Author:  Julie Evans
Series:  Voy
Rating:  PG
Codes:  P, T, C, H
Date Posted:  11/25/99
Summary:  A conversation takes place in the Mess hall.  Set several days after the events in the episode "One Small Step."

Disclaimer:  Star Trek and its characters are the property of
Viacom/Paramount.  I am borrowing them for fun only not profit.

Notes:  In deference to the idea that John Kelley's name might be a tribute to DeForest Kelley, I chose to spell his last name with two e's.  Okay to archive to ASC, PTC Archive, PTF Archive, and BLTS.  All others please ask author for permission.

"More Than A Hero"
by Julie Evans

"He was some guy all right."

Harry Kim, who was sitting in the Mess hall across the table from Tom Paris, agreed with his friend's assessment. "He was a real hero.  Too bad no one knew just how much of one."

"Yeah," Tom said.  "As far as history texts are concerned he disappeared and no one knew what happened after that.  Or how he lived his final days."

"They will know when we get back home," B'Elanna pointed out.  She sat next to Tom drinking an after dinner raktajino, while Tom and Harry drank hot tea.

"True," Tom agreed.  "I'm sure Lieutenant Kelley's logs from the Ares will become bestseller material.  I can imagine all the datalink biographies and holovid reenactment programs they will spawn."

B'Elanna snorted.  "That kind of ridiculous commercialization is not a very honorable way to treat a hero."

"Is that your Klingon side talking, B'Elanna?" Harry asked.

"No," B'Elanna snapped.  "Just my good taste."

"Okay, you do have a point," Harry admitted.  "But a little overexploitation doesn't negate the true merits of John Kelley or of his life."

B'Elanna harrumphed.

"Besides, how many books and vids have there been about the heroic deeds of Kahless over the years?  A zillion?"

B'Elanna glared at Harry, and Tom took a sip of his tea to hide the smile he couldn't quite suppress.  He elected not to say anything.

Harry looked at Tom and altered the subject only marginally.  "Tom, you have a talent for holoprogramming.  We have all the material from the Ares downloaded now.  Maybe you should make a holovid documentary of John Kelley's logs and his experiences in the graviton ellipse."

Tom stared at Harry, sure that he must be kidding.

"I'm serious," Harry said.  "You were fascinated by the Mars missions long before we came across the Ares.  You already know a lot about it.  I'm sure you could use your previous knowledge to do the story justice and make it tasteful at the same time."

Tom caught B'Elanna's skeptical expression.  "Hey," he objected. "I can be tasteful."

"I just got this sudden vision of Lieutenant Kelley wearing a Captain Proton uniform and waving a ray gun," B'Elanna said drolly.

Tom scowled at her.  "Ha, ha, very funny."

B'Elanna's amused look faded.  "I was just teasing you, Tom."  She put a hand on his forearm.  "If you want to do it, I'm sure you would treat the events with the respect they deserve and not turn Lieutenant Kelley into some cardboard hero."

Tom's gaze narrowed a little, but he could see that B'Elanna's expression was completely sincere.  "He was more than a hero.  He was a...person."

"Yeah, he was," Harry said, understanding Tom's meaning.  "I only knew who he was from the old twenty-first century vids I saw in school.  But after watching him record his final logs, he became...real.  Flesh and blood.  It made everything he went through, and his sacrifice, so much more real too."

"I agree."

They all turned at the sound of Chakotay's voice as he approached their table.  "I stopped in for a cup of Neelix's herb tea," he said, indicating the steaming cup he held in his hands.  "And I couldn't help overhearing what you were discussing."

"Lieutenant Kelley's been pretty much the main subject of conversation for the past few days," Tom said.  Even after the memorial service, the log entries that had been downloaded into Voyager's database had kept interest alive.  Everyone had watched John Kelley's logs at least once, and had been moved by his plight, and his courage.

"Getting to know him through his log entries did make him more real.  Especially when he talked about his family, and getting home.  It was like watching a friend, like watching one of us."  Chakotay shook his head.  "It was hard to see how it ended for him, but he accepted it with as much courage as anyone could hope to do.  He's always been a hero to me, but even more so now."

Tom nodded, remembering how listening to John Kelley reminiscing to his father about his childhood had sent an odd shiver of recognition down his own spine.  They were all silent for several moments, and then B'Elanna spoke.  "Since you're finally free, Chakotay, do you want to join us?"

Chakotay shook his head.  "Thanks, but I'm on my way to my quarters for some much needed rest and relaxation."

"Didn't you just rest in Sickbay for the past four days?" Harry asked.

"Rest?  In Sickbay?"  Chakotay asked dryly.  He shook his head.  "I felt perfectly fine three days ago, but the doctor insisted on keeping me for 'observation,' to monitor my condition, hour by hour.  And so he could think up more obscure tests to run."  He glanced at Tom.  "I never did get a good explanation why that was all necessary when I was obviously fully recovered."

Tom raised his hands.  "Hey, don't look at me.  I played doctor as well as I could on the Delta Flyer, but on Voyager I'm just the lowly medical assistant.  The doctor makes all the decisions."

Chakotay nodded.  He held Tom's gaze for several moments, his
expression solemn.  "I don't think I ever did thank you for saving my life, Tom.  Or for taking over the mission and handling everything with complete assurance while I was flat on my back.  I do appreciate what a fine job you did, in both cases."

Tom looked almost flustered at Chakotay's compliment.  "Thanks, Chakotay.  But I was just doing my job."

"Yes, you were," Chakotay agreed.  "And I made it harder by insisting on towing the Ares module out of the ellipse.  I owe you an apology for that."

Tom shook his head and started to speak, but Chakotay continued before he could say anything.  "Just accept it, Tom.  It was bad enough Seven considered my apology 'irrelevant'..." Chakotay's lips quirked, and then he looked at B'Elanna.  "And B'Elanna read me the riot act in Sickbay for stupidly putting you, and myself, in that kind of danger."

Tom glanced at B'Elanna, who was giving Chakotay a hard stare.  He knew she'd visited Chakotay and had chewed him out, right up until the doctor had thrown her out of Sickbay.  He suppressed a grin, and looked at Chakotay.  "Well, it turned out all right.  Truthfully, I'm glad it happened the way it did.  Getting Lieutenant Kelley's data and logs was worth the trouble as far as I'm concerned."  In the end he thought the risk had paid off for all of them, and for John Kelley.

Chakotay nodded.  "I think so too.  To find the missing piece and solve a puzzle of history, it was even worth being in Sickbay for four days.  Though if the doctor hadn't released me this afternoon, I might have changed my mind."

"What, you weren't enjoying the doc's scintillating conversation?" Harry asked dryly.

Chakotay rolled his eyes.  "The doctor does have an opinion about everything.  You'd think he'd need a rest from himself occasionally, but apparently he hardly ever deactivates his program anymore."

Tom grinned at Chakotay's exasperated tone.  "He has all those hobbies now that he likes to pursue in his 'off-duty' time.  Like opera singing for instance..."

Chakotay groaned.  "I heard everything I ever wanted to know about all of his hobbies.  *More* than I ever wanted to know.  Especially the opera singing.  Complete with demonstrations."  He shook his head.  "I have to admit I have new respect for your perseverance as his medical assistant, Tom."

Tom shrugged, and grinned.  "You should know I can give as good as I get, Chakotay."

Chakotay smiled back.  "That I don't doubt.  Well, I'm off to relax and read a good book, or, actually, to reread one.  It's been years since I read 'Path to the Red Planet'."

"I've been rereading that myself," Tom said.  He had found himself enthralled all over again by the events leading up to and including the first Mars missions, and the significant part John Kelley had played in it all.

"Quite a number of the crew have accessed old books and videos on the Mars missions," Chakotay noted.  "Even Seven has decided it is an 'intriguing' period of Earth history."

Tom wasn't surprised.  He knew in the end Seven had been as affected as everyone else had by finding the Ares module, even if she refused to discuss it.  "And now we know how the story really ends."

"Yes, we do," Chakotay said, his expression somber yet gratified.  "It gives a whole new perspective to the significance of the Mars missions.  We'll have to compare thoughts on that sometime, Tom."

"Sure," Tom said slowly, a little taken aback.  He and Chakotay had never spent much time together in offduty pursuits or deep conversations, since they shared few common interests.  Or, at least, they'd both always assumed as much, and hadn't made much effort to find out if they had something in common, like a childhood hero as it turned out.  Tom caught B'Elanna's reflective gaze on him, and she smiled.

"You and Tom could pool your knowledge and collaborate on a holoprogram about John Kelley's experience in the graviton ellipse," Harry suggested to Chakotay.

Tom gave Harry a sharp look, wondering why he was pushing that
subject, but Chakotay actually looked thoughtful rather than surprised.  "That's an interesting idea, Harry," Chakotay said.  He glanced at Tom again.  "Maybe worth pursuing.  But for the moment I'm content to retire to my quarters and relish my release from the doctor's tender mercies."

Harry grinned.  "Goodnight then, Commander."

"Goodnight, Chakotay," B'Elanna added.

"See you on the bridge tomorrow," Tom said.

"I'll be there," Chakotay said, looking relieved at the prospect.

B'Elanna shook her head as they watched Chakotay leave the Mess hall.  "If I'd just spent four days in Sickbay with the doctor for constant company, I would not be in that good a mood."

Tom looked at B'Elanna.  "Why do I think you would have dismantled the doctor's vocal subroutines before the end of the first day?"

B'Elanna raised her eyebrows and gave him a complacent smile.
"Because you know me pretty well, Tom?"

"So why was Chakotay in Sickbay so long?" Harry asked.

Tom shrugged.  "From what I saw, he could have been released without even staying overnight.  But the captain insisted the doctor keep Chakotay in Sickbay until there was no doubt whatsoever that he was fully recovered."  He gave Harry a significant look.  "Though I don't think she had any serious concerns about his physical recovery."

Harry grinned.  "The captain does have her ways of making her displeasure known, doesn't she?"

Tom nodded at Harry's assessment.  He knew the captain and Chakotay had spoken at length after the doctor had healed the worst of Chakotay's injuries.  Though Chakotay hadn't exactly disobeyed a direct order, he had knowingly bent the intent of the captain's order, and she hadn't been very happy about it.  The doctor keeping Chakotay in Sickbay instead of releasing him to rest in his quarters did seem a little punitive.  Though there were worse places to reflect on the captain's displeasure.

Harry shook his head.  "Four days in Sickbay though.  That's almost cruel and unusual punishment..." his voice trailed off as he noticed Tom's somber expression.

There was silence for several moments, and Tom felt Harry and
B'Elanna's intent gazes on him as he sipped his tea.  Definitely there were worse places than Sickbay, doctor or not.  He knew from experience.

"I wish the captain would confine Seven to Sickbay for a few days," B'Elanna said abruptly.  "Or *somewhere*."  Though Tom was sure she'd refocused the conversation to alleviate his discomfort, her eyes glittered and it was clearly an issue she was more than eager to pursue.  "Does that Borg even understand the concept of following an order?"

Harry shrugged.  "I admit Seven does have her own unique interpretation of how orders apply to her."

"How they *don't* apply to her, you mean," B'Elanna groused, glaring at Harry.  "How long is she going to be allowed to do whatever the hell she wants without the least repercussions?"

Tom and Harry exchanged glances, and B'Elanna caught the shared look.  She included both of them in her glare this time.  "Look, I know that all her Borg knowledge can be...useful, and I appreciate her part in getting the Delta Flyer back to Voyager, though everyone had a hand in that.  It still doesn't excuse that she had the gall to go to Engineering while I was asleep and reprogram the computer core after I expressly told her not to, SEVERAL TIMES.  She just does it on her own, without authorization, and did she even get a reprimand for that?"

Tom actually didn't know whether she had or not, from the captain anyway.  If the captain seemed inconsistent at times in her adherence to protocol and in meting of discipline for disobeying or ignoring regulations and orders, especially where Seven was concerned, it was also true that Seven was not technically a Starfleet officer.  The distinction in an enclosed environment like a starship might be debatable, but it wasn't a subject Tom wanted to dwell on too much.  "You certainly gave Seven a piece of your mind, B'Elanna," he said dryly.  "Several times."

B'Elanna's eyes narrowed at the slight emphasis Tom put on those final two words.

"And we all heard you do it, at least once," Harry added teasingly.  He quickly backtracked at B'Elanna's ferocious look.  "I'm sure Seven will think twice about going into Engineering and updating programs without your permission after you said you'd tear her arms out of her sockets if she did it again."

"Has it stopped her before?"

Neither Tom nor Harry answered B'Elanna's irate question, because they knew Seven in fact wasn't likely to alter her behavior because of B'Elanna's threats.  "She did seem affected by John Kelley's logs," Tom pointed out instead, hoping to put a positive spin on the issue.  "Maybe she's getting a little more sensitive to other people's feelings.  And maybe it will rub off on her work etiquette."  He thought it might happen eventually, though Seven's progress couldn't be fast enough for B'Elanna, especially when Seven still insisted on ignoring protocol when it suited her.

B'Elanna displayed her own opinion of Tom's optimism with a small snort.  "Sure she is."

"Well, I am glad she was with you and Chakotay on the Delta Flyer," Harry said to Tom.  "It took both you and Seven to get the Delta Flyer out of there in one piece."

"And Voyager," Tom corrected.  "B'Elanna thought of converting the Ares ion distributor, and you all took the risk of getting pulled into the graviton ellipse to get the tractor beam on us."

Harry shrugged.  "You know the captain.  She's not one to give up."

"Though I think B'Elanna saw the perfect opportunity to get rid of Seven," Tom said glancing at B'Elanna.  He was teasing, mostly.  He'd reviewed the communications on Voyager during the last minutes of the crisis while he was completing his own report, and he knew B'Elanna had argued at one point against getting Voyager any closer to the ellipse.  He hadn't mentioned it yet, and from the look on her face, maybe it was a subject he shouldn't have broached.

"If Voyager had been pulled into the ellipse, there wouldn't have been any way to rescue you at all.  It was playing havoc on our systems while it was in the process of retreating into subspace.  Who knows if we could have repaired that type of damage while trapped inside that thing.  We would have all ended up stranded there, probably permanently, like Lieutenant Kelley."

"Something wrong with being stranded with me?" Tom asked her lightly.

B'Elanna frowned.  "Tom, I just reacted.  I thought if Voyager kept from getting trapped, then we'd still have a chance to rescue you later, even if we had to find a way track down the graviton ellipse.  If Voyager got trapped too, and couldn't get back out, we'd all be lost."  She snarled a little, looking annoyed, and maybe a little disturbed.  "I know it doesn't make much sense--"

"Yes, it does," Tom said, wrapping his fingers in hers.  "In a crisis you think like an engineer, even when you're playing pilot."

B'Elanna stared at him.  "We would--I would--have tracked you down, Tom, however long it took."

Tom smiled at B'Elanna's fierce expression.  "I know.  But you were able to get the lock on us anyway, so it's a moot point."

"It's too bad we couldn't figure out how to use the ellipse to our advantage," Harry said, changing the subject.  "We could have gotten ourselves closer to home."

"Or ended up further from home," Tom pointed out.

"We might have been able to find a way to control the direction if we'd had more time," Harry said.

"Well, it's gone now," B'Elanna said.  "But we got a lot of data.  We are getting closer to knowing how to track a graviton ellipse, though we're not likely to ever see another one."

"But if we do run across another graviton ellipse, maybe we'll be prepared to take advantage of it," Harry said, not giving up.

"If, and maybe," B'Elanna said, doubtfully.  "But it couldn't hurt to keep working on that angle just in case," she agreed.

"I'm making it my new pet project," Harry said.  They all knew that it would be just one more of dozens of projects from the possible to the highly unlikely that they kept "in progress," hoping one might actually pan out and get them home sooner.  "But right now I have to get to the bridge."

"Not tired of the night command yet, Harry?" Tom asked, as Harry downed the last of his tea in one gulp.

"Nope," Harry said.  "Like I said, it's good experience.  I still don't know why you don't put in for some night command shifts, Tom.  You took over on the Delta Flyer like you were born for it."

Tom felt his expression stiffen a little, and Harry frowned, obviously realizing the double meaning in his words.  "Maybe that was a poor choice of words--"

"No, it wasn't," Tom said.  That was what he had been born for, at least in his father's original estimation.  He sensed B'Elanna's intent gaze on him again.  They'd discussed this subject once or twice.  "That's not the reason at all."

Harry looked perplexed.  "What is it?"

Tom remembered the feeling that had assaulted him when John Kelley had said "I can't blame it on pilot error this time."  Every time he felt distanced from his past, maybe even healed, something as simple as a few words, as hearing in a man's voice relief that he hadn't personally done anything to destroy a mission or to destroy lives, could bring the truth back to him full force.  It was hard to explain to anyone why he could have command thrust on him in a crisis situation and be fine with it, yet the idea of purposefully pursuing command, of choosing to take on that kind of responsibility for the life and death of others as a matter of course, was a concept that made him sweat.  He felt B'Elanna's hand touch his and he met her sympathetic gaze.  Then he looked at Harry and shrugged.  "Actually, Harry, I've been thinking about putting in for some night command shifts."

"Really?"  Harry said.  "Good."  He grinned.  "It's kind of fun getting to tell everyone what to do."

Tom looked at B'Elanna.  "At least for tonight though, I have a 'romantic getaway' in mind."

B'Elanna's eyes narrowed at Tom's choice of words.  "It better not be in the middle of any gravitational anomalies," she warned him.

"Why not?" Tom asked.  He smiled slyly at her.  "We've had some of our best moments floating in space in environmental suits."

B'Elanna looked at him like he might be crazy, and Harry stood and picked up his empty cup.  "I'll leave you two alone to discuss your romantic evening," he said.  "I got my sugar intake for the day from Neelix's three layer candied dalafruit cake, thank you."

Tom and B'Elanna both glared at Harry, with a total lack of conviction.

Harry grinned.  "Night, guys."

"Goodnight, Starfleet."

"Goodnight, buddy."

Tom watched Harry stride out of the Mess hall, then turned to B'Elanna, who was looking at him thoughtfully.

"Did you mean what you said about putting in for night command, or were you just placating Harry and avoiding further discussion?" B'Elanna asked.

Tom held B'Elanna's searching gaze.  "I was placating Harry and avoiding further discussion," he admitted.  "Partly.  The funny thing is, somewhere in the back of my mind I think I am considering it."

B'Elanna smiled.  "Good.  Harry was right you know.  You assume command with ease.  You could have a career in it if you wanted."

Tom wasn't sure how far he'd want to go with that, since by nature he chafed at the total conformity so often required to advance into the upper echelons of Starfleet.  That would all be if and when they got home, and if Starfleet even wanted most of the Voyager crew to remain within the ranks.  But maybe it was time he gave command training a shot, if only to face down some of the demons of his past.  Maybe just knowing he could do it was reason enough, whether or not he ever chose it as a career path.

B'Elanna leaned forward at that moment and kissed him lightly on the lips.

"What was that for?" Tom asked, surprised.  It wasn't like B'Elanna to be demonstrative in public, though no one else in the Mess hall was even looking at them at the moment.

"I'm glad you got the Delta Flyer back here," she said, tracing a finger across his jaw.  "Really glad."

"Me, too," Tom agreed softly.  "But you figured out how to use the ion distributor, and Seven went to the Ares and retrieved it.  I'm hardly the hero here."

"You're one of them," B'Elanna said resolutely.

Tom shrugged.  "John Kelley was the real hero in this.  I had people beside me, people helping me.  We all have each other to depend on.  He was alone.  I don't know if I could face what he did, and accept my fate with such dignity."

"It was you who said John Kelley was more than a hero," B'Elanna observed quietly.  "He was a person.  And so are you, Tom.  A person with faults and weaknesses maybe..." B'Elanna smiled as he looked at her with mock indignation.  "Like all of us.  But a person with innate decency and honor.  John Kelley had the strength and courage to do what he had to do.  I hope you are never in the same situation, but I have no doubt how you would face it."  She closed a hand over his.  "The same way he did."

Tom was warmed by the conviction in B'Elanna's voice.  He also hoped he'd never be in that situation.  He had no intention of dying a hero if he could help it, and John Kelley probably hadn't included that in his plans either.  But if it came to a choice between him and B'Elanna, or him and any of his friends and crewmates on Voyager, he knew what he'd choose.  The same choice everyone on Voyager would make in that situation.

B'Elanna released his hand and stood, ruffling his hair.  "So, why don't you tell me about this romantic getaway you have planned for us tonight."

Tom dismissed his more sober line of thought and stood also, dropping an arm lightly over her shoulder.  "Romantic getaway..." he said thoughtfully as they started walking toward the doors.  "Oh, yeah, that."  He smiled at her.  "I'm planning it right now."

"Now?" B'Elanna asked, looking up at him.  "So you've given this a lot of thought, huh?"

"Turns out the holodeck is booked tonight, so I'll have to devise a getaway in my quarters," Tom said.  He shrugged nonchalantly.  "Luckily I'm great at last minute improvisation."

"In some areas," B'Elanna agreed, giving him a sultry smile.  He smiled back with equal meaning.  "So," she said, "does this last minute improvisation happen to include candles and soft jazz and...bath oil?"

Tom grinned at her as the Mess hall doors opened for them.  "It can," he said, as they stepped through.  "It definitely can."


The end