DISCLAIMER - What would they do if I said that it belonged to ME? Hmmm, something to consider, but for now, I'll stick with the standard stuff. It's NOT mine, it belongs to TPTB at Paramount. All hail. 
This is a P/T story with a good amount of J/C. NO, it's not the other way around, but only becasue Tom and B'Elanna are the main characters.(I think) Um, this is kind of a learning lessons type thing (hey, that's a great title!), so there will be some angst, some swearing, and a happy ending. I guess that I'm a little mean to my main characters, but hey, that's life, right? It works out. Trust me. 
There's a surprising amount of Janeway-bashing, which isn't like me, but after recent events ("Thirty Days" and "Nothing Human"), it would seem that Paris and Torres would not be happy with the good Captain. Actually, I suppose I'm not nice to anybody. I can't really write pure, unadultered, MUSH, so this is actually a story. The characters are just dark versions of themselves at some points. 
Megs, sKeppy, MM, whatever your name may be, I hope to hell you like this, cause you're the one who told me that "J/C is non-existent, but P/T . . . ." Hope you're happy. 
Rated PG-13 

"Would you give me that isolinear relay?" snapped B'Elanna Torres, totally beyond civility. The warp core had crashed, due to the damn gel packs, and the Captain wanted her ship up and running NOW. The words cruel and unusual popped into the lieutenant's mind as she stuck her head out from under the console to see who it was that hadn't handed her the relay. "SEVEN! I said get me the isolinear relay NOW!" 
"Lieutenant, I am endeavoring in solve the problem by realigning the proto matter junction with the circuit housing. If I am successful, you will not need the isolinear relay." Seven continued to punch buttons, oblivious to the Chief Engineer's Klingon temper. 
"Seven. I said give me the isolinear relay NOW. Engineering is MY department, that is MY warp core, and we do things MY way here. If you have a problem with that, go complain to Janeway, who is the only one who CARES!" She muttered a string of curses under her breath, then held out her hand. "The relay?" 
Seven put the offending piece of equipment lightly into B'Elanna's hand, but said, "Anger is irrelevant. It is not useful in the collective. In the Borg, you would have been deactivated by now." Seven went back to her task of realigning the junction and the circuit housing, leaving a fuming B'Elanna Torres in her wake. 

Three hours later, B'Elanna stormed into the mess hall, letting people get out of her way, rather than displaying common courtesy and stepping aside. She scanned the mess hall for Tom - he was supposed to meet her here about an hour ago - when she got off shift, but she had been delayed. The damn isolinear relay had blown a fuse. The warp core didn't crash again, but it took more than enough time to fix the problems. She was hoping that Tom would still be there. 
"B'Elanna!" She turned at the sound of his voice, just in time to see him rushing towards her. "There you are!" 
"Sorry I'm late," she said after kissing him quickly. Their relationship was old news, but public displays of emotions were still enough to draw some catcalls or stares. "The damn warp core. Doesn't Janeway realize that I'm not a miracle worker?" B'Elanna growled as Tom led her to a seat away from the rush. 
Tom wisely said nothing. If he said yes, she'd accuse him of doubting her abilities as Chief Engineer and shove him into the warp core, and if he said no, she'd accuse him of patronizing her and shove him into the warp core. Silence was the best option. 
"And on top of that, SEVEN was there, quoting Borg literature the entire time!" 
"You know that the Borg don't have literature," said Harry Kim, pulling up a chair. "They just assimilate it." 
"Oh, shut up, Starfleet!" said B'Elanna. "You're her number one fan, go justify yourself to the drone herself!" 
Harry held up his hands in a gesture of surrender, glancing at Tom cautiously. Paris shook his head, shrugging his shoulders as discreetly as he could. Harry tried a different tactic. "Bad day?" 
B'Elanna just glared at him. Harry beat a hasty retreat, deciding that now was NOT the time to set up holodeck time with Tom. 
"How was the day on the bridge, Helmboy?" asked Torres, a little friendlier now that they didn't have company. 
Tom shrugged. "Captain locked herself in the ready room all day, the Commander was awful to everyone, and Tuvok took great pleasure in calling me ‘Ensign Paris' all day. Other than that, I'd say it was just GREAT." B'Elanna put a comforting arm around his shoulders. 
"Sounds like your day was up there with mine. The damn isolinear relays kept breaking, Carey couldn't get his job done - his hands kept slipping. I had to send him to sickbay, and who does the Captain send down after hearing about this? Seven of Nine. And Janeway's direct words were ‘I'm sure she can help, and I want you to give her a chance, Lieutenant.' She seems to have it in for me." 
"You're not the only one. She DEMOTED me, B'Elanna! ME! Doesn't she know that there's a line that she isn't supposed to cross?" Tom ran a tired hand over his face, still upset over his Captain's actions. 
"The only people that she ever gets along with are Tuvok and her boyfriend, Chakotay," snarled Torres. 
Tom raised an eyebrow, then both, as she said this. "Do you know something that I don't, B'Ela?" He leaned forward a conspiratorial gleam in his blue eyes. Tom smiled mischievously, asking her to tell all. 
"You're so cute when you do that, Helmboy. No, I don't know anything - not that Chakotay would tell me if anything DID happen between him and the Captain." Their food arrived and B'Elanna, even with her redundant stomach, became nauseous at the sight of blue meat and gray vegetables. Tom turned an endearing shade of green. "What IS this?" 
Tom poked at the food. He wasn't sure if it was dead. "I don't know. But, I am willing to treat a lovely lady to dinner in my quarters on my rations, if she'd like." 
B'Elanna was, as always, a little embarrassed by his sentimentality, but she grasped his hand, and they walked out of the mess hall like that, the inedible meal left behind on their plates. 

In the ready room, Captain Janeway sat at her desk, reading the eternally present and hated reports. What was this one? Seven and B'Elanna weren't getting along? That was old news, though she had hoped that in fixing the ship Seven could come to terms with the hierarchy on Voyager, and that B'Elanna could learn to take suggestions. It didn't seem likely, as B'Elanna's report stated that Seven had disobeyed her direct orders, and Seven's report stated that B'Elanna was violent when her orders were violated for "more logical ideas." Janeway rubbed her temples, wishing that there was a way for her to fix all of the problems on her ship with a snap of her fingers. 
She quickly took that thought back when she thought of Q, who was probably listening to her mind. She did not want to hear from the annoyingly omnipotent, immortal being who ruled the continuum. She looked at the chronometer on her desk terminal. Her shift had ended over three hours ago. Chakotay would be waiting with dinner - they had dinner together every other day, and he was cooking. 
She stood up from her desk, hoping for a massage or a long, hot bath. She exited the ready room, nodding to beta shift as she did so, then ordering the turbolift to the officer's quarters. 

"Report!" The classic line was delivered in the middle of the ship's night, during Gamma shift when the least experienced bridge officers had the conn. The red alert klaxons had woken the ship. 
Janeway strode onto the bridge, her hair in disarray, her uniform jacket unzipped. Motioning the Lieutenant on duty out of her seat, Janeway took her place as the report was delivered. 
"They just came out of nowhere," said the ensign at Ops - it wasn't Harry. "A massive explosion to the port side of Voyager. We were thrown out of warp, though no systems were damaged." 
Harry and Tom came barreling through the turbolift, taking their stations. Harry reiterated what the previous crewman had said. Chakotay was beside her, and Tuvok was at his station before she had reached the bridge. That meant that B'Elanna was down fixing the problem. 
"Janeway to Engineering." 
"Torres here, Captain." 
"When will we have warp capabilities, Lieutenant?" 
In Engineering, Torres wiped a hand across her face. "Well, Captain, I can't be sure. It appears that whatever it was caused massive decrystalization of the dilithium in the warp core. I can give you warp one right now, but not for more than thirty-six hours. We have to find somewhere with di- or trilithium in order for us to continue beyond impulse speed." Torres punched buttons and yanked wires, but to no avail. The ship wasn't going anywhere for a while. 
"Thank you, Lieutenant," said Janeway on the bridge, throwing a disheartened glance at Chakotay. He showed no real reaction, just nodded and tapped at the console between their chairs. "Janeway to Stellar Cartography." 
"Henley here, Captain," put in the young man. 
"Do we have any information on this area of space, or can we initiate long-range scans for dilithium?" asked Janeway, ever the scientist. 
"Well, Captain," said Henley, frantically searching for information decks below the bridge, "we can initiate a long-range scan, but there is not much information on the area ahead of us. We have no charts, Captain." In Stellar Cartography, Henley scanned through every chart they had - to no avail. "I'm sorry, Captain," he repeated. 
On the bridge, the Captain sat down in her chair, very frustrated. She turned to Chakotay, asking, "Well, Commander, any ideas?" 
He rubbed his chin, thinking. "There is one option that I can think of, Captain," he said. "You could send an away team out in a shuttle, and they could search for a planet with dilithium. Or, we could refit the shuttle and take the dilithium out of the warp core to power Voyager until we come across a planet with enough dilithium to allow us to continue our trip." 
Janeway massaged her temples, feeling a headache start to come on. "Senior staff meeting in five minutes." 
There was a call put through the shipwide intercom, and in five minutes, B'Elanna, Seven, and the Doctor had joined the bridge staff in the briefing room. 
Tom sat next to B'Elanna, who was still sulking. The warp core - HER warp core - was broken once again. When she had agreed to be Chief Engineer, she had not counted on this. But she loved what she was doing, warp core or none. 
"Thank you for getting here so quickly," started Janeway, with nodded thanks in B'Elanna's direction. Torres barely smiled in acknowledgment. "As you are aware, we have dropped out of warp. Due to an external explosion, we don't have the dilithium we need to continue. At Commander Chakotay's recommendation, I have made the following decision. We will remain here, at a full stop, while three people go out in the Delta Flyer to search for a planet with a large supply of dilithium. In the event that that is found, the away team will collect the dilithium, warp back here, and we will be on our way." She paused, taking in the expressions of the entire senior staff. B'Elanna was sullen, but Tom looked like this would be a lot of fun. 
"If the away team fails to find a suitable source of dilithium, within the trip of a month, they are to return here, and we will sabotage the engines of both the Delta Flyer and the shuttles, and continue as best we can. Do I have any objections?" 
Tom shook his head no, eager for another adventure. Janeway looked at each person individually. Tom was full of energy, though Tuvok and Seven showed no expression. The doctor was thoughtful, and B'Elanna was quiet and unmoving. She shook her head no to the question. 
"Captain," said the EMH, "I have a question." Janeway nodded for him to continue, and he scratched his head thoughtfully. "Who are the crewmembers that are going to be out in the Delta Flyer for two months? I hope that you pick people in peak physical condition, and who are good officers." The doctor smiled to himself smugly. 
Janeway answered without so much as a second's hesitation. "The three out on the Delta Flyer will be Ensign Paris, Ensign Vorik, and Neelix." 
The senior staff looked around, rather appalled at the Captain's decisions. Was she out of her mind? B'Elanna sat up straight with a yelp of "WHAT?" 
"If you would give me a minute to explain, I will," said Janeway. B'Elanna relaxed into her chair. The Captain continued on without another glance at anyone. Beside her, Chakotay was nodding her along. "I have chosen these three with Commander Chakotay's assistance, so any complaints can be addressed to either of us," she said. "Mister Paris will be going for the obvious reason that he is our best pilot, and we will need our best pilot on this mission, not here at a full stop." She looked at Tom, who's smile could have powered the ship, then to Torres. B'Elanna was trying to contain her emotions, but was obviously upset at the turn of events. Janeway pushed past, but promised to talk the young engineer. 
"Ensign Vorik has been assigned to this mission because Lieutenant Carey is in sickbay, and Lieutenant Torres has to stay here in the event that yet another crisis happens in Engineering. We need our best engineer in the case that my ship decides to act up." Torres was happy at the admission that Janeway acknowledged her position, but, but, VORIK! The slimy Vulcan had given her Pon Farr, and started a whole strange string of events. VORIK?! 
"And lastly," continued Janeway, "Neelix has been our ambassador for a great deal of time, and it is only appropriate that he put his skills to use. He has more knowledge of the Delta Quadrant than all of us put together, and he should use it." The Captain squared her shoulders and asked, "Any objections? Lieutenant Torres?" Janeway eyed the Chief Engineer suspiciously. 
"No, Ma'am," responded Torres, using the ‘ma'am' just to irritate her commanding officer. 
"Good. The Delta Flyer will depart tomorrow at 0800. Dismissed." The Captain rose and retired to her ready room, and the Commander walked onto the bridge to relieve Ayala, leaving the remainder of the senior staff to stare at each other in wonder. 
"I fail to comprehend the motives behind Captain Janeway's decision," said Seven. 
"Yeah. She could just sabotage the shuttles without the two month trip," put in Harry. 
"This is so exciting!" said Tom. "Just think about it!" 
B'Elanna's retort was sharp, and to the point. "I am." She marched out of the room, Tom Paris running after her, hoping that the next six hours would be enough time to repent for being the best pilot in the quadrant. 

Tom entered the override sequence into the keypad, and the door to B'Elanna's quarters slid aside without a sound. He entered cautiously, aware of the possibility of hard objects flying at his head. When none came, he stepped even further inside, looking around for the half-Klingon woman. She wasn't in the sitting room. 
Crossing the sitting room, Tom poked his head into the bedroom. The sight that greeted him was heart wrenching. Curled up on the seldom-used bed, was B'Elanna Torres. 
And she was sobbing her heart out. 
"Tom, it's not fair," she moaned. "Why does Janeway have to send you? And Vorik? Why Vorik? He's not the best engineer - I am. And, why not Chakotay instead of Neelix or you? Why does she have to send YOU?" 
Tom sat gingerly on the bed, putting his hand softly on her head, stroking her hair. He just let her cry, without trying to stop her tears. That would end in a violent confrontation, so he just sat there, hoping his presence was enough to comfort her. 
"Just when I was starting to . . . get my life back in order . . . after that, that, that thing about the Maquis - and Chakotay's wrong, I'm NOT not better. And Janeway has to send YOU. The one person I am really attached to on this ship is going away on a two month mission." Her voice ran out for a minute, and she buried her face in his leg. "Stupid Captain. Stupid quadrant with the damn aliens and Borg and vaporizing plasma disturbances that screw up my warp core." Her breath came in gasps, but Tom just stroked her head, and her back, riding out the storm. It was rare that she ever cried - she who was afraid to mourn for her lost colleagues in the Maquis, she who could rattle off more curses than Tom had heard in his life - she never cried. When she did, it was a scary thing. 
"My warp core matches your eyes, Helmboy." She almost smiled, wiping the tears away from her eyes and looking up at Tom. 
He lifted her up into a sitting position and held her close. "Hey, B'Elanna. I'm not going away for that long. It's just two months, and it'll be over before you know it. And then you'll have more to do with your warp core than you can imagine. And on this trip, I will torture Vorik just for you." He smiled. "You know, B'Elanna, this," he gestured to them, sitting together, "it's almost Vorik's fault, if you think about it." 
"Yeah," mumbled B'Elanna. "Thank Vorik for me, Tom." 
The lighting was dim, the sheets rumpled - Tom could think of several situations that had played out in a setting like this before, but those options were far from his mind this evening. 
"I will, B'Ela, I will." 
"And you'll be back before I know it." 
"Um hmm." 
"Turn out the lights, I wanna sleep." 
"Okay. I'll tuck you in." 
B'Elanna nodded her head and allowed Tom to remove her Starfleet-issue boots and her jacket. He stretched her out on the bed and pulled the covers up to her neck, murmuring sweet nothings the entire time. 
"Lights off," he whispered after he eyes were closed and her breathing became slower and more regular. She didn't look like the Klingon warrior when she slept, he thought. It was a peaceful thing, something that he felt privileged to see. He left the bedroom, and sat at the desk in the sitting room. 
"Dad," he said softly, programming B'Elanna as unavailable for the next six hours, "what do you think of me now?" There was no answer, of course, but Tom felt that he had finally accomplished something worthwhile. He had B'Elanna Torres - and that he could sit and comfort her without thoughts of anything more - that was an accomplishment. Six years before, before the Delta Quadrant, that wouldn't have been possible. "So, Dad. Even if I never see you again I want you to know that I'm not so bad anymore." He rose and walked to the bedroom, kicking off his boots and removing his jacket and turtleneck. "Not anymore." 
Tom Paris fell asleep, perfectly peaceful, something he hadn't felt in a long time. 

At 0756, Tom and B'Elanna arrived in shuttle bay two, the home of the Delta Flyer. The entire senior staff was present, with some random additions from the crew. Sam and Naomi Wildman were there, seeing off Neelix, Naomi asking insistent questions about the mission. The senior staff marveled at the maturity behind her questions. "Well, it looks like you may have to take the girl on as your assistant," joked Chakotay. 
"What makes you think I hadn't already considered it?" retorted Janeway, leaving a very stunned Commander in her wake as she walked to the front of the small group that was gathered. "Well, I guess this means that it's time for the Delta Flyer to be off," said the Captain. 
Tom hugged B'Elanna with a whispered, "I'll be back," before breaking away and stepping onto the shuttle and initiating the pre-flight sequence. Vorik stepped over to Torres with a traditional "Live long and prosper," and was gone. Neelix was taking his sweet time saying goodbye to Naomi Wildman, who, for all of her brilliance, really was six years old - and having a hard time understanding where Uncle Neelix was going. He finally gave her a hug and walked away, saying to the Captain, "Thank you." Then he, too, was swallowed up into the shuttle. 
From the bridge, Tom gave a little wave, and the crew backed away as the Delta Flyer wheeled towards the exit, broke through the force field, and jumped to warp. 
The crew of Voyager returned to life as usual, despite the lack of their three members. 

Tom Paris watched as the stars shot by at insanely high speeds, while Vorik ran scans of the systems they were approaching, and Neelix fooled with the replicators. There was silence in the ship. "So," started Neelix. "What is everyone going to do when we get back to Voyager?" Stony silence greeted the Talaxian's question. "I, for one, am going to make Leola root omelettes. Ensign Kim likes them, so I have to please at least one person. What about you, Mister Vorik?" Neelix turned to the Vulcan with a cheeky grin. 
"I shall endeavor to apologize to Lieutenant Torres for misaligning the, in her words, ‘Damn isolinear relay,'" said Vorik without a hint of a smile or emotion. He returned to his scans. 
"What about you, Ensign Paris?" asked Neelix, unaware that he had struck a chord by addressing Tom by his rank. 
"You don't wanna know, Neelix." 
"Oh. Yes, I do." 
"I know!" said Tom, a sarcastic edge in his voice. "I think I'll eat Leola root omelettes until my brains fall out, then assist Tuvok during security drills. Sounds fun." Tom grinned strangely at the furry little man, wondering if Neelix REALLY wanted to know what he was planning on doing when he arrived back on Voyager. No, Tom decided. Neelix wasn't used to humans enough to hear descriptions quite that graphic. 
"Oh." Neelix was cowed by Tom's response. "I'm sure Ms. Torres would love to join you." 
Tom turned back to the helm, hoping that the annoying Vulcan sitting to his right had missed the look on his face. 

Lieutenant Commander Tuvok stood in sickbay, while the Doctor cataloged his list of complaints - about the Captain as usual. "She drinks much too much coffee, on top of which she gets almost no sleep, no exercise, and no food. Commander, I entreat you to do something before I have to relieve her of duty!" The Doctor waved his hands around, trying to emphasize his point with useless gestures. 
Tuvok raised an eyebrow, contemplating his answer. "I shall speak with Commander Chakotay. If he feels that relieving the Captain of duty is the logical measure to take, I shall inform you." 
"Mister Tuvok," said the EMH, "Commander Chakotay is the Captain's main supporter on this ship. He will NEVER agree to have her relieved of duty." 
Tuvok placed the tips of his fingers together under his chin and lowered his head. "No - but perhaps he has other ways of convincing her to get more sleep or to eat more." With that enigmatic comment as his final one on the subject, Tuvok said, "Excuse me, I must return to the bridge." The Doctor stared after the tactical officer, wondering what he meant by that last comment. 
Brushing it aside as random gossip, the Doctor picked up a tricorder, frowned, put it back down, and entered his office, turning on an aria much too loud for such a confined space. 

Three weeks after Tom had left, B'Elanna Torres fumbled with the hyperspanner that Joe Carey had tossed in her direction. She dropped it - on her foot. Before she could light into Carey for throwing the hyperspanner at her rather than handing it to her, her combadge twittered. 
"Janeway to Torres." 
"Uh, Torres here, Captain." What the hell did the Captain want THIS time?! 
"Could I see you in my ready room at your earliest possible convenience, Lieutenant?" asked the Captain. 
B'Elanna wanted to say, ‘NO!' but could come up with no excuse in Engineering to keep her from talking to Janeway. "Certainly, Captain. I'll be right there." 
"Good, Janeway out." 
Torres threw the hyperspanner down on the deck, hard enough for there to be a loud crash as metal hit metal. "Dammit, Carey, you're in charge. I have to go talk to the Captain!" Muttering Klingon curses under her breath, Torres stalked to the turbolift and ordered it to the bridge. 
Watching her go, Carey and the other engineers whistled under their breaths. The common thought was that life was much better when Ensign Paris was around. Not that they would ever say it outloud. No one wanted a free trip to sickbay with a broken jaw. 

Inside the turbolift, Torres slumped against the wall. The Captain probably wanted to discuss her temper or her habit of punching people who didn't agree with her. It had gotten better since they had begun this mission. Chakotay had made sure that she followed orders from Janeway, whether or not he had an ulterior motive was yet to be seen. B'Elanna composed herself, almost succeeding in wiping the scowl off her face as the turbolift deposited her on the uppermost level of the bridge. She stepped down a level and pressed the chime on the ready room door. 
"Enter," called the Captain. 
B'Elanna stepped inside, fully expecting to see the Captain sitting sternly at her desk, scowl firmly in place. She wasn't. Rather, Janeway was sitting comfortably on the couch, the stalled stars at her back. In her hand was a cup of coffee, which she put down when she stood up to greet the Chief Engineer. 
"B'Elanna - thanks for getting here so quickly. I know it must be hectic down there with Vorik gone and Carey on limited duty." 
"Yes, Ma'am," said Torres, mind raging. What was she DOING? 
"Please sit," Janeway said, gesturing to the couch. She moved towards the replicator. "Can I get you something?" 
B'Elanna stared. "Uh, raktajino, please." She sat stiffly on the couch, as the Captain fetched her drink. "Captain," said B'Elanna, "why am I here? I don't think I've done anything WRONG recently, and we aren't exactly the best of friends, so I would really like to know what's going on." Bordering on insubordination, Torres stared the Captain straight in the eye. 
Janeway caught the glare, and put her coffee down on the immaculate table. "Lieutenant Torres," she started, making this more business than she had originally planned. "You haven't done anything wrong. Engineering is the most efficient department on the ship, and the number of broken noses has decreased significantly in the past five years." 
B'Elanna was rather dumbfounded. "So why AM I here, if not to be dressed down?" She still sat straight up, the closest thing to attention possible while seated. 
Janeway relaxed into the couch. "B'Elanna, I wanted to, not apologize, but rather makes amends. We both know that you haven't liked any of my decisions over the past few months." 
"You're the Captain," said B'Elanna bitterly. "Chakotay drilled that into me quite a while ago." B'Elanna's fists clenched as she looked at her feet. 
"And you are a member of my crew, as unwillingly as you went into it. And if you have complaints, I would like to hear them, in order to help you with whatever is bothering you." Janeway took a sip of her coffee, hoping that B'Elanna would open up to her. 
"Complaints, Captain?" Torres said sarcastically. "Permission to speak freely, Captain?" 
Janeway inclined her head, "Granted, but tread lightly." 
B'Elanna stood from her awkward perch on the couch. "I DO have complaints, Captain. Krell Moset. Putting Tom in the brig for thirty days. Seven of Nine usurping my authority in Engineering. Putting Vorik on the Delta Flyer mission." 
B'Elanna had meant to continue, but her Captain interrupted. "Putting Tom on the Delta Flyer mission." It was not a question, merely a statement of fact. 
"Yes, Captain." Calling her ‘ma'am' at this point would be fatal. 
Janeway stood also, going to stand in front of her desk. B'Elanna wanted to know what she was going to say. 
"All of those things, save the problem with Seven, seem to go back to Tom, don't they, Lieutenant?" 
"No, Captain. He had nothing to do with the Krell Moset incident." ‘I think,' she added in her head. 
Janeway turned to face her Chief Engineer, amazed that Tom hadn't told her this piece of information. "B'Elanna," she said. "At the staff briefing concerning Krell Moset, Tom was the only one arguing to use his program. Even Chakotay said that respecting your wishes was more important. Tom, no, he said that he couldn't lose you. After I made my decision, he stopped at my side, and he THANKED me, B'Elanna. He thanked me for that - before he was sure it would work, or that we wouldn't find another way. You owe him your life, Lieutenant." 
Throughout Janeway's speech, B'Elanna had grown more and more uncomfortable. She sat down on the couch with a thump. "And the rest, Captain?" she said quietly. Janeway had the upper hand here - where it was going was anybody's guess. 
"The rest? They were my decisions, Lieutenant, and I made the best ones I could. This is a Starfleet ship, and we adhere to Starfleet principles. Tom could not get away with what he did. Reckless endangerment, dereliction of duty, theft of a shuttle, breaking the Prime Directive, and disobeying a direct order from not just a superior officer, but me. What would you have recommended that I do, Lieutenant?" There was no sarcasm in Janeway's voice, just a question. 
B'Elanna stumbled through her thoughts. "Would it have been different had he disobeyed Chakotay or Tuvok?" she asked. How highly did Janeway place her authority? 
"No," was the curt answer. 
"Oh." There was a long silence. "And the Delta Flyer mission? What about THAT?" B'Elanna challenged, looking out at the stars that stayed firmly in place. "We're not going anywhere for at least two months, Captain." 
Janeway followed B'Elanna's gaze. "I know, Lieutenant. That was my choice, but there was no way we could have foreseen this. Harry says that he's still not sure what caused it." 
There was another long silence, and it wasn't a good one. It was full of anger and sadness. "And as for the assignments on the mission, the reasons I gave at the briefing were the real ones. Tom is needed on that mission - who should I send? Chakotay has a very bad habit of crashing shuttles, and we can't lose the Delta Flyer, and Ayala hasn't had any training in it. Tom is the only one who is even remotely qualified to lead that mission." 
B'Elanna thought she heard a slight change of pitch in the Captain's voice when she mentioned Chakotay's name, but she couldn't be sure. "And Vorik?" 
"Carey's ill. The Doctor's not sure with what, but he is on limited duty. You're needed here, Torres, with your engines. Vorik is a qualified engineer." The Captain smiled at her thoughts. "And Chakotay and I thought that sending Seven with Tom would get us killed, so she stayed here, too." 
B'Elanna almost laughed. Behind the mask of being Captain, was there really a person lurking? B'Elanna wasn't sure, but she did have a few more questions. 
"I guess that I have no right to complain about Seven being in Engineering, do I?" At Janeway's shake of the head, B'Elanna finally smiled. "Captain, I have one more question." 
"Go on." 
"You're not going to like this, though." B'Elanna took a deep breath. "Um, well, the crew is curious, and so am I, but, well, uh, what is the nature of your relationship with, uh, um, well," she stalled. 
"Commander Chakotay?" asked Janeway. 
"Well, yes." She was an idiot! She had just asked her commanding officer about her personal life while on duty - and she wasn't even getting paid for this. 
Janeway had appeared amused at first, but her eyes hardened into a glare. B'Elanna backed up. She WAS the Captain after all. The Captain could be a very intimidating person when she wanted to. 
"Why do you ask, Lieutenant?" demanded the Captain, emphasizing the lower rank very forcefully. 
"Well, Captain," started B'Elanna - it was all or nothing now, "there is speculation among the crew that you didn't send him on the Delta Flyer mission because . . . ." 
"Because I'm sleeping with him, Lieutenant Torres? Is THAT the rumor?" Janeway gave her the death glare, and Torres wanted to disappear. 
"Yes, Ma'am." 
Janeway slammed her hand down on her desk with a crash that made B'Elanna jump. "You will address me as ‘CAPTAIN.'" 
The Captain, who rarely lost her temper with anyone, looked like a caged animal ready to pounce. "Let me tell you something, Lieutenant Torres. Never, in my many years as a Captain in Starfleet, have I ever allowed personal feelings to interfere with my command." Janeway stared hard at her Chief Engineer. Her voice became deathly quiet. "So you tell the crew that any rumors of that kind are unfounded and insubordinate. I asked you here to make amends with you, Lieutenant, but I find that I no longer want to do so." There was a long pause, and Janeway's voice became so harsh that Torres half expected to be fried on the spot. "My personal life is NOT your concern, or anyone else's. DO you understand me, Lieutenant?" 
"Yes, Ma'am." 
"You will address me as ‘Captain.'" 
"Yes, Captain." Torres felt like she should sink though the floor. 
"You are dismissed, Lieutenant Torres." 
"Yes, Captain." 
B'Elanna performed a very military about face, and marched through the door, showing no emotion on her face until she was on the bridge with the Captain safely out of hearing range. She looked at Chakotay, who was reading a report on his terminal. 
She was fuming. The Captain had wanted to "make amends?" Yeah, sure. The Captain didn't care about anyone but herself and her precious ship. She walked over to her old friend, knowing that what she was about to do could get her time in the brig. She was too angry to care. Her usual comfort - Tom - was gone, Harry worshiped the Captain, and so did Neelix. And her oldest friend, Chakotay? He was head-over-heels in love with the wicked witch of the Delta Quadrant. 
"Permission to speak freely, Commander?" 
He looked up into her face, and recognized anger. If he gave her that right, she would probably start cursing him out on the bridge. "Denied," he said. 
She exploded. "WHAT?" 
"I'll ask you to lower your voice on the bridge, Lieutenant," said Chakotay quietly. 
"Yes, you will," said the first officer. "Or I will be forced to have you removed from the bridge." 
"You'd do that?" asked B'Elanna, her eyes searching those of her friend. 
He gave a curt nod. "B'Elanna, off the bridge, I am your friend, but while we are here, you will give me and my position the respect due." Chakotay never spoke like this unless he meant it. Usually, he was joking around, and when he issued orders, they were followed. He was not contradicted, and was never forced to speak like this. B'Elanna hadn't heard it since the Maquis. 
"You're as bad as she is!" Torres hissed, before getting on the turbolift and ordering it to Engineering. There was no question as to who "she" was. The entire bridge staff looked towards the closed door of the ready room, wondering what had transpired inside. 

On the Delta Flyer, Neelix was bored. He had tried to get the others interested in a game of charades or truth or dare, but his attempts had been rebuffed. He sat sullenly in the rear bridge chair, hoping something - anything - would happen. 
Tom Paris was having similar feelings. He wondered what B'Elanna was up to back on Voyager. Had something happened to her? ‘Quit it, Paris,' he told himself. ‘You're being paranoid.' His hands were still on the console, the knobs and buttons he himself had installed getting no use, while Vorik ran scans of the space in front of them. 
Ensign Vorik of Vulcan decided that it was illogical to hope for action, but found that sitting in a small ship for two months was not a pleasurable way to spend his time. He ran the scan for the hundred thousandth time. A light lit up. 
"Ensign Paris, I am receiving information that could be potentially helpful." 
"Well, what is it?" 
"There is an M-class planet exactly 1.473 light years ahead of us. Atmospheric scans seem to give evidence towards a space-oriented, warp-capable society." 
"Altering course," replied Paris. This trip had gone on almost three weeks. Long enough. 
Paris entered the new co-ordinates, and they soon dropped out of warp within visual range of the planet. "They are hailing," said Vorik. 
"On screen," said Paris. "I am Ensign Tom Paris of the Federation Starship Voyager, and we are in need of assistance." 
"You are not on the Voyager," responded the alien on the screen. He had something that looked similar to horns, and his face was fuzzy. Reminded him of the aliens in the Captain Proton holoprogram. 
"No, we are not. Voyager is currently disabled, and we are in need of assistance." 
"We would be honored to assist you," said the alien. "My name is D'Vrik, and this planet is M'Chok. How may we help you?" 
Polite aliens, marveled Paris. That was a rare occurrence indeed. 
"We have scanned your planet, and would like to trade for a substance that we call ‘dilithium.'" 
The alien looked confused, and Neelix spoke up. Wasn't he supposed to be doing the trading anyway? "We use it to power or ships. It is a crystal." 
Recognition dawned on the alien's face. "Certainly. What do you have to offer?" 
"What do you need?" countered Neelix. 
"We are in desperate need of medical supplies," confined D'Vrik. "Our planetary healer was killed in a massive reactor explosion, and he had most of the planet's medical supplies with him." Odd, thought Tom, that one man would have so much with him, but he brushed it past. 
"We have medical supplies that we would be willing to trade for some dilithium," said Neelix. 
"That would be wonderful," said D'Vrik. "And when Voyager comes this way, you should stop again." 
"We will," said Tom, glad to have the diplomacy out of the way. 

On Voyager, Captain Janeway sat sullenly in the ready room. Did the crew really believe what B'Elanna had told her they did? Or was the Klingon engineer just baiting her to rebut what she considered to be bad decisions? 
"Janeway to Chakotay." 
"Yes, Captain?" 
"Could I see you in my ready room, Commander?" she asked tiredly, not even trying to mask the fatigue in her voice. 
"Yes, Captain," said Chakotay, turning the bridge over to Tuvok. He felt the eyes og the bridge staff on him as he crossed the room. 
Upon entering, he expected to see Kathryn at her desk, coffee in hand. She was instead at the window, hugging her arms to her chest. "Do you hear rumors on this ship, Chakotay?" she asked, making this a personal, not a professional conversation by her term of addressing him. 
"Some of them," he said, not sure he wanted to know where this was going. 
"Like what," she demanded. 
He answered her, knowing what kinds of rumors she wanted to hear about. "Like we are sleeping together, that something happened between us on New Earth, that every time I come into the ready room it's NOT to do reports. Things like that. Harmless stuff." He stood behind his Captain, who was his friend, and a little more. They were not lovers, but they were in love. It was impossible to explain to anyone who didn't see it at first glance. 
She turned to face him, and he saw that she had been crying. Red puffy eyes and mussed hair gave the Captain away. "Chakotay, before I tell you this, promise that you won't go kill B'Elanna on my behalf." 
He smiled wanly. "Okay." 
"I mean this, Chakotay, this goes nowhere." Her voice betrayed all of her anger. He nodded for her to continue. "Today, I called B'Elanna in here to make amends. I couldn't apologize, but I felt that she deserved a little bit of an explanation about that dealing with Krell Moset a while ago, and why I sent Tom on the Delta Flyer mission. I had thought that she had worked out her personal problems, and that after three weeks, things would be okay." 
He motioned for her to continue. 
"So, I explained that to her, and just when I thought I was getting through, she asked me something." 
"What, Kathryn?" Chakotay asked, already feeling his anger starting to rise. 
"She asked me what the nature of our relationship was." 
"I asked her why." 
"And?" Chakotay pressed. This couldn't be good. For B'Elanna to be so directly insubordinate was almost unheard of. Janeway demanded respect, and she got it, even from Torres. 
"She said . . . she said that the rumor was that . . . I didn't send you on the mission because . . . because, because . . . we are or were . . . uh, romantically involved." 
"Oh, spirits." 
"And then I gave her the worst yelling-at I have given to anyone in a long time, telling her that I no longer wanted to make amends, that my personal life was none of her concern, and that she should address me as ‘Captain' and get the hell out of my ready room." Kathryn walked away from Chakotay, her face convoluted with emotion. 
"Why would she do this?" asked Chakotay. At that moment, he hated B'Elanna for what she had done, but kept calm for Kathryn's sake. 
"I don't know!" 
"She came out onto the bridge looking like she was going to kill me," Chakotay confided. 
"This is just such a surprise! She has been so good. I complimented her on her engineering skills, told her that there had been fewer broken noses - and then she did this to me. I know she resents my decision to help her by using Krell Moset, but dammit, Chakotay! What did I do to deserved THAT?" 
Chakotay had no idea, but he knew that he was going to have a VERY long talk with B'Elanna Torres. "Kathryn," he said, approaching her again, this time hugging her close. "I'm going to go have a little chat with our Chief Engineer. She had no right to say that to you, and she should know it. I'll see you later, okay? Dinner." 
She nodded at him, looking forward to his cooking. Chakotay left without another word, searching for B'Elanna. The faces on the bridge betrayed nothing, but they shrank back as he charged off the bridge, ordering the turbolift to Engineering. 

B'Elanna Torres hummed as she worked. It had been a good day - nothing was broken. Well, the warp core didn't count. She put a hyperspanner into her pocket, and stood, surveying Engineering. The camaderie was amazing. There were no fights, not an argument. Just simple work going on. 
She was starting to feel bad about what she had said to the Captain. She didn't deserved that. She was a good Captain, and everybody knew it. What had she been thinking? 
‘I know what I was thinking,' B'Elanna said to herself. ‘I acted out of rage, and it was stupid. I should apologize.' 
Looking at her chronometer, B'Elanna noted that the shift change was about to take place, and she headed for the turbolift. 
"Going somewhere, Lieutenant?" growled a familiar voice. She looked up to see Chakotay, who did not look happy with her. 
"Apparently not." 
Chakotay tried to restrain himself, and almost succeeded. He pointed to the turbolift. "Inside, Lieutenant." B'Elanna had always been on the same side of the fight as Chakotay, and had never thought to think about how domineering or authoritative he could be. 
"Yes, sir." 
The door closed behind them, and Chakotay ordered, "Halt turbolift." He whirled on her then, saying, "Explain. Now." 
"Chakotay . . . ." 
"No. Explain." No was not an answer. He was too angry to even consider letting her off. 
B'Elanna stared at him. She knew what she had done was wrong, but admitting it was another thing. "I DON'T KNOW!" 
"You had better come up with something pretty quickly, or you'll be in the brig for insubordination so fast you won't be able to yell." 
For the second time that day, B'Elanna was scared of a superior officer. Janeway and Chakotay made a formidable team. 
"Alright. Alright, alright, alright." B'Elanna took a deep breath. "I guess that I'm stressed out. And resentful." 
"That's a reason to reduce your Captain to tears." 
"She was crying? When I left she was hopping mad." 
"And now I am the one who's hopping mad." 
"Kahless. I didn't mean to hurt her so much. All I did was . . . ." 
"I know what you did. You accused her of abusing her power as Captain of this ship." 
B'Elanna took another deep breath. She seemed to be doing a lot of that recently. "Chakotay, that rumor . . . I made it up. I knew it would hurt her, and I wanted to do that." He just stared at her. "Look at it this way, Chakotay. She allowed that Krell Moset character to . . . ." 
"Save your life. Do go on." 
"And then Tom gets demoted and sentenced to solitary confinement." 
"Which he deserved, as she probably explained to you." 
"And then there's this whole thing with the Delta Flyer mission." 
"Which Tom's on, and you're not. B'Elanna, you would make an awful Captain." It was the truth that Chakotay said, but it didn't help Torres' reaction. 
"I said that you would make an awful Captain, or a commanding officer of any sort. You see," he said, calling on all of the power in his spirit to keep calm. "You need to be able to send people you care for away without qualms if you have to. You have to give the order that might get them killed. You have to gain their trust that you'll keep them safe. Could you do that, Torres?" 
B'Elanna almost started crying, she felt so bad. "No. Chakotay, I could never do that. It's just that . . . that I miss him so much. I never thought I could love anyone again - we've been betrayed enough. My father left me. And then there's Tom. And what do I do? I fall in love with him. Unconditionally. And then he's stuck in a cell for a month on Janeway's orders. And then he's sent away - on Janeway's orders. I hate working with Seven - she countermands my orders and she's non-com!" 
Chakotay was still angry. Hell, he could have ripped her head off at that moment, but at least he was starting to understand. "Just stress, B'Elanna? It was stress that made you say that to the Captain? I wish I could tell you how much you hurt her." 
"Chakotay - could you do me a favor?" Out on a limb again, B'Elanna felt that after this awful day there was nothing to lose. 
"Could you please tell me about you and the Captain? I want to know why what I said hurt her so much, because I really don't understand." 
Chakotay stared. This was a concession coming from his hot-headed young friend. He looked her straight in the eye. "I can tell you this, B'Elanna. What you said to her was unfounded in more than one way. I am NOT, nor have I EVER slept with the Captain. She - she, this is hard to explain, so just listen, okay?" He searched her face for comprehension, and when he got a nod, he continued. 
"B'Elanna, I love Kathryn with all my heart. She loves me, too. But the nature of the relationship cannot change until she says that she is comfortable with it. I am happy with what we have now." 
"Which is?" B'Elanna's voice held no challenge, just curiosity. 
Chakotay didn't understand his young friend, who had said some of the most hateful things possible, but was now willing to listen to him correct her. "I can't explain it. She's my best friend, she's the love of my life, and more than that. Okay?" 
"Yeah." She nodded her head curtly. 
"Turbolift, resume," said Chakotay. He grinned sideways at B'Elanna. "Captain's quarters." 
"Chakotay," she said, not returning the smile, "is there a way I could talk to Tom? I know he's on an away mission, and it's not policy, but please?" 
Chakotay still wasn't too happy with the engineer, so his response was a careful one. "If I were in charge, I would say yes." 
"But she is." 
"B'Elanna. Talk to her. She's not all Captain. There REALLY is a person behind the mask." 
"Give me some time on that one, okay Old Man?" 
"I can do that." 
The turbolift stopped on deck three, and Chakotay stepped out into the hall. "Hey, Chakotay," called B'Elanna, an easy smile gracing her features for the first time in a while. 
"Yes?" he asked, smiling back. 
"What are you doing?" 
"Dinner, Torres. Just dinner." He grinned at her, and walked to his Captain's door. The turbolift door slid shut, whisking a much happier Klingon to the mess hall for dinner with her friends. 

Two weeks and five days later, Tom Paris was conducting the Delta Flyer back home. They had a cargobay full of dilithium - more than they would ever need, and now they were on their way home. Ah, B'Elanna. He allowed himself to fantasize about his return. They would go for a swim on the holodeck, then go back to his quarters for dinner, and then – 
They were jolted out of warp. 
"What the hell?" shouted Tom, his fingers dancing over the console. 
"I am endeavoring to determine the cause of the problem." 
"Um," said Neelix. "I don't really think that's necessary." He pointed a short, stubby finger at the viewscreen. Coming towards the Delta Flyer at full impulse were three Kazon ships. 
"Kazon!" yelped Tom. "What the hell are the Kazon doing all the way out here?" The ship shook again, throwing Tom from his seat. He hit the bulkhead with a thud. 
"Ensign Paris?" said Vorik. "Ensign Paris?" 
"B'Elanna's not going to like this!" said Neelix, trying not to hyperventilate. 
"No, she is not," replied Vorik, trying to move Tom away from the helm. "Contact Voyager. Tell them that we will be there within six hours, and that Ensign Paris is injured." 
"Can do, sir." 
The shuttle shook again, and Neelix grabbed onto his seat for dear life. Vorik, for all of his logic, did not take the same course of action, and the pasty-faced Vulcan went flying. Neelix looked around in horror. 
"Oh my. Oh my. Oh my." The little Talaxian shoved his way through the bodies to reach the helm. "Warp control. Here." He found the button that would engage the Warp drive. He pushed it. The Delta Flyer took off towards Voyager. "Um, good. OOOOOH. Breathe, Neelix!" He found the communications console. "Delta Flyer to Voyager. This is Neelix. I'll be there in six hours, but I need some help. We were attacked by the Kazon. Mister Paris and Mister Vorik need the Doctor's help right away. Delta Flyer to Voyager. This is Neelix. I'll be there in six hours . . . ." 
The little Talaxian sat back in the over-large seat, hoping that everything would be okay. ‘PLEASE!' he thought. ‘Let them be okay. I don't want to be hurt by Lieutenant Torres. PLEASE!' 

On board Voyager, there was a senior staff meeting in session when the call came through. "Captain Janeway to the bridge!" 
"On my way." 
The Captain strode onto the bridge, followed closely by Chakotay and B'Elanna. Harry and Tuvok weren't far behind. Seven of Nine regarded them curiously. "Interesting," she said. But she followed them to the bridge just in time to hear, ". . . Kazon. Mister Paris and Mister Vorik need the Doctor's help right away. . . ." 
To Seven, Lieutenant Torres' reaction seemed a bit extreme. She dropped the PADD she was holding only 3.2 seconds after hearing the news about Mister Paris. Her hands jumped to her mouth, and she sank into the Commander's chair. The Commander didn't seem to mind. 
"Reply, Harry," instructed the Captain. 
"Aye, Captain," responded Ensign Kim. 
"Good. Chakotay," she started, gesturing to B'Elanna, who just sat there shaking. He lifted her out of his chair and met little resistance. 
"Come on, Little-Steps," he said to his friend. "He'll be fine, just you wait and see." Chakotay ordered the turbolift to sickbay, his arm supporting Torres. 
"I'll let you know the second that I hear more," said Janeway. 
"Aye, Captain." The turbolift doors closed, and Chakotay put his other arm around B'Elanna. 
"He told me he'd be home before I knew it. That everything would be okay. He lied to me, Chakotay." 
"He most definitely did not do that B'Elanna," responded Chakotay as the turbolift halted on deck five. He half-carried his friend to sickbay. The doctor was a little surprised to see them there. 
"What? Commander Chakotay I demand to know what is going on!" 
"We got a call that Tom is hurt. She collapsed. She needs to sleep." Chakotay put B'Elanna on a biobed. 
"She certainly does. According to this reading," he said gesturing at the tricorder in his hand, "she has been getting an average of forty-five minutes of sleep a night!" The doctor turned to glare at the Commander. "The CAPTAIN gets more sleep than that!" 
"I see," said Chakotay. 
"Ch. . .kty," mumbled B'Elanna, the drugs already starting to take effect. But she had to do this, couldn't put it off. "Wke m'up win Tom get here, kay?" 
"Okay, B'Elanna," said the Commander, smiling down at B'Elanna, whose eyes were fuzzy. 
She squinted at him. "An' tell th'Capt'n thet I'm sorry. Okay?" 
"I can do that for you." 
"G . . . d." B'Elanna fell asleep, and the Commander exited sickbay. 

B'Elanna's dreams were haunted. 

"Just think about it." "I am!" 

"Why does she have to send YOU?" 

"The best pilot in the quadrant . . . ." 

"I'm sleeping with him? Is THAT the rumor?" 

"There REALLY is a person behind the mask." 

"It'll be over before you know it!" 

"Warp core breach!" 

"I love you." "You picked a great time to tell me." 

"Just think about it!" 

"I'm sleeping with him? Is THAT the rumor?" 

B'Elanna sprang awake with a jolt. That last had been too real. Only in her dream, the Captain had done something awful - but it would end before she knew what. In each dream, something happened to Tom, or to her. B'Elanna put her hands behind her head, wondering when Tom would get there. Then everything would be alright. 
She turned over on the biobed, imagining happy scenarios. But the scene in the ready room with the Captain a few weeks ago kept surfacing. What had she done to hurt Janeway so much? It wasn't impossible that the Captain was an abnormally sensitive woman . . . but B'Elanna doubted it. 
She considered paging the Captain and apologizing right there and then, but she never got the chance. Tom Paris materialized on the biobed next to her, covered in blood. 
B'Elanna shot out of bed so quickly that she forgot to check if she was wearing clothes - she assumed she was. She didn't care. "TOM!" She paced at his bedside, willing him to wake up for her. The doctor was concerned with Vorik - he was more seriously injured. B'Elanna took a seat at Tom's side. She started talking. "Tom, you can't imagine how much I've missed you," she started, missing the Captain and Commander come in through the door. They stopped abruptly when they heard her. 
"Tom, I hope that you'll forgive me. You see, I've done something really awful. It really has nothing to do with you, but then again it does. I was missing you, you know how that is. And I was angry for having to work with Seven, and Vorik was gone, and Carey was sick - you know how that kind of day is, don't you Tom?" She laid her head on his chest, not minding the blood that got in her usually immaculate hair. "Well, it was that kind of day. And the Captain called me up to her ready room to apologize to me! Apologize! And then, then, Tom, I said some of the most hateful things I could have. Chakotay said she was crying! I feel so bad." B'Elanna wiped a hand across her mouth, still looking down into Tom's still face. "Because she really is a good Captain, Tom. Better than Chakotay was in the Maquis, but don't tell him I said that. She's got my respect - we'd all follow her to hell and back. I really hope she knows that. Tom!" B'Elanna thought that she heard him move, but she appeared to be mistaken. 
"Tom, please forgive me. You know I would never hurt you, but don't you ever go away again. And, Kahless, let me have the strength to say this to Janeway and Chakotay. He nearly bit my head off after that. And it would have been his right - you know that I was wrong? They're not sleeping together. Tom, you would have loved being here on Voyager these past months. And if you had been here, maybe this wouldn't have happened. I need to tell you something, and I need to tell Janeway something. I love you Tom. And Janeway, well, she's a damned fine Captain, don't you agree, Tom?" B'Elanna once again leaned her head on Tom's chest. 
From behind her, B'Elanna heard a noise, and she turned to see her commanding officers. Janeway was smiling though glittery tears, her arm around Chakotay. "B'Elanna?" she asked. 
"Is Tom okay?" Acceptance. Forgiveness. Truth. 
"Doc says that he should wake up pretty soon. He'll be okay. He's more worried about Vorik." 
Seven of Nine entered the room. "Vorik should be deactivated. It is inefficient for the collective to have a malfunctioning drone." 
"SEVEN!" yelped B'Elanna. "That's enough. Captain, tell her!" B'Elanna gestured wildly with her one free hand, pointing at the ex-Borg. 
"I plan to," said Janeway, switching gears to be every inch the Starfleet Captain. Except for the arm around her first officer. "Seven, please return to Cargo Bay Two. We need to have a discussion about tact. DISMISSED." 
Seven gave the Captain a muted glare, but turned and left Sickbay. B'Elanna stared after her. "SEE?" 
"Lieutenant," warned Chakotay in a mock-menacing voice. 
"B'Elanna," said a voice from behind her. 
"Hey there," croaked Tom, still trying to play the ladies man while cloaked in caked blood and with bandage around his arm. 
"Shhh." B'Elanna wound an arm around his neck, and lowered herself to his face. B'Elanna kissed him lightly, much more lightly than she usually did. Just enough to let him know that she was there. "Don't try to talk. I'm right here with you. Shhh." 
Tom watched B'Elanna, in her bloody uniform, kiss his face again and again, and all the while his only acknowledgement was his grip on her hand. B'Elanna didn't seem to care. She was just happy to see him again. 
"Shhh, Tom. What?" She stroked his face, forgetting about everything but him. 
Tom breathed a ragged breath, eyes darting around under half-closed lids. He caught sight of his commanding officers, and smiled. "I dis, uh, disagree with y-you." 
"About what, Helmboy?" He smiled at the use of her nickname, but lifted a shaky hand to point at the rear of the room. 
"They're sleeping together." He grinned at her, then allowed his eyes to close. 
"THOMAS PARIS, YOU ARE A PIG!" B'Elanna shouted good-naturedly. 
"Back to arguing already?" said the Doctor from across the room. He sighed. "I suppose that's a good thing, all things considered." He turned back to Vorik. 
When B'Elanna turned back to the Captain and the Commander, they were gone. "Well, I'll be damned," she said. "Tom - you heard every word of what I said." 
He nodded slightly. 
"How did you know?" 
"Their faces when you said that they weren't sleeping together." The Captain had looked relieved that B'Elanna had said what she did, and Chakotay, well, he had a little smile on his face that could mean almost anything. 
"Oh." B'Elanna leaned down and kissed him again, a little longer than she had before. Tom reached out his good arm and pulled her down beside him. He traced circles around her back, loving every second of being with her, and knowing that life would be back to normal too quickly. 
"Um hmm?" She was too busy to answer fully. 
"I love you, too." 
B'Elanna Torres smiled. She burrowed her head into his shoulder, and replied, "I know." They fell asleep like that, molded together. Both were prefectly peaceful - something that neither had experienced in a long time. 

The Doctor, across the room, bedding Vorik down, had heard the entire conversation. He smiled at the young couple. Life without Tom Paris and B'Elanna Torres would be . . . interesting. And unbearable. He shut down the lights, but frowned. He hated having such sentimental feelings. He thought quickly to come up with another reason toappreciate them. 
The engineer kept him up and running. 
And he needed a competent nurse. 


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