Freezing cold wind stung Tom's face. He blinked several times and tried to clear his eyes of the snow flying up and stinging his already red cheeks. Arms and leg muscles worked quickly to move them in the fluidic motions required of the strenuous activity. A tree was nearing him. With a swift shift of his hips, he avoided the tree and certain death or at least injury. Snow sprayed the trail behind him as he pushed farther on his two skis. Just a little faster. A little bit faster, he encouraged himself.
"Three minutes, six point eighteen seconds." The woman with curling brown hair shouted as he sped past her.
"Darn!" Turning around he glared at the slope. 2:22:87 had been his best time back during his academy days, apparently old age was catching up with him. He couldn't get under three minutes.
"If you crouch down a little bit more..." Merie suggested an encouraging smile crossing her darker colored features.
"I can't get it, Merie. Quit trying to patronize me." Tom snapped.
"Just a little more practice," She insisted pulling the purple parka around her more tightly.
"No." He stuck the poles into the snow and started to push himself along the flatter ground towards the lodge.
"Why do you do this, Tom?" she asked jogging along side of him. "It makes no sense to let this get to you. You're almost fifteen years older than you were when you got that record. It only stands to reason that you would have to put in some major practicing before you're in shape to ski again."
"I am in shape." He growled. "Apparently, I've been away from the sport too long though."
"Exactly. Give it a few more years. You can't expect to be a galactic champion after only two years of practice."
Tom didn't answer, but pushed harder and ripped off his skis and tossed the poles aside before he stomped into the lodge.
"Calm down, Starfleet."
He froze in his tracks and slowly turned to the familiar voice. A woman with long blond hair stood beside the bar.
"You are Starfleet, aren't you?" She asked swirling the contents of her glass lazily.
No one he knew, he breathed a sigh of relief. "Yeah, how'd you know?"
"Saw you on the news stuff. Couple years ago, came home from some deep space trip, right?"
"You could say that." Tom chuckled. "It was more like a life long mission cut short."
"It was supposed to take us seventy years to get back. We made it in eight." He glanced down at his wet clothes. "If you'll excuse me, I need to get changed."
"Of course." She murmured taking another sip of the liquid.
Tom rubbed his eyes wearily as he flopped down on his bed. Who was he fooling? B'Elanna's leaving him had been harder on him than anything else before in his life. He rolled over and punched the pillow beside him. Why did she have to do that to him, he wondered. After all they'd been through, she had suddenly decided she needed to be free and left him for some other guy-- or so, that's what she told his father who later relayed her message to him.
Tom stood up. It was time to go back. Time to get out of his rut of snow and back into Starfleet, if they'd have him. Throwing his personal belongings into the standard traveling case, he marched back down to the common room.
"Tom?" Merie's perfect black eyebrows came together in a question as she eyed his traveling case.
"I'm leaving." He told her quietly. "I appreciate all you've tried to do, Merie, but it's not working. You can't replace Odile or B'Elanna anymore than I can replace Hunter for you." He named her late fiancee with a twinge of sadness in his voice.
"I know." She stood on tip toe to kiss his cheek. "Thank you, Tom." Her brown eyes peered up into his. "You didn't replace Hunter, but you did help me get over him."
He nodded once to acknowledge her, and then transported back to his home near HQ.
"Tommy!!" His mother came at him with open arms to which he was enveloped in almost instantaneously.
"Hi, Mom." He wrapped his arms around her tightly.
"It's so good to have you back, boy. You are staying, right?"
"Of course." He smiled down at her as he released her.
"Good. I'll call Moira and have her come for dinner. I think she can get a transport out tonight." Mrs. Paris was ticking off a quick list of things she wanted to accomplish as her youngest son followed her around the house.
"Mom, mom. I've just come back from Switzerland, not the Delta Quadrant." He protested. "You don't need to go through all this trouble."
"Don't be silly." She patted her baby on his cheek. "Run along now and go visit your father. He'll be glad to see you."
Tom fought the urge to roll his eyes. He did, after all, need to speak to his dad about being reinstated in Starfleet again.
An hour later, he stood outside his father's office. The secretary, a woman who had known Tom since he was a boy, smiled at him and greeted him warmly.
"Hello, Tom. The admiral has stepped over to Janeway-Tighe's office, but you're welcome to go inside now if you like."
"Thanks," he said stepping inside. Nothing had changed in the years since B'Elanna had left and his father had broken the news to him in this room. The pictures of noteworthy Paris' still lined the walls, his computer console hummed quietly in the background, and small replicas of the admiral's earlier ships graced a shelf near the large window.
Tom sat down at his father's chair and leaned back. Comfortable really. He smiled as he imagined himself, as an admiral-- or maybe just a vice-admiral-- giving orders and marking padds with his signature of approval. Not an unrealistic dream actually. His father would be thrilled to have a member of his generation in Starfleet again, and after all that Janeway had gone through for the Maquis, Tom had been given the option of remaining as a full lieutenant.
But, something broke in him after B'Elanna left. She had such a central part of his life for nearly eight years, and now she was gone. The idea of serving Starfleet without her had caused him so much grief and pain, he'd been forced to leave everything of that life and return to a more simpler one. One that consisted of his old girlfriend's cousin. Even though Merie and him had never become more than close friends, everyone suspected they were more.
Tom absentmindedly slid open a drawer and glanced over the contents. A few data padds. A holopicture of his family during a vacation on Mars when he was eight. A holodeck program marked "Training 2." A few data chips for sending messages. Picking up one, he turned it over in his hand. "Admiral Janeway--OP," read the markings on it. Another read, "B'Elanna Torres-- TP." Tom froze and grasped that one. He'd never written a message to B'Elanna on that.
With a cautious glance towards the door, Tom slid the chip into the computer. He gave the command for audio only, and then turned the volume down slightly.
"B'Ela," Tom was startled as his 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."
Tom muted it quickly and glanced furiously at the markings on the case. Yes, it said he'd recorded this just after their return to the Alpha Quadrant. Narrowing his eyes, he continued.
"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."
Tom stared at the console in pure shock. He had never thought such things, much less recorded them! A sudden shock wave washed over him. B'Elanna thought he had actually said those things and was probably in pain about it!!! A sound at the door startled him. He glanced up sharply and saw his father standing there-- the impressive admiral framed by the sleek interior door.
"Where did this come from?" The younger demanded of his father, blue eyes icy cold and livid at the same time.
Owen glanced down at the case in his son's hand. "I did it for your own good, Tom," he began. "Exactly what was said on the recording is true. You don't need to be surrounded by people like her. She's not the right type of person for the Paris family line. You should have known better than to get involved with a half-breed, but since you didn't, your father was forced to cover your mistakes."
"My mistakes?" Tom leaned forward and placed his hands on the desk. "B'Elanna Torres was the most wonderful thing to ever happen to me, and you stole that happiness from me. Not to mention you hurt her! I'm not the one who made the mistake."
Owen suddenly felt like it was he who was on trial and had done something wrong. Apparently his desk was impressive enough to convey the feelings of intimidation toward even the owner. Briefly, the thought that it should be the other way around, Tom facing him as he leaned over the desk, came to mind. "Son, I don't have to answer for my actions. I did what was best for the family--"
"No!" Tom pounded a fist down on the desk making a stack of padds fall to the floor with a loud clatter. "You did what you thought was best for yourself and your image of what our family should be! Notice I said our family, Dad! It's not yours. We all have the right to decide who to marry!"
"That's quite enough, young man!" Owen roared. "I'll not have my son speaking back to me in such a way!"
"If you hadn't butted into my private affairs, I wouldn't have so much disrespect for you!" Tom protested, pushing his hands through his blondish hair.
"You'll show respect whether you feel like it or not!" Owen snapped back, thankful the door was shut so no one would hear their heated argument.
"You're wrong," Tom said in a low voice. "I came here today with the intent of rejoining Starfleet and working my way up. Now, I don't want anything to do with it."
"You can't turn your back on Starfleet." Owen seethed. "After all it's done for you, you need to serve some time." He lifted his chin slightly as he gazed at the pictures on his wall. "Maybe it'll teach you a little bit of respect." He muttered.
"I've had it!" Tom threw his hands up and glared at his father. "I'm refusing to have anything to do with Starfleet, and I want you to know something." Coming to stand so he was directly in front of his father, Tom leaned forward slightly. "B'Elanna Torres is the most wonderful woman I have ever met. My time in the Delta Quadrant was more satisfying time in my life because I shared a friendship and relationship with her that I have never had with anyone else before."
"Not a physical relationship," he snapped at the raise of his father's cocky eyebrow. "I'm talking about the trust and close friendship we shared."
"Trust and close friendship with someone so different from you is impossible," Owen snarled. "You can believe what you want, but she was probably manipulating you."
"Never," Tom's eyes flashed an unexpected shade of cobalt in his anger. "You may think you've done some wonderful deed to split us up, but you haven't." Tom turned on his heel and walked to the door. "I'm going to find her, Dad. And then you're just going to have to put up with a half-Klingon for a daughter-in-law, because I intend to make her my wife."
~* =/\= *~
Tom hoisted the sack of grain over his head carried it to the far wall. Returning to accept another sack, he toted that one also. Two weeks after the arguement with his father, he had accepted a post on a mercerany vessel. It wasn't more than five hundred feet long, but he was allowed to fly it as long as he finished his duties in the cargo hold. Wiping the sweat from his face, Tom reached for yet another bag of the grain. Flipping it over his strong shoulder, he continued to stack them against the wall.
Today was loading day. More often than not, he was only in charge of recording what they bought, what they used, and what they sold. Except on 'planet days.' Then, he was responsible for making sure everything was loaded in such a manner that he could perform his other duties without incident.
The captain of the ship, K'Wal'tak, was quite happy with his work and had asked Tom to stay on longer-- like years instead of months, but he'd refused. He was looking for someone, he told them. The instant he found her, he was gone. The other men had snickered and ribbed each other knowingly, but had yet to tease him about his searching for B'Elanna.
"Hey, who's in charge here!"
Tom lifted his head from where he'd bent over a data padd. "That'd be me." He told the Bolian. "What can I do for you?"
"This." The man forced Tom to take another data padd. "That's what we're getting."
Glancing over it, he recognized the usual trade items. Food, a few weapons, materials, some fineries. "Right this way," he told the alien and began to lead him around the room while pointing out what they needed and having his men gather it into a corner of the room. "There," he picked up a crate of Terran tomatoes. "That's the last thing." Before the man could leave, Tom placed a hand on his arm. "One more thing, I'd like to ask."
"Make it fast."
"I'm looking for someone. A half-Klingon, half-human woman named B'Elanna Torres. She's an engineer and I have reason to believe she's out in this area."
"What happened? She got your kid?" The Bolian grinned at him. "Or does she owe you money?"
"Neither. My father tore us apart.
The Bolian's forehead rose in the equilavent of raising his eyebrows. "I see. Well, I think I may be able to help you."
Tom's heart skipped a beat. "You can?"
"Met a woman engineer about two months ago." He frowned suddenly, then nodded. "She was on the La'moueth, a ship we revendoused with for a few hours."
"For a few hours? And you remember her?" Tom asked in bewilderment.
"Let's just say she made quite an impression on me. I don't know why you want to find her. She's quite a fiesty one." He shrugged, "If provoked."
Tom drew in a deep breath. "She can be, yes. That's one of the things I love about her." He narrowed his eyes. "What did you do to her?"
"Nothing! I swear it!" He took a step back. "It's more like what she did to me!" Lowering the neckline of his civilian clothes, Tom could see five angry scars down his neck.
"Yep, that's my B'Ela." He grinned. "And you say she's not far from here?"
"Now, I never said that. This is about two months ago that I saw her."
"Thanks. You don't know how much I appreciate it."
The Bolian turned. "I think I do know. And good luck."
Tom stared out the window of mess hall. He wasn't lucky enough to have his own view port in the room he shared with three other men, and this secluded chair in the mess hall was his only haven. It was here he came to think about B'Elanna or to record his personal logs, a habit Starfleet and Captain Janeway had instilled in him and he still practiced. Tonight, his logs lay beside a forgotten peice of chocolate cake as he gazed out at the stars.
The blinking of blue and red lights indicated that they were not alone out here. Only a few light years away other ships and other crews that spoke his language and knew his customs were enjoying their own evenings.
After eight years in the Delta Quadrant, the idea of another ship in such close proximity seemed alien to him. He figured it was an alient notion to everyone from their crew. He'd run into Neelix while still on Earth and had been informed of the get together that was being planned. Before they'd left the ship, he would have laughed. Tom had been eager to get home and show B'Elanna off to his family and settle down to start their own family and life. Now, he wished he was anywhere but the Alpha Quadrant. Preferrably on some tiny planet in the Delta Quadrant with all of the people he had served with. One thing was certain, he would still have B'Elanna if they were.
"Captain to Paris. Please report to my office."
Tom heaved a sigh and stood. He probably hadn't done the report up to standards, or something equally life threatening.
K'Wal'tak didnt' look up as Tom entered the room.
"Sit down. Sit down." K'Wal'tak scribbled his stamp on a padd and then looked at the younger man. "I've been pleased with your work, Paris. But, the time has come for me to relocate you to another ship."
Tom jumped up. "Absolutely not!" He exclaimed. "You're the only one who could possibly understand my search for B'Elanna."
"Tom, it's because of B'Elanna that I'm letting you go." K'Wal'tak stood up and rounded the desk. "The ship you're going to is the La'moueth."
The reaction of the dumbstruck pilot amused K'Wal'tak. He chucked and pushed Paris back into a seat. "Close your jaw, Tom."
Tom snapped his jaw shut. "You found her?"
"Well, we found the Alpha Quadrant equilvalent." K'Wal'tak told him referring to Tom's habit of calling stuff the 'Delta Quadrant equilvant.'
"How much longer?"
"About two days."
"These are going to be the longest two days of my life."
B'Elanna Torres slithered back under the console. It was one of those days. She thought that after Voyager had come back to the AQ, she would be rid of days that it seemed nothing would work right. She was wrong.
Today, it was the Ops console which was giving her problems. After three straight days of working, she was getting extremely tired, cranky, and- was that leola root she smelled??-- add delusional to the list. Reaching out, she found the microphaser right beside her. Adjusting the setting, she fused the two wires together and then hollared up to whoever was above her. "Hit the yellow activate button now!"
B'Elanna nearly hit her head on the underside of the console as she jumped. Then, she froze. Was she hearing things as well as smelling things?? Scrambling from out beneath the console, she found herself staring directly into Tom's baby blue eyes. Dusting off her brown pants and green tank as she stood up, she glared at him. "What are you doing here? Get dumped by some Starfleet girl and decide to slum with your old girlfriends?"
Tom felt like he'd been punched in the stomach. "B'Elanna! No! I swear, I didn't have anything to do with my father's talking to you!"
"Sure, you didn't have anything to do with it," she scoffed. "And just where you when he decided to talk to me about your little discussion the night before?" The feelings and memories she had tried to put behind her came rushing over her as she turned back to the console's face. "You were in France with someone named Merie."
Tom flinched as she spat the words at him. "B'Elanna, hang on. Listen to me-"
"No." She whipped around to face him, the ends of her hair flarring out as she spun. "You listen to me, Thomas Eugene Paris. I've had enough of your little games. While we were out there, I thought I meant something to you. Maybe I did. Maybe I didn't. Maybe I was just another girl to amuse yourself with. However you want to call it, we're over. Done. Through. However that worked out when we got back, I dont' care to hear your excuses. You've had two years to work on them, and I'm sure you've got some great ones by now. Go entertain the gossip mills. You were always good at that."
Tom gawked as B'Elanna turned back to her console. Did she really think that?! Apparently so. Or, maybe not. Tom watched as a shudder ran down her back, followed by another one. She was crying, he realized. Taking a step towards her, he touched her shoulder. She tried to pull away, but failed. He pulled her full back against his chest and wrapped his arms around her small waist.
"Tom, don't." She begged trying to escape his embrace.
"B'Ela." He buried his face in her hair and breathed in the scent of her shampoo. "Please, listen to what I have to say."
"Look." Releasing one of his arms around her middle, he pulled a data chip out of his pocket. "I believe you saw this a few years ago." He tried to keep the anger out of his voice, but failed miserably. "My father and I had a talk that night, that much is true. It was about the ship. About some of the aliens we hand encountered and some of the regulations that were broken. Not about us. He took it upon himself to make a recording of his voice, altered to be mine, which you heard. When I got back, I was told that you had decided to leave me." His voice faltered then and he stopped speaking. Taking a deep breath, he continued. "I didn't find out what had happened until I perchanced to glance through his desk drawers and find the chip. We had an arguement, and...."
"And you came after me." She finished softly.
"Yeah. I hope you'll have me back."
She turned around and regarded him with serious, brown eyes. "I think it's the other way around." She said, her chin quiverng slightly. "You have to decide if you want me back. I'm the one who lost her temper and ran out on you, don't forget. I should have stayed and talked it over with you."
"No." Tom folded his arms around her and held her tight. "If it had been true, then there would be no reason for you to wait for me."
"I'm just glad I did." She closed her eyes against the tears of pure joy. "And, if this is a lie, it's one I don't want to find out about."
"It's not," he promised her as he met her lips to seal their commitment with a kiss.