Distance - A coda to Endgame

Star Trek Voyager 

P/T (J/C)

Summary: Sometimes homecomings can be very painful.

Rating: PG 
Disclaimer: Paramount owns the characters but I love to play with them. Thanks to BR for her outstanding beta skills and to Stace for her timely advice.

Date: August, 2001

Author: Brigid (brigidandmike@juno.com)

Distance - A coda to Endgame

Captain Thomas Eugene Paris was on a mission. It didn't make much sense to him why he was the one sent on this mission, but that didn't really matter. He was tired and, in spite of his protests to the contrary, he needed a break. That was the real reason Admiral Kim had ordered him to the fourth planet of a distant star called Revon to investigate the crash of a shuttlecraft. 

Tom mused on the absurdity of Harry Kim as an admiral. Starfleet's "oldest living ensign" had become one of its youngest admirals. To Tom he was still just the green ensign who was like a kid brother, always hanging around the seven years they were lost in the Delta quadrant. No, that wasn't fair. Harry was his best friend, his and B'Elanna's. 'Don't go there, Thomas, my boy, you won't be happy.' Tom deliberately turned his thoughts away, to consider Harry as an admiral and his boss. 

Harry commanded the shuttlecraft development program at Starfleet. He was smart, a damn fine engineer, and had worked hard to make rank. Tom was proud to say he knew him when he was a green ensign and proud to be working for him now. He owed his life to Harry, many times over. 

A week alone on a shuttlecraft trying to get to some godforsaken world on the other side of the galaxy was making Tom morbid. He needed to move around. There wasn't much room even on this long range class of flyer. It didn't have all the fun things that the Delta Flyer had been equipped with, but then, he and Harry were getting old. Bells and whistles didn't hold the attraction that they had held years ago. Voyager had returned to the Alpha quadrant 18 years ago. It seemed like a lifetime ago. 

Tom shook the memories away again and put the shuttle on autopilot. He was in desperate need of the exercise machine stowed in the living area. He could feel his old joints freezing up more every day and he wasn't about to let that happen. He was proud of the way he had stayed in shape all these years. Plenty of exercise, clean living and good food, those were the doc's recommendations for a long life. Well, he wasn't going to slouch on the exercise. The only problem with exercising alone was that it gave you way too much time to think. Tom's thoughts traveled back over the last 18 years. He thought his life had been tough before Voyager, it was nothing compared to the last 18 years.

The homecoming had been everything they hoped for and dreaded. Tom's family had welcomed them with open arms. B'Elanna's father had called, once. She was still uncomfortable talking to him and it was evident in her voice. John Torres never tried again. 

Tom had been pardoned and offered a commission with the rank of lieutenant in Starfleet. The Maquis had been pardoned and would be allowed to apply to Starfleet but they were made no promises. He had tried to talk B'Elanna into applying but her Klingon pride would not allow her to start at the bottom. She had been chief engineer of a Starship, she was not going to start back as an ensign or a crewman. Nothing that Tom or Harry or Janeway said could change her mind. Even Chakotay's urging had no effect. He hadn't chosen to accept the opportunity, why should she?

Tom accepted the proffered commission. At the time it seemed what B'Elanna wanted him to do. She was excited about the opportunity he'd been offered, helping with pilot training. It also meant his away missions would be few and far between. He wanted to be there for her and for Miral. 

Miral, the thought of her brought the familiar stab of pain that it always brought. She was his little angel, his miniature Klingon with her mother's temper and her father's charm. She could wrap anyone around that tiny finger and carried all their hearts on a string, his, Harry's, the doctor's, Kathryn and Chakotay's. He remembered her second birthday party. B'Elanna thought it was a rather silly custom. Miral would turn two with or without a birthday party, and certainly without all this ridiculous fuss. Tom overrode her objections without realizing that there was much more behind them. Everyone but B'Elanna had a wonderful time. She pretended to be enjoying herself but they knew her too well. Chakotay tried to talk to her but was told to mind his own business. Tom had been trying to get to the root of her depression but she was keeping him out, locking her emotions away somewhere that he no longer had access to. 

When Captain Janeway had asked him to take a two month long mission Tom had initially refused, unwilling to leave B'Elanna alone that long. But this was Kathryn Janeway and she needed him, and in the end he had gone with B'Elanna's blessing. She had assured him that she and Miral would be perfectly fine without him for 60 days. In fact she had seemed like her old, almost playful self, as she sent him on his way. Her good-bye kiss had more warmth than he had felt in the last several months. 

A little distance might be a good thing, he had thought as he walked toward the shuttlecraft on the landing pad. When he looked back she was holding Miral and they were both waving but when he looked again, they were gone. That was 16 years ago. B'Elanna and Miral had disappeared while he was on the mission. She had left a note: "Tom, I'm sorry it has to be this way but you have your career back now and I would just hold you back. No one wants an officer with a renegade Maquis for a wife. It's better this way. Don't try to find us. B'Elanna." 

B'Elanna had planned carefully, telling their friends that she was going to take the opportunity to visit her father. No one suspected that she had taken a transport off earth, hiding her trail as she moved from planet to planet in an effort to bury herself far away. Tom had looked for five years, three years longer than Starfleet was willing to help him look. The trail had grown colder each year but he still followed every tiny lead, flying cargo runs or working as a mechanic to support himself as he moved from planet to planet, star system to star system. 

Harry had found him in a bar on Kessick, staring at a drink that had held his fascination for two hours. "Come home, Tom. Come home with me. The trail is dead and you can't go on living like this. I can't promise you we'll find them but we can look better together and with Starfleet behind us."

Tom looked up at his friend and Harry shuddered to see his eyes so hopeless and his face so gaunt. A small smile curved Tom's lips, "Well, it seems I'm talking to Captain Kim, now. Does that make this an order?" The smile was returned with a little embarrassment. "No, it's a request from a friend, your best friend, remember?"

It was hard to remember anything except the endless quest of the last five years but tonight, even before Harry had appeared, Tom had realized that the quest was over. He was never going to find his wife and his baby girl. The galaxy really was too big for one man to cover alone. Maybe going home with Harry was the best idea. 

Together they returned to earth and Starfleet was persuaded to accept Mr. Paris once again. He resumed his rank of lieutenant commander but this time Lt. Comm. Paris threw himself into his work. 16-hour days became the norm and his pilots were the best-trained in all of Starfleet. Then, two years ago, Harry had been promoted to admiral and offered the position of Director over the shuttlecraft design division of Starfleet. He had taken Tom with him and forced him to accept the rank of captain. 

They had quite a party that day. The guest of honor, Admiral Paris, was the most amazed of all. He never believed Harry would be able to talk Tom into it. Getting him to accept the rank of full commander had been struggle enough for the now retired admiral. He was glad Harry had been the one to fight this battle. The admiral was proud of Tom and what he had accomplished. But he would have given it all up to see the light come back to his son's eyes. Losing his wife and child had broken Tom's spirit. 

Owen Paris could identify with some of the anguish Tom was feeling. He had lost his child too, but a miracle had brought him back. Maybe there was still a miracle out there for Tom. He had shared his hope with Tom that day but it was like talking to an android; there was no emotion in Tom's face, no life in his eyes as he acknowledged his father's words.

That was four years ago. His father had died peacefully in his sleep just in the last year. They were never close but they had become friends and Tom missed him. His mother had been gone a number of years and his sisters had lives of their own. Losing the admiral had hit Tom a lot harder than he had anticipated, but Harry was there for him. So were Kathryn and Chakotay. 

Tom suspected that those two had had something to do with this assignment also. He knew they'd enjoyed a long visit with Harry before leaving on their current deep space mission. Admirals didn't usually command their own starships and certainly not a science vessel, but when you're married to an archeologist who loved impossible digs, it was handy to have your own transportation. She was still Kathryn Janeway and she could still twist the Starfleet brass around her little finger. They had left a week before Tom but he expected them to be back on earth when he returned. He was pretty sure that they had persuaded Harry to send him on this mission for a little down time. 

It was unusual to send the officer who trained the test shuttle pilots to investigate a shuttle crash. Harry's briefing had made him curious. A young, hotshot pilot had crashed a newly designed shuttle. This one had been sold for defense purposes to the government of the Revon system. The manufacturer was blaming it on pilot error but Harry knew the man in charge of the base where the accident had occurred, and he was defending his pilot to the hilt. Their communications had been terse. Arnon, the base commander, blamed the accident on design flaws and Harry took words like "design flaw" very seriously. He also knew that more than any other investigator, Tom would give the young pilot a fair hearing. And that was really what Arnon was asking for, a fair hearing for his pilot. 

His reflections over, his exercise equipment stowed away, Captain Paris made himself presentable and prepared to manually fly his shuttle the last few light years to the planet. He wanted to feel the controls in his hand, to feel the ship move to his touch. It was the one of the few times he felt truly free of the nightmare his life had become 16 years ago.

Commander Arnon greeted Tom warmly as he stepped off the shuttle pad. Harry had told him a few things about his friend and Arnon understood the deep bond the two men shared. If Harry Kim vouched for this man then he would welcome him as a friend. Harry had saved Arnon's life on a mission years ago at the risk of his own. It was a favor that he dwelled on every day. 

"Captain Paris, welcome to my humble base." 

"Commander, I'm happy to be here and happy to be standing on firm
ground!" Tom replied.

Arnon laughed as he signaled one of his men to take Tom's duffel. "I have quarters prepared for you. They are not the luxury that you are used to in Starfleet but I think you will find them comfortable," he continued. 

"You'd be surprised at how rough I can take things, Commander." Tom smiled, but Arnon could see that the smile went no further than his mouth. 'This man is in pain. Something has eaten away at his soul and he no longer has that center of warmth and security.' Arnon did not betray his thoughts, but he understood now why Harry had sent Tom on this mission. A man needs purpose in his life, someone to care for and Captain Paris no longer had true purpose. 'Well, if this man can help Taya,' Arnon mused, 'maybe it will also help to fill his need.'

Both men walked silently to the row of quarters that were obviously set aside for guests. They were individual cottages with perfectly maintained features and landscaping, but they had no personality at all. In fact the little bit of the base that Tom could see had no personality. It reminded him of some of the old bases that had been in the deserts on earth. He had visited one once. A small, dull gray city in the middle of nowhere. These bases had been deserted for the last two centuries but the houses still stood as a monument to the isolation of the personnel stationed there. 

Dinner at the Officer's Club had been nice, and Arnon would like to have played the gracious host well into the evening but Tom had begged off. He had spent two weeks on that shuttle and he wanted the luxury of sleeping in a real bed. He was also not used to socializing with anyone but Harry and a few of the pilots he had trained over the years. 

Later, Tom laughed a little bitterly as he lay on the bed. 'Tom Paris, life of the party, just wants to be left alone. Who'd have thought?' He drifted off to sleep but the old familiar nightmare was back. He was running through a fog, trying to find B'Elanna and Miral. He couldn't see. He kept tripping and falling but he'd get up and run some more. In the morning after one of these dreams he always woke up tired and sore, like he really had been running all night. The dream didn't come every night anymore. In fact it hadn't visited him in several months, but tonight it was back in full force and in the morning he was exhausted and his body ached.  Not a good way to start an investigation. 

Tom found that the replicator in his quarters produced quite an acceptable cup of coffee and burned the toast nicely.  He was to begin his investigation today with an examination of the damaged shuttle. Tom whistled aloud when he saw the battered remains. "Your pilot managed to fly that home? I'm impressed." 

"Taya is the best there is. That's why I want this mess cleared up. No pilot needs this on their record. Particularly if it was not the pilot's fault." Arnon was passionate in his defense.

"All right, I'll start going over it. I need to get my tools and I could use some help. This should take most of the day today, but I would like to debrief the pilot myself tomorrow." Tom had read the reports but there were a lot of things you could learn by knowing what questions to ask and by asking the pilot personally.

"I will have Taya here at 0900 hours tomorrow. This is Crewman Jamin. He will aid you in any way that you wish. I think you will find him an able assistant." Arnon introduced the young crewman and left to return to his office. 

The heat was unbearable at times, but Crewman Jamin seemed impervious. He did, however, recognize Tom's discomfort and made every effort to keep him as comfortable as possible while they took the shuttle apart piece by piece. 

Several things struck Tom as not quite right as he catalogued the pieces. The metal in some of the key parts didn't match the rest. They showed more damage than other parts and certainly did not have the Starfleet signature that all components were required to have. Tom kept his suspicions to himself but he was going to need to know the history of this vessel and its pilot before he could make any allegations. Somehow, Crewman Jamin didn't seem to be the right person to ask.

Heat exhaustion saved Tom from another evening with Commander Arnon. He went to his cottage and lay on the bed fully clothed. It had been a long time since he had felt this drained. Must be the thin air. It certainly couldn't be his age. With these thoughts Tom drifted into a dreamless sleep. 

Commander Arnon's office was cool and comfortably dim, a far cry from yesterday's grueling heat and bright sun. Tom sat and patiently waited for the arrival of the pilot. He had asked Arnon for the pilot's records ahead of time but Arnon had asked Tom to meet the pilot first, to form his opinion of the person before he read the record. Out of respect for his friendship with Harry, Tom had agreed to the request. 

The door opened and Arnon escorted in a young woman who looked to be around 20 years old. In the dim light Tom could tell she was human as he stood to greet her. "Captain Paris, may I introduce to you the best pilot I have ever known, Taya. Taya, this is Captain Thomas Paris from Starfleet Command. He's here to prove you innocent." 

Arnon had carefully kept the fact that the pilot was a woman secret. Tom could only speculate why but his first thought was that this was a world that still treated women as a lesser species. But then Tom looked carefully at the slim girl. She had a defiant look in her eye that Tom recognized right away. With a start, Tom realized something else, she was Klingon. The forehead ridges were shallow but they were there. And her eyes were blue. "Mir --T-Taya-- it's good to meet you," he stuttered as he stared.

The girl looked at Arnon in confusion. If this man was supposed to help her he was going to have to be a lot sharper than he appeared to be. "I appreciate your help, Captain. Thank you for coming."

Tom's stare was starting to make Taya uncomfortable. He couldn't seem to drag his eyes away from her face. "Excuse me, sir, but have you never seen a Klingon before?" She knew her tone was rude but so was his staring.

Shaking his head, Tom struggled to understand what she was saying. "I'm sorry, M-- uh, Taya, I-- You reminded me of someone I once knew. She was a Klingon. You must be only part Klingon." Tom knew he sounded like an idiot but he couldn't seem to clear his head. His thoughts seemed fuzzy and disoriented.

"My father was human, my mother is half Klingon and half human." Her voice held uncertainty, this was not the conversation she was expecting. The girl was also unprepared for the feeling of déjà vu that she was experiencing. This man seemed so familiar and yet she couldn't remember
ever having met him. 

Tom was even more shaken by her words as he continued to stare. Arnon finally broke him from his trance, "Captain, perhaps we should sit down so Taya can tell you what happened the day of her accident."

"Of course, excuse me. I'm-- It must be the heat, I'm not really-- Yes, let's sit down." Tom mumbled as he moved toward the conference table that Arnon was indicating, still unable to take his eyes off the girl in front of him. She was beautiful, small and slender, just a hint of forehead ridges and eyes a dark, rich blue, almost black. Her hair was dark but had streaks of bronze running through it. The clothes she wore were those of the common workmen that he had seen. Figure hugging pants, a loose pullover top, and a coarse homespun jacket. She carried herself
with ease and grace. But her eyes, he couldn't stop looking at her eyes.

Taya was becoming uncomfortable now and looked to her mentor for guidance. It was Arnon who broke the awkward silence, "You have examined the ship. Have you already formed your conclusions? Wouldn't you like to hear what Taya has to say about the accident." 

Arnon was becoming concerned about Tom's inability to focus. When Harry had asked him to keep the girl's identity, including the fact that she was a female, from Captain Paris, he had not understood the impact it would have on the man. He was visibly shaken for no reason that Arnon could fathom.

Dragging his eyes away from the face of the girl, Tom looked at Arnon. "I'm sorry, Commander. Yes, I would like to hear what you have to say about the accident, T-- Taya." 

When he said her name it was almost a whisper and caused her to look up at him again. She couldn't fathom what was behind those blue eyes but they made something in her stomachs start to leap about mercilessly. Clearing her throat and glancing back for affirmation from Arnon, Taya began her story.

She described the mission and the turbulence she had run into. Tom's interest became more intense as she described the behavior of the shuttlecraft after the turbulence. She was a true pilot who knew her craft like one lover knows another. She could sense its moods and in this case her lover had told her it was in trouble. She described the landing and the accusations that the chief engineer had made soon after. In his mind she should have avoided the turbulence and she certainly should have treated the shuttle better. The amount of damage could not have come from turbulence alone, she obviously had been attempting to fly some dangerous maneuvers. 

Tom listened to her story and pushed all other thoughts aside. His review of the shuttle and the story she was telling had raised his suspicions about the girl's safety. He was pretty sure now that someone was using the Starfleet shuttles as designs for their own crafts, and stealing those parts that were more expensive to manufacture. If this was true any and all of Arnon's pilots were taking a chance whenever they took out a shuttle. 

When Taya had finished her story, Tom stood and walked over to the window, lost in thought. Taya looked at Arnon in confusion but they both allowed him his privacy. After a time he looked back at them and asked, "Would you consider taking me up in the other shuttle and let's see if we can recreate the accident?"

Perplexed, Arnon looked at Taya to see if she would be willing. It was obvious that Captain Paris had several thoughts on the subject of the accident that he was not sharing. Taya nodded her agreement. In spite of his strange behavior she felt that she could trust this man unconditionally. 

"Of course," Arnon began, "we have another of this same type that was purchased at the same time. It has been grounded since the investigation began. I will have it prepared for you."

"No," Tom stopped him forcefully, "I want to do the pre-flight myself."

"But, captain, I have mechanics who would be at your disposal for these kinds of things." It would be a breach of protocol to have a Starfleet officer preparing his own craft, and what if something should happen, who would be to blame? Arnon saw a number of flaws in Tom's request.

This Starfleet officer, however, was quite capable of making all his own preparations and had no intention of letting protocol get in the way of the investigation. "Taya will be with me. I'm quite sure that between the two of us we can manage. If that is all right with you, Taya." Tom had turned back to the other two in the room now and was exuding charm.

"I am more than capable of getting the shuttlecraft ready for flight, Captain." Taya's tone was cool, bristling at the implication that she might not be competent in that area.

"Then let's get started," Tom grinned at her. He was ready to pursue this investigation and perhaps another.

With Arnon's permission they headed over to the hangar where the shuttles were kept, Tom striding purposefully and in complete control of the situation. His newfound confidence restored some of Taya's optimism.  They found the second shuttle and Tom proceeded to give it much of the same attention he had given Taya's shuttle the day before. Already, he noted discrepancies in the Starfleet parts, and the carelessness with which the shuttle itself had been stored. Crewman Jamin hurried over to offer his assistance as another, older man lurked in the background.

Jamin was obviously familiar to Taya and they conversed for a few minutes regarding the condition of the shuttle. Tom watched the young man cautiously but all he saw was a professional relationship, two mechanics that talked the same language. Jamin was finally convinced to leave them alone and walked back to report to his superior, the older man.

As soon as he was convinced of the safety of the shuttle Tom and Taya boarded it and began their flight. Taya was at the controls and Tom had the advantage of being able to observe her now without interruption. He had reigned in his emotions and was making an effort to be totally objective about the flight, the shuttle, her identity, everything. It was costing him a lot. His stomach was tied up in knots and his face hurt from trying to keep it expressionless. 

Taya handled the controls like a pro. She was one of those pilots who could feel their craft, it became a part of her. As they headed for the coordinates where the accident had occurred Tom decided it was time to pursue his second investigation. "I'm surprised to see a Klingon in this part of the galaxy. You're a long way from home."

"I have no home, Captain. My mother and I have moved every few years since I was born," she answered matter-of-factly.

"Is your mother here with you?" Tom was surprised that his voice held so steady. He was trembling on the inside.

"She's away on a transport mission. Mother is an engineer, the best engineer in the galaxy." Taya offered proudly.

"What's her name?" Tom asked and then held his breath.

"Rhiannon." Taya gave him a perplexed look when she heard him let out a long breath. 

Tom continued his questioning, "Where is your father?" 

"He died when I was very young. It has just been mother and I since then."

"She never remarried?" 

Taya noticed the strain in Tom's voice now and looked at him curiously. His face looked devoid of all emotion. In fact it looked positively stony.

"Not that it's any of your business, Captain, but she said I was all she needed. We were happy, just the two of us." Her tone was defensive now. 

Tom smiled in an attempt to put her more at ease. His smile had been known to put a lot of women at ease in his younger days. He hadn't used it in a while, he hoped it still worked. "Is she the one who taught you to fly?"

"No, she made a very great effort to keep me out of cockpits. She tried to get me interested in anything, anything at all except flying, but it was in my blood." Her voice became softer as she added, "according to mother, my father was the best pilot in the universe. She finally agreed to let me fly a couple of years ago. She said she realized that she couldn't keep me away from it any longer. She also said she was tired of running from it, but I didn't understand what that meant." 

Tom was unable to formulate a response but Taya didn't seem to notice. She was lost in her own thoughts. After a few minutes she shook away her musings and checked her instruments. "These are the coordinates where the turbulence occurred." The area was calm now as they continued on their course.

In spite of the tension he was feeling Tom was studying her flawless technique at the helm. "Tell me everything that happened on that flight." He ordered.

Taya described the turbulence and the reaction of the shuttle as she criss-crossed the area of the original accident. Suddenly the ship shuddered and bounced in an area of heavy disturbance. Taya handled the controls like a pro, reacting the way someone with years of experience might, angling her craft to move with the turbulence rather than fighting it. It was then that Tom felt the shuttle begin to shimmy, a definite pull to the right. Taya made an attempt to correct with the starboard thrusters but the shuddering only increased.

"Let me have the controls," Tom barked.

"I can handle it," the girl retorted angrily.

"This damn thing is falling apart. Let me have the controls now." His tone was one of a man accustomed to getting his way. This was a Starfleet officer, one who was used to being in charge and Taya recognized his tone immediately. She relinquished the controls.

"What are you doing?" she asked in alarm as he cut the thrusters and allowed the shuttle to drift with the turbulence. "We'll be torn apart." "This shuttle is already falling apart, can't you feel it? If we lose any more of the shielding we won't be able to get back to the base." Slowly Tom eased the shuttle into the current and followed it out of the area of turbulence. 

Soon they found themselves floating dead in space but at least the shuttlecraft wasn't shaking any more. "Well, now what?" Taya asked sarcastically.

"Now we inspect the damage." Tom answered jauntily.

"From in here?" Taya was obviously skeptical. 

"What we need to inspect can be done from in here." Tom pulled out the standard engineering tool kit and began to take off the plates that lined the floor of the shuttlecraft. He knew what he was looking for and it only took two plates before he found it. "Look at this."

Taya knelt on the floor next to him and viewed the inner workings of the shuttle she had been piloting. In spite of her mother's efforts she was a better pilot than an engineer. "It looks okay to me." she said.

"Don't ever let your mother hear you say that," Tom laughed. It was the first time she had heard him laugh and the feeling of déjà vu returned. Unaware of her discomfort, Tom began to show her where the couplings were loose and then he pointed out the difference in the Starfleet parts and the replacements that had been surreptitiously added. "Who has access to the shuttles?" he asked.

"We all do. It's a small operation. Arnon is the commander of the base and Jamin is the chief mechanic for this project. He's young but he knows his stuff. His uncle is in charge of the maintenance for all the craft but he only lets Jamin work on the two Starfleet models. Commander Arnon is very particular. That's why he was so upset when I brought it back damaged." Taya's face held some confusion as she looked at Tom.

"Taya, the story I got was that Arnon was far more concerned about his pilot that his shuttle."

Taya smiled in embarrassment. "He's a good friend. I remind him of his daughter. She's grown and living off world now. He misses her and I guess maybe I'm a replacement."

Tom nodded, "He's also aware that you're an outstanding pilot and he doesn't want anything to ruin your chances."

"What chance have I got? A shuttle pilot on a tiny planet in a star system light years away from Starfleet?" Tom was surprised at the sudden passion in her voice.

"Are you interested in Starfleet?" he asked.

"No," she answered firmly, "well, maybe. Oh, I don't know. I love to fly, Captain Paris, and when I saw this shuttle I thought I had died and gone to Stovokor. I had heard of Starfleet, of course. Everyone has. But this, this shuttle made me want to know more about the kind of people who could design and build this, who could create such a magnificent vessel." She was breathless as she finished her confession.

Tom finished tightening the couplings and climbed out of the hole he had created in the shuttle floor. "That should get us back to the base as long as there's no hot-dogging."

"Hot-dogging?" Taya asked quietly.

"It's something pilots do when they're trying to show off." Tom explained.

"I know, I've just never heard anyone but my mother use that expression. She said my father was someone who loved hot-dogging." 

Tom chose to ignore her statement and Taya didn't push him on it. They made their way back to the conn and Taya asked, "would you like to take it, Sir?"

"No, just take it slow. You'll be fine. She's your ship, she'll recognize your touch."

The trip back to the base on Revon IV was silent and slow. Both of the pilots were lost in their thoughts. Arnon was waiting for them as they landed. Tom's message had been cryptic. 'Meet us in the shuttle hangar, alone.' Tom shared his suspicions and Commander Arnon called the military police. 

By the next afternoon Crewman Jamin and his uncle had been arrested as well as several well-known smugglers in the area. Jamin had been more than willing to implicate everyone in the smuggling ring for leniency. He was a young man who had no intention of spending the rest of his youth in prison. 

Tom felt a certain amount of satisfaction and a great deal of trepidation as he met Taya outside Arnon's office the next afternoon. She threw her arms around him and hugged him in gratitude, her excitement bubbling over. "You proved it wasn't me. Thank you, I don't know what I would do if I couldn't fly any more."

Returning her embrace Tom spoke very softly, "You're welcome."

Taya could feel that something was amiss and pulled away to look at him closely. "What's wrong, Captain? I can fly can't I?"

"You're the best, no one can take that away from you, Taya." He said her name in the same hesitating manner that he had used when they had met two days before.

"There's something you're not telling me." 

"Can we go some place and talk?" Tom asked.

"Of course. Our home isn't far from here. We could go there. I'll fix us a meal." Taya offered.

"Are you in the habit of taking strange men home with you?" Tom asked, eyebrows raised in question.

"You're not that strange, Captain Paris." Her eyes held a teasing gleam that Tom found heart-breakingly familiar.

"Okay, let's go." Tom knew he had to get away from there before he lost control of his emotions. 

The home that Taya shared with her mother was only about three quarters of a kilometer away and they walked in silence. Once there, Tom breathed in deeply and knew the truth. This was B'Elanna's home. Her scent was everywhere.

Taya busied herself in the kitchen. She actually preferred to cook on a stove and had begun dinner while he wandered around the living area drinking in every item. The walls were bare except for a batleth. The padds that lay around were all technical manuals. Tom struggled to hold back the emotions that were welling up in him.

"Captain Paris?" Her words tore him from his reverie. She held out a glass of something cool and Tom gratefully took it. There was no mistaking the pain in his eyes. It startled Taya and concerned her. Maybe she should have been a little more cautious about bringing him home with her. Never one to mince words Taya asked, "Are you ready to tell me what you're here to talk about, what's bothering you so much?"

Taking his glass, Tom moved to the well-worn couch and sat down. Taya followed him sitting on the opposite end. Staring down at the drink in his hand Tom quietly said, "Tell me about your mother."

It wasn't the question she had been anticipating. Again he had caught her completely off guard. "Mother? Why do you need to know about my mother?"

"Please, Taya, just tell me. Where is she? Will she be coming home soon? How is she?" His words trailed off into a deafening silence.

Taya had no idea why she should trust this man but suddenly telling him her whole life story seemed like a very good idea. She began with her mother, "Mother is on a transport ship right now. She's been gone about two months. I had a message last week that she thought it would only last another 10 days, maybe less. It's a military mission and she can't be contacted so I don't know where she is. She doesn't usually work for the military, but they were desperate for an engineer and she's the best."

Tom nodded in understanding. "Where were you raised?"

"Here, there, everywhere!" she answered. "We never stayed long in one place, never really long enough to make friends. Mother was always my best friend, still is." Her tone was a little defensive and it made Tom smile. He was happy to know they had a close relationship.

"I quit asking why we were moving years ago. It was just something we did. As long as we were together it didn't really matter where we lived." Taya added.

"What do you know about your father?" Tom's query sounded innocent enough but it made the girl's heart rate jump. Now she was afraid and wishing, someone, anyone was here with her now. No, not anyone, she wished her mother were here.

"Not much really. He was a pilot. A great pilot according to mother, and a brave warrior. He had great honor, but he died when I was only two. I quit asking mother about him years ago when I saw how sad the questions made her." 

Tom didn't answer but he did reach into his pocket and pulled out a small metal case. He held it out to Taya who took it reluctantly. She wasn't sure she wanted to know what was in the case. Tom stood and walked to the door his gaze fixed on the horizon where the light was fading. He heard her cry out and ask in a strangled voice. "Where did you get this?"

"It's a picture of my wife, B'Elanna, and our daughter, Miral, taken the day Miral was born. I've carried it with me for 18 years." Tom answered without turning. 

It was only when he heard her sobs that he turned away from the door and went to her. Sitting next to her Tom pulled Taya into his arms and held her as she cried. "It's okay, baby, I promise you, somehow it will be okay." He whispered through his own tears.

"Why, why would she lie to me? How did you get separated? She didn't know you were still alive did she?" Her voice held hope that maybe this had all been a misunderstanding but in her heart she knew. They had been running for years and her mother had finally, maybe deliberately, stopped long enough to get caught. This was what she had meant when she said she was tired of running.

Tom held her in his arms, her head resting on his chest while he told her the story of Voyager and their precipitous return to earth. Of her mother's deepening depression and finally of their disappearance. He explained to Taya that he didn't know all the reasons that her mother had left him and he showed her the note that B'Elanna had written. It was folded up behind the picture. The writing was faded but Taya recognized her mother's hand. 

"Did you know who I was when you came here?" she asked.

"No, I thought it was just a routine investigation. I believe now that Harry, Admiral Kim, might have suspected but I didn't know a thing." Tom assured her.

"When did you know?"

"The minute I saw you."

Taya looked at him, her eyes still shimmering with tears, "Why did you wait till now to tell me?"

"I wanted to get the investigation out of the way and have your reputation as a pilot cleared before we moved on to anything else." Tom answered her.

Taya nodded and moved to stand up. He was reluctant to let her out of his arms but she smiled, giving him a reassuring hug. "Let me finish getting you something to eat before we both faint dead away."

Tom realized that he really was hungry as he stood to help her finish the preparations. They ate at a small table in the kitchen. Tom wanted to know everything about her, and Taya tried to oblige him, regaling him with stories of the various places they had lived and the people she had known. They really had been from one end of the galaxy to the other, never staying long enough in one place to put down roots. But she was happy and secure, Tom could see that. B'Elanna had done a wonderful job raising their daughter. 

The hour was very late when Tom finished asking questions and Taya finished answering them. Both were drained, emotionally and physically. Tom was the first one to suggest that they needed to get some rest and Taya shyly asked him if he wanted to stay here. He could use her mother's room for the night but Tom knew that would be an impossible situation. He begged off saying he would return to his own quarters. 

The expression on his face tore at Taya's heart. She put her arms around him as he stood at the door and whispered. "I promise I'll be here tomorrow when you come back." She wanted to call him father but the word was so foreign to her. She had heard other humans use the term Dad but even that brief word was impossible to get out right now. Instead she stood on her tiptoes and kissed him on the cheek, stroking it gently, "I promise," she whispered. Tom was reluctant to let her out of his sight but he believed her promise, and walked back to his quarters with his heart a little lighter than it had been for years.

The next morning came quickly and Taya greeted Tom with open arms when he met her in the base office the next morning. Commander Arnon's face registered shock as he watched the greeting. "Captain Paris, may I have a word with you?" he growled. Tom caught Taya's hand and pulled her into the office with him, which infuriated Arnon. "Captain, this is a private matter I wish to discuss. A matter between gentlemen."

"Whatever you have to say to me can be said in front of Taya," Tom knew that he shouldn't be enjoying Arnon's discomfort but he couldn't seem to help himself. 

Commander Arnon could tell that there was a new light in Captain Paris' eyes, something had changed and it made him sick to think what might have precipitated this change. 

"Captain, what I have to say to you I have no intention of saying in front of an impressionable child." Arnon's voice was cold.

"Child!" Taya was indignant but her father squeezed her hand into silence.

Tom was grinning now as he said "This impressionable child is my daughter, Commander, and you can certainly say whatever you need to in front of her."

Arnon was speechless and skeptical. "Taya, is this true?"

"Yes, Commander, it's true," Taya assured him.

Looking from one face to the other, one pair of eyes to the other, Arnon quickly realized the truth of what they were telling him. He couldn't believe that he hadn't seen it before. The resemblance was there for all the world to see. "But Taya, what of your mother. Has she been unaware that your father was alive all this time?" He asked in confusion.

"No, Commander, I believe she has been hiding for all these years." Taya answered him quietly.

"But, why?" Arnon was suspicious again. In spite of the fact that Harry Kim vouched for this man, he was reluctant to completely discount Taya's mother's opinion. He barely knew Rhiannon, but he had great respect for the daughter she had raised. 

"I'm not sure why," Taya began.

Tom finished for her, "My wife left me 16 years ago, Commander. She was afraid her background would interfere with my career. Unfortunately, she never asked my opinion in the matter. I would have given up any career for her and for Taya."

Commander Arnon nodded realizing there was more to this story, much more. But he had news for Taya and now seemed as good a time as any to share it with her. "Taya, your mother is on her way home. She will be here sometime today." 

Taya's eyes were frozen on Arnon's face as were Tom's. "I'm sorry I couldn't tell you sooner. I just received word myself. I will hear again when the ship is actually closer and can give you a better idea of the time."

Father and daughter just nodded and the silence grew. Tom finally said, "I think we'll wait in my quarters unless you need Taya for something else, Commander."

"I will send you a message when I have more information." 

Tom nodded and rose from his chair. "Commander, I'd rather you didn't say anything to Taya's mother until the ship has landed."

Reluctantly Arnon nodded his agreement and hoped he was not putting the two women into jeopardy. He would watch this reunion very closely. 

It was late afternoon when the message terminal in Tom's quarters alerted them to the fact that the transport ship was landing. They had talked about how to handle this and Taya persuaded Tom that it would be best to let her greet her mother and prepare her. Tom was reluctant to agree. It had been so long already that waiting even another few minutes to see B'Elanna was causing him pain. He had given up believing that this day would ever come. But he was also afraid; afraid of what her reaction would be and afraid of what his would be. Hate and love were such difficult emotions, difficult to control and difficult to differentiate. He had never considered hating B'Elanna before, but seeing their daughter, knowing how much of her life he had missed had him teetering on the brink. 

It was with great trepidation that he waited in the hangar as Taya walked out on the tarmac to greet her mother. B'Elanna. Suddenly she was there, walking toward Taya with her duffel bag over her shoulder. Dropping it to the ground she warmly embraced their child, asking eager questions. She hadn't changed much, her hair held a touch of gray but she still walked with the grace of a lion. Her skin might have held a little more texture, but the picture in Tom's memory was one of perfection. It would be hard to measure up to the picture he had built over the last few years. 

He couldn't take his eyes off her, and once he saw her glance up as if she knew someone was watching. Her eyes darted around the field, taking in the office and the hangar but nothing seemed to trigger her concern and she returned her attention to Taya, drinking in every word.

And then she stopped and looked at Taya wordlessly, her whole body at rigid attention. Slowly she turned and her eyes were fixed on the door of the hangar. She appeared to be rooted to the ground and Tom realized that he was going to have to close the distance between them. Her eyes never left his as he walked slowly toward her. Taya stood at her mother's side fiercely protective. 

Once he had covered the necessary space and stood in front of B'Elanna Tom realized that he had no words. Sixteen years of dreaming about this moment and he couldn't think of anything to say. 

B'Elanna was the one who was forced to break the silence, "Tom," was all she said. Her voice was breathless, her spine rigid and she thought her heart would come hammering through her chest. He looked so tall, so calm, she still thought it might just be a dream, but then he spoke too, just her name but it was enough to break her out of her reverie. 

"I have to go to the debriefing for the crew. It will take about an hour. Will I see you later?" Her words were cold and halting, she knew. But it was the best she could do right now. And if she didn't get away from him she was going to lose her composure completely and make a fool of herself. 

Tom just nodded his agreement. Taya's voice broke the awkward silence. "We'll wait for you at home, Mother." 
B'Elanna handed her bag to her daughter, "All right, I shouldn't be long." Steeling herself she turned to continue following the rest of the crew into the office building. 

Tom's eyes followed her every step. He wasn't sure what he had hoped for, but there had been no warmth in B'Elanna's face. He saw little of the woman he had loved so completely. But looking at Taya he knew that more emotion was there than she was revealing. Probably that damn Klingon pride again, he swore under his breath. 

Taya's touch on his arm brought Tom back to the present. He failed miserably at smiling but he did put his arm around her and take B'Elanna's bag to carry as they walked towards her home. He had promised his daughter that somehow all this would turn out okay and he meant to keep that promise.

It was a little over an hour later when Taya heard the front door open and stood up from the kitchen table where she and Tom had been drinking coffee. B'Elanna walked slowly into the room and stood staring at Tom. She had forgotten how tall he was, he seemed to fill the room and she felt like she was suffocating in the small amount of space left to her. 

"Taya, could you wait outside while Tom and I talk?" 

Tom still saw no sign of warmth in B'Elanna's eyes as she asked Taya to leave them alone. There was a feral gleam that made him wonder if she had truly come to hate him over the last 16 years. It also caused him to question as he had so many times before what he had done to cause her to leave.

"I suppose you've come to take my daughter back with you," she began.

"I came to investigate a shuttle craft accident. What I found was the daughter who had been taken away from me 16 years ago." Tom replied evenly.

"All right you've found her, now what?" B'Elanna asked calmly.

"Now I want answers."

"Answers to what?"

"Why did you take her? Why did you leave me? Why did you hide for 16 years?" Tom's voice rose with each syllable. He needed to break through the calm, he needed to see some emotion from her, and if anger was the means of getting through to her then he would use anger.

"I told you why I left. You had your career and I would only be a hindrance to it." Her words were clipped, as if well rehearsed.

"Bullshit, B'Elanna. I didn't give a damn about my career and you knew it. All I cared about was you and Miral. I told you that over and over." Tom shouted.

"Tom, how can you stand there with your captain's rank and tell me that Starfleet meant nothing to you? I was there, remember? I saw how excited you were when they gave you your commission and how eager you were to take that 2-month assignment when Janeway offered it." 

Tom looked stunned as he absorbed her words. "B'Elanna, I only accepted the rank because I thought that was what we had decided together. I begged you to apply, you would have been accepted in Starfleet too, Ayala was; Chell was; they would have taken you."

"Sure, as a crewman or maybe an ensign. I was Chief Engineer on a starship, how do you think I would have felt going back as a crewman?" B'Elanna was starting to raise her voice now and Tom knew he was getting somewhere.

"How do you think I felt coming home after two months to find that my wife and daughter had disappeared?" Tom's voice had a deadly edge to it now.

"Maybe you should have thought of that before you took a two-month mission where you couldn't communicate with me at all."

"We talked about that before I went. I only took it as a favor to Janeway. It was an undercover mission. I had already turned it down once but when she asked me to reconsider you agreed that I needed to go. You sure didn't waste any time leaving. How do you know that I didn't try to communicate?" 

"Oh, I had plenty of people watching me, Harry, Chakotay, Counselor Troi. You had left your watchdogs." B'Elanna spit the word at him.

"None of us knew what was wrong with you. You seemed so distant. They were all concerned about you and so was I." Tom pleaded for her to understand that he had been trying to do what was best for her, for them. "We all hoped that some distance might give you a chance to think, to figure out what was bothering you; maybe tell one of us so we could help."

"Well, distance is what I gave you. I wanted you to have the chance to do whatever you wanted. Take any assignment you were interested in without the burden of a family." 

"All I wanted was you. I gave up my commission and searched for you for five years. I searched until Harry found me in a bar on Kessick and dragged me back to earth. I followed any trail no matter how faint just hoping that somehow, somewhere I would find you and get my life back."

These words seemed to have an effect on B'Elanna. She stared at him for several seconds before she answered, "I'm sorry you wasted your time. I tried to make it clear in my letter that I didn't want to be found."

Sitting on the wooden porch Taya could hear the rise and fall of the voices inside. She couldn't always make out the words but she could feel the anger and the hurt. Silent tears were falling as she put her head down on her knees and prayed that something good would come of this. She was startled to feel a hand on her shoulder and looked up quickly to see two unfamiliar faces, a woman in a Starfleet uniform and a man, a man with a tattoo. 

"I'm Kathryn Janeway and this is Chakotay. Are you Miral?" the woman asked.

Taya nodded slowly without taking her eyes off the tattoo. "I guess I am but around here I'm known as Taya."

"We are friends of you parents from a long time ago." Janeway said softly.

"She told me about a warrior, a human who was brave and strong and told wonderful stories. He had a tattoo just like yours, Mr. Chakotay. And I was named 'Taya,' for him." Taya was unable to drag her eyes away from the face of the man who stood before her. 

Chakotay reached out to Taya and she allowed herself to be embraced, shedding her tears more freely now. Pulling away after a few minutes, Taya looked up and brushing the moisture away from her face, began to apologize. "I'm sorry, I really don't usually behave this way. The last few days have really been, interesting, I guess you could say."

"Tell us about them." Chakotay urged.

Taya told her story to these two complete strangers that she already seemed to know so well. They listened patiently while the voices in the house continued their attacks on each other. Suddenly there was a crash against the door and Tom stormed through it. "Fine, B'Elanna, I'm leaving, but this isn't finished."

B'Elanna's reply was in Klingon and only Taya seemed to understand it. She turned bright red at the words. Tom stood staring at the trio of people in front of him. "Where did you come from?" 

"Harry sent us a message about his suspicions. He asked us to check on you." Janeway answered him. 

"Well, his suspicions were correct." Tom looked at his daughter now and held his arms out for her. Taya moved into them immediately. 

Janeway and Chakotay exchanged a look before Chakotay asked, "Taya, I'd like to see your mother."

"I'd better go with you." Taya answered ruefully. Looking up at Tom she asked, "Will you be okay?"

"Yeah," he bent down to kiss her forehead, "I'll see you tomorrow."

"Good night, Da--, sir." 

Tom smiled and hugged the girl once again. "We'll try it again tomorrow and see how it sounds. Good night, Taya."

"I'll walk with you, Tom," Janeway offered. 

Tom nodded and turned to Chakotay, "Good luck."

Chakotay and Taya entered the house as Tom and Kathryn began the trek towards his quarters. The last thing they heard was B'Elanna screaming, "Where did you come from? How many people did Tom bring with him? Couldn't drag me back alone, could he?"

Kathryn could feel Tom cringing at B'Elanna's words. They continued their walk in silence reaching his quarters in 20 minutes or so. Tom politely held the door for Kathryn as she preceded him into the small cottage. "Can I get you some coffee?" he asked. "The replicator does a half-decent job."

"I'd like that, thank you." Kathryn answered as she moved over to sit at the small table near the window. 

Tom ordered two coffees and brought them over to join her at the table. Sitting down he stared at his cup for a minute before finally resting his elbows on the table and putting his head in his hands. Kathryn could see Tom's shoulders shaking and moved to put her arms around him, resting her head on his.

It was a couple of hours later when Chakotay returned and presented himself at Tom's door. Kathryn let him in while Tom, apparently, slept on the bed, fully clothed and looking like he'd been through hell. "How is he?" Chakotay asked.

"Exhausted, but I think he's sleeping now."

The prone figure answered her quiet words, "No, he's not, he's just pretending because it seemed to make the admiral feel better." Sitting up and placing his feet back on the floor Tom's eyes went to Chakotay, "How's B'Elanna?"

"Not great, Tom. She's ashamed of what she did and afraid of losing Taya. Apparently she realized long ago that it wasn't right but she didn't feel like she could go back." 

"Why, Chakotay? Why would she feel that way? What did I do to make her think I wouldn't love her, no matter what?" Tom's desperate plea brought tears to Kathryn's eyes. In 16 years Tom had never looked at another woman and in 16 years Kathryn Janeway had never forgiven herself for asking Tom to take that mission. 

"Tom, she felt alone and isolated. You had Starfleet and she had Taya. Her insecurities have always been of legendary proportions. This time she decided to do the leaving before you got the chance." Chakotay told his story simply not revealing what a heart-rending ordeal it had been to get the truth out of B'Elanna. 

"I'm not her father, I would never have left her." 

"You and I know that but at the time B'Elanna didn't trust herself enough to believe she was worth coming home to after every mission. So she took the baby and devoted everything she had to her. She's a beautiful girl, Tom. B'Elanna did a wonderful job with her." Chakotay's assurances seemed to hurt Tom even more.

"I know, I know. I just wish I had been there, I wish we could have raised her together. I wanted to see her grow up, I wanted to teach her to fly, not some stranger at an air base in the middle of nowhere." Tom's tears were flowing freely again now as he struggled to understand what he had failed to do, why B'Elanna hadn't trusted him.

"It's not something we are going to figure out tonight. Let's get some sleep and talk about this again in the morning. I told B'Elanna we'd be over tomorrow or I guess later today," he said ruefully. Chakotay and Kathryn returned to their own quarters leaving a grief stricken Tom to his nightmares.

B'Elanna looked as bad as Tom by the next day and the dialogue was even less productive than the night before. Everyone felt a certain amount of relief when B'Elanna got a message to report to the office of the mining company where she worked. 

Taya had already told her mother that she wanted to return to earth and look at Starfleet. She knew she wanted to fly and the allure of something as wonderful as Starfleet was a temptation that would be hard to resist for any young person with her abilities. Tom was happy with her interest, but he was afraid of taking her away from her mother. He knew the pain of losing her and it was something he hated to suggest to B'Elanna. 

B'Elanna returned from her meeting and announced that she was leaving on another transport run in two hours. She ignored the protests of the four people waiting for her as she repacked her duffel. Tom was the last to give up asking her not to go and B'Elanna finally exploded at him. "Leave me alone, Tom. I need to get out of here and think without all of you telling me what to do. I am perfectly capable of taking care of myself as I assume you have noticed."

"I have noticed and that's great, but why do you have to take this flight? Isn't there anyone else who can go?" Tom had lost all patience with her stubbornness.

The look B'Elanna turned on him was cold and hard, "I'm going because it's my job, Paris. I assume that's a concept you're familiar with?"

B'Elanna turned and left the bedroom where he had followed her while she finished her packing. Crossing the living area to embrace her daughter she said, "I'll only be gone a couple of days, Taya. We'll talk when I get back but I want you to know I would never stand in your way. If Starfleet is what you want I'll do anything I can to help make it happen."

Taya returned her mother's hug and crossed with her to the door. B'Elanna turned back to face the others, "I need some time to think. If you can wait a few days I'll see you then. If not, I'm sorry for all the hurt I've caused you." The door slammed behind her with a bang.

Tom wanted to run after her but Chakotay caught his arm in a strong grip. "Don't Tom, let her have some time to think. This might be what she needs."

The fear that was in Tom manifested itself in his next words, "What if she doesn't come back?"

"She will, Taya's here. And now, so are you." Tom looked skeptical at that last statement but he walked to the door and watched B'Elanna walk away, memorizing every detail.

On the third day without any word from her mother Taya became concerned and checked with Rennoc, the owner of the transport company. He was an unsavory looking character but he had always been honest and he paid well. He seemed to appreciate her mother's engineering skills and had frequently offered Taya a job as co-pilot. B'Elanna was uncomfortable with that idea though. She much preferred Taya spend her time flying for Arnon. His assignments weren't as risky and he seemed a far more honorable man.

Rennoc admitted that the transport was overdue but since they'd had no word to the contrary he wasn't worried. Tom had walked to the office with Taya and tried to get more information out of the man but he was equally non-committal with him. Frustrated they headed back to the quarters where Tom was staying. 

Kathryn and Chakotay were preparing to leave, they had spent as much time on their side trip as they could. The admiral's ship had arranged to rendezvous with them at coordinates some 36 hours away. They needed to begin their trip fairly soon if they hoped to make that rendezvous. 

Taya was in the hangar waiting for Kathryn to finish the pre-flight on their shuttle and trying to figure out how to say good-bye to family she had never known she had. Tom was planning to stay until B'Elanna returned and had already sent a message to Admiral Kim to that effect. He wanted to get to know his daughter and he wanted to try to get through to B'Elanna. 

Commander Arnon entered the hangar area with a worried look on his face. He called Taya over to speak to him and Tom heard her cry out, "What? How long ago? Why weren't we told?" Tom rushed to her side and she looked at him her face filled with shock, "The transport sent out a distress signal, two days ago. A freighter just reported it. They don't have the exact coordinates but they think the ship went down somewhere in the Argelis system."

Tom thought back to the charts he had studied before coming here. "That system is huge, it has hundreds of deserted moons and asteroids that are capable of supporting life. Do they have a com signature?" Chakotay and Kathryn had come to see what the problem was and Rennoc had joined them also. 

"Yes," Rennoc began, "I can give you the signature but I don't have any idea where the ship went down. We might be searching for months." 

"How many people are on board?" Tom asked. 

"Only the pilot and engineer," Rennoc answered. "The cargo had been delivered so they were probably running a little lighter, maybe they got caught in some turbulence. I'm sure we will find them."

"How many people do you have looking?" Kathryn was beginning to form a strong dislike for this man.

"Well, no one yet. I have notified the authorities and when my other ships start coming back in I will send one or two of them as I can spare them. My ships make a profit hauling cargo not looking for misplaced pilots and engineers."

Tom wanted to throttle the man but he restrained himself long enough to ask Arnon what he would be able to send. "I have the second Starfleet shuttle, if one of you would like to take it and I will call in help from the other bases on the planet."

"No, not the shuttle, not until you get new components that are within Starfleet parameters. It's too dangerous right now to fly. I have the shuttle that I came in, I'll take it out."

"And we have our shuttle, I'll take it," Chakotay volunteered. 

"Take me with you, please." Taya asked.

Kathryn spoke quickly, "You go with Chakotay. I'll stay here and make sure that you are getting all the updates."

Everyone nodded in agreement and Chakotay began to move towards the shuttle. Janeway caught Taya's arm and whispered to her, "Don't let him pilot unless you have to."  Taya nodded in confusion and started to cross the hangar deck. 

Rennoc watched the preparations, perplexed, "Why is Starfleet so interested in finding my transport?"

"Because my wife is on that transport." Tom's answer was filled with the anger he felt for the man in front of him. 

Tom had gone to begin the pre-flight on his craft but he summoned Taya over for a final embrace. His whispered advice caused Taya to smile in spite of the dire circumstances, "Don't let Chakotay fly the shuttle, whatever you do."

He had been searching for hours. Checking each asteroid, each moon for any sign of the shuttle's signature. There was interference from all around him and communication with the other shuttle and with the base was erratic. Tom's thoughts were a jumble as he carefully watched his sensors. He desperately wanted to find B'Elanna and to find her alive. 

'I must be an idiot,' he thought, 'to love her that much. She obviously doesn't want anything to do with me.' But he didn't believe that. There was still a connection there. She had sensed his presence long before Taya had told him she was there. For some reason she was keeping up the facade of anger but there was more to this. There had to be.

The sensors began picking up a signal, the transport's signature. Tom homed in on the signal and began to search anxiously for its source. Finally a moon appeared, M-class but just barely. The surface temperature was below zero degrees centigrade. B'Elanna would never survive in that. Her Klingon physiology was extremely susceptible to cold. 

The atmosphere wasn't helping with his scans, he was going to have to get closer. And closer he got, close enough to see the remains of the transport ship on a barren plain. It had apparently exploded on impact or shortly thereafter.

He could feel the tears forming in his eyes again as he viewed the wreckage. Setting the shuttle down in close proximity he pulled on the cold weather gear that was standard on every Starfleet shuttle and made his way outside to get a closer look. 'Crashed and burned,' it was obvious what the report would say. The words 'No survivors' caused a lump of pain so intense in Tom's chest that he had to turn away from the sight. 

A disturbance in the frozen surface caught his eye. Something or someone had dragged themselves or been drug across that surface. The trail led toward an outcropping of rocks which looked to be about 1/2 kilometer away. Tom's tricorder detected the faint presence of a humanoid life form somewhere near those rocks and he started off in pursuit.

B'Elanna lay behind the ridge where she had sought shelter from the cold. Wrapped in a thermal blanket she had used her phaser to heat the surrounding rocks for the last two days and now her phaser was dead and, she assumed, so was she. She knew Rennoc wouldn't waste a lot of time or money on finding an old, beat-up transport with two very expendable people on it. He had other pilots, other engineers and other ships. 

She mused over the fact that no one, no one except Taya would really miss her at all. And Taya had Tom now, she didn't need B'Elanna any more. Tom, the thought of him brought tears to her eyes that froze on her face. She had only wanted to spare him the pain of having to tell her he had had his fill of her Klingon temper and her Maquis background. She knew enough of Starfleet to know that in spite of your lineage, you didn't get promoted when your wife had been a Maquis traitor as well as a Starfleet drop-out. He had done well and she was glad that she had been able to see him once more before she died. 

'No, B'Elanna, at least be honest with yourself now. You were afraid. Afraid of losing yourself in Tom. Living among his people, his needs would come first and she would have become Tom's wife. Not Lt. Torres, not Chief Engineer, just Tom's wife and Taya's... Miral's mother.' 

No matter how many times he had said he wanted to do whatever would make her happy, she hadn't believed him. His needs would come first in his world. 'There you go again, feeling sorry for yourself,' she thought. 'How hard did you try to make a place for yourself in his world?' She had allowed fear to take over her life, fear of losing Tom and fear of losing herself. So instead she had taken Miral and left. 

If she had to fight for her existence every day she would at least know that she was alive. That was why she had left, to feel alive again. Instead of letting Tom in on the dark secret of her fear, she had chosen the more dangerous path of striking out on her own. And she had hurt Tom, hurt him so badly he could never forgive her. That was why it was better to go ahead and die here. He could go on with his life now. But then she wondered, 'why hasn't he gone on with his life before, why hasn't he found someone else?'

Her thoughts began to randomize as she drifted in and out of consciousness. Freezing to death, she had tried that once before on the Nyrian ship, but Tom wouldn't let her. He had forced her to keep going, ordering her to get on her feet and move. Well, he wasn't here now, and she didn't have to move. 

Ah yes, the pon farr, that had been quite an experience, but he had stayed with her, tried to help however he could.

Tom had wanted to help when she was dealing with the death of her friends in the Maquis. He tried so hard to get her to talk, to let him in so he could share her pain, but she hadn't allowed him in. Work-- Work had saved her that time too. Once she had again proved that she was a damn good engineer the rest of the world seemed easier to face. 

Miral's face swam before her eyes now. Tom had wanted to be there with her when Miral was born but he had to pilot the ship through the Borg conduit, into the alpha quadrant. He was the hero of the day and she was Miral's mother. He was even a better parent. No one could mistake the way his little girl's face lit up whenever Tom was near. 'She'll be fine, she has her father now, I don't have to fight any more.'

Tom found her huddled on the ground under a thermal blanket, her phaser still in her hand. She looked like she was at peace. The medical tricorder showed very weak life signs but they were there. He took the hypospray out of his field medkit and injected her with tri-ox compound.

Lifting her in his arms he retraced his steps to the shuttle. Once inside he stripped off his heavy jacket and tossed aside her wrap. Grabbing the soft wool blanket from the bunk he placed it over her shoulders and pulled her close again to share his warmth as she struggled to consciousness. He was surprised to find his face wet with tears. He thought he had cried so much in the last few days that he had no tears left. 

B'Elanna realized that she was warmer now and tried to open her eyes to see where she was. Someone held her, someone with strong arms. She recognized his scent. Where had he come from? How had he found her? "Tom," she breathed his name.

"I'm here, I've got you. You're safe," he whispered.

"Safe..." Her voice trailed off. 

Soon Tom realized that B'Elanna was asleep still holding him tightly. He tried to move away from her arms so he could pilot the shuttlecraft back to the base but she moaned softly in protest. With a sigh Tom moved further up on the bed to a more comfortable position and continued to hold her. Her scent was still as distinctive as always, a mixture of warp plasma, engine grease and a spicy aroma that he had never smelled anywhere else. It brought back memories that he had repressed for years. Memories of the Nyrians and another frozen habitat; the Caatati and the Day of Honor, the day B'Elanna had admitted her love for him; the day Miral was born, the day they had returned to earth. As Tom drifted off to sleep some of the memories were good. 

The nightmare was back but tonight it wasn't so stark, so terrifying. He was still searching but he wasn't running as hard, there weren't as many obstacles and the fog was lifting to show a light at the edge of the dream. 

B'Elanna awoke to find herself on a Starfleet bunk under a Starfleet blanket in a Starfleet shuttle. She decided she was still dreaming and closed her eyes again. The aroma of Raktajino forced her to reopen them.

Tom was softly calling her name and offering her a hot mug. Shaking her head she slowly sat up and leaned back against the wall, shutting her eyes until the room stopped spinning. After a few moments she was able to focus on Tom and she accepted the proffered warmth. 

"Take it slow, B'Elanna. It's hot." Tom cautioned.

The first sip was enough to convince her he was telling the truth but the warmth felt so good inside her that she tried it again and once again. Her shivering was about to wreak havoc on herself and the bedcovers so Tom took the mug and replaced its heat with his own. B'Elanna was shamed by the comfort she felt in his arms. 

Tom broke the silence first. "Do you want to talk?"

B'Elanna sat up and pulled the blanket closer around her. She looked at Tom a long time before she answered his question. He looked like he hadn't slept in days. His eyes held pain and despair, but there was hope too and something else. Shaking her head she closed her eyes again and dismissed the thought from her mind. After all these years she was crazy to think he could still love her.

"You want to know why, don't you?"

"Yes. I do."

She had finally been honest with herself when she thought she was dying on the frozen moon. Could she be honest with Tom now? Taking back the steaming mug of courage B'Elanna began to try. 

She spoke softly at first, "I left because of fear, I was afraid of losing myself in you. You had your career and all I had was Taya. What would I do when you decided one day you weren't interested in coming home to me; when you decided you had had enough of my Klingon temper? We were among your people and I was afraid of losing Taya too. I couldn't bear that. You didn't need me any more. No one did but Taya. 

"I made my decision the day of the birthday party. You didn't even need me to plan a birthday party, you could do that better too. I had to leave to prove that I was still a person, that I was worth something. That I wasn't just an appendage of you."

Her breathing was ragged now as she continued through her tears. "I'm an engineer, Tom, a good engineer. I took any job that would get me further away from earth. Lots of ships were looking for engineers and I was able to take care of myself and Taya. I thought I would find satisfaction in that but one day I finally realized I was still afraid, still running and just losing myself in my work instead of you. 

"That was six years ago. I thought then of going back but I was ashamed. So I continued to run. When we settled here on this planet two years ago Arnon took Taya under his wing. He saw her gift for flying and began to talk to her about Starfleet. I wanted to take off again, but I was too tired and she was so happy. When she's at the controls her eyes light up the way yours do when you're flying. I couldn't take her away from that. I knew it was a risk but her happiness was more important. I couldn't give her everything she needed any longer." 

Tom had listened silently to her story. He hated himself for not realizing the depth of her fears. B'Elanna sensed his thoughts and turned to touch his face, "Tom, this wasn't your fault. I could have asked for help, I could have been more open. I let my fear paralyze me and refused all the help that everyone offered. It was me, I was afraid of losing myself and instead I threw away our lives, all of our lives, yours, mine and Miral's."

Pulling her closer to him, Tom tried to comfort her. Words wouldn't come but he held her while she cried, finally admitting her grief. 

Her tears spent she sat up and swiped at the moisture on her face. She still had the most difficult admission to make. Closing her eyes and dropping her voice to a whisper she formed the words which would expose her to the final confirmation of her fears. "I never stopped loving you."

Without looking at her, Tom whispered, "I know."

"How did you know?" B'Elanna asked softly.

"I asked Taya about her father before she knew who I was. A woman doesn't tell her child such great stories about her father unless she's still in love with him." 

B'Elanna nodded, a smile forcing itself to her mouth, "You're right, I wanted her to know that she was born out of our love. I never wanted her to blame herself for anything. I thought if I left before she was old enough to understand any of this I could protect her." She was crying again now and Tom pulled her back into the circle of his arms. 

"I'm sorry, Tom. I'm so sorry."

"Shhh, it's okay, B'Elanna. It's okay. We'll work it out."

"You'll take Taya with you back to Starfleet, won't you? I'd like her to at least have the opportunity to go to the academy if that's what she wants. I know you'll take care of her." B'Elanna's voice was unsteady through her tears. 

"Kathryn and Chakotay can take her back. They'll see that she has her chance." Tom replied, his cheek resting softly against her hair. 

"Where will you be?" B'Elanna looked up and asked in alarm.

"I just found my wife again. I'd like to get to know her. When she's ready we'll decide where and how we want to live."

"Why, Tom, why would you want to have anything to do with me?" 

"I never stopped loving you." 

B'Elanna gave a strangled cry as she tried to pull away from him. He grabbed her shoulders and forced her to look at him again. "B'Elanna, I searched for you for five years, day and night. Even when Harry talked me into going back to earth with him I watched every report that came in. Every pilot that I trained knew who I was looking for. I asked them to send me anything, any information that might lead me to you. Maybe that's why Harry sent me on this mission. He knew I was living on hope and he finally had a little to offer."

Astounded at the depth of his love for her, B'Elanna embraced him, allowing her tears to flow freely against his chest. Tom held her again as she wept and silently promised her that he would never let go.

Kathryn and Chakotay took Taya back to earth on the Admiral's ship. Her parents took their time, traveling on a shuttle meant for only two. They cried and fought, talked and listened, and in the end they loved. The shuttle was filled with sorrow and anger, guilt and a new understanding, but never distance. They swore to never allow distance to separate them again.

Four years later

They stood together and watched their daughter walk across the stage and receive her commission. Ensign Miral Taya Paris. She left the stage quickly to run to her flyer accompanied by the other members of her squad. Taya had promised her parents a spectacular air show and she was about to give it. Tom looked down at his wife standing quietly by his side, her face damp with tears. He touched her chin and brought her eyes up so he could see the source. The mirrors of her soul told him she was content. "Hey," he whispered, "Klingons don't cry."

"This Klingon does," she responded as she wrapped her arms around him. Tom returned her embrace. Nothing could replace the years they had lost but they had hope for the future. Harry stood next to him while Chakotay and the doctor flanked B'Elanna. Kathryn was on the stage, as befitted the honored guest who had presented the graduation address. 

Her speech had been short and simple but she made her point. Never forget that you are part of a family, be there for one another, and always leave a light on for those who may have strayed.