Title: A Steady Heart
Author: Julie Evans
Codes: P, P/T, J
Summary: Missing scenes from the episode "Workforce," from the POV of Tom
Archiving: Okay to archive to ASC, PT Collective website, and BLTS. All others
please ask author for permission.
Disclaimer: Star Trek and its characters are the property of Paramount/Viacom.
I am borrowing them for fun only not profit.
Acknowledgments: To the writers of the episode "Workforce," since I borrowed
from their script once or twice for context. And to Jam, who gave me the idea
for one of the scenes in this story :-)
A Steady Heart
by Julie Evans
Tom Paris liked his job. There was no doubt in his mind that he'd made the right
decision convincing Kenda to hire him. It had taken all his charm--and maybe
just a little desperate pleading--to get this job, but he knew he was good at it.
He genuinely liked people, and the way each day was different depending on
the changing faces and moods. He also loved to talk, and here that was a
welcome commodity. He was in his element, far more so than he'd been in any
of the other jobs he'd drifted into, and often out of just as quickly.
He just wasn't cut out to be a clock-puncher, or a button-pusher. He needed
something less confining to his spirit than checking the same circuits and
replacing the same relays in the same order over and over again at the power
facility. Something where an efficiency monitor wasn't breathing down his neck
constantly. *He* was the one who needed to breathe.
Kenda did monitor his performance periodically, which was her prerogative as
the owner. But after nearly two weeks on the job he'd proven himself, and she
let him do his work with minimal interference, other than an occasional grumble
when he flirted too much with the female customers. But that was part of the job
too, part of satisfying the customers and keeping complaints to a minimum. He
was very good at satisfying the customers. Most of them anyway.
He finished opening the bottle of Nuu'Bari ale, and took a glass from the shelf
behind the bar. Yes, he was very content with his life at the moment, except for
one small thing that nagged at his thoughts. Make that one small woman, the
woman he'd talked to a couple of hours earlier.
B'Elanna. He'd managed to find out her name from another customer after
she'd left. It was a beautiful name, and she was a beautiful woman. From the
second he'd spotted her sitting alone at one of the back tables he'd been
intrigued. Not just because she was undeniably attractive, but also because
something about her manner had caught his attention. Maybe it was the aura of
unapproachability that seemed to surround her, or the undercurrent of hostility
with which she'd greeted him, or her quick mind evidenced by her caustic
comebacks to his perhaps overly smooth remarks. He'd always been enticed by
a challenge after all.
It could have been any or all of those during the first minute or two of their
acquaintance, while she'd deflected his attempts to engage her in friendly
conversation. Then she'd stood and revealed her rounded belly.
Tom poured the ale into the glass and returned the bottle to its spot behind the
bar. He *had* been trying to pick her up, and why not, considering the
immediate attraction he'd felt? But he'd been mortified when he'd realized she
was pregnant, because he'd immediately assumed she was married, and he
made it a rule never to hit on married women. When she'd told him that she had
no husband, the grim resignation in her expression had left him with nothing to
say in return.
He wished now that he'd said something--anything--instead of standing there
dumbly as she'd walked away.
"Here you go, one Nuu'Bari ale."
The Annarian man at the bar grunted in bare acknowledgment as he picked up
the glass Tom had set in front of him and brought it to his lips. Tom shrugged
and turned away. He respected the customers' cues. If they wanted to talk he
was willing to converse, or listen. If they wanted to be left alone, then he left
them that way.
B'Elanna had been sitting alone, but he'd gotten the impression that it wasn't as
much by choice as she'd tried to convey with her attitude. He hadn't missed the
vulnerable look that had flashed in her eyes right before she'd turned away from
him. Maybe *that* was what had rendered him speechless. He had a feeling
she'd deny it--hell, after only a couple minutes of conversation with her he
already knew she would deny it--but she was very lonely. The sense that she
desperately needed a friend--and the overwhelming urge he'd felt to be that
person--had shaken him.
"Another round, ladies?" Tom asked as he approached one of the near tables.
The two Nygean women shook their heads. "Maybe in a few minutes, glaz'a,"
one of them said in a throaty voice.
Tom knew "glaz'a" was some sort of pet name in Nygean, though he really
wasn't that interested in finding out exactly what it meant. The woman who'd
spoken it winked at him as he passed by, frank interest clear in her gaze. He
winked back. "Just give a shout when you want a refill."
He moved over to a recently vacated table and began wiping it down, feeling
their gazes still on him. Since he'd started here he'd had a dozen offers, both
direct and subtle, from female customers. He'd assumed that he'd eventually
take one of them up on it--he was hardly a monk after all, and he had the past to
prove it--but he'd been content so far to leave that aspect of his life
uncomplicated while he'd settled into this job.
That was what he'd told himself anyway, and it had been the truth until today.
Now the image of one woman kept popping uninvited into his mind, one very
pregnant woman, who could complicate his life in ways far beyond imagining.
Why he was still thinking about her at all was beyond him.
He shook his head and his gaze scanned the room as he returned to the bar. It
was still early in the evening and relatively uncrowded, and he noticed a woman
just taking a seat at one of the back tables. He'd seen her in here several times
before, though this was the first time he'd seen her in here alone.
Kathryn. That was what the man who was usually with her had called her. And
his name was Jaffen. They'd come in the first night he'd worked here, and half a
dozen times since. He knew they worked at the Central Power Facility, the
same place where B'Elanna worked, and where he'd worked very briefly.
He took a chance and poured white wine into a glass. He glanced at the
Annarian and noted that his glass of ale was still half full before he moved back
out from behind the bar.
Kathryn looked up as he approached her table, and her eyebrows rose when
she saw the glass in his hand.
Tom set the white wine in front of her. "Your usual, I believe." He gave her his
most charming smile. "I made an assumption, but if you'd like something else, I
can get it for you."
She shook her head and smiled back. He'd noticed that she smiled quite a lot.
"This is fine. Thanks."
Though it wasn't really his business, he asked anyway. "Where is Jaffen?"
She looked at him curiously, but answered easily enough. "He should be here
any time. Do you know him?"
Tom shrugged. "Just from here. He seems like a pretty nice guy."
She smiled again, a smile that lit up her eyes. "He is."
Ah. So that's how it was. Not that he was surprised. He'd noticed them with
their heads together, talking and laughing. She was obviously smitten, and from
what he'd seen so was Jaffen. Good for her. He didn't know her at all, so he
couldn't be certain why he was so sure, but something told him that she
deserved it. Maybe he was just a quick judge of character. Besides, everyone
She was looking at him with a bemused expression, and he realized he was
staring at her. Before he could apologize she spoke. "You were at the Central
Power Facility a couple of weeks ago, weren't you? I'm sure I saw you on my
first day there."
Tom nodded. "You did." He hadn't noticed her, but there were hundreds of
workers in the power facility at any one time. Maybe they'd passed in a corridor
or in the breakroom. "I was only there one day. I had a run in with the efficiency
monitor, and let's just say we agreed that I wasn't really suited for the job."
Kathryn's lips quirked at his rueful look, and her expression was sympathetic.
"I've had an encounter or two with the efficiency monitor myself. She does take
her position very seriously. Maybe a little too seriously."
"She was just doing her job," Tom said. He didn't harbor any ill will, especially
since he preferred the way things had worked out. "That position wasn't for me
anyway. I'm not very good with too many rules and regulations. This place is
more suited to my personality."
"Apparently so," Kathryn said. There was no judgment in her tone or gaze, just
a bit of dry humor. "I think two of your customers would like to the benefit of
your personality right now."
Tom glanced over at the two Nygean women who were smiling seductively at
him, empty glasses raised. "A hazard of the job," he said a little sheepishly.
Kathryn laughed lightly. "Hazard?"
A figure moved behind her, and Tom looked up and met Jaffen's gaze. The
other man nodded amiably at Tom and dropped a hand on Kathryn's shoulder.
Kathryn turned and her face broke into a wide, welcoming smile right before
Jaffen pecked her circumspectly on the lips.
"Sorry I'm late," Jaffen said as he pulled one of the chairs closer to hers and sat
"Not a problem," Kathryn said warmly. "I was just chatting with..." she looked at
Tom. "I'm sorry, what is your name?"
"Tom. Tom Paris."
Kathryn held up her glass of wine. "He remembered my preference." She
smiled at Tom, and took a sip.
"The mark of a man who's good at his job," Jaffen said. He held out his hand.
"Nice to meet you, Tom."
Tom shook Jaffen's hand. "Quarren malt whiskey, right?"
Jaffen grinned. "I see you remember my preference too. No thanks, though. I
don't think we're going to stay. Kathryn is cooking dinner for me tonight."
"Lucky you," Tom said.
Jaffen slipped an arm around Kathryn's shoulder. "I think so."
"You should probably wait until you taste dinner before you make a final
decision," Kathryn joked, though Tom could see that she was pleased by
Jaffen shook his head. "I don't need to wait," he replied gallantly. He dropped
several credits on the table. "Looks like two of your customers are trying to get
your attention, Tom."
Tom followed Jaffen's gaze to the two Nygean women. "Yeah, I'd better go."
He glanced back as Kathryn and Jaffen stood to leave. "You two have a good
evening. Enjoy that home cooked meal."
"I'm sure I will," Jaffen said. He glanced at the two women again and winked at
Tom. "You enjoy your evening too."
Kathryn shook her head at Jaffen's intimation. He just grinned back at her
unabashed as they turned to leave, and she called over her shoulder,
Tom watched them walk toward the exit, their arms securely linked. Kathryn
laughed at something Jaffen said just before they slipped out the door.
Tom picked up the nearly full glass of wine, and he wondered briefly how it
would feel to get that close to someone--to find that one other person who could
fulfill all the wants and needs inside you. He was sure Kathryn and Jaffen were
reaching that point with each other. He'd never considered that kind of
closeness as something integral to his happiness before, but the idea suddenly
had appeal. He wondered if B'Elanna had thought she'd had that with the father
of her child, before whatever had happened between them that had taken that
possibility away from her.
Tom shook his head, pushing away his solemn thoughts. He had a job to do
right now. He pasted an apologetic and ingratiating smile on his face, and
moved toward his two impatient customers.
Neliss and Birka lived in Tom's building. It was one of several dozen
interconnected apartment buildings that housed the workers of the city, most of
whom worked at the Central Power Facility, in the medical labs, or at the various
adjoining service enterprises--bars, restaurants, clothiers--that catered to the
workers' basic needs. Birka worked in one of the medical labs, and Neliss in the
one of the clothiers shops. He saw them frequently in the hallway of the
apartment building, since they lived on the same floor he did, and in the
building's central courtyard. Occasionally they came into the bar, as they had
"You say she works at the Central Power Facility?" Neliss asked Tom.
Tom nodded. "Her name is B'Elanna. She's a little shorter than you, she has
dark hair and forehead ridges, she's very pretty...and she's pregnant."
Birka shook his head. "I don't think I've seen her. She must not live in our
"I don't think so," Tom agreed. He wasn't sure where she lived--she hadn't told
him yet--but he'd been keeping a look out for her over the past day or two. He
would have seen her if she lived in the same building. "She comes in here
sometimes. In fact she was here a couple of hours ago. I told her I had some
friends who were expecting a baby, and that you might be willing to talk to her
and share your experiences."
Neliss smiled and rested her hand on her belly, which was even more extended
than B'Elanna's. Tom couldn't miss the tenderness and anticipation that lit her
eyes each time she performed that gesture. "We'd be happy to meet her, Tom."
"Where is the father?" Birka asked.
Tom shook his head. "I don't know. I haven't asked her." It had been enough
for the moment that they'd actually had a real conversation. He could sense that
she was skittish, and not very trusting, probably with good reason. She'd
tentatively accepted his sincere offer to be her friend, but he knew he had to
take things very slowly. "Right now she just needs a friend. Several friends."
"She picked a good person to start with, Tom," Neliss said. "You're obviously
concerned about her welfare."
"I like her," Tom said with deliberate casualness. "And I think she's very brave
to be doing this alone."
"Looks like she won't be doing it alone," Birka said mildly. Before Tom could
reply he added, "We have a dinner engagement tomorrow night, but how about
the following evening?"
"That would be great," Tom said. "I'll let her know. She should be here
tomorrow." At least when she'd left earlier she'd said she might see him
"Aren't you off tomorrow?"
Tom frowned at Neliss's question. He'd forgotten that tomorrow was his one day
off a week. When he'd started at the bar he'd offered to skip taking a day off,
but Kenda had told him it was Quarren policy. She'd also told him not to hang
around the bar on his day off. He shrugged. "I'll stop by anyway. Or I'll track
her down at the power facility."
Birka nodded. "We'll be here in two days then, about this time."
Tom noticed Kenda watching him, a sure sign that she thought he was loitering
too long. "Thanks. I really appreciate this."
"We're happy to do it, Tom," Neliss said. "I'm sure we'll like her, and we do love
to talk about babies." She shared a smile with her husband. "We'll let B'Elanna
know all the wonderful things she can expect."
Tom patted Neliss's shoulder. "You two are the best. I'll see you later. And
don't leave any credits for the drinks."
Tom didn't wait for their answer as he returned to the bar and refilled a couple of
drinks for the patrons gathered there. When he was done he glanced at the
man sitting at the end of the bar.
Tuvok had been a regular customer during the first week or so Tom had worked
here, coming in every night with a group from the power facility--a particularly
raucous though good-natured group. Tuvok had been the loudest of the bunch,
telling jokes and laughing constantly. The man had been the life of the party,
making Tom look almost dour by comparison.
Funny how that had changed. Tuvok had been much quieter the last couple of
times he'd stopped in, and he hadn't come in at all for the past two days. The
group who'd hung around him had drifted away, and now Tuvok was sitting
alone, hunched over his glass, with a somber look on his face.
Tom didn't know why, but that expression seemed to fit Tuvok better. "Refill?"
Tuvok looked up at Tom's question, and Tom saw that his expression was more
than somber. It was almost haunted. "No."
Tuvok's reply was clipped and forbidding. Tom had a momentary impulse to ask
what was wrong, and to offer his help. Even with this more morose demeanor
Tom liked the man--a Vulcan was what he'd called himself, from the name of his
home planet--but he didn't get the sense that Tuvok wanted to talk. He
shrugged. "If you do, you know where I am."
The sudden grip on Tom's arm that stopped him from walking away felt like a
vice of steel. He looked down at Tuvok's hand closed tightly over his wrist, and
then met Tuvok's piercing gaze.
"I know you."
Tom tugged his arm gently but Tuvok didn't let go. "Of course you know me," he
said agreeably, trying not to be intimidated by the intensity of Tuvok's perusal, or
the strength of his grip. "You've seen me here for the past couple of weeks."
"I know you from somewhere else."
"Well, I did work at the Central Power Facility for one day."
Tuvok frowned at Tom's nonchalant tone. "That is not--we have known each
other for a long time."
Tom shook his head. He kept his voice friendly. "Only a little over two weeks.
Maybe you have me confused with someone else."
Tuvok stared at Tom, lines of consternation etching his forehead. He looked
confused, and disturbed. Tom hated to think the man was crazy, but what else
was there? He didn't want to have to call someone from the hospital. "You're
cutting off the circulation in my hand."
Tuvok responded to Tom's soft statement by looking down in bewilderment at
the hand he'd clamped around Tom's wrist, as if he didn't recognize it as his
own. He slowly loosened his fingers. Then he stood quickly, nearly knocking
the barstool over, and keeping his gaze averted. "I...apologize. I must have
"No problem," Tom said, hoping the relief he felt wasn't too evident in his voice.
"I guess I just have one of those faces."
Tuvok's gaze met Tom's for a brief moment, and Tom again saw the torment in
the other man's eyes. Before he could say anything else Tuvok turned away
and strode out of the bar just short of a run, almost as if he were being chased.
Tom stared at the door for several moments after Tuvok exited. Then he looked
down at the wrist he was rubbing absently. Several small bruises were forming
where Tuvok's fingers had pressed into his skin.
"Hell of a grip," Tom murmured to himself. He shook his head. Speaking of hell,
there was something akin to that going on inside that man's mind. The poor
"What was that about?"
Tom turned and met Kenda's sharp gaze. "Nothing."
"It looked like that man was causing some sort of trouble. It's policy to report
"He wasn't causing any trouble," Tom said as he busied himself with the
glassware beneath the counter. "He was just...asking for directions."
Kenda snorted, but she walked away, effectively letting the subject drop.
Tom sighed. Tuvok probably needed help, and surely the hospital would take
good care of him, but Tom didn't want to be the one to put him there. He just
hoped that Tuvok found a way to conquer whatever demons were haunting him
before someone else did.
The next afternoon Tom stood waiting for B'Elanna outside the Central Power
Facility. It was actually closer to evening. He'd been standing near the worker's
entrance for nearly an hour, and the sun was low in the sky, though it wasn't
visible past the long line of buildings that made up the central business district of
Quarren City. Hundreds of workers had passed by him as he'd stood here, but
so far no B'Elanna. He was wondering if she'd left some other way, and was
considering going to the bar to see if she was there, Kenda's restriction about
spending time there on his day off notwithstanding. Just as he'd made up his
mind and was about to leave, she appeared at the top of the wide steps.
He watched her press one hand over her belly in the same gesture Neliss often
used. Then she bowed her head, and started down the wide steps. He met her
at the bottom, and when she looked up her mouth opened slightly in surprise.
"Hi," he greeted her cheerfully. As a trace of suspicion entered her gaze, he
added quickly, "I'm not stalking you. I just wanted to let you know that I talked to
the couple I told you about."
She looked at him silently for a moment, and then smiled hesitantly. "That's nice
of you, but you didn't have to go to this trouble."
He figured that she wasn't used to anyone going to any kind of trouble for her, if
she thought this took a lot of effort. "It wasn't any trouble. I'm off today
She frowned. "I thought you'd be in the bar tonight."
He could see that she was disappointed, and he smiled inwardly at that
knowledge. "Nope," he said. "I'm forced to take a day off every eight days."
B'Elanna nodded, obviously aware of Quarren worker policy. "I have two more
days until my day off."
"If you're going to the bar, I can walk with you."
B'Elanna shook her head. "I think I'll skip the bar tonight." She pressed one
hand to the small of her back. "It's been a long day, and I'd rather go home and
soak in a hot tub."
"Where do you live?"
Suspicion entered B'Elanna's eyes again. "Why do you want to know?"
"I thought I'd walk with you and tell you about Neliss and Birka. You know, the
couple who are having a baby too."
B'Elanna gave him an apologetic look. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to be..."
"Suspicious?" Tom asked. "It's okay. I'm sure you have your reasons."
B'Elanna didn't answer that. Instead she said, "I live in building twelve."
Tom smiled. "I live in building eleven. We're practically neighbors."
Her lips curved a little in response. "So is everyone in Quarren City. If you want
to walk with me, I guess that would be okay."
Ah, progress. "Great," Tom said. "Shall we walk along the river?"
The Quarren River flowed beside both the central business district and the
residential district. Between the two sections a pathway wound along the river,
and was fronted by a park and a promenade of shops and cafes. It was a
pleasant place to walk, and since the river curved, it was a longer walk than
going home along one of the city's more direct central pedestrian walkways.
"Unless it would be too tiring for you," Tom amended, seeing B'Elanna's
uncertainty and remembering her condition. It occurred to him that she might
want to use the direct transport to the residential district.
B'Elanna shook her head. "I could use a walk, especially after being confined to
the same terminal all day at work. It'll be good for me to stretch my legs."
Tom took that as a yes, and he offered her his arm. After a momentary
hesitation, she placed her hand in the crook of his elbow. It was a small victory,
but this way he could make sure she didn't trip on any of the flat stones on the
riverside pathway. He also liked the warm feel of her hand pressed against his
arm, but he knew better than to tell her that.
"You were going to tell me about your friends," B'Elanna reminded him.
As they strolled past the buildings of the Central Power Facility and approached
the river, Tom told her a little about Neliss and Birka. He assured her they were
good people, and were very eager to meet her and to share their experiences
"I'm sure I'll like them," B'Elanna said as they stepped out onto the cobbled
pathway that hugged the river. Then she stopped and stared. The sun had just
set, and in the twilight the river was a deep orange. The lights that lined the
pathway and were strung throughout the promenade were lit now, and in the
distance it looked like a fairyland, different from anywhere else on Quarren.
Tom took in B'Elanna's rapt expression. "You've never been here before."
Though it was a statement she shook her head. "No. I usually go home on the
central walkway, or from the transport station if it's late."
"Then you've missed something special," Tom told her.
"Apparently," B'Elanna murmured as they moved forward again, treading on the
large flat stones that formed the pathway.
As they neared the promenade they could hear music coming from several of
the cafes. The variety of it should have sounded cacophonous--Quarren was
home to members of several dozen offworld races who had come here for the
stability and opportunity that were missing on their home planets--but somehow
the mix of styles had its own harmony.
They passed several small shops first, with some of their trinkets displayed
prominently on outside stands. Tom had never actually bought anything here,
but he glanced at B'Elanna to gauge her interest. She stopped at one stand and
fingered a small glittering ball hanging on a string.
"That's the kind of thing a baby would probably like," Tom said, watching the
bright colors shimmer as the ball moved in B'Elanna's hand. "Several of those
could make a cute mobile."
"It's a toy you hang over a baby's crib."
B'Elanna let the ball slip out of her fingers. "Toys aren't on my list at the
Tom would have offered make it--for the baby--but he was sure she'd refuse.
He'd wait on that one. He switched tactics as they approached the first cafe.
"Do you want to get something to eat? I've tried some of the food here, and it's
They paused in front of the cafe. People still clad in their work uniforms were
gathered at the tables on the patio, some in large groups, talking and laughing,
and others in couples, their heads close together in quiet conversation. The low
light of the lanterns threw a soft, romantic glow over the tables and the people
sitting at them.
"I should get home."
B'Elanna's voice was a little curt, and Tom nodded. He sensed her withdrawal,
and she made it clearer by pulling her hand away from his arm as they started
walking again. He couldn't quite keep the disappointment out of his voice.
"Maybe another time then."
She stopped, and let out a small sigh. "I'm sorry if I seem rude after you've
been so nice. It's not you, it's me."
Tom shook his head. "You don't owe me anything. "But I did mean what I said.
I want to be your friend, B'Elanna."
"I haven't had that many friends," she said ruefully. "I may not be very good at
Tom doubted that. "It's not hard," he said. "You just have to be yourself, and let
the other person do the same." He took her hand and placed it on his arm
again. She left it there as they resumed walking. "And once you spend time
with Neliss and Birka you'll have two more friends."
"Thank you for that," B'Elanna told him.
"You're welcome--what's wrong?"
B'Elanna had stopped abruptly, and she pressed her free hand to her belly. A
tender look crossed her face--the same kind he'd seen appear on Neliss's face
at unexpected moments. She shook her head and smiled at him. "Nothing's
wrong. The baby's kicking."
He'd certainly heard of the concept. He looked at her belly, expecting to see a
little bulge immediately appear. "Does it hurt?"
B'Elanna smiled wider with genuine amusement. "No, it doesn't hurt. In fact I
kind of like it." She brushed her hand over her belly in an affectionate caress.
"It let's me know that she's alive and well."
"The baby's a girl?" Tom asked, looking down at her belly in fascination again.
An image of a little girl popped into his head, a little girl who looked just like
"I don't really know for sure," B'Elanna admitted. "But I just have this strong
feeling that it's a girl."
"Mother's instinct?" Tom asked.
"Maybe. Do you want to feel?"
Tom's mouth fell open. "The baby?"
B'Elanna laughed. "The baby kick," she clarified. "It's not scary."
It was the first time he'd heard her laugh. She had a soft, husky laugh, and it
was a lovely sound, even if it was because he'd said something regrettably
stupid. "I don't think it's scary--"
"Okay, then." She took his hand and pressed it firmly to her belly. Her belly was
hard, and Tom could feel the warmth of her skin through the material of her
uniform. He jumped when something tapped against his hand. Kicked, that
was. The baby...
"Something, isn't it?"
"Yeah," Tom murmured. It was something all right. He looked at B'Elanna's
face. Her expression was serene. Despite the fact that she was facing raising
her baby alone, he could see clearly now that she didn't regret her pregnancy at
all. He knew that among Quarren natives the father was often no more than a
genetic contributor, but B'Elanna wasn't from Quarren. He wondered what kind
of cold-hearted bastard had gotten her pregnant and then had walked away
from her. From both of them.
B'Elanna was frowning at him, and Tom realized his expression had stiffened
with anger. They stared at each other for several moments, and he pulled his
hand slowly away from her belly. "Who was he?"
B'Elanna's face froze at his blunt question, and he knew he'd made a mistake.
He wasn't even sure why he'd asked it. So he could track down the jerk and
beat him up, or force him to come back to B'Elanna and treat her and his child
the way they deserved? He'd known her all of four days, but he knew she
wouldn't accept either reaction from him.
"It doesn't matter who he was," B'Elanna said curtly. "He chose to leave. And I
can handle this on my own."
Before he could speak again she turned and stalked away. He almost had to
break into a run to catch up with her. "B'Elanna...B'Elanna, stop!"
She stopped only because he'd managed to grab her by the elbow. She turned
and glared at him, and then shook his hand away.
"I'm sorry," he said quickly, his voice contrite. "I know it's absolutely none of my
"You're right," she said. "It isn't."
"It won't happen again. Forgive me?"
B'Elanna shrugged. She wrapped her arms over her belly, whether to protect
the baby or herself he wasn't sure. When she spoke her voice was weary.
"Why did you ask?"
"Because..." Tom hesitated when he saw the defensive glint in her eyes. It
suddenly occurred to him what she was thinking. He shook his head. "I'm not
judging you, B'Elanna. Not at all. I'm judging *him.* How could he walk away
from his own child?"
"It happens," B'Elanna said, her voice flat.
Tom nodded. He supposed it did. He looked at the river. It was a black ribbon
in the darkness, except where the lights on the shore shimmered across its
surface. Then he looked back at B'Elanna. "It's something I would never do."
B'Elanna stared at him for a moment before she said softly, "I believe you." Her
lips twisted into an ironic smile. "I guess it's too bad you're not the father, isn't
Tom's smile was equally ironic. "I guess it is."
Even in the dim light he could swear he saw a blush creep up B'Elanna's cheeks
then, as she obviously realized the implication of her words. "I didn't mean--I
don't want--I was just talking off the top of my head."
"Me too," Tom said easily. Or, more accurately, he lied easily. He'd responded
impulsively, but even as he'd said it, for that moment he'd truly regretted that he
wasn't the father of B'Elanna's baby. That realization shook him, but he pushed
it away, and kept his tone light. "So we're still friends?"
B'Elanna looked relieved at his casual question. She nodded and managed a
small smile. "Yes."
Tom smiled back as a stiff gust blew off the river. He watched B'Elanna rub her
arms in response. "Are you cold?"
"A little," she answered. "I'd better get home."
Tom nodded and they started walking again, side by side. After a few moments
she placed her hand unobtrusively on his arm. He smiled to himself, and they
walked in silence past the odd numbered buildings of the residential complex
that were closest to the river, and then turned onto the walkway that led to the
front of her building. She stopped a dozen meters from the front door. "You
don't have to walk me all the way in."
He felt her putting up a wall again. She wasn't going to invite him into her
apartment, though he really hadn't expected her to. "Okay. I'll just watch you
from here to make sure you get inside safely."
B'Elanna shook her head. "I'm a big girl. I can get there safely."
"I was thinking of the baby."
B'Elanna gave him a skeptical smile. "The baby will get there safely too." Then
her expression sobered. "Tom, I really am grateful for everything you've done
"It's just one of the many advantages of having a friend," he told her.
She nodded. "I suppose it is." Then she slipped her hand from his arm,
reluctantly he thought, but that might just be wishful thinking on his part.
He was surprised when she didn't move away immediately, and he saw a hint of
confusion in her dark eyes as she held his gaze. He shared that confusion.
This powerful attraction he felt for her didn't make complete sense, and he was
sure she was feeling it too, even though they barely knew each other.
"I have to go," she said quickly, taking a step back.
The urge to kiss her lips was almost overwhelming. He didn't even have to
imagine how they'd feel, somehow he already knew, as if he'd kissed them a
thousand times. He shook his head at that foolish thought. He wondered what
she would do if he just kissed her chastely on the cheek. In the end he settled
for neither. "Goodnight."
"Goodnight," she murmured after the briefest pause. Then she turned and
strode quickly toward the front doors of her building.
"I'll see you at the bar tomorrow at eighteen hundred hours," he called out as the
doors slid open and she stepped inside.
B'Elanna turned, and the light from the entryway spilled out over her, shining on
her hair and outlining the round swell of her belly. "I'll be there."
He watched her disappear into the building and stood motionless for several
minutes, staring at the empty space where she'd been, until a couple
approached the building, giving him a curious look as they passed. He turned
then and walked away.
When he reached the walkway again he stopped, momentarily at a loss. He
could always go back down to the riverfront. It was early, and he hadn't eaten
yet. He'd gone there on his last evening off, and had enjoyed himself. Maybe
he could lose these unsettling thoughts and feelings running through his mind in
food and music, and drink.
Or he could just go up to his apartment instead and replicate something that
wouldn't strain his credit balance, like tomato soup, an old Earth dish he liked.
After a moment's hesitation he turned back toward his own building, even
though he knew it wasn't the smartest thing he could do--sit in his room and
think about her, and about that odd desire he'd felt tonight.
He, Tom Paris, a man who'd drifted from job to job, and from casual relationship
to casual relationship, had yearned for a moment to be a father, and by
association a husband. For that moment he'd wanted to be a part of B'Elanna's
life, and her baby's life, more than anything.
The problem was, the moment hadn't really passed. Even as he walked to his
own apartment, the yearning was there right now, still inside him.
And the question was, just what the hell was he supposed to do about it?
Tom was whistling as he arranged the glasses behind the bar. He wasn't
exactly sure *what* he was whistling; it was a tune he didn't fully recognize, one
of those catchy ones that stayed in some corner of the mind long after it had
been heard. Probably an old Earth tune he'd heard as a child, something that
went "do wah diddy diddy dum diddy do," nonsensical as that was. Not that it
mattered. It was just a way to express his good mood. He'd made a decision,
maybe a momentous one. No--for him, it was definitely a momentous one.
He was going to do it. He'd lain awake half the night thinking about it, but
surprisingly he wasn't tired from his lack of sleep. He was energized in fact,
invigorated by his conviction. It wouldn't be easy to accomplish. It would take a
lot of hard work and patience, and something he'd avoided religiously in his
past--commitment. Even though he should be terrified at the thought of what he
was planning, he wasn't terrified at all. He was elated--
"You're certainly cheerful this afternoon."
Tom almost dropped the glass he was stacking. He turned to find Kathryn
Janeway watching him with a smile on her face. He smiled broadly back.
"You're in here a little early today."
Kathryn rested her arms on the bar and shrugged her shoulders. "I started my
shift early. I had to reconcile some warp core equations that I left unfinished
Tom poured white wine into a glass and set it in front of her. "Sounds very
Kathryn's lips quirked at his skeptical tone. "Actually it is. It's very rewarding
when you finally come up with the answer to a puzzle that's been preying on
"No doubt." Tom could relate to that in another sense. "I have to admit I find
people a more intriguing puzzle than warp equations and power differentials.
That's probably why this job suits me." He gave her an insouciant grin. "That,
and the fact that here my charm gets me by."
Kathryn gave him an amused look. "Somehow I doubt that."
Tom pressed a hand to his heart, feigning hurt. "You think I have no charm?
Kathryn chuckled. "Well, it is a little practiced, though still effective from what
I've observed. But charm only goes so far. What I meant was I doubt it's the
only thing you have going for you."
"Well, thanks, I guess."
"Every industry on Quarren checks aptitude before hiring. If the power facility
took you, they didn't do so because your charm overwhelmed their good sense."
Tom smiled. "Maybe not. I can do a lot of things adequately, even plugging in
the right conduit to the right circuit. I just don't truly excel at any one thing in
Kathryn looked at him speculatively. "What about your hobbies? I assume you
have one or two."
"I am working on a design for a boat that I can take out on the river. But I have
to get the rest of the credits I need for the supplies before I can start building it."
"I'm impressed," Kathryn said. "Designing and building a boat takes some work
Tom shrugged. "I suppose. I'm not sure I'd want to make a career out of it."
Though he honestly hadn't considered that possibility either.
"Maybe you just haven't found your true calling yet, that one thing you do better
than anyone else."
Tom smirked. "What about pouring a drink better than anyone else? Or are you
trying to get me to improve myself, Kathryn?"
Kathryn smiled ruefully. "Is that what it sounds like? I'm sorry. I guess you just
strike me as someone who could be a lot more than a bartender. Though I
shouldn't talk. I'm a very good engineer, but I can't say I have much ambition to
go beyond that either."
"You mean you don't want to run the entire power facility one day?" Tom asked.
Kathryn shook her head. "I'm happy in my niche. That's one of the things we
have in common."
"*One* of the things?" Tom asked. He watched two Lokirrim women walk into
the bar, his first customers since Kathryn, though soon enough more workers
from the power facility would start arriving for the evening.
"We're both from the same place."
Tom looked at Kathryn again, confused.
"Oh. Right." His memories of Earth were hazy. He did recall that it was very
polluted and crime-ridden, with far too many people and far too few jobs. It was
nothing like Quarren. What reason was there to remember? "I left there a long
"So did I. And by good fortune we both ended up here, where it's clean and
safe, and one can build a productive life. That means we have another trait in
The two women sat down at the other end of the bar. Tom gave them both a
friendly smile, and pulled out a bottle of Takatis brandy. "Which is?" he asked
"Adaptability," Kathryn said.
"That seems to be a trait of a lot of people on Quarren. We were all a little
aimless until we found this place."
Kathryn nodded. "I've drifted around quite a bit myself. But my life is exactly
where I want it now, and this time I plan to keep it that way. Trite as it sounds, I
feel like I've finally found the place where I belong."
Tom gave her a shrewd look as he poured brandy into two glasses. "Are you
talking about the power facility...or Jaffen?"
Kathryn smiled, unoffended. "Am I that easy to read?"
Tom smiled back. "Yes. I get the impression that you're very direct about your
feelings, Kathryn. Take that as a compliment."
"Oh, I will," Kathryn said. "The answer to your question is both, by the way. I
think I've had enough of moving from place to place. There is something to be
said for stability. And for permanence."
"Maybe." That thought had occurred to him just recently. Tom replaced the
brandy bottle under the bar. "So have you two talked about the big move yet?"
Kathryn's eyebrows rose. "Big move?"
"Uh huh. Hold that thought, I'll be right back."
Tom strode to the other side of the bar. "Ladies. Takatis brandy, right?"
The younger one, Yasala as he recalled, gave him an admiring look as he set
their drinks in front of them. "That's quite a memory you have, Tom," she
Since they had been coming in immediately after their shift for the past ten days,
his memory was hardly astounding. He gave Yasala a smooth smile. "It's never
hard to remember the propensity of a beautiful woman."
Yasala preened at his compliment. "What are you doing after work tonight?"
"I'm afraid I'm working a late shift tonight," Tom said, his tone regretful. "By the
time I get off I'll just want to go home and sleep."
"Alone?" the older one--D'Lena--asked archly.
"Unfortunately," Tom said. He meant that, but not the way they took it.
"Too bad," Yasala murmured into her glass. She took a swallow of her brandy
and then smiled seductively at him. "Maybe we can get together another night?
I promise I won't send you home alone."
"Maybe," Tom said, giving her a noncommittal smile in return. "You ladies give
me a shout when you want a refill. I've got another customer waiting." As he
moved away he saw Yasala look at Kathryn and give her a dismissive sneer.
He caught Kathryn's cool, hard stare in return. He didn't have to look back to
guess that Yasala looked away first. He had a feeling few people could
intimidate Kathryn Janeway.
"So, what about that big move?" Tom asked as he pulled out the bottle of white
wine and uncorked it.
Kathryn didn't pretend ignorance. "We haven't discussed it. Though I'm not
sure why you're so interested."
Tom refilled her glass. "Just part of a friendly bartender's job. Let me know if
She said it without rancor, and he grinned unrepentantly. "I apologize."
"Work on your sincerity, Tom," Kathryn advised him. Then she answered his
question. "If Jaffen does ask me to move in, I'll probably say yes. There are
definite benefits in a committed relationship."
"You speak like the voice of experience."
Kathryn gave him a wry smile. "No, not really. I've never been very successful
at relationships. Too many other things demanding my attention I guess." A
wistful look crossed her face. "The funny thing is, I feel like I've been waiting for
this all my life."
"You must have turned down quite a few offers in the meantime," Tom said.
It was a glib rejoinder, but he actually meant it. Kathryn Janeway was a
beautiful, vibrant, fascinating woman--far more so than the two women at the
other end of the bar, despite their obvious physical attributes, though Kathryn
seemed disconcerted by his compliment. Tom gave her a brazen smile. "In
fact, if you weren't already taken I'd make you an offer myself. I can tell you that
I do know how to show a woman a very good time."
Kathryn laughed at his blatant flirting. "I have no doubt of that, Tom. If I weren't
already involved, I might just put you to the test." Before Tom could think of a
witty reply, she glanced surreptitiously toward the other end of the bar. "Though
I'd guess that you already get your share of offers."
Tom smirked. "Must be my obvious charm."
"Hmm." Kathryn gave him a curious look. "So why don't you take any of them
up on it?"
Tom got the feeling the conversation had just taken a turn from casual bantering
to earnest interest, not a turn that made him comfortable. His eyebrows rose
suggestively. "How do you know I haven't?"
"I don't for sure," Kathryn admitted. "But I've noticed that your female customers
don't seem to elicit any real interest on your part. Except for one."
Kathryn ignored Tom's mock innocent remark. "The young woman from the
power facility I've seen in here recently. I haven't worked with her yet, but word
is she's a very gifted engineer. B'Elanna is her name, isn't it?"
"B'Elanna." Tom repeated the name slowly, as if it was unfamiliar to him. "Is
that her name?"
Kathryn gave him a reproachful look. "You've talked to her several times, Tom,
so I'm sure you know her name. I've also noticed that you watch her a lot when
"Have you also noticed that she's very pregnant?"
"It's hard to miss. Even so, you're interested in her."
"Am I that easy to read?" Tom asked.
"Like an unsecured padd."
Tom was silent for a moment as Kathryn's astute gaze held his. "She could use
a friend. I'm just trying to be one."
"I see," Kathryn murmured. She took a sip of her wine.
"I'm not planning to take advantage of her."
Kathryn looked up, startled by the vehemence in Tom's voice. "I didn't think you
were," she said gently. "B'Elanna is fortunate to have a friend like you. She'd
be fortunate if it became more."
"I've never been very good at lasting relationships," Tom said. It was the truth,
though who said he couldn't change that?
Kathryn shrugged. "Me either, but there's always the first time. I can tell you
that having someone else waiting for you when the day is over makes all the
other stresses in life a little easier to bear...and a lot less lonely."
She said that as if she knew well what it was like to be without such support.
The door opened at that moment and Tom smiled. "From the way Jaffen's face
lights up when he sees you, I think you can count on someone else being there
from now on. And speaking of Jaffen..."
Kathryn saw Tom's brief nod, and turned just as Jaffen reached her. She
leaned forward to accept his hug.
Jaffen released Kathryn and shook his head at Tom's question. "Not right now.
I still have to go over to Central Processing to update some reports." He smiled
at Kathryn. "Want to come with me?"
"Of course," Kathryn said as she slipped off the barstool.
"It shouldn't take too long," Jaffen said. "I hope you don't mind waiting a bit to
Kathryn smiled. "A walk will build up our appetites."
"Planning another home cooked dinner?" Tom asked.
Jaffen winced just a bit, and Kathryn shook her head quickly. "No," she said.
"We'll probably come back here."
Jaffen nodded, looking pleased with that plan. "Hold us a table, will you, Tom?
We'll be back in a bit."
"Will do," Tom said. He watched them walk out, squeezing past several more
people who were coming in the door. It was 1710 hours, time for most of the
workers from the plant's day shift to start pouring in. Neliss and Birka were due
to meet B'Elanna here at 1800 hours. He wondered if B'Elanna would come in a
little early so that he could talk to her for a bit, though it would be his busy time.
Or maybe she'd stay for awhile after her meeting with Neliss and Birka, though
she never stayed very late. Perhaps he could arrange his break so he could
spend a little time with her, and engage her in some more friendly conversation.
That was the way to slowly insinuate himself into her life--keep it very casual at
first. Once he convinced her that she could trust him, and that he wasn't going
to disappear on her, then the rest would progress naturally. That was his plan
Tom smiled, feeling pleased with himself. He moved out from behind the bar
and walked toward a table where four thirsty looking power facility workers had
just seated themselves. He smiled as he stopped at their table, and he pulled
out his small padd, ready to take their orders. "What'll it be, folks?"
Tom stared at the building in front of him that was only faintly illuminated in the
early morning darkness. It was the building where B'Elanna lived. But she
wasn't in there, safe in her apartment, where she should be right now.
According to what Inspector Yerid had told him several hours ago, she'd been
He wanted to kick himself, again. He'd had the compulsion a dozen times in the
past few hours. He should have insisted on walking her home. If he had maybe
this wouldn't have happened. Instead they'd traded a few teasing words with
each other and she'd left the bar alone. But she'd never gotten home.
After his shift was over he'd gone directly to the spot where B'Elanna had last
been seen before she'd disappeared with the little man who'd been in the bar
earlier in the evening. Neelix, the one who'd said he was new at the power
facility, and had spoken of traveling on a starship.
Inspector Yerid was certain B'Elanna hadn't known either of her abductors. Tom
had pumped him for information, but the inspector had claimed to have no leads
yet. He was still looking for Amal Cotay, the other man who had helped abduct
B'Elanna, but no one had seen him since he'd disappeared from the bar shortly
after the incident.
Tom wished he'd had a clue who Amal Cotay was when the man had come into
the bar earlier. He hadn't paid that much attention to him, since he'd been more
interested in watching the progress of Kathryn and Jaffen's evening, and their
relationship. If he'd known Amal Cotay had just participated in kidnapping
B'Elanna, he'd have happily detained him for Inspector Yerid. No--he'd have
gotten the information out of Amal Cotay himself, saving Yerid the trouble.
But he hadn't known.
Tom surveyed the area around B'Elanna's building. It was not surprisingly
deserted, since it was past 0200 hours. Those who weren't on the night shift
were probably in bed asleep. Neliss and Birka had been in bed when he'd
banged on their door half an hour ago. They hadn't been too happy to be
roused from their sleep, though when he'd told them about B'Elanna they'd been
concerned and sympathetic. They'd told Tom that they liked B'Elanna a lot, and
hoped she was okay. They'd also willingly given him her apartment number in
building twelve, where they'd arranged to bring her some materials on local child
care facilities the next day.
Tom walked into B'Elanna's building, keeping his pace unhurried. The doors slid
open, and then closed behind him. He walked to the lift and once inside
pressed an indicator on the control padd. When the lift opened on the sixth floor
he stepped out, checking to make sure the hallway was deserted.
B'Elanna's apartment was at the far end of the hallway. Tom pulled out the
keycard to his own apartment. Luckily no one bothered with retinal or print
identification in the residential section. It wasn't really necessary to take strong
security measures since there was virtually no crime on Quarren.
Tom scowled as he pried the keycard panel loose. It only took him a minute to
reset the identification code on the display. He stuck his own keycard in the
slot, and the door to B'Elanna's apartment slid open. He replaced the panel and
glanced once down the hallway to reaffirm that no one was watching him before
he stepped inside.
He knew it was a long shot, but maybe there would be some clue here,
something that might tell him who the two men were--Neelix and Amal Cotay--
and why they'd taken B'Elanna.
Tom stepped further into the apartment as the main room flooded with soft light.
The layout was the same as his apartment--as most of the apartments in the
residential section--a living area with a small, open kitchen on one side, and a
short set of steps that led to the loft bedroom and connecting bathroom. Those
who had young children were assigned a unit with a second bedroom, until the
children were old enough to move into one of the youth trade schools and begin
training in the field suitable to their assessed skills.
B'Elanna's living area was furnished simply--a couch, a table, and a small desk
with a computer terminal in one corner. He saw few personal items. The print
on the wall--a city scene showing the Central Power Facility and adjoining
buildings lit up at night--had probably been here when she'd moved in. There
was a similar one in his apartment.
He glanced toward the kitchen as he walked further into the room. It was tidy
except for the teapot resting on the warmer coil, and a cup on the counter next
Tom brushed his fingers over the bright blue throw that was arranged
haphazardly over the back of the couch. He smiled at the image that came
unbidden into his head, of B'Elanna sitting with her legs tucked under her and
the throw wrapped around her, sipping tea and reading a padd.
He moved over the desk. There was little clutter other than a neatly stacked pile
of padds next to the computer terminal. He thumbed through the padds, and
noted that they were all stamped with the Central Power Facility emblem.
B'Elanna obviously brought her work home. He pulled open the desk drawer
and rummaged in it. It contained a stylus, a pen and several sheets of paper, a
calculation padd, and a company id badge. Nothing unusual.
He closed the drawer and walked up the wide steps to the bedroom, where
there was a bed and nightstand, and in the far corner near the window, a cradle.
Tom walked around the bed, glancing at the blue comforter on the bed--
B'Elanna's favorite color, he wondered?--and then moved to the cradle. It was
made of wood, simple and unadorned, with nothing more than a small, bare
mattress inside. B'Elanna must have just gotten the cradle, and hadn't had time
yet to start getting it ready for the baby.
Tom looked in the open closet, where her clothes and shoes were arranged on
the hangers and shelves. There weren't any boxes inside that might contain old
mementos, and the shelves held mostly undergarments. He avoided looking
through those and moved to the nightstand, glancing out the window as he
passed, where part of the lighted city was visible beyond the dark outline of the
adjacent apartment building. The only items on the nightstand were a
chronometer and another padd, this one without the Central Power Facility
emblem. Tom picked it up and brought up the last file B'Elanna had accessed.
It contained a list of items for the baby. He scrolled through the list--blankets,
clothing, diapers and the like--then moved on to the next file. It was another list,
this one of things to do. He smiled at the realization that B'Elanna was a list-
maker. It fit her. He scrolled again, past self-reminders to pick up cleaned
uniforms, a list of several items to purchase at the grocery supply, a notation of
her meeting with "Tom's friends" at the bar at 1800 hours--
Tom's smile faded. For a moment he wished she'd never kept that meeting,
even though he couldn't know if that would have made any difference. The two
men who'd abducted her might have followed her wherever she'd gone.
Tom moved on to the next file, which was organized by date. He immediately
recognized that it was a journal, since he kept one himself. He hesitated for a
moment, but if anything might give him a clue about B'Elanna's past, and tell him
why anyone would want to abduct her, he realized it would be her journal.
He opened the file. The first entry was from eighteen days ago--the day she'd
first started at the Central Power Facility according to her words. That was the
first day he'd worked there too, and the last. She wrote of her hope of making a
"fresh start" and the fact that she thought she was going to like her new job, and
her new apartment. There was no mention of where she'd worked and lived
In the entries for the next several days she focused on settling into her new job.
Tom's lips twitched when she expressed her annoyance with the efficiency
monitor's imperious manner. She noted that most of the people at the power
facility were friendly enough, but that she chose to keep to herself, since she felt
she was hardly in a position to join their social gatherings. She added that she
did like to go to the bar next to the plant to sip tea and review her day's work.
Being surrounded by the conversation and laughter of the other workers there
gave her a sense of camaraderie, of being a part of them.
"B'Elanna," Tom murmured, shaking his head at her self-imposed isolation. He
wanted to think he'd started pulling her out of that isolation by convincing her to
accept him as a friend.
He spotted his name in the next entry. It was dated three days ago, the second
time he'd talked to her in the bar. He smiled as he read the entry.
*The bartender talked to me again today. He approached me yesterday
afternoon with some overused pick up line, but once he got a good look at my
belly, he reacted the way men always do--going red with embarrassment and
looking like a trapped animal. I was sure he was just another egotistical pig,
who couldn't get away fast enough once he saw that the quick payoff he was
looking for wasn't going to happen.*
Tom frowned. Pig? Okay, maybe in his past that label had fit him on occasion.
But he *hadn't* walked away. She was the one who'd left him standing there.
*He surprised me though. Today he told me that he wanted to be my friend, and
he offered to introduce me to a couple he knows who are also expecting a baby.
I have to admit it would be nice to talk to someone else who is in my position, to
share some of the feelings I've been having lately.
*His name is Tom--the bartender that is. His offer seemed sincere. Maybe I did
misjudge him. I suppose I'll find out soon enough if his word is good.*
Tom moved forward to the final entry, from the night before last, the night he'd
met her outside the power facility after her shift.
*Tom was waiting for me when I got off work today. He's arranged for me to
meet his friends at the bar tomorrow night. He told me about them while we
walked by the river. I've never been to the riverfront before, but it is a beautiful
place. Tom was perfectly pleasant, and respectful. He said again that he just
wants to be my friend. It's a hard offer to refuse, since I could use someone to
talk to, and he is a very good listener.
*I know he likes me, and I think he's attracted to me too, though he tried not to
let it show. The bigger problem is that I feel something for him too. I guess it's
natural, since he's an attractive man. But getting more involved with him isn't an
option, since I have a baby to think of first. He doesn't seem bothered by the
baby; in fact he seems to find my pregnancy intriguing. But I can't expect him to
hang around forever, or to be a father to a baby that isn't his. I can't afford to
trust him that far when my child could be the one to suffer.
*I think I can trust him as a friend though. Still, it would be safer not to see him
too often. I already like his company too much. It would be dangerous to let
myself start to depend on it. Or to let myself want more.
*Or maybe I'm assuming feelings that aren't there. Maybe Tom meant it when
he said he just wanted to be my friend, and that look I thought I saw in his eyes
when we were outside my building tonight was just my imagination, my
ridiculous wishful thinking for something I can't afford to wish for anyway.
*Is there something wrong with me that I want to believe he did look at me with
desire, and to wish he really could feel that way about me, even though I know I
can't possibly act on it?*
That was it. She'd never had a chance to add an entry last night, since she'd
never gotten home.
Tom sat down on the edge of the bed. He was gratified to find out that she was
as attracted to him as he was to her, even if she was reluctant to admit it.
Despite her misgivings, if he was persistent she'd eventually give him a chance
to get closer to her--that much he could read between the lines. But none of it
meant anything now that she was gone.
He sighed. There was nothing here that would help him find her. No
unexpected revelations, no links from her past, certainly nothing to indicate why
she had been abducted. If he was honest with himself, he'd known there
wouldn't be anything here that would lead him to B'Elanna. He'd really come
because he wanted to get a sense of *her,* of who she was and where she'd
come from, though there wasn't much of that here either. Like him, she'd
apparently led a nomadic life, with no deep roots or strong ties. There were no
pictures of family on the nightstand, no old letters, and few items that suggested
a sentimental history or association.
She'd obviously come to Quarren for the same reason he had--not just for a
better life, but because there was nothing in her past worth holding on to.
He wondered again about the two mysterious men who had taken her. He
hadn't talked to Amal Cotay beyond taking his drink order, but he comforted
himself remembering his brief conversation with Neelix. The man had been
cheerful and friendly, and Tom had instinctively liked him. Surely a man like that
couldn't be dangerous, and he didn't intend to harm B'Elanna or her baby.
Tom could only hope his instincts weren't wrong, for B'Elanna's sake. He could
also keep putting pressure on Yerid, and hope the inspector would find some
clues--or Amal Cotay--soon.
That was all he could do right now, and it wasn't nearly enough.
Tom looked at the padd in his hand. His brilliant plan to take it slow and casual
getting to know B'Elanna didn't interest him anymore. If--when they met again,
he was going to tell her that look she thought she'd seen in his eyes wasn't her
imagination. It was real, and she was going to have to deal with it, because
when he found her again, he wasn't going to leave her side.
He stood and left B'Elanna's apartment, taking the padd with him, unwilling to
give up the one connection he had to her now.
Tom served his latest customer at the bar as quickly as he could, and moved
away immediately to cut off any attempt at conversation. He had something
else occupying his attention at the moment, specifically, the two people seated
at the table near the door--Inspector Yerid and the lovely but frosty efficiency
monitor from the power facility, Annika. He watched the two of them as he
replaced the bottle of whisky behind the bar. He'd pressed Yerid for information
every time he'd come into the bar, and every time Yerid had claimed to be
*working* on it. After he'd heard that Amal Cotay had been apprehended, he'd
tracked down Yerid, who'd told him the interrogation still hadn't revealed
B'Elanna's whereabouts. Now Yerid and Annika were deep in conversation,
their expressions grim, and Tom wondered if Yerid had gotten more out of Amal
Cotay than he was letting on.
Tom approached their table with just that question in mind. "Yerid? I thought
that was you. Have you found out anything about B'Elanna?"
Annika spoke before Yerid could, her voice dismissive. "He cannot assist you.
He's been relieved of duty."
"Oh." Tom shook his head. That was just great.
"This man is also in the file."
Though she wasn't looking at him, Tom knew Annika was talking about him.
"Why don't you tell him?"
Annika addressed her question to Yerid, and Tom frowned at the inspector.
Obviously Yerid did know something. "Tell me what?"
Yerid didn't answer Tom, or even acknowledge him. "I can't go back to the
hospital and start asking questions. I'll be reported."
Tom started to repeat his question, but Annika spoke first. "Maybe I can help."
Annika and Yerid looked gravely at each other, and while Tom would be thrilled
if Annika could help, right now he was tired of being ignored. "Look, I want to
know what's being done to find B'Elanna--"
"I'm off that case," Yerid said, finally addressing Tom directly. "Officially."
"I will go to the hospital and see if I can speak with Tuvok or find out more about
this file of his," Annika said.
"They won't just let you read their records," Yerid told her.
"I don't plan to ask them," Annika replied.
Yerid stood. "If you find out anything, let me know. Even though I can't help you
in an official capacity," he looked at Tom, including him in that statement,
"maybe I will be able to do something unofficially."
Tom appreciated that Yerid willingness to go that far under the circumstances.
Yerid nodded. "You're welcome. I'll be in touch."
When Annika started to rise, Tom put a restraining hand on her chair. "Not so
fast. I want to talk to you."
Annika looked at him and arched a haughty eyebrow. "I have urgent business
that requires my immediate attention."
"You tell me that Tuvok has some file, that I'm in it, and that it has something to
do with B'Elanna's disappearance, and you think that's not urgent business to
"I did not *tell* you anything. You listened to my conversation with Inspector
Splitting hairs, Tom figured. He pulled out the chair next to hers out and sat
down. "So tell me now. If I'm involved in this, I have a right to know."
Annika remained seated. "Perhaps," she agreed. "But at the moment there is
little to tell. It is only a theory without substantiation. I need to obtain more
"What theory?" Tom demanded.
"A theory that a large group of workers, including you, myself, Tuvok, B'Elanna
Torres, and one hundred thirty-three others were brought to Quarren against our
will, and probably brainwashed."
"I do not have proof yet, however it is the most rational explanation for the
processing of one hundred thirty-seven people through neuropathology on the
same day, most of whom are the same race. Human." She gave Tom a
searching look. "Do you remember how long you have been here?"
"Nineteen days, even since you got me fired from the Central Power Facility."
Annika reacted to Tom's flippancy with a cool stare. "I was referring to how long
you have been on Quarren."
Tom shrugged. "A few years." Give or take a year or two. So his memory was
a little hazy on the specifics. "And I've never even been to the hospital, let alone
"You are wrong," Annika said. "You were processed through neuropathology
twenty days ago. I saw the file. Of that there is no doubt."
"If I'd been in neuropathology a few weeks ago, don't you think I'd remember it?"
"If your memories were altered, then you would not remember," Annika told him.
"That is the point of such indoctrination."
Tom shook his head. Was she really expecting him to buy all this? A thought
occurred to him. "Amal Cotay is human. He and Neelix were together, and they
came here to abduct B'Elanna--"
"Or perhaps they came here to rescue her," Annika suggested. "If I am correct,
then we all came from the same place, most likely a ship."
Tom frowned. "Why would I be on a ship? I get spacesick."
Annika's eyebrow rose again. "So you believe."
It was almost impossible to accept that his memories could have been so
altered. Another thought occurred to him and he looked at Annika curiously. "If
what you say is true, then you and I know each other. We all know each other."
Annika nodded. "Though we do not recall our association as crewmates, that is
the likely conclusion. You, myself, Amal Cotay, B'Elanna Torres, Kathryn
Janeway, Tuvok, Tal Celes, Michael Ayala...it is a long list."
Tom followed her glance to Tal Celes and Michael Ayala, who were sitting at
another table engaged in animated conversation. They worked at the power
facility too. He looked at Annika again. "This is all ridiculous, but I actually hope
Annika looked surprised. "You do?"
"Yes. If it's true, it would mean that B'Elanna is safe."
Annika looked at him silently for a moment. "If my theory is correct, then
B'Elanna Torres is indeed safe, and with friends."
Tom's lips curved. So, maybe B'Elanna did have friends after all, a lot of friends,
and she wasn't as alone as she thought. He took comfort in that possibility.
"Presumably they would also be your friends, and mine," Annika added.
Tom shook his head. He couldn't see how he could forget so many people--and
especially a woman like B'Elanna. Another reason this was all so unlikely.
There was also Annika. "That would mean you and I probably work together."
"I trust that you are more efficient in whatever capacity you serve on the ship
than you were at the Central Power Facility," Annika said dryly. She stood
before Tom could come up with a good retort. "I must go to the hospital now."
"Feeling ill?" Tom asked, though he assumed it was part of whatever plan she'd
"I am experiencing...disturbing thoughts," Annika said.
No kidding, Tom thought. Now he was too.
"It will be necessary for me to be seen by a doctor in neuropathology."
"Ah." Tom understood. He also appreciated the fact that she was trusting him,
though he knew she wouldn't have told him so much if she'd thought he would
betray her. He had serious doubts about her theory, but he wasn't about to turn
her in. "Just keep me updated on anything you find out."
"Thank you," Annika said, her voice dispassionate.
"And if you have any trouble, or you need a place where no one is likely to find
you, the storage room in the back of the bar has lots of nooks and crannies."
Annika nodded. "I will keep that in mind." Then she pivoted and walked out, her
body held stiffly erect. Tom wondered if her uncompromising attitude was the
effect of the false memories that she believed she'd given on Quarren. Maybe
she was less rigid and repressed in her real life, a regular party girl--
Real life? Tom shook his head, wondering why he was even considering buying
into this theory that he might belong somewhere else--on some ship in space for
god's sake--rather than right here on Quarren, where his life was going along
just fine. Annika was probably just as crazy as Tuvok had seemed to be.
Tuvok, who had told Tom that he knew him from somewhere besides Quarren,
and that they'd known each other for a long time.
Tom frowned. He had no idea what to think or believe. But he did have the
feeling that something was being set in motion. Maybe something that would
end with the arrest of Annika, if she really was deluded. But he clung to the
hope that it might be something that would bring him face to face with B'Elanna
A disturbing thought occurred to him. If Annika's theory was true--and that was
a big if--then B'Elanna might still be involved with the father of her baby. He
could be with her right now, on that ship. Perhaps she even loved him--
"Tom, you have other customers waiting."
Tom turned at the sound of Kenda's curt voice. She gave him a warning look as
she passed by. He quickly returned to the bar and resumed his duties, suddenly
grateful to focus his attention on something that kept his disquieting thoughts
temporarily at bay.
Tom had spent most of the day wondering just who he might know, but not know
that he knew them. When he could bring himself to seriously consider Annika's
Then, two hours ago he'd lied to the local police when they'd asked if he'd seen
Annika. She'd come into the bar just a couple of minutes ahead of them, with
Kathryn in tow. Kathryn Janeway, who was apparently another person he knew
but didn't know he knew.
He'd already been a little annoyed since he'd also spent most of the day waiting
to hear from Annika, convincing himself one moment that she was on to
something, and the next that she was completely insane. After the police had
left and she'd thanked him for helping her and Kathryn, he'd demanded to know
what was going on. Annika had told him--them, since Jaffen and Yerid had
come in right after the police had left--that Amal Cotay--Chakotay, Tom
reminded himself--had been telling the truth all along. Annika had gotten her
proof. They did belong on a ship, a ship called Voyager.
Voyager. He'd been saying it over and over in his mind, but it still didn't mean
anything to him. It didn't conjure up any images or memories of his "real" life.
He believed Annika's theory now, and he'd seen by Kathryn's expression that
she'd believed Annika too, though he'd sensed that part of Kathryn didn't want it
to be true. Part of Tom didn't want it to be true either. He was content here. He
didn't feel any compulsion to return to a life he didn't remember, or to a ship he
didn't remember. Only one thing drew him to that other life.
B'Elanna was on that ship. With Neelix. He recalled again that odd
conversation they'd had, and how surprised Neelix had been when Tom had
said he'd never been on a starship, and that he got spacesick. No wonder.
He realized now that Neelix had been gathering information, and passing it on to
Amal--Chakotay. He'd noticed the two of them conversing shortly after he'd
talked to Neelix, and later he'd assumed they'd been hatching some plan to
kidnap B'Elanna. Now he knew they hadn't been plotting against B'Elanna--or
any of them--but *for* them.
And at this very moment Kathryn was sneaking around the power facility,
attempting to contact the ship through the triaxilating frequency method she'd
mentioned. Soon, very soon, he might be going back to that ship, to the place
that was his real home, even though he couldn't remember a single moment of
his life there.
Tom approached the man sitting at the far corner of the bar. "Another ale?"
The man waved his hand over his glass. "I'm fine."
Tom was sure Joe Carey was one of the people in Tuvok's file, one of the group
who'd passed together through neuropathology, and had been collectively
brainwashed. Joe was human, and Earth was very far away. It made sense
that all the humans on Quarren had arrived together.
There were others on Voyager besides humans--Tuvok for instance, and
B'Elanna. But all the humans on Quarren, they had most likely come from
Voyager. Like Samantha and her little girl, Naomi. A sweet little girl, who was
not fully human. But her mother was human, and if Samantha had come from
Voyager, Naomi must have too. They'd left the bar just a few minutes ago.
"You seem preoccupied tonight."
Tom met Joe's inquisitive gaze. He realized he'd been standing motionless for a
minute or so, lost in his thoughts again. At the rate he seemed to be losing his
concentration on his work over the past couple of days, he was probably going
to be fired from yet another job. Though who knew how much longer he was
actually going to be here anyway? He gave Joe a faint smile. "Yeah, I guess I
am. Have you ever thought that maybe you're living the wrong life?"
Joe's brow creased. "The wrong life?"
"That you might have another life somewhere else?"
Joe shook his head, still looking bemused. "You mean like maybe I have a
family stashed away on another planet that I visit once in a while?"
"More like you don't *know* they even exist."
Joe was looking at Tom now as if he were a little crazy. Tom couldn't blame
him. And he couldn't tell Joe Carey that he did have another life, one he'd
completely forgotten. Tom still barely believed it himself. "Never mind. I was
just talking hypothetically."
Joe shrugged. "Okay--hey!"
Joe was staring wide-eyed at his hand. The glass he was holding was solid, but
his hand was shimmering. Tom immediately recognized the transport effect that
was engulfing Joe's body, though it was nothing like the transport used on
Quarren. There was no transport tube around Joe for one thing--
Tom felt a tingle begin to spread over his own skin. For a panicked moment he
wanted to escape it, to stay here where everything was familiar to him. But he
knew it was too late, even as he realized what it had to be.
Kathryn had been successful in contacting the ship. And Voyager was taking
It was chaos in the ship's sickbay--Voyager's sickbay, Tom reminded himself
again. About forty people were standing or sitting on every available bed or
chair. Most he recognized from the bar. The officious doctor was striding
around barking out orders to the "patients" and to the young man who had come
into the sickbay a moment ago, Ensign Kim. Everyone looked confused, and
most still looked frightened.
When they'd first been beamed into some sort of large cargo bay, Kathryn
Janeway had taken it upon herself to tell everyone as they arrived to remain
calm, and had given them her personal word that everything would be okay.
Most of them recognized her from the power facility, and something in her calm,
confident tone was reassuring. Tom had stood next to Kathryn, trying to portray
that same confidence he hadn't really felt, as had Annika. At least their
combined efforts had kept anyone from reacting with outright panic.
Tom glanced at Kathryn now. She sat on the biobed next to his, looking
determined and in control. The easy approachability that had characterized her
manner on Quarren wasn't in evidence at the moment. The doctor tapped the
emblem on his chest as he moved toward her. "Mister Neelix, is everyone now
The emblem was obviously a communication device, because a disembodied
voice answered. "I have ninety-four crewmembers now in cargo bay two. With
the forty-three in sickbay, that accounts for everyone."
"Excellent. How is Mister Tuvok?"
"Almost his Vulcan self again," the disembodied voice said cheerfully. "He's
recalled some of his real memories. He's explaining the situation to the rest of
the crew gathered here, and I've started to administer the antidote."
"Very well. Make sure they each rest for a period of time, preferably two hours,
since they'll probably experience some dizziness. Then you may release them
so they can begin to refamiliarize themselves with their appropriated lives."
"I'll do that, Doc--"
The doctor cut off communication to Neelix and turned to Ensign Kim, who
handed him a tray of hypos as he'd been ordered. "I'll start with the senior
officers, and move from there. You may assist me--"
"I have to get back to the bridge. I'm just here because Chakotay insisted I
personally make sure that everyone is accounted for and will be okay."
The doctor scowled. "They'll all be good as new in a few hours. And
Commander Chakotay should have come to sickbay to be checked too."
Ensign Kim shrugged. "He said he's fine, just a little groggy from the sedatives.
And we are short-staffed on the bridge at the moment."
"Really?" the doctor said acerbically. He glanced at Tom. "So am I, considering
my chief medic thinks he's a bartender."
The doctor turned away again, and Ensign Kim gave Tom a brief, friendly smile
before he rushed out of sickbay. Tom was too surprised to respond. He was a
"I'll start with you, Captain."
Tom glanced at Kathryn, who flinched a little when the doctor approached her,
though she quickly composed herself.
"This won't hurt," the doctor assured her as he pressed the hypo against her
Kathryn nodded. "This is just a little disconcerting for all of us, Doctor."
"No doubt," the doctor concurred, his voice not without sympathy. "Your real
memories will start returning shortly, though at first they may be jumbled with the
false memories implanted on Quarren. Moving about the ship and seeing
familiar places and items will accelerate the process, which is why I won't be
keeping you in sickbay very long." He moved away from Kathryn. "Now for your
Tom realized the doctor was referring to him as the doctor turned in his
direction. Chief helmsman...he was a *pilot*? "Hey, what--"
"As I told the captain, this will not hurt, Lieutenant."
Tom shook his head, not at the doctor's assurance, but at his own confusion. "I
thought I was a medic."
"Medic, pilot...you're a man of diverse talents, Mister Paris," the doctor replied
sardonically as he selected a hypo. "Arm please."
Tom held out his arm while the doctor continued, "As I told the captain, your
memories will start returning shortly, slowly at first--"
Tom recognized that voice and his head shot up. B'Elanna was standing at the
foot of his bed, wearing a uniform similar to the doctor's and Ensign Kim's.
"Ah, Lieutenant Torres," the doctor said as he pulled the hypo away from Tom's
arm. "Here to assist me?"
"I'm on my way to engineering. I just wanted to see..."
B'Elanna's voice trailed off at Tom's fixed gaze. He couldn't help remembering
how afraid he'd been after she'd first disappeared that something terrible had
happened to her. But here she was looking healthy and radiant. And beautiful.
He couldn't take his eyes off her--
"Your husband will be just fine, Lieutenant Torres."
Tom's eyes slowly widened as he digested the doctor's latest words. His throat
went dry but he managed to squeak, "Husband?"
Tom felt as stunned as Kathryn sounded.
"Yes, Lieutenants Paris and Torres are husband and wife."
Tom heard the doctor's confirmation but his gaze was still focused on B'Elanna.
She nodded, and then smiled a little apprehensively. He watched as she placed
her left hand over her belly, the way he'd seen her do several times in the bar,
and when they'd walked along the river. Then he noticed a ring on her finger
that hadn't been there before. A wedding ring.
B'Elanna's voice was hesitant, and when he looked at her face again he saw
that her expression was guarded, though expectant. The first time he'd seen
her on Quarren her expression had been guarded too, but resigned. He'd
wanted to ease those shadows out of her eyes when he'd realized that she was
alone, and pregnant--
She was his *wife.* That meant her baby was his.
A slow, rapturous smile spread across Tom's face.
Tom looked at the doctor, who had placed a restraining hand on his shoulder.
The impatience in the doctor's tone was tempered by the hint of compassion in
his gaze. "Don't get up. You need to rest here for an hour or two before I can
Tom hadn't even realized that he'd started to stand. "B'Elanna..."
The doctor spoke to B'Elanna. "Come back in a couple of hours and you can
take him home."
B'Elanna moved around the bed. "See you soon," she whispered, and then she
pressed her lips briefly against his temple. Before he could react she was going
out the door.
The doctor was already moving away too. "Rest, Mister Paris," he ordered over
his shoulder as he moved toward the bed on the other side of Kathryn, where
Annika was waiting. "You'll remember more quickly."
Tom's gaze met Kathryn's. She smiled at him and mouthed a word.
Congratulations. He smiled back, and then rested his head against the firm
headpad. He still *felt* like Tom Paris, bartender, who'd been living a life he'd
thought was more than satisfactory. But he couldn't wait to be the real Tom
Paris again--pilot, medic, and whatever other role he served on this ship--but
mostly Tom Paris, husband and soon to be father.
He closed his eyes and let out a deep contented sigh as he expressed his
appreciation silently in his mind. Thank you, gods, fates, universe. Thank you,
thank you, thank you...
"This is our deck."
Tom stepped out of the turbolift with B'Elanna. After she'd met him in sickbay
they'd gone to the mess hall, where it had become increasingly crowded as
more crewmembers had drifted in once they'd been released from their initial
treatments. Everyone seemed to derive a sense comfort and community from
the presence of those they recognized from their weeks on Quarren, and were
beginning to remember from their years together on Voyager.
The stew Neelix had served for dinner been odd tasting but filling. B'Elanna had
informed Tom that the main ingredient was leola root. The name had jogged his
memory, and he'd immediately recalled Neelix's enduring fascination with leola
That was how it seemed to work. Each thing he saw on the ship restored a bit
more of his real memory. On the bridge, where B'Elanna had taken him for a
brief tour after dinner, Tom had looked at the helm and had envisioned his
fingers moving rapidly over the controls. He'd remembered the feeling of power
and speed that pulsed beneath his hands as he guided Voyager through space.
And he'd recalled the sense of freedom and exhilaration flying gave him. He
loved flying; how could he have possibly forgotten?
"Here we are."
B'Elanna stopped in front of the door to their quarters, her hand still resting in
the crook of his arm. The pressure of her fingers felt...right, as if her hand
belonged there, as if it had been there many times. And he remembered that it
"You'll remember more when we get inside," B'Elanna told him gently as the
door slid open.
"I remember some of it already," Tom said. There was a bold, retro 20th century
couch that was positioned right in the middle of the room--
He paused just inside the door. The couch wasn't there. Not the same one
anyway. This couch was on the far side of the room, under the window. That's
right, the retro couch had been in his previous quarters--
"Your memories of Quarren are probably still mixed up with your real memories,"
B'Elanna said. "It was confusing trying to separate the two at first."
Tom took in the rest of the room; the bed, the table with a tea set on it and a--a
toaster, that was it. Twentieth century too, his idea. He looked at the bat'leth
hanging on the wall, the two stuffed animals on the dresser, the pictures on the
table by the door, and the cradle at the foot of the bed. He knew all these things
spoke of personal history--his and B'Elanna's history--even though his recall of
some of them was still fuzzy. His apartment on Quarren had been stark in
comparison to this, just a place where he'd slept, alone.
Tom walked to the cradle, and touched one of the little ships on the mobile. It
swayed lightly back and forth. "I made this after we met the Klingons..." He
rubbed his palm over the polished wood of the cradle's headboard. "And we
picked out this design together in that holodeck re-creation of Market Square in
"Yes," B'Elanna said softly. Her hand was still firmly gripping his arm.
Tom shook his head in astonishment as the memories came back to him. He'd
thought he was perfectly content on Quarren, happy even. He hadn't
remembered what his real life was like, how good it *really* was. He hadn't had
a clue what he'd almost lost. To think that he might have gone on living on
Quarren, blithely ignorant of all this--
Tom turned and looked at B'Elanna. She was watching him closely, her gaze
sympathetic and understanding. They stepped forward at the same time, and
their arms closed tightly around each other. Tom hugged her, burying his face
in her hair, and smelling the scent of her favorite shampoo mixed with the faint
smell of engine coolant that always clung to her after a day's work. He
remembered now how much he loved that combination.
He slipped his hands down and cupped them over the round curve of her belly.
God, he remembered this too, the feel of her belly pressed against him, the feel
of their baby--their daughter--growing inside her. B'Elanna pulled back slightly
and looked up at him. He gave her a watery smile in return.
B'Elanna touched his cheek gently. "Welcome home, Tom," she said in a husky
voice, and then she brushed her lips over his.
He would have kissed her then, deeply, but she pulled back again, this time all
the way out of his arms. "I have to go to engineering for an hour or two. There's
no one else."
"It will give you time to settle in," she said, cutting off his protest. She squeezed
his hand. "I know seeing and touching everything helped me to fully realize I
was home again." She leaned forward and kissed him again, on the cheek this
time. "I'll be back soon."
B'Elanna strode toward the door, and then turned back abruptly. "Oh, I forgot..."
She pulled something from her uniform pocket, and pressed it into his hand.
"This is yours."
Tom watched her leave, and looked down at the ring resting in his palm. He
recognized the design. It was his wedding ring. He slipped it slowly on his
finger, and then he let his eyes roam the room. His home with B'Elanna.
His eyes focused on the odd standing box near the door--a television. He
walked over and touched the outer console. He remembered now that B'Elanna
had made it for him while he was on an away mission. They'd watched old 20th
century shows on it numerous times. "The Untouchables"--B'Elanna liked that
one. And he liked...cartoons.
He smiled as that memory came back to him. He liked to watch them with a
bowl of popcorn. There was something comforting about the eccentric
characters who always bounced back unharmed no matter what happened to
them. They also made him laugh.
Tom looked down at his clothes. He was still wearing the uniform he'd worn in
the bar, though it was grimy now. He definitely needed a shower. After that
he'd put on his favorite off-duty outfit, the blue one B'Elanna had given to him
because it was her favorite color on him. Then he'd replicate some popcorn and
watch a few of those old cartoons. That would make him feel at home.
Tom headed toward the bathroom, though he took his time getting there,
stopping to look at every little thing along the short distance--the picture of
B'Elanna and him in the Delta Flyer after their wedding, and the one of them in
Neelix's resort just after they'd started dating; the stuffed targ and teddy bear
sitting side by side on the dresser, the familiar clothes arranged neatly in the
drawers--his on the left and B'Elanna's on the right. As he looked and touched,
piece by piece, his life fell into place again.
Tom woke up from a restless sleep, in a cold sweat. He sat up and stared into
the dimness, and saw the shadow of a bat'leth on the wall of his apartment.
Even as he wondered how it had gotten there, he remembered that he was on
Voyager, in his own quarters--his and B'Elanna's quarters...
He rolled onto his back and looked at B'Elanna, who was curled up next to him,
asleep. He'd dreamed that she was still missing. He'd been back on Quarren,
desperate to find her. Yerid had informed him that a month had passed and
they were calling off the search. He'd begged Yerid not to give up, but Yerid
had just repeated that the case was closed, and advised him to accept the fact
the B'Elanna was gone, forever.
Tom could feel his heart still beating hard in his chest. It had only been a
dream. He touched B'Elanna, to reassure himself. She stirred a little, and
murmured something in her sleep. He traced the sleeve of her gown, the red
one she'd replicated several weeks ago to accommodate her advancing
pregnancy, and trailed his fingers lightly along her arm. Her skin felt warm and
soft. He skimmed his hand below her breasts, to where her belly started to rise-
B'Elanna stirred again, and spoke, her voice groggy. "Tom?"
"I'm sorry I woke you."
Her eyes opened just a little. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing. I just had a...dream." He rubbed her shoulder. "Go back to sleep."
B'Elanna reached out and touched his damp forehead, fully awake now. "It
must have been a bad one."
"I was on Quarren, and you were gone. No one would help me look for you.
Yerid closed the case--"
B'Elanna scooted closer to him and slipped her arm over his chest. Then she
rested her head on his shoulder. "I'm here. We're both here, on Voyager."
Tom wrapped his arms around her and kissed her hair. "I know. It was just a
B'Elanna sighed. "I dreamed about Quarren the first couple of nights too. It
takes awhile for it to completely fade."
"The false memories are like some strange story I heard about someone else's
life," Tom said. "They don't seem real now. But those weeks when I was
actually on Quarren--when we both were on Quarren--that happened. Even if
we didn't know who we were, we lived those moments."
"I know. It is part of us now." B'Elanna patted his chest. "But I don't mind
remembering that you were protective of me."
Tom smiled. She'd thanked him for that already, after she'd come back from
engineering. Then they'd snuggled together on the couch where he'd been
watching cartoons, content to revel in the sense of normalcy again. After awhile
they'd gone beyond snuggling, and the cartoons had been completely forgotten.
"It wasn't all bad for us on Quarren," B'Elanna said lightly. "Despite the false
They hadn't had a chance to talk about that yet. Tom shook his head. "It occurs
to me after the fact that the memories of my supposed past were very vague. I
knew I came from Earth but I just had hazy images of it--not the real Earth
either, but some place full of pollution and crime. And I knew I got spacesick but
there was no specific incident I actually recalled. I didn't realize or care how
strange it was that my past was so sketchy."
"I didn't either," B'Elanna said. "That was part of the brainwashing process I
suppose, a kind of unquestioning acceptance and disinterest in our pasts. They
replaced our real memories with a much less complex construct, and we didn't
even notice." She raised her head and looked at Tom wryly. "I was pregnant,
and it didn't occur to me to wonder about what or who helped me get to that
Tom had wondered if she'd had a picture of a particular man in her mind. The
thought that she might not have cheered him immensely. "You didn't know?"
B'Elanna shook her head. "I knew there'd been *someone* of course, but when
I thought of him, he was just some shadowy figure. I didn't even have any
memories of how we--well, of him, or of us together. I just knew that he was
human and that he'd...left me."
Tom heard the slight falter in her voice. He knew that was one of her worst
fears because of her father's abandonment, though she'd made progress
conquering it recently. It was ironic that she'd had to experience it again on
Quarren. "I'm sorry."
"For what? It didn't really happen." B'Elanna paused, then added, "Though I did
believe it had happened, and it made me wary of trusting you on Quarren."
"You were wary of trusting me on Voyager for a long time too," Tom reminded
her. That had always been an issue with B'Elanna.
She smiled ruefully. "I know. Our real memories may have been blocked on
Quarren, but it seems like our core personalities remained intact."
Tom had noticed that too. "It was probably easier to accomplish that way,
layering on just enough to make us think we actually belonged on Quarren, but
not changing our natures so much that we would have problems adjusting."
"I wonder why they changed Tuvok's personality then?"
That was a good question. Tom shrugged. "Maybe they didn't want him being
his usual logical self, or he might have realized immediately that his false
memories were too vague to make sense."
"Instead they altered his personality so much that it didn't completely take."
Tom nodded. If Tuvok hadn't figured out something was wrong, and then turned
Seven on to what was happening, most of them would still be on Quarren right
now, unaware of their real lives.
"Do you wonder what would have happened if we hadn't been rescued?"
"Harry, Neelix and the Doc would never have left until they'd found a way to get
us all back," Tom said with certainty. "But even if by some incredible odds they
hadn't been successful, and we'd been stuck living our lives on Quarren with our
altered memories, I *know* what would have happened."
"Uh huh. I had it planned already. I was going to insinuate myself into your life,
and seduce you with my boyish charm until you realized that you couldn't live
B'Elanna's eyebrows rose at his smug look. "You were pretty confident for a
"A *mere* bartender?" Tom asked. "I'll have you know I was a very fine
"You're a better pilot," B'Elanna told him. Then she rested her head on his
"I meant what I said. From the first moment I saw you on Quarren, even though
I didn't know who you were, I knew I had to find a way to be part of your life, and
your baby's. I wouldn't have given up until I succeeded."
"I wouldn't have tried very hard to stop you," B'Elanna said softly. She snuggled
closer to him, her belly pressed against his side. "And she's *our* baby."
Yes, she was. During the three weeks they'd been on Quarren, B'Elanna's belly
had grown. He'd felt the difference on the couch last night, and he felt it now.
Their daughter had grown, and was closer to being born. Tom squeezed
B'Elanna's hand, and he felt the cool metal of her wedding ring. "I meant to ask
you, these aren't our original wedding rings, are they?"
"No. I assume the original ones are still down on Quarren, wherever the
appropriated items of brainwashed victims end up. They probably got tossed in
some garbage chute."
Tom heard the ire in her voice. "These rings look exactly the same," he said
gently. "And they mean the same thing."
B'Elanna sighed. "I know. Once I started remembering us, I wanted my ring
back again. And I wanted to make sure you had yours when you got home, so I
found the design in your files and replicated it."
"I'm glad you did. And I'm sorry you had to go through all that by yourself. I
know it was a harder process for you, since the doctor hadn't refined the
"It was confusing--even a little frightening--knowing I had this life I couldn't
remember at all. But the memories came back. Neelix helped me, and I just
kept looking at things until I recognized them. I also read some of the mission
logs, and my personal logs." She shifted a little next to him. "And I read your
Tom's eyebrows rose. "My personal logs?"
B'Elanna lifted her head and looked at him solemnly. "When I found out that you
were my husband, I was...stunned." Her lips twitched a little. "Not that I was
unhappy about it exactly, but it was disconcerting finding out that I was married
to someone I thought I'd just met a few days earlier. I wanted to know *who*
you really were, why I married you, and if you...loved me. I thought your logs
would help me remember."
"Did they?" Tom asked.
"Yes." B'Elanna rubbed her thumb absently over his collarbone. "You said
some very sweet things about me, Tom."
Tom smiled at the genuine gratification in her voice. "What did you expect? I
love you, B'Elanna."
"I got that," B'Elanna said softly. "I'm not sure I deserved so much praise,
though it was nice to read. And I know I probably shouldn't have pried--"
"B'Elanna, you can read my personal logs anytime you want. I don't have
anything to hide."
B'Elanna smiled. "Thanks. If you want to read my personal logs, you can too."
"Sure. Just skip the early parts where I said you were an arrogant pig and that
I'd like to shove out an airlock."
Tom chuckled. Those would probably be the best parts. "When I read that, I'll
just think about how far we've come. And I have a confession too. I read your
"My journal? What...oh."
Tom saw the comprehension dawn on B'Elanna's face. "I let myself into your
apartment the night you disappeared."
"You *let* yourself in?"
"I rewired the keycard panel," Tom said, without apology. "I was worried about
you after I heard you were abducted. I was hoping I'd find some clue about
where you'd been taken. And I also wanted to know who *you* were." His lips
curved wryly. "After all, here I was, this carefree bartender transfixed by a
beautiful, intriguing, and very pregnant woman I'd just met, and certain that I
wanted to build a future with her. I wanted to know what it was about you that
had completely bewitched me."
B'Elanna smiled. "Did you find out?"
"I found out enough. I'd already decided I was going to do whatever it took to
keep in my life, and after reading your journal I was even more determined to
find you again, one way or another."
B'Elanna smile softened, and she rested her head on his shoulder again. "It
seems like we're destined to be with each other, no matter what."
Though she said it teasingly, and Tom had never been one to put much faith in
the concept of destiny, in this case he wanted to believe it was so. It was true
that no matter how upside down their lives got turned, B'Elanna and he always
gravitated to each other, even when they weren't themselves. "Maybe we are,"
They were silent for several moments. B'Elanna rubbed Tom's chest, her breath
caressing his throat, and he played with a strand of her hair. She was the first to
speak again. "Are the remnants of your dream gone?"
"Yeah." He'd almost forgotten it now. "I'm sorry I'm keeping you awake."
"It's five twenty-six hours anyway."
Tom glanced at the chronometer. He hadn't realized it was almost morning.
"We have to be up in an hour. There's not much point in going back to sleep
Tom shifted on his side so he could look at her, and he pressed a hand to her
belly. "You have a full shift to work. You should be getting all your sleep."
B'Elanna frowned. "That protective stuff I thought was sweet--it has its limits,
Tom. I've gotten enough sleep. Besides I don't consider my job on Voyager
work at all. I really missed being in engineering."
Tom thought of the bridge, and the helm. He knew how she felt. "My fingers
are already itching to fondle the helm controls."
B'Elanna took the obvious opening he gave her. "Are they itching to fondle
something else first?"
Tom smiled wolfishly. "Is that an invitation?"
"Could be," B'Elanna drawled as she shifted and slung one leg over him.
After four years Tom knew B'Elanna's every move. He expected her to sit up
and straddle him, her most frequent method of initiating their lovemaking.
Instead she simply curled over him like a blanket--despite the growing size of
her pregnancy--and tucked her head under his chin, her unspoken way of telling
him that she just wanted him to hold her. Tom obliged her, and she sighed
contentedly when his arms closed comfortably around her. He knew they'd get
to the other...whenever.
"What are you thinking?" he asked her after a few moments.
"That I'm happy to be home."
Tom smiled. So was he. Immensely happy. There were no words to fully
express it, so he settled for the simple but completely heartfelt rejoinder, "Me,
A little over two hours later, B'Elanna kissed Tom solidly on the lips in the middle
of the mess hall. Then she flashed him a quick, smug smile as he stared at her,
speechless. "See you tonight."
Tom watched her stride out of the mess hall, her steps light but purposeful. It
wasn't often that B'Elanna was overtly demonstrative in public, but it wasn't often
that they reclaimed their lives after three weeks of altered existence. Not often,
but this was Voyager after all.
Tom looked toward the few dozen others gathered for breakfast. He received
several amused smiles from those who'd obviously seen B'Elanna's action.
He'd already noticed that the mood in the mess hall was more subdued than
usual this morning, but it was a contented silence. Some still looked a little tired
from the transition back to their real lives, though relief was evident on
everyone's face. He caught Naomi's curious gaze and winked at her. She
"The good thing about kids is that they heal fast."
Tom turned to Neelix, who gave him a conspiratorial smile. "Naomi told me she
saw this all as an 'adventure.' She's going to use the whole experience as a
story for her creative writing assignment."
"Well, I'm glad she sees it that way," Tom said. "It was an unsettling experience,
but it wasn't really unpleasant."
Neelix gave Tom a shrewd look as he removed the breakfast dishes Tom had
returned to the counter. "Still, you look very happy to be back on Voyager."
"Oh, I am," Tom said. "Don't get me wrong. I can only be so philosophical
about it now because I've got my real life back."
"I take it you're not feeling spacesick today?"
Tom grinned at Neelix's sly look. "Nope."
"That's good to hear. It wouldn't be seemly for the chief pilot to be getting ill on
"No, it wouldn't."
Tom swiveled at the voice behind him. "Good morning, Ka--ptain."
The name he'd gotten used to calling her over the past week or so had almost
come out of his mouth before he could stop it, but he'd made a valiant effort to
save himself. And a darn good one. No one should have been able to detect
his near gaffe. But Kathryn Janeway gave him a penetrating look. "Tom," she
replied. He thought he saw her lips twitch a little. "Neelix, I think I'll take that
second cup of coffee."
Neelix turned away to retrieve the coffee, and Tom stammered, "Uh, Captain..."
Janeway patted Tom's arm. "Don't worry about it. We're all still adjusting. It's a
little confusing reconciling two different lives, even if one was very short-lived."
"Jaffen seemed like a nice man," Neelix said as he handed Janeway her cup of
Janeway's expression stilled for a moment, but she said in a casual voice, "Yes,
he was. I just came back from escorting him to the transporter room. He
enjoyed breakfast, and the tour of the ship."
Neelix nodded, looking pleased. "Good. I'm sure it meant a lot to him to see
where you work and live. Now, I'd better get this oatmeal served before it gets
Tom and the captain watched Neelix hustle off, carrying a tray loaded with
several fresh bowls of oatmeal. Tom felt Janeway's gaze on him.
"So, it looks like you do have a true calling after all, Tom."
The captain's expression was amused, and Tom recognized her reference,
though he'd half-expected her to leave the conversations they'd had on Quarren
unmentioned. "It's a little disturbing how easily I could be made to forget
something that is so important to me."
"Kadan was very good at what he did. After all, I had no problem believing that I
was a mid-level engineer with no other aspirations."
"It wasn't a bad thing to be," Tom said. He didn't have to add that her life on
Quarren had offered other advantages not available to her on Voyager. She
already knew it.
"No, it wasn't a bad thing to be. I don't think any of us suffered too much on
Quarren, but it really wasn't us, was it?"
"No," Tom agreed. He for one was certainly glad to be back on Voyager. No
contest. He hesitated for a moment as Janeway sipped her coffee, her direct
gaze still on him. "Captain, if anything I said on Quarren was inappropriate..."
"You mean when you hit on me?" she asked dryly.
"I wasn't--I didn't...I mean, I did, but I was just--"
"Tom, stop," Janeway said with a soft laugh. "It wasn't inappropriate on
Quarren. We were different people there."
"I was hoping you might forget it happened."
"I don't think I will," Janeway told him, her smile a little sly. "It was...entertaining
seeing that old, flirtatious side of you, Tom. Though even on Quarren you
weren't really interested in anyone but B'Elanna."
Tom nodded. It was true. "Something drew me to her on Quarren, even
though I didn't know who she was there."
"Maybe some part of you *did* know," Janeway said. She gave him a thoughtful
look. "It does seem that no amount of brainwashing can completely erase your
connection to each other."
"Maybe we're just destined to be together, Captain," Tom said, remembering
"I'm not much of a believer in predetermination or fate," Janeway replied.
"That's Chakotay's forte. I think the real explanation is simply that you have a
steady heart, Tom, and you always follow it. In this case, right to B'Elanna."
Tom had never thought of it that way, but he decided to take it as a compliment.
"Thank you, Captain."
Janeway smiled. "You don't need to thank me for the truth. Besides, it's also
gotten you in trouble before," she pointed out, and he knew she was referring to
the Moneans. "Anyway, I know you're glad to be back on Voyager, with your
wife and baby."
Tom nodded. "I am."
They looked at each other silently for a moment, and though he knew it was
risky, Tom decided to say it anyway. "I'm sorry, Captain."
"About what?" Janeway asked.
Janeway's expression didn't shutter as Tom might have expected. "There's no
reason for that, Tom."
"I'm sure we could have found a position for him on Voyager. If not as an
engineer, then as an ambassador with experience in local Delta quadrant
cultures, like Neelix."
"His place is on Quarren, and that's where he's content to be."
Janeway's voice was mild, but Tom wondered if what she said was completely
true. If she had offered Jaffen a position on Voyager, Tom thought Jaffen might
have seriously considered it. But Tom didn't have to ask if Janeway had offered;
he knew the answer. She wouldn't compromise her principles, or jeopardize her
position, no matter how much it personally cost her. "You were happy with him."
Janeway didn't deny his quiet observation. "Yes, I was, and I don't regret those
three weeks at all. But Voyager is where I belong. I have what I want right
"Everything you want?" Tom asked, then immediately knew he shouldn't have
when the captain gave him a piercing look. But she didn't give him time to
"We don't get always get *everything* we want, do we?" Janeway said wryly.
"Though you may be one of the few exceptions, Tom."
Tom couldn't argue with that. "I'm a lucky man."
"Not lucky. You worked hard for what you have." Janeway set her empty cup
on the counter. "As for me, I'm very content to be back on Voyager. And now I
have to make a stop or two before I get to the bridge."
"I'll see you there, Captain."
"Yes--oh, I almost forgot. There is a question I was meaning to ask you before
this all happened. What do you think about surprising B'Elanna with a baby
"A baby shower?"
Janeway's eyebrows rose. "Yes, a party where your friends give you gifts for
Tom grinned at her gentle sarcasm. "I know. I just hadn't thought about it yet.
B'Elanna usually hates surprises. She'll probably grouse about everyone
making a fuss over her...and she'll love every single minute of it."
Janeway nodded, satisfied. "That's what I thought. In a week or two, once
we're all completely settled into our routine again, I'll talk to Neelix about it. In
the meantime, don't you say a word to B'Elanna."
Tom feigned an insulted look. "Captain, do you think I can't keep a secret?"
Janeway smiled dryly. "Oh, I think when you *want* to, Tom, you can keep your
mouth shut tighter than an airlock seal." She turned away but added over her
shoulder, "Your shift on the bridge starts in ten minutes. Don't be late on your
first day back."
Tom watched the captain leave, his expression pensive. However content the
captain might say she was on Voyager, he couldn't help but see that she'd
sacrificed a part of herself for the good of her ship and crew, a part that had
reawakened during those few weeks on Quarren. Despite the fact that she'd
believed herself to be someone else, Tom knew that ease and even playfulness
she'd displayed on Quarren was part of her personality. Just a part she was
rarely at liberty to express on Voyager.
The situation the past few weeks had been temporary--and involuntary--but the
general circumstances had always been within the realm of possibility. They'd
been close to losing Voyager several times. At some point the crew might have
been forced to colonize somewhere--either by integrating themselves into a
planetary population like Quarren's, or by setting up their own colony on a
deserted Delta quadrant planet. If it had happened, Tom wondered if he'd seen
the Kathryn Janeway who would have emerged, freed of the restrictions of her
He suspected he had. On Voyager her position was a barrier that precluded her
from having a truly equal relationship with anyone, even Chakotay or Tuvok, and
certainly any relationship deeper than friendship. He knew there'd been a time
when the captain and Chakotay might have become intimate, if that option had
been available. If the crew had been forced to colonize in the early years, Tom
suspected they would have willingly taken that option instead of letting their
relationship settle permanently into an almost formal friendship in recent years.
Planetary life would have certainly been very different for all of them, but it
would have been especially so for Kathryn Janeway--
"Is there something else you need, Tom?"
Neelix had moved behind the counter again, and was looking at Tom quizzically.
Tom shook his head. "No, I'm fine. I was just...thinking."
Neelix nodded. "Not everyone is leaving Quarren free of regrets."
On occasion Tom had wondered if Neelix's cheerful loquaciousness was a
deliberate front to hide the fact that he was really a sagacious nine-hundred year
old being hiding behind an artless smile and colorful clothing, just waiting for the
right moment to reveal his true identity. He'd dismissed that idea of course, but
Neelix's moments of perception still surprised him sometimes. "I think the
captain will really miss Jaffen."
Neelix's expression was sympathetic. "She will. But she'd miss Voyager more."
Tom nodded. "You're right, Neelix." He knew she'd mourn losing Jaffen in her
own way, but he also knew the pain would be small in comparison to what she'd
suffer if something happened to Voyager. Kathryn Janeway had as steady a
heart as anyone. It was just reserved for her ship and her crew. Anything and
anyone else came second.
"There's no time limit on good memories."
Tom met Neelix's steady gaze. He *was* glad the captain had been able to
experience something denied her on Voyager, even for only three weeks. And
that she had those real memories to keep. "By the way, Neelix, I haven't
thanked you yet for spending so much time with B'Elanna while she was getting
back her memory. She told me you took her around and helped her recall her
Neelix shrugged the thanks off as he picked up another tray. "I'm her friend, and
yours, Tom. Isn't it a human saying that goes 'what else are friends for?'"
Tom smiled. What else indeed. "I'd better get to the bridge before I'm late."
"It wouldn't do to be late on your first day back," Neelix agreed as he moved
from behind the counter, tray in hand. He winked at Tom as he passed. "Have
Tom grinned as he turned and made his way to the mess hall doors. That was
one of the first things he'd remembered about his real life. He *always* had fun
at the helm.
A few minutes later Tom's hands were moving over those helm controls with
sure, deft precision as he prepared Voyager for departure. It felt good to be
back where he belonged. Mixing drinks had been a diversion, and he had to
admit he'd enjoyed it at the time, but this--there was no comparison. This was
his real love.
This and his wife. She'd called a couple of minutes ago, right after he'd taken
his position on the bridge, to tell him as chief engineer to chief pilot that the warp
engines were online and engineering was standing by for warp engagement.
Then, as was her habit, she'd admonished him to fly straight and not to do
anything to stress her engines. He'd heard the satisfaction underlying her mock
scolding, as if she too was very happily in her element again.
Tom heard the turbolift doors swish open as he finished the preflight navigation
sequence, and Harry immediately announced, "Captain on the bridge."
Even without Harry's words Tom would have recognized Janeway's footsteps as
she crossed the bridge. Over the years he'd learned to recognize everyone's--
Chakotay's, Tuvok's, Harry's, Seven's, and certainly B'Elanna's. It was odd how
personality could be reflected in sound of a footfall. In the captain's case it was
quick, firm, and confident as she approached the captain's chair.
Tom rarely listened closely to Janeway and Chakotay's conversations, though
they were near enough that he could usually hear them. Sometimes a word or
two caught his attention; other times their voices were just background noises
while his concentration was on his work, or on the stars.
This time he listened.
"Ready to go?" Chakotay asked.
There was a pause before Janeway spoke. "It may not have been real,
Chakotay, but it felt like home." Tom heard a hint of wistfulness in her voice. "If
you hadn't come after me, I never would have known that I had another life."
"Are you sorry I showed up?"
There was another significant pause. "Not for a second." This time Janeway's
voice was resolute, without a hint of uncertainty. "Resume course, Mister Paris."
The captain relayed that order the same way she always did, her tone one of
outright satisfaction and anticipation. Tom smiled with his own sense of
satisfaction as he set the course. Everything was in its rightful place again.
Everyone was back where they belonged--and exactly where they wanted to be-
-including Kathryn Janeway.
As for himself, the captain was right. He had his position at the helm, the stars
in front of him, a wife he loved, and a daughter on the way. He had everything
he could possibly want.
If he could help it, he wasn't about to forget it--or lose it--again.