Popcorn and Hot Chocolate
by Catherine Collingwood Hardee

Disclaimer: All things Voyager are the copyrighted property of Paramount Pictures and Viacom. This is fan fiction written for entertainment only. A check of my bank account will prove that any profit from this story is strictly intangible.

This story may not be copied or distributed without permission. 

Historical Note: Set immediately after the sixth-season episode "Pathfinder." 

Maybe I should have gone to B’Elanna. But as much as she might sympathize, I knew that night I needed someone who had been in the same situation I was facing, who could empathize and truly understand what I felt. I knew I definitely didn’t understand; maybe talking things over would help me figure out just what was going on in my head.

Still, it isn’t exactly proper Starfleet protocol to be standing outside your captain’s quarters at 2100 hours, ringing the chimes as if you’re a frequent guest. But Captain Janeway didn’t say a word about that. "Come in. What brings you by?"

I came just far enough in to let the door shut behind me, trying to figure out how to begin. How could I explain that I needed to talk to her, what I needed to talk about? I hadn't been able to get it off my mind all afternoon, ever since…

Ever since…

I took a deep breath, hoping it would steady me, but instead it had the reverse effect. "Captain…"

A look of concern crossed her face, and she extended a hand. "What is it, Tom?"

I tried another breath, but it didn't help any more than the first one. If anything, it made things worse. "He…he s-said he was…he was…p-proud of me."

And then, to my extreme embarrassment, I burst into tears.

Now, I'm not ashamed to be someone who cries; quite the opposite. But this was ridiculous. I'm over thirty. I should be able to control myself well enough to keep the tears for more appropriate times, such as when I'm in private or with someone else who doesn't mind them. Times that did not include the present situation.

But she didn't say a word about that either. Instead, she just put her arms around me and drew me down beside her on the couch. I could hear her voice, its tone gentle, as she spoke to me, but I couldn't make out the words. Still, her intent was clear; she simply rubbed my back and hair until I managed to get control of myself again.

After a few minutes, I lifted my head and realized she was smiling a little.

"Feel better?" she asked.

I was surprised to realize I did. "Actually, yes."

"Good." She used her thumb to wipe a tear from my face, but made no move to push me away. "You waited a long time to hear that, didn't you?"

"I…" Suddenly I noticed that her shoulder was soaking wet, and sat up a little more. "Captain, your shirt!"

"It'll dry." She got up, went over to a table, and handed me a towel. I wiped my face off while she crossed to the replicator. Eyeing me for a moment, she finally ordered two mugs of hot chocolate, with marshmallows, and a large bowl of popcorn. They materialized on a large tray and she brought them over to the coffee table.

I took one of the steaming mugs when she handed it to me. "This isn't your usual."

"Comfort food. My father used to make this for me when I was younger." She shrugged. "I tried so hard to be perfect so he would notice me and say he was proud of me. We were in his study eating this the night he finally told me just how proud he really was."

My curiosity was piqued. "How old were you?"

A rueful smile crossed her face. "Twenty-eight."

Despite the fact that I was still feeling a little shaky, I laughed. "So you do understand."

"Yes. I guess sometimes our fathers forget to tell us things they tell the rest of the world." She ate a few kernels of the popcorn. "You came up during that conversation, as a matter of fact."

"I did?"

"Yes. I was jealous of you."

That came as a surprise. "Jealous? Of me?" I mentally compared our ages. "I couldn’t have been much more than a first- or second-year cadet at the time."

"You were in your second year, if I remember correctly. I was working with your father at the time, and he was always talking about you. What you were doing, how much you'd accomplished. How proud he was of your work." She paused. "I was jealous because I thought my father wasn't as proud of me. I was wrong. The night I mentioned you was the night he told me about the things he said about me. Later, your father told me he still hadn't told me the half of it."

I had no idea what to say. "Captain, I didn't know."

"I never told you because I didn't think you would want to hear it." She took my hands. "Your father never stopped being proud of you, Tom, not even when he was puzzled and upset with your behavior. But he never told you. I want you to know all the things he used to say about you."

And she told me. She began with the time Dad had told her about taking me to the simulators at the Academy when I was five (I never knew how astonished he'd been when he realized I knew all the controls) and ended with a description of the look on his face when he got the call about my arrest. It hadn't been anger, she told me. It had been anguish. He'd blamed himself for not being a better father.

By the time she finished, the popcorn was gone and our hot chocolate had gotten cold. This time, both of us had tears in our eyes.

I knew it was another breach of protocol, but this time, I didn't care: I drew her into a tight hug. "Thank you for telling me all of this, Captain. It means a lot."

She drew back a little to face me, but didn't break the embrace. "I just wish it could have been Admiral Paris who told you, instead of me. He should have been the one."

"I think," I said slowly, "that he would be glad to know that someone told me when I needed to hear it the most. Even if it couldn't have been him."

She smiled. "Maybe when we get home you can tell him how much this meant to you."

It was well after midnight when I got back to my quarters. B'Elanna dropped by the next morning to have breakfast before we went on duty.

"How are you feeling?" she asked. "I heard about what happened on the bridge yesterday, and I came by last night, thinking you might want some company. But you weren't here."

"I'm all right," I answered. "I was talking to the captain about my father. She told me some things I never knew about him."

"Did it help?"

I raised my coffee, thinking that hot chocolate would have been just as good. "Quite a bit."