StarTrek: Voyager is property of Paramount Pictures, Inc. I‘m just letting the characters do what they really wanted to do, but The Powers That Be wouldn‘t let them. This is a fan-fiction story for non-profit. You may archive it or email it to your friends, but leave this header and my name attached.

As this is my first real story, I would absolutely love feedback. Please send feedback to Okay... enough talking... on to the story.

*** Voyages Home ***

by Becky H.

Eighteen months ago...

Lieutenant Tom Paris and Ensign Harry Kim were walking toward their quarters after a long day of doing nothing on the bridge. They were currently in a very boring part of space, and everyone had to concentrate on just keeping their eyes open.

They walked along discussing this and that, nothing of import-ance, as friends often do. When they got to Tom‘s quarters, Tom turned to Harry, hesitance evident in his body language. "Harry, can I ask you a question?"

"Sure Tom, what‘s up?" Harry knew that something had been bothering Tom lately, but he also knew better than to press him about it. Although Tom felt things deeply, he preferred to gloss over emotions with a quick grin or a joke. Harry had learned that when something was bothering Tom, he just had to wait it out until Tom was ready to talk about it.

Tom motioned to the couch and he sat down. He waited quietly while Tom went to got some tea from the replicator for them. It was Harry‘s favorite beverage, which Tom knew. He smiled a bit nervously, whatever Tom wanted to talk to him about, it was probably very serious. Taking a sip of the aromatic liquid, he set it down on the table and leaned back, "Okay Tom, what is it? You‘ve got me nervous now."

Tom laughed, a short laugh that held no humor in it. "Harry, you know me too well, don‘t you?" At Harry‘s nod he continued. "I wanted to talk to you about something, and I want you to be as honest as you always are. Don‘t say what you think I want to hear, just tell me straight."

Harry frowned in puzzlement, but nodded. "Okay." When Tom didn‘t start talking right away he frowned again, "Tom, what is it?"

Taking a deep breath Tom started, "Harry, how do you... I mean, what do you think... I mean..." He stopped and looked at Harry, whose face was showing only more confusion than before.

Tom smiled, "Let me start again." He took a deep breath, then plunged forward, "I think I‘m falling in love with someone, but lately I‘ve sensed that you might have feelings for her too." He paused, "I don‘t want to ruin our friendship over this, so please tell me..." He swallowed hard over the lump that had grown in his throat, "How do you feel about B‘Elanna?" He asked the question in a deadly serious voice, one which Harry very rarely heard.

Harry blinked, "B‘Elanna? I think she‘s a great Engineer, a brilliant mind, and a good friend." He looked at Tom, who seemed to be waiting for him to continue. "All right, I admit there was some chemistry at first, but it never developed into anything more than a wonderful friendship. We‘re like Ying and Yang--- total opposites. When she‘s raging I‘m calm. It makes a great friendship, but can you truly see us together in a relationship? I can‘t. We‘d drive each other nuts with our differences."

Tom sighed deeply in relief, all that he‘d been worried about was for nothing. He smiled, "Harry, you‘re the best friend I‘ve got, maybe the best friend I‘ve ever had or ever will have. I didn‘t want to do anything to destroy that. If it meant never pursuing anything with B‘Elanna, then that‘s what it would‘ve taken."

Harry smiled, "I know Tom, I know." Suddenly he grinned, "You... and B‘Elanna? This is going to be interesting!"

Tom frowned at him, "Why not me and B‘Elanna? You think I‘m not good enough for her or something?" He‘d tried to say it in a teasing voice, but it came out a bit too serious for Harry to miss.

The smile fell from Harry‘s face. "Never in a million years Tom. You‘re a lot better than most men would be. What I meant was that B‘Elanna‘s got a wall around her so high I don‘t know who could break through it. I know she no longer considers you a "pig", but romantically? I think it will take a lot to get to that point with her."

Tom sat down next to him on the couch, "Yeah, I know. I‘ve invited her to dinner. I‘ve asked her to join me on the Holodeck, but she‘s only accepted a couple times. She is always very wary of me when she‘s with me, too. It‘s not like I‘m going to try anything! I just want to get to know her better, as a person, not just as the Chief Engineer."

Harry shook his head, "You‘re pushing too hard. Just relax a little. Why don‘t you just talk to her in the Mess, or when you happen to work together. Get to know her in an environment she‘s comfortable with, then you can move on to a more "formal" setting.

Tom shook his head, grinning. "When did you get to be such an expert on matters of the heart?"

Harry rolled his eyes, "Hey, I‘ve been engaged, remember?"

Tom chuckled, "I know, I was just kidding you. It‘s good advice.

Wish I‘d thought of it myself."

Harry stood, "Yeah, well... anyway, are you coming to Sandrine‘s tonight? I‘ve got a new move I want to try out that Dalby taught me. I have a feeling I‘m going to beat you tonight in our pool match."

Tom shook his head, smiling. "Not a chance my friend, but try your best." They‘d walked to the doorway and Harry exited. "I‘ll see you later. I‘m low on rations, so I‘ll be eating in the Mess tonight."

Harry grinned and shook his head, "Not me, I‘ve been using mine sparingly so I can eat a real replicated meal."

Tom sighed dramatically, "Not me, poor soul that I am. I‘m hoping to win some tonight though. See you then."

Harry grinned and walked away. Tom went back inside to ponder the advice Harry had given him. Maybe he was right, maybe he should slow down, not try so hard. He‘d give it some thought while he changed into some casual clothes.

Chakotay entered Sandrines and took in the scene. There was Tom beating Harry at pool... again. He shook his head, smiling, would Harry ever learn? In the back was the Captain who was sitting at the old fashioned piano, picking out bits and pieces of songs on it. His eyes moved to the bar where B‘Elanna was sitting. She was sipping a drink and watching Tom Paris, but trying to look like she wasn‘t watching him. Very interesting... he may just need to have a talk with his old friend.

B‘Elanna had just set her drink down on the bar when she felt a heavy hand on her shoulder. She jumped, and her startled eyes flew upward, meeting Chakotay‘s twinkling ones. "Don‘t you know it‘s a bad idea to startle a Klingon?" she asked irritably. Usually her senses were so fine tuned that she could hear someone coming from around the corner.

"He‘s interested in you too." Chakotay‘s soft voice floated to her from the next barstool.

Her dark eyes flashed at him, "What!? Chakotay, what are you talking about?"

He smiled at her over his glass, "You know who I‘m talking about B‘Elanna."

She sighed, her shoulders drooping. "I can‘t hide anything from you, can I?"

He grinned, "Nope, so don‘t even try." He paused, "How long?"

She frowned, "How long what? Oh, how long have I been interested in him?"

He nodded and she looked down at her drink, watching the bubbles rise to the top. "A while now. But..." She looked back up at him, her face reflecting her mixed emotions. "I mean... I don‘t know, Chakotay. I‘m attracted to him, and I think he‘s interested in me too... but... it‘s the same old thing. Why is he interested in me?"

He nodded again, his eyes now serious. For a long time she‘d been the object of many a man‘s attention. Almost every single one, without exception, was only interested in her as a Klingon. They‘d been curious to see if what they‘d heard about Klingon females was true.

When she‘d joined the Maquis, he‘d stepped in and protected her. She could fend for herself very well, but it was a welcome relief on her part to have someone run interference for her. He‘d made it well known that anyone who wanted anything to do with her had to come through him first. He‘d proven to be an effective barrier against all but the most brave... or foolish... who‘d tried their hand at wooing the fierce B‘Elanna Torres.

He looked at Tom, who‘d started another game, then back at B‘Elanna. He‘d had a lot of reservations about the young pilot for quite a while in the beginning, but Tom had really surprised him. He‘d proven himself to be a good officer and a good man as well. Chakotay had discovered that Tom was someone you could depend on in a dangerous situation, risking himself to save others time and time again.

He‘d also been watching how Tom looked at B‘Elanna. Chakotay was a people watcher. He watched how people interacted with others. One thing his watching had shown him was that although Tom was very attracted to B‘Elanna, it was different from the ones who‘d pursued her in the past. First off, they‘d become friends, true, they loved to trade insults and barbs, but it was a friendly kind of fighting that they‘d developed. Second, Tom didn‘t look at her as just a Klingon, or even as just a Woman, but as a Person. Tom had respect for her, and that was something that Chakotay was very happy to see.

He set his drink down, deciding he‘d tell B‘Elanna how he felt about this one. "I think he has enough sense to recognize a good thing when he sees it." He paused, trying to think of the best way to put it into words. "He‘s not like some of the others were, B‘Elanna, he‘s a lot better than that."

She looked at him in shock. At one time Tom and Chakotay had been nearly sworn enemies. She swallowed, a lot of things on the ship had changed in the last three years. Their relationships with one another the biggest thing. "Are you saying... that you‘re okay with this?"

He studied her for a long moment, "Yes, I am. I don‘t always see eye to eye with him, but I respect him. I really do think he cares for you, B‘Elanna. I think you could do a lot for each other. You have very similar backgrounds, and I think you would understand each other more than many others would, or could even." He stood up and smiled down at her, "And that‘s all I‘m going to say on the subject." He walked away from the bar to the back and joined Janeway.

B‘Elanna sat at the bar thinking. Chakotay respected Tom... Chakotay respected Tom... Chakotay respected Tom. The thought kept repeating itself in her head. She knew how much his respect meant. It was not freely given, but once earned, it was something to be cherished. She looked at Tom again, maybe, just maybe there was something to this... attraction... she‘d been feeling toward him after all.

Twelve months ago...

Chief Engineer‘s Personal Log: Stardate 49643. I don‘t quite know what to say about all this, but I‘ve talked to Chakotay and he told me it would help me to sort out my feelings if I recorded them, so here goes.

About a week ago we came upon a planet that showed large gallacite signatures. We made arrangements for an away team to go down and investigate it. The night before, just as I was leaving for the day, Ensign... Vorik... approached me about being his mate. His mate! I was not amused, or even slightly interested, let me tell you. I told him, as politely as I could, that I was not, and I mean not interested. He apparently had other ideas and approached me, gripping my head for a minute or so. Vulcans are often thought of as weak, but they‘re just as strong as Klingons are. Fortunately, he‘s a young Vulcan, and I was able to break the hold.

Okay, this is where it starts to get weird.

Apparently we‘d been in physical contact long enough to establish some kind of bond or link. I don‘t know... Tuvok has tried to explain it to me, but Vulcan mental powers are something I‘ve never quite understood. Anyway, it affected me... made me act unpredictable, excitable, and more than that... I was driven by a deep desire to... mate.

When we were down in the caves, I bit Tom Paris, the initial signal in the Klingon mating ritual. It surprised me as much as it surprised him. We were separated, but later met up again. In fact, we were trapped together in the caves later. The longer I was around Tom, the more... attracted... I was to him. It was almost like I had lost all control. I practically threw myself at him... more than once.

Tom surprised me, he didn‘t give in like he wanted to, and I know he wanted to. He‘s been attracted to me for a while now. Later, when things got really bad, he knew what he had to do, and was willing to do it... to help me.

Fortunately, or unfortunately... we never did... mate. The next day when we saw each other in the lift we were both very uncomfortable with each other. I told him we should just forget everything that happened, that it wasn‘t really me down there.

I was lying.

I had less control over my emotions than usual, but everything I did, everything I said, was how I really felt. He surprised me yet again, he told me he‘d seen my Klingon side, and that he wouldn‘t mind seeing it again. I didn‘t know how to respond. I‘ve tried so hard to hide that side of myself from everyone. Yet, here this handsome... Human... was telling me he wanted to see more of it. Is he interested in me just because I‘m half Klingon? I don‘t know, but I decided to let him know that I wasn‘t entirely averse to the idea of getting to know him better.

I told him to be careful what he wished for.

"Harry, hand me that spanner would you?" B‘Elanna‘s head popped out of the Jeffries tube she‘d been working in as Harry walked over with the tool she‘d requested.

"How‘s it going? Could you use some help in there?" He asked as he handed her the tool.

She smiled, "Actually, I‘m just about done here. If you‘re not busy right now, though, I could use your help in Jeffries Tube 12-A. There‘s a gel pack that‘s gone bad... again... that has to be replaced.

He grinned, "Sure. Things are really boring on the Bridge right now. Not that I‘m complaining, of course, but I could use something new to do right now."

She smiled up at her friend, "I‘ll inform the Captain that I‘ve stolen you for a while, I‘m sure it‘ll be okay. Let me finish this real quick, then I‘ll ask the Captain. Why don‘t you go grab a toolkit while I do that?"

He nodded and headed for the supply locker. Twenty minutes later the two of them were in the Jeffries Tube and replacing the gel pack. It didn‘t take long to do, which left them with some time to talk.

"Harry, can I ask you a question?" B‘Elanna leaned back against the wall and fixed Harry with an intense gaze.

He swallowed, where had he heard this before? "Sure, what‘s up?"

She looked down at the toolkit, then back up at Harry. "Well... you know Tom and I have been dating for a while now." He nodded and she continued. "I‘m just... concerned... I guess."

He frowned, "About what?"

She shrugged, "I don‘t know. It‘s just that... I think I‘m in love with him."

He narrowed his eyes at her, "But...?"

She smiled, "But... I don‘t know how serious he is. I mean, I‘m looking for a lifetime thing. If he‘s not that serious, I want to know now... before I get in any deeper."

He nodded understandingly, "I know what you mean. Believe me, he is very serious about you. I‘ve never seen him this way about a girl... um, woman... before. He‘s just unsure of himself, and you, I guess."

She frowned, "What do you mean?"

He sighed, trying to think of how to put it in a way she‘d understand. "You want to be 100% positive that he‘s in for the long haul, that this isn‘t just some fling, right?" She nodded and he continued, "He‘s feeling the same way. Both of you have been rejected in the past, that‘s not something that‘s easy to forget or get over. I think both of you need to be honest with yourselves and each other. Tell him how you feel, what you‘re afraid of. If you‘re both totally honest and upfront now, then there won‘t be any nasty surprises later."

She sat back in silence, pondering what he‘d said. It did make sense. She‘d discovered quite a while ago just how similar she and Tom were when it came to matters of the heart. Maybe it was time they sat down and had a real heart-to-heart talk. She looked up at Harry and smiled, "Thanks, Harry. You‘re a really good friend, you know that?"

He smiled, "Anytime, B‘Elanna."

Her communicator beeped and she groaned. Probably another small disaster was waiting for her to fix. She shot Harry an exasperated look and he laughed. She joined him and they soon were on their way to yet another Jeffries Tube repair job.

The present...

Captain‘s Log: Stardate 52345. Home...what exactly is home? "Home is where the heart is" is a favorite saying, but what does that mean? To me, home is where we are happy, and comfortable, feel loved, and give love as well. I guess home is where the heart is. For the crew of the starship Voyager, Voyager has become home.

It has been four and a half years since we were brought to the Delta Quadrant by the Caretaker. Although most of us have homes back in the Alpha Quadrant, the vast majority of the crew have begun to accept that they may never see the Alpha Quadrant again. However, I have a much harder time accepting this. I promised I would get them home, and I‘ve never been one to take my promises lightly. Fate, Life, whatever you want to call it, seems to have taken that out of my hands though. After four and a half years of constant use and abuse........ Voyager is beginning to fail.

Captain Kathryn Janeway was rubbing her temples when her First Officer entered the Ready Room. She looked up at him, forcing a smile to her face.

Chakotay paused at the door. "Headache?" he asked symp-athetically. At her nod he continued, "The Doctor could give you something for them."

She smiled grimly, "I know, but no medication in the world will make all these headaches go away." She indicated the pile of PADDs on the desktop.

"Engineering reports?" She nodded and he walked over and picked one up, quickly scanning their contents, he grimaced and glanced back up to her face.

She nodded, "They‘re getting worse and worse, Chakotay. B‘Elanna‘s not sure how much longer we can keep going." She slapped the PADD she‘d been looking at down and rose from her desk, walking to the viewport. "I promised them we‘d get back home...I promised, and now it‘s looking more and more like I may have to go back on that promise."

He walked up behind her, looking at her reflected face in the window, "It‘s not your fault, Kathryn. I know that, and they know that."

She nodded, "I know that too, Chakotay, but right now I‘m just too angry. I feel like Voyager‘s betrayed me, forcing me in turn to betray the crew."

He nodded, "I understand you‘re angry, but you‘ve got to realize that you are not to blame for what‘s happened. If anything, you‘ve kept this crew going when we would‘ve faltered. The crew not only respects you, but they love you as well." He paused, weighing his words, "I have a feeling that they‘ll surprise you when the time comes. There‘s been talk for a while now that we might not get back. The crew has started to notice the frequency with which things are breaking down lately; it‘s reasonable to assume they will understand what that means."

She nodded, then sighed as she turned around to face him. "Maybe Tom and B‘Elanna‘s trip will solve a few of the problems we‘ve been having lately. Call the senior staff to the bridge. I want to meet in fifteen minutes."

He nodded, knowing as well as she did that the problems with the ship had become too big to solve now. "Aye, Captain."

"Is there anything more?" Glancing around the table at the faces of her most trusted officers and seeing that no one had anything further to offer she smiled, "Then this meeting is adjourned. Tom, B‘Elanna, stay a few minutes. I need to discuss something with you."

Taking their seats again, they looked at each other in surprise. Their two jobs didn‘t usually intersect. As the last crewmember exited and the doors swished shut, Janeway cleared her throat drawing their glances away from each other and to her. "Well, now that I‘ve got your attention." She paused, smiling. "I have an assignment for the two of you."

Seeing the curious, yet surprised looks on their faces she continued, "There‘s an asteroid field ahead that needs to be investigated, but we‘ve received a distress call from a D‘Tlaaran outpost that‘s in the opposite direction. I‘m sending you two to the asteroid field. When we‘ve returned from the outpost we‘ll rendezvous with your shuttle and move on."

B‘Elanna looked at the Captain, puzzled. "An asteroid field, Captain?"

Janeway nodded and Tom frowned, clearly confused as to why they were going to check out asteroids of all things. "What‘s so special about this asteroid field that we need to investigate it?"

Janeway smiled at their puzzled expressions, "Usually we‘d just adjust our course and fly right by them, I know. However, long range sensors indicate that there might be some large deposits of metals that B‘Elanna and her staff could use. We can‘t pass up this opportunity, but I can‘t ignore that distress signal either."

They nodded in agreement, and she handed Tom the PADD. "These are the coordinates of the asteroid field, as well as the coordinates of where we will be joining you again." Turning to Tom she continued, "Tom, you‘re the best pilot we‘ve got, and navigating that asteroid field is going to take someone with your skills."

He smiled at the praise and she turned to B‘Elanna, smiling, "B‘Elanna, as Chief Engineer, you know more than anyone on board what metals would be useful down in Engineering."

B‘Elanna nodded, although it was unusual for the Pilot and the Chief Engineer to work together, in this case it made perfect sense. She glanced at Tom as he glanced at her. They both smiled and almost in one voice said, "When do we start?"

Janeway smiled at them, "Tomorrow at 0800 hours. At that time we‘ll be as close to the asteroid field as we will get before leaving for the outpost. You‘ll both have Alpha shift off today to prepare." She looked from one to the other, waiting for any more questions.

Since there didn‘t seem to be any, she dismissed them.

Tom stood up, "Thank you, Captain, I‘m going to get started right away."

She nodded and glanced at B‘Elanna. She stood up as well, "I‘ve got a few things to finish up in Engineering first, and I‘ve got to talk to my staff as well." Looking at Tom she continued, "I‘ll meet you in the mess for lunch at 1200 hours so we can discuss what we‘ll need to bring along."

He nodded, "It‘s a date." He stood and turned toward the door and B‘Elanna stood as well. Before he reached the door he turned around and smiled, his voice teasing. "If you don‘t show up, I will come and get you though."

She rolled her eyes at him, but grinned. "I know. I‘ll be there, I promise."

Janeway had been watching the exchange and smiled, it was nice to have them work together now and then. They were so good for each other. Since they‘d been together, B‘Elanna had learned how to relax a little bit. Tom had taught her how to have fun and it showed. She‘d also noticed a change in Tom as well. He was no longer the smooth-talking, skirt-chasing young man he‘d been a few years ago. He‘d become more serious. B‘Elanna had shown him that he didn‘t always have to be entertaining everyone to gain their acceptance. His mask... and hers as well... had slipped to the point of being nearly nonexistant these days. They always had their professional masks firmly in place of course, but their personal masks... the ones that they used to protect themselves from being hurt by others, had all but totally withered away.

Tom had obviously made some wild suggestion, because B‘Elanna gave him that "I can‘t believe you said that" look, then promptly started laughing. Janeway shook her head and smiled again, they were like a couple of kids planning an adventure. They exited the room discussing what they needed to bring with them, barely breaking stride as they entered the turbolift. Harry watched them and looked curiously at the Captain who only smiled at him.

0630 Hours, the chronometer flashed the time as he groaned, rubbing his hands over his unshaven face. He never had been a morning person. He sighed aloud and got up out of bed, stretching as he made his way to the shower. Half an hour later a very awake, and clean-shaven Tom Paris was just finishing making his bed. One last look around the room and then he was out the door.

He entered the turbolift, smiling at the pretty ensign who was already there. "Good morning, Ensign."

She lifted appreciative eyes to his, "Good morning, Lieutenant."

He smiled, and informed the computer of his destination. A few minutes later when the lift arrived at his deck, the door paused halfway open and he frowned, "Computer, open turbolift doors." The doors opened up the rest of the way and he stepped out, sighing in frustration at yet another example of the ship‘s condition.

Entering the shuttlebay, he walked over to where their shuttle was waiting. He rounded the corner of it and let out a silent groan when he saw the piles of equipment waiting to go inside. He thought that they‘d already worked out what equipment they were going to bring already. He approached the shuttle, only to find B‘Elanna inside already, studying a PADD. "Good morning."

Not even glancing at him she responded, "Good morning Tom.

You just about ready?"

He smiled, "I‘m ready when you are. Um... did you want me to help bring in these supplies out here?"

She looked up grinning at his tone of voice, which clearly indicated he did not want to bring all that ‚stuff‘ into the shuttle. "Relax, Tom. I‘ve already gotten all we need in here already. That‘s the equipment I ruled out because it would weigh the shuttle down too much." He sighed in obvious relief and she laughed, "Come on in, Helmboy, and check out your ship. We‘ve got half an hour ‚til we leave."

He grinned at her teasing and joined her in the shuttle. He sat at the pilot‘s seat and performed his pre-flight check. He knew that the shuttles were kept in top condition, but he wouldn‘t truly be a pilot if he didn‘t personally check it out himself. Finding everything in fine, working order he glanced at the chronometer to see that it was nearly time. B‘Elanna sat down next to him in the co-pilot‘s seat as he contacted the Captain to let her know they were ready.

Janeway smiled at them, "Good luck you two. We‘ll meet you in seventy two hours. Tom, you have the coordinates of the rendezvous point?"

He nodded, glancing at B‘Elanna, then back at the screen, "We‘re ready, Captain."

She nodded and the screen went black. The shuttlebay doors opened, and moments later they lifted off and were on their way. They made their way smoothly away from the ship and on their way toward the asteroid field.

Tom was very quiet as he consulted with the computer as to the best route to take, so B‘Elanna took the time to take a hopeful look at her list of desirable metals: duranium, tritanium, and beryllium were her top choices, and a fresh supply of dilithium would be nice too. Her good mood quickly evaporated as she thought of all they needed in order to properly fix the ship, knowing it was unlikely they would find even a portion of it.

She sighed sadly and Tom looked up at her. "What‘s wrong?"

She smiled wryly, "Nothing... it‘s just that we need so many things to keep Voyager running, and I‘m beginning to wonder if that‘s even possible anymore."

He nodded, "I‘ve noticed that things seem to be breaking down much more frequently than before." Noting her defensive look he quickly added, "Not that it‘s any of your fault. Heck, we wouldn‘t have made it this far without you, and I‘m sure everyone on board knows that too."

She slapped the PADD down, "I sometimes wonder. I swear, sometimes I get so frustrated. My Engineering team wasn‘t trained for this. I‘m used to taking nothing and making something out of it. That‘s part of what you do in the Maquis, but they aren‘t used to it. They‘re learning, but no matter how hard I try it‘s just not something you can just easily teach someone."

He nodded, "I think I understand. It‘s kind of like piloting." Seeing her unbelieving look he smiled, "Bear with me, I think you‘ll see what I mean. With piloting, you can teach someone how to fly, but it‘s the actual time you spend flying, developing your own skills and style that make you different, unique from other pilots. That‘s something that you just can‘t teach, it has to be learned on your own."

She nodded, "I never thought of it that way, but you‘re right. We have a lot in common, don‘t we?"

He nodded, "Yeah, we do. Do you remember when we were captured by the Vidiians? You told me a bit about your child-hood, growing up, and your relationship with your parents." She nodded and he continued, "You know I didn‘t get along with my dad, but I don‘t think you know why. My father was a very... harsh... man. He expected the best, no, make that the impossible, from everyone. He was an Admiral, and his son had to remember that at all times."

He sighed a little sadly, "Like I could ever forget. When I was a kid I did my best to live up to his standards, to make him proud of me. It never worked, I was just never good enough. My mom died when I was sixteen, after that I gave up even trying." He gave a short laugh, "That‘s when life started to get really interesting. I made it through the academy, just barely. I was in one scrape after another, my only saving grace was that I excelled at flying. The funny thing is, it had nothing... yet everything... to do with him. When I was up there... all alone... flying over everyone and everything, I felt free, released from his hold on me. Then I‘d land and it would start all over again." He looked at her, then back at the stars, "After Caldik Prime he disowned me. As far as he‘s concerned I don‘t exist anymore."

She crossed her arms, unconsciously feeling defensive for him, "With my mom it was the other way around. She didn‘t get upset at me for not living up to her standards...she just ignored me. Sometimes I think she hated me. I was a constant reminder of my father. I wasn‘t Human, I wasn‘t Klingon... I was a half-breed, not good enough to be either one. I left as soon as I could." She gave a short laugh, "Things are often not what they appear to be are they?" He nodded and she continued, "Look at you. You‘re good looking, charming, talented. But you don‘t feel that way on the inside do you?"

He was about to nod, but changed his mind. "For the longest time I didn‘t feel good enough, worthy enough of anyone. There are times, okay a lot of times, that I still do feel that way, but being on Voyager has changed a lot of that. Having someone believe in me." He paused, "It‘s addictive, y‘know? The more trust the Captain placed in me, the more I wanted to earn that trust."

She nodded, "I know exactly how you feel. When we all came together, StarFleet and Maquis, I didn‘t know where I stood. With Chakotay, I always knew, but with her? I didn‘t have a clue. When it came down to me and Carey for Chief Engineer, I knew she would choose him; he was StarFleet. She surprised me, and chose me instead. I know Chakotay helped, but she had to make that final leap of faith, trusting a StarFleet dropout, a member of the Maquis to be responsible for her ship. I couldn‘t understand why, but she decided to trust me, and I had to live up to that trust."

He nodded, "There‘s one more way in which we‘re alike. You too, are beautiful and talented. But people made you feel otherwise didn‘t they?"

She shook her head no, "I admit I‘m good when it comes to Engineering, but beautiful? I will never be that." She looked back down at the PADD, embarrassed. She knew she might be considered exotic, maybe even sexy... but beautiful?

He reached over and tilted her chin up to make her look at him, "You already are. You know how I call you Bella sometimes?" She nodded and he continued, "It‘s an old word from earth, back when they had many different languages. It translates into Standard as beauty, or beautiful... and you are." Brown eyes searched blue, trying to discover the truth of his words.

Tom and B‘Elanna had been traveling in silence for quite a while when suddenly the shuttle rocked. They each looked at their monitors to see what had hit the ship. "We‘re entering the asteroid field. It‘s going to be pretty bumpy for a while." Tom informed her.

She bit her lip, but continued to work on the computer, monitoring shield strength and engine capabilities while Tom‘s fingers flew smoothly over the controls, making an adjustment here and there to their course. She looked up at the screen and had to catch her breath as they flew in and around the huge chunks of rock flying past them.

They continued this for quite a while. Tom weaving the seemingly tiny shuttle around the huge asteroids, coming breathtakingly close at times. B‘Elanna fought to maintain her composure, she didn‘t know how he was able to do this. She looked at Tom, his eyes were on the screen, not even looking at his hands which flew with amazing speed and grace across the controls. It was almost like his hands were an extension of the control pad, like the two were one. It was an amazing thing to behold, and B‘Elanna was filled with awe at his skill. She knew he was a good pilot, but because they were rarely on the bridge together, watching him like this was a rare thing for her.

She finally pulled her eyes away from him and looked at the sensor readouts. "Tom, that large one over there to the left. It‘s got heavy concentrations of duranium! See if you can find somewhere to land on that thing." Her voice was filled with excitement, one of her top choices in metals seemed to be in abundance on this meteor.

He smiled and nodded, glancing down at the navigational readout momentarily. "Here we go. A nice flat area to set the shuttle down on. It‘s not the best possible place to set down, but it will have to do. And when we engage the locking clamps, we‘ll be fine."

She stood up as he got into position to land. "I‘m going to change into the environmental suit. Be right back." She scooted to the back, quickly changing into the heavy, but necessary suit.

They landed with a quiet thud moments later and she joined Tom up at the cockpit. "You better go change as well. As soon as we open the door, the cabin will depressurize." He nodded and made his way to the back to change. A few minutes later he joined her, and they made their way to the cabin door. With quick, yet quiet movements the door was opened and they stepped outside. Their heavy, weighted boots helped them to maintain their foothold on this barren, flying rock in space.

Tom glanced up at the stars, feeling insignificant against such a massive backdrop. He watched as two smaller asteroids collided, sending even smaller chunks of rock flying in opposite directions. He felt like he could‘ve watched this scene all day, but he knew they had work to do. With a small shake of his head he looked back down and saw that B‘Elanna was already several feet ahead of him. He shook his head again, this time in amusement. If he was ‚always the Pilot‘, then B‘Elanna was equally ‚always the Engineer‘. He chuckled inside himself as he tried to catch up to her.

B‘Elanna walked briskly forward, well as briskly as the heavy suit would allow, constantly scanning with her tricorder. There were metals scattered all around them, but there was a really large concentration just ahead of them.

Within a few minutes Tom had caught up to her as she reached a cave. ‚In here?‘ he motioned. She nodded and they entered the cave together. They walked along for a while until the cave branched off into two separate passageways. She consulted her tricorder again and struck off to the left.

Tom paused to glance down the other way, but quickly joined her as they made their way down the left passage. Suddenly everything shuddered around them. B‘Elanna looked up at him and he moved his hands together to simulate two asteroids hitting each other. She nodded and they continued onward.

B‘Elanna kept scanning with her tricorder, but couldn‘t seem to find anything. She growled in frustration and Tom looked at her in concern. They didn‘t have a lot of oxygen to waste. She made some adjustments to her tricorder and it started to flash insistently. She smiled, and motioned Tom to follow her. They walked on for a bit longer when they came across what appeared to be a large metal door. Tom and B‘Elanna looked at each other in surprise, turning wary eyes back to the door.

While B‘Elanna scanned the door, Tom felt along it trying to find a way to open it. He noticed one spot was a darker color and pressed down on that spot. The door swung open, and they stepped inside. It was a dark room, but the walls were amazingly smooth and straight. B‘Elanna scanned them, they were made up of duranium. That would explain the heavy concentration of duranium she had noticed on her scan.

They walked further into the room, phasers drawn. Suddenly light filled the room and they were surrounded by beings unlike any they had ever seen before. They floated freely, seemingly translucent but emanating their own light. Tom looked at the aliens with wonderment and fear, then, gathering his courage, he stepped forward.

Janeway smiled warmly at the screen, "Prime Minister Q‘Rella, I appreciate the offer, but we really have to get back to meet our shuttle." She turned from the screen and strode to her chair, sitting down and smiling again at the D‘Tlaaran leader of this outpost.

She smiled, "If there is anything we can ever do for you Captain, do not hesitate to contact me. Q‘Rella out."

She smiled to herself, D‘Tlaarans were such a... friendly... race. Turning to the ensign at the Conn, "Ensign Fitzpatrick, set coordinates for the rendezvous point, warp five. Chakotay, join me in my Ready Room, Tuvok you have the bridge."

Tuvok nodded and silently took her seat as the Captain and Commander disappeared into the Ready Room.

Janeway turned to Chakotay, "Neelix tells me that Jalix informed him of an M-Class planet ahead. He said that it‘s protected by some kind of magnetic forcefield though. When we get there we‘ll have to see if we can find a way to break through that so we can send down some shuttles to gather food."

He nodded, "I‘m sure the crew would appreciate some fresh fruit and vegetables. Since we‘ve had to shorten the amount of replicator rations, it‘s probably been a while since anyone‘s had some. If the planet is suitable, maybe we could schedule some shoreleave as well. I know I wouldn‘t mind getting out and stretching my legs on solid ground for a change."

She chuckled, "Getting a bit stir crazy?" At his grin and nod she continued, "I know the feeling. I wouldn‘t mind some myself. Go ahead and plan a schedule. If it works out then we‘ll use your schedule to arrange shoreleave for the crew."

He nodded and exited her Ready Room.

Tom Paris swallowed nervously, but walked forward slowly toward the aliens floating just a few feet in front of him. He raised his hands in the classic gesture of peace and goodwill, trying to tell them without words that he meant them no harm.

The aliens seemed to consult each other... although there were no words spoken. Suddenly Tom could hear them... not verbally, but telepathically. "She does. We scanned your thoughts. You do not intend to harm us, but she wants to. You are very different from each other. You are inquisitive and non-threatening. She is also inquisitive, but very aggressive."

He nodded, "Yes, she is different from me, but our two peoples have found our differences to be advantageous. Her people are passionate, yet honorable warriors. When any humanoid feels threatened their natural response is aggression. I‘m not showing it because I have been trained not to be, especially when meeting an alien race for the first time."

He turned and looked at B‘Elanna, then back at the aliens, "What you see before you, is a mixture of our two races, and she represents the best of both of us. She‘s talented and intelligent, yet if the need arose, there‘s no one else I‘d rather have fight at my side than her. However, we try to fight only when absolutely necessary. We would rather use reason to solve our problems."

Again they seemed to be consulting each other. Tom took the opportunity to glance at B‘Elanna again, she was looking at him in complete shock. She never knew that was how Tom felt about her. She‘d been trying to integrate the two sides of herself for so long that she hadn‘t really thought of how it might appear to others. He smiled warmly at her, then turned his attention back to the aliens.

Again the leader spoke to them, "She is surprised by you, and no longer thinks of harming us." Tom nodded, he‘d observed that as well. "Your two peoples have learned to live in harmony, even though they are so different?" Tom nodded and he continued, "We don‘t often observe such maturity in such young races. We are The Observers, and have seen many races throughout the galaxies. The peoples in this area of space are so very childlike in their warrior attitudes." He paused, seeming to make a decision. "Your people do not belong here. We have decided to help you find your way home."

B‘Elanna spoke at last, the Engineer in her unable to stay silent any longer. "We scanned this asteroid and found heavy deposits of duranium and other metals. We could really use them for our ship."

The lead alien looked at B‘Elanna with sad eyes, "Those metals are all part of this station and this station is our observing post. Our homeworld is very far away from here. I am sorry, little one, but we cannot give you the metals you seek."

B‘Elanna‘s hopeful expression fell, but he continued, "We will help you though. Your Voyager is going to be investigating a world. It is uninhabited, only animals enjoy this bounteous planet. It is protected by a forcefield we have put in place to protect it from the Children in this galaxy. We will allow you to pass through, it will provide protection for your people, allowing them to live there in peace."

Tom and B‘Elanna looked at each other in shock, this wasn‘t what they were expecting at all. B‘Elanna spoke again, "But... we have homes, back in the Alpha Quadrant. We‘re doing everything we can to get back there."

The lead alien again spoke, "Tell your leader that you are going home."

Tom nodded, a bit puzzled, "How do we let you know what she decides?"

"We will know." With that they seemed to shimmer and disappear. The room grew dark and silent. Without the aliens present they could no longer hear each other‘s thoughts. The room was now empty except for themselves. Tom motioned to the door and she nodded. They quickly made their way back out of the cave and to the shuttle, each lost in their own thoughts. They entered the shuttle and as soon as the door sealed and the cabin repressurized, they shed their suits and looked at each other.

Tom finally broke the silence, "Did you realize we were speaking telepathically? I didn‘t realize it until they were gone and we couldn‘t hear each other any more."

She nodded, "Tom, what are we going to tell the Captain?"

He shrugged, "We‘ll just have to tell her everything that happened. The tricorder recorded the aliens, but we‘ll have to tell her what was said."

She sat down at the copilot‘s seat, thinking. "Do you think she‘ll go for it? I mean, it‘s the polar opposite of what we‘ve been trying to do for so long now."

He joined her, sitting in the pilot‘s seat. "Actually, I think you know more than I do what she‘d decide. You know the shape that the ship is in. Will she graciously accept their offer, or try to keep us going?"

She looked up at him sadly, "I can‘t tell. She‘s the one with all the responsibility on her shoulders." She bit her lip, deciding if she should tell him or not. "Tom, the ship is literally falling apart now. I don‘t know how much longer I can keep Voyager running anymore."

Tom looked at her with some surprise, "I know Voyager‘s had a lot of problems lately, but I didn‘t know it was that bad."

She nodded, "Only the Captain, Chakotay, Tuovk and I know just how bad she‘s gotten. She was an experimental ship, never meant to take the abuse that‘s been thrown at her. We‘ve been through attack after attack, she was inhabited by the Kazon, who did quite a number on a few of her systems, and she hasn‘t had any time in dry-dock, getting much needed maintenance and repairs that she would have if we were back home in the Alpha Quadrant. The Captain knows that without some major overhauls, we don‘t have much time before Voyager becomes a danger to her crew."

He looked at her for a few moments, letting all that she‘d just told him sink in. Then he nodded and turned back to the control panel, plotting their return course through the asteroid field.

B‘Elanna sat there quietly, lost in thought. She wondered if they did decide to stay on the planet the aliens had told them about, how it would affect all of their lives. Their lives would definitely change, their priorities and even their relationships with one another. She hadn‘t wanted to think about it, but now and then she remembered what Vorik had said about her prospects being limited for a mate.

She glanced up at Tom who was releasing the docking clamps and raising the shuttle off the surface. She knew who she wanted to be her mate; she‘d chosen him over a year ago. The question was, how did he feel about it? They‘d been dating for a long time now, and she knew he loved her, but they hadn‘t really discussed just where their relationship was headed. Maybe it was time they did.

Tom and B‘Elanna made the rest of the trip in silence, each lost in his or her own thoughts. They rejoined Voyager sooner than they thought they would, as they had spent such a short time in the asteroid field. After docking, they made their way to the turbolift and entered. He glanced at her and saw her biting her lower lip, he smiled, she always did that when she was nervous about something. He reached for her hand and squeezed it gently. She looked at him in surprise, "It‘ll be okay, B‘Elanna, whatever happens."

She nodded, "I know, but I hate being the bearer of bad news, and that‘s all I seem to bring to her lately." She paused, "Thanks, though."

He smiled, "Anytime."

The lift soon brought them to the Bridge and they exited quickly and quietly. The Captain stood up and walked toward her ready room, "Tom, B‘Elanna, Chakotay, Tuvok, in my ready room. Harry, you have the Bridge." He nodded and slipped into her chair as the four of them exited the Bridge.

Janeway sat at her desk and Chakotay sat on the couch. B‘Elanna and Tom stood at attention. "At ease, Lieutenants. Have a seat, we may as well be comfortable."

They nodded and sat at the two chairs in front of her desk. Janeway glanced from one face to another, seeing... something she couldn‘t quite put her finger on. Apprehension was evident, but there was something else there as well, almost... excitement.

Tom cleared his throat and began his tale with B‘Elanna filling in now and then, adding something he‘d forgotten. When it came to the tale of the aliens, they seemed to consult without words, glancing at each other as they were trying to put into words what they had only felt in their minds.

Finally the whole story was finished and Janeway sat back, a thoughtful look on her face. "Tell me again what the alien said for you to tell me."

B‘Elanna cleared her throat, "He said to tell you that we are going home."

Janeway stood up and paced the room, finally stopping in front of the couch to look at Chakotay. "Could they possibly know?"

He shrugged his shoulders, "This quadrant is full of many strange and wonderful things, I wouldn‘t be surprised if they did."

Tuvok cleared his throat, "Captain, I would recommend caution. Are we to assume that these aliens are simply giving us this planet?"

She nodded, "Good point." She leaned back in her chair, dis-missing them. Had they truly found their home? She‘d promised the crew that she would get them home, but maybe that home wasn‘t in the Alpha Quadrant anymore? Could the aliens Tom and B‘Elanna met really know that? Could they be trusted? Chakotay was right about this quadrant being full of strange and wonderful things.

She sighed and leaned back in her chair. It seemed they would know more shortly. Although she refused to admit it aloud, she had a feeling that life on Voyager was going to be changing quite a bit, and it was up to her to be their leader yet again. This time not leading them home to the Alpha Quadrant, but possibly to a home here in the Delta Quadrant.

"Captain, we‘re coming up on the planet now." Chakotay‘s voice broke through her musings and she pulled herself and her thoughts together. Exiting her Ready Room she strode to the command chair and took her place. "On screen."

Immediately the screen came to life and there was a collective gasp. Janeway stood up and approached the viewscreen, hardly believing her eyes. There, in the middle of the screen hung a blue and white marbled planet. Tears welled up and she tried to hold them in. As she was clearing her throat, she heard Harry whisper a single word..."Earth."

Janeway turned around, her soft blue eyes sparkling with unshed tears. "No Harry, not Earth, but she sure is beautiful isn‘t she?" He nodded, embarrassed that he had blurted it aloud. Janeway smiled at him warmly, letting him know that she understood how he felt.

Turning to the Commander, she ordered him to prepare for Blue Alert. The excitement on the bridge mounted as they realized they were going to land Voyager on the surface. Turning back to Harry, she asked him to scan the surface for a good spot to land.

He grinned, "Yes, Ma‘am!"

She shook her head in amusement, she‘d tried to break him of the habit, but had yet to succeed. "At ease, Ensign. It‘s not crunch time yet."

He smiled, then turned back to his monitor. "Captain, I believe the largest continent would be good, it‘s fairly flat and it would be easy to land there."

She nodded, "Give the coordinates to Tom."

Chakotay turned from the monitor he‘d been conferring with to face her, "We‘re ready. All nonessential personnel have been confined to quarters while we land."

She nodded, "Take us in, Mister Paris."

His fingers flew across the Conn, making minute adjustments to their trajectory as they entered the atmosphere with amazing ease. The forcefield that they‘d detected just suddenly seemed to disappear, as if it hadn‘t been there at all.

Janeway caught her breath as they approached the surface. It always amazed her that such a large ship could land with such ease and grace, yet they‘d done it a few times now. From beside her she heard the Commander say quietly that he‘d engaged the landing struts and were ready to land. "All right Tom, set us down nice... and... easy."

He nodded once, and slowly and gently brought the ship closer to the surface. With a final thud, they landed and everyone sighed in relief. It was a marvelous thing that they could land, but it was not without its dangers as well.

Janeway turned once more to the Commander, "I want all senior members of the bridge crew in the conference room. We have a lot to discuss."

He nodded and quickly arranged for replacements. Tom waited until B‘Elanna had arrived from Engineering, then he followed her to the conference room.

Harry watched Tom and B‘Elanna enter last. They sat down, and although they weren‘t saying a word, their eyes were speaking a mile a minute. He knew something was up, but dared not ask what just yet. He turned his attention to the Captain, hoping that she would clarify exactly what was going on.

Janeway cleared her throat and the room instantly quieted. Five pairs of eyes turned to her and waited for her to begin. They didn‘t have to wait long, "We are at a crossroads, ladies and gentlemen. This is the time where we have a decision to make, a very important one."

Looking around the table she saw them nodding, all except Harry who looked totally confused. She smiled at him, "I‘m sorry, Harry, you are the only one here who hasn‘t heard of Tom and B‘Elanna‘s recent encounter, and the decision we now face."

Turning her glance to Tom and B‘Elanna, "Tom, B‘Elanna, why don‘t you tell us again what happened when you went to the asteroid field."

Tom nodded, "Yes, Captain." He glanced at B‘Elanna and she nodded. Once again they told their story--- how they went to the asteroid field to obtain metals, and instead met an alien culture who had a very interesting proposition for them. By the end of the story, Harry‘s jaw had nearly dropped to the table, and he had to force himself to keep his mouth closed.

Janeway looked over her bridge officers, knowing that they all now realized what that decision was, and hoping they realized just how hard that decision was going to be. "I will be making my final decision tomorrow." Turning to Chakotay she continued, "Right now I would like to release all nonessential crew to get out and explore a bit. Make sure we have a skeleton crew for the necessary departments, but until 0800 hours tomorrow, everyone else is released from their duties." Chakotay nodded and she brought her gaze back to the rest of the room, "Make sure the crew stays in groups of at least two. So far, sensors indicate that this planet is entirely hospitable, but until we have thoroughly established that, I don‘t want to take any chances."

They nodded and she smiled at them all, "Then you‘re all dismissed."

Chakotay had the distinct feeling that he was being watched. Looking up from his PADD he saw Paris, Torres, and Kim‘s eyes all fixed on him. He smiled, "You heard her, you‘re released." Their faces wore equally large grins as they hopped out of their chairs. B‘Elanna and Harry were halfway to the door when Tom, his eyes filled with devilish mischief exclaimed, "Yes, sir!" with an old fashioned salute, then quickly hightailed it out of the room behind them.

Chakotay shook his head, not even trying to hide the grin on his face. He might not have always gotten along with the hotshot young pilot, but couldn‘t deny that Tom had brought more than one smile to his face in the past few years. A quiet chuckle beside him had him glancing at his Captain. He raised his eyebrows and she shook her head. "I swear Chakotay, I sometimes feel like we‘re the parents of an extremely large family."

He nodded, "You know what? I wouldn‘t have it any other way. It‘s life before Voyager and my life now. I can‘t imagine ever going back to that now. Voyager has become my home, and where I belong is right here." He‘d placed his hands on the tabletop, emphasizing his words.

He didn‘t have to say it, she knew he meant at her side. She smiled warmly at him, "The last few years have certainly been something haven‘t they?" She glanced away from him to the windows flanking the right side of the room . Her gaze was met by blue sky and puffy white clouds floating by. At the bottom of the window she could see the tops of trees, their branches and leaves fluttering in the occasional breeze. "Are we really home, Chakotay? Is this where it ends?"

Chakotay looked at her for a few seconds, then, seeming to make up his mind, he brought her hand to his lips and kissed it softly, bringing her gaze back to him. "Who said anything about it being an end? True, one phase of our journey has ended, but the next phase begins now. I‘m rather excited about it to tell you the truth."

He leaned in closer, his eyes lit by that excitement. "Kathryn, look at us, at Voyager. Just as our crew is no longer Federation and Maquis, but Voyager‘s crew...*our* crew, this planet can become our home. Not Earth, not Vulcan, not any of the planets that our crew is originally from, but our planet, our home."

By the time he finished, she had tears in her eyes for the second time that day. "Thank you, all I was seeing was the fact that I had failed, that all my promises were being broken. You have such a way of seeing things, you see beyond the here and now to what might be. No wonder you‘re the best First Officer I‘ve ever had the pleasure to work with."

She stood up and walked over to the windows, her arms crossed in front of her. He watched her for a moment, then stood up and joined her. He paused for a moment behind her, then gently placed his hands on her shoulders. To his surprise she relaxed into him, allowing him to hold her.

She turned her head slightly to look at him, "It is beautiful isn‘t it?" she asked, indicating the view outside.

His eyes never leaving her face he answered, "Yes... it is." To her own surprise she felt a blush stealing up her neck to bloom on her cheeks. Her eyes reflected her confusion, she wasn‘t ready to ask him what he meant, she turned back to the view. They stood that way for a while, each drawing upon the other‘s strength, knowing that the decision to stay had already been made for them before they had even landed.

Tom, Harry and B‘Elanna had taken off in the direction of a nearby forest. The trees were huge, and Harry was convinced they were hundreds of years old. Along the way they collected samples of berries and other fruits and nuts they encountered. They would take them back to the ship to have them analyzed later.

Harry was scanning ahead on his tricorder, when Tom called to him. "Harry, we‘ve been walking for hours. I need a break."

B‘Elanna looked at Harry, then at Tom. "Harry, I‘ll stay with Tom. If you want to keep going, go ahead. Just don‘t get too far ahead of us okay?"

Harry grinned, "Sure B‘Elanna. I‘ll be back soon."

Tom sighed, "Thanks, let‘s find someplace comfortable to sit down for a while." She nodded and they wandered off to the left.

"Tom, do you hear water?"

"I thought I did, but I wasn‘t sure. Come on, let‘s check it out." Tom flipped open his tricorder, and a few moments later they came upon a small stream.

"This is wonderful! Have you ever seen such a beautiful spot?" B‘Elanna walked forward, enchanted. There was soft green moss everywhere, and there were large, flat rocks all around. She sat down on one of the rocks and leaned forward to pluck a flower from the small bunch that were snuggled against the rock. She brought it to her nose, inhaling its sweet scent and closing her eyes in appreciation.

Tom watched her in silence. It was so rare to catch her like this, where she was open and unguarded. He glanced across the stream to the other side where there was a clearing. Just then the clouds that had been overhead passed by and a stream of pure golden sunlight shone down upon the area. He looked back at her, then at the clearing and a vision of a small house filled with laughter and love, with him and B‘Elanna came to him.

He was so caught up in what he was seeing that he didn‘t hear her approach. "Tom, what is it?"

He swallowed over the lump that had risen in his throat and blinked hard, clearing the picture from his mind. He looked at her and smiled tenderly, "Ask me again sometime."

She frowned at him, knowing that something was on his mind. Deciding he would tell her in time she shrugged. "Well, come on then. These rocks are perfect." She turned and walked back to the rocks and sat down. She closed her eyes, soaking in the warmth of the sun and the silence of the area. She loved her job, working in Engineering, but sometimes she just wanted to get away to somewhere quiet. This was the most perfect spot she‘d ever encountered to

He watched her go, then followed her over and sat down. He picked up the flower she had dropped and twirled it between his fingers, watching it spin this way and that. Should he tell her? He was deeply in love with her, and wanted nothing more than for her to marry him and be with him forever.

For a long time before "The Pon Farr Incident" as he called it, he‘d been mildly pursuing her. He knew that beneath that sometimes gruff exterior a surprisingly soft heart was beating. She‘d deny it to her last breath, but he‘d seen evidence of it often enough to know it was there. He was fascinated by her duality; the Klingon B‘Elanna and the Human B‘Elanna always fighting for control of who she was. It was something he‘d been trying to tell her for a long time, that the combination of her two halves made her more interesting than either one of them would be alone.

Despite Harry‘s misgivings, this was a forever kind of thing for him. The thought of settling down forever with just one person used to terrify him. ‚Why settle for one, when there‘s a galaxy of girls out there?‘ had been his motto. Now... well, now he could see himself getting married, settling down, living in a house with a wife and kids...and being truly happy living that way, especially if it was with the woman sitting mere inches from him right now.

He looked at her again, for someone so strong, so seemingly self assured, she didn‘t have a lot of faith in herself sometimes. He decided that he‘d have to find a way to ask her without scaring her off. Then it came to him. He‘d take the basic Sandrine‘s program, which hadn‘t been used in a while, and modify it. He‘d make it a private dinner for two. Then he‘d talk to her, quietly yet sincerely letting her know what was in his heart. He hoped it would work. It had to, he couldn‘t imagine being with anyone else now.

"Have you thought about how living here is going to change our lives?" Her voice broke through his thoughts and he looked at her. Her eyes opened slowly. "I‘ve been sitting here with my eyes closed, trying to imagine us settling here. It‘s going to be harder on some than others. What about you, Tom? Aren‘t you going to miss flying?"

He nodded, "I will, but I figure that we‘ll be too busy at first for me to notice. Once we get things settled a bit, I‘m going to ask the Captain about the possibility of setting up a flight school. We‘re going to need the shuttles for short trips, and we‘ll need pilots for them. And eventually we‘re going to want to make trips off planet, if only to open up trade relations with our neighbors."

She looked at him, "You‘ve really given this some thought, haven‘t you?"

He chuckled at her amazement, "Actually, I‘ve been thinking about it off and on since we left the meteor."

She nodded, she had noticed that they had both been very quiet on their return trip. Each of them had been lost in their own thoughts of what was to come. Silence reigned once again as they returned once more to their thoughts of what was to come, only now it was pretty much decided as to where the future of the crew of Voyager was going to be.

"Tom, B‘Elanna, look at this!" Harry‘s excited voice broke the spell of silence that had wrapped itself around them. They jumped up as Harry came through the trees, his face flushed and excited.

"What is it Harry?" B‘Elanna moved toward him, and Tom followed right behind.

"You guys have got to see this... I found a river!" He started off in the direction he had come from, "C‘mon you two!"

The two looked at each other and smiled, Harry‘s enthusiasm was infectious. They followed him through the trees and back onto the path. He was several feet ahead already, so they broke into a run to catch up. They came through the dark forest into a sun-filled scene of gently undulating tall green grass that gently sloped downward. Their mouths opened in surprised delight and their eyes widened. At the bottom of the gently undulating grass was a wide river that was so blue it nearly hurt their eyes to look at it. They grinned at each other and quickly ran the rest of the way down to join Harry.

"Guys, this is wonderful! We have a nearby water source, and I was thinking... we could use this river to provide energy." Harry‘s voice had an excited edge to it that was infectious.

B‘Elanna‘s eyes widened, "Of course... a dam! We could build a dam and use it to catch the energy of the flowing water. Voyager‘s got a lot of power, but we can‘t expect to live off of her forever. We‘re going to have to find ways to do things on our own."

Tom looked back at the forest they had just come through, "Looks like we have plenty of wood to build with too. How are we going to cut it for lumber though?"

Harry and B‘Elanna looked at each other, their minds whirling with possibilities. "The phasers?" Harry asked.

She nodded, "The handheld ones are okay for cutting small things, but we could use the ship‘s phasers to cut large pieces. I‘d have to modify it of course, but I‘m sure it would work."

Tom looked at the two of them, they were already planning new machines in their heads, he could see it. He smiled and shook his head, it was always like that with these two. "Well, come on then."

Harry looked up at him, puzzled. "Come on where?"

His grin widened, "If you two are going to be designing new machines, shouldn‘t you be back on the ship?"

Harry grinned back, blushing a little. "Yeah, I guess so."

The trio made their way back through the forest to the ship.

When they got there they took the main turbolift to Engineering.

As Harry and B‘Elanna exited, Tom hung back.

B‘Elanna turned around and looked at him quizzically. He smiled, "I‘ve got something to do in my quarters. Why don‘t you two go ahead and get to work. I‘m sure I would just be in the way anyway."

She frowned, looked back at Harry, then back to Tom. She did have a lot of ideas that she wanted to work with Harry on, but she didn‘t want Tom to feel left out either. "I‘m sure you wouldn‘t be in the way, Tom, why don‘t you come with us?"

He smiled at her warmly, her soft heart was showing again. "It‘s okay, Bella, I really do have something to do." He dipped his head and gave her a quick kiss. "I‘ll see you later... and that‘s a promise."

She smiled, "All right then." She still looked a little unsure, but decided to let him go anyway. She turned and joined Harry further down the hallway. He‘d gone ahead a bit to give them a little privacy.

Tom watched them as they made their way to Engineering, discussing this idea and that. He smiled at them and let them go. He wanted to get to his quarters and consult the computer. He had a little research of his own to do, it didn‘t affect the whole ship, but one very important member of her crew.

Tom walked into Engineering, the computer had told him that she was in here. Now it was just a matter of locating her. He spotted her in her office, consulting the computer. He walked over and leaned against the doorway.

She looked up as he came in, "Hi, Tom, what can I do for you?"

He smiled, "Actually it‘s what I can do for you."

She had looked back at her monitor, but her eyes snapped up to his. "Oh, what‘s that?" Wry amusement was evident in her tone and voice. He‘d done this more than once during the last year or so.

"Have you had dinner yet?" He knew she hadn‘t, but it never hurt to ask.

She smiled, knowing where this was headed. "No, I haven‘t had the time. Harry and I have been working on designs all afternoon for a type of woodcutter."

He walked in a bit further, "Then I say it‘s high time you took a break to get something to eat. And I‘m not taking no for an answer. Besides, you can‘t think clearly if you don‘t have any fuel in you, can you?"

She shook her head and threw up her hands in mock surrender.

"Okay, I give. The mess?"

He shook his head, "Nope, I‘ve got Holodeck One reserved and a real replicated dinner awaiting us."

Her eyes widened, "Well, with a deal like that, how can I resist?"

He grinned, "Just what I was hoping you‘d say. Come on, let‘s go."

She smiled and followed him out of Engineering. She told him

about the different ideas she and Harry had come up with that

afternoon. He smiled and laughed at some of their more out-

rageous ideas. Within a few minutes they‘d arrived at the

Holodeck. Tom walked to the computer terminal, "Computer, run

Paris Program 12, Sandrine‘s 2"

She raised her eyebrows, "There‘s a different version of Sandrine‘s?"

He smiled, "I programmed it this afternoon in fact. I hope you like it."

The computer informed them that they could enter. Tom followed her in, and immediately engaged the privacy lock. Sandrines had been such a popular program that if he didn‘t put the lock on, anyone could and most likely would, walk right in. He stood at the entrance, watching her reaction to the changes.

She looked around, taking in the different setting. The bar was still there, and the old fashioned piano was still in the back, but in the middle of the room where the pool table usually resided was a table set for two. She looked around some more, something was missing. Then it hit her, Gaunt Gary, and Ricki were gone. Those two had always gotten on her nerves.

Tom noticed her glance in his direction and smiled. He indicated the table, "Shall we?"

She smiled and followed him to the table. Moments after they sat down, a waiter appeared to take their order. She raised her eyebrows at Tom and he smiled, "I set it up so that whatever you tell the waiter to bring you will be like ordering from a replicator."

She looked at the waiter, then back at Tom. "Very impressive programming."

He shrugged, "It‘s always been a hobby of mine."

They ordered their dinners and sat back, talking about their current situation. B‘Elanna stabbed a bite of her pre-dinner salad. "I wonder how the Captain‘s taking this whole thing?"

Tom frowned, his fork paused over his plate. "I think she‘ll be okay. She‘s probably feeling guilty right now, if I know her, but one good thing about this is that she‘s got Chakotay to help. You know, I may not have always gotten along with the Commander very well, but I‘ve always had respect for him. It‘s just hard to show it sometimes."

She shrugged, "I‘ve never had a problem with that."

He chuckled, "That‘s because he sees you as his younger sister. To tell you the truth, I‘ve always been a little jealous of his relationship with you; it‘s so close."

B‘Elanna‘s communicator interrupted what she was about to say.

"Kim to Torres. B‘Elanna, can I see you for a minute?"

She looked at Tom and he smiled, "Go ahead, I want to get something from the bar anyway."

She smiled, relieved. "Thanks, Tom. I‘ll be right back." She hopped up and quickly exited the Holodeck.

Tom looked around, the Holodeck looked so empty without her in it. He got up and went to the bar, pouring himself a glass of synthale, then he walked to the back and sat down at the piano. He ran his fingers up and down it, listening to the notes. He played a little song he‘d learned when he was a kid, then he started to play a slow song.

Clearing his throat he began to sing some of the lines he knew until he hit the right notes. He was so into it that he hadn‘t heard the Holodeck doors opening again. Satisfied that he had the notes down, he began to play. He started out quietly at first, then his pure tenor voice increased with volume and passion as he began to sing:

The very first time that I saw your brown eyes, your lips said "hello" and I said "hi".

I knew right then you were the one.

But I was caught up in physical attraction.

But to my satisfaction, you were more than just a friend.

And if I ever fall in love again,

I will be sure that the lady is a friend.

And if I ever fall in love so true,

I will be sure that the lady‘s just like you.

If I say that I can be your one and only, promise, promise, promise that you‘ll never leave me lonely. I just want to be the one you need.

I just want to be the one to serve you, sometimes I feel as if I don‘t deserve you. I cherish every moment that we share.

And if I ever fall in love again,

I will be sure that the lady is a friend

And if I ever fall in love so true,

I will be sure that the lady‘s just like you.

B‘Elanna hadn‘t made her prescence known, she had walked in just as the song had started. By the end of it she had tears in her eyes. She walked to Tom and laid a hand on his shoulder. "Tom, that was beautiful. I didn‘t know you could sing, or play for that matter."

He shrugged, "I don‘t really. I just pick out the notes by ear until they sound right." He paused, not sure how she would react. "B‘Elanna, have you ever thought about settling down, getting married, having a family. That kind of thing?"

She widened her eyes, surprised by the question. It was some-thing she had been thinking a lot about lately. She looked into his eyes, gauging how serious he was. She saw only honest curiosity, and something else...something undefinable there. She decided to answer him honestly, "Would it surprise you to know I have?"

He looked at her for a moment, then nodded slowly, "A little bit. Our lives are certainly nothing like they were before are they? I know that a few years ago I couldn‘t imagine wanting to find one person to settle down with forever, but now... and especially in light of our current situation, I find myself thinking about it more and more."

B‘Elanna bit her lip, wanting to ask him who it was that he was thinking of settling down with, hoping he meant her, but afraid of what the answer would be. Deciding to go for it she asked quietly, "Anyone I know?"

Tom swallowed, but took her hand in his. "Someone you know very well." Deciding to go all the way he continued, "Someone you look at in the mirror every day in fact."

"Tom?" His name was a question on her lips. He nodded slowly, trying to tell her with his eyes what his heart was feeling.

B‘Elanna shivered, suddenly cold. Every time she had loved someone, they left her. Could she trust him to stay? He wasn‘t the galactic Romeo he‘d tried to make everyone believe he was, but still... She looked him straight in the eye, "Why?"

"Why do I love you?" He saw her nod and paused. "I swore that if I ever fell in love again, it would be with someone I truly loved and respected as a friend first." He paused, weighing his next words carefully, "You wanted to know why I love you?"

She nodded, and he continued, "It‘s hard to put into words, but I‘ll try." He looked deeply into her eyes and began, "You‘re unlike anyone I‘ve ever known before. You do things that I wish I had the bravery to do. If you don‘t agree with someone, you let them know that, and why. You‘re the best friend anyone could ever hope to have. You‘re loyal, intelligent, and you have the most wicked sense of humor I‘ve ever seen besides my own. And you‘re just as beautiful on the outside." She looked closely at his face, wanting... no, needing to see the truth in his eyes.

"I have never met anyone before you whose eyes reminded me of the deepest, darkest, mysterious night." His fingertip traced her brow and down her cheek. "Or whose lips reminded me of the deepest, reddest roses." His index finger ran lightly across her lower lip, which now trembled. "And your ridges..."

She closed her eyes, embarrassed. For a few moments she had forgotten about them. Her eyes flew open as she felt his finger run along each ridge, then down to the next one, then down to the next. His eyes were on her forehead as he did this, then they dropped to look into her eyes. "Your ridges fascinate me, Bella... you fascinate me. Next to you, other women look featureless."

Her eyes shone with unshed tears, tears which she swore would not fall. "Do you really mean that?"

He nodded, "I love you, B‘Elanna Torres. Heart, body, and soul." He looked at her, waiting. He‘d said what was in his heart, but he wanted to know what was in hers as well.

She swallowed, "I..." the words would not come, her throat was too clogged with emotion to talk. Deciding to show him without words what he meant to her she reached up to wrap her arms around him, pulling him down to her. At first it was just a whisper of a kiss, lips barely touching. Then it deepened and grew, their mouths speaking for their minds. When they broke apart they were both breathless. "I love you too."

"Marry me?"

She nodded and he closed his eyes, pulling her close. For once in his life he was completely happy.

The mess hall was a noisy place that night. Everyone had gathered together to swap stories of what they‘d done that day, where they‘d gone, and what they‘d found. One group had found a fruit that was quickly determined to be edible. It kind of looked like an orange, only it was green, and it tasted like a combination of peach and apple. It was a big hit with the crew, who hadn‘t had any real fruits or vegetables in quite a while.

Harry Kim sat alone at a table in the farthest corner, he was bored... and lonely. He was happy for his best friends, but he was also finding himself feeling very left out. He picked at his dinner half-heartedly, hardly noticing the hideous combination of purple and orange that resided on the plate before him.

"You look like someone who could use a friend to talk to. Mind if I join you?" Kes‘ deep, soothing voice broke through his thoughts and he smiled up at her.

"Hi Kes. Sure, have a seat. I‘ve got to warn you though, I‘m not particularly good company right now."

She smiled warmly at him, "That‘s why I joined you."

He smiled at her, cheered already. She had gotten so pretty lately. He particularly liked her new, longer hairstyle. He sighed, would he ever find someone now? He‘d known for a while now that even if they did somehow make it back to the Alpha Quadrant, Libby had probably moved on. He was happy for her, but it left him wondering about himself.

"Harry, what is it? What‘s bothering you?" She reached across the table, touching his hand lightly.

He sighed as he pushed his uneaten food away from him, "I‘ve just been thinking. We‘re all going to be pairing off now. Tom and B‘Elanna have already started, and it‘s just a matter of time before the rest of the crew does as well. I‘m happy for them, don‘t get me wrong. I just feel left behind I guess." He sighed again, running his hand through his hair. "I guess I‘m just feeling a little sorry for myself right now. I‘ll get over it though, don‘t worry."

She sat back, watching him. She wondered if he realized just how handsome he really was. "Tell you what, I‘ve got a lot of extra replicator rations saved up. How about I treat you to a replicated meal? You can show me some of your favorites and we can talk."

His eyes widened, "I‘d love to, Kes. Where would you like to go?

We could go to my quarters or yours, it‘s up to you."

She smiled, "I don‘t think I‘ve ever been to your quarters before.

Let‘s go there."

He grinned and hopped up, she walked with him as he dropped off his tray. They exited the mess hall and made their way to the turbolift. They chatted about this and that during the ride. He was surprised to discover that she had an interest in music as well. When they got to his quarters he showed her his clarinet. She told him she‘d replicated a harp a while back and had been practicing now and then on it, but hadn‘t had any real training.

He set the steaming dishes down at the table. "I don‘t know how to play the harp, that‘s a rather difficult instrument, but I could give you some basic music lessons. Teach you how to read notes and all that."

She smiled at him as she finished her bite. "I‘d love that. I haven‘t really spent much time on it actually. I‘m usually kept pretty busy helping the Doctor. Speaking of, I‘ve heard that we‘re going to stay here, on the planet, what are we going to do with him?"

He frowned, his fork poised over his plate. "You know, I hadn‘t thought of that yet. We‘re going to need him. We could build a hospital and transfer his program there. That way he wouldn‘t be dependent on Voyager‘s computer to keep him running. With the autonomous transmitter, he can pretty much go anywhere."

She nodded and smiled. "Harry, this is delicious. What‘s it called?"

He smiled, "It‘s called Lemon Chicken. My mom used to make it all the time. She had a real sweet-tooth, and always made it just a little too sweet, almost candy-like. My dad didn‘t particularly like sweet things, but he‘d eat it all and compliment her anyway." He was silent for a moment, remembering.

"You were very close weren‘t you?"

He sighed, setting his fork down. "Yeah, we were. I was their only child, and I came late in life for both of them. I never felt lonely though, I always had one of them to talk to. When Mom found out that I loved music, she was in seventh heaven. We used to spend hours together. Mom at the piano, me at the clarinet."

She smiled, "It was hard for me to leave home too, it was the only link I had to my parents, although they‘d already died." She reached across the table, squeezing his hand. "I wouldn‘t trade my time on Voyager for anything though. You, all of you, have become my family."

He squeezed her hand and let it go. "Kes, why did you and Neelix break up? I mean, you can tell me to drop it, and I will, but I‘d really like to know."

She smiled, "It doesn‘t bother me, Harry. When I met Neelix, I thought I‘d found my hero. I was infatuated with him, he was the most fascinating person I‘d ever met. I was very young though, barely past one. As I grew up, our lives started to change as we drifted apart in our interests and ideals. I wanted to have a husband and family, he was focusing on his job here on Voyager. I‘m four years old, it‘s nearly time to have a child if I‘m going to, and I‘m not getting any younger."

He nodded, "I‘m sorry it didn‘t work out."

She smiled, "Thanks. I was too, but one thing that my backwards trip in time taught me was to not waste any time. I know what I want... what I need, and Neelix was unable or unwilling to provide it. I had to decide what was more important. It hurt, but it was necessary."

He smiled a little sadly, and nodded. They finished their dinner, learning more about the other as they made their way through the selection of Asian dishes Harry had chosen. After finishing dinner, they spent the rest of the evening talking about the future. Setting up a classroom for training medical students, how they would build the hospital, and a lot of other wild ideas they thought up. Some were practical, others weren‘t, but Harry realized he hadn‘t had such an enjoyable evening without his two best friends in a really long time.

As the night wore on, they grew more comfortable with each other. So comfortable that when Harry took her to her quarters that night "as a gentleman always should" he‘d said, she thought nothing of it when he‘d leaned down to kiss her goodnight. It had started out as a quick goodnight kiss between friends, but quickly grew more intense. Both of them wore identical expressions of shocked amazement when they broke apart.

Harry broke the silence first, "Um... well, goodnight then. I‘ll see you tomorrow."

She looked up at him, "Tomorrow...right. Goodnight Harry." She slipped inside her quarters. As the doors swished shut she found herself standing in the middle of the room, lost in thought. Finally, shaking off the strange feeling that had enveloped her, she made her way to the bed. She stopped and looked at herself in the mirror. Her hair was curled around her face, which was still flushed. She brought her fingers to her lips, brushing them with her fingertips. "Wow."

Outside in the hallway, Harry was having the same reaction. He finally tore his eyes off of her door and made his way down the hallway. On his way back to his quarters he passed Tom, who was on his way to his.

Tom grinned, "Harry, you‘re out and about awfully late."

Harry smiled, "Hi Tom, yeah. Well, goodnight." He kept walking, his mind still on the incredible kiss he‘d just shared with Kes.

Tom watched him walk by. That was one of the shortest conversations they‘d ever had before. He hoped Harry was all right. He‘d sounded...funny. Shrugging, he entered his quarters where he found a note from B‘Elanna wishing him goodnight. Thoughts of Harry quickly left as he crafted a reply.

The next morning, everyone was back on duty, and there was an expectant kind of hush that had settled over the crew. At 0800 hours Captain Kathryn Janeway addressed the entire ship from her Ready Room.

"When we were first brought here by the Caretaker, I made a promise that somehow I would get you home. I meant home to the Alpha Quadrant, but life, it seems, has decided otherwise."

She paused, gathering her thoughts, "Voyager is dying, and there is very little we can do to stop it. An alien culture that Lt. Paris and Lt. Torres met have offered us this planet as a place to build a colony. They have offered us protection, and after all that we have faced during the last four and a half years, I‘m willing to accept it."

"I wanted to let all of you know that you have been the best crew I have ever had the pleasure of serving with. When we first came together... we were two crews forced to be one. It seems that once again we need to come together, this time not as a crew... but as a family. It won‘t be easy, but we will all need to work together to make this planet truly our home. Janeway out."

The End?

And that‘s all she wrote... well... this is what I‘ve written so far. If the story is received well, I will be adding more parts, telling what happens on the planet. Since they‘re going to be so busy creating a colony, will Tom and B‘Elanna ever get married? Will Janeway ever let Chakotay love her the way he wants to? Will Harry and Kes get together? There‘s a lot that can still be explored. Let me know if you‘d like me to explore it.