In Pursuit of a Sensation

"Tom, how do you feel about art?"

The aforementioned Tom, a.k.a. Ensign Thomas Eugene Paris (how ever will he live down that middle name, whatever were his parents thinking?), Chief Helmsman, was barely awake. He lifted his head, looked at his lover with one very bleary blue eye, and tried to connect her question to something that, apparently, he should know about.

"B‘Elanna, its—" he glanced at the clock, thankfully within inches of his face, "—0300 hours, and you are asking me what?"

B‘Elanna Torres, Chief Engineer, pushed at his shoulder until he turned his head to look at her again. Laying on his stomach, short hair slightly rumpled, lots of bare skin exposed—she had a weakness for that and knew it. Worse, so did he. She drew on nail down his back slowly, watched him squirm, and both blue eyes open wide.

"Ah. I have you attention."

"B‘Elanna, no one ever takes their attention from you.

Most are too scared to."

"Including you?"

"Lets just say I have an extremely lively sense of self-preservation. What did you want to know that is so important that you had to wake me up four hours before my shift?"

She continued to draw circles on his bare back. There were still some fine lines from last night, a pale red, that she had used the last of the energy from the regenerator to fix, but the poor thing had really been on its last mile, so hadn‘t finished the job. His eyes were beginning to close again under the ministrations, and she dug in slightly.

"I‘m awake." Blue eyes blinked open and fixed on her warily.

"I want to know if you like art."

He lifted himself on both elbows, and she was satisfied that he was focused.

"You have got to be kidding me."

"You once told me I don‘t have a sense of humor." She leaned on one elbow, eyebrows arched in a perfect imitation of Tuvok, blank expression and all. He shook his head.

"B‘Ela, where did this come from? Why the hell are you asking me now?"

She shook her head slightly, as if dislodging an insect.

"I‘ve always wondered."

"About art? You‘ve always wondered my specific feelings toward art." His voice dripped unbelief.

"Yes" She leaned closer, pulling the sheet tighter across her breasts when his eyes slid down and began to dilate. "Don‘t get other ideas. Come on, tell me. Art. You know, pottery, statues, paintings, the whole shibang. Do you like it?"

He rolled onto his side, facing her, and looked serious indeed.

"Art." Sighing, B‘Elanna wondered whether Tom‘s mind had indeed been very selectively gifted. She probably could have asked him how to pilot though an emerging supernova and he would have been able to give her detailed instructions while still asleep, but ask him a simple question and he was stumped.

"Tom, we‘ve been dating for almost two years. We don‘t really discuss much—"

"Actually, nineteen months."

She frowned, sidetracked.

"You actually know how many months?"

"Nineteen months, sixteen days, and random minutes, I am not quite that obsessive." He pulled the pillow up under his chest and smiled.

"Anyway," she continued, moving back to the original subject, albeit reluctantly, as she would never, never, never, tell him just how flattering that was, as he regularly forgot their anniversaries or other important dates, "I want to get to know you better."

"By discussing art." His voice was blank.



"Art. A-R-T. Paintings. Statues. Whatever passes for art in the universe, and you want to discuss it now."

Definitely, Tom had been selectively gifted. She shook her head.

"I know you enjoy looking at it, I remember the last space station we were at…"

"You‘re answering your own question. Why did you wake me up again?" He was rewarded with a grip of five fingernails in his shoulder, and shut his mouth.

"Tom, I want to know you. I just want to understand you feelings."

Tom met her eyes, and shook his head slowly, a very slight smile appearing to twitch his lips. He turned onto his back, and fixed the sheet that threatened to slide off him. Regarded the ceiling with narrowed blue eyes, as only a man can who knows his lover is up to something.

"Why don‘t I believe you?" He gave her a sideways glance. "What is going on in that crafty little mind of yours, Torres?"

"I‘m hurt. My mind is not small." She lowered her voice, trying to keep it steady, keep from laughing. "What is so wrong with me wanting to know you better?"

"Know me better. Uh-huh." He rolled back on his side, facing her, one hand lightly playing with the blanket covering her chest. She snapped her hand over his and he sighed, raising up on one elbow. "Okay. I like art."

"What kind of art?" Her smile was so innocent, he wasn‘t fooled for a minute.

"I know it when I see it." He could play this game. She laced her fingers through his, rolling him gently onto his back, leaning forward to brush a kiss across his throat. "That is good, B‘Ela, he murmured.

"You love me, don‘t you Tom?" she murmured, nipping his collarbone.

"Oh, yeah." His eyes closed.

"Would you do something for me?" She punctuated this with a long kiss.

"Anything you want."

She lifted her head, grinning.

The residents of Deck 9, Section 12, woke up to someone yelling. Not unusual. After all, it came from the quarters of the Chief Engineer. But the word that was yelled was.


"B‘Elanna, there are less painful methods of doing this. Not to mention less permanent."

The planet was nU‘ggjit—pronunciation was a bitch, so Megan Delaney, in a act of compassion for those not as linguistically gifted as herself, coined the name Nuggit— and B‘Elanna dragged Tom through the long, rather narrow streets of its capital city, in search of the place she had found only the day before, sparking her idea.

"You‘re so hot for the twentieth century, I thought perhaps you‘d like some authenticity."

"There is authenticity and then there is common sense. You have noticed we no longer hit people over the head before surgery, right?" She squeezed his hand once, in warning, and Tom knew when to be quiet.

They crossed the deserted street, and B‘Elanna frowned up at the buildings. Modern, but still—she didn‘t remember seeing such a dilapidated building anywhere in the city. In fact, the whole street looked rather—deserted. {Like people with sense don‘t come here.} She read the numbers on the doors, finding the one she wanted, and pulled him in. A rickety flight of stairs. Very rickety, the kind that seemed in danger of falling apart at the first step. Tom‘s face blanched.


"Hush." But rickety stairs? The city had looked normal enough from the outside. She gave a glance at Tom, steeling herself. She never backed down. {Never show fear.} Tom could smell it, she‘d learned that very soon on, though with his unenhanced human olfactory organs she had no idea how. When he smelled it, he took advantage of it. She had no intention of backing down. Getting his hand in a firm grip, she pulled him up the stairs behind her, wincing internally every time they made a sound. At the top, they saw the door.

B‘Elanna felt Tom pull away slightly and dug her nails into his palm, bringing instant compliance. Tom had learned when to push and when not to.

The door was no more comforting than the stairs. Though at least modern, it looked as if it had seen a few things, such as a firefight or a major earthquake—the metal was heavily dented and the touchpad was rigged with wires. B‘Elanna was tempted to pull it out and fix it, but controlled her engineering instincts as best she could. Carefully, she hit the call button.

"Who is it?" The voice inside was husky. Tom looked at her, then at the door.

Tom jumped in and tried again. "B‘Elanna—"

"Not. Another. Word."

Tom‘s eyes narrowed. Before he could think to respond, and knowing to a hair how much she could push him, she reached up, grabbing his neck and pulling him down for a kiss. It worked. {Men are so predictable.} When she let him go, there was a slightly dazed expression on his face, but she knew that wouldn‘t last long.

"Torres and Paris," she answered quickly. A hesitation, and the door opened.

Comfortingly, the room looked all right. She pulled Tom in, to a nicely cushioned seat near the center of the room. In the very center of the room, however, was The Chair, and she saw Tom swallow. Beside the chair was a selection of instruments. Those made her swallow. {No fear. I wanted authenticity.} She sat straight, keeping one hand on the thigh of her nervous lover, who looked like he might bolt. {I am Klingon. I am not afraid of a little pain.} Tom was not Klingon, however, and might not take that credo so much to heart. She kept a good grip on his leg. Blood circulation be damned, they had come this far.

The man that appeared in their line of vision made her reconsider her decision briefly.

He was tall, like most of the inhabitants of this planet, vaguely reptilian, with a vestigial tail about a foot long. Tiny black stone eyes looked out from just below his small snout, nostrils large and flaring slightly. In the rich, dark blue robes she had seen on most of the people here, his green skin tone glistened oddly. Cardon Feils, his name had been in the planet‘s database under this service. He didn‘t bother introducing himself. Straight to the point. She vaguely remembered their reps talking to Janeway, and noted the similarity of attitude.

Of course, those representatives had been women.

"Are you ready?" His voice was very heavy, dropping well into the baritone octave, and B‘Elanna saw Tom‘s eyes were fixed with fascination, like a man watching a snake.

"I don‘t know—" Tom began.

"Yes," B‘Elanna said firmly. At the hesitant look on the Nuggitian‘s face, she quickly added, "He is my mate. I speak for him."

Tom looked at her in astonishment, eyebrows jumping high, and she looked back without flinching. {Ah, the joys of a heavily matriarchal society on this planet.} The blue eyes narrowed again, and she saw something else flash in them, before they were shielded behind his usual composed expression.

The Nuggitian looked satisfied, and nodded between the two of them.

"Will your mate go first?" Ignoring Tom. Tom flushed, the expression broke, and B‘Elanna nodded, standing up and pulling Tom to his feet. He gave her a single look, shook her hand off, and gingerly sat down in The Chair. She pulled up a stool and sat at his feet.

"Where do you want it?" Still to B‘Elanna. She flushed now, realizing that making that claim, she had just made Tom her property. Tom‘s expressionless face didn‘t help. And he gave her no pointers to where he wanted it. She sighed.

"Shoulder," she said quickly, then clarified. "Right side."

The chair rearranged itself and Tom leaned forward. Carefully, he pulled off the dark blue T-shirt he‘d been wearing, and B‘Elanna took a deep breath. {Gods, he looks good today.} Hesitantly, she took his hand in hers, squeezing it. He didn‘t respond, but the dark blue of his eyes, the utter stillness, told her a lot. He was mad.

B‘Elanna knew that she could not intimidate her mate easily, that the lack of real anger from him, other than the very few times they had had a serious argument, did not mean he didn‘t have a temper. He did, but it was not like hers, a burst of heat that burned itself out. It was slow starting, slow burning, and she usually had no idea of the danger of combustion until it actually happened. And it lasted a very long time.

Over time, she had learned the signs. This was one of them. Darker eyes. The set of his mouth.

"Do you have a design, Dama?"

She started at the name, then remembered Dama was the respectful title for a lady. Looking away uneasily from Tom‘s face, she opened the knapsack she had brought with her and took out the PADD with both designs on it. Slowly, she handed it to him, and he looked it over.

"That one," she clarified, pointing. The man nodded, then carefully set it where he could see it. Then he took out the needle. B‘Elanna felt her blood rush from her head and quickly sat down. Tom grabbed both her hands in a bruising grip, eyes on hers.

"I will make you pay for this," he said very softly. "You have no idea--*damn*!" The needle touched his flesh. She ducked her head. {So this is why they invented hyposprays.} Tom gritted his teeth, grabbed her chin, forcing her head up. "Don‘t you dare look away." He kept the bruising grip on her face, sliding his hand to the back of her neck. She wondered, briefly, if she could pull away. "Don‘t even try, sweetheart." His voice was a low growl. She debated it, pulled experimentally, realized she liked the way her hair was attached to her scalp, and relaxed into his grip.

It was oddly intimate, to watch someone‘s face during something like this. He didn‘t make another sound, though she saw him wince slightly during the worst times, on more sensitive flesh. A very slight smile curved his mouth suddenly, and he pulled her forward, brushing his lips across her cheek, finding her mouth. She responded, not really able to do otherwise, and somewhat guilty for doing this to him—

"Damn!" She pulled back, blood running from her lip, while he looked at her with a very satisfied smile.

Experimentally, she touched her mouth, felt the imprint of his teeth, stared at him. Noticed the slightest smear of dark red on his mouth. "What the hell—"

"You wanted us to be closer, sweetheart," he said softly, not bothering to hide his satisfaction before more contact with his back made him hiss.

"You bastard." She wiped her mouth with the back of one hand.

"You only call me that when you—"

"Shut up!" She cut him off, flushing, unable to believe what he had done. Tom was rarely, ever, aggressive with her, perfectly content to let her take up that place in their relationship. The smile changed, she saw it, and couldn‘t look away.

"Done." Cardon Feils moved away, wiping his hands.

They both glanced up, but the Nuggitian was merely walking away with his instruments, presumably to clean them. Tom stood up, winced, and turned his bare back to B‘Elanna. There on his shoulder, the bandage covered the tattoo.

"You can remove the bandage in six hours," Cardon Feils told her. "Are you ready?" He nodded respectfully to B‘Elanna, who hesitated, saw Tom‘s raised eyebrow, and set herself to go through with this.

She nodded slowly, walking to the chair and sitting down, now that it was back in the proper position.

"Where do you want it?" he asked, and she opened her mouth to speak.

"There," Tom answered, from the footstool. His hand covered the right side of her pelvis. Startled, she met his eyes.

The Nuggitian frowned.

"Come on, B‘Ela. No sense of adventure?" His voice was very low, making her bones quiver. Very, very rarely could he do that to her, using that voice, that timbre. She shivered, and nodded. Tom met her eyes, a very slight smile curving his lips, and unbuttoned her trousers, and she lifted her hips to let him pull them to her knees. His hands then fastened on her underwear, pulling them as low as modesty allowed, then ran his finger over the area just above the place where her right thigh met her pelvis, almost in the hollow of her hip, and gave her another one of those smiles.

Without hesitation, he reached into the knapsack and took out the PADD.

"What is that?" she asked distractedly. His fingers still moved over that space of sensitive skin, in an almost rhythmic fashion, and combined with his low voice, she was becoming more than a little aroused. {Just say it, B‘Elanna, a lot aroused.}

"You said I couldn‘t see what you chose for me, so I decided you couldn‘t either." Without looking at the man, Tom handed him the PADD.

And Tom stood up, walking out of her line of sight, and she would have asked where he was going, but hissed when the disinfectant was rubbed into the area. For some reason, the Nuggitian pulled a strap across her hips and another across her thighs. Before she could say anything, something slid across her face, and her sight was gone.

"What the hell—" She brought up her hands to pull the blindfold away, but Tom caught both her wrists, pinning them against the back of the chair. {I don‘t remember him being that strong.} She felt his lips against her ear.

"You can‘t look, and you‘ll be tempted to if I let you keep your eyes uncovered," he murmured, tickling the lobe with his tongue, before catching it in a light nip. She heard him sitting, wondered where he had gotten a stool, and then lean his head on her shoulder, lacing their fingers together.

He was watching.

The first touch of the needle told her why the man had strapped her hips down. Her nails dug into his hands

"Damn! Tom, you—" she began a launch into Klingonese, turning her head toward him, and he stopped her with his mouth. She bit down on his tongue at the next shock of pain, and he growled, squeezing her fingers tightly, biting lightly on her lip, swallowing her next groan, then freed her mouth, running his tongue lightly under her chin.

"What—are—you doing?" she managed, refusing to allow another moan to escape her mouth, so she gritted her teeth, and her voice was choppy. It didn‘t help the way his mouth ran along her neck, either.

"Distracting you, sweetheart." He caught her mouth again, nipping lightly at her tongue, before moving to her shoulder. She felt the light pressure of his teeth against her neck, at the same time the needle on her torso did something creative, making her gasp.

She couldn‘t remember being so aroused in her life.

"Since when do you call—me—sweetheart?" she murmured as his tongue came in contact with her ear, and the pressure of his teeth around her lobe made her shiver.

"Since my lover told someone she owned me," he said softly, nipping again. "Doesn‘t that give me some rights?" His hands tightened on hers when she tried to pull them away. "No, B‘Ela, not now. I am enjoying this."

"I‘m not." That was very possibly the worst lie she had ever spoken.

"Not a good try. Haven‘t I taught you how to lie properly?" He moved to the other side, lifting their joined hands out of the way, and leaned over her shoulder. "He‘s almost done, par‘machai. Just a few more minutes."

She turned her head to him, shock widening her brown eyes beneath the blindfold, wishing desperately that she could see him.

"What did you just call me?" She was certain she must have misunderstood him.

"You know Klingon a lot better than I do, you don‘t know?" He pulled her hands down to her chest, crossing their arms carefully into a light embrace.

"I know what it means!"

"Then why did you ask?" {Damn, he sounds reasonable.}

"Why the hell—shit, that hurt!--did you call me that?"

"I am setting a claim."

She wanted to see his eyes. This wasn‘t like Tom at all, easy going, fun-loving, her Tom. He even sounded different.

"Since when?"


That was also something she hadn‘t heard in his voice before, and she wanted to explore it. The utter certainty.

{What the hell is going on with him?}

He kissed her again, hard, pushing her lips apart, running his tongue just under her lip, tracing the interior of her mouth. She shivered, hated herself for it, tried to get control back.

"What makes you think I will let you?" she breathed against his mouth.

"What makes you think I will take no for an answer?"

{This is new. When did this mood start?}


They both looked up, B‘Elanna hampered by the blindfold. Tom released her hands and got up, apparently to pay the man, and she removed the cloth, for the first time wondering where he had gotten it from. She ran her fingers over the smooth texture of the black material and looked down, seeing the bandage covering her torso. Lots of torso. How big is it, anyway? Before she could peek, Tom was back, and carefully pulled her underwear and pants up, fastening them before pulling her to her feet. Then he put his shirt back on and took her by the elbow, leading her to the door after a brief thanks to Cardon Feils, who ignored them, too caught up in—what was he doing, anyway? B‘Elanna couldn‘t see, her lover‘s broad shoulder was in the way, and he pushed her gently out the door, and walked her down the stairs as the door closed.

In the street, she faced him, unwilling to admit this sudden silence was disconcerting her.

"Is something wrong?"

"Nope." He placed one arm around her shoulders, and they began their walk to the Delta Flyer, which had brought down the first wave of shore-leave revelers, and she listened in wary silence to the sound of his footsteps.

He has something in mind.

Tom, seeing her face, reading the thought, smiled to himself.

She was right.

Part II

As they left the building, B‘Elanna became increasingly nervous, and hated it. He had an arm around her, seemed perfectly relaxed. They made their winding way to the main square, from there it was a reasonable walk to the landing site. The planet‘s atmosphere had not allowed for beaming, so they had taken a shuttlecraft, and Tom had chosen to fly the Delta Flyer (no huge surprise) with the first wave of shore leave travelers.

But instead of taking the street that led to the landing site, Tom led her in a left hand path, down a street that very much resembled the one they had just been on.



"Where are we going?"

He gave her one of his most charming smiles. {But still that edge. What is going on with him?}

"I applied for twenty-four hour leave for both of us."

She stopped in her tracks, forcing him to stop too, unless he wanted to drag her. So he faced her, that charming smile on his face and still that odd glint in his very blue eyes.

"You did what?"

"Should doc check your hearing, B‘Ela?" He made as if to check her ears, and she swatted his hand away.

"I can‘t be away that long!" She couldn‘t believe he had done it. Couldn‘t believe he had the nerve to do it. That anyone in the universe would have the nerve to authorize-


"You got Chakotay to authorize me twenty-four hour leave, didn‘t you?"

"He recommended eighteen, but I felt lucky." Head tilted, as if he could not imagine why she would be so upset. Still that damned little smile she couldn‘t figure out. She didn‘t like not knowing what was going on in her lover‘s head.

B‘Elanna couldn‘t even get over her shock long enough to get angry.

"Carey and Seven are taking the extra shifts," he added helpfully. Watching her from veiled eyes.

"Seven?" Her voice got dangerously quiet. "Take me back to the ship."


She studied him, trying to figure this out. This recalcitrant streak was odd. She‘d fought with him often enough, but usually he gave in, or left when she turned that voice on him. Nothing doing. He just stood there, watching her with that damned smile like she should-should-

"Now." She crossed her arms across her chest. Set herself for battle.

"Not a chance, sister." With every appearance of utter complacent surety.

"Tom, I can‘t leave my engines…"

"Chakotay gave me orders to keep you on planet until around this time tomorrow. Do you think I would disobey an order from the First Officer?" His appalled shock routine was so pitiful she didn‘t even cut a smile.

"Hasn‘t stopped you before." She tapped her foot. Tom watched her, evaluated the situation…then picked her up.

B‘Elanna was so stunned she forgot to fight back.

"What in the name of all that is holy are you doing?" She grabbed his shoulder for support, trying to regain her balance.

He kept moving, gave her that thrice damned smile, but nothing else. There was something different about him, and it made her edgy. She found herself, oddly enough, not wanting to push him too far. She wasn‘t sure what would happen.

She wasn‘t sure she wanted to know what would happen.

"Check-in is in less than an hour. I want to be early." His tone was jocular. It couldn‘t fool her. Something was up.

"Early where?"

"The hotel."

She looked around, neatly sidetracked from what he had dared do.

"On this street?" Appalled, she studied the buildings of what had to be the very worst part of town.

"You said you wanted to know me better. I spent a lot of time in a place like this—er, several places like this. After Caldik Prime."

She swiveled her head to look at him. Never, never, never, had she heard him say those words, the name of that planet.

Not to her, not to anyone, the one topic he would not discuss, the one thing he kept in a little shrine, utterly sacrosanct, untouchable. {Like me, in a way, there are some things we don‘t talk about. A lot like me, actually.}

"You did?" She forgot to be angry, forgot she was desperately needed in engineering, even forgot that he was carrying her. She just lay passively, her mind moving too fast.

He put her down in front of a door that looked, if possible, even worse than that at the tattoo artist‘s parlor—but it did work, opening at their presence and letting them into a very quiet bar. She looked around, noticing the wooden panels that looked like they were well taken care of, the fine condition of the furniture, and raised the place a few notches in her estimation.

"What do you think?" He was looking around too, evaluating. She knew that look.

"Not bad. Are we sleeping on a bar stool?" Her voice was sweet malice, but no heat. Too much curiosity in her. Too
shocked by his behavior. And--{I like him like this. I‘ve never seen him like this, and I like it. Not since—not since the Moneans, when he set himself on that suicidal course.}

"No. Upstairs. They rent rooms."

"When did you plan this?"

"During my shift, of course." He walked to the bar, speaking to the owner, while she waited by the door. In a few minutes, he had a keycard and he led her by the hand upstairs. A few doors down, he opened the door and they walked in.

Her first thought--*very big*.

It was one large room, with a two meter tall partition between the bed and the lounge. It seemed to be very compatible for humans, but B‘Elanna did not get much time to look around. Her bag was removed from her hand, and her back came into hard contact with the wall. His mouth covered hers, pushing her lips apart, and she curved her hands over his shoulders, heard him mutter something when her fingers brushed the bandage beneath his t-shirt. He pulled back from the hard kiss abruptly, but before she could do more than draw in a breath, he had her by the arms.

"Tom!" Her hands were pinned above her head by the wrists, and she met unveiled blue eyes, and she recognized that
smile now, she‘d seen it on her own face before…{what the hell is going on?}

"We should talk more, right? Get to know each other?" He leaned closer and she growled. To her amazement, he growled back, startling her into momentary compliance, and he took advantage of it, pulling her off her feet, bracing a knee between her legs, careful to assure she had no ability to knee him, no way to defend herself.

"You are very dead, Paris." She tried to put heat in her voice. Couldn‘t. Too dazed, too amazed, that her lover had a side she had never seen before, never guessed at.

"Back to surnames? My heart bleeds." He freed her wrists briefly, too suddenly for her to react, before lacing their fingers together and slamming them back into the wall. She sucked in a breath. Aware of her own uneven breathing.

She liked this. It was more than simply attractive. It was arousing as hell. As if something had broken loose in him, his vaunted control, that control he used over himself and exerted over others, though never on her, never able to on her…

"I want to talk," he said pleasantly, and she realized he was breathing quickly too. Just as affected as she was. It was comforting, familiar. Nothing else was familiar, not now.

"About—what?" she ground it out between her teeth, letting her anger give her strength, and *pushed*--and nothing happened. {When did he get so good at this?}

"Ships and sails and sealing wax—the usual. Faith and hope and reason and the combination of the three. Or any subject you want. Pick one, lover."

His thigh rubbed lightly against the soreness of her tattoo, and she shuddered, unable to stop it, amazed and impressed and enraged all at once.

"What the hell has gotten into you?" She twisted her leg, and he countered, and she began to regret she didn‘t practice Klingon martial arts with him more, she could faintly recognize his methodology. {He is good at this. Very, very good, and where have I been when he has been practicing this particular art? Ah, that‘s right, sitting on a holographic beach or discovering the ultimate warp coil. He has way too much time on his hands.}

"I am remembering a conversation we had, Torres." He looked so at ease, as if it cost him no effort to hold her like this. Their faces were so close, she could feel his breath against her cheek.

"What conversation?" She snarled the words.

"Actually, its one we haven‘t had, my mistake." He leaned a little closer, near her ear. "About our relationship, where it is going." She felt is teeth scrape her ear lobe, before continuing down her neck to her collar. Her spine was liquefying under the feel of his mouth.

"Where it‘s going?" She was trying to keep up, but she was breathing in his scent, distracting her.

"Early on, quite early, I said I would not presume to see a future. I‘ve never brought it up again, it never seemed like a good time." He looked up, meeting her eyes, teeth slightly bared in a feral grin. "But it occurred to me—I don‘t even know when, couldn‘t tell you if you asked, and you never ask, so I won‘t bother trying to recall—I‘ve changed my mind." He leaned forward again. His voice was low, tickling her ear. She shivered at the contact, indirect though it was.

B‘Elanna closed her eyes briefly, opened them again.

Breathed in deeply. Yes, this was Tom. Same scent. Looked like him. Even the faint scar on his left cheek, where she had bitten him so long ago, on Sakari, that had been only partially regenerated, she had no idea why. Very faint, but still there. This is Tom. Insane, but Tom.

"I‘ve spent some time thinking about this, about us. On the ship, we have a habit of keeping our relationship private. An open secret at best, but private. You keep it that way. You don‘t want to advertise who you spend your nights with. I respected your decision. I understood it. I accepted it."

He pulled back, ice blue eyes searching her face.

"Until I realized why it was you didn‘t want it advertised."

She drew her breath in, didn‘t try to fight anymore, saving her energy. Trying to catch his train of thought. Didn‘t understand it. He had never complained—

{Oh—gods—I know what this came from. How the hell did I not notice?}

"You are talking about what happened after—after Seven—in the messhall—" She could barely get the words out. The memory was still too fresh.

"Correct." The way he bit off the word made her wince. "Then, here, you decide to—let me see, how do I phrase this delicately?--claim me as your possession."

{Ah.} She really hadn‘t thought he would forget about that.

"Tom, its not—"

"You liked doing that, didn‘t you?" He tilted his head, waited for the answer she would not give him the satisfaction of saying aloud. "You like having control, and I‘ve never fought it, never once. You chose when we‘d start dating, you chose how we publicized it, you chose when you were willing to trust me enough to at least try to work on a real relationship. I‘ve never once pushed you on it, never argued with you about it, you got your way and were perfectly content that way. You lead, I follow." Blue eyes so utterly cool, without the slightest hint of anything except unleashed anger. {And I like it. What the hell is wrong with me? Instinctual approval of dominant male through my Klingon genes?}

Somehow, she doubted it. She liked it because, for the first time, she was seeing Tom, without his charm, without his usual congeniality, without anything but the bare essentials of himself. Without worry about what someone might think or do if he did or said this or that. She liked it because he was finally showing himself to her, the real Tom, the one that felt and didn‘t make a joke out of everything in his life, who didn‘t keep himself in a kind of emotional isolation from others.

"Not anymore." He bit the words out and she felt herself shiver again. She watched the lines of his face, entranced, as if she had never seen him before. {And maybe I never have.}

"Are you ashamed of me, of being with me?"

She caught her breath

"No, of course not!"

"Then give me a reason, one good reason, why you avoid being seen in public with me alone."

"That‘s not true." {Is it?}

"No? Not all the time, maybe, but a lot of the time. I have gone weeks without seeing you except in bed. Unless Harry is around, of course, then you have no problem going out with both of us, but me alone—not often."

B‘Elanna mentally reviewed their history, trying to find the flaw. Couldn‘t find it. {Is that what I do? I never did it consciously.} Or she had, at the beginning, when everything was too new for her to be certain that they would work out. It had become habit, the concealment she had orchestrated, and forgot to discard when it was no longer needed.

They looked at each other, breathing heavily. B‘Elanna watched the light flush on his face, stretching down below the shirt, wanted to follow that line—she snapped herself back out of it, not easily, but gods, she wanted to touch him…

"Or do you think of me the same way our beloved Captain does?"

And B‘Elanna could now pinpoint when this had started, and looking back, she could see the signs she had missed before.
{I never guessed you would hear about that, Tom, I swear I will find out who told you and remove their lungs for them and they can damn well spend the rest of the trip to the Alpha Quadrant living on holographic lungs for all I care…}

"You heard what the Captain told Harry. Who told you?"

"You‘d be surprised how many people actually get a kick out of spreading bad news. Especially news like that, to me. You didn‘t think I‘d hear what she told Harry? That she wouldn‘t have been surprised if I was the one banging Tal?"

"I didn‘t—" {Of course someone would tell him, we live on an incredibly small ship…}

"Or did you believe it?"

{Believe he would cheat on me? Did I believe it? Even for a minute, a second?} That was an easy one.


She thought she felt him relax, just a little. {Did I in any way make him that unsure of my confidence in him? Did I?}

"I want something." Stated coolly. "I want you to do it."

An echo, a much more aggressive echo, of her question that morning.

"Tell me what it is." To her surprise, he let her hands go, and moved back, letting her slide to the floor. She wasn‘t certain she would be able to stand for a moment, balanced herself with one hand on the wall, looking at him, trying to find a way to—

{What? Turn this to my advantage? Am I that controlling?}

In all honesty, she really was. So little in her life had been under her direct control. Her relationship with Tom she cherished for the fact that she had finally allowed it, and had the power, at least theoretically, to end it. A safety net.

{And I never thought how that would look to him after awhile.}

"I want a commitment."

She blinked. Knew she hadn‘t heard him correctly.

"You want what?"

Mistake. She retreated against the wall when he approached, but he didn‘t touch her, just looked at her.

Then, very gently, he slid his hands up her side, cupping her face, tilting it

"Commitment. You made that claim today that I am your mate. Fine. Make it real. Private, just between you and I. But real, all the same."
She never thought he meant it in Cardon‘s parlor. But he had. {He meant it. Dear gods, he really means it.}

"You want to own me."

"Just like you own me, yes."

She met the blue eyes, unwilling to look away, not in the face of his sincerity, his determination.


Eyes narrowing a little, he tilted her head higher, so she had no choice but to see him, read every emotion.

"Because I love you. Because I need you. Because I don‘t remember what life was like before you, and I have no intention of finding out what it could be without you. Tell me you don‘t feel the same."

She opened her mouth, tried to find the words.

She didn‘t do it fast enough. With that terrible gentleness, he let go, looking at her for a long time, and she read the pain the words she did not say had caused.

"Then that is all, I think, that there is to say, isn‘t there?" Then he looked away, picked up his bag, and walked out the door.

Not another word. Leaving her with the memory of a look she knew she would never forget.

And B‘Elanna sank to the floor, feeling herself tremble, not certain what to do. Or how to do it.

Part III

Harry watched Tom.

It wasn‘t easy. It had taken some creative hacking to get the holodeck monitors to send him feedback to his own private terminal in his quarters, but the bother was certainly worth it. When Tom had arrived back from the planet, early, handing the Delta Flyer over to *another pilot* to take the next wave down, volunteered for duty on a skeleton bridge shift, Harry had known something was wrong.

What he didn‘t know was what that was.

Harry had three clues at his disposal, to let his imagination gnaw on for a little while, which it did, to his frustration.

One, Tom had returned less than three hours after his shoreleave began, and B‘Elanna had not come back up with him.

Two, Tom had let someone use the Delta Flyer without a temper tantrum (that really worried Harry).

Three, Tom had traded for six straight hours of Holodeck time, and so far had spent three of those hours in his Klingon Martial Arts program, getting his ass kicked without the benefit of safety protocols. Directly after his duty shift.

Getting Tom to talk at any time was a nebulous situation at best, rather like walking through fog without a compass. You knew where you were because you were there, but getting an answer to the actual question was tricky because you get lost so often. Tom was the undisputed master of the evasive answer, the half-truth, and, if necessary, though Harry could not prove it, the very believable lie, that could actually resemble the truth to a remarkable degree.

It was annoying, more so because, unlike Harry, Tom could easily tell you green was blue with such sincerity you began to wonder whether indeed your understanding of the color spectrum was sound.

So Harry had learned, albeit reluctantly, the art of subterfuge. And found that he liked it. He didn‘t use it often, but in this case felt justified.

Three hours of watching Tom kill random assortments of Romulans, Klingons, Cardassians, and other myriad alien races (Harry had taken a bathroom break and saw the disappearance of what could have been Borg bodies, but couldn‘t be sure) and having worked his way up to Hirogen, Harry Kim, the Squeaky-Clean Starfleet Ensign, decided to do something about it.

Harry, during the early days when Tom had began his pursuit of B‘Elanna and stopped any and all sexual contact with other women, had often seen him spend a great deal of his time removing excess testosterone from his system in such a manner, albeit at shorter periods of time. Not in marathons of stamina.

Harry had to admire his tenacity. He‘d taken short breaks of five minutes or so, to get water, or simply rest his head on his knees. But his face betrayed absolutely nothing, and that disturbed Harry most of all. That without anyone watching, without any audience, in the middle of actual combat, Tom kept the same cool mask in place.

Slowly, Harry stretched his back. Watched his friend thoughtfully.

{I have some infiltration to do.}

* * * * *

Harry stood at the doors of Holodeck Two, thinking about what he was planning to do, then took a deep breath. Took out the codepicker.

Harry felt a thrill of delighted evil. Codepickers were extremely illegal, but Tom, always resourceful, had once given Harry a hint about how to make one and Harry, never one to turn down any sort of educational experience as long as it did not involve Seven of Nine being sexually aggressive, immediately filed away the information for future reference. Soon after, a chance encounter with B‘Elanna fixing the replicator, he had been inspired by an Idea and, after several weeks, built a semi-useable codepicker. Over time the original had been modified, and Harry was now pretty certain that it could break into any door in the ship.

Carefully, he hot-wired it into the controls, watched in fascination as the tiny screen started to dance.

And the door opened. {Score one for Harry, the cat burglar extraordinaire.}

Harry picked up the medkit he had gotten from Tom‘s room (a rather practical application of the code-picker, actually, he knew that Tom‘s field medic kit was well-stocked) and walked in—facing one of the angriest Hirogen he had ever had the misfortune to see.

And Tom, holding, of all things, a bat‘leth, striking the killing blow and turning to look at him.

"Computer, freeze program. Harry, I am reasonably certain there is a privacy lock on this Holodeck." His voice betrayed no surprise, no anger, no—anything. Just the most mild curiosity. Before Harry could think to frame a response, Tom walked away, picking up his shirt and sitting the bat‘leth down against what appeared to be a cave wall. Harry noticed the bandage on his shoulder.

He decided it might not be wise to comment at that moment.

Tom looked—well, actually a lot better than he would have expected. The blonde hair was darkened to brown from dust and sweat, and the blue eyes were bloodshot from the holographic dust, and yes, there were myriad cuts, bruises, and what looked like a darkening spot on his temple, but he didn‘t wilt with exhaustion, even seem tired. He was stripped to a plain blue jumpsuit pants and boots, though his upper body clothes were now nothing more than ragged reminders of past battles.

{Damn, Tom can act Klingon sometimes.}

Tom, it seemed, was working toward something called closure. For what, Harry did not know.

"Hey," Harry said awkwardly, now realizing that old ‚look before you leap‘ adage actually had some merit. He had no idea what to say, how to say it. "You are bleeding."

"Brilliant deduction, Harry. You‘ll be an Admiral yet."

Old, jocular tone, so off-key Harry‘s musical ear was bent.

Harry refused to rise to such pitiful bait, and took out the medical tricorder and the dermal regenerator, and quickly scanned Tom. His breath hissed between his teeth at the readings.

"Two broken ribs, a twisted ankle, lookie! quite an almost-concussion, Doc should be pleased you escaped the real thing—what the hell do you think you are doing?" He grabbed Tom by the shoulder, met the other man‘s blue eyes--and there was nothing there. Oh, there was something there, Harry knew it, but whatever it was, Tom was using every trick at his disposal to cover it.

And Tommy boy had a lot of tricks.

Tom's face remained utterly expressionless, at attention, taking in Harry‘s burst of anger without any real interest.

"I didn‘t notice." He stood up, dropping his shirt, picking up the bat‘leth, giving it a practice swing, before looking at Harry, still holding the regenerator limply in one hand.

"Tom, talk to me." He kept his vice neutral, fighting his sudden urge to just hit Tom until he talked. {Yeah. Like that would work.}

"I am about to start again, I would suggest you leave," he said pleasantly. He shifted the weapon between his hands, obviously ready. Just waiting for Harry, good, reliable, dependable Harry, to shuffle his pitiful ass right out the holodeck doors so he could get down to some serious bloodletting. Harry straightened, met the cold blue eyes with equally determined brown ones.

"I am not leaving."

"Computer, resume." Tom turned away, and Harry watched in a kind of fascinated horror as his closest friend went to war with what appeared to be a large mammalian with far too many teeth and arms.

"Computer, freeze program!" Harry shouted. The direct approach was getting Harry nowhere.

"Belay that," Tom said coolly. The program did not even pause to listen to Harry‘s frantic yell. Neither did Tom. "Lock out unauthorized access, authorization Janeway Omega Alpha 3."

Harry stared at his friend. {He has the captain‘s code.}

Then, {why the hell am I surprised?}

Cold, effortless, and utterly efficient killer, and it reminded Harry of what Tom had been before he became a prodigal Starfleet officer. Reminded him of what Tom had never talked about, those years between Caldik Prime and prison. Lost time.

For some reason, Harry began to wonder, not for the first time and certainly not for the last, what Tom had spent those days doing with himself.

Watching his methodical work, he was torn between horror and a kind of unwilling admiration. Whatever it was that had upset Tom (and Harry was now reasonably sure it must have something to do with B‘Elanna), he was certainly trying to get some closure on the issue.

Of course, that was assuming he survived.

Harry, watching Tom parry another blow, wondered. And decided.

"Computer, add one bat‘leth to scenario." {When in doubt, join in. Beats the hell out of slinking back to my room like a whipped puppy, anyway.}

It appeared at his feet and he picked it up, shifting the weight carefully, then removed his uniform tunic and shirt, leaving the tank top, and walked to just behind Tom, coming to a decision.

The next wave of alien intruders found two bodies to fight.

Harry didn‘t have Tom‘s effortless grace, his skill, his pure, almost unconscious rapport with fighting, but he had gone through Starfleet Academy, had learned from the very best, including one Commander Worf, who had taught a single summer session that had changed Harry‘s view of combat forever. Bat‘leths (though certainly not on Harry‘s top ten list of favorite weapons, which included phasers, ships, and the best offense is a good defense strategy) he did know how to use, and Worf hadn‘t been the least bit reluctant to make sure each pupil got it through his head how to use one, along with other, more Federation-traditional weapons, and while Harry would never acknowledge it, he did like how it felt, the one-on-one of true combat.

{Probably my knight-in-shining-armor complex. If swords were available, and I could use one, I would have one of those instead, fighting off dragons with only the force of my arm and my wits…}

{Oooh, Harry, get your mind on the game. No safeties, remember?}

Tom never seemed to acknowledge the existence of his best friend, and Harry soon found out that this little escapade had not been a good idea at all, in any way, shape or form.

Sweat dripped onto the sandy floor in rivers from his face and chest, and his hands were slippery from the blood of his enemies. Not to mention the blisters that were forming in regular intervals on his palms. {I see why Klingons drink bloodwine. Only someone drunk could call this fun.}

His eyes stung from salt, and he actually began to wonder if dying right here might be worth it just so he could rest. Within two hours of the most excruciating hell he had experienced in his young life, Harry was perfectly willing to give up and lay down on the sand and hope some friendly warrior would use him as a pincushion. {How the hell does Tom do it?}

"Computer, end program."

Harry stared at Tom, then watched as both their bat‘leths disappeared. The hologrid appeared around them, and Tom was watching him with disinterested concern. Without any fanfare, he ran the medical tricorder over Harry, and silently fixed the bruises and abrasions, not to mention the cuts. Harry, too exhausted to protest, submitted in silence to the ministrations that were about as warm and concerned as the Doctor‘s had been when he had first been activated.

As if they were strangers.

Tom didn‘t even seem out of breath. Harry, breathing in gusts that seemed to be far too small, tried to find resentment and could only find an awed pity—whatever Tom was going through, must be hard.

There was only two things that Harry knew of that could involve B‘Elanna and put Tom back into his shell. One, B‘Elanna was dead; two, they broke up.

Not really much of a chore to see which one that was. The chore was getting Tom to talk about it, and Harry didn‘t know if he could. B‘Elanna was the one who got Tom to open up, however reluctantly, and while Tom had many friends, he only trusted B‘Elanna and Harry.


Tom didn‘t glance up from the tricorder.

"Tom, talk to me?"

"Nothing serious, just some flesh wounds." He glanced up, and his smile was on his face, and Harry wanted more than anything else in the world at that moment, more than he wanted to feel air in his lungs, more than he wanted to get home, more than he wanted see the next day dawn, to smash his fist into that mouth and see some real reaction out of his best friend..

{You know that probably wouldn‘t work. He has broken ribs--do you really think he‘d notice something as small as a
split lip? He fights Hirogen for fun…or not, for recreation, in any case. That is assuming you could even manage to strike a blow, the man‘s a pilot, his reflexes kick yours into next Sunday, no matter how tired he is, and he sure doesn‘t look the worse for wear, does he? Sit back, evaluate the situation, find an opening, and leap in.}

Harry remembered who had given him that advice, and grinned even through his frustration.

{Tom does have a way with advice.}

Then Tom was standing up again, picked up his shirt, and walked out, not before, however, glancing at the holodeck doors and at the codepicker that Harry, in his rush, had forgotten to disattach. The blond eyebrows went up, a very small twitch of his lips, and then he was gone.

"You can have the rest of my holodeck time, Harry," he called over his shoulder. And the door closed, and Harry was left staring at the walls of the hologrid, trying to find a word for what he had seen on Tom‘s face, that look.

It took about ten minutes, and then it hit Harry, as he picked up his tunic and shirt and seriously considered the beneficial effects of real alcohol.

Tom wasn‘t just hurt. Or frustrated. Or angry.

Tom was mad.

* * * * *

It was the second day of shoreleave, and Tom was quietly commanding the Bridge, sitting in the Big Chair, watching the stars. Harry, in a rush of uncharacteristic fervor, had signed up for the same shift. He had no illusions that anything would happen that would suddenly bring Tom to his senses and make him talk, but opportunity would eventually present itself, and like any good Ferengi (Harry had once almost done business with one, he could imagine Quark had this as a motto), he wanted to be available for that opportunity. Whenever the hell it was.

Skeleton Bridge Crew meant just that, of course. Three people were on the Bridge, as Janeway, Chakotay, and Tuvok, all quite surprised at the presence of two Senior Officers actually volunteering for the most boring duty known to man or space, were taking their leave together, and no one quite knew how, Chakotay had actually managed to convince both his associates to make it twenty-four hours.

It was a Day of Miracles. Harry devoutly hoped it would continue.

Which meant, for twenty-four hours, Tom was Acting Captain of the ship.

That definitely qualified, but Harry was looking for something closer to home—like hearing exactly what had happened on that planet to make B‘Elanna break up with him.

Chakotay had been heard to laugh himself breathless over the concept of Tom Paris as captaining Voyager, and Tuvok had actually allowed a sigh to escape, and be heard by others. Janeway, however, quite aware of the rumors going around about her talk with Harry, and equally aware that Tom would have heard them, decided that a show of confidence was required, and went through with her decision. Chakotay took the Delta Flyer, piloting his Captain and the tactical officer. Harry glanced at Tom warily, and when no reaction occurred to the news, that Chakotay, he who had merely to touch a shuttlecraft to write its death warrant, was flying his baby, his pride and joy, he was desperately worried.

The Senior Officers wandered off the Bridge, leaving it in Tom‘s very willing hands, without a single worry, at least on the surface. If Janeway suspected something was wrong, she gave no hint of it.

{Alright, alone at last. Well, there is a random ensign— what is her name, Landry?--but she doesn‘t look too interested in anything but sleeping, I sure don‘t blame her while we are in orbit. So, how do I do this? Direct doesn‘t work, and I would love to meet the person who could manipulate Tom…}

{Well, I have. That would be B‘Elanna. Who I doubt I can ask for help in this case, as it probably involves her…}

And B‘Elanna was due back from the surface today. Soon, in fact. Really soon. Harry frowned and looked down at the time reading, and remembered something way too late to do anything about it. If there had been anything possible to do.

And his luck, as usual, was phenomenal. B‘Elanna herself, in uniform, ready for her shift, stepped on the Bridge. She looked a little pale, a little tired, and there was a strained quality to her mouth that Harry recognized faintly but couldn‘t identify. Tom, who was sitting in the Big Chair, trying to get comfortable, missed seeing her, too busy fixing his uniform in place after shifting one too many times, and did not look up. B‘Elanna did not look down, seeing Harry in her line of sight, and the relief on her face was almost palpable. Her lips parted to say something—

Harry leaped, hoping, by some miracle, to get her back in the turbolift. And fell, with incredible grace, down to the lower level. Tom watched. B‘Elanna watched. Tom‘s mouth quirked. B‘Elanna‘s mouth quirked.

Then they saw each other. The entire room seemed to change. Harry, upside down, felt it in the small of his back, groaned, righted himself, and stood up as fast as he could. Wanting nothing more than to get away. Ensign Landry had opened her eyes and fixed them on this scene. Harry cursed under his breath, unwilling witness to the drama.

Slowly, B‘Elanna came down to the lower level, stopping in front of Tom, into his line of vision, and paused, as if bracing herself, then said something in a low voice. Tom looked up, and their eyes met, holding, and Harry thought that, for a second, that everything might be okay after all…

"No." Flat and hard and utterly expressionless.

And Tom looked beyond her, to the viewscreen, cutting her out of his attention completely, as if she had stopped existing for him. Harry caught his breath, seeing the look on B‘Elanna‘s face, before she moved away, a fast walk that became a jog, then a run, until she was in the turbolift, face set, and the doors closed.

Harry put two and two together.

{Tom broke up with B‘Elanna?}

Harry tried to find his breath. Couldn‘t believe what he had seen. What he had heard. And the look on Tom‘s face. Calm, cool, utterly at ease…

{Does this ever explain the holodeck. Why the hell would he break up with her? Her with him, I could see that…}

Harry broke the thought off, realized Tom was looking at him, a bitter smile twisting his mouth, as he read Harry‘s face. How, Harry didn‘t know, but he saw it, and Tom looked away, to the emptiness of space, fingers tapping a frantic rhythm on the arm of the chair, and…

Harry returned to his post, staring out into space, wishing his shift was over already.

Part IV

B‘Elanna worked long after her shift was over, long after there wasn‘t any work she could do, until Carey politely and with great kindness kicked her out of engineering. For an entire duty shift, there hadn‘t been a show of B‘Elanna‘s famous temper, her unwillingness to accept less than perfection, her general grumpiness—instead they were faced with someone who delegated their tasks and left them to do them, who seemed to have no interest in them when they dropped tricorders or forgot to run an important diagnostic.

At that point, they believed there could be a warp-core breach and B‘Elanna might quite literally never bat an eye, just set up recovery with that horrible lethargic energy she radiated, they had no idea how she did it, like an old ship on its last mile, running on pure will—and damn if she didn‘t have a lot of will.

In short, they were terrified.

By the end of the shift, her people were unable to accomplish a single thing decently, and she didn‘t say a word—she took over the jobs badly done. Carey moved from nervous confusion to active worry in short order. Vorik was seen to frown.

Two hours later, Carey told her in his gentlest voice that if she did not get her ass out of the engine room he would transport her to the doc, because obviously she was having some kind of medical emergency. Without so much as a whimper, she left.

Thus engineering knew that Torres/Paris were no more, (thanks to Ensign Landry, who spread the word during lunch) and those who won the bets were less thrilled than one would think considering the number of replicator rations they received.

* * * * *

When Harry hesitantly chimed Tom‘s door, he was surprised that Tom simply called for it to open. Slowly, he walked in, to a painfully neat living-room, and Tom, sitting on the floor, apparently at ease and relaxed and not having a care in the world.

Harry knew better. But he came in anyway, letting the door close behind him, watching his friend warily as he welcomed him in with effusive greetings, as if only twelve hours before he hadn‘t been engaged in what had appeared to be non-ritual suicide in the Holodeck.

Harry took a chair across the coffee-table from Tom with a wariness that would have been obvious to a blind man. Tom sighed with utterly charming drama.

"You heard."

Harry‘s eyebrows went up.

"I saw it, Tom. What happened between you and B‘Elanna?"

"We broke up. Never would have worked out in the long run anyway, you know?" Tom was so casual Harry‘s desire to watch Tom bleed from the actions of his fist returned, and he found himself, he who was not a violent person, clenching his hand into a tight fist and sitting very still for a few minutes, to keep his calm. Tom looked at him quizzically.

"So she was just another conquest," Harry said softly, watching Tom. Saw something flicker in the clear blue, before it was gone.

"Another conquest," Tom agreed, equally soft. "One of many."

"Every man wants to have a Klingon woman at least once, right, its such great sex, violent of course, but really great."

There, another flicker.

"Exactly, Harry."

"Was she good, Tom? Best you ever had? I‘ve seen the sickbay logs."


"Wonder if I could get her for a few nights."

Flicker. No answer.

Harry relaxed, sitting back lightly, then noticed the bottle by Tom‘s feet. He read the label, and choked.

"Romulan Ale? Where the hell did you get Romulan Ale?"

Tom‘s mouth quirked, and Harry noticed the strain disappeared from his eyes for a moment.

"The replicator."

"How in the name of the Federation did you manage to get the replicator to produce Romulan Ale? That isn‘t programmed in, and the replicator itself won‘t accept that recipe, even if someone had it."

Tom picked up a small chip from the table. Harry frowned.

"Codepicker. A little better than yours, actually, but I had mine built by B‘—an engineer." Tom dropped it back on the table and picked up a data disc. "The replicator program to produce Romulan Ale." He smiled again, mischievously, the first semi-real smile Harry had gotten out of him since he‘d returned, and Harry, even horrified as he was, couldn‘t help but smile back.

"How did you get the recipe?"

Tom shrugged, playing with it, and Harry correctly deduced this was part of Tom‘s Lost Years, and left it there. Despite himself, Harry leaned forward, and Tom picked up the bottle and handed it to him to look at, then, with a grin, an empty glass.

"Try some," he invited.

Harry‘s eyes widened.

"No. I‘ve heard—"

"It is everything you have heard. That is why you need to try some. Come on Harry, one glass with me."

Harry gave his friend a wary look, and then nodded.

Because he had an Idea.

* * * * *

B‘Elanna walked into her empty quarters, looked around the living room. It seemed just about the same as when she had left for work, still in shock—that is, clean and neat. She pulled off her tunic numbly, her headache warring with her need for a shower, and the headache won the instant she stepped into her room, saw her bed—still rumpled from the that morning two days before that she had convinced him to enjoy art.

Smelled him here.

She felt herself retreat, couldn‘t call it anything but a retreat, until the backs of her knees collapsed into the couch and she fell backward. It didn‘t help her headache, and added nausea, but such physical concerns were beyond her now, she could only stare at where they had last been together on this ship, before—before—

{Not now. Don‘t think of it now.}

{Then when?}

She sat up, straightening, running her fingers through her disarranged hair quickly, before standing up. She could walk through that room—she would walk through and go take her shower.

At the door, she unconsciously braced herself, and stepped in.

"Computer, lights fifty percent."

The room illuminated, and she stepped in, glanced at the bed.

It was still disarranged, when she hadn‘t bothered to make it up when she left that day, too eager to get to the surface.

{I asked if we could talk and he said no. On the bridge, I  asked and he said no. He looked at me and said no and then
he stopped noticing I was there. Tuned me out, like a piece of bad music, or an offensive odor, or--}

{Not now. Don‘t think of it now.}

{Then when?}

She realized she was staring at the sheets, her breath coming faster, harder, mouth slightly open. Her hands were closed into fists against her sides, her nails cutting into her palms, as she asserted control. She took another step, removing her turtleneck, reached to pull her tank top off too—

And her fingers grabbed the sheets, both of them, ripping them off the bed, the smell of them, of him, of both of them, filling her. Freezing her when she wanted to rend them into pieces, watch the scraps fly and…

{Not now. Don‘t think of it now.}

{Fuck not now. Now!}

She dropped them on the floor, took a long, deep breath, struggling against herself.

When he had left her in the bar, she had found that a blue drink they served had remarkable powers of recovery.

After the first, she was certain the whole incident would blow over.

The second brought regretful relief. It was over. Sad but—well, wasn‘t it better this way? Less complicated. It was better this way, definitely, and the third drink concurred, following the second, her fingertips tingling, her bandaged hip throbbing as if to counteract the effect of the alcohol, her head pleasantly spinning, giving her energy, dragging away the numb shock. Better this way, better for her, who wants commitment and all it implies, giving control to someone else, letting them have the power to control you—never, never, never—

But as Tom could have easily told her, victim himself of using alcohol to forget, the fourth drink was always a doozie.

{He left me. I wouldn‘t tell him yes and he left me, alone.}

{He‘ll come back.}

{He‘ll come back. I know he will. He has to.}

"She doesn‘t trust me, Harry. She never has."

Harry, leaning over the side of his chair, one glass half-filled with Romulan ale, blinked one bleary eye at his friend.

"She tr-r-rusts you, man. She loves you."

Tom, propped up on his couch, turned clear blue eyes on his best friend.

"You are wrong."

"Then why the hell would she be dating you?"

"I am great in bed."

"Good point. Not that I would know personally, but good point."

{Is that why I wanted him, so I could have someone to screw regularly, no commitment? Is that why, because of the rumors, the speculation? Is that all he ever meant to me, good—great sex?}


"You see, Harry, Harry, Harry—you‘re name sounds odd, y‘know that?--Harry, Harry, Harry-"

"Stop saying that. It doesn‘t sound like my name if you say it too much."

"I want her. I want her like I have wanted nothing else in my life. I don‘t know how to live without her."

"Then go back to her."

"I can‘t live with her anymore either. I can‘t, not when I can‘t get her to trust me, not when—"

"When she won‘t marry you?"

"Yes! No! You don‘t understand, Harry, I love her. I need her."

"I understand. I know those there words."

"Harry you are drunk."

"So are you."

{I can live without him. I don‘t need him, I don‘t need anyone. I don‘t—I want him. I don‘t want to lose him.}

{What the hell am I going to do?}

{Time‘s running out, I can feel it, what do I do?}

"It‘s over, Harry."

"Just like that? Three years of foreplay and bang, you give up? I never thought you would give up. Never."

"I can‘t. I can‘t go on like this. Either I want all of her or none. I thought—I thought maybe she would learn to trust me, to open herself up, and where the fuck has that gotten me?"

"Your room."

"Remind me to tape you when you drink next time. Your illuminations will doubtless start a new religion on Voyager."

"You are so funny, Tommy."

"No one calls me Tommy."

"She calls you Tommy."

"I am not going back. I won‘t settle for a part of her. I won‘t go back to being simply her lover. I wanted more, and I wasn‘t what she wanted. Never have been before, why should that change?‘

{I lost him. He won‘t come back.}

B‘Elanna held the sheets between her hands, wanting to rip, tear, her Klingon side screaming for violence and revenge
and the feel of blood coursing over her hands, the taste of it in her mouth…

{Who are you going to practice this oh-so-lovely revenge upon, huh, B‘Elanna? Tom? For what? For wanting you? For wanting to be more than your nightly screw?}

{That isn‘t true. He knows how much he means to me. I told him how I felt.}

{But you don‘t show it much, do you? I am surprised you don‘t tell him what to wear. You tell him how you want everything else done. Are you ashamed of being his lover, B‘Elanna? Control, keep control, B‘Elanna, don‘t let anyone get too close, want too much, its damned easy to love someone, isn‘t it, if you don‘t have to worry that they‘ll leave you, when you get to decide when to end it. And you never had to, because you were going to leave first.}

{Leave me the hell alone!}

{I think you‘ve taken care of that yourself, Torres. But— as you wish.}

B‘Elanna, surrounded by the soft linen of her bedsheets, fingers entwined in them, surrounded by the memory of her Tom, closed her eyes.


{--when she had woken up late one night, after that first time they had made love, in his bed, finding Tom watching her, blue eyes so dark, with awe, with disbelief, with incredulous joy, as if it couldn‘t be real, as if she would disappear if he looked away, the tips of his fingers tracing her face, the ridges she hated, the hesitant smile curving his lips, the way he touched her, as if she was made out of the finest crystal that could shatter with a breath--}

She sank down on the floor, gasping, gripping one sheet in shaking hands, wanting to rip, to tear, to let loose all her Klingon instincts of destruction and make someone hurt, make someone pay…

{Who? Ah, that would be you, wouldn‘t it? You did this.}

{He‘s not coming back. I lost him.}

Something blurred her vision, and she raised a wondering hand to her face, and it came away wet. She shook her head, felt the moisture seeping across her cheeks, filling her eyes again, turning white sheets into blobs of grey nothingness.

She lay back, surrounded by her sheets, by his scent, staring at the waving ceiling, unblinking, knowing it would hit her, hit her hard, knowing that when it did, she would hurt like she had not yet, the headache relegated into insignificance before the extraordinary variety of pain ahead of her, she could feel it coming.

He hand went to her hip, where the bandage still remained, she hadn‘t been able to take it off, look at it, since Tom had left her in that bar. Felt the linen cloth with trembling fingers, tracing the edges where it was taped to her skin, such an old-fashioned method of bandaging something, so authentic to the twentieth century—something Tom must have liked, maybe he liked, she wasn‘t sure—never would be sure, not now, not ever—

{He‘s gone.} She rolled onto her side, covering her face with her hands. Felt the shock wear away, felt the sweep of hurt that made her catch her breath, close her throat, ride her mind…

{Oh, God. He‘s gone.}

"How do I live without her, Harry? I don‘t remember how."

"You adapt."

"You sound like Seven."

"Is she wrong?"

"What if I can‘t adapt? What if I wake up for the rest of my life with this emptiness, this anger, this hurt, this— ah, never mind, I‘ve done it before."

"After Caldik Prime?"

"Yes. But this is worse, in a way. I can‘t do that again, Harry. I can‘t go through it again."

"No, you can‘t."

"I want her, Harry."

"I know, Tommy. I know"

Part V


She opened her eyes to see—endless white. She tried to lift her left arm, found it caught, used her right to push whatever was blocking her vision away, and encountered her sheets. She struggled briefly in the stale air, found an opening, and pushed herself through, and realized she had slept on the floor, wrapped in her sheets.

She had fallen asleep—crying.

Memory could be a bitch.

Her eyes felt sore, and her vision was still cloudy, her head ached incredibly. She rubbed her eyes and stood up.

"B‘Elanna?" The voice sounded worried, and vaguely, she remembered hearing it before. She looked down at herself, still in uniform pants and her tank top, and dismissed it as irrelevant.

"Come in."

Harry‘s head peeked in, and she watched just out of sight from the bedroom door as he slowly walked in, looking around warily. Finding all in order, he moved a little further through the door, but jumped as it silently closed behind him.


She was thankful for the lights being so low—he wouldn‘t be able to see the mess she had become.

"I‘m here. What do you want?" Even to herself, her voice sounded hostile. She closed her eyes, taking deep breaths, trying to remember the concept of self-discipline. It wasn‘t easy.

"I wanted to see if you wanted to go to breakfast with me. Interested?"

She glanced at the chronometer, frowning to see the time. Late for Alpha shift—no, she was on Gamma now, starting today. She shook her head once, then nodded, remembered Harry couldn‘t really see her, and answered verbally.

"Let me shower and get changed."

"I‘ll wait."

{I rather thought you might.}

Keeping her emotions under an emotional control that she wasn‘t used to exercising was an effort, but she managed {(What do you know, Tom managed to teach me something after all)} and the shower, with cold water, did wonders for the swelling. Another challenge to self-control when she picked up the medkit Tom had taken to leaving in her quarters after too many trips to sickbay with bad excuses.

Somehow, she managed to get her uniform on {(why am I bothering, I don‘t have a shift for a long time)} and walked into the living room. Harry, perched uncomfortably on her couch, was apparently looking at something, but set it aside when she entered. She frowned and crossed to the chair that faced him.

"You ready?" she asked. Harry smiled, a natural smile.

Harry had another Idea.

"I have something I want to give you, B‘Ela."

She frowned, regarding him suspiciously.

"What is it?"

Harry pulled the bag he had brought from the floor and removed a full bottle of fluorescent blue liquid. Her eyes widened at the sight.

"Romulan Ale."

* * * * *

"So, I understand Tom is back on the market," Harry said conversationally as he discreetly poured his share of the ale into the potted plant beside him. His strategically chosen location in the chair beside him guaranteed he need not resort to Tom‘s medkit again for a cure for a hangover. The almost indistinguishable fragrance of the liquor alone made his head spin and reactivated whatever was left of it in his blood and liver, actually making him a little heady.

Interesting fact about B‘Elanna, she had a very odd personality change when she was drunk, as he had found out from Tom the night before. Not that she was any less aggressive or any less herself, but her tongue, like Tom‘s, tended to get a good pace ahead of her mind, a circumstance Harry was counting on. He had no illusions he could do anything to repair what had been torn, but he knew the power of speaking a thought aloud. More often then not, the vocalization made something more real than it would be otherwise, and he suspected that B‘Elanna needed to hear herself, when all her defenses were down.

"Hmmm," she murmured, with what sounded like a growl.

"But you know, it was doomed to end anyway, right? You are so different, you fight too much, so it is better this way," Harry continued, watching as she drained her glass and then motioned for him to hand her his. He shuddered involuntarily, but extended the glass, mesmerized by the fall of blue liquid into his cup, and set a strong message to his stomach to stay in place.

Romulan Ale really was everything it was said to be, and ever so much more. Tom‘s toilet, with which he had had a long, heartfelt conversation early that morning, after a similar talk to Tom‘s coffee table (who wasn‘t nearly as understanding) could testify to the ‚more‘ with enthusiasm.

More, indeed.

"Yeah," she said, moodily. "Doomed." She tossed back another drink, then looked at the glass with a scowl. "Better this way."

"Tom was never cut out for a commitment, right? I mean, I never thought it, did you? He really wants to play the field."

She responded with a grunt that could have meant anything. Harry watched her take another swig, cleaning out her glass, then simply pick up the bottle for a long swallow. He caught his breath, concentrated on keeping his morning toast where it was supposed to be. She let the bottle down, looked at him, and he noted her unfocused eyes, the way her had seemed just a little off-center, and was pleased.

{This might actually work.}

"I was talking to Megan yesterday during my shift," he said conversationally, carefully keeping his tone disinterested.

B‘Elanna‘s head went very straight, and so did her slouch.

"Megan." The precision of her tone, compared to the earlier mild slurring, forced him to control a smile.

"Yeah." He pretended to take a drink. Some of it, unfortunately, touched his lips, and wormed its way onto his tongue. He wished he could spit, but B‘Elanna might notice, and he couldn‘t afford any mistakes.

Time was running out.

"Megan," she repeated, this time with a slur that sounded suspiciously like a growl. Megan had dated Tom once, and Harry knew very well B‘Elanna had a list of Tom‘s former shipboard lovers, complete with cross-references to current romantic situation, lodged firmly in her head. She trusted Tom, Harry had always thought. She didn‘t trust them.

"She invited me to dinner with her and Jenny tonight. Tom, too, she said he could use the cheering up." A calculated risk, he wasn‘t sure she was quite drunk enough for what he wanted to say, but he forged ahead. "Just sex, right, B‘Elanna?"

She slouched again, took another drink, to Harry‘s unending fascination. A long drink.

"Just sex," she agreed, her tongue tracing her lips.

"Great sex, or so I have heard." He pretended to suddenly look uncomfortable. B‘Elanna, quite drunk, latched on.

"You‘ve heard? Where?"

"Around," he answered with deliberate vagueness, hoping she would make the incorrect connection he was leading to. "Tom has a reputation of being a great lover. That‘s why you dated him, right?"

"Right," she echoed, eyes slightly blank, as if she did not know what she was saying.

"You could have anyone, B‘Elanna. Why settle for Tom?"

"Yeah, why set—settle? I don‘t settle for anything!" She frowned in his general vicinity but didn‘t quite get the location right.

Aggression. Good sign, Harry was sure, even if her tone was causing his bladder to loosen.

"B‘Elanna, you said it yourself, he‘s just a playboy, he‘s not the right man for you." {Well, she did say that, a very long time ago. Hope she remembers it now.}

B‘Elanna blinked. Took that in.

"He‘s more than that." Her voice dropped. A growl. The hairs on Harry‘s neck stood up.

"He never cared about anyone but himself. Personally, I don‘t know what you see in him." {Let her forgive me, let Tom forgive me, when this is over, or I will not only have them hating each other on this very small ship, I will be out my two best friends.}

"That‘s not true!" She stood up, weaving slightly, but definitely on her feet, her face fierce. Harry felt himself shrink into his chair. "He‘s—he‘s not like that. He didn‘t—he wanted to marry me. He wanted—he wanted—" she paused, still weaving, eyes slightly glazed. Shook herself. Turned burning eyes on Harry. "You‘re doing this on purpose."

Harry shrank some more. No one ever wanted to have B‘Elanna look at them like that. Except maybe Tom, who simply enjoyed when she looked at him, no matter what mood she was in. Of course, he was also the only person on this ship that wasn‘t afraid of her. Including the Captain and Chakotay, and Harry wasn‘t placing any bets in Tuvok‘s favor.

"Get me drunk to make me spill my guts, Harry?" She began to move toward him, but the coffee-table stopped her, and she saw, on the floor beside it, the picture of her and Tom. She froze, reached down slowly, picked it up, staring at it with a look Harry could not interpret.

Suddenly, she speared Harry with a glance, burning into him, stopped his breathing. Not anger or fear, not rage or revenge, or any combination of the four, but a terrible hunger. For the first time, Harry saw how red her eyes were, how her skin was ashen beneath the soft caramel color, the lips tight with tension. Staring at him, but not seeing him at all.

"My mate." A whisper, lost almost in the breath that spoke it.

"Not anymore. He gave you up." Calculated cruelty.

Her lip curled.

"Do Klingons always run away?" he asked, softly, judging her face, her body—the distance to the door if she attacked. But she stood, perfectly still, poised for flight or fight.

She dropped the bottle to the floor, flooding her booted feet with dark blue liquid, never noticed, never cared, and Harry was the one who jumped to rescue it, despite the fact he had to get near her to do it.

"He doesn‘t want me," she whispered. Harry was no longer in the room for her, no one was, only herself.

"He loves you," Harry said, equally soft, moving out of range of her feet.

"I wanted control of this relationship."

"Learn to share." He backed into the chair, watching her.

Wondering if what he had said was too much or not enough.

"What if I can‘t?" Her voice was a plea.

"Then there isn‘t a relationship, is there?" He sat down, putting the bottle on the floor beside him, his hand soaked
with it, the fumes doing odd things to his brain--{what the hell possessed me to do this anyway? Am I insane?}

"I don‘t want—I don‘t want to lose him. I don‘t know— know how to live without him anymore. I don‘t know if I can. Or want to. What do I do?"

Echoing Tom‘s words, she stood there, so still she could have been carved in stone, so unlike her, always in motion, always a living, breathing source of pure energy.

"You are a Klingon, B‘Elanna. You know him. What do you do?"

Her head snapped around, she stared at him, eyes huge, then filled, so quickly, with tears, that disappeared instantly as she blinked.

"I will see you later, Harry." He took this as a dismissal, and one relatively civil for her during the best of times, and Harry picked up bag and bottle together.

"Tom is on Beta shift, Torres," he said softly. "Tomorrow is Captain-ordered leave, all day."

She nodded distractedly, and turned to walk into her bedroom. Harry watched her for a moment, then left.

* * * * *

Tom was still asleep when Harry went by to see if he wanted breakfast, and the look on his face convinced him not to try it. Harry then went to his room, closing the door carefully behind him, and pulled out the hypospray Tom had given him to remove the last traces of alcohol from his system. There were many regulations regarding real alcohol, and Harry, the Perfect Starfleet Ensign With A Few Small Flaws Now, had no intention of being caught drunk. He injected himself, glad the Captain had, for reasons known only to her, this day of leave, which he had every intention of spending with Megan and Jenny Delaney on the planet.

As he put the bottle away, he considered his actions carefully, and decided that he had done it correctly. Really, he had nothing to do with it at all, not really.

To this moment he had no idea what had made him go to B‘Elanna‘s quarters this morning. One of those revelations that too much time sleeping against the side of a toilet seems to bring, brilliant at the time, but in the completion of the action seemed something close to suicidal. Yet here he stood, whole of body and mind, in front of his own mirror, ready to take another shower, this time with water, and relax, and then leave for a day of pure pleasure.

What he did not know was the reason he wanted them together so badly, why he felt it was his duty to intercede when he had no business being there, his duty to speak when they would not.

Maybe the image of bat‘leths and Tom standing on the Holodeck with that blank look of supreme indifference, maybe B‘Elanna‘s face as she had escaped to the turbolift after leaving the Bridge.

Maybe the way Tom said her name the night before.

Harry didn‘t know, and as he dressed, forced it from his mind. Wondering if when he returned anything would be solved, or if this was, in fact, the true end.

{Don‘t think about it now. Not now.}

Later, when he returned, to see what there was to see.

If there was anything left.

Part VI

"Computer, list names of those reserving Holodeck time starting at 0800 hours."

:::Access denied.:::

"Override access denial, authorization Torres Beta Beta One."

* * * * *

B‘Elanna found herself dithering outside the Holodeck doors.

He was in there, she had checked three times, and even the computer seemed to find this amusing, judging by its tone when it replied the third time. B‘Elanna briefly considered reprogramming that annoying voice, realized she was stalling, and shut her mouth tight against the words she wanted to say.

{Gods, this is hard.}

She hadn‘t realized how hard, too caught up in preparation, too busy finishing her shift, meditating as Tuvok had taught her {(I had no idea that would ever come in so very useful)} and generally finding herself something to do. She had made a decision, and she had to carry through with it, or admit that she would give up.

B‘Elanna snarled at the thought. And that raised her courage.

She cleared her throat. Took a long, deep breath. Wished suddenly that she had changed out of her uniform. But she had been too eager to get here, only stopping for a quick shower and grabbing the first clothes she could find, if she stopped, if she thought about it any more—

{I can go back and change quickly. There is plenty of time.}

No, there wasn‘t. She knew there wasn‘t, somewhere in her that counted the minutes, the seconds, that she had to do this. Somewhere in the back of her mind, too, she knew she wouldn‘t have the courage to return if she left now, even for something as simple as a change of clothes.

So she drew in another breath.

"Computer, override privacy lock, authorization Torres Gamma Alpha One."

The doors slowly opened, she never heard the computer confirm her request. She set one booted foot in the doorway, stopped to see Tom was not alone.

Sue Nicoletti stood with him.

{This isn‘t real.}

She knew they hadn‘t seen her yet, were too involved with what they were talking about, and she had time to make the sharp pain subside a little, move away from her consciousness in any case.

What took its place was utter, unbelieving fury. Hatred. And a desire for blood she could barely contain, her hands fisting at her sides. Sue. One of his first lovers on Voyager, here…he had brought her here…he would—

It occurred to her, through a red haze, that this certainly wasn‘t the most romantic spot in the galaxy.

In fact, it seemed to be Tom‘s Captain Proton scenario.

She blinked, readjusted, and realized it was, the black and white was a dead giveaway. Tom wasn‘t dressed for the part, still in uniform, apparently having just gotten off his shift. {No, he had bridge beta shift—oh, damn, sickbay shift, someone told me he was working doubles now, volunteered for them--}

{Wonder why?} Easily answered question.

She saw him smile, say something, and Sue shook her head, a smile playing on those lips too, and B‘Elanna judged that now was a good time to remove the offending woman. Slowly, she moved into their line of vision, and stood still, arms crossed over her chest, waiting for them to notice her.

It didn‘t take long. Tom‘s head came up, and she saw he was handing Sue a PADD, who knew what was on it, and a slight frown crossed his face, eyes narrowing, before unerringly finding her. For a moment, just a moment, shock widened the clear blue, and she thought she saw him mouth open a little, before the look disappeared, replaced by cool indifference. Sue, apparently sensitive to changes of mood, looked up, followed Tom‘s eyes, and her shock was much more palpable, mixed generously with not a little fear.

B‘Elanna liked that. She felt a satisfied smile curve her mouth, watching Sue stammer something out.

"Get out." B‘Elanna motioned invitingly for the door, and Sue, no fool, went, leaving Tom standing perfectly still, perfectly at attention, still watching her, never noticing Sue leave.

"Don‘t you think that was a little rude?" {Ah, he did notice.}

B‘Elanna didn‘t answer.

"Computer, activate program Torres Beta Two."

"Computer, bel—"

"Override. Authorization Torres Kappa One Omega Two. Engage privacy lock."

{Ah, color. Well, not much, but at least I can see my uniform color now.}

The scenario she had chosen Tom would recognize, considering their constant exposure to some kind of cave system, both before and after they were together. She saw him glance around briefly, taking in the stone walls, the sand, but she wondered if he would really recognize what she had chosen, would see it for what it was.

From the sudden, startled recognition, he remembered Sakari too. Not that she had expected him to forget.

"Not now, Torres." His voice was clipped, and she saw him move to the doors, and placed herself in front of him, deciding that if she couldn‘t hold off one single male human she didn‘t deserve a mate, and she would be damned if he would leave now, not when her courage, for some reason, was sticking around.


He stopped short, a foot from her, narrowed eyes evaluating the situation. Noticed the tension in his face, the way he held himself so straight, knew he was angry still, mad still, knew instinctively that if she was going to do this, she had to break him from this unnatural coldness, make him show her that anger, before it all congealed away, before he didn‘t care anymore, before he locked it all inside and pretended it didn‘t exist. Tom was perfectly capable of doing that, she knew it. She shook a little, brought it under control with an incredible effort. Afraid he wouldn‘t listen, would say the word she could not listen to, end everything, hitting the reset button like she had done so many times to him, for so long.

{Not much time. How did he do this, so many times, stand like this in front of me, trying to make me understand how he felt, make me face my own feelings? How did he get the courage to do it again and again, no matter what I said, no matter how hard I made it, how did he do it?}

"What are you hoping to accomplish?" he asked tiredly, though in a flawlessly polite voice that made her teeth ache. She unclenched her jaw, looking for the words—

{That‘s right, now what am I going to say here? I don‘t think I have exactly rehearsed this part—or any part, except the storming in and making him talk. Damn.}

She opened her mouth, having no idea what she would say, gods knew she hadn‘t been able to find the words on that damned planet either, no words to stop him, a moment lost, and this was her last chance to get it right, to make him understand.

"I need you."

Was that a flash in his eyes? She didn‘t know.

"For what? Sex? Perform for you, Lieutenant?"

{Anger. Good. Thank Kahless or whatever gods there are.} She heard the bitterness, would have danced and sang, he wasn‘t lost to her, not yet—but so little time, so very little time to do this.

"Yes. Just sex. That is all it was, wasn‘t it? Just incredibly inventive, really good sex. You never told me you were glad I would be the last thing you saw and I never told you I loved you. Just sex. So, yes, that is what I am here for."

She saw a muscle jump in his cheek. Hoped.


{That was not the answer I was expecting.}

Then he was kissing her, bruising her lips, pushing her mouth open, arms tight around her, lifting her off the floor. She grabbed one of his arms, nails digging in, half-wanting to pull away, but this was Tom and she had never pulled away before when he touched her, it was achingly familiar. And she responded, naturally, easily, she always had—
and her feet were back on the ground and Tom was two meters away, eyes closed, breathing deeply.
She touched her mouth with one hand, still tasting him, waited for the blue eyes to open. And when they did, she saw what she was waiting for. {This is one of those times I wish he hadn‘t been raised an officer and a gentleman, a good physical fight is exactly what we need.}
"Get out, B‘Elanna."

"You are angry." {At least he is using my name.} She looked in herself for the right words, for any words, anything to make this moment count, let her do it right.


"I went several steps beyond angry a long time ago. Get out!"

"Stop it!" She took the steps between them, bringing her hand up, wanting to slap him, shut him up, make him understand--{great way to do this, that will really help the basic problem}--and he caught her hand midair, wrenching it down, her fingers still splayed slightly, and she heard her own breathing, uneven, a little heavy, matching his as his grip on her arm increased to hold her back, stop her…

"Stop what?" She watched the control he exercised over his face, the stiffness he stood at, as if letting any emotion out would release it all. "Stop caring about you, stop hating you, stop being angry? It isn‘t happening, so leave, get out, God only knows you‘ve been looking for an excuse since the beginning, so take it!"

Where the hell are the words?

"Tom, listen to me, just listen." He still held her wrist, hadn‘t let go, hadn‘t moved away, that had to mean something. {Let it mean something.} "Tom, I love you."

"That isn‘t enough anymore."

She could feel the blood drain from her face, her lips numb, her fingertips grow fuzzy and disconnected, as his words echoed in her, over and over, that it wasn‘t enough, she wasn‘t enough, she‘d heard that before, she was hearing it again, from him—

"What would be enough?" she whispered, feeling his eyes on her, his grip on her wrist loosen, and somehow she knew if
he let her go, if he moved away, it all would end. The effort was tremendous, but she reached up a hand, grabbing his jaw, forcing their eyes to meet.--{only one chance, only now, what do I say?}

"I don‘t want a lover who is ashamed to be with me. I spend enough time being ashamed of being myself."

"I‘ve never been ashamed of you, Tom. Never." {Someone with my insecurities, with my fear, and I still treated him as I would never have allowed myself to be treated, and he stayed, never left. I would have left. I--}

"I want someone who trust me, who will count on me like I count on them. Who isn‘t afraid of their feelings. I don‘t want to be their favorite down-time amusement, something to occupy them when they don‘t have anything better to do. Someone they want to be seen in public with." Bitterly, angrily, he spat the words out at her.

"You want a commitment," she murmured, barely hearing herself, wondering if he could. "An equal."

"Yes," he breathed, searching her face.

"Someone who isn‘t afraid, isn‘t controlling—"

He shook his head, a very slight, very bitter laugh freezing her, all progress stopped suddenly.

"Controlling?" He tried to move away, but she wouldn‘t let him. "I never cared about that in our private life, B‘Elanna. Its when you extended it in the public that it bothered me. When you made a point of it everywhere we went, reminding me every day that only by the grace of oxygen deprivation did I finally have a chance to prove to you how I felt, that this wasn‘t a temporary infatuation or a notch on the bedpost, but it was real. Every day I had to prove it again, to you, to the ship…hell, I sometimes wondered if the only person I wasn‘t proving that to was to myself, because I knew, for so long I can‘t even remember the day, the time, that minute, the thought, that you were the one I wanted, not for distraction, not for sex, but for life, for real, for so much more than I ever expected to feel for anyone."

Her mouth was dry as she looked again for the words, the right words, but before she could say them, he pulled away, turned his back, walked to the door, stopping her heart.

{No, not this time, I won‘t be afraid of what I feel, of what he means to me.}

"jIH dok!"

It was easier than she had expected.

He paused, her breath returned, as she waited.

"Computer, begin recording," she said, her voice scratchy with unshed tears. Watching his back, hoping what she said was enough.

"What are you doing?" His voice sounded as shaky as hers.

"Claiming you. Now claim me."

He turned around, in one of those graceful, fluid movements she had always envied in him, staring at her with an unreadable expression, searching her face for the motive, for the reason—for the emotion. Watched her tears, the ones she couldn‘t control, that rolled down her cheeks.

"My mate. My life. Do it, Tom. Make it real."

He didn‘t move, and for the longest, bitterest moment of her life, she thought that he would still walk away, that she had hurt him too deeply to repair it, that his trust in her had been irrevocably shattered, that it was too late, there was nothing she could do to fix the damage she had wrought, and the conflict held her immobile.

Then, slowly, he walked back toward her, took her hand, limp at her side, raising it in one of his.

"Why?" Searching her face, eyes never leaving hers.

"We can do it here, in the messhall during lunch, in the middle of the goddamned bridge, Tom, anywhere you want, whatever you want. I love you. I need you. I don‘t remember what life was like before you and I refuse to learn what it could be without you."

A long look, then he lifted her hand to his face, breathing into it, never taking his eyes from hers. The warmth of his breath against her palm chilled her, warmed her, and then he growled into her hand, dropping in abruptly, taking her breath, before slowly circling her, fingers brushing her shoulder until he stood behind her. His hands slid slowly over her shoulders, to the fastening of her uniform top, slowly unfastening it, hands flat against her arms as he slid it slowly down, the heart of his palms cutting through her turtleneck. Then she felt his breath on the back of her neck.

He was smelling her.

The low, almost inaudible growl hadn‘t increased, hadn‘t changed, she could feel it vibrate her bones. She stood, unable to move, unwilling to move, as he slid one hand into her hair, twisting it lightly, tilting her head, until she could feel the subtle vibrations from his lips against her ear.

She‘d never felt so awake before, everything so clear and bright, her skin waiting for each touch, anticipating it, wanting it, the barest brush of his fingers against the side of her neck. She closed her eyes, hearing her breath coming faster, never wanting him more than at that moment, with only the lightest brushes of his fingertips against her neck.

She lifted a hand, wanting to touch him, and he caught it, jerking it back down, lacing their fingers together, squeezing.

"Don‘t move." A low growl in her ear, {dear gods, how did he learn that, where did he learn to do that?} and she kept herself still, and it was so hard, she wanted to feel him, touch him, but the fingers holding hers kept her arm at her side, warning once with a tightening, before letting go. Rubbing her shoulders gently, with the lightest touch, sliding down her arms slowly, raising goosebumps, sliding his fingers around her wrists, pulling them gently up, then his hands ran lightly up her sides, urging her arms up above her head, then the same slow, easy movement down. In a single, brief motion, he pulled the grey of her turtleneck over her head, tossing it away, leaning over to lightly bite her shoulder as he urgued her arms down. She shuddered at the sudden contact, gone as quickly as it had begun, taking her breath, speeding her heart.

Then, slowly circling back round, fingers sliding along to follow, and she felt herself swallow, opened her eyes to meet his, startled by the emotion in them—residual anger, desire, something else that she couldn‘t put a name to that she understood, however. A kind of wanting that needed proof of possession.

Then, roughly, he caught her under the chin, fingers catching just behind he neck, pulling her so close she could feel the heat of his body. She could feel his breath against her lips, coming as fast as hers. She grabbed his hand, jerking it down, bringing it to her mouth, taking in his scent, brushing the palm then the wrist with her tongue, hearing his breath catch. Circled him as he had done her, sliding the uniform top off to puddle on the floor at her feet, rubbing the strong shoulders in front of her, breathing him in. Circling him again to look at him, watch his breathing, moving closer until their bodies touched, waiting for some kind of signal. Locking brown eyes with blue.

And his hand caught her face again, behind the neck, thumb rubbing at the point of her jaw, drawing her hard against him. She matched his low growl, as it tingled through her, and his hand tightened painfully on her face as she matched him, fingers sliding through the short blonde hair at his neck.

Then lifted herself up, twisting her hand in his hair to move his head, sinking her teeth into his jaw, feeling him tense, the soft exclamation of his breath. Tasting the bitter iron of his blood in her mouth, running her tongue lightly over it to take in more, bonding to him, not afraid, not running away, wanting it so much she ached with it, the need to complete a possession begun so long before, finally being completed where it had begun, with dust and rock and a desperate wanting—this time not by hormonal madness but by her own desire, her own will.

"jIH dok," she said, meeting his eyes when she said it, letting him know that it was real, it was right, and she wanted it as badly as he did.

And then he twisted her head aside, making her catch her breath, biting the same place, near the same bone, drawing her blood, feeling the brush of his tongue as he took it in, coming back to face her, a smear of blood at the corner of his mouth.

"maj dok." A breath against her face, their lips so close she could feel the words as well as hear them. Then he kissed her, hard, biting her lip when she didn‘t open her mouth fast enough, fingers twining in her hair, before freeing her mouth breathlessly to slide down her neck, with a roughness he had never used before, she never knew he had in him, as she spoke the final words, for once willing to claim her heritage, with this man, still tasting the combination of their blood in her mouth.

"Tlinghan jIH."

He kissed her again, nipping her tongue, then her lower lip, drawing blood again, drawing a growl from her echoed by him. She pulled his turtleneck over his head, barely breaking contact, before tossing it out of the way, One hand slid into the waistband of her trousers, and paused, and he pulled back slightly, looking at her through slightly heavy blue eyes.

"You haven‘t looked?"

Trying to catch the meaning of that was hard work, but he was already unfastening her trousers, pulling them down, sucking in a breath sharply at the lack of other clothing that needed to be removed, before running his fingers over the bandage, slightly worse for wear, making her twitch. A very slight grin curved his mouth.

"You haven‘t looked," he repeated softly. He slid to a crouch at her feet, hand covering the bandage, tracing it with the tips of his fingers.

"I couldn‘t." {What the hell would I have done with that if this hadn‘t worked? Removed it? Covered it until the day I died? I really don‘t know.} "Did you?"

He shook his head.

"Couldn‘t," he answered softly. Gently, he began to remove the tape that held it in place.

"I liked the blindfold," she said softly, and felt him pause, heard another deep breath, then he looked up--{how can something so blue look so hot?}--then continued to remove the bandage.

It floated to the floor like a tiny ghost, and she began to lean forward to inspect it, when a hand around her knee pulled her feet from under her, and she hit the dusty floor hard, jarring her spine, heating already warm blood. She snarled and he laughed at her, catching her wrists and pinning them above her head, a feral smile changing his face.

"You don‘t want to see it?" he asked, kissing her briefly before pulling her up so she could look at what Tom had chosen to have marked on her body.

It surprised her.

"I wanted something you would like," he explained. She studied it carefully. "What you mean to me, what I see when I look at you."

Carefully and beautifully rendered was the symbols for alpha and omega, combined until you could not see where one began and the other ended, one on top of the other. She stared at him, eyes huge.

"You see—" she didn‘t know how to finish the thought.

"Everything in the universe."

She covered his hand with hers, throat closing, then reached to pull at Tom‘s shoulder until he gamely turned round. With careful fingers she removed the bandage, hissing when she pulled his skin, then wondering how she could worry about that considering the damage she could do for fun on some nights.

"Computer add one hand mirror to scenario," she ordered, as Tom tried to look over his shoulder to see it, but it was set to low on the shoulder-blade for him to see easily. She held the mirror so he could look back, angling it, and an odd smile turned his lips.

"You recognize it?" she asked.

"Yes…though my Klingon isn‘t that great. B and T, correct?"

She nodded, studying the combination of the two letters, in simple, broad black lines, reaching down three inches on his back. Gently, she traced it with a finger.

"To remind me who I belong to?" he asked. She grinned smugly.

"Actually, the first letter of each of our names, but take it any way you want. Better, let everyone else take it like that."

He raised an eyebrow.

"From the way you act sometimes, you would think I have not only bedded everything on this ship with the proper equipment, but that every one of them are dying to come back for seconds. Trust me, B‘Elanna, that is not the case—mostly."

She growled at those words, and he growled back, the playfulness abruptly becoming serious, and she took his hand in hers, lacing their fingers together, shivering as his thumb caressed her palm.

"I want you, Tom." She lowered her head a little, licking slightly at his chin. "Claim me."

"I thought you‘d never ask."

The End, Finally!