opinion."
"Hey! Watch what you say about him!"
"Or I might end up flat on my stomach with an angry warrior pinning my arms to my back again." He laughed at the memory. "I was such an idiot!"
"Yes, you were." Her own brown eyes twinkled at the memory.
James studied the soft linen napkin in his hands. "Tell me about it."
B'Elanna hesitated. Tell James about Tom? Well, why not? "We first met when I was in the Maquis. I was sullen and angry and he seemed determined to bait me every chance he got." Accepting a cup of coffee from the waitress, she continued and told James about their relationship from the time Tom had saved her life on the small planet in the Badlands until the previous few minutes she had spent in Owen Paris' office.
Two cups of coffee and a pastry later, she finished the story. James hadn't made any comments save to clarify something. He leaned back and looked at her for a long moment.
"B'Elanna, if I'm being presumptuous, just tell me." He interrupted himself with a short laugh. "Nevermind, I know you will." Both smiled at that. Taking a deep breath, he continued. "You've been away from the Alpha Quadrant for quite awhile and, it seems to me, you're not sure exactly where to go. You'll visit your mother, I'm sure. But after that, do you have plans?"
He nodded. "I couldn't help but hear through the rumor mills on Nessik about how much good you did for the Maquis as an engineer. And, you've proven yourself by serving as Voyager's chief engineer for eight years. I was wondering if you'd join a small crew of merchants who are in need of an engineer." He pulled a padd from his jacket. "I've joined them as their spokesperson. Call me Ambassador James if you like. Basically, our ship hauls goods from one planet to another so the different aliens may have trade relations with one another. It's all legal and actually a good way to come by money. You can drop out at nearly anytime, just give us a bit of a warning. And, until you decide exactly where you want to go, you'd be safe and not wandering."
B'Elanna swirled the contents of her cup. The coffee, black as coal dust, was now cold. Captain Janeway would be ashamed of her for not finishing it, she thought with a wry smile. Looking back up at James, she quickly brought back to mind the issue at hand. What did she have to lose? He'd said it didn't have to be permanent. It was legal. And she would be back around engines. Lifting her chin, she nodded firmly. "Count me in."