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

Synopsis: A small coda story to the episode "Hunters", including my interpretation on whether B‘Elanna knows more than she‘s saying about any "missing" letters. P/T, rated PG.

"Nothing But Time"
by Julie Evans (Juli17@aol.com)

B‘Elanna Torres pulled her clean blue satin shirt on and buttoned it. Neelix‘s party was last minute and informal, but she‘d needed to at least discard her uniform and shower quickly after the long and eventful day she‘d been through. She wasn‘t really looking forward to the party, but she knew it would be a welcome respite for many after the emotional roller coaster that everyone had been on all day. And a chance for most to share their good news.

After all, through the letters that had been received from the Alpha quadrant today most of the crew had finally made the reconnection to friends and family that they had so desperately longed for. And for most it was good news- family gossip about marriages, births, graduations- cherished moments that had been missed but now could be relived through reading and rereading the letters. For a few the news was not so good. The loss of a lover or friend, who had moved on, believing that Voyager and those aboard her were gone forever. Or worse, the loss of friends or family through death, the pain of that loss intensified by the fact that there had never been a chance for final goodbyes. As there hadn‘t been for Chakotay, for the rest of the former Maquis, or for herself...

B‘Elanna sighed. She‘d dealt with her own anger and sadness by crying through her lunch break this afternoon, an emotional outlet that would have really irritated her mother, who had preferred that B‘Elanna break all the furniture in the house rather than display her half human traits, like crying. But the Maquis deserved her tears. They had been her friends. More than that. For a brief time, they‘d been her family. The only semblance of family she‘d had any longer in the Alpha quadrant. And the only ones there who might have welcomed her back, who might have been glad to hear that she was still alive...

She certainly hadn‘t expected a letter from anyone in her own family. Her father was long gone, and had never looked back. And there had only been words of bitterness between B‘Elanna and her mother the last time they‘d seen each other, when they had irrevocably parted ways, years before she‘d ended up on Voyager. Aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents? Those on her father‘s side she didn‘t even remember, and they had "left" when he had, if they‘d ever been there at all. Those on her mother‘s side had joined in ostracizing B‘Elanna when she‘d joined Starfleet Academy, perhaps even encouraged her mother to do so. She hadn‘t spoken to any of them since. The simple fact was, when it came to family- in the meaningful sense of the word- for a long time she‘d had none at all. Until the Maquis.

They had befriended her when no one else would. No one in the Maquis had cared about where she‘d come from, or about her genetic heritage. They‘d only cared about loyalty. And she‘d always been that. She still felt a small tight ball of rage buried deep inside at the thought of what the Cardassians, and the Federation‘s harsh political policies, had done to the Maquis. Sending Starfleet to fight against their own people...

B‘Elanna gathered her discarded uniform and tossed the pieces into the laundry bin. She had to stop thinking about that. Nothing would change what had happened. They were gone. Atara. Roberto. Almost all of them. The reality of that knowledge again assaulted her, and for just a moment it made her feel as alone as she had before she‘d joined the Maquis.

The commlink beeped and B‘Elanna started, then responded sharply. "Yes?"

"B‘Elanna, I‘m on my way." It was Tom Paris, his voice hurried, apologetic. "Sorry, I know I‘m late, but I had to finish some last minute navigational diagnostics."

"It‘s okay, Tom." It was okay. Tom wasn‘t the galaxy‘s most prompt person, but she found it bothered her less than she might have expected. It certainly wasn‘t a reason to get mad at him. Not when she was so absurdly glad to hear his voice at that moment. And she‘d had enough to really be angry about already today. "I‘m not in any hurry."

There was a pause, as if Tom wasn‘t sure how to respond. Finally he just said in a quiet voice, "It‘s been a crazy day. I‘ll be there in a couple of minutes."

The commlink channel closed, and B‘Elanna frowned. She wondered how reconciled Tom really was to the fact that he hadn‘t gotten to read his father‘s letter. When she‘d told him on the bridge that she hadn‘t been able to retrieve any more of it he‘d seemed really disappointed, but he‘d recovered quickly. He‘d agreed with her that he could just choose to believe that his father loved him and was proud of him. He‘d seemed sincere then, but she wondered if it would be that easy for him. There was obviously a lot of bitterness between him and his father. Like there was between her and her mother.

Owen Paris. She hadn‘t even known his first name until today. He had always just been "Tom‘s father" or "Admiral Paris" in her mind. They‘d never discussed him in enough detail for B‘Elanna to ask his first name. They‘d never discussed Tom‘s past in detail at all. But, to be fair, they‘d never discussed hers in great detail either. They both glossed over those issues, Tom with self depreciating humor, B‘Elanna with curt dismissiveness. There were depths of themselves neither of them were comfortable revealing yet. But maybe that was normal. Normal for them anyway. The past held a lot of pain for her, and probably even more for Tom. Unconditional love and acceptance hadn‘t been prevalent in either of their backgrounds. In her case the conditions had been unachievable...

B‘Elanna looked at the PADD on her desk, haphazardly dropped on top of several others. The PADD she‘d still had in her hand today, after she‘d delivered Harry‘s letter from his family and told Tom that his father‘s letter had been lost. The PADD that contained the last letter the computer had been able to piece together before they‘d lost the connection to the relay station. She couldn‘t get away from the Astrometrics lab fast enough when she‘d realized exactly what the letter was. Later she‘d brought it back here to her quarters, and she‘d almost deleted the message the instant after she‘d read the words. Instead she‘d left message on the screen and stared at it off and on for the past hour.

She couldn‘t tell Tom about it. He had enough burdens to deal with right now. She couldn‘t put this one on him too, and she knew his anger wouldn‘t change anything. There was nothing in the letter worth knowing or keeping anyway. The PADD screen was asleep, its blackness comforting, but she didn‘t need to read the actual words again. They were etched in her mind.

"I have received word that you are still alive, somewhere in the Delta quadrant. I was of course surprised, but I suppose it is preferable to the ignominious death I believed was your fate. I reluctantly decided to send a message, so you will know that I am aware of your situation, though I suspect that knowledge is of little importance to you. I was also informed that you have become a valuable member of the Voyager crew, that you have conducted yourself with honor and bravery, and that you have saved the lives of your fellow colleagues on more than one occasion. As you know, I do not make hasty judgments based on such hearsay. After all, I have known you all your life. If you do return to the Alpha quadrant some day, perhaps I shall see then if this reported transformation in your character is at all accurate.

"There is no need to reply to this message. I am well, and obviously you are also. There is nothing more to say. The appropriate ending would be to advise you to take care yourself, but you have always shunned my influence and done as you pleased, and no doubt will continue to do so."

No sense of real concern, no expression of the relief or happiness one might expect from a parent who has just learned that a child presumed dead is in fact alive and well. Certainly no hint of affection, or of a desire for reconciliation. Only the words of someone who felt an obligation. And who never shirked a duty. How honorable.

B‘Elanna grabbed the PADD roughly. This was one letter that definitely didn‘t deserve her tears. That pain was so old, and buried so deep, she couldn‘t even bring it to the surface anymore. There was only a hollow sense of disappointment, that she chose not to acknowledge. She pressed the delete key. Of course the PADD refused to oblige immediately.

*Your action will delete this data from the system permanently. Do you wish to proceed?*

Yes, she did. She responded to the words that had scrolled across the screen over the original message by pressing the appropriate button.

*You may request an encoded back up file be retained at this time. Do you wish to do this?*

No. She wanted to forget it had ever existed period. She pressed another button.

*Please reconfirm permanent deletion request by entering a valid password.*

Damned failsafes. B‘Elanna punched in her password.

Deletion confirmed.

Done. Now she could just forget she‘d ever read it.

Her door announcer beeped at that moment and B‘Elanna jumped. She tossed the PADD back on her desk. "Enter."

Tom walked in, dressed casually in jeans and a white shirt. He looked a little tired, but it had been a long and emotional day for everyone. "More work?" he asked, looking at the scattered PADDs on her desk.

B‘Elanna shook her head. "No. I‘m done for the day." Luckily their little dance with the singularity hadn‘t seriously damaged Voyager or the engines. She felt secure, and not a little relieved, to leave Engineering in other hands for the moment.

Tom approached her, eyeing her closely. "Are you all right?" He dropped a hand lightly on her shoulder.

B‘Elanna nodded. "How about you?"

Tom shrugged and attempted a smile that faltered. "Okay."

"Tom, I‘m sorry-"

"B‘Elanna, it‘s not your fault. I know the letters were coming through in bits and pieces. It would have been nice if we could have held the link to the relay station a little longer, but those are the breaks I guess."

B‘Elanna saw the lingering regret in Tom‘s eyes and put a hand over his, where he was absently stroking her shoulder. "Tom, I know how much you wanted to read that letter."

"Yeah, I guess I did. But we may find a way to contact Starfleet again. In fact I‘m sure we will. And, B‘Elanna, I really did mean what I said." He turned his hand and gripped hers. "Letters or no letters, nothing I had back there is as important- or as good- as what I have right here."

B‘Elanna‘s heart tripped. Tom‘s eyes were locked with hers, his feelings crystal clear in those blue depths. After the other emotions the day had generated that look sent a welcome rush of warmth through her. Her hand tightened over his. "There‘s nothing back there for me at all, Tom. Not anymore." It was a simple fact, and she didn‘t say it with any sense of self pity. Only with a small pang of regret. Tom frowned and she squeezed his hand. "Everything I want is right here on Voyager, too."

Tom let go of her hand and wrapped his arms around her, hugging her close. B‘Elanna hugged him back, pressing her face against his neck. His hair was still damp and he smelled soapy and clean, mixed with something that was uniquely Tom. She loved that smell.

"B‘Elanna, I know you weren‘t expecting a letter," he whispered into her hair.

"No." That one word was the truth. And she thought she managed adequately to keep the bitterness out of her voice. But maybe not.

Tom‘s arms tightened around her. "I‘m sorry." He sounded more angry than sad. Then he sighed. "And I‘m sorry about the Maquis. I know it must hurt..."

B‘Elanna pulled back and looked up at Tom, keeping her hands locked loosely around his neck. "Some of them were good friends to me." She smiled wistfully. "Actually they were my only friends in the Alpha quadrant. It‘s hard to believe they are all gone."

Tom reached up and brushed a hand across her cheek. "You cried over them," he said softly. "They must have been very good friends. I wish I‘d had the chance to know them better myself, but I-" Tom stopped suddenly and his hand dropped from her face.

B‘Elanna saw the hesitation and discomfort that flashed across his face and she understood. She knew his own association with the Maquis had been very brief, and the outcome had been painful. Painful enough that he‘d been willing to do almost anything to alleviate it. Something else they had yet to talk about. But she didn‘t blame him, or anyone else on Voyager, for what had happened to the Maquis. She said simply, "You would have liked them."

Tom nodded. "I‘d like to know more about them, especially since they were such a part of you."

"Well, they were probably not people Owen Paris would have liked," B‘Elanna said, putting the slightest emphasis on the first name.

"Touche." Tom smiled wryly. "B‘Elanna, I know we need to-"

The commlink beeped at that moment. They frowned at each other and B‘Elanna answered in a frustrated tone. "Yes?"

"B‘Elanna!" Neelix‘s animated voice burst through the link. "The party is starting. Only a few people are missing. Is Tom there with you?"

B‘Elanna sighed. "He‘s here."

"Ah, I suspected so."

Tom looked at B‘Elanna and a genuine smile lit his face.

"You are coming to the party, I hope?"

"We‘re on our way, Neelix," Tom said.

"Good. I think you‘ll appreciate what I‘ve done with the decor, Tom. And now I have another pair of stragglers to round up. See you soon!"

"I guess we have to put in an appearance," B‘Elanna said as Neelix‘s exuberant voice faded away.

"A token appearance at least," Tom amended. "After that, I can think of other, better ways to end the evening." His hands had crept around her waist again and he pulled her closer to him.

B‘Elanna smiled at Tom‘s softly suggestive tone. "I can think of a few better ways myself," she murmured. Her eyes focused on his mouth for a moment, and Tom obliged her by lowering his lips to meet hers. They kissed slowly, letting their lips linger for a moment. Then Tom pulled away before the kiss could go deeper.

"We‘d better get to that party while my willpower is still holding out." He gave her a cocky smile. "You‘ll just have to wait for the good part."

B‘Elanna dropped her hands from his neck and let them slide slid down his chest. "I‘ve waited before." She‘d already spent most of her life waiting for it to be like this. Waiting for Tom. "It‘s worth it."

Tom wrapped an arm around her shoulders, pulling her close to him. "B‘Elanna, how did I ever live without you?"

He asked the rhetorical question lightly, and there was a teasing smile on his face, but there was a thread of sincerity in his tone, and in his eyes. B‘Elanna silently slid an arm around his waist and thought that maybe, just maybe, neither of them would ever know again what it was like to be completely alone.

They walked out of her quarters arm in arm and headed toward the holodeck to share in the happiness that so many of their friends had found today in their letters from home. And B‘Elanna realized that the distress she felt today as a result of the letters had in a strange way highlighted the opposite turn her life had taken since she‘d ended up on Voyager. Even as she grieved for her friends in the Maquis she knew that her life, like Tom‘s, was better here than it had ever been, better than she had ever reasonably hoped for. Sad moments and all. And she found she could cope with those moments now in ways that she couldn‘t before.

Perhaps when she and Tom got back to her quarters she would tell him about her friends in the Maquis. About Atara, who could reprogram a computer faster than anyone she‘d ever known, and who loved to mother everybody whether they needed it or not. Or Roberto, who had the ability to make even the most sober of the Maquis, herself included, laugh at his horrible jokes. And maybe Tom would tell her about his father, who Owen Paris was, and why it had been so hard for him to simply love his son. Or maybe they would be content for the time being to just hold each other, and let the comfort of being in each other‘s arms wash away the lingering sadness of the day.

The doors to Holodeck Two opened as they approached. Tom smiled at B‘Elanna and she smiled back. They were together, and she realized that was enough for now. More than enough. As for the rest, it would come. After all, they had nothing but time. They walked through the doors, their hands clasped firmly together.

The end