Title:  Holding Tom
Author:  Julie Evans
Email id: juli17@aol.com
Series: VOY
Rating:  PG13
Codes:  P/T
Date posted: 11/7/99
Summary:  Tom feels the need to make amends for his actions in "Alice," despite the fact that he was acting beyond his control, and that no one, least of all B'Elanna, blames him.  Set several days after the conclusion of "Alice."

Disclaimer:  Star Trek and its characters are the property of Viacom/Paramount.

I am borrowing them for fun only, not profit.

Notes:  Some readers may recall that I wrote a coda to the fourth season episode
"Random Thoughts" which I titled "Holding B'Elanna."  This is not a sequel to that story in any different sense than the episode "Alice" is a sequel to "Random
Thoughts," i.e., all the later episodes are sequels in the continuing story of Voyager and the evolving relationship between Tom and B'Elanna.  With B'Elanna's apparent resolution of some of her inner conflicts in "Barge of the Dead," and her more easy acceptance of intimacy that seemed evident in "Alice,"

I decided that it was Tom's turn to be on the receiving end of comfort after his
brain was traumatized (as B'Elanna's was in a different manner in "Random Thoughts").  So I guess there is a connection of sorts :-)

A sincere thank you to Cheile for beta reading.  I give my okay to archive this story to the ASC, PTF Archive, PTC Archive, and BLTS.  All others please ask the author for permission.

"Holding Tom"
by Julie Evans

I wonder how many people have asked me how Tom is doing?  Probably most of the crew by now.  Not that they can't ask Tom himself, and perhaps have asked him, but they seem to think Tom would say that he's fine whether he is or not.

They know him too well.

The first two days, while Tom was more or less confined to quarters on orders from the doctor to rest, I'd gotten that question every time I walked into the Mess
hall, or into a meeting, even into Engineering.  I don't know what they all thought
they were going to get out of *me* other than a pat "he's fine."  That seemed to
be enough though, so maybe knowing that I was spending my free time in his quarters keeping an eye on him was reassurance of some sort.  And it was hard to
resent that they cared about Tom.

Naomi asked me if I needed help nursing Tom.  I was gentle with her and thanked her, but assured her that Tom was doing much better and would be well very soon.  Harry overheard and asked if he could help nurse Tom too.  I wasn't

gentle with him; I told him he would need his own nurse as soon as I broke his arm right there in the Mess hall.  He wasn't exactly intimidated, as he used to be
by me.  I guess he's grown out of that.  He just smirked a little, but he did drop
the subject.

Tom didn't need any real nursing, which was a good thing since that certainly isn't my strong suit.  In fact he barely let me do anything for him.  He'd replicated
our dinner himself by the time I arrived at his quarters after my shift, then regaled
me with ideas for new holodeck excursions he had planned for us to do together once he was feeling better.  He actually did rest a lot during those two days, which wasn't like him, but I could see that he was physically and emotionally exhausted from his ordeal.  Besides completing his report on the whole "Alice" incident, he indulged himself in some favorite reading (I noticed "Captain's Courageous" on a datapadd on his nightstand one evening), and he worked at learning some more Klingon phrases.  He greeted me with several of those when I came to his quarters after my shifts.

The doctor released him to full duty two days ago, and since then he has been applying himself to his work doggedly, "catching up" on his duties he'd neglected
over the previous week or so by putting in near double shifts on the bridge and

then in Sickbay.  That means we haven't have much time together, though I understand Tom's need to reaffirm his place, and his commitment to his responsibilities, after everything that happened.

And still I kept getting that question, getting pumped for details about Tom. He
was back on duty, sociable at meetings, amiably telling jokes in the Mess hall,

clearly "himself" again, so what did they want to know?  What did they expect me to say?  That Tom was having nightmares every night, and I was holding him, or something equally none of their business?  I don't think so.

The captain was one of the few who hadn't asked me about Tom, so I was a briefly taken aback when she finally did ask about him, in Engineering.  She'd come to my office to go over the quarterly warp core diagnostic, and we'd discussed the results, traded technical terms, and pondered the fuel efficiency

level and how it could be improved.  After twenty minutes of work-related conversation, there was a brief pause as I handed the captain my datapadd so she
could initial in the required places.  She took the padd, and without looking up
she asked me, "How is Tom doing?"

Captain Janeway and I haven't often been in the habit of discussing personal issues, particularly over the past year, though recently our relationship has changed a little.  And she rarely involves herself in the more private aspects of
her crew's lives and relationships, probably not wanting to compromise her role

as captain too much.  Yet I knew she was asking about Tom from a personal standpoint.  She'd been with him on the bridge for the past two days, and earlier
today.  She could see for herself how he was performing his duties.  When I was

slow to answer she looked up at me, her expression watchful.

"He's fine," I said, using the pat answer I'd become adept at, though my smile and
my reassuring tone were not impersonal.  Tom *was* fine.

"Good," Janeway replied as she punched in several authorization codes that served as her signature of approval on the datapadd.

"Didn't you have breakfast with him the other morning?" I asked.  Tom had mentioned it; the breakfast in the captain's ready room two mornings earlier when
he'd started back on duty.  When the captain had assured him that there would be
no repercussions from the whole "Alice" incident, which I told him was no surprise.  He hadn't done anything wrong.

"Yes, I did," Janeway said.  She leaned back in her chair and gave me a penetrating look.  "Tom *said* he was fine, and he apologized for the problems he'd caused."

"It *wasn't* his fault," I said quickly, and maybe a little snappishly.

Janeway stared at me for a moment.  Then she smiled and her voice was almost gentle when she spoke.  "B'Elanna, I know it wasn't his fault.  I don't blame Tom
because an alien entity forcibly controlled his mind.  Lord, if everyone in Starfleet who was ever inhabited or controlled by an alien entity were held responsible for being victimized, there would be a very serious reduction in the
ranks.  On Voyager, I'm not sure there'd be anybody left."

Janeway's wry look when she said that elicited a small snort out of me.  I couldn't
help it.  It was so ridiculously true.  One of those common perils of Starfleet

service that should be written into the contract: you will be periodically possessed
and manipulated by alien entities.  Especially in the Delta quadrant.  Aliens conducting scientific experiments, aliens who steal bodies, aliens who enjoy wiping memories and forced holodeck battle simulations...

I sighed.  "I know you don't blame, Tom," I said, and I did know.  Captain Janeway was a generally a fair person, if to some, including myself, overly rigid
at times in her adherence to Starfleet protocol.  And I could still leap incautiously
to the defensive when I felt myself, or someone I loved, being threatened. That I
saw no reason to apologize for; it was a part of my temperament I didn't plan to

"When I told Tom that I certainly didn't hold him responsible for his actions while he was under the control of 'Alice'..." Janeway said that name as if she found it a little distasteful, an attitude I shared, "Tom appeared to accept my

conclusion readily."  She smiled again, ruefully this time.  "But we both know Tom.  He could manage to appear completely unconcerned while someone was stabbing him in the heart with a dagger."

"You think he still feels accountable even though no one else thinks so," I said.  It
was a statement rather a question, since I already knew the answer.  Tom's rational mind told him that the neural restructuring 'Alice' had forced on his brain
had compelled him to act the way he had, but his heart and his memories told him
that he had done those things anyway, compelled or not.  He knew it wasn't his fault, but he did feel responsible.

"Tom has certainly been applying himself to his duties with a great deal of intensity the last couple of days," Janeway replied.  "A departure from his more
usual...casual competence."

The captain's tone was amused, but not condemning, and I knew what she meant.  There was nobody on this ship, perhaps in Starfleet, maybe even in the entire galaxy, who could do his job with such apparent lack of attention, even carelessness, as Tom, while doing it so well.  At the helm it was because it truly
came so naturally to him that it was nearly effortless.  In Sickbay, his and the
doctor's intentional combativeness with each other masked the fact that Tom performed his duties there with proficiency too.  Whatever impression Tom gave of being lackadaisical and at times less than dedicated, an attitude that sometimes
irritated even me, it was belied by the results he achieved.  He wouldn't be chief
helm officer otherwise, and the doctor would have given up on him long ago.

I shrugged in response the captain's question.  "He fell behind on some of his reports and duties for awhile," I pointed out, which was certainly common knowledge.  "He had a lot to catch up, so he felt the need to put in some extra


Janeway nodded and studied the padd again.  She was clearly aware of extra hours Tom had been putting in over the past couple of days.  I'd wondered myself
if that was a good idea, but I also knew the doctor would have summarily dismissed Tom from his extra Sickbay shifts if he thought Tom needed more rest.

Whatever enjoyment the doctor and Tom got out of their mutual harassment of each other, the doctor was...well, Tom's doctor first.

"And maybe Tom does feel the need to make amends," I admitted, as Janeway punched in another authorization code on the padd.

Janeway looked at me and nodded.  "I've noticed that myself," she said.  "He doesn't bear any fault, but it's obvious he does feel some responsibility for his
involvement, involuntary or not."

I was a little surprised by the captain's clear perception of Tom's feelings, and the
fact that we'd reached the same conclusions about his reaction.  Though maybe I

shouldn't be surprised that Janeway knows Tom nearly as well as I do.

"Tom's attitude is commendable," Janeway said, sounding rather pleased as she leaned forward and handed the padd over the desk to me.  "And even when there is no real misdeed to amend, atonement can be very healing to the soul," she added softly, perhaps trying to reassure me.  She nodded at the datapadd now in

my hand.  "Voyager suffered nothing more than superficial damage in any case."

"The damage was minimal," I agreed.  "But I don't think that makes Tom feel less
guilty about not being able to stop 'Alice' from forcing him to do her bidding."  I
could feel how my teeth clenched when I said that name, but it *was* annoyingly

the easiest way to refer to that loathsome shuttle, or whatever manner of sentience
had inhabited it.  Even thinking of that sentience as female was almost inescapable, since that was how it had presented itself to Tom.

Janeway was looking at me curiously.  "B'Elanna, did you read Tom's report?" She asked.

I knew she was referring to the official report Tom had composed, relating everything he could remember about those few days when he'd been controlled by "Alice."  The report had been very thorough, and uncompromising.  I'd read it,
and it had infuriated me.  "Yes," I said, my taut voice not exactly encouraging

further conversation on that subject.

Janeway wasn't deterred by my forbidding tone.  But then, our captain is a woman who wouldn't be deterred by a phaser canon aimed at her head.  I couldn't

help but admire that trait in her, most of the time.  "Something did sever 'Alice's'
control briefly, B'Elanna," she said, her own gaze on me almost stern.  "Or rather,
someone.  You.  When 'Alice' tried to kill you, that got through to Tom despite

the neural restructuring."

I knew that very well.  And I felt guilty for a moment that the captain might think
I didn't appreciate the resistance Tom had been able to muster with his brain half
scrambled by the neural restructuring, or that he had mustered that will to fight
back because of me.  Because of how he felt about me.  "I do know that, captain.
Believe me, I'm not angry with Tom over what happened."

The captain looked satisfied with that, though I wasn't.  I *had* been angry with
Tom at the time, at the way he was treating me.  But now I was angrier with myself that I hadn't stayed there after the confrontation between us.  I knew that
Tom wasn't himself, that 'Alice' had done something to him.  It was the only way
he'd behave so violently, so out of character, but even so I'd had to restrain myself
from thrashing him for his behavior.  I ran away to get help instead, thinking that
was the wisest course, the best way to rein in my own temper and to rescue Tom from whatever that damned shuttle had done to him.  It was only later, after I'd
read his report, that the better action occurred to me.  If I had stayed and used my
anger against the real offender, if I had just grabbed a real weapon and blasted
that hunk of malicious metal into scrap--whether I had to knock Tom aside to do

it or not--I could have ended it then.  And 'Alice' wouldn't have been able to torture Tom in the turbolift, and force him to go to the Shuttlebay instead of Sickbay.  Or stuck all those damned tubes in him that I could literally feel frying
his brain when I was hooked into him via the neural link.


I looked up at the captain and realized I'd virtually forgotten her presence. I was
squeezing the padd in my hand tightly enough to nearly break it.  I deliberately
loosened my grip, and ungritted my teeth.

"The shuttle and whatever kind of alien intelligence 'Alice' was, it's gone now,
vaporized in the particle fountain," Janeway said softly.  I don't know if she'd
deduced from my expression everything I was thinking, but she could clearly see

where my anger was still directed.

"I read Tuvok's addendum to Tom's report," I said flatly.  It hadn't been anything
about Tom, since Tuvok considered Tom's actions as involuntary as everyone else did.  Tuvok's addendum had focused on the nature of the "Alice entity," now
the official Starfleet term, an entity that still remained a mystery.  It wasn't
completely clear if the entity had been part of the shuttle's computer brain, and it
had expected Tom to fly it through eye of the particle fountain to the other side,
where its planet of origin was located.  Hell, it still wasn't clear to Starfleet or to
us if there *was* another side through a particle fountain.  No one had ever gotten there.  Which had led Tuvok to surmise that is was possible the "Alice entity" had hijacked the shuttle for a ride, much as it had hijacked Tom to provide
the piloting, and that it might be a separate entity altogether, perhaps even an
energy being that lived in a high energy field--like a particle fountain.  If so,
maybe it had gotten what it wanted after all.

"Either way, it's not of much consequence now, B'Elanna," Janeway pointed out in her most implacable tone.

I knew she was right, at least in the way she meant it.  Whatever the "Alice entity" was, it wasn't going to hurt any of us again, probably not anyone else at
all, whether it was vaporized with the shuttle, or reunited with its energy being
friends in the particle fountain.  But it did matter to me.  I wanted to know that it
had been destroyed for what it had done to Tom.  But I acceded anyway, in words.  "No, I guess it doesn't matter."

The captain no doubt noticed the lack of conviction in my voice.  "I know it's a
trite statement, but my grandmother used to say it, and it is true.  'All's well that
ends well.'  And this ended well enough for us."  A stern look flitted briefly across Janeway's face.  "Though I do think we learned one lesson."

I frowned.  "The neurogenic interface."  I was surprised I could say it so calmly,
because I was still pretty irritated about that too.  "It checked out."  It wouldn't
have gotten on Voyager if it couldn't make it through the standard Shuttlebay entry scans, though their intent was to detect viruses and obvious hardware and

software incompatibilities.  "But we should have tested it thoroughly before simply assuming it was the standardized interface it appeared to be."

"Agreed," Janeway said.  "Starfleet's screening methods aren't designed to go beyond the surface unfortunately, though the neurogenic interface hardware was what it seemed.  It was the...sentience of the shuttle's computer, or the entity
within it, and its ability to manipulate and remodulate the interface, that we couldn't detect."

"Didn't detect," I corrected harshly.  We could have detected it, if we had actually
bothered to look deeper.  That oversight sure as hell wasn't going to happen twice.

"You're absolutely right," Janeway agreed.  "That is *not* going to happen again."

It was as if she had read my thought, but I know that Captain Janeway and I simply have the same intractable disposition in certain situations.  Or maybe it
was a trait we shared in general.

"Next time--should there be a next time--we'll be paying a little more attention."
Janeway frowned.  "I will be paying a little more attention.  To everything."

I knew the captain was referring to Tom's behavior.  I'd lain awake myself wondering why *I* hadn't realized sooner that something wasn't right with Tom's

obsession about that shuttle.  He'd certainly been passionate about his hobbies

before, especially when it involved something he could fly, or certain holoprograms he designed.  But he'd usually only carried his enthusiasm to extremes when something was amiss in his life, or in our relationship.  Like when
he'd used his garage program to salve his restlessness that he felt he couldn't

explain or share with me, or when he'd stayed up day and night working on the Delta Flyer after I'd practically pushed him out of my life during my depression.
But just lately we'd been doing fine--great, actually.  He'd seemed as content and
settled as I felt, with us, and with himself.  Instead of questioning why he'd abruptly lost interest in everything except working on that shuttle, to the point of
ignoring me and everyone else, I had just dismissed it as another of those "phases" in our relationship that I told myself would pass.  "I should have realized sooner that something was wrong."

(Janeway shook her head.  "We all too often ignore changes in the behavior of people close to us, and make excuses in our minds, until the change becomes extreme enough that we have to face it."

The captain sounded completely nonjudgmental, and as if she spoke from experience.  But I couldn't help thinking how her words have applied so directly
to Tom and I in our relationship, first when Steth had taken over Tom's body, and
later when I had slowly lost control during my depression.  Tom and I have had a
history of looking the other way as long as we possibly could.

"The doctor said the neural pathways in Tom's brain were so restructured that he
probably didn't even have the ability to grasp that something was amiss," Janeway said.  "Not until your life was in danger anyway.  We know now that Tom talked to 'Alice' in the form of a person for several days, not even once thinking it was the least bit odd that someone who wasn't a member of the crew was approaching him in corridors and striking up conversations with him.  And she was cunning enough not to force Tom *too* far from the normal parameters of his behavior, until it became necessary to advance her cause by pressing him to
steal parts, and eventually take the shuttle where she wanted to go."

And vicious enough to rewire Tom's brain and torture him to get him to do her bidding.  I still felt coldly infuriated every time I remembered feeling the agony
she'd inflicted on him in the shuttle, trying to force him to bend completely to her
will.  And watching in Sickbay, once he'd been beamed back to Voyager, slumped and unconscious after that final assault on his mind, as the doctor rushed
to undo the neural damage before it became permanent.  The doctor had repaired the physical damage, though I knew the memories left behind were a kind of injury in themselves.  That...bitch.  "I wish I'd seen him actually talking to *her,*
just once."

Janeway raised her eyebrows at the snarl in my voice.  "B'Elanna, you did realize
something was wrong before anyone else did.  And I'm sorry I initially questioned your perception."

The captain's expression was genuinely apologetic, and I accepted it with a nod.
"Don't take this the wrong way, captain, but I wouldn't ever come to you to discuss personal problems between Tom and myself," I said adamantly.  Then I qualified without thinking, "Certainly not while I was on duty."

Janeway looked at me reflectively for a moment, and her lips quirked.  "Point taken, B'Elanna.  I know you wouldn't bring your personal problems to me as captain, unless it was something that affected the ship's safety, or the safety of
someone on the crew."  Her pause was brief but palpable.  "Though I hope that doesn't mean you'd rule out coming to me as a friend."

I don't know if she said that in response to my own qualification.  Our sometimes
chilly relationship has thawed a lot recently, and after my experience in Gre'thor
we'd had talked a couple of times, not as captain and chief engineer, but as...friends.  I knew part of the shift in our relationship was because I'd changed,
but I think the captain has changed a little too.  We seem to have put the issues
that have strained our relationship at times over the past year to rest, and moved
on to a new, if tentative level of rapport with each other.  At least I thought so,
but I still felt uncomfortable saying so.  I just nodded briefly instead, opting to
seem noncommittal.

Janeway smiled, not looking the least uncertain, and our gazes held for a moment.
Then she spoke, lightly but firmly,  "The important thing right now is that this
incident is behind us.  We all survived it intact, and we got Tom back."

I knew she was right.  We had Tom back, and he would be okay.  That was what was really important.  And neither she, nor anyone else, had considered giving up
until we did get him back.

"Thank you, captain."

Janeway looked at me, clearly not sure what I meant.  "For what?"

"For getting Tom back."

Her brow furrowed a little, and there was a strangely intent look on her face.

"*You* did that more than anyone, B'Elanna, through the neural link.  As for going after Tom, did you really doubt that I would?"

I shook my head.  "Not for a minute."

We smiled at each other, satisfied, and then the captain stood.  "I'd better get back
to the bridge.  I have several quarterly reports to review there also."  She glanced
at the padd I'd laid on my desk.  "As for the warp core, I leave that in your very
capable hands as always, B'Elanna."  She smiled and moved to leave, but she turned at the door and looked back at me again with a rather sly look on her face.
"And Tom too."

I stared at her blankly for a moment, before I realized what she meant.

"You're good for him, B'Elanna," she said simply.

Janeway had certainly never said anything like that to me.  In fact I had once assumed she probably thought the opposite, especially after I'd implicitly encouraged Tom to disobey her orders regarding the Moneans.  But maybe that interpretation had been a reflection of my own sense of guilt, and my lingering

resentment over the forced treatment by Crell Moset.  And, truthfully, she might
have assumed that Tom had been good for me more than I'd been good for him, because that had often been the case in the past.  "It works both ways," I said


"Yes, it does," Janeway said without hesitation.  After all, she had been there in
Sickbay when Tom had stayed by my side after I'd insisted on going back to the Barge of the Dead.  She also knew Tom had been openly supportive of my emerging interest in Klingon culture, and had started exploring it with me, at least
until we'd come across Abbadon's junk yard and Tom's time had been monopolized by "Alice."  But I knew Janeway didn't hold Tom's behavior while he'd been unwittingly victimized against him.

"If I haven't said it before, B'Elanna, I'm very happy that you and Tom have persevered, and haven't given up on each other," Janeway added, her voice completely sincere.  "I know it's not always easy."

"No, it isn't," I agreed.  Sometimes even I wasn't sure how we'd managed to do it,
but we had.  "I guess Tom and I are both pretty...stubborn," I said.  "And we do
love each other," I added softly, and maybe just a little defensively.

"I don't doubt that, B'Elanna," Janeway said.  "The love or the stubborness." She
shook her head and a small, ironic smile touched her lips.  "Love may be the foundation, but perseverance is probably half of a successful relationship. You
have to be willing to hang on through the tough times, no matter how insurmountable they seem, when love alone isn't nearly enough."

I wondered from the melancholy look that flashed across Janeway's face if she was thinking about Mark what's-his-name, the man she'd been forced to leave behind, who'd subsequently left her behind.  It was so easy sometimes to forget

all she'd personally lost by being stranded in the Delta quadrant, and how lonely
she must sometimes feel, when her focus on Voyager always had to be on the well-being of everyone else, rather than herself.

Before I could say anything--if there was anything I could say--her pensive look
faded and she changed the subject.  "Speaking of Tom, again, how are the plans progressing for tomorrow night?"

I grimaced a little.  "Neelix has everything 'under control,' so he says."  The

captain and I exchanged amused looks, though mine was just a little apprehensive.  "I'm afraid to ask for the specifics.  Hopefully Tom will forgive
me some day."

Janeway laughed lightly.  "I'm not the least bit worried about that.  I'm sure Tom
will endure all the attention good-naturedly, no matter how overboard Neelix goes.  This kind of torture is what family and friends are all about, after all."

I smiled at the captain's unremorseful look.  "Yes, I guess it is."

"And you know Tom has plenty of family and friends onboard, B'Elanna."  She stepped through the doorway and gave me a final sanguine smile.  "I'll look forward to seeing you both there tomorrow."

I stared at the door contemplatively as it closed behind the captain.  Though I had
no doubt she was concerned about Tom, I wondered about the direction of our conversation.  I had the feeling Janeway had brought up the subject of Tom not only to assure herself that he was fine, but that *we* were fine again too, Tom

and I.  Maybe she thought that Tom couldn't be truly "fine" if he and I weren't

fine; that his happiness was tied up not just in his own well-being, but the in well-
being of our relationship too.  It was just as true for myself.

It was a sobering thought, that our happiness partly depended on each other.  Individually we'd both struggled hard to find ourselves, and our place--and trying
to do it together it had proven even more difficult.  The idea that our happiness
was bound to each other's, that I could so deeply affect Tom's well-being and vice
versa, didn't arouse the same kind of denial in me that it often had n the past.  In
fact, when the thought returned to me several times during the rest of the afternoon, I found it surprisingly reassuring.


After my shift that evening I went to Tom's quarters, as I had for the past five
nights.  I don't usually let myself into Tom's quarters unannounced, though he gave me the code long ago.  He doesn't often walk into mine without announcing himself either.  It's not that we don't spend plenty of time in each other's quarters,
even leaving personal items mixed together wherever we were last.  And more and more I know I have a standing invitation to be in his quarters, as he does in
mine.  But we both were still have some hesitancy, this feeling that we might be
invading the other's privacy if we walk in uninvited.  However, I'd pressed Tom's
door announcer twice and gotten no answer, so this time I punched his code to let
myself in.

I knew he was there, since Chakotay had told me he'd cancelled Tom's voluntary sickbay shift tonight and ordered Tom to limit himself to his single assigned shifts for the next two days.  Voyager is running smoothly, and in the interest of
maximal efficiency of the ship and health of the crew, Chakotay said he couldn't
countenance any of the crew working over the maximum hours recommended under normal operational conditions.  Or something like that.  Chakotay has those
kinds of regulations memorized.  I'm sure he loved using one of them on Tom, and he told me that it was for Tom's own good, of course.  Chakotay's a wonderful friend, and he no doubt is looking out for Tom's best interests, but sometimes his paternalistic platitudes can be a little overbearing.  Still, I appreciated his implied dismissal of any need for Tom to make amends, not to mention the opportunity it gave Tom and I to spend some time together tonight.

If Tom was awake.  I noticed as I stepped into his quarters that the lights were
dimmed, and for a moment I thought he might be asleep, though it was just after

1900 hours.  I briefly wondered if he'd been less recovered than the doctor had

believed, or if his sleep had been less restful than even I'd been aware of. For a
moment I was worried.  Then I heard the water running.

He was in the shower.  As I stepped further into his quarters I could see the brighter strip of light under the bathroom door, and I smiled.  Perfect.  I needed a

I shrugged out of my uniform jacket and kicked off my shoes before I even got to
the bedroom.  I pulled off my tank top and managed to struggle out of my pants and my socks as I walked, all without tripping myself.  I left them on the bedroom floor.  The bathroom door slid open as I approached and I stepped inside, unhooking my bra and tossing it on the counter by the sink.  Then I stepped out of my panties and kicked them aside.  Tom's form was clearly visible
through the steam in the bathroom and the fogged glass door of the shower.  He had his back to me, and his face lifted to the spray, letting the water stream over
his neck and shoulders.

I stepped in and closed the door behind me.  He didn't hear me over the sound of
the water, and when I wrapped my arms around him and pressed my cheek against his back he started.

I felt a little guilty as he turned in my arms, his wet skin slick and slippery.  "I'm

He shook his head and slipped his arms around me.  I readjusted my position and

snaked my arms around his neck, and we hugged briefly.  "I'm glad you're here."

"Me, too," I said.  "I could use a shower."

"You've come to the right place then," Tom murmured, rubbing my back lightly as the water sluiced over both of us now.  It was not as scalding as I usually liked
it, but it still relaxed my tense muscles, though not as much as Tom's hands did.

"Um, that feels good," I murmured appreciatively.

"I have soap too," Tom said, his voice teasing.

I glanced at the green bar of soap sitting on the shower ledge.  Generally soap

seemed a time-consuming and unnecessary step to me, which was why I usually preferred the all-in-one process of a quick sonic shower.  But Tom liked the feel
of water on his skin, and the lather of soap, old-fashioned bar soap.  He always
used the same soap that had a clean, slightly spicy scent that Tom thought smelled a little like the sea.  I just liked it how it smelled on him, whatever it was.
I sniffed his neck, inhaling deeply and with pleasure.  "Ummm...you're clean already."

Tom reached over and snatched the bar of soap from the ledge.  "I'll do you then."

That was okay as far as I was concerned.  I didn't mind the smell of Tom's soap

on me either.  Or the feel of his hands on me.

"I was thinking we could have dinner at that little cantina you liked on Cozumel
tonight," Tom suggested as he started soaping my back.  "And there's that jazz nightclub there where we can dance--"

"Tom, stop."  Even though I murmured the words into his shoulder he heard me, and his hands stopped moving across my back, which wasn't exactly my intent.  I

looked up at him.  "I meant stop doing all this extra stuff for me.  You don't need
to think up special holodeck programs, or spend all your rations on me."  I'd found flowers on my desk in Engineering for the past five days.  I suspected Harry or Joe had been in collaboration with Tom, putting them on my desk every morning before my shift.  Flowers were Tom's favorite method of apology, and mine too, when I wanted an apology.  "Not that I don't appreciate the gestures,

but you don't have anything to make up to me."  I attempted a little humor in case
I was coming down too hard about it.  "Besides I'm running out of vases."

His gaze held mine for a moment and he nodded as he resumed soaping my lower back.  "Okay, I'll stop, if you want me to."

"I do," I said, kissing his cheek.  I stroked my fingers lightly across his chin.
"Let's just grab dinner in the Mess hall and stay in tonight.  Get back to normal,
okay?"  My lips quirked.  "We were actually doing pretty good at that, almost a

miracle considering how remarkable being 'normal' is for us."

Tom smiled at that.  Then he sobered a little.  "I know I don't *have* to make anything up to you, B'Elanna.  But I just want to make sure you know that my feelings never changed, even when I was ignoring you, when I...wasn't myself."

"I do know that, Tom."  He had said so more than once, and it wasn't like I didn't
believe him.

He knelt down and his hands began to soap the length of my legs.  "And I do feel
like I have to make up to everyone else, especially to the captain."

"You don't, Tom," I said softly.  "Though I know why you feel that way."  I tousled his hair as much as I could, since it was soaking wet.  The shower spray
was mostly on me now, streaming over my shoulders.

"The captain went to a lot of trouble to help me, even when I was firing at Voyager and endangering everyone," Tom said glumly.

I had to snort at that perception.  "Sorry, Tom, but that was 'Alice's' doing, and
quite honestly she was complete piece of junk compared to Voyager."  My tone was deeply disparaging, and Tom glanced up at me and gave me a wry grin.  "We were hardly in any danger from *her*," I added, then I frowned a little.  "Only

you were."  Especially if we hadn't been able to stop her, and she had dragged Tom into that particle fountain with her.  I didn't care to think about that though.
"Besides, the captain isn't going to stand by and let anyone or anything hurt one
of us, or walk away when one of us is in trouble.  You should know that by now."

Tom stood up, blocking the shower spray, and his hands slid slickly up my wet body.  "I'm sure as hell glad she didn't."

"The captain does have a soft spot for you, you know," I murmured, as he started
on my front, soaping my shoulders.

"She used to, anyway," Tom said.  He intercepted my look, and shrugged.  "Maybe she still does.  Though I've never been sure she's completely forgiven me
for the Monean incident."

"She has," I said.  "I'm not sure the captain ever *forgets* anything, but she does
forgive.  And she certainly doesn't draw any parallels between that incident and
this one."

"How about this and Steth?" Tom asked, his tone light, though I wasn't fooled.

I shrugged this time, as his hands brushed over my stomach and hips.  "Neither was your fault.  Steth took over the captain's body too if you recall.  Though I do
think the captain should order *you* not to get possessed by aliens any more." I
cuffed his chin lightly.  "Let it be someone else's turn."  I was partially teasing,
since I didn't want to see anyone on Voyager being manipulated against his or her
will.  We'd all been through that more than once now.  But Tom, of all of us, had
certainly endured more than his fair share.

Tom smiled a little and quirked an eyebrow.  "Maybe the doc can encode a 'no trespassing' barricade across my brain."

"That's really not a bad idea, Tom," I said dryly, playing along.  Hell, if it would
work I'd do it myself.

"I just don't need any more setbacks," Tom murmured.

I knew what he meant.  Months after the Monean incident, Tom had begun to wonder whether he'd been seriously misguided in taking action against the captain's orders.  I hadn't expected him to go so far myself, but I couldn't deny the
heart and courage behind his decision to act.  And if I was the only one who felt
that way, I didn't care.  Though I knew I wasn't.  Maybe he'd acted rashly, but his
motives had been honorable, and that was what counted to me.  "This isn't a setback, Tom.  No one holds any of it against you.  They know it was all 'Alice.'"

"I hope so."  Tom moved his hands away and straightened, and I realized that I was soaped head to foot, where the water hadn't already rinsed the soap away.  He pulled my head toward his shoulder and leaned back so that the warm spray hit my hair, resoaking it.

"You'll be a lieutenant again, Tom," I said into his shoulder.  "And more."

"It's not the rank I care about so much," Tom said as he threaded his fingers through my plastered hair.

"It's the captain's respect," I said.  I understood.  Tom really wasn't someone who
cared much about rank and position, as long as he was doing the job he loved to

do.  He wasn't interested in power, or particularly concerned with obtaining a command of his own, but he did know that rank equated in some ways with respect.  I know he believes that once the captain gives him his lieutenant rank
back, that will mean she has no doubts about him, no lingering feelings about the
Monean incident.  It will truly be in the past.

"The captain never questioned getting you back after 'Alice' abducted you," I pointed out, as Tom squeezed shampoo into my hair.  That was what it had been-- an abduction--since 'Alice' had infiltrated Tom's brain and forced him to leave

Voyager.  "*No one* questioned for a minute going after you and getting you back, whatever it took."

"I know."  Tom sounded both grateful and a little chagrined at the thought of so
many people willing to go to that much trouble for him.

"We're all family now," I said.  "We're willing to do whatever it takes to stay

together...."  My voice faded as my attention faltered.  Tom had started working
the shampoo into my hair and his long supple fingers massaging my scalp felt heavenly.  I couldn't help a small moan of pleasure at the sensation.  If we had the
time and opportunity, I think I'd let Tom shampoo my hair every day.  It was almost as good as sex.  Almost.

"You were willing to get inside my head," Tom said.  I half-opened my eyes, still
a little lost in my own personal ecstasy, and he smiled knowingly.  His fingers

deftly massaged the base of my skull.  He was well aware of what he was doing to me, making it hard for me to think coherently.  "That must have been a little
scary for you."

Scary?  Right, inside his head.  We really hadn't talked about that experience, but
his tone was teasing, and I snorted lightly.  "I'm sure it would have been terrifying
to know your deepest thoughts, Tom," I retorted dryly, teasing him back.  "But I
really couldn't sense anything past the...pain."  I frowned at the sudden memory,
my amusement gone.  It was true.  Tom's deepest thoughts had been safe, drowned in the agony "Alice" was inflicting on him.  I'd been trying not to remember how that had felt.  It *had* been scary, though not in the way Tom jokingly meant.

"I'm sorry."  I must have shuddered at the memory, because Tom whispered those words softly against my forehead, and tightened his hands in my hair and hugged

me close to him.

"It was far worse for you, Tom," I murmured.  "I'm sorry you have to remember."

I felt him shrug.  "It's fading," he said as he pushed me back, and started kneading
his fingers in my hair again, working the shampoo into the ends.

"It is?" I asked, both hopeful and skeptical.

"Yes.  Except maybe at night a little," he admitted, then shrugged again, dismissively.

I was aware of that.  We'd slept together the past five nights, ever since he'd been
released from Sickbay.  I'd made sure of that, no matter how late I got off shift, or
he did during the past two days.  I think there'd only been one night of the five
that he hadn't woken me, restless, and plagued by unpleasant dreams about being

on that shuttle, and being controlled by "Alice." The first night he'd been literally
thrashing in the bed.  I'd grabbed his hand, since he'd inadvertently hit me in the
stomach, and had to forcibly uncurl his clenched fingers.  When I slipped my hand into his, he'd gripped it so tightly it would have been truly painful if I were
fully human.  I'd stroked his sweat-soaked hair with my other hand, and repeated
his name several times, before I'd finally managed to wake him. He'd shot upright
in bed then, almost shrinking away from me, until his eyes had focused and he'd

realized who I was, and that he wasn't on that damned shuttle anymore.  Thankfully his dreams hadn't been quite so disturbing after that, but I knew he

was still having them.

"You don't have to babysit me every night, B'Elanna."

I moved back, dislodging his hands, and looked up at him, giving him a reproachful look.  "Don't act like a martyr, Tom," I said.  "It makes it sound like I
don't really want to be here."  He started to shake his head, but I continued.

"Besides, do you think that's the only reason I've been sleeping with you?"

"I think you've made an effort to be here every night, even when I've worked late
the last couple of nights," he said, his voice quiet.

"So?"  It was true that when our shifts were long, or our schedules didn't coincide, and we didn't have an opportunity for a meal or some recreational time
together, we sometimes let whole nights slip by without even seeing each other.

Sleeping together was as often as not the end result of an evening together that
culminated in sex.  Or sometimes a source of comfort after some particularly traumatic experience.  It wasn't something we were committed to every night. At
least it had been that way in the past.  "I think we let our schedules and...other
things interfere too much in that area," I said.

Tom's eyebrows rose at my meaningful tone and he smiled a little.  "You do?"

"I like sleeping with you, Tom," I said.  It was true.  "And if you have a bad dream I don't mind holding you."  That was true also.  I liked being the person

who could truly offer Tom comfort.  I was learning to appreciate that tender, more human side of me, as well as my Klingon side.  It was strange to realize that
in rejecting the Klingon in me I'd neglected the human also without realizing it.
Though Tom had quite often been willing to offer me comfort, whenever I would take it.  I slipped my arms around his waist.  "I seem to remember you holding me after a bad dream or two when my brain was...violated by the Mari."

Tom looked at me soberly, clearly remembering that time.  Our gazes held for a long moment, until it occurred to me that we were still standing in the middle of
the shower with the water running over us.  It was mostly spilling over Tom's shoulders, but enough had splashed on me so that the shampoo in my hair was starting to drip into my face.  I blinked and rubbed at the foam that was starting to
get into my eyes.

"Rinse," Tom said, gripping my shoulders lightly as he turned us around.  The spray hit me full on, and I stood there for several seconds as the water washed

away the lingering soap on my body and the shampoo in my hair.  My eyes were closed but I sensed Tom's movement before his lips touched mine.  We kissed under the streaming water, Tom's hands on my shoulders and my hands resting lightly on his hips while our lips and tongues stroked and probed gently, until we
inadvertently moved slightly and the angle of the shower spray sent water into our mouths.

I coughed a little as we separated, and then opened my eyes.  "I think I must be
clean now."

Tom leaned forward and sniffed my neck.  He smiled playfully.  "Ummm, you smell like a fresh, invigorating sea breeze..."

I rolled my eyes, and twisted slightly so I could palm the shower controls.  A moment later the water flow ceased.  "I think we've been in here long enough." I
glanced at my hands.  "I'm starting to shrivel."

Tom grinned.  "That was probably my water allotment for the week anyway.  Not that I mind."

"You can always use my shower," I said, as we stepped out of his shower together.  I gave him a smug smile.  "As long as you wash my hair."

"Deal," Tom said as he grabbed one of the two fluffy blue towels from the rack.

He wrapped it quickly and expertly around his waist.

I reached for the other towel but Tom beat me to it and draped it over my head.

"I'm glad Chakotay took you off double-shifts, Tom," I told him as he started drying my hair briskly.  My voice was a little muffled by the towel dangling in

my face.  "Now that the quarterly warp core diagnostic is done, and you're back

on your regular schedule, we can finally spend some real time together."

"Harry was asking me today about starting the next chapter of Captain Proton," Tom said.  "He wanted to do it tomorrow after our shift, but I'll put him off for a
few days."

I shook my head under the towel.  "Don't do that, Tom."

Tom let the towel drop to my shoulders.  "I want to spend time with *you,* B'Elanna.  Captain Proton can wait."

"You enjoy Captain Proton, Tom, and Harry has been waiting patiently."

Tom looked at me a little askance as he rubbed the towel down my back.

"We don't have to spend every moment together," I told him.  "Take Harry up on his request."  Then, before he could get really suspicious about my sudden generosity regarding Captain Proton, I added in a sultry tone, "Just don't plan

anything for later in the evening."

Tom's eyebrows rose.  "You have something in mind?"

"I'm sure I can come up with something," I said suggestively.  "I haven't worn my
red dress in a while.  You know the one with the tight...skirt..."

My voice trailed off as I realized Tom wasn't responding to the provocation in my
voice.  He wasn't paying attention to what I was saying at all.  His attention--and
his gaze--had been diverted by something apparently more provocative than my voice.

The hot water had had a relaxing effect on my body, but Tom's vigorous toweling

was having a different kind of effect altogether, and Tom had noticed.  My skin

tingled from the friction of the nubby cotton against my flesh and in one area the
result of that friction was most obvious.  The warmth I felt spreading through me
now wasn't lethargic at all, especially as Tom raised a hand and brushed his fingers slowly across my breasts, stimulating an even more conspicuous response.

Though it might seem surprising to some (or maybe not), once the tiniest ember is sparked between Tom and I, it can become a full-fledged conflagration in less
than a second.  We can be talking about work, arguing about something, have our

attention totally elsewhere, have anything but *that* on our minds, then all it

takes is one look, or one touch, and we're gone.  In this case, it was both. Tom's
pupils dilated as they met mine, and the intensity of his blue gaze on me was almost scorching.

I'm always grateful when this thing between us happens somewhere that doesn't require that we move very far, since we feel compelled quench the fire--soon. I
ripped the towel from around Tom's waist and it fell to the floor.  The towel he'd
been using on me dropped from his hand and slid down my body, joining the other at our feet.  Our mouths merged heatedly, and our bodies, still sleek with
moisture in some places, molded together.  We had made love the first couple of

nights after Tom had been released from sickbay, but Tom had been on orders from the doctor to "rest," so I'd taken it easy on him.  This joining promised to be
a little more elemental.

The space in Tom's bathroom is tight, and in the midst of our rather frantic groping we moved toward the door, intending to make it to the bed, I think.  We

forgot about the wet towels crumpled at our feet, and they tangled around Tom's

ankles, tripping him.  He took me with him as he went down.  Tom grunted a little at the impact as he landed on his butt, and it was only my quick action that
kept him from slamming the back of his skull into the porcelain base of the sink
as he fell backward.  As it was my hand was caught painfully between the two opposing forces.

"Tom..." I growled his name, less from pain than exasperation.  I love the man,

but he does have this innate tendency to impact his brain over and over.  "I am

not going to put up with any more neural restructurings, or hostile synaptic takeovers, or CONCUSSIONS!" I warned him indignantly, my face mere millimeters from his.  I wasn't completely joking, by any means.  "You've been brain-damaged enough.  No more.  Got it?"

He pulled us both into a sitting position, and he grinned insouciantly as I glared at
him while at the same time barely able to keep a smile off my lips.  "Yes, maam."
He grabbed my throbbing hand that had been cradling his head, yanked it out of his hair with a small grimace, and massaged it gently between his thumb and fingers.  Then he kissed my palm.  "Thank you for loving me as I am, brain- damaged and all."

"You're welcome," I murmured distractedly as his lips caressed my hand.  I was more or less straddling him, and the wet towels were still tangled beneath us. He
shifted a little, intentionally, and our bodies came into even more intimate contact.  Our eyes locked, and the fire, momentarily banked, reignited again. I
didn't give any more thought to the state of his brain as he dropped my hand, slid
his hands down my waist and wrapped them around my hips.  I growled his name, with pleasure this time as he started to--

Well, never mind all that.  Suffice to say we didn't make it out of the bathroom.
Though we kept the mirror steamed up, and we did knock over a few of Tom's toiletries, we didn't break anything this time.  Tom also got a couple of bumps

and bruises during our more vigorous moments, but none were to his head.  And, in the end, we'd both worked up an appetite.

We showed up in the Mess hall some time later, to partake of a typical Neelix mystery dinner.  Neelix served us with his usual bright enthusiasm, and he gave

me several winks and conspiratorial looks which I barely kept Tom from noticing.  When Tom moved over to the replicator to get our drinks, I warned Neelix under my breath to desist before I hit him over the head with his own ladle.  He nodded with hardly a bit of trepidation and winked again right before
Tom returned.  I can't decide if it's good or bad that no one is really afraid of me
any more.

We waved to the captain, who was there with Chakotay and Tuvok, having her after-meal cup of coffee.  Tom didn't notice, but her gaze lingered on us as we

carried our trays toward a table.  My eyes met Janeway's for a moment, and she gave me a knowing and pleased smile before she turned away to resume her conversation with Chakotay and Tuvok.

Harry came in and joined us as we were finishing our meal, and Tom agreed to meet him on the holodeck the next afternoon to continue their latest chapter of

Captain Proton, "The Web of Pain."  I hadn't heard the title of the latest chapter
yet, and the irony gave me momentary pause.  I glanced at Tom, but he didn't react to it at all.  I murmured my usual "maybe" when Harry invited me to join them, knowing I would be busy hiding out in the Mess hall with everyone else.  Tom had barely glanced up at Harry's invitation, aware that my "maybes" on that

subject almost always meant "no, thanks."  I told Harry then that I might consider
joining in a future chapter, if it contained a good juicy part for me.  This time
Tom heard the contemplative tone in my voice, and he looked at me closely.  I realized I actually *was* considering it, but I didn't say anything further.  I

decided to leave Tom to wondering if I might show up on the holodeck one of these days in a slinky dress, ready to match wits with Captain Proton, and take

him down, one way or the other.

Seven came in for a cup of Tarkelian tea, a beverage she seems to have developed
a fondness for, and she stopped by our table briefly.  A few months ago I would

have been privately irritated that she'd picked something I liked, and wished she'd
just drink tree bark or something of equally generic nutritional value.  Now I contemplated how I might just goad her a little, pointing out that her apparent

emotional attachment to a favorite beverage, and not a particularly nutritional one
at that, belied her haughty Borg disdain for human sentiment.

Harry spoke before I could, inviting Seven to join in the next chapter of Captain
Proton.  Seven responded to that suggestion typically, curling her lip a little and
noting that the program was "an unproductive expenditure of time, historically inaccurate, and filled with archaic gender stereotypes."  I didn't completely disagree with her assessment, but Harry just gave her a shrug that indicated it was
her loss.  The exchange was so typical that I wondered for a moment if Harry had
set it up as part of his diversionary tactics.

Seven provided no clue; she simply gave me a bland look as she pivoted to leave.
Then she looked at Tom and her eyebrow rose.  I followed her gaze and noticed the edge of a red mark just visible above the collar of his open-necked shirt. Tom
glanced at me and lifted his shoulder once, enough to rearrange the collar slightly
and completely cover the mark.  I personally didn't care what Seven saw, as long
as she didn't record it in any of her logs that I would have to search out and destroy.  In fact, I gave her a rather smug smile.  She looked at me again, then
back at Tom, and informed him that she was pleased to see that he had made a complete recovery, and that everything had returned to normal.  I thought detected a hint of a sardonic drawl when she said the word "normal," but she immediately wished as a curt good-night and departed before I found it necessary
to comment.

I actually found myself smiling as I watched her leave.  It was a little disturbing
to accept, but Seven's observation, sarcastic or not, had actually pleased me.

Everything *was* back to normal for Tom and I, even if what passes for normal for us was a mystery to many of our friends.

Later, after Tom and I had returned to his quarters, I amended that thought.  I

decided that Tom and I were actually a little better than normal.  Something had
changed.  It wasn't that our relationship hadn't undergone adjustments before, but
sometimes we've seemed to move in circles, battling the same problems over and over and never quite overcoming them.  Now, I thought that maybe we had finally left behind some of those issues that have dogged us for so long. Perhaps
I should be grateful to "Alice."

Like hell.  I still regretted that I hadn't gotten to blast all her systems and circuits
to dust with something really overcompensating, like a Klingon torpedo launcher.
But maybe "Alice" had inadvertently cured Tom of his attachment to his old childhood longings, and his tendency to retreat from reality.  Cured was probably
too strong a word, but I knew this whole incident had opened his eyes, just as my
experience in Gre'thor had opened my eyes.

I've finally realized that who I am and what I have in my life now are far more

satisfying than clinging to my own childhood longings for something that I could
never have, or never be.  Nothing can eradicate my Klingon nature, or reverse time and make my father love me as I am.  Just like that total freedom Tom longed for as a little boy, a way to escape from his father's too high expectations
that always stayed just a little above his reach, was an unrealistic dream.  I don't
need to hide or escape anymore, and I think--I hope--Tom feels the same way.  Our lives are pretty damn good just as they are, even if we've both let that fact
elude us too often.  We are both good enough as we are.  And hopefully what we have together is good enough.  At least it feels like we can make a real effort at it
now, and even if we take a few missteps, we won't keep repeating the same ones.

Maybe we're finally, truly ready to move on.

Those were my thoughts anyway while I lay next to Tom, with my arms wrapped comfortably around him, feeling the warmth of his body against mine, and the soft even pulse of his breathing across my breast as he slept.  I glanced at his
face, and he looked peaceful and young.  Almost like a kid, despite the fact that
he will be thirty-five years old in two days, though his friends will be celebrating
that birthday tomorrow night at the party he doesn't know about yet.  Tom probably will enjoy all the fuss, since he still *acts* like a kid sometimes too.
Even if he's growing up in some ways, I certainly don't want to see him lose that
generous, fun-loving side of his nature.  After all, he's taught me a lot about

having fun.

It seemed weird even to me to be lying here looking at the man I love, thinking

that maybe he is finally growing up.  But I feel like I've just started to grow up
myself, so it's not a condemnation.  Just because we jumped into this relationship
before we were really quite ready for it--both still too isolated in ourselves,

damaged by our pasts, far from perfect models for intimacy--that doesn't mean it
can't grow as we do.

Tom shifted suddenly, and I looked closely at his face again, thinking that he might be having another bad dream, ready to comfort him if he woke.  But he was

still sound asleep, his expression serene, his mouth relaxed and curved slightly
upward, and his brow unmarked by any unpleasant thoughts or images.  I snuggled a little closer, my arms secure around him, and closed my eyes, comforted by the warmth of his body and by his relaxed, contented slumber.  My own thoughts slowly drifted away from me, flowing sinuously and inexorably toward the calm, untroubled netherworld of pleasant dreams.

And so I fell asleep, holding Tom.


The End